Hands On: March Of The Eagles

By Adam Smith on February 5th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

From here on in, it's maps all the way down

I didn’t expect it to happen like this. I knew that one day I’d end up sucked into a multiplayer affair that left me checking over my shoulder, erasing entries in my diary and losing sleep, but I figured it’d be Planetside 2 or Day Z, not a strategic wargame. In the last week, I’ve spent a few hours playing March of the Eagles and Europa Universalis IV multiplayer and, despite myself, I’m ready to admit there’s a future in this ‘gaming with other people’ malarkey. More on EU IV soon. First, it’s Napoleon time.

I’ve had a preview copy of March of the Eagles marauding about my hard drive since December but despite playing for a good few hours, I haven’t known what to write about it until now, which is fortunate since the embargo for previews passed yesterday. The problem was this: March of the Eagles looks like a Paradox grand strategy game, it has been designed by the folks who make Paradox grand strategy games, but it’s a wargame. There are many choices to be made, some of which seem political or progressive, but they all serve one purpose – the recruitment of men (and horses), the picking of fights and the execution of large scale strategic manoeuvres.

My greatest pleasure is in the avoidance of war, whether by establishing myself as a useful trading partner or by stabbing those who would fight with my nation before the fight can begin. March of the Eagles does not care for men like me. It’s a compact version of Paradox’ usual fare, spanning decades rather than centuries, and that is in keeping with its focus on war. Despite that, this take on the Napoleonic Wars doesn’t have the complexity of Hearts of Iron, and the experience is much more like a stripped back Europa Universalis than a simulation of warfare.

Given that description, March of the Eagles doesn’t sound particularly necessary and that was precisely my view, until last week when my opinion was violently altered by something I’d never experienced before. I’ve been playing Paradox’ big four (CK, EU, Vic and HOI) for more than a decade but I’ve never dipped so much as a war-toe in multiplayer. There are several reasons: I like to pause every three seconds for neurotic plan-checking, the functionality hasn’t been great in the past and I don’t know many people who enjoy manipulating maps quite as much as I do.

At the Paradox Convention last week I took part in what was optimistically called a “Strategy Masterclass”. On day one, that involved EU IV, and screaming at Lollards and Austrians as my Least Serene Republic collapsed around my ears (more on that later in the week), and on day two it involved taking control of the Ottomans as fellow journalists prepared to turn central Europe into a meatgrinder.

Unlike Europa Universalis or indeed Crusader Kings II, March of the Eagles provides the player with a purpose. Out goes the roleplay aspect, which leaves players free to discern the character of their nation or ruler and act accordingly, in this short-form variant of their core titles, Paradox provide clear goals for each nation. Well, to be more accurate, there are specific goals for each major nation, of which there are eight. Those are the powers with enough clout to win the war, and include France, the UK and Russia in the top tier, with Prussia and Austria somewhere in the middle, and the Ottomans, Span and Sweden playing in the lower leagues.

I, along with a partner, was given control of the Ottomans. He would handle the nitty-gritty of managing our provinces while I stalked around the room, sowing dissent, whispering like Wormtongue in the ears of our neighbours. Once we began, the first task was to cycle through map modes until we found the one that outlined our targets.

To win a game of March of the Eagles – and how odd it is to talk about winning a Paradox strategy game – a country must have naval and land dominance. This is measured in key territories, which are different for each of the major nations. To be dominant at land or sea, a country must control a certain number of its target provinces but, more than that, it must also dislodge whichever power is currently dominant in that sphere.

This leads to mayhem and mirth. France begins the game with land dominance and Napoleon’s Grand Armee poised to assault England, but because of its position of power, le petit caporal’s country is unlikely to win many friends. But, hey, England is the dominant naval power, needing only to grab Gibraltar and a few coastal territories to entrench its rule of the waves, so perhaps it’s best to let the two bleed each other dry.

March of the Eagles is tightly knit with alliances, betrayals, attacks of opportunity and nervous tension. As the Ottomans, we hassled Egypt first, gaining Cairo and other lands necessary for our own land dominance. That war was a minor conquest though and even as the last shots were fired, we had declared our intention to annihilate the cities on our Northern border with Austria. The Austrian player was knee-deep in his own fallen armies fighting a war in the West and so we struck.

Declaring war is a case of clicking on a country and then a WAR button. There are complexities once the fighting begins, with leaders to assign to flanks, centre and support slots, and terrain and fortifications should be taken into account. Furthermore, although technology doesn’t move quickly in this short period, there are ‘ideas’ that can change the course of combat. These ‘ideas’ act almost exactly like technology in other games, but with a clever twist – losing a large battle provides more idea points than winning one. Loss is a learning experience.

This contributes to the ebb and flow that might otherwise be missing. In our own game, we appeared to be on the verge of triumph – we hadn’t secured enough of our target territories to win the game but we had seized two key cities from the besieged Austrians and were ready to assault Russia, a smash and grab across the Moldavian border to secure more of the necessaries for land dominance. The Russians were to our right, calm, but locked into conflict with Prussia and it sounded like they were losing troops by the tens of thousands.

Time to strike and, as with the Austrians, to take what we needed and then make our peace. Our strategy was to be a fish too small to fry, suddenly transformed into an all-devouring whale while everybody had their back turned.

But Russia. We were allies – not in the game, where coalitions can be formed – but in the room. We had spoken and agreed that while we concentrated on Austria, Russia would leave our borders alone and concentrate on Prussia. Our moment of betrayal was also our moment of failure because, of COURSE, the Russian player hadn’t trusted us for a moment and within days of invading, we were facing armies far larger than our own and our reinforcements were weeks behind.

I haven’t had as much fun in a multiplayer game for years, but that’s slightly problematic. Against the AI, March of the Eagles is fine and it may, as Paradox intend, serve to introduce people to the greater complexities of the core grand strategy titles. Personally, I doubt I’ll go back to the single player game very often, but I would like to gather a group and campaign against them on a regular basis. It’s short enough to play in a couple of evenings, and provides enough options in terms of starting nations and possibilities for victory within those nations to allow for unpredictable strategies.

In brief, it’s a Paradox strategy game with victory conditions and it’s a wargame that doesn’t demand a huge time investment. It also has the friendship-shattering flow of a particularly devious boardgame. Ideally it’d be played by people in one room, as we experienced it, but failing the resurrection of LAN parties, conquest from afar might work for you. I didn’t attach to my nation or its people as I so often do, but I did attach to the people in that multiplayer session. I wanted to attach myself to their throats, half of them, in a bid to strangulate. Good times. Just remember: today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy. And in the game.

March of the Eagles is out on February 18th.

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53 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Stellar Duck says:

    Any word on if it’s a Steam game? Please tell me no.

    • timmyvos says:

      All paradox games are on Steam, yes. But you could buy them on Gamersgate where they’re not Steamworks, I don’t see why anyone would still hate Steam but here you go.

      • Brun says:

        I don’t see why anyone would still hate Steam but here you go.

        Some people just refuse to embrace the future. Like those luddites that still use Windows XP.

        • Premium User Badge

          Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          When the Day of Judgement comes, those not using the One True Windows will be sentenced to an eternity of tech-support for old people trying to use Windows ME.

          • Brun says:

            Verily the lamentations of their women shall fill the air.

          • kelseypaul1 says:

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        • Grey Poupon says:

          I probably wouldn’t use Steam if I wasn’t forced to. While it’s a lot better than it used to be years ago, it’s still DRM (for 99% of the games anyway) and they can close an account whenever they feel like it. While it’s obviously not good business to go out randomly closing steam accounts, I’d rather not give anyone the right to take away stuff I’ve bought without it being a crime. And many games have had automatic update systems even before Steam, it’s not something you need Steam for.

          • bikkebakke says:

            Don’t forget that you don’t truly own the game. You must have the steam client to install and play the game. I like gog way more just because there you can download the actual iso file and keep it, some people would probably say that it’s a hazzle and there is no need to own the iso. But for me it still feels like you’re renting the game from steam, not owning it.

      • jalf says:

        Because there are real drawbacks to having a game on Steam:

        Including, but not limited to:

        - being dependent on the whims of Valve. Will they ban your account? Will Steam go bust one day? Do they do enough to safeguard my account? (hint: they don’t)
        - not wanting to support the company because of dissatisfaction with their customer service, or some other business practice of theirs
        - suffering the limitations of the Steam client (temperamental/broken offline mode, for example. And inability to play unpatched games (say, if you’ve got limited download quota, you may not want to download the latest X GB patch *right now*. Or, perhaps the patch changes something you’d rather not see changed — as in the Portal ending retcon)
        - not owning any of your games, and not being able to resell them or buy them used

        Honestly, I think that if “the future” is giving a single company complete control over the PC gaming market, then I’d be very, very suspicious of anyone who *did* embrace it.

        I do have some issues with Steam, but more than that, I’d much prefer a future which is less streamlined, and less hostile towards consumer rights than the one in which Steam owns all my games and is a total and absolute monopoly without whom it is impossible to buy a PC game.

        • Lowbrow says:

          You seem to be confusing real drawbacks with potential drawbacks.

        • rb2610 says:

          @jalf

          “I do have some issues with Steam, but more than that, I’d much prefer a future which is less streamlined”

          So you’re saying having all one’s games conveniently located within a single interface for convenient browsing complete with the ability to access additional information about a game from it’s library page is a bad thing? o_0

        • Dana says:

          I’ve been using Steam for 8 years now, never had any major problems with it.

          And while some of your points are valid, they are also sign of the times, I would say.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        I don’t hate Steam. I tolerate it fine. I just hate the lack of ability to roll back patches. That can be an even bigger problem with Paradox games.

        But if there’s a GamersGate version where I can avoid that I’ll get that one.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          Huh?

          You copy the game to a folder outside Steam, like everyone else does. It’s how you play different mods with varying version requirements in Paradox games, and has been for years. It’s also how you apply the beta patches. (And I mean that’s officially what Paradox tells you to do in the case of beta patches. You’re not circumventing anything.)

          • Premium User Badge

            Stellar Duck says:

            So, Steam is so great that I have to refrain from using it? Got it.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            What? No. You have different versions of the game for different purposes. Steam keeps a game fully updated with no input from you, which is awesome.

            If you want to have another version, for whatever purpose, you…. make another version.

            This isn’t complicated.

          • Premium User Badge

            Stellar Duck says:

            I prefer to finish my games before patching them as Paradox patches mostly break save games from earlier versions. So to avoid losing hours and hours of games I manually patch when I want to. What is so hard to understand about that. I can’t do that in Steam and thus I will not be buying anymore Paradox games. Which is a shame since they make my favourite games.

          • Premium User Badge

            Llewyn says:

            @Stellar Duck: Nothing’s hard to understand about that; I do the same thing myself with Paradox & Sports Interactive games. However there’s also nothing hard to understand about the point being made to you:

            If Paradox games are not using Steamworks DRM then you simply copy the files that Steam installs to another location and run them from there. Yes, Steam will update the copy which it’s installed against your will. However your copy will be safe from interference allowing you to stick with your current patch until the end of your game.

            It’s not perfect at all, compared to the current GG solution; it adds overhead and prevents you reverting to any previous patch unless you’ve also made a safe copy of that, but it’s probably better than cutting yourself off from effectively a whole grand strategy subgenre.

            Or you could do what I already do with SI games and will do with Paradox ones in future: resist buying them until the patch cycle is finished, and then buy the final edition.

        • MMMMMONTYKILL says:

          Or, you know, deselect the “keep game up to date” option…

          • Premium User Badge

            Llewyn says:

            There is no “keep game up to date option”. As you’d know if you’d read the rest of the thread before commenting.

          • chwynn says:

            So when you right click a game in steam, click properties, then the updates tab…. you are saying there’s not option to “do not automatically update this game”?

            You can just run the executable from the game’s folder if steam stays on “update required”.

    • JakeDust says:

      March of Eagles and all future PDS games will need Steam, even when sold on GamersGate. Johann has already said that the Gamersgate sales are around 2% of all, and so not enough to justify creating a Steam-less version.
      (but they will be Steam games without DRM, as they already are: you can copy the whole folder and play it without Steam, the client is only needed for installation.)

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        This does make me wonder however, how Steamworks would handle Paradox’s games. I’ll admit I havent played MP for CK2 yet, but I remember Eu3 MP being a complete nightmare at times, and I wonder how the Steamworks Networking would affect it.

        To be fair though, I assume the problems Paradox games tend to have with MP isn’t due to shoddy netcode as many assume, but purely because of the sheer amount of information that needs to be sent every tic, especially for a game like CK2, where every character’s every decision needs to be sent to every user.

        The nightmare that the Metasever can be however, is a diffrent beast in it’s entirety.

        • Axelius says:

          CK2 doesn’t use any form of steamworks for MP. The metaserver is there, but I, and I think a lot of people in general, tend to play it over LAN or direct IP, in my case usually using something like Hamachi. Sure, you can’t really play on speeds 4 or 5 unless you are on a LAN, but usually you won’t get to those speeds in MP anyway.

          • bstard says:

            CK2 is direct connect, whether you’re lucky and find the meta online, or available at all. The current patch 1091 is a nightmare MP wise.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        Ugh. Not getting it then. I really can’t be arsed to not be able to control what version I’m running. Paradox games often lack save game compatibility when patching and I usually finish off whatever games I got going before updating. If I can’t, then that’s a lost sale.

        Ugh. And no EU4 either. SADFACE.

        • UncleLou says:

          Right-click the game in Steam, turn off auto-updates for that title. You can’t rollback, but you have full control if and when you want to patch a game.

          • Premium User Badge

            Stellar Duck says:

            And yet: Steam/Valve/Bethesda routinely ignored that setting with Skyrim at release. Every time they patched it I changed the setting and then they patched it. So, frankly, I don’t trust that function.

            Aside from that, it still prevents me from playing a specific version if I want to do that after a uninstall/crashed HDD/whatever.

          • Tssha says:

            I’m afraid that function doesn’t do what you think it does. All games have to be patched before you can play them. So, unless you start Steam in offline mode, you’re gonna have to patch to play, regardless of what your “patch setting” is.

            All that setting controls is whether Steam updates that program automatically for you when a new update is published.

          • Premium User Badge

            Llewyn says:

            @Tssha: Some of the confusion stems from the fact that for a long time that setting meant exactly what he thinks it means. I used to rely on it for things like Football Manager, where I’d want to ‘complete’ a career on the same patch version I started on, until it suddenly stopped working that way.

            I dealt with this by no longer buying anything from people like Sports Interactive until I’m sure they’ve finished patching (and conveniently the novelty’s worn off by then making them easier to resist). Thankfully I bought CKII from Gamersgate.

          • Grey Poupon says:

            That setting didn’t work with Borderlands 2 either. The game patched itself no matter what the setting said.

        • killias2 says:

          You can copy the folder and play it elsewhere. There’s technically no DRM in the game itself, although the installation and patching process is DRM-ed. If you want, you can even RAR up a fully functional version you like and tuck it away for later….

          • Premium User Badge

            Stellar Duck says:

            Yes, that’s a good argument for why Steam is great. Making the user deliberately circumvent it so they can play. That’s like saying a Macintosh is a great computer as you can boot Windows to play games.

            But are you even sure you can do that? Aren’t these new ones using Steamworks for the networking? If so, I don’t think this is a viable thing. But anyways, I don’t feel like handing over cash for a game tied to a system that requires me to circumvent it to play the version I want.

          • zeroskill says:

            As long as they don’t use Steamworks as a DRM integration you can play it without steam just fine. And that’s pretty specific. Achievements and other feature’s of steam do not automatically mean they have the steam specific DRM in the game. As long as that is not the case, you can just play it without starting steam at all, or just copy the game to a different location, or what will you.

            I don’t know if that is the case for this specific title. You have to ask Paradox that if they opted for the DRM solution or not.

          • killias2 says:

            It wasn’t an argument about anything. I was just clarifying your options. Yes, games with Steamworks or other DRM have strings attached. However, none of Paradox’s internally developed games are Steamworks games.

            As for Steam itself, I understand people’s issues with it, but I love it and use it as my main digital download platform. I wish it was better, but whatever. I’d rather live in a world with Steam than without it, even if it leads to situations like this.

    • dmastri says:

      Look maybe this was a relevant gripe on steams launch but that ship has sailed. You can expect most games that aren’t ea or ubi to use steam. online distro is the future, man and you should be thankful that ea isn’t the dominant player in the space. Don’t discount the effect steam has had on redefining the traditional publisher/distro model, too.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        That may be, and I have a ton of games on Steam, but Steam is shit when it comes to letting me decide what patch version I want to play. I’m glad it’s not EA but I’m not so glad it’s Valve. The lack of control is infuriating.

        This isn’t about embracing the future or not. This is about Steam being rubbish in a lot of regards.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Wow, that’s a bad argument. We should just stop complaining because it could be so much worse and accept Steam is the overlord of internet pc gaming. Or something, I’m not entirely sure what you were getting at.

        Steam isn’t terrible, but it isn’t that great, either.

  2. frightlever says:

    Sounds like you enjoyed the experience of playing with real, civilized people you could see and talk to, while the game was being played. That experience may not translate once you move everyone else out of the room.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I actually think I could have fun with that – but only with the right group of people, which I lack.

    Oh well… it’s not like there aren’t any other Paradox games to play. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how to deal with a Golden Horde that controls most of the Holy Roman Empire and just refuses to fall apart…

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      It’s really safe to play with the vast majority of people on the paradox forums. Do trust me on that.

      People with the wrong attitude towards multiplaying don’t last long there.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Pretty sure you could find people on RPS to play with, too. Although you do occasionally get great boys teabagging you by moving their army north of your conquered capital repeatedly.

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      I think I’d only be happy to play a game like this with people that I already know. But I’ll keep both of your suggestion in mind. Thanks, you two.

  4. Mario Figueiredo says:

    There’s no question about it. To really experience a Paradox game, to really appreciate it, one has to go multiplayer. The strategic, tactical and diplomatic depth of paradox games and their rules take on a whole different dimension when one is playing with real people. And contrary to many other games the multiplayer crowd at the forums are almost all a bunch of educated and friendly folks who will make you like them as they use your dead armies as fuel to burn your cities.

    Paradox games have moved leaps and bounds in their ability to cater the single player. I’m extremely thankful to them over this. That’s me right there; an SPer by heart and proud of it. But Paradox games… that’s my exception.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      I’ve played Paradox games forever and ever, and have been moderately active in the forums as long. I’ve still never played any MP, though.
      It’s not that I’m against it, I play other mp games just fine. It’s Just….
      I.
      I NEED to pause!

      I need to pause often. I need to pause and contemplate and scroll around the map and see what other countries are up to and should I build infrastructure here or here oh god oh god

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Oh man, you tell me! That was my biggest issue with these games. Took me a long, long, while to shift my playstyle.

        From my own experience, the thing to take into account is that it is possible to play a grand strategy game the likes of Paradox games with minimum pause. It takes getting used to, it will wreck your mind often in the beginning to the point of giving up and thinking you can’t do it, but it’s really just a paradigm shift that will happen if one insists about it. It can be done even by the most inept of players — which, make no mistake, is precisely what I was.

        I did benefit from people who were patient and didn’t mind much looking down on me as a poor ally. I don’t think I was ever insulted or treated down by anyone for my bad gaming. Certainly for an year or so (I could not afford much gaming at the time) I was more an immediate target for my ineptitude than an ally. But I just learned to shrug at defeat and persist. Eventually one day I just got it. I managed to fully realize the game and play it smoothly maintaining at all times a bird’s eye view of my territory and the present conditions. This was in Hearts of Iron, which you may agree is like playing blind chess compared to Europa Universalis’ Sticks and Ladders. The thing is that you can do it too. Anyone can. You just need to insist.

        A good thought to keep in mind is that only the very best players will actually manage to make good games from a strategic point of view. A recurring theme in post-game talks is folks sharing the mistakes they did. These mistakes almost invariably reflect the fact they were unaware at a certain thing happening in or around their territory. Exactly because that information slipped by them. Pausing the game would have made them gain that knowledge. So you aren’t alone. Everyone will be making mistakes during the course of a game. For sure as you become more proficient more and more aspects of the game in-progress will become known to you. You’ll learn to better understand the game engine and make sound decisions based on little information.

        One thing is certain, this is no RTS. There’s no mouse button mashing. Paradox games actually end up becoming calm, relaxing experiences once you train yourself. That said, I do prefer the turn-based grand strategy and wargame experience. I find even more of a rewarding experience to sit down and be allowed to fully survey the game status. I find this allows for a grittier game where strategical and tactical decisions are often made at the top of their field. One mistake in a turn-based wargame will cost you dearly. One in a real-time one may slip past unnoticed by your enemies — and usually that’s precisely what happens.

        There’s been a resurgence of turn-based games in the past 2 years or so, after having become almost extinct for 10. If this trend continues (which I hope it does) its inevitable it will come to grand strategy and war gaming. We shall see…

      • bstard says:

        Paradox titels SP are something different as MP. In SP I tend to read wikipedea a lot for every small thing I come across. I tend to check out every person in court. In MP it’s a powerstruggle and micro clickertyclick fest.

  5. MrLebanon says:

    Sounds like I’m gonna need some buddies to play regularly with! (and most my buddies aren’t fans of paradox strategy titles…)

    Rock, Paper, Eagle anyone?

  6. Engonge says:

    Muhammad Ali Pasha ruled Egypt that time.A governor so strong that his own state(ottoman empire) couldnt defeat him without foreign support.(Russian military support and diplomatic and later on military intervention by England)

    So Brits helping Ottomans take Egypt back(in some sense) is historically accurate as well…

  7. boredofall says:

    Dudes i just got bought DMC for free:

  8. Premium User Badge

    Johnny Go-Time says:

    Off-topic, perhaps, but I’m bitterly disappointed with CKII. I’ve never played any of the Paradox games but I love 4x. The almost-RPG stuff with the rulers in CK convinced my to give it a buy during the last Steam sale…but the @%##@!$ tutorial is totally broken..! It keeps getting tripped up during basic War (most recently, a never-ending battle in Moray), while the basic cassus belli chapter doesn’t even make it past the first button press!!
    I *want* to like these games…but man CK couldn’t be any less-friendly to newbs…so it’s not likely that I’ll be buying into March of the Eagles (even though I also love Sharpe’s Rifles :)

    • Ericston says:

      It’s too bad, but just ignore the tutorial and watch a Let’s Play where they play as a duke in Ireland. As soon as you feel like it, just jump into the game. This is a game that has to be experienced, not mastered.