Wot I Think: March Of The Eagles

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

There are all sorts of Paradox games these days, which can be confusing for a fellow who is mostly looking for armies to command and maps to paint in his chosen colour. Fearful that March of the Eagles might be a Napoleonic era take on Angry Birds, I was pleased to find an internally developed strategy title, but this is a wargame rather than a historical playground. I am rubbish at war.

Anyone who has played a Paradox grand strategy, particularly the more recent releases, will recognise elements of March of the Eagles. The interface has been trimmed, with most of the unnecessary screens stripped out entirely, and members of the development team have suggested that the striding eagles are intended as a primer, a gateway game that will encourage newcomers to venture into more complex titles.

It’s a much tighter game that offers something altogether different to the campaigns of its century-swallowing brethren. When I first played the beta, I found it more intimidating than Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings, baffled by my ability to fail. Grand strategy games tend to permit the player to create goals, which means success and failure are relative. A disastrous war opens up new possibilities of play, whether recovery or recalibration of imperial expectations, and the concept of early, mid and endgames is eliminated. Start as a powerful ruler and you are in another player’s endgame already, but your own closure may involve ruin and decline.

March of the Eagles discards these ideas, instead providing players with strict goals and punishing their failures. There is a correct way to play March of the Eagles and it involves more war in its fifteen years than my cowardly Crusade-dodging Dukes usually experience in a lifetime. It might be one of those map games but compared to Victoria, EU and Crusader Kings, March of the Eagles is an action game, so blisteringly fast and vicious that I almost expected QTEs to pop up from time to time when I crossed national borders.

My idea of ‘blisteringly fast’ may differ from yours. Playing as England, a particularly large army that I’d ordered to cross France took around eight months of game time to arrive. That worked out as about an hour, give or take, during which I drank a great deal of coffee and listened to Flying Lotus, occasionally tabbing across to Chrome and shaking my fist at a picture of Napoleon that I’d saved in a tab. It was dramatic.

It really was. Although I prefer the strategic sandboxes and would even argue that they’re easier to grasp given the correct grounding, March of the Eagles whips up tension on a regular basis. Because there is always a hand at your back, pushing toward conflict, each campaign is reduced to a series of relatively simple decisions. Each of the great nations (the only ones that can win the game) has a fixed set of objectives, territories that they must capture to gain land and naval dominance. The first choice, then, is to decide which fronts you’re willing to commit your limited manpower to. History has lessons but, especially if you’re playing as an eventual historical loser, it can be sensible to tear up the past in your own particular way.

To win, a great nation must not only gain naval and land dominance, by securing a set number of the prescribed victory locations necessary for each condition, they must also ensure that whoever is currently dominant in each sphere gets knocked off their perch. In my experience, it’s dethroning the powerful that leads to more complex strategies and makes March of the Eagles something more than Total War without the tactical battles.

Mostly, it’s fairly simple. Armies are constructed and battle is pursued, all with a few clicks of the mouse. Some things still don’t make a great deal of sense to me though, particularly leaders, which complicated my campaigns without adding anything of great value. Everything should be a choice rather than a checkbox, but leaders lack meaning. If they’re not attached to armies, the armies are rubbish. It’s possibly a way of limiting the number of meaningful stacks any nation can have at any one time, but I found it to be a distraction that didn’t expand the game meaningfully.

While it’s foolish not to be at war – he who is not fighting is not playing – as the European situation becomes more complex, targets shift. Perhaps the Austrian territories that you originally planned to seize have become less desirable because there are twenty thousand soldiers guarding them, or, a better plot, perhaps France is on the verge of victory so the new plan is to ally with Austria and chip away at the Bland Armee for a while, mocking their unfashionable uniforms all the while. Adding to the tension is the fact that every nation knows the objectives of the others, which can make their plans transparent but can also allow for bluffs, double-bluffs and, God forbid, triple-bluffs.

While Crusader Kings II and EU III are capable of generating alternate histories and stories suitable for a fellow to consume in the manner of a chronicle or historical Romance (with more incest and/or oppression of native peoples), March of the Eagles is best enjoyed with other people. The best stories that develop are the ones that form between former friends as the bluffing and the bluster fades, and the angry Russian Bear descends from the north and tears the guts out of everybody. As you might imagine, this isn’t a game to enjoy with strangers – if you want to play a Napoleonic wargame that is more complex than Total War but less complex than something from Matrix or indeed Paradox, this may be the game for you and your battle-buddies.

Playing is like organising a boardgame night. Make sure everyone is actually up for it, rather than just keen on the idea of saying they’re up for it, then set times, make the purchase and see the campaign through. It won’t take more than three or four long sessions, or a couple of weeks’ worth of shorter ones, and although I’ve read reports of connectivity issues, I haven’t had a problem. You’ll have to pretend you’re in the nineties though, not by listening to Ocean Colour Scene on repeat, but by swapping IP addresses and the like, or if you’re ultra-cool, setting up a goddamn LAN party.

There’s very little wrong with the AI, but it won’t talk to you about what an idiot you are when the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won. It’d be great if it did, just as it’d be great to see its expression of anguish when you surprise the heck out of it with a huge army stack, but it doesn’t and it can’t. I’ve actually played more of the singleplayer than I have the multiplayer, and I’ve enjoyed myself well enough, but I’m back to my usual diet of grander strategy already.

There are some interface oddities because this is a Paradox grand strategy game, but March of the Eagles is on the same upward curve as the rest. It’ll still cause newcomers to bounce off with a few broken bones, but much of the data can be ignored, at least to begin with. I’d love to see more people engaging with the maps I love so dearly and if it takes a bloodthirsty wargame to bring them in, this isn’t a bad choice, but I’d definitely recommend playing with friends, as long as you don’t mind losing them.

March of the Eagles is out now.

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15 Comments »

  1. TheIronSky says:

    Oh, Good. I was afraid that the shortened timescale would mean generally shorter games, but it seems that’s not entirely the case. I was absolutely in love with Crusader Kings 2, and I pre-ordered this before I lost my PC so I could get it with Sengoku.

    Now I’m feeling reassured. The second I’ve got my new computer, I’ll be looking for people to play against.

    Oh, and which picture of Napoleon was it? I’m quite partial to this one: http://ironenclave.com/Napoleon.jpg

    • BooleanBob says:

      Speaking as someone who is dying of flu, didn’t get a wink last night and has had to wait up all day in the hope of staying vaguely in sync with a regular sleep pattern, I’d like to thank you for that image. A sole spot of brightness in a long, bitter 38 hours.

      (Well, Adam’s review was great also.)

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    • killias2 says:

      From my understanding, in single player, your games would probably be much shorter than in CK2 or EU3. The general consensus seems to also be that the game has less content than a lot of the other Paradox games for SP. However, the game is sort of built for multiplayer, which leads to a necessarily slower pace (can’t just run at turbo and pause constantly).

    • l3illyl3ob says:

      The game is most definitely shorter than CK2 or EU3. This is by design, as it’s made for short multiplayer campaigns that can realistically play out in “just” a few days or a week’s time. That’s also why it’s just $20/£15, half the price of Paradox’s typical new games.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Kelron says:

    I like the game, but I wish it would give more feedback for things like leaders and unit distribution in your armies. They are important, very important, but it’s hard to gauge the effect. I’m able to see that my army led by average generals got absolutely crushed by a smaller army led by Napoleon, but it’s hard to tell how much is down to his skills as a general, or whether he had higher quality troops, or more national ideas.

  3. MarkB says:

    I’m intrigued, but a bit turned off by the idea of having concert objectives and actually fighting proper wars instead of managing politics and engulfing small countries. I may look into it more next time I’ve burnt myself out on CK2.

    Also I question Adam’s selection of Flying Lotus as a soundtrack to war. While it is wonderful Until the Quiet Comes doesn’t really sound like war to me. I’d go with the new Swans album, but to each their own.

  4. Safilpope says:

    personally this game doesn’t appeal to me, but I’m one of these strange people that like paradox grand strategies for the political/economic side. I gave the demo a go nonetheless, but the combat seemed to go way over my head. Perhaps this is the gaming equivalent to cricket, though more in the mechanics rather than the rules.

  5. dsch says:

    Battles in EU-like games (not including HOI) tend to be the least interesting parts, so they go and decide to focus on that.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      You’d have a point, except that, well, they *focused* on that. The battles, the whole army system, have depth and complexity. It’s entirely possible for a much smaller army, set up and used properly, to handily defeat a larger one, for instance.

      Making actual use of the corps system Nappy was so famous for is vital as well. Have corps marching near each other, rather than in a doomstack, ad set each of them to March to the Sound of the Guns (that’s the actual name in the game), have your cavalry corps scouting ahead, set to try and avoid battles. When you find the enemy, you can pin them with a corps, and the others will converge.

      There are many different tactics, actual settings you select for a stack I mean, in the game, and even unique ones for different nations that allow for differences in national character and thus playstyle.

      Where to put your various generals within a stack is important, too, especially as they gain traits. It’s not just one per army. There’s the commander of the whole army, who runs the reserve and decides when to commit units or pull them out or move them to a different flank etc., as well as commanders for the various flanks. It’s an entire system, and plays an important role once you’ve grasped it, which our author hasn’t yet (took me a while, too, honestly).

      In short, there’s much more to it than in even HOI. In the military aspect, I mean. Other bits are stripped down some.

  6. JackMultiple says:

    “Fearful that March of the Eagles might be a Napoleonic era take on Angry Birds…”

    This is a HUGE load off.

  7. spec10 says:

    To me it seems, the biggest issue this game has, is that the Clausewitz engine will always be associated with the big guns EU/CK. Paradox tried to stress very often that MoTE is different, smaller in scope, with a different focus. But people don’t seem to listen, or missed to read up on the game before they bought it.

    It definitely got some issues, no denying that – but in general I think MoTE is a great game.
    Here’s a thread from the official forums that reflects quite nicely what I think: http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?672843-How-to-properly-enjoy-MOTE-(gourmet-guide)

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Quite a good thread.

      The most important point to take from it, ad to know about MotE in general is this: March of the Eagles is NOT grand strategy. It’s not like EU, or CK, or the other recent Paradox games, in spite of being on the same engine. Don’t expect it to be Victoria 2 or whichever.

      It is, simply put, an operational level wargame. In fact, I think it ought to be in one of the “The Flare Path” posts here.

      Keep that expectation in mind and you’ll love it. Assuming you love wargames. There’s gotta be a couple of us left, no?

  8. Ruffian says:

    urrggh, random, I know but, every time I start reading the comments after a piece on kotaku I suddenly become very glad I have RPS.

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