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The Five Napoleons

Empire: Total War enthusiasm is totally understandable, but also horribly plebeian. If you really want to stand out during a forum discussion/pub chat/job interview/speed-dating event, try enthusing about one of the other Napoleonic strategy games currently in production...

If lone French developer Jean-Michel Mathé ever gets around to finishing this groundbreaking tactical wargame then it should make ETW look Fisher Price in several areas. HistWar armies utilize five different levels of intertwined AI (commander, corps, division, brigade and regiment) and can't be retasked at the drop of a bicorn hat. Credible command-chain modelling means lots of authentic inertia plus the potential for lost and ignored orders. Those that have played Mad Minute’s splendid Take Command series will know just how engrossing this sort of naturalism can be.

Another Gallic offering from a small studio, NC will likely give the ETW strat layer a serious run for its money, especially if the AI turns out to be as sabre-sharp as it was in Birth of America and American Civil War (the last two titles from AGEOD). Though there won’t be any fancy 3D maps or animated army figures, the lovely 2D art of Robin Pirez and Sandra Rieunier-Duval should be ample compensation.

Information on this one is scant at present, but going on the past form of the two parties involved it’s likely to be pretty, puzzle-like, and exclusively tactical. Sharing an engine with Legion Arena would seem to suggest a series of scripted real-time skirmishes in which clicks are rationed and victory conditions are fussy. Though morale, fatigue, veterancy, and other wargame subtleties all figured in LA, it was the tough time limits and casualty thresholds that tended to dominate tactics. Hopefully success and failure won’t feel quite so artificial this time.

The digital version of Avalon Hill’s monster board game has been in production longer than the Little Corporal spent in St. Helena. Finally close to completion, its success is going to hinge (I reckon) on the way computer-controlled powers handle diplomacy. Bluff and bluster, pacts and treachery were the best part of the gruelling-but-great face-to-face experience, and reproducing this in a solo experience is going to be damn tricky. As it's already possible to play the board game PBEM and online with the help of tools like Cyberboard and Vassal, one wonders how many people will buy just for multiplayer if the SP AI turns out to be dodgy.

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Tim Stone