March of the Eagles review
After doing the preview of March of the Eagles recently, now we got our hands on the full version of the game. It is a good thing that we can simply say, yes, we’ve had a blast playing this game, and it is definitely a worthy addition to the Paradox elite titles.
March of the Eagles is in many ways a standard strategy game from Paradox, but it still stands apart, having its focus set on warfare rather than diplomacy or economics. It is not focused on RPG elements the way Crusader Kings 2 is and has comparably smaller time frame. But even though one might get the impression that this is more a DLC of another Paradox strategy title, that is by no means the case. March of the Eagles is a full blown, stand-alone game, sophisticated and action-heavy, something you both as a fan of Paradox titles and strategy games in general shouldn’t miss.
March towards Victory
Alas, I may be getting a bit ahead of myself with positive recommendations; I’ll assign that to my excitement with this game. Once you start March of the Eagles, you will find yourself – in case you are no stranger to Paradox titles – facing a familiar UI and setup. It is the same Paradox proprietary Clausewitz game engine that is being used in their other titles, so the fans of the Swedish developer/publisher will find themselves on familiar grounds. All those who are unfamiliar with Paradox games and are considering this game as their first entry should try out the tutorial before diving head in, or otherwise they might end up feeling overwhelmed. Even though there are numerous options available to the players, even the new entries will be able to figure out the game if the dedicate some 15-20 minutes to the tutorial and a bit of exploring. After that, its smooth sailing.
Starting the game, you will have the choice between the eight major powers or even minor powers that existed in that specific time period; countries that were under the military control of another power are not available to be played as, so don’t be too said if that implies to your country of origin. Only the eight major powers can play the game and actually hope for a victory, the minor ones are too small and are more like challenge then a real fighting option. The victory conditions are different for each country, and are not simply defined under the term of total domination. Each power will have provinces, pieces of land or sea regions that they need to conquer and hold in order to win. At the beginning, some are under their control, some aren’t, and in accordance with actual historic events, each nation will have to reach out for their own victory conditions and, of course, prevent others from achieving theirs. If no nation has achieved complete victory by the end of the time frame of the Napoleonic Wars from 1805-1820, the one with most prestige and most achieved objectives will be considered winner.
Diplomacy at the tip of a bayonet
March of the Eagles is focused primarily on warfare. Unlike many other Paradox games, you require no casus belli to declare war on another nation, you simple pick out a target for your next conquest and declare war. Honestly, some basic diplomatic sense should be preserved, and players should try to make coalitions of like-minded states with similar goals and same enemies. No matter how strong your faction is, if you carry on with war for too long, you will blunt your edge and find your forces depleted, country tired of war and the fortunes turning against you. If you don’t trust me, well, either read up on Sun Tzu or check out historic accounts to see why Napoleon has, in the end, lost the series of wars and gotten himself exiled to the island of St Helena.
One advice I might want to give to the aspiring players is to pick up a book or two about this era and Napoleonic Wars, preferably something that is focused on warfare (as the game itself), to simply get a better impression about how wars were conducted at this period, what attrition meant for the armies out in the field and how fierce the battles were that the soldiers endured. Often times I hear questions posed about some aspect of the game that appears illogical to players, but if you know more about the actual state of affairs at the specific time frame, things easily shift into perspective. We’ll be addressing some of these issues during the review, and should you find one of your own pet peeves not referred to, feel free to ask in the comments below.
Alas, once you start conquering, the difference between smaller and greater nations will become obvious. While you can annex only smaller nations and effectively destroy them, you can’t pull off the same with a major nation. Eventually, you will have to sue for peace, even if you win all the conflicts, and then you will negotiate the terms of the peace. From offering the “White Peace”, which is very favorable to the side that lost the conflict, one can also annex some provinces, declare others a new state, demand reparations and so forth. Depending on how harsh you set up the terms, you may saw the seeds for a future conflict as well, so be careful when doing so. Ask yourself what you really need from the conquered enemy, and consider that a more lenient approach might have far more beneficial long term results than bleeding your opponent white with demands and tributes.
It is good to be a major player
After you’ve picked your power, you can start the campaign. It helps if you know more about the relationships between all these countries at this specific point in time, since that knowledge will reveal the roots of problems between them and give you a possible way of maneuvering around them. But do not rely too much on your diplomacy; the allies in Napoleonic Wars are, similar to the real occurrences in this historic period, rather fickle and unreliable, poised on making separate peace and willing to stab in the back the conquering power even if they have been dealt with in rather fair terms. In the end, it will all come down to the war machinery. The power that can subdue everyone else through the use of its military is the power that will come out on top in the very end, as simple as that. Now, do not completely neglect the diplomacy, economy and development, but be aware that the most significance lies in the armies.
The military is divided in land armies and navies, and while initially the Great Britain has an impressive fleet that can easily defeat anything other nations set in the field, other states will focus on land armies and ground warfare. Focus on the navy is a viable policy for Great Britain primarily, since it allows them to operate from the safety of their splendidly isolated island and sting the opponent in areas where access from the sea brings more advantages then the opponent can have traveling, supplying and fighting across the land. It should be enough to mention Peninsular War and the pictures gets very clear; as the part of the Napoleonic Wars, the French armies fought the British expeditionary force with diminishing success on the territories of Portugal and Spain for years before they finally retreated back to France. British could be supplied from the sea, while the French had to ferry all their supplies from across the Pyrenees over a countryside with problematic roads and extremely hostile indigenous population.
Strategy and tactics of military combat
The armies of March of the Eagles consist out of four parts (even though the manual tends to refer to them as “flanks”, I’d like to save that terminology for the use of describing military units on the “sides” of a developed army composition), which are the center, the left and right flank and the reserves. You can assign generals not only to your main army, but to your center, flanks and reserves as well. The battles themselves depend on the stats of the generals, the number and quality of the army as well as the terrain. Unfortunately, unlike in Total War titles, you can’t actually command your units in the field, but then again, this is a whole different kind of ball game, where you are far more focused on succeeding as the leader of your nation rather than a general in particular battles. And there will be a lot of battles for you to prove yourself, too, so one will find a lot of enjoyment on that level .
Generals are an important asset in the game, and once again, should you know the names of the history involved, the experience will be additionally enriching. Actually, the generals are referred to as leaders, and are divided in generals and admirals, and you should take great care to employ them in all your fighting forces. I personally enjoyed starting off a campaign as France and finding all those truly epic characters such as Ney, Murat, Lannes and countless others available for combat, who will then face off opponents such as Blucher, Bagration, Kutuzov, Wellesley. Also, have in mind that many of these generals were nothing less then heroes (men like Lannes spring to mind, who led their soldiers to battle by charging ahead of them), and that French had exceptional losses in generals because of such a fearless military attitude. Truth be told, with some exceptions, none of the armies of the period could be accused of cowardice, and the Prussians, the British as well as the Russians had all performed countless acts of gallant, heroic firmness on the battlefields across Europe and Russia, and casualties among officers and generals on all sides were a common feature of Napoleonic Wars.
Conquering provinces is simple, if there are no cities, forts or defending armies, and all the player needs to do is to move the troops into the specific province. However, if there is an enemy army, one needs to defeat the army first and eventually besiege the fort or the city afterwards. Sieges are always a “touchy” business, one needs to be certain to attack with overwhelming odds and sufficient artillery, or otherwise the attack may claim far too much casualties that will grind one’s advance to a halt until more troops can be recruited and losses compensated. Whenever you are fighting in the March of the Eagles, have in mind that there are battles to be fought tomorrow as well; look for fast, easy victories, don’t charge headlong if you absolutely don’t need to, because you do not have endless resources at your disposal.
Warfare on an empty stomach
It is extremely important to address issues such as attrition and limited resources, long supply lines and similar aches of Napoleonic Wars. A horrifying fact says that there were more casualties in these wars from attrition, hunger and exposure to elements and long, forced marches, then they were from actual fighting. Just think of Napoleon’s Grand Armee and their retreat from Russia, and things should be sliding into proper perspective. For the most time, armies would maneuver around each other, striving to cut each other off from supplies, as well as obtaining a tactical, positional advantage. Once an army would find a good position, they would entrench themselves, and the other, depending on their resources, would either try to once again outmaneuver them, deny their supplies or threaten a city behind the first army’s position, forcing these to once again get moving. There are occasions of armies “dancing” around each other like this for weeks before actually engaging in combat. In March of the Eagles, having an unbroken supply line to your units means difference between life and death, and many an army can be starved to death before it is required for the military action to defeat it.
Beware of the fact that you need to manage your empire well and handle the limited resources properly. Manpower, for instance, is the renewable pool of recruits that can be depleted if you should be losing too many armies at a too fast rate; eventually, there will not be enough recruits left for you to raise new armies if you fight a series of bad engagements. The same problem was something Napoleon was facing in the final years of Napoleonic Wars; his country deprived of so many old veterans during the Russian campaign, he had to take measure of conscripting even the newly weds without children. There was also an immense shortage in horses, which effectively meant that the French cavalry was practically non-existent in those last years, rendering the French Emperor unable to conduct fast reconnaissance, pursue broken enemies and outmaneuver his opponents. This is all very nicely depicted in March of the Eagles, so beware of prolonged , ineffective warfare. Running out of money can be offset by taking a loan, but be aware of a “negative” resource, the war exhaustion. Once again, if you conduct war for too long, you will find your nation weary of that war and yearning for peace; only thing that can truly offset the war exhaustion, next to victories, is to simply stop the war. Once your nation has recovered, you can enroll into warfare again. Oh, and also pay good attention to the possibilities of revolts, that can easily occur on newly conquered territory. The horrors that the French brought on themselves from the hands of Spanish guerrillas during the Peninsular War by acting ruthlessly towards the indigenous population is stuff to make horror movies from; in the end, it was assessed, that every day in occupied Spain some several hundred French soldiers were killed by Spanish irregulars in most brutal fashion imaginable. Similar things happened in Calabria.
March of the Eagles is an action oriented strategy that gives the extra kick by focusing on good, old-fashioned warmongering. I could go on talking about it for hours, as I have missed out on a ton of relevant info, but you know what? There is one thing better than talking about it. That is playing it! So, yeah, go and grab the game, you definitely won’t regret it, and if you are by any case a newly arrival to Paradox strategies, it will be a good choice to get into this specific genre. March of the Eagles shouldn’t be just played; it should be taught in schools.