Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/Wargame
Release Date: February 2006
With the war games market groaning under the weight of real-time strategy games and first person shooters set in World War II, it’s refreshing to encounter a title that has a less frenetic pace and deals with a completely different historical period. One such game is Birth of America, a strategic-level, turned-based wargame that covers the American Revolutionary War and the proceeding French and Indian Wars.
The scope of the game is impressive. Spanning the years 1755 to 1783, Birth of America gives players the chance to control the forces of colonial America, France or Britain across an enormous and beautifully presented map that stretches from Florida to Quebec. Divided into more than 700 provinces, the map includes a variety of terrain types that accurately represents the east coast’s diverse geography. Dotted up and down the map are dozens of strategically located forts and cities that can be both a source of supply and a refuge.
Fighting across this terrain and the neighboring ocean are three principal unit types: combat units (regiments and warships), support units (artillery and supply) and over 100 individual leaders. In all, there are 90 different unit types, each of which are individually rated for offensive and defensive strength, morale, experience, troop quality, geographical origin and movement type. Each game turn represents a month of real time with movement measured in the number of days it takes to reach a certain destination. In addition to a tutorial mission, the game includes several scenarios that range from just a few short turns, to the main campaign of 1778 that lasts 30 turns.
The most immediate and striking feature of the game is the interface. It’s crisp, uncluttered and functional. Surrounding the scrollable map are various information panels that include details on the selected province including terrain and weather, game time and turn, event and unit information. When an army counter is selected on the map, its details are presented at the bottom of the screen. This includes a portrait of every leader, regiment, supply unit or ship present in the selected unit. Visible on these portraits is information pertaining to the unit’s type, such as Royal Marine and strength. Clicking on the portrait reveals what sub-units (battalions) are attached, while clicking on them produces another panel that lists details such as the unit’s strength, range, supply status, to name a few.
Adjacent to the unit information are command icons that allow you to change the posture of the unit from, say, Defensive, where it will avoid a confrontation to the best of its ability, to Assault, where the unit will attack any enemy unit in the province. Other command options include Entrench, Build or Destroy a Fort or Depot, Set Ambush and Force March. Once one of these commands has been selected, it applies for all the units in the stack.
Moving units around the map is simple and achieved through a drag-and-drop system: just pick the unit up and drop it at its new location. A translucent version of the unit appears on the map as a reminder of where it’s going. The computer calculates the optimal route to the new destination and draws a line through the provinces the unit will traverse. It’ll also tell you how many days it’ll take to move through each province. Moving into a fort or city is similar: just pick up the unit and drop it onto the settlement. The same applies to merging two units.
When opposing sides enter the same province with an aggressive posture, a battle will most likely be initiated. But it’s usually over in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, the outcome is printed in the event box at the bottom of the screen. Double-clicking on this text opens up the Battle Report screen, where details of the battle’s outcome can be evaluated. The units involved, who fired first and from what range, whether the units had any terrain advantage as well as losses taken include some of the information available in this report.
The AI appears to be sound with the enemy acting aggressively and winning as many battles is it loses. The difficulty level of the game can be adjusted in the Options menu to provide for a more challenging opponent if required. For players wanting to fight against a human opponent, Play By E-Mail is supported.
A Fog of War option, where information concerning the whereabouts and strength of enemy units is limited, can be selected to add to the game’s realism. Planning and fighting against an enemy of unknown strength and location can be a challenge and it reflects the restrictions 18th century generals faced during war. But prudent use of light troops and scouts can help mitigate the risks of operating in this “fog”. Supply has also been realistically modeled in the game. Units not in supply will suffer attrition and be less effective in battle. In addition to supply units, on-screen filters can be selected to aid in identifying which provinces have supply problems.
Although the game has some political elements, such as provincial loyalty during the American Revolution scenarios, Birth of America almost exclusively concerns itself with the military aspects of the wars. Diplomacy doesn’t really feature in the game either. On the rare occasion where managing international affairs becomes a concern, this is handled abstractly. For example, French entry into the war in later scenarios is determined by victory point accumulation rather than by exercising actual diplomatic options. Similarly, other elements some players may associate with a strategy game, such as resource gathering, establishing settlements and constructing and upgrading units are not in this game. Birth of America is more akin to a traditional wargame than a broad reaching strategy game such as Rome Total War, although the two may share some similar elements.
Nonetheless, if you enjoy thinking strategically and are looking for a fresh and accessible game that doesn’t rely on excessive mouse clicking, then Birth of America might be the game for you. The game will be available for order by the end of February from the developers’ website.
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