It's also true that I have an absurd fondness for all things Napoleonic: I've read as much as I can get my hands on, both historical and fictional - loved the movies ("The Duellists" is one of my all time favorites) and generally had my head stuck in the 19th Century. All this is to say that I was well-primed to be absolutely bat-guano crazy for the game Imperial Glory by Eidos Interactive. On the strategic scale, I would develop economic infrastructure and build navies and armies - on the tactical scale I'd fight battles to make Austerlitz and Waterloo look like schoolyard tussles. I was all a-twitter about this game.
Imagine my disappointment when I found it to be unplayably tedious.
I've written before that in a game, the fun is limited by the interface. What might have been great games were ruined by counter-intuitive interfaces that were hard to master and hard to use. "Master of Orion 3" leaps to mind, for instance. And Imperial Glory is no different. There are many obscure details about the interface that are critical to playing the game that are not documented, and are not easily deduced. For example - the heart of Great Britain is her massive trade empire - and to develop that empire, one must build merchant brigantines which ply the waters of the world. Building them is expensive and consumes a great deal of people and resources, as well as several turns - and each ship only opens one trade route. Imagine my consternation when I finally researched the technology to build ships, spent the time and money ... and there was no sign of my brig anywhere to be found!
It turns out that there's a little button on the lower right hand corner of the screen that looks like a stack of gold coins. This button opens the "economic view" rather than the default "military view" - and only in the economic view can ships be assigned to trade routes, or trade routes even be detected. It took a while to figure this out, and it's not at all intuitive. Far better to have had the ship icon appear on the map, and when I "grab" it with the cursor, the game would automatically switch to economic mode, since I was doing something economic.
After several hours of play as the British, I had done nothing other than build a few sloops, and a smallish Army which was thoroughly trounced by the Piedmontese. I switch to France, because I figured they'd basically roared through Europe during that era, and if I played my diplomatic cards right (developing sympathy for your Empire is an important part of the game) I could single out opponents and defeat them in detail. No such luck! All France can afford to produce are unarmed hordes of peasant militia. Again after several hours of play, I'd conquered one whole Spanish province, and was otherwise stuck.
The tactical map does conflicts both Naval and land. The naval battles ought to be complex - tacking for the wind advantage, pulling up yard-arm to yard-arm and boarding 'em in the smoke! Alas, it becomes a slow-motion duel to get off one more volley than the other guy, and then board. There's one tactic that works infallibly (switch to chain shot, reduce the enemies sails while getting your hull pounded, and then switch to grape when you have a modest maneuver advantage. Pound his crew down to about 2/3, then board and win automatically.) that isn't a whole lot of fun. Even after several hours of play I'd never managed a conflict larger than sloop on sloop, so I couldn't tell you what a larger action is like.
On land is where the game ought to shine - Regiments of grenadiers, line infantry, light infantry, voltigeurs, rifles, sappers - and squadrons of lancers, cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars - all the splendor of Napoleonic military might. The uniforms, the musketry, the gallantry! Alas, even after several hours of play, the battles consisted of nothing but squalid rabbles of militia dashing at each other and bashing each other on the head. Oh the shame, that Austerlitz should be fought with rakes and hoes!
This is a game that ought to play on a grand scale. It misses entirely - battles are small and tactical maneuvering is irrelevant. Every battle ends with the complete destruction of one side or the other, which is ahistorical - and there are few variations of the troop types. It's quite difficult to even tell the troop types from each other on the tactical screen, and maneuvering them is extraordinarily difficult. Which is pointless anyway, since every fight devolves into "My guys rush your guys, and whoever has more, wins." Where are the brave squares of infantry, resolutely blazing away at rushing cavalry? Where are the glittering arrays of bayonets and absurdly fancy uniforms?
The look and sound of the game are heavily reminiscent of the "Total War" series, even to having vaguely similar music - which is a good thing. The strategic map is a beautifully rendered map of Europe (though it leaves out trade with the colonies, which was of course critical to the wars of the time) - and the tactical environments are complicated, hilly and beautiful. There are farmhouses and structures that troops can occupy as defensive position, and this at least is done very well. Of course, it's also irrelevant, since, as I said, the game lacks substantial tactical depth.
I haven't had much fun playing the game. I expected and hoped to be thrilled. I'll probably try and so some of the historical scenarios ... but since the computer's AI consists of "charge!" I wonder if they'll be any fun at all. Imperial Glory Has been a big disappointment.