Two Games From Slitherine, Starship Troopers And Field of Glory II Medieval
Choose Your Battles
Feel Like Some Historical Tabletop Gaming, Or Futuristic RTS?
Slitherine have been pumping out a large amount of games recently having acquired licensing to produce Warhammer 40K games, not to mention Starship Troopers, to add to their long list of other strategic titles. They are not a AAA house, nor do they have any interest in being so as they focus more on the game itself than they do fancy assets. Their games tend to be very complex and sometimes unforgiving of mistakes; but they also load quickly which makes it easier to go back to before a cascade of errors ruined your plans.
The movies and cutscenes are more likely to be made of static images, they’ll leave the fancy stuff to houses like Blizzard, while the team at Slitherine works to make a strategically and tactically complex game. Their turn based games can be quite daunting to start out, but they are also rather good at tutorials to give you an idea of what you are doing, or at least the right questions to find answers for.
The two games they sent me for review are very different, but definitely share some DNA in their backgrounds. Field of Glory II: Medieval is at heart a historical tabletop battle simulation, keeping the complex rules but saving you a lot of money on miniatures. It has been out for about five years now but Slitherine have been pushing out DLC content since release and they were all applied to the game for this review.
Startship Troopers on the other hand draws from the 1997 film as opposed to the Heinlein book, no sign of Skinnies but you do seem to get at least some troops wearing powered armour. The lovely cheesy flavour of the movie is very present in the game; if you accept that and go with it you will enjoy the game more than you will if you fight it. This single player game also incorporates more strategy than your average Starcraft clone, which helps to make it interesting.
Let’s Get Medieval, 1040 CE To 1500 CE
When it first arrived in 2017 Field of Glory II Medieval spanned the High Middle Ages from 1040 CE to 1270 CE but that has been greatly expanded over the years. Reconquista kept to the same time period, adding 20 new nations and 41 troops to battle it out across Spain and North Africa. Swords and Scimitars adds another 20 countries and 32 units from South Eastern Europe and the Middle East, if you are in a Crusading mood or if you want to try your hand at stopping them as Saladin. Storm of Arrows extends the game into the 14th and 15th centuries, spanning the 100 Years war as well as the advent of gunpower on the battlefield, which some of the additional 45 unit types will be carrying. Most recently is Rise of the Swiss which dropped last month, and brings their world changing pike tactics to Field of Glory II Medieval, along with yet another 22 new units.
As you can guess, this means that there are huge differences between the armies fielded by different countries, or even the same countries at different points in history. While the basic gameplay remains the same the units you have available will have as much impact on your strategies as the terrain will. This review is not going to cover all the systems and units in depth, rather it is an overall look at the game to help you decide if you are interested or not.
Form Up And Move Out
The original Field of Glory II: Medieval and it’s DLCs all offer campaigns of various length, which allow you to play through a large number of historical campaigns to see if your skills as a general can compare with those of history. You can try to destroy the Holy Roman Empire in the Swabian War or see if you can crush Constantinople as the Fourth Crusade. If you just want to skirmish then there are plenty of single battles to fight, or you can create your own custom wars if you prefer.
The expected deployment phase that lets you place your troops is a little more important than in a Total War game, thanks to the huge impact terrain has on the game. Trying to move heavily armoured troops through swamps leaves them as disarrayed as if they just took a successful Hussar charge to their flanks, while auxiliary troops that wander out of difficult terrain are a juicy target for any mounted troops in the neighbourhood. Speaking of mounted knights, they do not turn so well and may need several turns to about face for a second charge and this can leave them vulnerable to being surrounded by decent foot troops. Some terrain can even hide troops from view, until the enemy gets close enough or you reveal yourself by attacking, which are indicated by a ? in the tile.
Once deployed, similar troops that are grouped, such as the knights below with blue squares, can be moved together until melee commences or you can move them independently from the start if you so choose. Terrain, blocking units and other factors can move them out of formation, so make sure you know where you are going. Thankfully there is an undo button available until you click on another troop, if you do misjudge distances and obstacles.
Peeling Apart The Plate Mail
You can CTRL-click on any of your troops to get more details about their capabilities and Points Of Advantage. POA is used in combat calculations and helps to represent the effectiveness of certain troops against other specific troop types during their initial charge and in the subsequent melee. The Prussian Spearmen are bad news for just about anything they charge, unless they happen to be more heavily armed and armoured, but just how effective they are depends on more than just the type, as terrain again changes up the calculations. Once in melee they are still quite good, but if your charge doesn’t cause some disarray they may be in for a tough fight.
You might have noticed mention of a cohesion test in the description, which has another huge impact on battle and is calculated during combat based on the unit’s characteristics as well as the roll of two six sided dice to make things a little random. There are four states, Steady, Disrupted, Fragmented and Broken/Routing. Your units start Steady for the most part, but can become Disrupted due to enemy melee, missile attacks or even by certain terrain. Disrupted troops suffer a combat disadvantage to represent the battle line being pushed out of position, while Fragmented troops fight poorly, have reduced movement and will refuse to charge the enemy. Once you are Fragmented there is a good chance the troops will soon rout from the field. The best way to achieve this is to hit units from the rear or flank.
Of course there is a chance your troops might pursue those routing troops to try to finish off a few more, which can be annoying if they manage to drag themselves well out of position, There are rally checks which apply to any unit which is not Steady and has not lost a level of cohesion in the previous turn, allowing them to reform and become more effective, especially when in range of a general. The other benefit of being within range of a general’s command is the ability to change facing once for free, Slitherine’s way of replicating them actually receiving orders while on the battlefield. Ensuring that your enemy doesn’t have the chance to recover cohesion is key to victory.
In order to win a battle you generally have to rout an absolute minimum percentage of enemy troops, as well as a certain percentage more than you have lost. Tennis was a medieval invention after all. The quality of the troops matters less than the number, if you can force all the enemies archers and peasants to flee the nobility and professional solders are not going to stick around to try to win it themselves!
That is what happened in a Time Warp campaign I tried which saw the Roman Legions of old attempt to take on a Swedish army from the 15th century. Those Romans might be tough in hand to hand but they weren’t expecting crossbowmen to be able to successfully stand up to their charge, let alone make a good accounting of themselves in battle!
There is a lot to learn to become effective at this game but also a huge amount of fun. It is also wonderful to be able to save mid-combat as some battles can take quite a while to win, and this lets you leave and come back later when you have the time to finish it off.
Would You Like To Learn More
From the very starting introduction through to the narrator that almost but not quite hits the tone perfectly, Starship Troopers: Terran Command tries to recapture the overall feeling of the movie. Hoards of Archies are looking to eat the brave men and women of the Federation under your control, while you desperately try to find and destroy the hive they are coming from. The game offers a single player campaign as well as a few custom battles and challenges to try your hand at.
The opening spiel offers some serious propaganda, before dumping you on Klandathu, and then leaving you there to try to survive. You get a peek at some of the things you can expect, from plasma bugs through to timely air support, but for the most part you are on your own against the arachnids.
C’mon You Apes, You Wanna Live Forever?
The start of a mission usually sees you in control of a pair of rifle platoons, the backbone of the federation army and while no match for a bug one on one, the application of massed firepower and the occasional grenade evens the odds significantly. The usual RTS hot-grouping applies, as do special abilities and CTRL-click to move and attack. The triangle above your units not only identifies what type of troop it is but also lets you know it’s experience level and it’s line of sight. As troops go up in experience they can gain extra abilities, in the case of the riflemen they can choose between a highly damaging shotgun blast or a cluster of grenades that do huge damage but have a blast radius larger than you can toss ’em, so make sure to beat feet after tossing one.
The most important part is the eye at the bottom of the unit icon representing line of fire. Unlike many other RTS games you can’t just stack up troops in one location and fire away; friendly fire isn’t and most troops will refuse to fire at bugs if a friend is in the way. That means you need to keep your platoons spaced out and with clear lines of fire between them and their targets if you want everyone to participate. Of course, the bugs also appreciate a straight run at spaced out troops, so if you can find some elevation as well it makes you even more effective and will slow the bugs down … a bit.
As you contine on the campaign you will get the chance to grab other troops, such as the Engineer who not only comes with a handy flamethrower but can also toss up heavy machine gun towers. You can only have one per Engineer, but you can also tear them down and rebuild them as the battle moves forward. There are also snipers to use against acid spitters and flyers, rocket troops for the really big bugs, leader units to inspire the troops and more.
Everybody Fights, No One Quits
There are even more varieties of bugs than there are troops, as you meet them you will get information on their capabilities but one thing does remain constant, the only good bug is a dead bug! In most missions you will be given the ability to increase your control cap by taking and holding certain positions, which allows you to reinforce existing troops and order up new ones. There is not much base building compared to other games, but you will still need to slap down a building once and a while to be able to recruit and reinforce some troop types.
These areas can also be used to move troops from one side of the map to the other. This can be very handy when you are trying to wipe out a bug hive on one end of the map, only to have a base you’ve been assigned to protect alert you to an incoming wave of Archies. The missions do vary but the key to victory is almost always the destruction of bug hives. Bug hives show an icon representing the population, which you have to draw out and kill, once the icons are empty you can send a platoon in to automatically clear out the hive. They will take some damage but there won’t be any more bugs spawning from that hive.
Be aware that there may be bug tunnels attached to the hive which also constantly generate bugs, but can only be destroyed by the destruction of the actual hive they are connected to. You will also find missions where the level of the hives increase as you play, making it even harder to clear them out.
As you progress you will see new troop types, some with powered armour or if you are lucky a hulking Marauder with chain guns or flamethrowers. The bad news is that if the Federation has authorized their use, the bugs are every bit as nasty. Unless that Marauder gets a move on, it is going to be within the splash radius of a plasma bugs incoming bombardment, which is capable of ruining anything’s day.
The game flows quickly from one mission to the next, giving the overall game a similar pace to the missions themselves.
Slow And Steady, Or Fast And Furious
There are a lot of differences between Starship Troopers And Field of Glory II Medieval but there are those for whom both types of games are entertaining. Starship Troopers is going to be familiar to a larger population but the gameplay is unique enough to make it feel a little different than the hundreds of other RTS games you can chose from. The lack of base building and effectiveness of strategy over keypresses per second are especially attractive to those of us whose fingers are slowing down a bit, or who want at least a bit of time to admire the carnage you just wreaked without hopping all over the map in case you missed something.
Field of Glory II Medieval is unlikely to appeal to anyone with a distaste of tabletop war games but for those that do like a little historical battling it should be worth a look. The game manages to keep the complexity within reason while still offering a good experience for those familiar with this type of simulation. The inclusion of random checks for losing and gaining cohesion states is done well, and with the additional bonuses and penalties for troop training and other factors it is unlikely to produce overly bizarre outcomes; instead it just tries to reflect the chaos of a battlefield.
Field of Glory II Medieval will also offer you far more gameplay opportunities than Starship Troopers, with all of the DLC there are a vast number of campaigns to get through, even before you start on custom battles. That is reflected in the price, Starship Troopers will run you $30US, the same price as the base Field of Glory II Medieval game. If you want to add the Medieval DLCs, they are $15 each or you can grab all of them and the base game at once for $80.
Thanks to Slitherine for sending over some review codes so we could share these two games with you.