Features// March of the Eagles: Grand Stategy Vs a N00b

Posted 23 Feb 2013 12:45 by
So, I've been trying to invade the Netherlands since yesterday. And it shouldn't be that difficult. I mean, the Netherlands, right? Flat. Windmills. Clogs. Relaxed sex and drug laws. And it's 1805 and I'm in charge of Great Britain. Great Britain!!! In 1805 we were so hard that we were still (just barely) turning up in other peoples' countries and just nicking their blokes because it was cheaper and easier than just paying people a decent wage. Plus, I have 490,000 men, and the Netherlands has, like, 9,000. So, yeah! Rule Britannia and all that.

Except, I'm kind of struggling to get my guys into boats. I mean, I have boats, but it seems like for some reason you can only put soldiers on some of them. Official transports are what I need, apparently. And it seems some of my armies are too heavy for the boats. I thought about just starving them for a little bit so they'd lighten up, but that doesn't seem to be an option. It's possible I can separate them, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet. Bureaucracy, innit. This is the exact kind of red tape that brings Imperial ambition to a sluggish crawl.

And, I'm not actually sure that the Dutch only have 9,000 blokes, because I can't find the proper stats. Or maybe there aren't 'proper stats', because what foreign power had that sort of intelligence in 1805? I don't know. I don't even know if I should know. So, in short, my dreams of dominating early 19th century Europe are not going as planned.

Not that I'm blaming March of the Eagles for this. If you're an experienced strategy gamer and for some reason you're reading this you probably started rolling your eyes at me somewhere in the first paragraph. Yeah, I'm a n00b. But, in my defence, one press release does contain the words, “targeted at strategy newcomers looking to expand their gaming palette”. And that's me!

As someone who normally hangs out in the shallower end of the gaming pool with guys like Nathan Drake and Dante, jumping into the depths of Grand Strategy is a pretty sobering experience. Like many gamers, it's a world that's strange, alien and a little frightening to me.

But it's February, not a lot's happening (I mean, except for the PS4) and I thought I'd take the plunge.

I'm four or five hours in and I've spent most of my time reading manuals. At first I thought I'd try the quick start guide - complete with a walkthrough of a campaign - that Paradox provided. That got derailed when I couldn't find an in-game menu button I needed and realised I had absolutely no idea what to do next.

'No worries,' I thought, 'there was a tutorial option.' So I went back and tried the tutorial. That went OK for a bit, but after a while of doing it you're instructed to invade the Netherlands and, yes, this is the point when I hit snags in trying to get my guys onto ships.

'Maybe,' I thought, 'I didn't want the quick start guide. Maybe I wanted the Beginner's Guide.' So I read the 20-odd pages of that. But, while by the end of it I felt more-or-less abreast of the basic concepts at work, I still didn't have any kind of grasp of the finer mechanics of the thing. And, in fairness, the Beginner's Guide does suggest reading the manual. I'd sort of hoped that might be a reference document rather than a (virtual) cover-to-cover read, but OK. Except, there are 108 pages of it, and I kind of want to play the game by this point...

As all this is going on I'm just getting more and more lost. Because I'm ingesting what feels like reams and reams of information, but I don't feel like I'm any closer to actually playing the game. Occasionally I'll dip back into it to poke at things, but I'm just swimming in menus and numbers and military terminology I only recognise from Sharpe and, while the shape of the thing is starting to emerge, I don't feel like I'm getting any closer to a finer understanding of how to make it actually work.

“Though March of the Eagles should be a straightforward game to comprehend, there is a huge amount of information contained throughout every part of the interface,” the manual says. Well, it's 50% right. The problem is knowing what information you actually need to pay attention to. What's important and relevant, and what can be left in the background until you've grasped the more pressing stuff. Everything's ultra high-resolution and there's so much data it actually strips context from what you're doing, rather than adding to it.

In a lot of ways, it's just like living an information-saturated life in the year 2013.

The Grand Strategy genre is perhaps the most abstracted form of gaming. Everything is reduced down to points on a map and endless numbers. It's nothing but decision-making. And instead of being informed by the kind of context provided by 3D figures, those decisions are served by a much denser symbolic delivery system. It's quite a switch to make when you're used to punching things until they fall over. I can only shiver and guess at what it was like in the days before animated sprites to mark armies and ships.

Honestly, learning to play March of the Eagles has felt more like learning a new job working with a tangled, obscure piece of administrative software than it has learning the sort of game I normally play. Hardcore strategy gamers make the rest of us look like apes walking round with our fingers up our arseholes.

But... I'm getting there. Just ahead of me, I'm getting whiffs of a deep, rich gaming (I'm sorry) experience that takes a hell of a lot more out of you than Call of Battlefield of Honour, but might just give you a whole lot more back, too.

Or maybe it will just leave me a desiccated husk of a man. I'm going to press on to find out, though.

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Myles 27 Feb 2013 17:32
And to be fair, March of the Eagles, with it's relatively simplified diplomatic and economic options, barely qualifies as a grand strategy game compared to Europa Universals, Hearts of Iron, or Victoria 2.
magitsu 6 Mar 2013 00:51
Great emotion and humour. Good article.
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