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Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great

Developer: Koios Works
Publisher: Matrix Games
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Players: 1-2
Similar To: DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis) Online
Rating: N/A
Published: 02 : 07 : 05
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent

Minimum Req.: P2 550MHz, 128MB RAM (256 for XP), 64MB video card, DirectX 9 comp. sound card
Reviewed On: P4 2.5 GHz, 512 Meg RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro

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My childhood was filled with many a-fun activities, but, unfortunately, none of them included putting miniatures on crafted battlefields and having them go at it within a specific rule-set. For those of us who had only our imaginary wars with GI Joe, but wouldn't have minded classying things up a bit with some elaborate wars by way of miniature armies going at it in the world of De Bellis Antiquitatis, Koios Works and Matrix games gives you Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great. Made for fans of miniatures and those who may have had a passing, or possibly nonexistent, interest in them, this original in a soon-to-be series allows players to make faux war with little figures until their hearts are content in one of the most addictive strategy titles released at one of the worst times.

Creative Assembly's Rome: Total War has become the de facto standard of strategy games based in the ancient world for many, and with good reason. Other titles, like the Ubisoft published Alexander the Great title that had Colin Farrell's face slapped on the box, sealed up a wave of strategy titles that went from providing epic experiences (Hearts of Iron II and Rome: Total War) to the sheer visceral (Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War), as well as the return of an old favorite and a jaunt into high fantasy (Kohan II: Kings of War and Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, respectively). With so many titles out on the market, it would be easy to miss this smaller title from upstart Koios; after all, it features no Risk-style map to plot grand strategies, and outside of the actual combat it only features planning phases and purchasing phases rudimentarily implemented. However, by taking the complexities of table-top wargaming and simplifying them with several turns paced such that players will have to keep constant vigilance on the unfolding battle, players will get to enjoy an experience that manages to be both exciting and personal. The fact that it can stand toe-to-toe with some of the biggest releases, some of which are also

 

personal favorites of mine, is very telling.

Stylishly told using great art scenes mixed with rough animation and crude 3D layouts of the battlefield, the exploits of Alexander the Great will bring players across the ancient world in an attempt to bring the known lands under his heel. After the first mission is complete, the booty from victory (taxes, plunder, what was left of the player's army from the previous battle) will be used to replenish troop strength, train units, and purchase strategy cards. For the veterans of the previous war, adding new troops will bring down that group's overall experience, with compensation coming in the form of purchasing additional training for the men, while this phase also allows the player to send off inefficient generals incase the troops weren't the problem. The card system will remind gamers of Rise of Nations, but their impact is much smaller in that they only affect a single piece - they can be anything from healing, having a stronger defense for a round, to increasing the potency of long-range units. I am typically not a fan of anything card related in my games, but the role they play here is just enough so that they are an interesting addition without being a burden. While the ability to manage units, commander, and cards is well and good, I found that I rarely ran out of money; the result is that the feeling of sacrifice that would be, and is, so potent in most strategy games was missing here, and these resources came from Minor Victories, mind you. The choices of any real consequence came about later in the game as I became more familiar and had more veteran pieces to restrengthen and retrain.

The placement of troops that precedes battles is not very robust and its usefulness questionable at times. There are slots set out for particular units - infantry, long-range, and cavalry - with the only strategic option one has to make is where to put the stronger and weaker pieces. Since the enemy isn't seen, it cannot always be used to strengthen one side or the other, so it is really a guess as to how the player wants to move. I ended up coming up with a strategy that went through all campaigns that involved a basic layout and how to move troops and where; so even if the enemy was on my left, it wouldn't take much time or effort to strengthen that side. This could very well be how it is for the sake of sticking with its table-top roots, but I would liked to have been given a little more freedom - possibly which direction the troops would face.

What's great about the game is the feel that it is really a piece-based table-top strategy game. When missions start, a little intro to the battlefield is given, then the board is shown, complete with tress that have round bases and unit pieces that sets of pieces, which not only function as an aesthetic enforcement of the setting, but also play a role in displaying unit vitality and attacking power. The grass is reminiscent of the harsh material used for grass, and the walls have a half-fake look to them. The icing on the cake, though, has to be the hand that comes down and picks up defeated units. A classy touch, if ever there was one.

The units are laid out in the positions placed into in the placement screen, and are limited to a certain movement range that is further restricted by where they are facing. Facing soon becomes apparent as one of the most crucial elements in the game, as it allows combatants to become outflanked, engulfed, and also attack more effectively. Orders are given in the Command Phase - with changing directions taking a turn all to itself - which are the orders the units will perform throughout the 15-(game) minute turn; after issued, the game moves ahead 5 minutes to the Reaction Phase, which is where some additional orders can be given if a unit is unable to meet their order (if a unit is told to attack another, but their enemy moves out of their way); the turn then moves into its last 5 minutes, the Reserve Phase, where units given that specific order during the Command Phase can then move. It gets a bit more complex than that, with units moving by their Initiative score, with units with 1 score going through a portion of their order and 2 score units following them - this where a Reaction turn comes in, to help keep the situation in balance after the varied movements are made. Who gets to react is also dependent upon the commander, and an expectance probability based on certain situations - units who push an enemy back will get to react, while those that discover a previously hidden enemy through the fog of war will have a low-to-medium chance of being able to move again. Trying to keep track of all of this can be daunting, since much of it can happen relatively fast in-between turns and the text window only shows basic information, but, and part of what makes the game easy for newcomers, is that it can also be played-by-ear, so to speak, with serviceable results.

The command set for the units is a small set including attacking, defending, changing directions, and retreating. For attacking, there is also a charge option that can either offer a bonus or penalty for the first attack of the round, with successive attacks reverting back to normal attack damage. Counter charge is a defensive stance that will retaliate with a charge attack - with its bonuses and/or penalties - with it also reverting back to the normal defense status after the initial reaction. There is also the aforementioned reserve option, which is useful in keeping a handful of units back to fill in gaps that form in the main line. The retreat command is one of the most useful, as it is the only way a unit can go backwards without having to turn around; however, the unit will eventually turn after stepping back, but a quick change in direction can fix that, and is much more manageable than the alternative.

Each attack is affected not only by the direction of the units - naturally, units attacked from the side or behind take more damage, their weapons and armor, but also the strength of the commander, the pieces in the unit, and the height of the terrain. The more pieces a unit has, the more chances it has to attack, and higher terrain offers an advantage over those on lower ground. Moral also plays a significant role as well with routed units running away from the nearest enemy and being uncontrollable anywhere from a period of time to the rest of the fight; the moral of the men also affects their performance in combat, with scared troops faring worse. There are also various ways in which the men can be shaken, including being near other routed troops or if they themselves are pushed back through other friendly troops. If movements overlap, the reaction phase helps to sort out who goes where, but it is only when a piece is pushed back is troops are negatively affected. Again, all of this information can be quite a bit to understand, but much of it is compacted into a few icons that can be displayed underneath a unit - their moral, health, and training - as well as lines showing where the piece is being moved to, and an arrow showing the direction they are facing (which is helpful because pieces at a diagonal angle can be mistaken for straight-on). However, whenever units are close together seeing this information becomes a problem, which can lead to some fairly painful results.

Breaking the enemy's will isn't the only way to win. Each mission also has a set of objectives that can add points to the player's side, which can also result in a victory. It is possible to not fulfill any and still win through military might, but completing the objectives tends to take more finesse by having to maneuver troops around select areas, as well as exploiting flanks, or causing certain units to flee. Requiring at least 600 points for a minor victory, this also acts as a built-in difficulty system, as racers have the timer for players to beat, here players can opt to kill or maintain and complete objectives.

Just as the graphics pack the charm of a digital table-top experience, the music and sound effects match are equally effective. While limited, the main track is pretty stirring, and the effects are suitable. There is also an underlying sound of sliding whenever a unit moves, which is overpowered by the sound of horses or feet stomping - a nice, subtle touch to add to the experience.

Aside from the problems of spotting piece information, and some of the general chaos that can be confusing for new players (fancy tutorials be damned), one of the game's biggest flaws is actually an omission: play-by-email multiplayer support. This game would be fantastic to play over long stretches, but, instead, multiplayer is relegated to one player hosting and another joining, but no means of finding out information other than checking forums. This isn't a serious jab at the game, but it is definitely missed. I would have also liked to have seem the controls polished more, with possibly a radial menu brought up for pieces, similar to the system in Neverwinter Nights, and also for 'Defend', the default stance, to be recognized as such and for units who are selected to be on it to not show up as those with a move left before a phase ends.


Overall: 8.5/10
Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great is an incredibly addictive title that is sure to charm even the most ardent gamer. Its problems really stem from it being the original and all the initial growing pain that entails - a rough menu system, difficulty seeing info when units are bunched, not taking advantage of all of what it presents, and limited multiplayer support. These issues will no doubt be ironed out as the series continues, and I cannot wait to see how it progresses. Koios has managed to tap a certain vein within gamers with the table-top replica that uses both subtle and overt ways of providing an experience not all of us may have had the ability to partake in. Be warned, though: This is one of those 'just one more turn' games, so be sure to have the appropriate amount of time available. While not perfect, it is a fantastic start.

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Related Links: Official Site | Matrix Games
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