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Posted on Jan 27, 2008 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Empires in Arms – Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Matrix’s EIA clearly is built with PBEM play in mind. After all, one of the drawbacks to the boardgame is the difficulty in getting a dedicated group of souls together. The PC version offers several innovations to give virtual groups the boardgame experience. One of the great challenges of multi-player PBEM games is how to keep it going when someone drops out, or is holding the game up. EIA has tools that allow for a moderated game, where players can be replaced, and assigning players to major powers is done fairly. The only issue with PBEM is that because EIA requires that each player complete their phase before moving to the next, one turn still requires a great deal of emails back and forth.

Many players will undoubtedly be looking to feed their EIA passion solitaire. Unfortunately, their appetite will not be sated by the AI’s capabilities. While the robo-Bonapart can certainly hold things together while an inexperienced player learns the ropes, it does not really do well when the player has some experience under their belt. For example, AI Britain seems to have a penchant for marching a handful of troops off to Paris early in the game. This inadequate force is quickly defeated by a human French player, and this can leave Britain open to invasion if something happens to their fleet. In the diplomatic phase, the AI players also seem to follow the herd when courting minor powers. If France is courting Sweden, it seems like everyone else is as well. Part of the AI’s challenge has to do with the fact that the game is so deep that the robo-opponent really does have a difficult job. But for a game where hot-blooded diplomacy and conquest go hand-in-hand, the AI in EIA just seems cold and robotic, and most players will find themselves gravitating to PBEM play.

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Empire in Arms is not the kind of game you can just jump into and start playing. The game is complex and deep. Unfortunately, to make gameplay even more difficult, EIA also has some self-inflicted wounds in the user friendliness department. For new players, there is no tutorial, and the manual doesn’t help much either. The documentation, while comprehensive is more useful as a reference for someone who already knows the game. Another issue making the game difficult, is that the interface is very quirky and takes time to learn. For example, key events are listed on a long log along with many other minor messages and there is no filter. The player then spends a great deal of time sifting through dozens of messages to find the ones that concern him. Feedback to the player is often cryptic, and even moving to the next phase can sometimes be frustrating. In the setup phase for example, the player is not allowed to move on without all factors being placed. The frustration starts when the player has to find, then understand the enigmatic information on what is left to deploy. Even unit movement is not easy, and simple functions like assigning a leader to a corps takes a few tries to get the right combination of clicks. All of these interface issues are minor once the player knows what to do, but getting to that point sometimes feels like that long march back from Moscow.

In the final evaluation, Matrix Games has given the wargaming world a meticulous PC adaptation of Australian Design Group’s classic boardgame. Empires in Arms is an easy recommendation for veterans of the boardgame and those who want to learn. Those wanting to play via PBEM will be giddy. EIA does require commitment however, so casual strategy gamers will do better getting their Napoleonic gaming fix elsewhere. But for those who want to fill the Little Corporals boots, dominate Europe, and stab a few backs along the way, Empires in Arms is just the ticket.

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Game Intel

Empires in Arms (Matrix Games)

Australian Design Group

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4 Comments

  1. Being a veteran of several EIA campaigns I think this review is fairly accurate.

    I’ve completed the grand campaign in the board game version many times and I was one of the first to buy the pc adaptation once it was published, –
    right now I’m on my third solitaire campaign. So I feel qualified for confirming the conclusions in the review.

    It’s true that the game has a steep learning curve. Heck, it takes a long time to learn playing the board game – even when there are veteran players
    around to answer the avalanche of questions that are sure to come.

    What struck me most about the pc adaptation is the enormous amount of errors. I haven’t encountered a piece of software needing updating more than
    when I first installed windows 98. That’s right. It’s that serious! Don’t even think of playing it without all the updates, or you will sorely regret it.

    Finally a positive note. I loved the original board game. I loved its complexity and its long perspective. I also loved the flexibility in the idea
    that players are not bound by fixed alliances like in WIF. I think that Matrix Games have succeeded in bringing one of the finest Grand Strategy games
    ever made to the pc. Kudos to them for taking on such an arduous task and then completing it.

    All said and done I’m glad that I bought the pc version of EIA, and I recommend it to all fans of the original board game and fans of Grand Strategy
    games anywhere – but PLEASE remember to download the updates.

  2. Well, even with the latest (and last – it is it) update, the software doesn’t work properly. There are bugs which are simply annoying (Britain and France are at peace in turn 2 while they didn’t make peace, moves you have to repeat until the damn thing works) and other which stop and crash the game (try to attack unescorted transport fleets in a port, for instance).

    It’s a bad port from a good boardgame. It’s not a saleable product, it’s badly done, obviously not sufficiently playtested. It’s a shame they did put it on the market, and the factg that they are keeping it on sale gives me a very serious trust question about the editor. My advice : play this excellent boardgame by email with a referee! Don’t buy the pc adaptation, it’s a waste of time and money.

    • So I found out before reading the reviews . Waste of money . The game is for overly patient people with money to waste .

  3. I loved the boardgame so I spent the 75 dollars (yes 75!) for this buggy piece of software. When my PC was stolen (including my back up files) Matrix games refused to provide new installation files although they knew I had bought the game because of the online receipt and records. “Buy a new copy” was their response.

    I would recommend people to stay clear of this product and the companys involved with it. But I heartily recommend the board game from Avalon Hill!

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