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Posted on Feb 22, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

1848 – Recon (PC)

By Jim Cobb

Introduction

If Americans are taught anything about the Revolutions of 1848, it is about the French bourgeois uprising in Paris that gave Louis-Napoleon his first leg up to power and the fumbling of the German liberals in their attempt to unify Germany, an attempt that led to further strengthening of conservative monarchs – especially the Prussian king. Neither one of these had significant military events. The French simply formed another republic after the riots were put down and the Prussians “helped” other German states deal with their insurgents after Friedrich Wilhelm IV finally got his act together, re-took Berlin, imposed his own constitution and basically shut down the Paulskirche parliament in Frankfurt. These events were more like large, bloody riot control rather than military operations.

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Matters were different in Austria. The German liberal unrest was put down in the old-fashioned way but uprisings in non-German areas were different. The populace in regions like northern Italy and Hungary had a firmer sense of identity, one not dependent on modern ideology. When these areas rose in rebellion, they brought a fairly well-established military organization complete with regiments, equipment and officers with them. The Hungarians gave the Austrians a particularly hard time, so hard that the Russians intervened to stabilize the tottering Hapsburgs. The ensuing revolt was a true war of liberation with fascinating elements. Although an apparent failure, the Hungarian patriots set the stage for gaining co-equal status with the Austrians in 1867. Since mainstream developers will always overlook such interesting gems; Hungarian-based Hussar Games had to develop a game and a system to simulate this scintillating conflict with 1848. Not only is the system good but it will be free for download.


The load screen gives a taste of the historical feel of the game.

You don’t have to speak Magyar

1848 was first published in Magyar (Hungarian) by Hussar Games with support from Hungarian Ministry of Education and was published in the Spring of 2005. Tireless designer Bulscu Varhegyi has done a fine job of translating the game and support documents into English. The tutorial scenario is completely translated as is most of the game prompts. The twenty-page manual is 90% translated with only the illustration captions still needing work. The latest build of the beta is very playable now.

The element many American players will have to get used to is the geography. We are not used to small scale maps of Carpathia (now Hungary, Slovakia, parts of Rumania, Serbia, and Croatia) or the Hungarian spelling of the many cities and towns. Not to worry; these places’ importance to the game is obvious and, as Ambrose Bierce said, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”


Two armies square off. Note the army data in the information panel to the left.

The map itself imitates a hand-colored map from the period. The 2D style is not a cop-out to easy graphics but represents what a map from the early 19th century would look like. The map symbols, the information panels and illustrated borders on the loading screen represent a fine mixture of clean game graphics and a period feel. This feel is further enhanced by rousing background music complete with zither. The informational mouse tip makes navigation a snap. Hexes represent 25 kilometers and each symbol resembles a hand-painted Romantic-era landscape. Portraits of commanders and icons of different troop types and ethnicity are clear and very pleasing to view. The map and information screens show how pretty and useful graphics are different from jejune memory-hogging eye candy. Because terrain and weather affects movement and combat, the clarity of the map and information panels aid play greatly. For example, the symbols for rivers on the panels change with the ebb of the flood. Swamps can be marched over if frozen. Towns and cities look quaint on the map but have detailed information about garrisons, supply values and recruitment activity.


A city recruits for the Hungarian cause.

Marching through Transylvania

Turns in the six scenarios and the tutorial represent one week’s time with scenarios lasting from a dozen turns to the full sixty-turn campaign. Difficulty levels shift morale bonuses to the player or computer and fog of war levels make matters tough for both sides. Variations revolve around different levels of Russian and Polish intervention. The most challenging game is playing as Hungarian in the historical campaign where the player faces not only Austria but 200,000 Russians.

Units are armies composed of regiments and batteries. Map icons are pretty homogenous with animated soldiers for infantry and armies, horses for cavalry-only units and cannon for the rare independent artillery unit. Austrians wear white, Hungarians brown and Russian units green with each countries flag waving. More detailed icons are available when looking at an army’s detail. Here, each unit has an icon showing not only its type but also its ethnicity, important given the Austrian’s habit of matching the different groups within its polyglot empire against others.

Each regiment and battery is rated for strength, experience, morale, supply, and readiness. The average value of the last three factors yields the army’s value for them. Armies are also affected by their general’s rating for initiative, defense, and attack abilities. Many generals have one of nine special talents, e.g. cavalry, trainer, or sapper. Armies can be given six different voluntary stances ranging from rest for boosting morale to attack. The three different tactics are the usual cautious, balanced and bold. Both of these attributes can be changed via the information panels or a menu brought up by right clicking on a unit. Armies can be reorganized easily. New armies can be created from the right-click menu, selecting a general from a pool and moving units from one window to another. Regiments can be moved between armies in the same hex by a similar procedure.

A new army’s general is selected. He receives his troops.

Moving armies is simply a matter of left-click selection followed by right clicking a reachable destination. Depending on the situation, armies can do more than move. They can fortify, lay siege, bombard, or storm a battered fort. Given the high degree of fog of war, recon becomes important in movement. Armies have an intrinsic recon value modified by their general. Nothing can spoil a nice march like meeting a large group of enemies in the middle of the road.

Battles can be initiated by right clicking on an enemy unit. A window appears stating the probability of success (giving the attacker a chance to back off) as well as letting the attacker select the speed of battle resolution. Battles are displayed by a scrolling script, detailing the actions of each unit on both sides. Factors such as numbers, stance, and leadership are figured in but morale is key. When a side has lost enough morale, it breaks off and retreats. The victor can pursue if he has enough movement points left. While bloody animation is absent, a soundtrack with gunfire, cries, and bugles impart the feel of a battle. Strength numbers are shown by regimental type so players can see casualties increase.


The events of a battle unfold.

Sieges present a different manner of conflict. Large towns often have fortresses. The old “bum’s rush” won’t work if the garrison is over 300 men so an attacker must lay siege. Sieges require siege artillery and those big guns are scarce. When a few can be gathered, they can reduce fortifications by bombardment. By the same token, they too can be reduced by counter battery fire. The position can be stormed only if the fortification is reduced. These considerations make sieges long and expensive propositions.

Morale in 1848 is vital to more than winning battles. The overarching concept in the game is national zeal. A 15% increase or decrease in zeal will affect all the armies of that side. Zeal is changed by the outcome of battles and occupation of towns and cities. Given their ability to supply both sides and to provide Hungarian reinforcements, the importance of urban centers is obvious. Occupation of specific cities affects certain nationalities over and above zeal effects.

1848 tackles a relatively unknown and complex subject. The game could easily be overly simple or very complex. Instead, the product has struck a nice balance of accuracy and play. The AI appears adequate but PBEM and TCP/IP holds even more promise. When the free download is released this Spring, gamers should flock to www.48.hu to get it. While there, they should look at Hussar’s retail game on the American Revolution, For Independence! That game should be even more intriguing.

Official Site

Published by Battlefront

Author Information

Jim Cobb has a PhD in History, having studied at the Universities of Missouri, Wisconsin and Marburg, Germany. He is a member of the adjunct faculty at Cardinal Stritch University Madison, WI. Jim has been playing wargames seriously since 1968 and has been writing about them incessantly since 1993.

System Requirements

Minimum Recommended
500 Mhz CPU
256 MB RAM
16MB graphics card
Sound card
Display capable of 1024×768 resolution
Windows 2000/XP
1 GHz CPU
512 MB RAM
32MB graphics card
Sound card
Display capable of 1024×768 resolution
Windows 2000/XP

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