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Posted on Mar 14, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Birth of America – Game Review (PC)

By Robert Mackey

In the three French and Indian scenarios, control of provinces is only important as it applies to supplying your forces and increasing your chance of spotting/intercepting enemy forces. In the ten American Revolution scenarios, control of the regions is crucial. For the British, they have to suppress the Rebels to control the regions –just seizing coastal cities and attempting to defeat the Patriot field armies is secondary to this goal. For the Patriots, the same pressure to control the countryside is present, as your regiments will slowly melt away from attrition as the "sunshine Patriots" return home. And this does happen. In one of my games, just when the Cause needed them the most, my militias disbanded and went home, leaving only a hard core of Continentals and a few New England regiments still fighting in the north. In the South, the brazen raids of Francis Marion and Light Horse Harry Lee kept the Revolution alive and forced the Redcoats out of Charleston and other key cities. The result was my Southerners stayed with the colors. It was a happy surprise to see the game reflect the real difficulty in fighting the Revolution from both sides and to present the player with a multitude of strategies that do not always work.

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Speaking of strategies, we have all played games where once you figure out how to win, the AI happily falls for the same traps over and over. This doesn’t happen in BOA. It appears that the AI is literally rewritten from turn-to-turn based on player actions. So the unpredictability of the AI gives a replayability in the game that I’ve not seen in a game in years, outside the 4X genre.

Weather, supply, and attrition are all core parts of the game. I found myself wintering my troops instead of pushing them year-round. The AI does the same, so you have distinct "campaigning seasons" in the game. Consequently, I often found myself launching risky attacks on enemy cities and forts just to have a warm place to spend the winter and plenty of rations for the lads.

(above, left) Henry Knox and the looted artillery from Fort Ticonderoga cross a frozen Lake Champlain on their way to Montreal. Weather plays a crucial role in campaigning in BOA.

(above, right) Life is starting to really, really suck for the Patriot cause. I’m getting the feeling that the King didn’t appreciate that whole "Declaration of Independence" thing. The AI is sharp and will use the right commanders for the right job time and time again. This screen shows the huge British force, to include Hessian mercenaries, occupying most of central New England. This was also right before my Patriots took to the hills to keep the cause alive. I ended up halting one thrust north of Philadelphia and recapturing New York, but New England was pretty much lost for several years.

Turns in the game are monthly and a scenario can be quite long. The 1775 Revolution scenario ends in 1783 and the 1755 game in 1763. The length of the game leads to definite ups-and-downs; you will find yourself thinking you have the game won when suddenly the enemy gains a crucial city or reinforcements. The result is a ‘one more turn’ game of epic proportions.

Graphics (20/20): BOA is literally a work of art. I’m not going to gush about how nice it looks; the screenshots speak for themselves. The game board resembles a mix between a high quality wargame and those beautiful maps that were in the classic American Heritage Illustrated books of the 1960’s. Everything occurs on the main map; there are no other screens to jump to battles or other events. Moving the mouse over a region will give all the information on the area needed by the player, and filters are useful to show control, supply, etc. Detailed information screens can be called up by clicking the hot buttons in the main window. It is very intuitive, and while I found myself using the filters often to track control or supply, I usually kept the main terrain map up simply because it was so attractive.

Sound (5/10): The weakness of the game is the lack of a decent soundtrack. A single original song is played every so often (I have yet to discover what, if anything, makes it play), and while it is a nice piece, a full blown soundtrack of period music would have done much to set the mood of the game. Other sounds such as marching, musket fire, etc., are functional and serve only to add a bit of something to accompany the onscreen graphics.

Documentation and Technical (7/10): Since BOA’s developers are French, there were some minor translation errors in the English manual that accompanied the game. I expect before it is released in the US as a boxed set, those errors will be fixed. The manual also lacked a historical background of the era, although I believe the developers are looking at including a historical section in the final product.

Armchair General Score: 92%

Pros: A stunningly beautiful game which covers a period lacking much prior attention. Super AI and very challenging, yet also easy to jump right in and play. All the factors of warfare in the era (leadership, logistics, population control, and so forth) are included. If you have any interest at all in this time, buy it and prepare to write off all your spare time. It is that good!

Cons: Documentation needs work and lack of a decent soundtrack are the only weaknesses in an outstanding simulation.

Bottom Line: BOA reaffirms the fact that a couple of guys with a great idea and hard work can still create a game that enthralls, entertains, and educates. A must for any gamer who enjoys a solid historical game which will challenge him every single time.

Explore Birth of America here.

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