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Posted on Mar 14, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Ancient Warfare: Punic Wars – Game Review (PC)

By Mike Tomlin

Passed Inspection: Very atmospheric and great depth. Excellent scenario editor. Innovative control options.

Failed Basic: Formation movement issues. Scrolling bug.

Punic Wars is the first of a new planned series of games from HPS, entitled Ancient Warfare. For those whose knowledge of ancient history is sketchy, the Punic Wars were the three wars between the emerging Roman Republic and the African city of Carthage, whose most famous general, in the second war, was Hannibal. These wars were played out over a wide area, ranging from Italy, southern France (Gaul), Spain, Sicily, Sardinia and North Africa. Although much of the first war was fought at sea, Punic Wars is a land-based tactical game and covers a wide range of tactical scenarios with a variety of unit types. Ancient sword and spear fighting is notoriously difficult to replicate on computer and has rarely, if ever, been done successfully. While Punic Wars does not succeed 100% in achieving this, it is an excellent attempt, and well worth a look for anyone interested in this period.

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Although named Punic Wars, it should be pointed out that several of the included scenarios depict battles between Rome and the forces of King Pyrrhus of Epirus – noted for their sheer bloodiness and appalling casualties – from which was derived the concept of a pyrrhic victory.

Before getting too far into describing what Punic Wars is, it’s important to make clear first what it is not! It is not a real time strategy game, nor does it have wonderful animated graphics displaying men and beasts moving and fighting like the Total War series. This is a turn based game, with simple graphics – the views offered are two dimensional ones, plus an overall jump map and one three-dimensional one. The latter shows nicely detailed units and terrain, but no animation. This is a serious attempt to try and replicate the difficulties inherent in combat of this period, but is not necessarily for the player who wants to quickly boot a game up and see lots of action and combat. Although the basic game mechanics are easy to come to grips with and allow the player to carry out simple movement and combat, it will take some time, patience and skill to master the forward movement of large forces composed of varied units in such a way that they are still in a coherent formation when combat is joined.

This is a turn and hex based-game where each hex represents 20 metres and each turn 15 minutes, and can be played with or without fog of war. A turn consists of three phases and starts when one side issues orders. The opposing side then does so and then the computer carries out the orders subject to the impact of terrain, contact and combat. The player is not in the position of sitting idly by while the computer carefully uses its turn to move around his flanks, while he meekly awaits his turn. The player decides what to do based on the unfolding situation, as does his opponent, human or AI, and the computer tries to carry out both sets of orders simultaneously, seeing how they impinge on each other. The game can be played against the AI or by email with a human opponent.

Unit types in the game are surprisingly varied with four basic types of infantry ranging through light, light/medium, medium up to heavy, plus cavalry of the same denominations, with a variety of weapons for each type. There are also elephants and a simple but historically accurate form of artillery – i.e. Roman scorpios, which were akin to giant crossbows. Also included are baggage wagons and leaders. Classification of units into these types is based on their weaponry, armour and presence of shields and these will have considerable effect upon their usage and fighting strength. Typically light units fight in more open order, and can skirmish ahead of the main battle lines. They are good in wooded and hilly country, and can also cross rivers without having to use bridges or fords. However, they do not stand up well to their heavier opponents and should not be used to stand toe to toe with the enemy battle line in open country, nor can they charge. The heavier units are not good in wooded and broken ground, and will quickly lose cohesion and be disrupted, but will grind away at the enemy and can charge and shatter enemy troops. Unit types affect movement costs, and combat, and it is critical for the player to understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each, and their varied weaponry, particularly as it affects which troops they should, or should not, fight.

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