Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game ever?

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Kull
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Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game ever?

Post by Kull » Mon Jun 03, 2013 7:10 pm

"Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game ever" is a pretty strong claim, but I've played scores of games in this genre (Civ Series, Total War series, Paradox EU-type games, various Matrix titles) and CoW does quite a few things that nobody else does - or does them a LOT better - and it makes all the difference in your gaming experience:

1) Tactical Battles - You have a limited number of formations and general attack strategies as you set up your forces before the battle, and then you turn them loose. Period. After that you just sit back and pray for the best. The critics were almost unanimous in describing this as a terrible feature, and frankly it took some getting used to. Almost every other game with a tactical level component (think Total War) lets the player micromanage every aspect of the battle. So how could CoW's "hands off system" be better?

- Historical: In the ancient era, generals had some control over when and where a battle started, but after that it was pretty much out of their control. CoW mimics this reality PERFECTLY.
- Battlefield AI: Human players can usually run rings around the AI, and it's especially true on a battle map. That advantage - which is unrealistic anyway as noted above - does not exist in this game, and it really helps to level the playing field.

2) Unit Types - There's a fairly small number of unit types, but they REALLY matter in this game. Most ancient era games have some uber-level unit that just dominates the battlefield, and once you can make enough of those, it's game over. But the CoW system keeps you from doing that with a "rock-paper-scissors" system:

- Chariots: These things will just roll through almost every unit type out there, so sure, build a Heavy Chariot Army. And then watch them die like flies against Spearmen (even the poor militia version)
- Spearmen: They wipe out chariots, so you need lots of these right? Wrong. Swordsmen especially (but even Archers) will cut through them like they were tissue paper.
- Swordsmen: They demolish Spearmen and Archers, so this must be the key unit you were looking for, right? Wrong. Chariots eat them for lunch. Even when you finally get Heavy Swordsmen and think, "Game Over", Heavy Chariots tear them up.
- Archers: These guys completely annihilate poorly armored troops, and you might be tempted to field an "all archer" force. But as soon as you do that, you'll encounter heavy chariots and/or armored troops and they will slaughter your whole force.

Every time you get a new unit, you might THINK it's the uber-level unit you've been waiting for, but sooner or later you'll send them into battle against an AI army that rips them to shreds because you didn't have the right mix of forces. And sometimes, even a careful devised mixture of unit types isn't good enough. Here's the point. Every time you go into battle, no matter how well you plan and prepare, you CAN lose, because you don't know the composition of the enemy force ahead of time. And that just doesn't happen in any other strategy game out there.

3) Strategic Map - There's a number of very interesting features, so let's review:

- National, not Province Borders: In every strategy game out there, you know in advance what the province borders are, so it's very easy to plan out a series of conquests that result in a system of "front line" and "rear area" provinces. The idea is you keep your armies in the front line areas while much smaller garrisons take care of the rear area cities. But CoW makes this very difficult to do, because you do NOT KNOW what a province's borders are until after you conquer it. This may sound like a minor issue, but it can have huge strategic ramifications (as we'll see)
- No roads: There are no roads in this game, just like there weren't in reality. So that means terrain is THE controlling feature when it comes to army movement. Your armies will travel quickly on the flatlands, slower in hills, and and MUCH slower in the mountains. And there's nothing you can do to change that. This will absolutely have a "real life" effect on your strategy.
- Terrain effects on Empires: Because of the terrain, the AI (and you) will develop very historical-looking empires. An Egypt start means controlling the Nile Valley long before you think about the Levant. Mesopotamians will need to control their historical terrain before extending West toward the sea. A Persian area blob, a far eastern Horse Archer empire, a central Anatolian state, all of these are natural and the terrain will cause them to develop in the game just as they did in real life. The names of the states will change from one game to the next, but the essential features of how and where ancient Near Eastern empires grew, will always be true-to-life. It's enormously gratifying to watch this happen, and tells you immediately that the designers "got it right".
- Rivers: Rivers have crossing points, and these will absolutely control the movement of armies. I won't belabor the point, but you NEED to think about this as part of any empire growth or defense strategy.
- Beauty: Other games have beautiful maps, but CoW includes lots of neat little "one off" features that add a surprising amount of depth and variation. There's a step pyramid here, a buried ruin there, none of which have tactical value but all of which add to the ambiance. You're going to spend a lot of time looking at this map, so it should be pleasing to the eyes. And it is.

4) Economy - As with so many features in CoW, less is more in this area too. Suffice it to say that you will need every one of the resources in order to succeed. Some things to consider:

- Trade: There's no "perfect start" which gives access to everything you need, so you'll have to trade for many of the most important ones, specifically wood, horses, tin, copper, gems, or incense. Fail at this, and you'll fail period. Lack of resources means slower city growth and less capable troops.
- It's easy: You'll have excess resources that can be sold to generate cash to buy those you need. The sliders that let you do this are very easy to manage. Just be sure to check this screen every turn (or at least your gold "plus/minus" balance) because prices are realistically based on "supply and demand", and sometimes they can change dramatically.
- Resource locations: As in real life, certain areas of the map will be more attractive because they have desirable resources. Just another reason why empires assume natural looking boundaries as the game progresses.

5) Strategic AI - In almost every strategy game out there, the AI is challenging early, but after you reach a certain size it's just too easy and predictable. Eventually that is true in CoW, but it takes a looong time to get there. Here's why:

- Empire Growth Rates: When the game starts, the map is full of tiny 3-4 city nations. But as your empire slowly builds, so too do those of the AI. By the time you have a moderate sized empire, you'll be surrounded by moderate sized AI states that have likewise been gobbling up their neighbors. And by the time you have a large one? There should be 2 or 3 other large empires ready to offer up a challenge. Most games either don't have an "end game boss" or have to create one artificially. In CoW it just happens naturally - and realistically, too.
- The AI hates you: Some people don't care for this, but realistically the AI SHOULD hate you! As the human player you are by far the most dangerous opponent on the map. The AI will not allow you to dismember opponents one-by-one, sitting placidly by in ignorance of their coming fate. Plus, as you get bigger and your borders expand, there are ever more potential opponents out there. Also, you aren't the only one doing the expanding. If a big AI Empire suddenly conquers an intervening province owned by a different AI opponent, you will suddenly be faced with a large new enemy on what was once a defensible border (because the garrison necessary to fend off a weak neighbor is not going to be enough against this new opponent)
- The AI knows your weakness: Again, some people think of this as "cheating", but the AI knows where your city garrisons are weak and will not attack a strong point if an easier target is available. And as discussed above, since you can't plan out border locations in advance, it's impossible to know whether conquering a new "front line" province is going to turn those behind it into rear areas or just add one more frontline city into the mix.
- The AI will assemble multiple stacks: Let's say you have a nice strong city with a big garrison, more than enough to take on two enemy stacks. So you don't worry when the AI puts one stack on the border. Or two. But what do you do when it's 3, 4, 5 or more? Because eventually they will attack that city, and they will conquer it. There are things one can do to offset this - or at least try to - but can you mount a counterattack in time? Will it weaken you elsewhere? Questions, questions....

6) Stuff Happens - Random events are part of most games, but the way it's handled in CoW is often quite unique and really adds to the quality of your gaming experience:

- Technology: Practically every strategy game out there puts the player in control of Technology growth, and the subsequent unlocking of various game features (units, city improvements, etc). CoW takes this away from you, and instead technology improvements happen over time.....get this.....JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE. Did god-like rulers control the technology growth in their empires? No. Implementation of new technologies, sure, but not the process of seeking out and discovering new things. It eliminates an entire category of (unrealistic) micromanagement and adds a layer of uncertainty and interest. Brilliant.
- Droughts: These were killer events in the societies of the ancient world, almost certainly what ended the Maya and the Hittite empires, and probably many others. And this feature is in CoW. Take my word for it and build up a sizable inventory of food - and stuff you can sell in order to buy food - because a bad drought will last for a year and all sorts of terrible things will happen to you while it's going on, IF you aren't ready. Worst case, you should still be able to survive, even if you lose some cities along the way. In all events it's very realistic and will give you an appreciation of how close to the edge these ancient societies lived. Worth noting that it's not just "Drought or Normal". There's a whole spectrum of possibilities, all of which will drive the amount of food you can produce from one year to the next. Oh, and this - armies eat food, so not only do they get unhappy if you can't feed them, the more units you build, the larger the drain on your overall food supply.
- Religious upheavals: This stuff did happen in the ancient world, so when it happens to you, be ready. In other words, don't build any shrines or temples in your cities (a strategy I attempted in one game). Who needs 'em, right?
- Raiding Tribes: Absolutely another feature of the ancient world, but CoW handles this in a very smart way. Did raiding tribes show up smack in the middle of your civilized and fully developed agrarian plain? No they did not. They arose in the mountains or the deserts or came in from the sea. So you have to be prepared for these guys, but not for some random uprising anywhere on the map - they will appear where they did historically. That is cool.

7) End Game Bloat - This may be the largest fun-killing issue in every strategy game out there - except with Chariots of War. Because once again, the guiding principle is that less is more:

- Technology: As noted above, there's nothing to do here. An entire category of micromanagement eliminated.
- Diplomacy: Very base level. As the empire grows you'll have a few more diplomats available but they do very little anyway and require no micromanagement whether it's early or late game.
- Resource Management: The same screen you use to control a 4-state nation is the same one you'll use for a 50-state empire. The economy will grow, and perhaps the sliders might be tweaked a bit more, but there's almost no difference between large and small. Very neat.
- City Improvements: There's a limited number of choices and a limited number of places to put them. Each turn the game tells you when something has been completed (and where), so it's very easy to keep up with this. As the game proceeds you'll have more and more cities to manage, so an increased level of management is inevitable. But bottom line there aren't that many things to touch, so it's still pretty fast.
- Armies: You will have more armies as your empire expands, so there's not much one can do about that. However, the pace of movement is so slow (as it was in the ancient world with armies that traveled on foot), that it takes a while for your armies to assemble and move. In addition, many armies don't move every turn, especially those serving as deterrents along the border.

So with respect to "end game bloat", here's the one remarkable thing you need to know about Chariots of War. There isn't any.

In closing, I would suggest that more people need to give this game a try. You can play as any nation and have an interesting game, but Chariots of War is at it's best - and most challenging - when you start from a central location. When you begin play in a border region it lessens the complexity enormously, since by definition you won't have to worry about untrustworthy neighbors at your rear. My favorite game - by far - is the current game as Akkad. A Mesopotamian state with dangerous neighbors on all sides and no resources except food and building materials. The most amazing thing is how everything is playing out historically, to include a final showdown looming with a massive Egyptian Empire along the Levantine coast. Meanwhile a large Anatolian empire is pushing in from the Northeast, Desert & Mountain states are raiding from the North and South, and a big Persian Empire is attacking from the East. Never a dull moment and one of the more memorable gaming experiences I've ever had.

If you like a gaming challenge and haven't played Chariots of War, give it a try. You won't regret it.
Last edited by Kull on Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

pipfromslitherine
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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by pipfromslitherine » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:00 pm

Wow - thanks for the seal of approval :). I'm hoping to have an iPad version sometime soon - although no ETA at present!

Cheers

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Kull
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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Kull » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:23 pm

pipfromslitherine wrote:Wow - thanks for the seal of approval :). I'm hoping to have an iPad version sometime soon - although no ETA at present!

Cheers

Pip
It's unfortunate that this game never got the visibility it deserved. Almost every negative associated with Strategy Games has been addressed and eliminated in Chariots of War:

Apathetic or incompetent Strategic AI? Nope
Poor Battlefield AI? Not an issue
Overly complex interface? This one is Lean and Clean
An opponent that stays challenging from Start to Finish? Amen
A game that follows historical parallels yet is always different? Yes
Allows one to develop a large empire without imposing "end game bloat"? Yes again.

The lesson here is that size and complexity are not required in order to develop a challenging and fascinating game. Designers need to take a good hard look at this model. It's a proven alternative to most of current design theory (i.e. the more detailed and complex and ultimately "un-fun", the better.)

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by IainMcNeil » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:53 pm

Wow thanks - glad you liked it! It never sold as well as Legion but I think it was a much better game :)

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Coronel324 » Mon Sep 16, 2013 4:59 pm

I am really enjoying Legion on the iPad for many of the same reasons expressed above about Chariots of War. Based on what I have read about Chariots of War I am really eager to buy the iPad version of that game as well. These two games seem to embody the strategy game ideal of "easy to learn but hard to master". Thanks for Legion and here's hoping that the move to iPad for Chariots of War is complete soon!

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Mockingbird » Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:10 am

Any news on this game for iPad. Been looking forward to it. Thanks.

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Askelon » Tue Jan 07, 2014 3:10 am

Enjoy all the games in this series. As I am now on Win8 and the only old copy that I possess that is compatible is COW,,,, any chance of Legion,Sparta,Troy updates for pc?

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by pipfromslitherine » Tue Jan 07, 2014 4:35 pm

Askelon wrote:Enjoy all the games in this series. As I am now on Win8 and the only old copy that I possess that is compatible is COW,,,, any chance of Legion,Sparta,Troy updates for pc?
I'm pretty sure all the originals will work on Win8 with appropriate tweaking (e.g. you probably need to install them to your user folder, etc).

Cheers

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Askelon » Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:14 am

Thanx Pip, checked out some other forums on Slitherine, downloaded a DDL file and "Hurray!", now playing Sparta.

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Coronel324 » Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:41 pm

Is the iPad version of Chariots of War likely to come out in 2014? If so, do you have enough information to predict which quarter of the year is most likely to see it release?

I certainly understand that this might well be difficult to predict. However, I have a great deal of interest in the game so I thought I would ask.

Best Regards

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Mockingbird » Fri Jan 24, 2014 7:36 pm

Any news on the development of the iPad version? You have been awful quite on this project for awhile now.

Thanks

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by pipfromslitherine » Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:23 pm

Unfortunately I have been drawn off onto other projects, and it has stalled. Still quite a lot of UI and other iPad polish left to be done...

Cheers

Pip
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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Mockingbird » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:33 am

OK, Thanks for the update.

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by Jar-Tur » Sun Jul 13, 2014 8:20 am

Honorable Kull has forgot to mention the nice trait of CoW, lesser one if in comparison to AI, gameplay mechanics and GUI but yet not less brilliant and suitable to the game's setting. It's music. Magic ancient tunes, really... :roll:

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Re: Chariots of War - Greatest Ancient Era Strategy game eve

Post by youngsteve » Tue Oct 21, 2014 4:57 pm

What surprises me, is these old games like COW, are still so expensive despite their age. I would have thought they could have either been in a budget range or sold as a pack to try to encourage newcomers to play these sort of games. I have all these early games, & just out of interest thought I would try Legion again but couldn't find it, so decided to perhaps download a copy but was a bit steep for an ancient game like this. A couple of dollars maybe, but not $10. I am sure it wasn't much more than this when I got a copy 10 years ago.

I would add that games such as this were very playable, though not sure how much they are today, & I did have lots of fun with them, particularly Sparta.

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