eXcursions

Monday eXcursion – Field Of Glory II

Field of Glory II (FOG2) is a turn-based, tactical wargame developed by Byzantine Games set in the ancient Mediterranean and surrounding areas. The game is almost entirely focused on making battlefield decisions and moving units around the map. Does FOG2 flank the opponent and win the day? Or does it break and run in the face of the enemy?

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The Basics

FOG2 is set in the early centuries of the Common Era (formerly known as A.D.) and features armies from the usual suspects: the Romans, Greeks, Macedonians, Persians, Parthians, Carthage, and a host of other cultures that I can neither pronounce or spell correctly. Battles are fought on terrain typical of the ancient Mediterranean region. Players maneuver units into position, commit to attacks, and try to outflank the opposing army.

Instead of using the hex grid that has become so common in modern tactical games, FOG2 marks off the battlefield using squares. While that may seem a little old fashioned, the square grid actually allows for a lot of flexibility and tactical opportunity. A unit can face any of the four sides of the square it occupies. But it can also face the corners of its square, giving it a diagonal facing. That means squares give units eight facing options instead of the six they get from a hex.

There are four primary game modes in FOG2. Quick Battles are exactly what they sound like. They are small scale, hypothetical engagements between historical opponents. Choose your army, your opponent’s army, and the game generates troops and a brand new battlefield to fight over. Custom Battles are similar, but you have more control over army composition and the map type that the game generates. You can also choose from a few different types of battles (flanking actions, rearguard battles, supply chain battles, etc.) to keep things fresh and interesting.

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Sadly, no Street Fighter 2 character select music here.

Multi-Battle Campaigns string together either three, five, or seven battles with the armies carrying over from fight to fight. There is a sandbox campaign that allows you to freely choose your faction and that of your opponent. The game also released with four preset campaigns that follow the careers of various famous generals of antiquity such as Julius Caesar. The maps are still randomly generated, as far as I can tell, and are not historical encounters. But the opponents you face and the types of encounters you have during one of the preset campaigns are supposed to reflect the opponents and battles that your chosen general actually faced.

There is no strategic map in the campaign mode, it’s just a series of interconnected battles with some nice text boxes for context in between. But you do have to worry about army cohesion over a longer period of time, garrisoning the places you’ve conquered by leaving some of your units behind, and the costs of recruiting and replenishing your army in hostile territory. It’s actually a lot of fun and knowing that your army has to survive several battles in a row really has an impact on your tactics and tolerance for casualties.

For you ancient history grognards, FOG2 also offers a mode called Epic Battles – Historical Scenarios. Here, you are offered the choice of 10-12 historical battles among the various factions represented in the game. Most of the battles can be played as either side of the conflict and are based on what the ancient sources have to tell us about the actual event.

The Armies

Units in FOG2 represent the full smorgasboard of ancient European and Middle Eastern military forces. Almost any ancient world fighting force you can think of is in the game. The Romans have their legionaries, the Greeks get field phalanxes, and the Parthians send out hordes of horse archers. There are so many different units in FOG2 that players who aren’t familiar with the military history of the period might feel a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, the game features excellent tool tips that summarize the capabilities of each unit on the field.

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Looks like everyone showed up in their team colors.

There are three main categories of units: infantry, cavalry, and skirmishers. But even within those broad categories there is a lot of variation. There are slow, heavy infantry units like Greek phalanxes and light, fast moving units like the Spanish scutarii. Cavalry comes in light and heavy versions as well, but also includes horse archers, javelin units, camels, and even elephants to charge through the enemy’s ranks. Skirmishers are your ranged troops and will almost always be javelin throwers, slingers, or archers.

Unit variation doesn’t stop there! In addition to the unit types you might expect in a wargame set in ancient times, units in FOG2 also feature different levels of training and morale. Green troops won’t fight as well and will break and run much sooner than their veteran counterparts. Meanwhile, elite units are almost a small army unto themselves. They can both take and dish out a lot of punishment and their morale is so high that it takes a concentrated effort to get them to retreat from the field.

In both the Custom Battle and Multi-Battle Campaign modes, unit selection takes place before the battle and is based on a point buy system. You have X number of points to spend and have to choose your forces within those limits. As you might expect, elite units, heavy infantry, and cavalry are more expensive than peasant units and skirmishers. This represents the higher costs that fielding heavily-armored or well-trained troops would put on a society. It also keeps you from having an army of 50 elite Roman Triarii, forcing a more balanced army composition. The point buy system also creates some interesting decisions – do you want to purchase elite cavalry or infantry? It will be almost impossible to do both.

If all of this sounds like a nightmare to keep track of in your head, or if you love turn-based tactical games but aren’t familiar with the historical period, fear not! FOG2 has excellent tooltips that rival those found in some Paradox games. All of the relevant information about a unit is displayed simply by hovering over it with the mouse. The strength, morale level, terrain preferences, and ammunition count are all at your fingertips. You won’t feel the need to reach for the manual (and there is one) every time you try a new faction or use a an unfamiliar unit for the first time.

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Now everyone remember – we are BLUE guys.

There is even an option to have the tooltips show additional information, which I enabled halfway through my first battle and have never looked back. While the information contained in the tooltips isn’t always organized the way I would prefer, all the information a general could want about a unit is there and I heartily recommend the expanded option for all new players.

If you want to know more about the units themselves and the factions they fight for, take a look at the aforementioned manual. FOG2 has a wonderful manual in electronic format that is available on the Slitherine games website. You can read the whole thing without buying the game – check it out!

The Battlefield

In many ways, the battlefields are the real star of the show in FOG2. If surveying the landscape laid out before you – noting its salient features, and deciding how to deploy your forces – doesn’t make you feel like a general then nothing will. But the maps are more than just pretty textures. Terrain matters and intelligent use of it can turn the tide in your favor, even when the odds are against you.

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Terrain features, Ho!

One of the most obvious ways the terrain dictates the battle is the question of open versus “broken” ground. Rough terrain is not kind to the formations used by certain units and they receive a penalty to their attack and defense values in combat. The Greek phalanx is the easiest example to point to in that regard. Their tightly grouped spear walls do far better on relatively smooth, open ground than they do on broken terrain. The phalanx is a powerful unit but defending themselves on rough ground, or attacking an enemy unit positioned in the rough stuff, will put them at a significant disadvantage. Lighter infantry types and skirmishers are, however, not bothered by rough terrain. You can use this to your advantage by keeping your weaker forces on ground where your opponent’s heavier troops will have a harder time. Forcing the enemy to fight on unfavorable terrain is often one of the keys to breaking through the line or getting around the flank.

Another significant terrain feature that can have a major impact on a battle is the presence of a forest. Line of sight rules in FOG2 are clear and distinct – a unit either has line of sight to a particular square on the map or it doesn’t. Forests essentially act as green, leafy cloaking devices. A unit positioned in a forest is basically invisible to the enemy until it makes an attack from or the enemy chooses to enter the forest themselves.

Great care must be taken when approaching a forest in FOG2. Many unit types will be at a significant disadvantage while fighting in the trees, so it’s always best to prepare for a nasty surprise from a forest on your opponent’s side of the map. Of course, the reverse is also true and setting up an ambush from some forest tiles against the A.I. can be very satisfying.

If the battlefields are open to any criticism it is that it is not always easy to visually distinguish between terrain types. I often found myself playing the game with the camera zoomed most of the way out so I could see most, if not all, of my army at the same time. Unfortunately, this made it difficult to tell the difference between open and broken ground with the naked eye on some maps, particularly those set in more arid climates. The game’s saving grace is, once again, the excellent tooltips which are just as good where terrain is concerned as they are for the units themselves.

The Fight

While it’s easy to think of combat in ancient times as two masses of people running toward each other with sharp objects, FOG2 reminds us that maneuvering your units is just as important as who has the pointiest sticks.

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Pointy sticks toward the bad guys please…

Turn-based, tactical combat games have always had a fundamental problem: as the scale of a battle goes up, moving a crapload of units individually can become tedious. FOG2 offers an elegant solution to this by allowing the player to move entire formations of similar units at the same time during the early turns of a battle before combat is actually joined. This makes it easy to maintain the formation you carefully set up during the deployment phase and streamlines the process of getting your army close enough to the bad guys to actually attack them. Of course, you always have the option to move each of your units independently at any time. But it’s great to be able to save time and mouse clicks when all you want to do is move all of your infantry as far ahead as they can go in one turn and stay in formation when they get there.

Another important factor to consider is unit facing. Since flanking gives bonuses in FOG2, unit facing is extremely important. Under most circumstances, a unit can move one square and attack an enemy unit in the same turn. Changing a unit’s facing, however, has some special rules. Most units can make a 45 degree turn for free if it is in range of its commander (more on that below), meaning that the unit can still move and attack during its turn. Recall that a unit can face any of the four sides of the tile it occupies, but can also face the corners of the tile on the diagonal.

However, some units are “unmaneuverable” because of their sheer size (i.e. elephants) or because of the formations those units use (i.e. phalanxes). Even if an unmaneuverable unit is within range of its commander, a 45 degree turn will consume all of its movement points for that turn. Similarly, a unit with normal maneuverability loses its ability to make a 45 degree turn for free if it wanders too far away from its commanding unit. A 90 degree turn will use up all movement points for almost any unit, regardless of the presence of a commander nearby. Rules like these can seem a bit dry, but understanding them is critical to a general’s success in FOG2.

Skirmishers, whether mounted or on foot, have special movement abilities too. When attacked, they will retreat if possible. In yet another elegant solution to a classic turn-based game problem, FOG2 even allows skirmisher units to melt back through the lines of friendly troops behind them when they are attacked. This makes it basically impossible for your opponent to trap your skirmishers up against a spear wall made up of their own countrymen and destroy them. Skirmishers have limited ammunition so it’s best to choose your shots carefully and make sure they count. After their rounds have been expended they can still harass enemy forces but at a vastly reduced damage rate. This supposedly represents your skirmishers scavenging arrows or javelins from the battlefield and flinging them toward the enemy.

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They have desserts! Charge!

Once the pre-melee dance of armies is complete and the lines of troops finally meet, the fun really starts. As you might expect in an ancient era wargame, most combat in FOG2 is an old fashioned hand-to-hand slugfest. There came a point in almost every battle in the pre-modern era when generals would essentially lose meaningful control of their armies. Formations could be set, terrain carefully chosen, and battle plans could be made. But once an army got into melee, getting back out of it to perform some intricate maneuver was often impossible.

FOG2 models this reality by rendering units engaged in melee combat immobile while that combat is taking place. A melee engagement between two units normally lasts multiple game turns, with new rolls of the virtual attack and defense dice as each turn passes. This means that committing your units to melee combat is an actual commitment and comes at a significant opportunity cost since you won’t be able to move them again until the melee engagement is resolved.

As is the case in most wargames, dice rolls are used to resolve combat rounds. There are plenty of modifiers in play, such as terrain penalties, unit types, and matchups against the enemy that can tilt the dice one way or the other. FOG2 calls these modifiers “Points of Advantage.” The unit in the match up with more Points of Advantage will have better odds of the dice going their way.

Understanding how these modifiers affect your troops is vitally important in FOG2. You need to understand when to attack, where to attack, and which unit to use. Conversely, it’s also important to understand when the factors in play make it a better idea for you to wait and let your enemy come to you. Once again, the wonderful tooltips swoop in to the rescue and do the math for you! When an attack is selected, a tooltip will tell you what your odds for success are on your initial charge into the enemy’s ranks and how you are likely to fare afterwards when your unit is stuck in melee combat.

Fortunately, there are some ways to tip the odds in your favor and you will want to use them if you hope to win the battle. For one thing, you can attack an enemy with multiple units of your own. Flanking bonuses are a big deal in FOG2, so keep an eye out for opportunities to do just that. The old Total War, “pin with the infantry and flank with the cavalry” tactic is perfectly valid in FOG2, if you can pull it off. A javelin volley to the back of an enemy unit stuck in melee is another great idea. Terrain bonuses and penalties come into play and can have a big effect on the outcome. Your commander has a positive influence on morale, so it is also important to keep as much of your army covered by that as possible.

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Poke them where it hurts!

Speaking of which, commanders are present on the field of battle in FOG2 but their effects are limited primarily to increased maneuverability in the form of free 45 degree turns and morale bonuses. Generals and commanders are typically part of elite level units but they don’t have any specific combat-related superpowers. That means you won’t see your general taking on half the enemy army by himself like royal units did in the early Total War titles. It also means that it is important to protect your commanders in battle. Getting your general killed or his unit routed is a great way to send shockwaves through your lines and give the enemy a morale boost.

The Goal

Unit morale is so important in FOG2 that it deserves special attention. In many turn-based tactical games, the goal of any combat encounter is to clear the map of all enemy units. In many wargames, the goal of a scenario is to capture certain strategic points on the map. In FOG2, the goal is usually to make the enemy army run away.

That’s right, morale is the single most important factor in the game. Like most of the game’s mechanics, morale in FOG2 operates primarily at the individual unit level. All units begin the battle at the “Steady” level of morale. But once a unit begins taking damage in combat, that level can begin to fall. Units can be “Disrupted,” “Fragmented,” and “Broken.” Once they’re Broken, they rout. As long as the the two units do roughly equal damage to each other on a particular turn, neither unit’s morale is likely to change. But when a unit loses a combat round by doing significantly less damage than its opponent, the loser has to pass a cohesion check.

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Follow me men! Which way is the enemy?

Whether or not that happens depends on the same factors that act as modifiers to the resolution of combat itself, the various Points of Advantage and terrain factors. More importantly, the unit’s current level of morale is also taken into account. That means that a unit that is already “Disrupted” has a greater chance of falling even further down the morale ladder. It’s a nasty feedback loop. Units can recover their morale over time, but it’s more likely to happen if they have a break from combat for a few turns. Due to the difficulty of disengaging from melee combat, the best course of action is often to send in another unit to help if one of yours becomes Disrupted or Fragmented.

It’s also possible for a unit to drop more than one morale level at a time. While morale levels are often closely tied to casualties, a unit can lose cohesion simply because they are charged from the flank or from the rear. If a charge results in enough casualties, a unit can skip the Disrupted and Fragmented states, go straight to Broken, and immediately turn tail and run for the borders of the map. Once that happens the attacking unit may give chase, depending on the unit type (i.e. cavalry and elephants) whether you want them to or not. Towards the end, battles in FOG2 can be pretty chaotic. Well, as chaotic as a turn-based game gets anyway.

But morale effects are not limited to single units. When a unit drops to “Broken” and begins to rout, adjacent friendly units have to take a cohesion test. If the adjacent units were already at lowered morale states themselves, they could potentially break and run too. Taking out an enemy general causes all units out to two squares to take a cohesion test. These negative morale effects can move like a wave through an entire enemy army under the right circumstances. Of course, the same rules apply to your army, and a victorious general will guard against them.

All of this means that battles in FOG2 become an exercise in battering down the morale of the enemy’s units as quickly as possible while doing everything you can to protect the morale of your own army. Keeping your troops together, protecting your flanks, and keeping your commanders relatively close are the best ways to give yourself a good chance to preserve your morale. But doing that while taking opportunities for favorable attacks against the enemy is no easy task.

Some of the best moments in FOG2 come when making those decisions. Do you expose your cavalry to the enemy skirmishers to take advantage of a flanking opportunity now? Or do you wait and keep your army together? FOG2 is chock full of painful, moment-to-moment decisions with real opportunity costs. The risk versus reward factor is high and timing is crucial.

Most of the time victory will be decided by losses in battle, not of lives but of morale. If you can rout 60% of the forces in an enemy army, you win the battle. You can also win by routing 40-59% of the enemy’s troops if you can keep your own losses under 25%. There are other possible victory conditions for certain types of scenarios, protecting your supply train from the A.I. for a particular number of turns for instance, but normally the winner comes down to routing more troops than you lose.

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Choose-Your-Own-Adventure… Erm, Campaign.

After you have defeated your enemy, the battle ends. In single player games you have the option to continue playing after the battle is decided. After all, mopping up can be fun sometimes. But be careful if you are in the middle of a Multi-Battle Campaign – any losses you sustain in the mop up phase will carry forward to your next battle.

The Big Picture

FOG2 is a great turn-based tactical level wargame set in the ancient Mediterranean world. The combat system is nuanced but remains easy to understand. An excellent manual does a great job explaining the game’s systems and the amazing tooltips keep the action moving in game. There is a large variety of factions to play and units to master. It’s always great to play a tactical game where terrain really matters and the procedural generation of battlefields in FOG2 means there are always tactical challenges to overcome.

More than anything else though, FOG2 demonstrates that sometimes the best tactical option is to do nothing. Sometimes the best move is no move at all, but instead to wait for the right opportunity to strike, or let the enemy come to you no matter how tempting the opportunity to attack may be. There aren’t many strategy games that I’m familiar with that reward patience in quite the same way.

FOG2 isn’t perfect, of course. Wargamers are often history buffs and may be a little disappointed with the game given that there are so few actual historical scenarios. But user-created content has quickly filled that gap and there is plenty of it to be found from a menu in the game that is very easy to use. The Multi-Battle Campaigns are a little underwhelming and the absence of a campaign map makes the battles feel disconnected. It’s also not terribly clear just how units gain experience and the effects of that in the campaigns. Some of the battle types are simply not that much fun. Supply train battles, for example, are essentially just tedious escort missions. But in the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor complaints that do little to detract from an otherwise superb tactical experience.

Byzantine Games has already released the first DLC for FOG2, called Immortal Fire that goes back a few centuries into the past compared to the initial release and focuses on the conflicts between the Greeks and Persians in the 300-500s BCE. The DLC adds eight new factions and ten new unit types. I did not have an opportunity to play the DLC for this article but given the content release history of the original Field of Glory, I have no doubt that there will be no shortage of content for FOG2 in the future.

The Verdict

Overall, FOG2 has a lot to offer the wargamer interested in ancient European warfare or anyone who loves nuanced, turn-based tactical games. There are a lot rules to keep in mind, but none of them are particularly difficult to understand and there are plenty of excellent tooltips that keep you from having to memorize them all before you can actually play the game. There is plenty of tactical depth on offer in FOG2 but it’s wrapped in a visually pleasing and accessible package that anyone with a passing interest can get into without a university degree in classical studies.

I have enjoyed my time with FOG2 and plan to keep playing it, especially as new content is released for the game. The Quick Battle and Custom Battle game modes enable you to be out on the battlefield slogging it out with your enemies in a matter of a few minutes. That makes the game quick to pick up and play, even if you don’t have hours of free time to devote to a wargame. If you’re a fan of turn-based tactical wargames, you will be hard pressed to find a better game on the market today than Field of Glory 2.

TL;DR: Field of Glory 2 is a great turn-based, tactical level wargame set in the ancient Mediterranean regions of Europe and the Middle East. A wide variety of units makes for interesting armies to smash together in turn-based combat. There are quite a few movement and combat rules but they are easy to understand and the game features awesome tooltips that keep you from alt-tabbing out of the game every five minutes to consult the manual (there is a manual, too, and it’s great!). Players interested in historical battles should beware; there are very few real historical battles currently in the game. Most maps are procedurally generated based on historically plausible opponents facing each other on historically plausible terrain. FOG2 is highly recommended for its excellent turn-based battles with an emphasis on breaking the enemy’s morale and chasing them from the field.

You might like this game if:

  • Turn-based tactical combat makes you drool in anticipation
  • You find ancient era warfare interesting
  • You think terrain and unit facing are just as much fun as actually smashing the enemy

You might NOT like this game if:

  • You only want to play historical battles
  • You hate reading tooltips
  • You want to play a grand campaign across giant maps

Micah played 25+ hours of Field of Glory II using a copy he received for review purposes on a custom desktop PC with a FX-8320 CPU, GTX 970 GPU, and 16GB of RAM. 

10 replies »

  1. This is a wonderful title. Just by watching Let’s Plays I am already in love and even though it does seem to be on the lighter side (like Battle Academy is compared to grognard-style wargames), it is really engaging and it sucks you in.

    Like

    • I understand what you mean. It feels like it make no sense to play individual battles of there is no progression and/or reward. But there is a campaign progression system with choices and consequences. Just not in the form of a overview map, but text based.

      Like

  2. I’ve been playing this on and off. It’s great and terrible, in equal measure, because of the same thing, namely, it requires you pay attention and think.

    That’s great because the combat system is really quite enjoyable, and a real brain burner, and your limited control really forces you to consider what you are doing, what the enemy is doing, what they’re likely to do, what their reaction speed is, how long it will take them/you to reinforce an area, how long your troops can hold the line etc.

    The downside is that you can’t, or really shouldn’t, just pick this up casually for a ten minute battle.

    For that you’re better off with Into the Breach.

    I am surprised though that this got looked at on this site, because this is in no way a 4x game.

    I’m looking forward to a look at into the Breach,.

    Like

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