This Napoleonic wargame redeems its flaws with tense multiplayer matches that foster alliances as fragile as L’Empereur’s.

The Good

  • Cutthroat multiplayer promotes backstabbing and short-lived coalitions
  • Superb soundtrack for sacking Moscow
  • Combat fit for both brash newbies and capable commanders.

The Bad

  • Problematic implementation of historical events
  • Erratic AI.

The Napoleonic Wars are a great setting for strategy games. After all, the conflict between Britain and France engulfed practically all of Europe from Iberia to Russia, revolutionized warfare, and spawned numerous temporary alliances in which vanquished enemies became (unreliable) allies. Paradox Interactive, which previously released a Napoleon-themed expansion for Europa Universalis III, has delved into this period again with March of the Eagles, an accessible wargame with delightfully cutthroat multiplayer.

It's never enough.

It’s never enough.

At first glance, March of the Eagles appears to be a grand strategy game akin to the Europa Universalis series. For instance, every province has a majority nationality, there is an “idea” system that includes techs that don’t directly involve killing people, and numerous improvements ranging from roads to increased “development levels” can be constructed in provinces. But these systems are extremely misleading: demographics don’t matter because oppressed peoples rarely revolt, conquering territory is a more cost- and time-efficient way of raising money than introducing your people to flush toilets, and idea points are mostly earned via combat (which leads to absurd situations like Napoleon learning how to lower interest rates after killing tens of thousands of Prussians). In short, March is not Europa Universalis: Napoleon. Instead, it’s a more complicated version of Risk, played in real time, on a map so large that Russia alone has more than 800 provinces. Thankfully, only the less-numerous city provinces actually matter in the grand scheme of things, but Russia still has 88 of them.

While the sheer scale of the map may be intimidating, March is actually a fairly newbie-friendly wargame, but one that grizzled veterans can also enjoy. You can use brute force to smash a path to victory or indulge in more-advanced tactics. The basics are simple: your country produces money and men, and you can spend those buying a plethora of country-specific infantry, cavalry, and artillery brigades as well as naval vessels and supply wagons. Then you merge a group of units to create an army or fleet, put a historical general or admiral in charge, give other generals control over the army’s flanks, and sally forth to conquer. If you don’t want to do much micromanagement, then all you really have to keep an eye on is attrition and the security of your supply lines.

Alternatively, a little micromanagement allows for a much more refined and efficient approach. You can personally arrange the order of battle for each flank in an army and give every commander instructions that he will try to carry out in future battles. For example, you can order an army’s left flank to use its cavalry as a shield and rush its other units to help hold the center, while making the right flank wait for the best moment to throw its elite guard units into the fray. Armies can also be given special orders for things like forced marches and scorched earth tactics. Careful use of these options can dramatically increase your country’s effectiveness on the battlefield.

Mehemet Ali's beard, while impressive, was not enough to drive Napoleon out of Egypt.

Mehemet Ali’s beard, while impressive, was not enough to drive Napoleon out of Egypt.

There is one truly aggravating aspect to March’s combat. AI soldiers have a knack for escaping from battles before they can be annihilated. That isn’t inherently bad, but they often retreat behind your lines and tend to bounce randomly around the map like Ping-Pong balls whenever you attack them. This was a problem in earlier Paradox games but seemed to have been fixed in its more recent titles. Thankfully, a large, well-managed army has a good chance of avoiding that annoying “feature” by quickly destroying enemy forces.

While the combat in March is, on the whole, quite satisfying, the flavorless single-player campaign is not. It just doesn’t feel like you are fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. For example, France or Russia could win the game without ever fighting each other, because victory is achieved by occupying a set of country-specific provinces. Russia could easily win the game by preying on the Ottomans, Prussians, and Swedes while France is bogged down in a war with Great Britain. Also, there are very few historical decisions, so you can’t exile Napoleon to Elba. Meanwhile, some of the game’s historical events can occur without a logical reason. For instance, Tsar Alexander and Napoleon meet on a raft on the Neman River (as per their peace conference in 1807) even if they have never been at war.

This Napoleonic wargame redeems its flaws with tense multiplayer matches that foster alliances as fragile as L’Empereur’s.

By Daniel Shannon