Pike & Shot is the latest title to be marketed by Slitherine Games. After my underwhelming experience with Slitherine’s earlier offering Field of Glory – nice game, lousy AI – I was wary about parting with more of my hard-earned cash. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, from a solo gaming point of view the trajectory of computer games in recent years has been distinctly underwhelming, unless you’re satisfied with games set in the American Civil War or WWII (neither of which are personal favourites). Early classics like Age of Rifles seemed to herald a golden age, but the reality didn’t match the potential. Unless you’re a fan of ‘real time’ wargames, the genre has appeared to be moving backwards rather than forwards. So it was with some skepticism that I posted a few questions in Slitherine’s Pike & Shot forum prior to the game’s release. The answers I received left me feeling intrigued, and I decided the game was worth a punt…
Let’s cut to the chase. I think the game is a blast, and has the potential to become a real classic. Both Field of Glory and Pike & Shot are based around rules authored by Richard Bodley Scott, whose CV includes a number of classic tabletop rulesets. But the difference with Pike & Shot is that RBS has done the bulk of the development himself this time around, using the Battle Academy architecture as its basis. Fancy graphics have been eschewed in favour of reflecting the way the period was depicted by contemporary artists, and – crucially – the AI has been developed to the point where it provides the human player with a real challenge. The developers have taken the trouble to faithfully model many of the specifics of the period, for example the alarming tendency that cavalry had to pursue fleeing enemies right off the field of battle, and the ways that the various pike and shot formations morphed from war to war and from nation to nation.
Pike & Shot is a turn-based, battlefield-level simulation of the period, and includes scenarios from the Italian Wars, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War. There are a number of different difficulty settings, and the usual tranche of adjustable on-screen options. Crucially there is also a ‘Skirmish’ facility, which enables the player to generate endlessly varied random scenarios from all three of these wars; within this you can either trust the computer to select your forces for you, or you can select your army yourself. Size of battle and terrain can be customised, as can the type of battle – Attack, Defence, Open Battle, Reinforcement and Flank Marches. The type of battle selected will influence the AI’s behaviour.
Even better, there is a built-in editor, and this is likely to ensure a steady flow of new scenarios, as well as providing enthusiasts of the period with the chance to build their own battles. I suspect this will be taking up a fair bit of my time once I’ve got into it… It’s even possible to edit the technical parameters for various aspects of the game, and online discussion has already taken place where people are looking into doing this, either to personalise the feel of the game in line with their own interpretations of history, or in order to adapt it – alongside customised graphics – to represent different wars altogether.
The other positive feature has been the close involvement that RBS has had with the online discussions, and this is ongoing. It’s rare for a game designer to have this kind of engagement with his customer base, and he’s clearly open to suggestions about future tweaks and developments. Indeed, the question of “where next” with this very adaptable game engine is one of the big questions, with suggestions ranging from the Samurai Era to the Lace Wars, or perhaps a move back into the medieval or ancient periods. Field of Glory could certainly do with a challenging replacement, and from what I’ve seen so far RBS and his team have developed the skills and the toolsets to address this gap.
In the end, it’s the solo potential and the modability of a computer game that guarantee its commercial and popular success, as the history of games like Civilization and the Sim series has shown. While Pike &Shot is unlikely to ever have that size of audience, the potential for a wargame of this calibre, and for further releases covering different eras, is actually pretty big. If RBS and his team focus on that, they will have a long term winner on their hands.
Now, enough of this blogging nonsense – I have to get back to the battle of Cheriton!
Useful Stuff About The Game
Wars covered: Italian Wars, English Civil War, Thirty Years War.
Battles included: Seminara, Fornovo, Ravenna, Novara, Marignano, Bicocca, Pavia, Ceresole, St Quentin, Gravelines (Italian Wars), Wimpfen, Lutter, 1st Breitenfeld, Lutzen, Nordlingen, Wittstock, 2nd Breitenfeld, Rocroi (Thirty Years War), Storming of Bristol, Relief of Nantwich, Cheriton, Marston Moor, Lostwithiel, 2nd Newbury, Naseby (English Civil War).
Video of game demo/walkthrough: http://www.twitch.tv/surtur01/c/5223595
Screen shots: Go to http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc and page down to the end. Or just Google!
Last but not least, you can get the game here: http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc
I know this whole post sounds unlike my usual curmudgeonly self, particularly when it comes to discussing computer games. But frankly, dear reader, I can’t help myself. Although it’s early days, I’m currently chuffed as could be to have found a PC game that addresses an era I love, and does it in a way that doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door. I can honestly say that I have no connection with Slitherine, or indeed with Richard Bodley Scott – on the one occasion we’ve met over the tabletop (at the annual Berkeley Hordes convention), he handed my arse to me on a plate…