March of the Eagles Review (PC)

In 2005, Paradox Interactive released a computerised version of Diplomacy, that classic and ruthless board game from the 1950’s. It wasn’t very good. About a week ago, Paradox released March of the Eagles, a Napoleonic-era Wargame. It’s also, really, not great, but a lot better than Diplomacy, and I’ll tell you right now that you should still buy this game, for one simple reason: you take March of the Eagles online, and you enter a world that even a Paradox Veteran like me has seldom seen. I draw the comparison for several key reasons which I’ll explain in a moment. Warning: many threats against families and persons were made during the build-up to this review. I may or may not have several restraining orders against me.

As a single-player experience, March of the Eagles is a tad limited. Several people within Paradox themselves are viewing this as a ‘Paradox Lite’ game, something that newcomers to grand-strategy can use to ease themselves into the concepts and mental capacity needed to get to grips with these kind of games. In many ways they’re right, but for someone like me, who’s been playing and enjoying the hardest cores of hardcore paradox games for a good few years now, evaluating something as a decent entry level product is difficult. So, let’s just take that statement at face value and accept it for what it is. You’d get more depth out of Crusader Kings II, which I’d argue is also accessible, but this is also a good start. To veterans though, you’ll see hints of features you’d see in games like Europa Universalis or Victoria 2, and yet find them lacking here, almost like the game is half-finished (Even though it isn’t).

Personally, I think France is a tad OP, but only if you fail to form a decent coalition against them. Which you probably will

The thing about March of the Eagles is that it’s all about warfare. That’s not a bad thing per say – Hearts of Iron III did this also, but then HoI3 also had fully flushed out supporting features to help drive that Warfare. In Eagles, there’s none of that. There’s no economic model: you’re essentially stuck with whatever income your country can generate at the start of the game, and there’s little you can do to increase it. This then put’s an effective limit on what you can build and how much, unless you get subsidised by someone else (which does happen a lot, to be fair, but only if you’re at war). The diplomatic system is fairly limiting and rigid – Cease Fires/Truces, for example, can’t be broken, and as far as Coalitions go there can only be two, and France already controls ones of them. Technological progression is done through Ideas that you unlock using Idea points, which you get faster if you lose battles, which is a completely backwards way of doing things that I have major issues with, but I won’t go into them here. It is what it is. The AI as well is a bit tame and can be really stubborn at times, refusing to accept even the most reasonable of proposal.

So, The War. In March of the Eagles, you get Hearts of Iron levels of Army customisations. There are lots of different brigades that you can choose from (possibly too many – the unit list could do with some streamlining), split between different types like Artillery, Guard, Infantry, Light Infantry etc… all with their own stats and uses. Armies themselves comprise of three flanks, and a reserve force, and each flank can be assigned a general, with the over-all commander being in charge of the reserves. Depending on the unit composition of each flank, you set flanks to use certain tactics. Entrenched Defence, Deliberate Assault, Hold, Delay, Counter-Punch… they all give different bonuses to different units at different stages of a battle, and can be used to gain an advantage over your enemy.

Here you can sort out what brigades get assigned to what flanks, and what tactics the generals can use

It’s not all about tactics though; it’s also about manoeuvrability and strategic-level thinking. France holds the largest land-army at the beginning of the game, which nearly every other nation (apart from maybe Russia) will struggle to deal with on their own. You have to keep your army stacks small and manageable, and have them move from province to province, catch one stack here, another there. Bait, trap, move, conquer… it can all get incredibly tense, especially when you see that 100K stack bearing down on you, and you wonder whether you can get out in time. Attrition and supply also play an important role, but it’s not as harsh as you’d expect, unless you have an incredibly large army in one enemy province maybe. There’s no supply lines either to cut, really, and even if you keep taking enemy supply depots, the only thing it affects is their monthly manpower income. Which is important, but the effects are minimal.

But back to what I said in the beginning: Multiplayer. This is where my Diplomacy comparison really comes into play, as only one person can win March of the Eagles. As you may have read elsewhere, a nation needs to achieve both Land and Sea Dominance to win by taking key territories. Not only that though, but they need to knock the current dominance holders off their throne – at the start of the game that’s France for land, and Great Britain for the sea. Spain and France may start off in a Coalition together, and the other six powers may (or may not) be able to form a Coalition against them, but only one person can win. Does Spain want to be second fiddle to France forever? Do the Austrians, Russians or whoever else want Great Britain to remain in control of the seas? I think not.

In March of the Eagles, much like in Diplomacy, you need other people’s help to get ahead (unless you’re France, perhaps), but that only goes so far. There are more land and sea dominance provinces than a person needs to get to 100%, and they’re all mostly across the borders in the other great powers, with a couple maybe held by smaller countries. You essentially have a choice of where you go, and an ally can quickly become an enemy, should the right opportunity present itself. One deft move by the Russian player was to join in on the war against France just long enough to give the rest of us hope, and just long enough to take some territory he wanted, before he sued for peace. The French player, balls deep in the rest of Europe at this point, was eager to grant this request. A bit of a coup by all accounts, and he promptly declared war on me not long after that. Meanwhile, the Ottomans were quietly taking a province here, a province there, so that by the end of our last session he was the closest one to winning, which nobody saw coming.

All the great powers get access to the same set of idea trees, apart from the final ‘national’ tree which is specific to that nation

Sadly, none of the backend improvements coming in EUIV managed to make it into this game. Even using the built-in Metaserver or something like Hamachi, you may struggle to connect to a game that your friend’s create. Our group of eight who had assembled for some Napoleonic shenanigans, after about half-an-hour, finally managed to get a game going through directly connecting to someone via their IP address, of all things. Talk about going back in time. Connection issues aside though, we found the game itself to be as smooth as anything, with no drop-outs or lag.

I may sound fairly critical of March of the Eagles – again, from the perspective of a veteran, it’s hard not to nit-pick. If you think I’m bad though, just go to the Paradox Forums and see some of the stuff they’re saying. As a single-player experience, it’s a nice distraction from the main games that can only last so long, but as a multiplayer experience, it transcends anything I’ve experienced before, even other Paradox games. The game time is shorter and the goals are more defined, leading to a more immediate need for diplomacy and warfare, and the stripped down nature of the game actually does it credit when playing with others. Even then though, you’ll see the cracks, the weird design choices, and I still can’t forgive them for the wrong definition of the Rifles Brigade, but hey ho. Provided you know some people who will also buy this game, £15 is not bad for what you’ll get out of March of the Eagles. Enjoy.

Top Game Moment: Well, I’ll tell you what WASN’T a top game moment: The bit where France and Russia spit-roasted me (as Prussia). Vengeance will be mine.

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By the_fourth_horseman (SI Veteran Member) on Mar 01, 2013
I concur.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 01, 2013
I'll skip this one then, I'm not too much into pvp. I'll just wait for EU4 :).
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Mar 01, 2013
No word of a lie nocutius, you're doing yourself a disservice. IF you don;t have anyone to play it with, fair enough, but there's so much fun to be had taking this game online. Even if you just take your existing Paradox games online, everyone should experience this.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 01, 2013
I believe you, it's just that I don't have the nerves for pvp anymore, that's all :).
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 02, 2013
I'll be picking this up s soon as there's a price discount, simply as It's an era I enjoy reading about (and have always done) and that it is light on in terms of features and depth. MP doesn't interest me, so I'll pass on that anyway.

I have struggled with the hardcore Paradox titles for years, always letting go of them as their complexity required time and attention that I could give them. Much as I want to like them, I can't.
Even if this turns out to be a quality tutorial for the bigger titles that I own I'll actually be grateful. Paradox need tutorials that you can play through without reading pages of information just to get to the next turn. Always one for 'pick-up and play' this sounds like the answer.

That it's all about warfare cuts to the meat of the matter for me, and is more in line with the games I still enjoy like "John Tiller's Napoleonic Wars" series. So I'll welcome that.

For the price it's already a bargain, however even a 50% drop is enough to wait out a little longer for.

Excellent review Joe, and no doubt more concise and less time-consuming than Armchair General's will be (takes so long for them to get to the point quite often).