I've noticed that in life, almost all my success derives from exceeding in the moment rather than the long-term. I give very good presentations, but I don't plan very good presentations. I teach good classes but I don't design good curriculums. I'll write a six-page article in a few hours' notice, but I've had books languish for years. I deal with acute crises better than chronic problems. I'm great at poker and pool, horrible at bridge and chess. I aced all my week-to-week assignments in graduate school, but I was terribly late with my class projects, and I can't even make a dent in my dissertation. In military terms, I'm a good tactician but a horrible strategist.
I think this is why I don't like strategy games much even though I like the logistics of combat RPGs. I like battles, not campaigns. CRPGs are rarely about long-term strategy; you mostly have to worry about the foe in front of you right now, whom you can almost always defeat with the resources in your backpack. With strategy games, it's not enough to win the battle. You have to be conserving units, developing resources in your bases, plotting four or five moves ahead. You have a human or computer enemy who constantly tries to defeat you, so you can't do what you'd do in a CRPG by taking time out, resting and healing, and grinding to develop characters.
|The opening screens.|
The fusion of strategy games and CRPGs was inevitable, and thus inevitable that I would have to play them. I managed to get out of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Bandit Kings of Ancient China by complaining that they weren't "RPG enough," but I can't make that same claim about Sword of Aragon, which has leveling for both heroes and units, equipment, and a main quest. I have no excuse for skipping this one.
I was at least happy to see that Sword of Aragon is not about the Lord of the Rings character but a kingdom of that name (though not the region of Spain). The story is unusually detailed and personal for a strategy game: the player has just inherited the throne of Aladda, former capital of the western realm of the Aragonian Empire. The former king, the player's father, was a famous knight who reclaimed Aladda from monsters but tragically fell to a band of orcs. Now, the orcs are threatening the land, and it's up to the player, newly crowned, to repel them. After that, his goal is to realize his father's dream of re-uniting the kingdoms of Aragon into a vast empire.
|The young king starts at Level 4.|
The only choices at the outset are the character's name and class: warrior, knight, ranger, priest, or mage. I followed PetrusOctavianus's advice and decided to try a ranger. The game then asks whether you want to go with the "standard units"; if you do, it assigns you a few NPCs and battalions. If not, you start with more gold but have to purchase your allies. I went with the standard units for my first game. I was assigned a warrior, another ranger, a priest, a mage, a company of 30 spearmen, a company of 40 javelin warriors, and a company of 30 bowmen. Each has their own allotment of equipment, hit points, armor class, movement speed, and attack ratings. The hero characters all have names beginning with the letter of their class, which makes it easy to tell who's who.
|My initial army.|
Like most advanced strategy games, there are enough statistics and options to confound Napoleon. In addition to all the stats for each army, we have a host of stats for each city (fortunately, I only have one to start with), including the morale, loyalty, health, tax rate, trade surplus or deficit, and weather. There are separate production, tax, and resource figures for all kinds of natural resources, like agriculture, lumber, mining, manufacturing, and commerce--all of which can be "developed" for a fee. You can conscript civilians from each city into an army, which I suppose affects the morale and loyalty, and you can levy higher taxes to raise money in a pinch.
|Some of the city statistics and options.|
For each of the units, you have the option to reinforce them with more personnel (lowering their level if the personnel are new), buy them better equipment, spend money to train them, and even give them more unique names.
|The game starts with a combat after the first turn.|
The orcs were waiting just outside the city when the game began, and when they attacked, I got a more tactical map of the area. I figured it would make sense to just entrench myself in the city to face them rather than go charging out into the countryside (among other things, they vastly outnumbered me).
|The orcs come charging in.|
Combat takes place in a zoomed-in area of the larger game map. Each square has its own defensive rating in terms of both missile weapons and hand-to-hand combat, as well as a visibility and elevation rating. Some of these can be affected by various spells that grow or destroy foliage, dry mud, and so on. Each "unit" (including individual heroes) have various options during combat, including moving, attacking, entrenching in place, re-supplying (for a fee), casting, and forcing a longer march with a consequent drain on stamina and morale.
For the first battle, I mostly entrenched in place. I tried out a couple of spells ("vigor") and had my bowmen shoot enemies at a range. As enemies engage each other, you get quick messages about what's happening, and I haven't fully been able to interpret them yet (e.g., when it says "infantry dispersed!," I don't know if it's talking about mine or theirs).
Eventually, when things get bad enough for one of you, you get a message showing you the current status and allowing you to quit or fight on.
The orcs broke themselves on the walls of Aladda, but I chose to keep fighting and eliminate as many of them as I could. I sent several of my units outside the walls to engage the fleeing enemies, but some of them ultimately got away. I received 283 gold pieces from the battle and ultimately lost only 8 men. Obviously, I'll talk more about combat when I understand it better.
|A good start.|
After the battle, I got a message that "your good showing has attracted a character who will serve you"--specifically, a Level 2 knight. I also got a message that I recovered my father's stolen Bow of Accurate Archery (I suspect this weapon changes depending on what class you choose).
|Not sure what the "5 points" is about.|
Finally, I immediately got a bead on another quest: an escaped slave is apparently reporting a monster, near a river to the southwest, who has hundreds of captives. I also (in the next month) received a report of goblins holding a young boy captive on the road between Marinia and Brocada, with a 5000 gold piece reward for his return.
Already, the way that this game fuses role-playing games and strategy games is clear and intriguing. A basic hybrid might have introduced named heroes, units that level, and a master campaign, and not much else, but this game seems to be organized in a series of quests. The goal doesn't seem to be to raise armies and immediately go conquering your neighbors, but rather to use strategy-game-like units and tactics to solve traditional RPG-style quests.
Unfortunately, I'm having problems with my subsequent battles. I keep ending up on battle maps where I can't see the enemy at all, and they seem mysteriously adept at hitting my units from afar. My units keep getting the morale knocked out of them, which means they flee around randomly when I try to move, and I don't know how to recover from that yet. I have lots of practice and manual-reading to do.