Crown of Glory: Emperor’s Edition
Developer: Western Civilization Software
Publisher: Matrix Games
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Release Date: February 27, 2009
As a reviewer, it can be hard to keep objectivity in mind on certain games; there are games that I absolutely love, and games that I hate, but I have to rate them properly according to how they rate on our objective scales as compared to other games in the genre and on the platform. For instance, one of my favourite games ever is Suikoden V, a darling JRPG with one of the best told stories I’ve ever seen… but if I reviewed that game, I would have to take points away because it’s a very easy game, as well as the fact that backtracking for all 108 Stars is annoying, but necessary to get an ending that doesn’t break your heart. On the other hand, I personally loathe the Halo series, though I have to begrudgingly admit that they are good first person shooters. It’s doubly hard to review games like these because no matter what, fans will only fixate on the negative; I wrote a mostly glowing review for Mount & Blade a while back that I still receive hate mail for, because that big bold “BELOW AVERAGE” is the only thing people read in a three-thousand word review.
Likewise, I know that despite the fact that the game will receive a satisfactory score, fans of Crown of Glory: Emperor’s Edition will hate my guts because I hate it. That’s right: I absolutely hated every second of playing this game. To me – a strategy gamer, mind – it was boring, unintuitive, extremely hard to learn, user-unfriendly and very hard on newer gamers, and the 196 page instruction booklet – in PDF format – didn’t help anything. Every moment of my playing this game, I felt myself longing for Drakensang, Team Fortress 2, Football Manager or anything else that I didn’t abhor. I would rather play Mount & Blade ten times more, and I gave that game a lower score than this one will receive, in all likelihood, because while I couldn’t stand it, I can definitely see where more dedicated wargamers will get a lot of play.
Crown of Glory is the sequel to the game of the same name from 2005, and to their benefit, they did seem to add a lot this time around (full disclosure: I never played the original). There are a total of sixteen scenarios, including a balanced-out scenario that doesn’t take history into account, much like the final scenarios in games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There are options to play either a local, internet (which I was unable to test; therefore, internet play will not play into the final score of the game) or Play By Email (PEBM), which works out as a nice counteract for working people that like to play against each other but can’t get a consistent time to play; this reminds me of how some fantasy sports leagues work, and I like that they’re doing something like this for PC games. There are also events that happen within the scenarios, based either on real history or events throughout the game, which is a nice addition, but not quite as notable or relevant as story elements as seen in the later ROTK games. There are multiple difficulty options, each with a nice separation between the next level, as well as different options for either a “simple” or “advanced” economy, which I’ll get into in a bit.
The main goal of the game is to achieve the most glory, which can be done via everything from military conquests to building your country’s culture up. Since the main goal of the game isn’t something as cut and dry as taking over the region, this balances things out a bit. Furthermore, balance is kept – on the higher difficulty settings, at least – by the fact that, if one nation gets more powerful than the rest of the region, every other country bands together to knock the superpower down a peg in self-defense. This is a wonderful idea, and I wish more games did it, so that I couldn’t just nickel-and-dime everyone, while playing off of everyone else’s hatred for themselves; best of all, it executes well. That said, I do wish the game gave more options other than winning by glory; that’s nice, but I’d like to have other goals for endgame, such as taking over X provinces, or even taking over the whole of Europe (which would be fun on the later difficulty levels, considering the alarmed status I discussed earlier); it’s just a race to see who can become the most glorious, which is kind of a letdown. You do have an option called Path to Napoleon if you’re playing as France, which basically gives you additional goals to accomplish that mirror what the real Napoleon was able to accomplish; it’s nice to have, but completely optional, and ultimately forgettable.
One of the changes from the prior Crown of Glory is the addition of the simple economy feature, which simplifies everything in a province down to one general wealth rating; this is much, much simpler than the advanced economy, which gives players separate metrics for assets, horses, luxuries, iron and other measurables, as well as ways to edit production of all of those items. Simple economy is a great idea in theory, but in reality it’s just a better way to learn how to get into this game, instead of a way to actually play it. Most of the people that are even going to give a passing glance to a game like Crown of Glory – basically the bastard love child of ROTK and Risk – are going to want to micromanage every aspect of their countries to begin with, so they’re going to just ignore simple economy – unless they’re brand new to this series – and get on with the more advanced options. To the game’s credit, there is an awful lot for players that want to use the advanced economy to do, and everything plays into how the game is played, so for that type of player, this is a boon; for me, it’s just a way for me to keep downing aspirin as my head spun, as there are a tremendous amount of metrics to worry about on all sides of domestic management.
Everything that I’ve stated is nice, but the crux of this game – and winning it – still revolves around fighting battles, both on land and sea. The options here are nice, but there’s no middle ground; you’re either fighting quick or detailed battles. Quick battles are exactly that; quick and dirty, with your people lined up against your opponents on a grid, with casualties showing as things progress. Quick battles can be done within a minute, and aren’t for those that are strategically minded; the battles quickly become a battle of attrition, with whoever owning the most toys winning in the end. Detailed battles, on the other hand, are insanely intricate affairs, with so many things to do and worry about that most of a player’s time will likely be spent fighting, if this is how they wish to proceed. Both land and sea battles are fought on a hexagonal grid similar in nature to Battle of Wesnoth, with Fog of War being used to obscure the enemy until they’re in sight. This is fairly standard, but the game has a lot of different options for terrain and the advantages given within, what type of units to use, the formation you wish to fight in and the effects of that therein, what generals you want in what divisions as well as the bonuses and penalties given therein depending on the rank of said generals, how to arrange your supply lines (this being key; just like a real war, if your supply lines are broken, your troops fall out quickly), and after that, you have to keep track of whether your troops are ordered or not and how their morale is. If this seems like there’s a lot to the description, consider that the section on Detailed Combat in the game’s manual takes up fifty pages; I’m seriously condensing this for the sake of readability. Sea battles, take all of the above, and add in factors like the type of ship you have, the wind, how you’re lined up compared to the enemy, whether you’re able to board an enemy vessel and vice-versa, etc. The amount of detail that goes into each battle is staggering, and there’s an extremely high learning curve – even on the easiest difficulty – just to be able to learn what you’re doing; it’s not just enough to move one of your guys close to one of theirs and press attack, there are a lot of measurements and deciding factors that go into deciding just how successful you are at attacking. It’s going to take a few playthroughs in order to get proficient at fighting detailed wars, which can be daunting for all but the most dedicated wargamer.
Winning battles isn’t just done on the battlefield; to have a chance, you have to be doing the work behind the scenes, as well. The key deciding factor – arguably of the whole game – is national morale; this determines how happy your people are, on a scale one thousand to negative-one thousand. If you’re in the positive, your people are content, culture is flourishing, and your army is stronger on the battlefield; if you get below a certain point, you run the risk of riots and disorder at home, which has serious consequences in battle. There’s also your supply line to consider; if it’s broken, your army takes to foraging off the land that they’re in, which can lead to a lot of casualties, especially if they’re in another country. The key factor I’ve noticed in doing well in this game is picking and choosing alliances with other nations; if your nation is stronger than another allied nation then you can become that nation’s protectorate, which is advantageous as it gives you much more control in terms of putting up supply depots and getting together an army for a conquest. There are diplomacy points which are necessary to do everything from build an alliance to go to war; it’s possible to launch surprise attacks, but this lowers your glory immensely – moreso than normally declaring war – as it’s cowardly. Even managing a political war is involved; surrendering and cease-firing is dependent on who you’re fighting against, as if they believe it’s not advantageous to accept a surrender or a cease-fire, they won’t, so it’s important to pick fights you know you can win. It’s also possible to just march into someone else’s country without declaring war, or even just load up a border in preparation, but this causes what’s called a Casus Belli, giving the nation that’s being violated the option to declare war without losing any glory, meaning a smart ruler could effectively play possum on an aggressor nation, bait them in, weaken them (as they’d be fighting a remote war), then pursue them into their now-weakened country and do some serious damage. The political options available to gamers here are plentiful, and much easier to manage than combat, and they give Crown of Glory a nice advantage over other wargames.
I’ve been relatively positive so far, but mentioned in my second paragraph that I hated playing the game. This is more of a personal issue than anything specifically wrong with the game, but part of the reason I abhorred it so much was because I haven’t played a strategy game with the learning curve this one had. Simply put, I had to take almost a week just to learn how to play the game. I mentioned that the manual was 196 pages; unlike other games, you can’t just skim this and be good, you have to learn every aspect of the game to be truly good at it, especially if you’re going to play against other players, so what I had to do was email the .pdf file to myself at work, where I had to spend lunch on three separate days to read the manual. There are tutorial videos that come with the game, but they’re very dry to watch, resembling a boring classroom lecture. If any game desperately needs an interactive, “do this like that” tutorial, it’s this one, but I felt like I was studying for a test instead of learning how to play what is supposed to be a recreational video game. By the time I was good enough to play the game competently on any but the easiest difficulty setting, over a week had passed, and I was so frustrated I just wanted to say bollocks to the whole thing. Furthermore, there’s nothing really fun about this game; it’s more for scholarly strategists than anyone looking for action, and while it does make an attempt to reach out to lighter gamers, what is geared towards being simple is almost too simple, and takes away most of what would make this game good to it’s target audience. The presentation of the game is exceptionally bare-bones – the only thing I’ll say about the graphics and what constitutes sound is that they both suck – and even the way the game lays out information makes it harder on all but the most dedicated, anal-retentive player than it should be. The reports that are laid out to the player are remarkably detailed, but totally necessary, and I apologize if this makes me dumb in the eyes of my readers, but I don’t consider reading over reports and spreadsheets to be fun, I consider that to be the domain of my boss at work. If this is fine to you, or if you played and liked the original Crown of Glory, then by all means, jump all over this (especially if you own the original, which nets you a $10 discount). At $50 for a downloadable copy and $60 for a physical copy, the price is a little stiff for my tastes, but those that want a LOT of game for their money will definitely find it here.
Sound: Pretty Poor
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Crown of Glory: Emperor’s Edition should be an automatic purchase for anyone who likes exceptionally deep, strategy-based wargames, as there is an awful lot to like here. Despite Matrix’s attempts to mitigate it, the learning curve still desperately needs to be rounded out a bit, and the production could really use a shot in the arm, but once you learn how to play the game – an admittedly arduous process – it can absorb you for months. Anyone who liked the original Crown of Glory shouldn’t even think twice; grab this.
With all that said, I’m glad it’s over and I can run back to the comfort of Wesnoth.
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