Format: Download (342MB)
Mac Publisher: Freeverse
System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4, 1.4 GHz processor, 343 MB disk space, 512 MB RAM
Review Computer: 2GHz 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo iMac, 1GB RAM, 256MB ATI Radeon 1600
Network Feature: LAN or Internet
Processor Compatibility: Universal
Availability: Out now
Demo: Mac OS X (342.2MB .dmg)
Before computer games, even before role-playing games, there were war games, where players could reenact battles—historical or otherwise—by moving miniatures or cardboard chits along a 3D terrain or board map. Commander: Napoleon at War is an almost direct translation of these war games; there’s little flash in terms of graphics—the entire focus of the game is on the creation, management, and movement of military units.
If you’ve ever played a board-based war game, Commander: Napoleon at War (CNaW) will be immediately familiar: a map of Europe and Russia (and part of the New World) laid out in hexagons. Units are represented by 2D icons. Practically nothing is animated; click on a unit and the hexes it can move to will be highlighted. They move by sliding along the map. Units can attack when they’re next to an opponent, you’ll see a ratio in the unit’s info box showing their relative strength (1:1 means the units are equal, 8:1 means that the defender is going to be pummeled). As for the battles themselves, blink and you’ll miss ’em; each unit gets a small red flash with a number in it showing how much strength they’ve lost, and that’s it.
You build units by controlling territory: cities and resources (like horse farms for cavalry, for instance). At the beginning of every turn, your resources are subtracted from your upkeep, and what remains are available for building your army. Once their construction is finished, you can drop them onto the map near one of your cities or ports.
And that, in a nutshell, is it. CNaW isn’t a “god game.” You’re not focused on building your cities, and scientific research is limited to upgrading soliders. The beginning, middle, and end is advancing your units and taking over enemy cities. CNaW makes no effort to use graphics to put you “in the game;” you’ll have to provide your own imagination as you slowly build your army and advance on enemy capitals while defending your sea lanes from enemy frigates and privateers.
Play-wise, the game can either be intensely fascinating or deadly dull. If you enjoy board games like Axis and Allies or Risk and want a game with a relatively simple set of mechanics, then CNaW can give you that, and you don’t have to worry about loosing the pieces or about the dice rolling off the table. With Commander, it’s all about the strategy, because although the idea behind the game isn’t complex (build units, deploy units, combat), you’ll have to plan ahead and learn the subtleties. In the single player game, it’s you versus an alliance of England and Russia, and invading either one won’t be a piece of cake, let alone both. Technological advances come slowly, and while infantry units are cheap to build, you may end up marching them halfway across the continent. Will they reach the front in time?
For people who love war games, especially from this historical era, Commander: Napoleon at War is a great game. The computer takes care of managing all the numbers, leaving you free to manage and plan your conquest. But if the thought of moving an army, unit by unit and carefully arranging it to assault the defenders of Berlin leaves you cold, you’ll want to pass this one by. As for myself, it gave me a warm sense of nostalgia of nights spent peering over green Styrofoam hills, and snapping a thread to verify that I could see the enemy Dragoons coming up over the rise.