Rome – A Shameful Display

I was not sure we were actually going to get together and play last Friday evening.  It was a holiday weekend.  Nobody had set up a Google event.  And, honestly, I was wondering if the group might want a break after the grand finale of the Civilization V game.

But then, a little while before our usual 9pm start time, I noticed that Loghound had put up an “are we playing tonight?” message.  So I put down Pokemon for a bit and wandered over to my desk to see what was up.  There was a hangout up so I joined without issue, now that I have come to realize that some change was made at Google’s end and they now assume that you have a video source and will wait to acquire it before letting you in, so I just have to click the button to turn off video to get in.

It was Mattman, Loghound, and myself and it looked like we were going to play a game.  The game we had previously chosen, after some deliberation (which included a poll that told us we should play Borderlands 2) and a timely Steam sale, was Total War: Rome II.

SGRome

But that was back in June.

And while Steam tells me that we all jumped right in and did… something… with the game back then, I am pretty sure that we hadn’t done very much since.  I know that I played through the tutorial mission, ran about a bit, glanced briefly at the multiplayer interface, and then went back to my Loremaster quest in WoW.  Total time played: 92 minutes.  Two months later, it was time to see what I remembered.

We all got Steam going and launched the game.  Both Mattman and I tried to host while Loghound, still in a borrowed house and running Steam off of an external hard drive on a less than stellar system, waited for thing to load.  I dropped my game, discovering that the button with the arrow at the lower left corner doesn’t mean “go back” as one might intuit, but rather will dump you from the game.  So I relaunched and tried to get into the game Mattman was hosting.  But the game had been set for two players and Loghound had got in ahead of me.

We started fiddling with thing and Loghound tried to leave the game so it could be reset and discovered the same thing I had about that button on the lower left, which left room for me to get into the match.  Then there was some more fiddling around as Mattman made it a four player game, with the three of us an an AI involved.  Then, since that left a human imbalanced.  So the game got bumped up two a six player match, with three AI players versus the three of us.  Now it was time to figure out what was what.

More after the cut.

So we had and interface, and the three of us on the same side, so the first thing Loghound and I decide is that we aren’t going to play as Romans, choosing different affiliations.  Because let’s be different.

I went for Macedonia and Loghound chose Egypt.  Then it was time to pick units.

Three of us in the game

Three of us in the game

I really had no good ideas when it came to the units, though I am going to guess that I wasn’t hamstrung by choosing Macedonia, as I would have been equally lost with Roman units.  So I just cobbled together a quick Pax Roma era combined arms mix of infantry, cavalry, and archers.  Mattman had already picked his units, but Loghound was just starting to focus on the problem of units when we asked him just to pick some just as a test run and we could get to deliberations about unit mixes later.  We all clicked the “Start Battle” button, and for a short bit everything looked good.  The game loaded for me and I could see everybody on the field.

Battle of Six Armies Pending...

Battle of Six Armies Pending…

You can see my Macedonian units with their black banners, Loghounds Egyptian army with blue banners, and Mattman’s Romans out in the vanguard, red banners hoisted.

And then the situation failed.  Loghound’s computer wasn’t loading things and eventually he had to force quit the game.  Mattman and I had to concede defeat while we tried to get everybody back together again.  Loghound’s setup just wasn’t up to the task.  At one point his son walked by and asked some questions about what we were doing. (Loghound’s son has editorialized on Loghound’s specific play style, as well as the group’s in general, in the past, and we never get high marks.)  When the questions got around to the “so why aren’t you in the game dad?” part of the conversation, Loghound’s answer was, “Because I own a Mac.”

So we messed around a bit with the settings.  We tried to open up an observers slot so he could at least be “in” the game.  But Rome II was clearly getting the better of his rig.  I now regret my past comments along the lines of the game not possibly being harder on our systems that Civ V.

Eventually we had to turn to Twitch.tv so Loghound could watch.

As it turns out, Rome II has Twitch integration built in, and since I happened to have a Twitch account… which I created at some point to just so I could make a couple channels “favorites” or some such… I decided to give it a whirl.  And much to my surprise, it worked.  I just had to press the button, enter my Twitch user name and password, which I actually remembered, which was surprise number two, and I was live on the internet.

Worst. Stream. Ever.

Worst. Stream. Ever.

I have now become one of those people who stream.  I can now broadcast the Friday night game… at least to those who might be interested.  Now I need to figure out how to inject overlays and ads and music and animated cat .gif files, and what not into the stream.

So Mattman and I set up a two player game, with the two of us versus the Celts, because fuck the Celts I guess… though technically, in this time frame, I think the Macedonians were more than a little bit Celtic themselves.  I was glad at least that the game doesn’t toss your unit selection after each game, so I just went with my original pick.

So we got lined up, Mattman up front, Wilhelm of Macedonia bringing up the rear, and set things in motion at last.

Marching around a bit

Marching around a bit

We spotted the enemy, started moving towards them, managed to basically divide our forces in the face of the enemy, and then got slaughtered in detail.  The Celtic heavy cavalry sent my own fleeing, then they savaged my archers in the backfield.  Mattman threw his infantry in against the Celts and was set to flight after heavy losses.  It was practically Isandlwana, and we were not playing the Zulus.

As Mattman’s Romans melted from the field, it was my turn to clash with the Celts.

Stuck into the Celts

Stuck into the Celts

Mattman had taken enough with them and had tired them out such that there was a glimmer of hope.  My heavy infantry took its toll on the Celts and I managed to send them into retreat for a bit.  But their ranged units would just run away and pick off my heavy troopers as I slowly chased them.  Eventually my last unit broke and ran while the little adviser in the window at the top left corner decried this shameful display.

Tell me about it...

Tell me about it…

We gave it another try, with both of us trying to coordinate, but the results were about the same.  I managed to keep my cavalry intact to the very end in hopes of being able to pick off the light ranged Celtic units.  That actually worked and I was able to destroy a couple of those formations, but the rest of our army fled as well.  I ran my horsemen around looking for targets of opportunity.

Naked? I can probably take on naked.

Naked? I can probably take on naked.

However, the AI caught up with me soon after, and that was the end of that.

We decided that we really needed to teach that AI a lesson it wouldn’t soon forget.  So we returned to the match setup and, this time around, pitted the two of us against a single Celtic army.  Who is laughing now, eh Mister AI?

I also decided to swap out for Roman troops… because… um… Go Rome!  We lined up a bit differently, with Mattman off on the left flank and me holding the center, and when the match started I kept a tight formation and let the Celts come to me while Mattman attempted to come around the back.  You can see, in the screen shot below, Mattman’s blue fringed banners clustered, unmolested off to one side while I have already pushed back the Celts, sending some of them fleeing.

Pincer movement...

Pincer movement…

This is the point when I generally expect Mattman to nuke me or declare war or something.  But he engaged his forces, riding down and slaughtering the remaining Celts.

More dead Celts

Celts crush between us

And so we managed a victory of sorts, though even with the odds 2 to 1 in our favor, it was still just a close victory.

But a victory, right?

But a victory, right?

The final round up showed that, by getting fully engaged, I killed far and away the most Celts.  But I also took the most casualties.  Things might have gone better for us had Mattman engaged a little earlier.  Though, from his perspective, he got a victory with minimal losses.

The Summing Up

The Summing Up

We learned a few things.  One was that the game does not lack for bugs.  For example, that victory shows me as the Macedonians still, while the Roman symbol is next to my name and the screen shots from the battle clearly show that I am commanding Roman troops.  There was only one victory for us that evening, so it isn’t like I got the screen shots mixed up.  There wasn’t anything huge.  Nobody, aside from Loghound, crashed.  But there were some defects that showed up.

The second was that streaming is easy.  I was able to get that going in moments thanks to the built-in Twitch integration.  I had it running on my system while I was playing, so I could hear what we were saying on the stream after the delay they inject so they can shut you down if you’re playing music or some such.  That was both distracting and amusing.  Nothing like hearing yourself talk about something that happened 30 seconds back.  But it worked.  I am not sure I would stream the game if we were all on and playing unless somebody really wants to watch our foibles in real time. (Or maybe wants to evaluate how accurate my summaries are.)

And, finally, we need to learn how to play this game.  Our initial failures were certainly due to a lack of coordination, but that exacerbated by the fact that we were figuring stuff out as we went.  I started out with just “pick a unit, click where to go or what to attack” in the first game and was actually starting to figure out what to do with units, how they could change formation, and what their status was by the second.  But I spent as much time just figuring that out as I did actually fighting the battle.

So our homework for this week was to get better at actually using the controls and doing things with units, so that we could actually pay attention and use what we have on the field.  We will get to what units work best later.  Unless somebody Googles that.

Of course, if we have even numbers next time, it will end up being humans versus humans.  That could be comical all on its own.

4 thoughts on “Rome – A Shameful Display

  1. mbp

    Here are some thoughts that have stood me well in Total was games over the years:

    1 The main body of army should be heavy infantry that can engage the enemy army and hold a line. This line needs to be wide enough to prevent encirclement and deep enough to prevent breakthroughs. Put tough troops possibly armed with spears on the flanks to deter opportunistic enemy cavalry attacks.

    2. While the main line holds the enemy the actual killing is done by flanking them from the side or behind. Cavalry is excellent for this but light skirmishers also work and eventually heavy infantry units can be repurposed as flankers once they are no longer needed to stop enemies.

    3. Ranged units perform three valuable functions. 1. They soften up the enemy from a distance inflicting casualties before the lines engage. 2. They counter enemy ranged units. 3. They can be used to goad enemies into unwise attacks.Archers are easier to use than slingers because they can shoot over the heads of your front line. Make sure they stop shooting or switch targets when enemies close with your troops.

    4. Terrain is hugely important. If you can convince an enemy to attack uphill or across rough ground you have a huge advantage.

    5. Defending is usually easier than attacking because you get to choose the terrain and can arrange your formations. Exposed cavalry or weaker infantry skirmishers can sometimes tempt enemies into an unwise charge. Your skirmishers should disappear behind your line of heavy infantry one the enemy is committed. Make sure to leave gaps for them to do so.

    6. Using cavalry sorties to thin out enemy ranged troops is a tactic that sounds great but is very hard to pull off safely when there is heavy infantry around to defend them. Watch out for opportunities to ride down undefended archers and skirmishers that may arise during the course of battle. If the enemy starts off with an overwhelming ranged trip advantage then you may have to gamble with your cavalry to try and thin them out.

    7. Broken units have a major demoralising effect on nearby troops so it is a good idea to whittle down the enemies weaker units while holding the line against their strongest troops. The strong units will be demoralised by the sight of their colleagues fleeing making them easier targets when their turn arrives.

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  2. SynCaine

    Is your plan to only play battles, or a multiplayer campaign map (I think that’s possible…)?

    I find battles in Total War to be pretty meh, but I did enjoy the campaign game a lot more. It’s not amazingly awesome, but pretty solid.

    And yea, the game is a massive resource hog, way above Civ V, especially with everything turned up. Funny thing is, you can’t zoom in and enjoy the combat AND manage a battle, so all that graphic flare is basically worthless since 99% of the time is spent zoomed out and actually doing stuff.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @mbp – All excellent advice, but we’re literally still at, “How do I make a unit do what I want” level of command. I am not sure I could get my soldiers to deploy to the high ground correctly and face in the right direction. I did manage the tutorial, as noted, but that was back in June and my brain is like a sieve at times.

    @SynCaine – Yeah, I have no idea what we were thinking when somebody felt that this might be less of a load on the CPU than Civ V. That was literally 180 degrees wrong.

    I do like the way the screen shots of the zoom into the action end up. They feel like 18th century oil paintings of battles.

    We only just opened the game up and clicked on multiplayer, to find ourselves in what I would call “skirmish mode” in any normal RTS. If we could run campaigns together or in opposition, that would be a thing, though we should probably run more battles just to get used to the game.

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  4. SynCaine

    A multiplayer campaign would take longer than the Civ game, just a warning.

    I think for this game, you guys are likely best to stick to skirmish battles trying to beat the AI (I’m guessing it has multiple difficulty levels).

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