My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night. But ah my foes, and oh my friends – it gives a lovely light
Norman, from A River Runs Through It
Not that either the book or the film have any relationship to our attempts to play Total War: Rome II, I just like that quote and the game does seem in danger of burning out on us in a rather short time.
And there was a river. But we’ll get to that.
Friday evening I found Mattman already online and playing the game as the appointed time approached. He was putting in some effort to learn the game by playing the intro campaign, though he seemed to be having issues with a city assault. I was no help. I couldn’t see what he was doing and I could only vaguely remember the city assault part of the campaign, as I ran the tutorial back in June.
Potshot had not responded to the event, so was not expected, but Loghound had replied in the affirmative. I left Mattman to his solo mission in case Loghound showed up, but as the minutes ticked by, I grew restless and began hinting, then bluntly saying, that perhaps we could have some multi-player gaming. Mattman gave up his city assault and we formed up for another skirmish match.
Unfortunately, skirmishes look to be the extent of game play we can expect to have for the four of us. There is a multiplayer campaign mode, but in this case “multiplayer” is defined as two people, so isn’t really an option for a larger group.
I already had the hosted game up, which put me in the drivers seat as to what we would be doing for the evening. After the somewhat chaotic events last time, I had formulated a plan. Rather than an open battle with troops wandering all over an open map, I chose river crossing battles as the theme for the night. See, a river. Several rivers actually.
I also went for a small budget… you get points to spend on your troops, so a smaller budget means less troops… with the idea that we could focus on controlling a few units so as to get better at the nuts and bolts before moving back to grand armies again.
So I formed up teams, with Mattman and I on one side and a pair of AIs playing as the Carthaginians on the other. I was inspired by the Extra Credits YouTube series on the first and second Punic Wars, which was paid for by the people who made Total War: Rome II. In fact, the other quote I was considering using at the top was “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.”
I also made us the defenders. All we had to do was hold the river crossing and let the Carthaginians come to us. They would have a few more troops, but we would be able to focus on a simple objective.
Actually, it turned out to be two river crossings on each map. But that was okay, as it let us each have our own position to work with. And we did pretty well on the first run.
I took the bridge and Mattman took the ford. As it turned out, the hostiles seemed to consider the bridge to be their favored crossing and so massed most of their troops opposite me. Mattman was able to drive off or defeat the forces facing him and come around to strike them on the flank and read while I held them at the foot of the bridge, drawing them out so that they had to face three ways or be taken on a flank.
That worked out quite well. The enemy was crushed, his demoralized troops driven from the field.
This gave us the courage to change sides and we did a run with us as the attackers. That gave us a bit more budget to spend… worth about a single additional quality unit, or a couple of cheap ones… and made us push across the river to take the fight to the enemy. We managed to win on that round as well.
As we were finishing that Loghound showed up to join the game. I set up a new match, adding a slot for him on our side and another AI to face us, while he tried to get himself sorted. He had downloaded the new Mac OS client for Total War: Rome II, so would be playing native in a 64-bit OS that could access all his RAM rather than in the 32-bit Windows partition he had been booting up to play previously.
However, there were issues. The Total War: Rome II client for Mac OS either didn’t support multiplayer or was having problems trying to get hooked into multiplayer… it wasn’t clear which… so that eventually Loghound gave up and went back to Windows. While he did that Mattman and I ran another two player against two AI battle and won. We were looking good.
So when Loghound got online again and into the game, I decided to give us a bit of a challenge. As we had been defeating two AI attackers quite handily, and would now have three of us playing, I boosted the odds for the Carthaginians a bit by adding in another AI player for them. There would be 4 AI players against the three of us.
This did not work out quite as well.
With even numbers, the AI wasn’t able to mass forces against one of us without being weak against the other, and the AI’s modus operandi up to this point had been to weigh their attack heavily against one of the crossings. But that weight was such that one of us had always been able to hang on until the other defeated their smaller foe and could came to the rescue to finish the battle. With four AIs against three of us, the Carthaginians were able to put a big enough holding force together to keep that rescue plan from happening.
Compounding that was our setup. I planned to hold one crossing while Mattman and Loghound tried to force the other. As it turned out, the AI put the holding force on their side and the break-through force on my side. And then I bungled my lineup, leaving a gap that allowed two units of Carthaginian cavalry to slip past me. They proceeded to route my archers, who ran off to hide in the woods, and then started to charge my lines from behind. As my infantry was barely holding, this caused my whole side of the battle to come unglued. Units started to turn and run only to be destroyed.
My crossing uncovered, the mass of Carthaginians headed around to take Mattman and Loghound from the exposed flank. The battle came down to a desperate stand by Mattman’s troops at the ford.
The field was littered with the dead and none of our units were able to escape, aside from a couple of my archers who had run literally to the furthest corner of the map before exiting.
Adding in an extra AI looked to be a boundary we were not quite ready to cross. So we gave it another try. Same plan, but with a three on three scenario. As before, the AI chose my side… I opted to defend the bridge as opposed to the ford, and the AI just has a thing for bridges I guess… to mount the main weight of its attack. Things nearly came unglued again.
Fortunately, Mattman and Loghound were able to break through at the ford and march to my support, as the battle at the foot of the bridge became a desperate fight. I managed to keep anybody from slipping through, but the weight of the attack was falling most on a single unit and my attempts to reform my lines to relieve pressure only let the Carthaginians bring more troops to bear. I was holding on by a thin margin, using my cavalry to drive on any unit that looked to be ready to break out… and popping off the morale boosts that my general provided to keep the troops in the line… when reinforcements started to show up.
There was a mountain of bodies at the foot of the bridge and my cavalry was spent, but as Mattman and Loghound came across the bridge, the enemy melted and was destroyed.
Victory was ours, but yet again it was a narrow victory.
So we got a bit more experience under our belts. However, fighting against the AI is always a bit unsatisfying. If you lose, then the computer beat you and if you win, well, it was just an AI. We will see if this round makes us sharper when we next go head to head. The river crossing scenarios certainly got us to focus, but once those get old I wonder which scenario to pursue next. I tried a naval battle. That was… different. I also played historical harbor and city assaults. We might be better suited to the open terrain battles where maneuver and position play more into things.
Anyway, we will see where we stand next time.