Aggressors: Ancient Rome from Matrix Games
FGM review by Badger73
It is 280 BC. Alexandros ho Megas, the great conqueror, relinquished a most heroic mortal life almost five decades ago. The Diadochi, his successors, lie dead as well. Their sons now reign throughout the East. Antiochus I Soter leads the Seleucid Empire. Ptolemy II Philadelphus rules Egypt where the material and literary splendor of the Alexandrian court are at its height. His brother, Ptolemy Keranaunos is king of Macedon. In Greece, the 125th Olympiad sees ancient city states form new leagues. King Pyrrhus of Epirus wages war in Latium against the Consuls Laevinus and Coruncanius who jointly command Rome 474 years after the city’s founding. In Tunis, the long established metropolis of Carthage grows greater and dominates Mediterranean trade. The known world is at a turning point. Any nation might rise supreme and make history its own.
On 30-August-2018, Matrix games releases “Aggressors: Ancient Rome”, a 4x (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) computer game of strategy and high level tactics, developed by Kubat Software. The game design and concept are largely influenced by Civilization IV, Colonization, Panzer General and Centurion. As one of the few people in the world outside a Trappist Monastery who never played Civ IV, my best frame of reference for evaluating this game is primarily “Rome Total War”, specifically its “Europa Barbarorum” modification. (Vanilla Rome Total War came with 3 playable Roman Factions, 8 playable non-Roman factions, and 10 non-playable factions. Europa Barbarorum provided 20 playable factions.)
“Aggressors: Ancient Rome” (hereafter referenced as A:AR) focuses on the peoples and lands of Third Century BCE surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. The campaign map extends from the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) in the west to the Sea of Galilee (Judea) in the East, from the Alps in the north to the Sahara in the south. It includes twenty (20) civilizations, ranging from Roman, Ptolemaic, Carthaginian or Seleucid empires, through smaller city-states and kingdoms in Greece and Asia Minor, to a number of nomadic barbarian tribes in Thrace, the Alps and the Iberian Peninsula. The nation which builds the most viable empire wins the game.
In this tile based 4X strategy game, empire building involves not only territorial expansion but also technological, cultural, military, and economic development. Each turn equals one year. The player’s goal is to develop a system of government that has the most dominant impact on the effectiveness of economy, happiness of people and army morale. Players focus on resource management. Every action requires resources for its execution.
The wealth of the state is not micro-managed in settlements. It is distributed throughout the entire naton. Every tile counts. Cities are prominent, but as the state management is not city-centered (unlike Civ IV as I understand it), players need to pay attention to their entire country. When connected and managed well, everything works together to make a solid foundation for a strong empire. Neglecting isolated areas not only drains the wealth of the state; neglected places become areas of enemy exploitable weakness.
A:AR emphasizes managing populations, the human shoulders which lift the empire to success or failure. Populace is distributed in cities, a state’s main recruitment areas, where people are the source for workforces and military units. Population growth can be increased by building new cities, supporting immigration, and by stimulating higher birth rate (natality) through state and local grants. A:AR also accounts for people’s happiness, their level of civil satisfaction showing the overall mood of the population. General and local happiness affect army morale, emigration rate, and sufficient unhappiness can trigger revolts or civil wars.
The player will mostly spend every turn actively or passively managing land, agriculture, minerals, knowledge, technology, wealth, culture, trade, population, and influence. At the same time, players formulate diplomacy and war.
Unlike Rome Total War, all A:AR all battles are abstracted and resolved by the AI. There are no low-level tactical battles to play. The computer resolves combat automatically utilizing a host of positive and negative factors which you as the player provide and control before battle is met. A:AR battles are won by pre-battle planning factors such as the terrain, army training, motivation, organization, supplies, and so forth. There are no Character elements in A:AR. The game places you in the role of Conscript Fathers, Council of Elders, or Royal Court where you provided for attack and defense strength of the units, their army morale, general morale, loyalty, terrain bonuses or penalties, experience or special skills acquired through improvements, sufficient supplies, battle readiness, and such before sending your legions forth on campaign. Then you trust and hope your generals prevail. You are the supreme commander; you oversee the welfare of the state. The low-level “man-to-man” fight is left to your army generals. Every battle requires you to consider all these strategic factors before launching combat. Overlooking or underestimating strategic matters will lose battles and cause the downfall of your empire.
This game is PC only. I played it via Steam on a two-year-old MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G-220 Gaming Laptop.
- Processor = Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU @ 2.70 GHz
- Installed RAM = 32 GB
- System Type = 64-bit o/s, x64 based processor
- Video card = nVidia GeForce GTX 980M
- Operating system = Windows 10 home edition
I took my time warming up to this game. I like to have some idea of what to do before I do it. The game comes with a solid and thorough PDF manual which I skimmed entirely to understand the game better before getting started. There is also an in-game “Aggressors Library” which is a reference that is always available during game play. It is very good and thorough. Then I read the Matrix / Kubat Software development diaries at URL = http://www.slitherine.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=519.
I also watched several helpful YouTube videos. All of these materials gave me a good sense of what to expect.
- Aggressors: Ancient Rome – First look stream – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NZhy6Uc-Pk
- Aggressors Ancient Rome ~ GAULS ~ 01 Introduction – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRFglfwplHM
- Aggressors Ancient Rome ~ GAULS ~ 02 Egyptian Incursions – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDweT6Gr2hE
Three (3) A:AR nations come with both a Basic and Advanced in-game tutorial; Rome, Carthage, Ptolemeic Egypt. I started with the Roman Republic for the basic tutorial. It is a scripted tutorial taking 30-45 minutes which directed a specific action and would not proceed until that action was accomplished. It covers basic game mechanics very nicely. Upon completing the Basic tutorial, I felt comfortably prepared to play a game at BEGINNER level. I loaded a new game and picked Rome to play.
Rome in 279 BC is at war with Epirus. Initial objectives are to conquer all of Italy, seize Sicily, fortify the Eternal City, and gain primacy of place in the Mediterranean. Thus I played 10 hours to achieve some of my goals and be thwarted from others.
The important civil units are Builders and Nomads. Builders go where you direct to construct roads, cultivate land, erect bridges, and establish settlements. Nomads go where you direct to explore the frontiers and establish settlements. Builders cost more resources to create but do more in the game. Military units fight where you direct and can establish settlements. Units disappear into the settlements they create. Unlike their historical counterparts, Roman Legions do not build roads in this game; a small quibble easily overlooked when immersed in play. At the BEGINNER level, morale is not in effect. I was happy not to worry about rebellious conquests or mutinous soldiers as I learned how to build, research, trade, and understand diplomacy.
After 50 turns, I had achieved two goals and lost more fleets and legions than I want to remember. I still had not correctly researched building warships and galleys. Rome needs a good navy and I was behind my enemies developing one.
But I had learned how tile movement works, both land and sea. I had established several cities and improved their Civil Service, Defense, and Trade. I had built a Temple and Blacksmith; the first to improve Happiness, the second to improve mining resources. I was learning rudimentary diplomacy and establishing simple trade affected by variable distances robbery. My population was productively stable and my people were happy. On the down side, campaigns against Carthage were disastrous!
I quit my Beginner game and returned to the Advanced Tutorial as Ptolemeic Egypt. It is not scripted like the Beginner tutorial. It explains additional game functions in a more free form manner. It covers broader game mechanics very nicely and helped me understand what I was now ready to learn after completing the Basic tutorial and spending some time in a simple game. I feel even better prepared to play a game at a higher level where Morale and Influence matter and I can more intelligently research technologies.
The game plays smoothly. The AI logic is sensible and clean. I was pleased that no outcome was bogus and that the game never faltered nor stuttered. Each nation is unique. How they interrelate is intriguing. The Dev team claims ten years of development and testing is invested in this product. I believe them and encountered nothing to make me doubt that game code is sound and robust. A:AR is a solid effort. It fully delivers on the promises made and does good justice to the history it represents. It captures the elements which make this era appealing to me and particular to this ancient period: locales, strategic considerations, differing combat units, intelligence and logistics considerations, supply preparations, strengths and weaknesses of particular units as well as of the government and organization for each nation state. With all this available, players can readily explore a wide range of insight and hindsight in an pleasantly immersive fashion. Whether you approach this 4X game as unseasoned tyro or hard-bitten veteran, it nicely captures its intended ebb and flow in a very satisfying form.
Through a glass darkly.
Pavel Kubát, the creative force behind Aggressors, says this about his game,
“Modding was embedded in the Aggressors core from the beginning and to prove the stability and flexibility of the framework. . . . The player can change just about anything he/she wants. The game has been designed to support modding and it’s done in an easy way. You can change assets like maps, terrain, civilizations in the scenario, but you can even change the rules like types of units, improvements, governments. The built-in editor allows you to change the look of the map by adding or removing tiles and changing terrain, adding or removing map items, and designing a unique web of diplomatic relations in order to give you a maximum freedom in creating your own world. There is a fully-featured, in-built editor for the players who only want to change bits and pieces in the scenario. . . Some of our beta testers already created their own worlds and have shared them with others to test them.”
I find this promise fascinating and am excited to see what comes out of this game’s Steam Workshop and Community Hubs. My experiences are that good mods elevate the joys of play by whole orders of magnitude. Such things as the modder skins and sounds in Combat Mission, the WW2 mods of Arma3, the Europa Barbarorum mod for Rome Total War make good games great and great games exceptional. I look forward very much to new experiences on a proven platform for a long time to come.
Having played Aggressors: Ancient Rome for only twelve hours, I have two thoughts about it; first, I was always eager to learn what would happen next after I ended every turn; second, I can’t wait to learn how to play this game much much deeper and far far better. I wish you the same. Carthago delende est!