Parthian Wars: In-depth Impression

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Philkian
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Parthian Wars: In-depth Impression

Post by Philkian » Tue Nov 12, 2013 4:05 pm

Below you can read a preview impression written by the chief editor of the Spanish forum Punta Da Lanza, Haplo Patryn on Ageod's Forum. Still a good reading even after release!

Hello everyone. This preview was written for a Spanish forum and English is not my native language. So please, be kind if you find some mistakes (typos).

AGEOD have very kindly given me a copy of the new scenario pack to be released later this month, Alea Jacta Est: Parthian Wars, with the aim of giving you a firsthand comments of its virtues and defects. Unlike Birth of Rome, which is installed separately and does not need Alea Jacta Est (AJE), this DLC does require previous ownership of AJE as it adds five new scenarios using the same engine.

This new DLC takes you to the Roman Eastern Front against the Parthians, including a "what if" scenario. The pack adds few new features to the engine (they are already in Patch 1.03 published recently), including some new regional decision cards. But the key point is that the current gameplay is much more broadly tested and is a very well adapted to the situation and period it covers. There are always some aspects that could be improved, but that does not overshadow the current engine at all as it fits nicely in scale and operational capability with the Ancient Wars.

From my point of view this is one of the best AGEOD games, and in the future I hope and expect to see new packs of scenarios that expand the horizons and the playability of AJE. The fact that there are few games for this period dealing with it in the way AGEOD does gives additional value. This is further increased by the fact that so far they have released scenarios based around topics less well known than the 2nd Punic War or Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar for example (to name two that quite sure would be more attractive in the commercial sense). But I am confident they will come…

Now that Rome Total War 2 has been released it would be curious to compare both games and evaluate their differences, strengths and weaknesses. However, it is not my intention to mix Total War with my preview of the AGEOD DLC as I have not played RTW II and I won’t in the future.

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This new pack includes 5 new scenarios that are between 36 (minimum) to 58 (maximum) average turns in length. These new scenarios take place at various times in the period, ranging from the final days of the Roman Republic to the intermediate Imperial phase. This means that the legions are post Caius Marius reform, where the cavalry was not included in the structure of the Legion but was recruited as separate units, and the old differentiation between three types of legionary - Princeps , Hastati and Triarii - was suppressed. Equipment was standardized, simplifying and making the Legion a completely homogeneous unit without distinction of any kind.

The 5 new scenarios are:
• Crassus and the Parthians - 58 B.C.
• Caesar’s Revenge - 44 B.C.
• Marcus Antonius - 40 B.C.
• The Conquest of Trajan - 114 D.C.
• Severus Returns to Parthia - 197 D.C.

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All the scenarios have interesting aspects, but some of them have components that make them even more fun. For example, in the scenario The Conquest of Trajan there is a surprise in the form of "internal problems" that the Roman player may suffer during his campaign against the Parthians, creating a diversion of forces and reinforcements to deal with this new threat, thereby complicating the campaign against the Parthians themselves.

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Also interesting is the setting for Marcus Antonius (58 turns), who was enjoying the charms of Cleopatra when he had to deal with a sudden threat from a Parthian army which was encouraged to invade Roman territory to take benefit of his “love affair”. The fact that this scenario presents a first (and hard) strike from the Parthians, and a subsequent Roman counterattack, makes this scenario a wonderful one with both players taking the initiative in different stages of the game.

The scenario of Severus, although being the shortest, also presents a major challenge because the Roman troops located in the East, especially the Legions, are in very poor condition caused by fighting to restore order in a recent attack by the Parthians. These Roman troops urgently needed replacements implying a tough start for the Roman player, who needs to master the administrative aspect before launching into the business of attacking the Parthians.

The Julius Caesar scenario is fictitious, and asks what would have happened if he had not died stabbed in the Roman Senate and, instead, could have avenged the humiliating defeat of his friend Marcus Licinius Crassus at the hands of the Parthians some years earlier (the campaign of Marcus Licinius Crassus is also provided in this DLC).

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This fictional scenario is the most open in approach as it is based on assumptions, and in it we find the most famous legions of Julius Caesar such as the Tenth, which has a very high level of experience and stands out above the rest. Presumably AGEOD will continue to work polishing OOB details and improving this scenario, since being a fictitious one it must surely have aspects that can be improved or fixed.

The campaign of Marcus Licinius Crassus is attractive because it was the first time that the Romans were confronted with this new and powerful eastern enemy. Being “Old and After Glory” (NB: unlike in the movie of Stanley Kubrick where he says that "I'm not after glory, I’m after Spartacus", which shows how little these movies follow reality) Crassus recruits a handful of inexperienced legions in Italy before leaving to the East and beginning his odyssey against the Parthians that will end tragically. Will we be able to change the fate of Crassus?

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This campaign has a special charm to me because when I was younger I read the Colleen McCullough’s books in which the military expedition of Crassus and the Parthian tactics in the Battle of Carrhae are very well narrated. Besides I've read other recent books where this "adventure" of Crassus’ has always played a prominent role as a wasteful example of the "seek for glory" felt by most Roman leaders - a quest which made Rome become an empire that devoured its neighbors, craving for new conquests and gain of prestige among their peers (as those enemies were not really a threat to the future of Rome).

Summarized in a few points, the playing of the Parthian nation is not a simple silent guest in this pack. On the contrary the Parthians have an active role and can fight against the Romans as an equal. This fact ensures that the scenarios are open and fun for two players, with both having his chances for taking the victory. It’s too soon to see if the scenarios are balanced for a PBEM game, but I’m sure the experience will give AGEOD more data to improve them. But what I can tell you is than the Parthians are a very strong enemy capable of destroying any Roman army in the game.

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As if all this was not enough, scenarios are accompanied by a handful of events that bring a lot of headaches, such as usurpations, uprisings, barbarian tribal attacks, etc… that all can be activated throughout the game. This causes problems for both sides and taking advantage of them will be very important to gain Victory Points and weaken the enemy. In various test games I suffered occasional usurpations, and the Romans have also suffered uprisings and revolts (Judea, oh my God). This makes the duel between Romans and Parthians almost always accompanied by internal and external events that divert attention and provoke situations that require decisions that may impair the course of the main campaign. With these events AGEOD has managed to reflect very well this period of time, introducing the events to complicate the main goal of the scenario, thus earning richness and depth playability.

All scenarios are for 2 players so there is no scenario for 3 players as in AJE, but that does not mean they have less interest. No doubt the great novelty of the pack are the Parthians that are very well represented in the graphical aspect, as usual in AGEOD games, and have also been simulated correctly (IMHO) in the military level. The Parthians had a tremendous impact on the Romans military, since their intensive use of heavy cavalry (the famous Cataphracts) plus the use of a lot of cavalry armed with compound bows was a revolutionary method of war for the Roman infantry. These were not trained to fight an enemy so mobile and that used horse archers to harass them from a distance, and whose arrows were able to penetrate the armor and shields of the legionaries. It was a collision with another military power that used tactics unknown in the West and against which the Legion was not perfectly adapted, a fact that we will see repeated in the last throes of the Western Roman Empire when the Huns appear with their horse archers.

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AGEOD has represented the Parthian cavalry by giving it a high offensive/defensive values as you can see for the Cataphracts in the following image.

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The Persian horse archer is depicted with high values of range (2 to 3) and a high rate of fire (2) to reflect their ability to harass and cause damage to a Roman legion from the distance using their bows. It also has high offensive/defensive values (15/15 in some cases) which explain why the Parthians were so feared when riding horses.

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The scenario pack also models the Eastern Roman auxiliary cavalry, as shown below.

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You can appreciate that their values are also quite high, and may be a good reinforcement to compensate for the potential of Parthian cavalry.

There are several types of cavalry depending on the scenario, but overall both foot archers and Persian horse archers have high fighting capacity. In the next picture we can see the tremendous potential of Persian foot archers, which does not fall short of their mounted peers.

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The Parthian heavy infantry is very similar to the roman legion (short sword or spear with shield) but is not present in all scenarios, and does not stand out. Overall Parthian armies used heavy cavalry and a large number of horse archers supported by auxiliaries (skirmishers), and a small heavy infantry element armed with spears or short swords.

At the graphic level Persian leaders and foot troops have been represented following the images of them have left documentary evidence, with their particular braids, hairstyles, clothes and hats (Scythian style). As always AGEOD has carefully followed historical and documented patterns for the graphics of the game.

The scenarios cover the entire territory of what would become a large part of the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital in Byzantium: modern Turkey and beyond, Armenia, Asia Minor, Libya, Syria, Egypt, eastern Black Sea, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Assyria, etc.. Famous cities like Palmyra, Antioch, Byzantium, Babylon, Alexandria, etc., are well represented in the map with dozens of many other places and famous cities of that time.

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In the picture above we can see the territory encompassing the pack’s scenarios. We are talking about a large area, perhaps less known for being far away from the western front, but one which had a crucial role in the unfolding of History. It is a land that combines the fertile plains bordering the rivers Euphrates and Tigris and the desert of North Africa, or the high mountains of Eastern Turkey in Armenia.

I've been able to play enough to realize the difficulties the supply will have in these scenarios, the lack of great cities with enough supply depots to feed the armies plus the unfriendly terrain, with a lot of mountains and broken land. Moreover, unlike Italy, Hispania and other western areas under Roman control, there is a poor road network in the East. For example, the mountainous area of eastern Turkey, Armenia, or current Turkey itself implies a long way, taking two or three turns to move from one point to another. The road network in Asia Minor is better, but it is an area that is far from the front against the Parthians. This logistical difficulty means the key rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris have a very important role, so you will have the ability to move your forces with small river boats of shallow draft, which will be familiar to those who have played AACW, for example. In the next picture you can see this unit in more detail.

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The Parthians have a wide range of available units to recruit. For example cavalry formed by dromedaries to operate in desert areas, wheeled siege towers to besiege fortifications, defensive weapons (fixed crossbows/Scorpions), fixed depots, river barges and a variety of archers, skirmishers and garrison units. The Parthians need not envy the choices the Roman players have in this respect.

In most of the scenarios the Roman player has a large cast of troops at their disposal, not only Roman ones, but also Galatians, Judea’s units , Egyptian, Armenian, Cappadocian, Hellenic (Greek), etc.

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This rich combination of forces gives a huge variety of replacements to the scenarios, but it will be require large investments of money, especially when there is a hodgepodge of nationalities so great and many threats.

As usual in the other AGEOD games, the game offers events and political, social and economic decisions that are strongly related with the scenario played. Some of these events are new, created specifically for the scenarios that come in the pack, while other events will be more familiar if you've played the previous games. Where the change is most pronounced is in the Parthian faction because virtually all political decisions differ greatly from the Roman decisions to which we are accustomed. Playing with the Kingdom of the Parthians is a different experience than with Rome, but in other ways it is much the same. The Kingdom of Parthia is very similar to the Roman Empire, just a set of territories that are not always well-assorted with their King and, like the Romans, the vassals or subjects tend to take advantage of the slightest weakness of the central rulers to break ties. In this aspect both Romans and Parthians are subject to the same threats and risks.

Is there anything to criticize or some "but" in this pack? From my point of view the biggest BUT is that all the scenarios are being focused on an area where maneuverability is highly reduced, and this makes the front very defined. Unlike the West where we find different territories with large spaces to maneuver or ambush, as in Gaul, Hispania and Italy itself, in the East the war against the Parthians is confined to a smaller front, with less room for surprise. Naval warfare is nonexistent because the Parthian army is a purely land-bound army and therefore the chances of an amphibious landing on your rear, or a naval battle taking place are practically zero. The Eastern front is a more direct front, less likely to offer great maneuver movements because borders are clearly marked, so attrition will play a very important role and the logistical aspect of the warfare takes a prominent role.

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Here is where it is worth remembering one of the points I mentioned above: the external and internal events, like uprising, revolts and barbarian attacks that give new fronts and management problems, forcing the players to make better use of regional decisions and political decisions. So what is lost with these scenarios on one side (maneuverability, front extension, minimum naval management) is compensated adequately in other ways (more fatigue management, lack of supplies that required better use of the impedimenta and the need of a better use of the political and strategic decisions). AGEOD know how this allows players not to be bored playing any one of the scenarios.

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The opportunity to play with Trajan, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Crassus and others, give the game a richness hard to explain, it’s more a personal charm. It's an additional incentive to the greatness of the AGEOD engine. Being able to experience historic events like these is something that enhances the world of wargames because we're not just playing a PC game, but we are also learning and living history firsthand.

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Re: Parthian Wars: In-depth Impression

Post by Hrothgar » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:21 am

Excellent overview. If I hadn't already purchased it, this would have convinced me.
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