Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not so very Big Daddy: Bioshock 2 initial thoughts.

Thanks to Steam's Summer Sale generosity I am currently working my way through Bioshock 2. Initial thoughts: It feels very like the original so far (about two hours in). Although this story is set 10 years after the original the city of Rapture doesn't look any better or worse than it did in the first game The setting and ambience are almost identical. Even the story line has a familiar feel. Just as in the first game you are trawling through the ruins of an undersea city seeking to undermine an evil overlord (who happens to be a woman this time) while getting advice from a benefactor by intercom. At this rate I fully expect them to try and replicate the famous storyline twist!

More of a good thing is not necessarily bad however so I am enjoying the game. I do have one gripe though. The main novelty in this second game is that you the protagonist get to play as a Big Daddy. When I discovered this I expected to be a near unstoppable pounding grinding force of destruction. You do do plenty of pounding and grinding but sadly you are far from unstoppable and your attacks are no more powerful than those of your enemies. Playing on Hard mode I was disappointed to realise that three or four splicer bullets will kill me while I still need to pump dozens of bullets into the real big daddy's to kill them. I know that makes for a more interesting challenging game but I just don't feel like a big daddy.

EDIT: Re-reading this post I realised that it sounds pretty silly to be complaining about the difficulty of a game and at the same time admitting to playing it on hard mode. I have since lowered the difficulty level to medium and I am enjoying it more. In hard mode you have to plan every fight carefully and rely on careful use of the environment (security cameras, oil spills, rubble etc) to win difficult fights. This gets tedious after a while. Even at medium difficulty the game is still reasonably challenging but you can still blast your way through most situations. I tested all the difficulty levels in a fight with another big daddy. In easy mode  was about as strong as my opponent and beat it in a one on one melee by using health potions. On medium you are a good deal weaker and have to use powers and the terrain to beat another big daddy. On hard mode you are as weak as the regular splicers and need careful planning, the help of security bots and a whole lot of luck to beat another big daddy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

(Summer Sale Madness) Warning - don't visit STEAM today...

... if you don't want to spend money.

Steam summer sale is on and they have a truck load of silly prices on some excellent games. Best of all are their one day only offers - today I picked up Bioshock 2 and the complete Overlord pack for less than €20 all in. I assume that a new round of today onlys will kick in soon so be quick.

I have commented on the complete unpredictability of PC game prices before. A game that costs €50 today may be available for €10 tomorrow. I wonder is this the new reality or is it a temporary phenomenon. I am sure these sales are making money or else they wouldn't be repeated so often but surely there comes a point at which they cannibalise full price sales. I know that I personally almost never buy a game a full price any more - instead waiting for the inevitable sale. If everybody does that won't game companies lose out or will the increased volume of sales more than compensate for the discounted prices? Could this possibly herald in a new era of generally lower game prices all round? I hope so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A tale of two shooters Call of Juarez and FEAR

Now that I have abandoned all pretense at keeping up with modern gamign I can happily write about the old games I am actually playing :) Finished both Call of Juarez and FEAR this week.


Both games are based on strong complex storylines that leave the player guessing right up to the end. CoJ's story in particular was clearly scripted in advance and could easily form the script of a movie in my opinion. FEAR's story is a little more confused but nevertheless engrossing.
 
Slow motion (bullet time) features strongly in the combat of both games but the impact is different. CoJ's quick draw mechanic is a bit annoying to use (you need to holster both guns and then draw to activate it) but is very powerful giving pistols the accuracy of a sniper rifle in slow motion. It feels almost like an "I win button" allowing you to pop three or four enemies with head-shots in a single activation. FEAR's fast reflexes mode seems more balanced, mainly because the enemies are stronger with better AI. It certainly gives you a big advantage one on one but it won't keep you alive if you charge into a room full of bad guys. To be fair I played CoJ on normal setting and FEAR on hard (because I had played it before) so perhaps the combat in CoJ is more challenging at higher difficulty settings.

I think that FEAR is the better game overall because the combat is very good while CoJ's combat is somewhat lacklustre. CoJ does do some very clever things though. You alternately play as two different characters a gun toting bible quoting cleric and a half breed boy who he is chasing. The boy must rely on stealth to get through many levels which should have been great but sadly turns out to be tedious for the most part. The boy does feature in one glorious level though where he must perform tasks for a wise old indian. These include climbing a cliff face (superb views) and hunting rabbits with a bow and arrow (hilarious).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Has Open Office finally come of Age?

A few months back I got a new laptop but due to a hiccup in the IT department of the organisation I work for there was a delay in getting Microsoft Office installed on the machine. The Laptop was no use to me without some Office Program so I  installed the latest version of Open Office as a stop-gap for the couple of days it would take to sort out the IT issue.

Here I am three months later still using Open Office version 3.2.1 on the Laptop. It just works and it works well enough for me not to be bothered about replacing it. I use a word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation programme on a daily basis and the Open Office equivalents do everything I need them to do and are just as easy to use as the Microsoft versions. In fact I slightly prefer the default style and menu layout of Open Office Writer while I think Power point still scores slightly in usability over Open Office Impress. Overall its a tie.

Most impressive is the compatibility. A few years back I experimented with an early version of Open Office and abandoned it quickly because of format corruption. Now however after months of use I haven't had a problem opening documents nor have any of my colleagues had a problem reading my documents. I save everything in Office 97-2003 format (*.doc, *.xls, *.ppt) even though OO recommends using their default format instead but it has never given me a problem. To be honest even if I was using Office 2010 I would still have to save in these formats because a surprising number of people still can't read the newer *.docx and *.xlx formats.

I still use Microsoft Office on my desktops but I am strongly considering a complete move to Open Office including using their ODF file format. I particularly like the fact that it would remove any ambiguity over licensing on multiple PCs.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Who is the real hero in Ferris Bueller's Day off?

Ferris Bueller's Day Off  is an iconic teen / young adult movie from the  1980's. Watching the movie again on telly last night I was pleased to see that middle age has not dimmed my appreciation. Certainly the film does not have the level of polish that we have become used to a quarter of a century later and the script seems to wander a bit in places but Bueller remains a multi-layered delight.  Indeed watching the movie again with adult eyes I realised that it not even clear who the real hero of the movie is.

The obvious choice is Bueller himself of course, the teen wonder who bends the adult world to his whim and who can do no wrong. Of all the major characters however Bueller is probably the least well fleshed out. There is  little exploration of his emotions or motivations and he is really more of a symbol than a fully developed character. On top of that is the fact that Ferris is not a very likeable hero. He comes across as manipulative and selfish. He is down right abusive towards his supposed best friend Cameron dragging him from his sick bed and forcing him to steal his father's car. There is a suggestion at the end of the movie that this was all a deliberate ploy to force Cameron into confronting his relationship with life in general and his parents in particular but I am not convinced. I don't really like Ferris Bueller and I wouldn't like to be his friend.

Cameron himself is actually a far more sympathetic character and is a good candidate for the real hero. He is certainly the character who changes most during the movie. At the beginning he is no more than Bueller's flunkie, afraid of life and afraid of his parents. By the end of the movie he has deliberately damaged his fathers beloved Ferrari in order to force a confrontation. He is also a generally likeable guy with a dry sense of humour. I do think it is a pity though that he doesn't use some of his new found backbone to tell Ferris where to get off.

Bueller's girlfriend Sloan is certainly pretty to look at but she plays a lesser part than Cameron. Her best bits are actually her dealings with Cameron and she does show considerable empathy and concern for his difficulties. I am actually quite surprised that she didn't ditch Ferris for Cameron at the end of the movie. Ferris is a myth, Cameron is a real guy learning to cope with life as best he can. He is also a nice decent bloke and would be a far more adult choice of boyfriend than Ferris. This is fundamentally a teen movie though and the young characters are not required to grow up outside of Cameron himself.

Bueller's long suffering sister Jeanie  is another good candidate for hero (heroine?). She is a real girl forced to live in the shadow of her god-like brother. While he gets away with the most outrageous schemes she must deal with the consequences. It is most telling how she isn't very surprised when she ends up being arrested for making a legitimate complaint to the police about an intruder. Jeanie is also responsible for the most heroic moment of the entire film when she finally get the opportunity to catch Ferris out and instead decides to rescue him.

The only well developed adult character is Principal Ed Rooney. Being the villain of the piece he is not an obvious choice for hero but looking back now from my middle aged perspective I am not so sure. Ed is not a bad or dislikeable guy. He is just an ordinary bloke trying to do his job who hopelessly underestimates the forces he is up against. He fails miserably and humiliatingly. Nevertheless he is not crushed. He picks himself up, grits his teeth and soldiers on. The closing credits sequence where a dishevelled car-less Rooney endures the ignominy of a school bus ride full of obnoxious kids in is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.

So who is the real hero? I'll give you three options:
For the under fifteens: Ferris
For the under Thirties: Cameron
For the over thirties: Principal Ed Rooney.


Next week we ask the question: Is Samwise Gamjee is the real hero of Lord of the Rings?

Testing. One, two, three testing.

Has Opera mini fixed the bug that prevented users from entering text into web forms? If you can read this then it would seem so.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm sorry but i probably didn't read your email

I suspect that young adults of today have already moved on from email to more immediate forms of communication but it is still an important tool in most work scenarios. It is with some regret then that I must finally concede that the general volume of Spam / CCed email across multiple accounts and on multiple computers has risen to the point where I can no longer guarantee to read every email that is sent to me. I make some attempt at triage when the daily flood comes in and I do endeavour to read and reply to those emails that look important or even just interesting but many mails will never be opened even if they have made it past multiple layers of spam filter.

Email has become a very low grade form of communication. I may read emails sent to me or I may not. If there is something that you absolutely need me to read  then you will have to use a different form of communication, sorry. I have been implementing this policy for about a year now and it has caused me surprisingly few problems. Yes I have missed a meeting or two but truth be told I am not sorry to have missed them.

Perhaps I still feel some mild twinge of guilt at the number of unread emails sitting in my inbox but I am thinking of even bypassing this step by automatically flagging all emails as read. I am one who used take pride at keeping my inbox empty and all old emails filed away in carefully named folders. The advent of labels has replaced folders for me and I only bother to label an email if i) I have actually read it and ii) I think I may need to find it later. For the most part if I really need to find an email later I find that searching by the senders name is usually the quickest way to find it.

Small historical footnote - I once wrote a research thesis one of the main findings of which was that use of email was a good indicator of a company being at the forefront of technology.

Non Historical Footnote: I am still searching for a satisfactory way of keeping up with email when using multiple computers. A web email account seems like one solution and I am experimenting with gmail for that purpose but so far I find the interface loathsome. Perhaps it has hidden depths I have yet to find but it seems ridiculously inflexible to me so far.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rome Scipii Campaign update: The Bitter Taste of Victory

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
This is Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)


Carthage was the first to fall to my legions but Spain, Numidia, Gaul and Britain all fell in their turn. The Germanic savages faced their own annihilation as my legions marched towards their last few towns and the once mighty Egyptian Empire still clung to life only because I couldn't be bothered to make the trek across the Arabian desert to root out their last few hovels. With a blue swathe right across Europe and Northern Africa I had 45 regions under my control. Just as important as the military victories was the micromanagement of my domain to ensure that all of these towns were contented (but not too contented) and contributing positively to our cause.

This had been a slow drawn out campaign with every step analysed and re-analysed but now  the greatest prize of all was ripe for the taking. My military victories had won me the adoration of the Roman mob while careful political manoeuvring had managed to keep just enough Senators on-side to prevent the Senate from denouncing me. I had consented to each of the Senate's increasingly outrageous demands and I had tutored my governors in the arts of patronage and politics securing several high offices in the Senate itself. With SPQR's political influence thus neutered I had secretly built a massive military force on the Italian peninsula and strong fleets of my navy patrolled the Tyrrhenian, Ionian and Adriatic to ensure that no help would come from overseas when I made my bid for power. All that remained was for me to capture four more provinces and march on Rome itself. Coming as they would from the Southern city of Capua my legions would not actually have to cross the Rubicon but the impact would be the same: The end of the old Republic with its system of fragile alliances and the beginning of a new glorious era for Rome with Scipii firmly at the helm.


A month of dedicated gaming was coming to fruition: Four more cities and the assault on Rome itself. Rome was not undefended of course and I would need to vanquish several powerful armies in the final assault as well as holding off the expected retaliation from Julii and Brutii. Nevertheless my long and careful planning ensured that all of the odds were stacked in my favour. Indeed the only serious enemy that remained between me and the achievement of my goal was myself.

By this stage after a solid month of serious gaming I had just about had enough. Gathering together the motivation to launch my final push was proving very difficult. Travelling to and capturing those last few regions would take a few more hours and playing out the battles between my forces and those huge armies defending Rome would take a few more even though the outcome was a foregone conclusion in my favour. I just couldn't face it. I wanted the game to be over and I wanted it to be over now.

In the end I went for a blitz approach. After weeks of carefully fighting every battle myself I flung my huge armies at the defenders and pressed the auto-resolve button. My losses were horrific but I captured Rome. Then I took every army that was in reach of a foreign settlement and flung them at it in order to get those last few territories. Alliances were broken with wild abandon, town and city management was completely ignored. No attempt was made to defend towns that had came under siege from my growing list of enemies. Auto-resolve, autoresolve, auto resolve. I lost battles I should have won but still I pressed on trusting my overwhelming military advantage and the random number generator to eventually grind out the 50 regions I needed to win the game.

Within a few short turns many of my cities were rioting and several others were under siege. The armies I had meticulously built up over time were decimated and my economy had run out of control. I didn't care I held Rome and the number of regions I controlled crept up. Autoresolve, autoresolve, autoresolve 46, 47, 48, 49.....and finally 50. The last conquest was a miserable village in northern Germany. I had beaten the game.

Not a particularly sweet victory but victory none the less. I did make a save game just before my mad rush to the finish just in case I ever feel like going back and doing it properly but for the moment I need to take a break from this game.

By the way the video you get for beating the game is a little unimpressive. After conquering most of the known world and overturning the republic I had hoped for a little more than a triumphal procession. If those fat senators think they can return to business as usual once this has all settled down they have another thing coming.

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
This is Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ghengis Khan versus the Romans who would win.

Anyone who has ever played an RTS knows that horse archers offer a great combination of firepower and mobility that is very difficult to counter. Ghengis Khan's Mongol hordes proved this in real life when they carved out a vast empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Romans however relied more on the strength of their footsoldiers armed with Pila and short sword when they carved out their own vast empire more than a thousand years before. So who what would have happened if these two great forces clashed across the span of time. Who would win a war between Mongol Horde and Roman Empire at the height of its power?

Personally I vote for the Romans to win the war although I could see the Mongols winning the first battles. The Mongols were superb tacticians and the mobility of the horde would prove difficult to counter. The composite bows of the Mongols could be effective against Roman armour. In the long run though Rome was not just about the prowess of individual armies it was about a whole economic and political system that could lose battles and still win wars. The Carthaginians, the Gauls and the Germans all managed to defeat Roman armies but eventually succumbed to the might of Rome. Of course the Khan Empire was also based on excellent administration and a self sustaining system of growth. The Mongols also managed to turn around defeats but the Khan's reliance on highly skilled horse archers was both a strength and a weakness. Mongol horse archers were born in the saddle and learned their superb horsemanship and archery skills as they grew up. They could not be replaced quickly. The post Marius Roman army on the other hand could turn just about anybody into a top quality soldier in an almost industrial process. I think that once they had woken up to the danger of the Horde the Romans would have been able to match them tactically and outpace them in the production of replacement forces.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Scipii Campaign quick update.

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
This is Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)


Northern Front - Only one British town remains on mainland Europe and it will soon be mine. The German
Barbarians  tried to back-stab and grabbed one of my settlements in a sneak attack . I fully expected this and will make them regret it. After careful consideration I decided to cross the channel and eliminate the British completely from their home Island. They are no longer any threat but as I move into end game I need the provinces and three easily defended provinces are not to be sneered at.

Apparently I will need to hold 50 provinces and  capture Rome in order to win the game. I already hold 36 provinces and the Plebians have made noises that I would be welcome to capture Rome from the hated SPQR but I am trying to hold off. By sucking up to SPWR and complying promptly with every one of their demands I want to postpone the Roman civil war until I am within sight of the 50 provinces I need. Rome itself will not be hard to take because SPQRs armies are outdated and limited. The problem is the backlash from the other two Roman factions who will delight in sending armies full of Urban Cohorts (strongest Roman unit) to recapture my towns once the civil war starts. Of course the Senators are not dumb. While they publicly applaud my victories they know well that I have my eyes on the Rome itself and they look for an excuse to humiliate me. I fully expect that they will drum up some pretext to demand the death of my esteemed faction leader any day now even though he is Pontifex Maximus of the Senate. What they don't realise is that he is in his dotage, almost a hundred years old. If I do have to throw the old codger to the Senate wolves in order to buya few more seasons it will be no great loss.

In the meantime in the South I must push the stubborn Egyptian back inch by inch from the middle East. I had to fight at least four full battles to get my armies to the gates of Jerusalem but that ancient city is at last under siege.  In one bloody battle along the way 900 of my men were attacked by combined Egyptian armies massing over 1200 troops including the dreaded Chariots and the superb Pharaohs bowmen. In the ensuing battle the Egyptians lost over 900 men including both generals. My losses were 300 but that is still unacceptably high losses.

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
This is Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Are you an extreme gamer?

Interesting NPD survey of 18,800 US gamers linked here, here and here. It identifies a small group of extreme gamers who meet the following characteristics (my answers included for reference):

Characteristics of Extreme Gamers:
  • Play an average of 48.5 hours per week. Goodness knows I try sometimes but even when i am stuck into a game 30 hours is about my limit.
  •  Is 29 years old. Well...I was 29 once.
  • Is one third female. Ahem ... last time I checked I was all man. 
  •  Plays console more than PC. Consoles? I've heard of them. Must check them out some day. 
  • Purchases 24 titles every 3 months. I am not that extravagant but thanks to Steam and other online give aways I sometimes hit one new game a week.   
I am a bit surprised that mmorpgers don't feature more strongly in the extreme gamer segment. I suspect that 48 hours a week would barely qualify you to get into a top raiding guild.

Interesting also to note that the PC is one again the largest and fastest growing gaming segment. I am sure that casual games have a big impact here but I suspect that digital downloads of more serious games are contributing too. The average age of gamers in general is 31 while the average age of PC gamers is 42 (now there is a significant number). I take these age figures with a pinch of salt though because surely that just depends on the population they choose to survey. The older age of PC gamers is credible enough though  I guess.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Scipii campaign update.

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
This is Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)


 With all of Gaul conquered and pacified my Northern legions turn their attention to the celts of Britain who had carved out a fair chunk of territory in North-Western Europe. Like most Barbarians their eagerness for battle is matched only by their lack of understanding of tactics. The British King commanding almost 2000 troops tried to hold off my legions but his massive army of footsoldiers had no cavalry support and presented easy pickings for a smaller co-ordinated Roman force of foot, horse and archers. Only the Kings own chariots presented any real threat of resistance but happily I discovered that lightly armoured skirmishers fare much better against chariots than heavy infantry and the British king met an untimely end when his chariots became entangled in a troop of velites. This victory leaves the British overseas territories virtually undefended. My Diplomats have forged an alliance with the Germanic Hordes so the reminaing British hav to fight on two fronts. I don't really trust those Germans and I guess we will come to blows later but for the moment I am happy to let them pick off one or two of the smaller British regions while I cherry pick the better ones. The Britsh themselves still retain a large fighting force on their island home but sinking their navy and blockading their only port has rendered them completely impotent.

In the South I slowly chip away at the massive armies of Egypt. I beat Pharaohs forces in battle after battle but his purse seems bottomless and still he sends armies against me. At least my troops have finally taken a decent sized city in Alexandria. This will deny Pharaoh a source of high level troops and also allow me to replenish my own  losses locally rather than rely on the long voyage back to Sicily. Hopefully this is the turning point in my Egyptian campaign because I am beginning to find these repeated large scale conflicts quite tedious I miss the fluidity and excitement of the early game when a small force of Romans with audacity and a bit of luck could conquer an empire. I suspect things are only going to get worse as I move on to end game and the Roman civil war. None of the other Roman factions have grown as powerful as Egypt but their armies will be tougher and fighting them all together is likely to be an enormous challenge.

A note on battle tactics:
For the most part I use a simple three line formation - Heavy infantry in the first row archers and ranged troops in the second row and cavalry at the rear ready to flank around the sides. The archers can fire over the head of the front line which generally taunts the enemy into charging head first into my legions. While the legions hold the line I flank the enemy using cavlry and lighter infantry/skirmishers. A little bit of micromanagement of the ranged troops is required to prevent them killing friendly troops but It is a simple effective technique as long as you have enough infantry to hold a line. The enemy AI often tries to pull off its own flanking manoeuvre so I always try to have tough anti cavalry troops on the left and right edges of my line. These proved ineffective against  Egyptian chariots unfortunately who just carve a swathe through heavy infantry and also chop up any cavalry I send to try and stop them. Following my successes against the British Chariots I am going to try and provide a mob of  skirmishers on my flanks in future battles against chariot troops in future so fingers crossed this works.

Scipii Campaign part 1
Scipii Campaign Part 2
This is Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Boobs

Coinciding nicely with my current Roman empire binge I managed to catch the first two episodes of Spartacus Blood and Boobs Sand. This heavily advertised series scores strongly on graphic violence and nudity scales. The violence in particular tends towards the ridiculous with the mildest of blows cleaving through sinew and bone like butter, and literally filling the screen with volcanic spurting of blood. It took me a while to cotton on to the fact that this is actually graphic novel style transposed to the screen. Once you realise that the over the top style makes a lot more sense.

The series has strong characterisation and the storyline seems to be developing nicely even though we all know how it will turn out in the end. There is plenty there to keep me watching. I do have one gripe about the stilted "oldie worldie" accents that all of the cast affect. I guess they are trying to portray the terseness of Latin expression but none of the actors are able to pull it off to my taste.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Rome Total War - Scipii Campaign Report

Scipii Campaign part 1
This is Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)


With only a single province on the Roman mainland at the start of the game the Scipii are forced to look to the West for conquest. Kicking Greece and Carthage out of Scicily created an early base from which to begin my domination of the Mediterannean region. A hastily briefed diplomat was dispatched Athens to patch up relations with the Greeks but there was no peace to be made with Hannibal's Africans. A devastating early assault with Hastatis, velites and archers put Carthage out of the game before they could muster up enough of their fiercesome war elephants to pose a serious threat.

Dismantling Carthage's empire gave me a toehold in Spain so I pressed on. Spain's armies were weak and disorganised so it was easy enough to destroy the faction and capture the entire Iberian peninsula with a small expeditionary force.

Although the Carthagians didn't put up much of a fight I was so taken with the city itself that I moved my factions Capital to the region and set about expanding my control of North Africa. I faced the Numideans to the West and the Egyptians to the East. Thinking to avoid fighting on both fronts at the same time I dispatced a sweet talking Diplomat to Egypt and set about dislodging the Numideans.

In hindsight this may have been a mistake. The Numidean armies were a weak hodgepodge of phalanxes and horsemen but I greatly underestimated the vast distances involved in crossing the North African wastes. Many many seasons were lost as I trudged my armies from one badly defended Numidean settlement to the next and all the while Egypt was taking advantage of our hastily negotiated peace treaty to build a massive miltary machine of their own. More on this later.

Around this time Gaius Marius instituted a fundamental reform of the Roman armies. Out went the citizen soldiers paying for their own gear and equipment according to their means and in came hardened professional legions. This proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The professional soldiers of the post Marius cohorts are undoubtedly the finest foot-soldiers in all the ancient world but they are also expensive to recruit and maintain. Happily my expanded empire is producing enough of a surplus at this stage to bear the cost but the specialised training that these units require causes an even bigger headache. Only the largest settlements are able to provide the barracks required to train a proper legionary cohort. Pre Marius an expeditionary army could be very self sufficient recruiting hastati and equites from captured settlements along the way. Post Marius any loss of footsoldiers can only be replaced from the larger towns far from the battle front.

On the Northern front I advanced through Gaul who at that time were one of the largest factions laughing off the feeble efforts of the Julii Romans to encroach on their territory from the south East. With strong swordsmen, forester archers and good cavalry the Gaulish hordes proved a tougher nut to crack than the Spanish but their indiscipline proved their undoing in the end. Time and again these barbarians threw away the advantage of superior numbers by charging prematurely or failing to hold a line. By this time my troops were a hodgepodge of depleted pre-marius units with a few newer legions brought in by ship but at least Romans know how to hold a line.

In the South Numidea was almost conquered and I finally thought to send a couple of spies Eastward to check on Pharaohs forces. I was shocked to discover several full stack armies marching Westward towards my lands. I hastily put together a defensive force with the intention of stopping Pharaoh in Libya. The vast distances across the Africa continent almost proved my undoing because it took at least two or three turns to transport replacement troops to the front. With five full stacks of Egyptians bearing down on my solitary Roman army I knew that I had to win each battle with losses 5 to 1 or more in my favour in order to survive until re-enforcements could arrive. Eventually I would set up a shuttle service from Sicily for re-enforcements but it was touch and go for a while, made worse by the fact that the Egyptians love fighting in the desert wastes of Libya and resisted all my efforts to lure into mountainous regions where their fearsome Scythe chariots would be less useful.

The Egyptians are a powerful military nation with a mix of phalanxes and axe wielding infantry,powerful archers and terrifying chariots. These scythe chariots have spinning blades protruding from their wheels and they can wreak awful carnage by just driving into a tight packed mass of infantry and letting the wheels chop up anyone nearby. Somewhat belatedly I realised that these spinning blades are also deadly to horses so my usual tactics of flanking a unit with a cavalry charge resulted in horrific loss of men and horses. Time for a rethink of tactics perhaps as I march Eastwards into Egypt?

to be continued...

Scipii Campaign part 1
This is Scipii Campaign Part 2
Scipii Campaign part 3
Scipii Campaign Part 4
Scipii Campaign Part 5 (Final Part)