Rise of Prussia Review

GameShark just published my review of Rise of Prussia. This was a big disappointment for me, since I’m a Seven Years’ War nerd. Metacritic will convert my “C” into something much harsher than it actually is, but there is no avoiding the fact that I did not enjoy myself a great deal with this game, and was really put off by the whole package.

That’s where I put most of my focus in this review. I could have gotten into a much more nuts-and-bolts discussion about how the game models Frederican warfare and whether or not the AGEOD system really does a good job of modeling it. It does and it doesn’t. There are far too many battles where only a fraction of the forces in a given territory actually take part in a battle. The AI, although generally quite good, is too fond of laying siege to every fort, everywhere, rather than concentrating its efforts. I was astonished when the Austrian army practically dissolved itself along the Oder river, laying simultaneous sieges and Breslau, Schweidnitz, and a bunch of other places.

I could have talked about some of the annoying gameplay quirks, like the maddening ease with which you can destroy a friendly army simply by forgetting to triple-check its rules of engagement, thus destroying the work of over a hundred turns.

A section on the astonishing amount of administrative tasks you have to perform would not be out of place. I loved building and organizing armies, but the frequency with which I had to reorganize was off-putting. I also had stacks of unassigned generals roving the map looking for brigade commands, who seemed never to be where I needed them.

But I focused on the other elements of the Rise of Prussia package, things you could argue are external to the core game, because they are where the whole experience started to turn sour. It just did not seem very interesting to rehash the AGEOD wargame system again, especially since most of the people who are genuinely interested in Rise of Prussia probably already know what they think about it. AGEOD’s bare-bones approach is what really dragged this game down.

So let me be honest about some of my expectations. With a mature series like this one, I start to look for more refinement and polish in later titles. When Birth of America came out I thought it was a breath of fresh air: handsome art assets, a solid and inventive portrayal of Revolutionary warfare, and a smart treatment of command and logistics. I wrestled with the interface a bit, and always felt like I was being asked to hunt down and interpret too much information. That paled beside the game’s obvious achievements.

But with Rise of Prussia, I find that I’m still battling the same problems. The core game is as good as ever, and AGEOD have made some nice improvements, but shouldn’t the presentation be better by now? Should I still be tasked with being my own supply officer? Couldn’t the ledger have some better sorting options by now, so that I spend less time hunting for specific units and generals?

On top of that, there are far fewer scenarios, and everything is large-scale. With the first game, Birth of America, AGEOD wrote a lot of different scenarios at different scales. I could try a grand campaign covering an entire war, I could focus on Montcalm’s opening offensive against the British, or Amherst’s sprint up the St. Lawrence. I could play Birth of America on my own terms. Rise of Prussia can be played one way.

Even little things, like the way you run email games, seem clumsy and user-unfriendly. Why do I have to do so much file management for a play-by-email game? Why can’t the game do it for me?

Personally, with experienced developers iterating on a familiar design, I look for signs of caring, thoughtful craftsmanship. Rise of Prussia did not have them.

    • Spades
    • May 21st, 2010 10:19pm

    What is Prussia?

    • Prussia was a German state and a member of the Holy Roman Empire. It also had significant holdings in Poland. It was a key player in ending Austrian domination of Germany. The Prussian ruling house, the Hohenzollerns, would be the ones to unify Germany and transform it into the German Empire. They fell from power at the end of WWI. Prussia was formally abolished after WWII.

      Prussia had an outstanding military tradition going back to the early 1700s, and Frederick the Great was a revolutionary strategist in his day and a brilliant leader of soldiers. This tradition, and a reputation of “Prussian militarism”, was a target for scapegoating after WWII. The Allies saw a connection between Germany’s Prussian origins and Nazism, although this connection mostly existed in longstanding stereotypes about Prussia and the diligent propaganda efforts of the Nazis. The Nazis explicitly laid claim to the mantle of Prussianism as they attempted to manufacture foundations to their rule.

      The Prussians were good soldiers, but the country also produced a lot of cultural icons and was generally more tolerant of religious sects and ethnic groups than many of its peers. It was never much of a democracy, but it had a strong civil service and was probably one of the best-governed nations of its day.

    • Spades
    • May 23rd, 2010 6:52pm

    Did regular Germans think that the Prussians were posh and snobish? I was watching this documentary about the Somme and one of the German soldiers says “Lets hope the Prussians don’t ruin things for us.”

    • Well, look at this way. We all have a stereotype of the German officer, right? Polished boots, monocle, cold and arrogant. That guy is a Prussian stereotype. Even other Germans viewed Prussian officers as being kind of a freak show. Also, the German army was dominated by Prussians, so “the Prussians” could be a derogatory way of referring to high command.

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