Last night, after watching House, I wanted to play a computer game. But what? Hmm, Age of Empires II seemed promising. I’ve given all of my real-time strategy love to its successor, Age of Empires III, so why not spend some time with some Age of Kings or The Conquerors?
So, I fired up The Conquerors, started up a game on the real-world England map, picked the Franks as my nation, and set about to play.
The England map consists of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, Normandy, and the southern tip of Norway. Usually two or three of the players will start on Great Britain itself, with the other players by themselves on either Ireland, Norway, or Normandy.
In this particular game, my town center was located about where Liverpool sits today. About. My ally, the Vikings, were just a little to the south and east, and one of my enemies was located somewhere to the west of London. The other enemy? Well, I didn’t know where he was.
The problem with taking a step backward in the Age of Empires series is that each successive game automates a lot of the gameplay. My economy wasn’t doing that well, because it’s not something I have to deal to such a degree in Age of Empires III. So, I quickly fell behind in the score and behind in ages. I wasn’t really worried, though–I had the Vikings as a buffer between myself and the Celts to the south, I built a stone wall running clear across the island (and actually splitting the Viking town in two), and I had the seas as a natural barrier against the other Celt nation. (Yes, I was fighting two Celtic nations. Woad raiders, w00t!)
Eventually, after about an hour, I’d come close to catching up score-wise with my enemies and my ally. I wanted to get into the game militarily, and while I could have built an army and launched out at the Celtic base in southern England which had already been harried by my Viking ally, I also knew that the other Celtic power had had the time and the isolation to build a massive military on its secluded base across the sea as neither my ally nor myself had struck out at him.
So, I would attack the isolation Celtic power. In the calculus of military planning, the risks were large, but the reward would be immense if I could gain a foothold on his island stronghold. I began building my army. I began building my fleet. Fifteen minutes later I was ready. Seven transports were full–swordsmen, crossbowmen, pikemen, throwing axemen, cavalry, knights.
My army made landfall on Ireland’s northern coast. We moved into the country unopposed, save for some wild boars. Clearly, my Celtic enemy lay not on these Irish shores. The transports were reloaded, and they set sail for other lands–Norway.
Why Ireland for my first landfall? Why not? It was closer, and it has more resources than either Norway or Normandy on the map. I knew what my enemy’s score was, and that meant he needed a well-oiled economy. Norway seemed the least likely location for his town, but that would be the site of my next attempt to take the battle to him.
Norway, on the map, is rather small. It is, as I mentioned, just the tip of the country. There are three beaches, and the rest of the coast is impassable cliffs. The landing site I selected? The northernmost of the three beaches. This calculus was easy–it was the closest to the map edge, so if I could gain a foothold I would have two sides–coast and map edge–protected from the Celtic hordes. The other two sites would leave my forces with a salient into enemy territory, besieged by the enemy on three sides.
As the transports made landfall, my choice of Norway was proved correct. The Celts were lodged in Norway’s tip. Along the brief beachfront the Celts had built a dock, and farms abutted the shore. Just beyond the row of farms, the town center.
The battle for the beach was short, and merciless. Celtic archers rained down arrows on the beach. My knights and cavalry charged. Arrows flew out from the town center and the castle, just at the edge of vision. Guard towers, too, rained down death and destruction. My army advanced slowly toward the town center, taking heavy losses. In a mere two minutes the battle was over. My army, some sixty strong, was dead in the shadows of the fjords.
My hopes for a medieval D-Day, gone.
By this time the war between my Viking ally and the Celtic nation in southern England had come to an end. It had been a brutal, thuggish war, raging across the entirety of Britain south of my walls, destroying many buildings–including both town centers–on each side. But my Viking ally emerged victorious, and one Celtic nation had been removed from the map.
Could my Viking ally and I have taken down the Celts of Norway? In time, perhaps.
But I tired of the war, frustrated by my losses among the fjords. So, I did what any self-respecting person would do–use the cheat codes, build twenty Cobra Cars armed with machines guns, load them onto my empty transports, and gun down the Norwegian Celts. I would like to say I felt bad about doing this, that my sense of accomplishment was shaken. Yet I’d come from behind, built up a thriving economy, made a serious attempt at dislodging an entrenched enemy from its base, and been defeated. In some respect that was a success, especially as I’d not played the game in close to a year and my skills had become rusty.
Perhaps I will tangle with the Celts once more tonight. Perhaps.