These games are everywhere now and I, for one, am grateful. While I dig Red Alert 2 and Warlords Battlecry, there’s something about a more historical wargame that appeals to me. I suppose we can thank Age of Empires for making things a little easier for this market, but it seems like in the last few months we’ve heard of several hardcore wargames firmly set in a real historical context. Cossacks recreates the wars that raged across Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Moreover, the game offers a huge scale with up to 8000 units fighting on large maps.
There are more than 85 wars during the period that the game covers and it looks like the developers have hit nearly all of them, at least in passing. The four main campaigns cover the Thirty Years War, the Anglo-Spanish conflict in the Caribbean, the growth of Russia and the rebellion of the Cossacks. Each campaign has from seven to ten missions covering a range of locations and objectives (although most missions seem to be of the “kill them all” variety). There are also ten single, stand-alone missions that represent interesting historical scenarios. Multiplay and random map missions add even more opportunities to get some serious play on.
Cossacks offers 16 playable nations: Algeria, Austria, England, France, the Netherlands, Piemonte, Poland, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and Venice. Additionally you will come into contact with other powers, such as the Pirates found in the Caribbean campaign. Each nation has a unique architectural style to differentiate it from the others (they also have unique colors as well). As an added bonus a lot of the buildings and units have the same basic characteristics but totally different names. For instance, most nations call an academy an academy but the Algerians have to go one better and call it a minaret. I guess if it’s okay with them, it’s okay with me.
Although each nation has its own set of units, there are several units available to all nations. Musketeers are the core of your army (although they are usually numerically inferior to other less expensive infantry units). You’ll actually come to rely on pikemen and the various types of light infantry (roundshiers, pandurs, highlanders, etc) for the bulk of your forces. Grenadiers are the elite units of the infantry and are useful for taking out enemy fortifications. Infantry units can be commanded by an officer and a drummer working together. Once under the command of an officer, a group of units can be commanded as one. This is where that whole 8000 units on a map thing gets a little more convenient. Furthermore, they may assume column, box or square formations. These formations have significant combat bonuses when used correctly.
Mounted troops include various types of light cavalry (Croats, Hussars) as well as cuirassiers and dragoons. Artillery is equally well stocked with units — the straightforward cannon, the high-shooting howitzers and wall destroying mortars. Boats and ferries allow you to transport units across water. You’ll want to secure the sealanes with the various galleys, frigates and battleships available to you. In terms of combat support, you’ll want to employ chaplains to heal your units and increase their morale. Montgolfiers (hot air balloons) can also be used to scout the map.
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And then there are the peasants — those overworked, unappreciated, faceless drones that keep your society going. You need to assign peasants to collect each of the six resources in the game. Gold, iron and coal are mined at inexhaustible pits. Stone and wood must be harvested from the landscape and are present only in finite amounts. The last resource is food and is grown at a mill. In addition to paying for unit creation and tech advances, resources such as coal and iron are consumed by your musketeers and cannons.
Peasants are created at your Town Hall. This is the most important building in your city as it houses up to 500 units and stores most of your resources. The mill is the central location for your farming activities just as mines allow you to extract raw materials from the ground. As you run out of storage and living space, you’ll need to create dwellings and storehouses to hold the overflow. Academies and blacksmiths give you access to the 300 or so technology improvements in the game, spread across the fields of agriculture, construction, metallurgy and several others. The market allows you to sell or trade for other resources and the church raises morale and heals units.
On the military side of things, your barracks is most important. It allows the creation of all infantry units (as well as opening up the seven levels of upgrades for each unit). Stables create mounted units and shipyards create all of your sailing units. Makes sense, right? I bet you can’t guess what you make at the artillery depot. Oh, very good, I didn’t think you’d get that so quickly. It took Dan two weeks to figure it out. When you need troops really quickly, you can always hire mercenaries at the diplomatic center. Mercenaries have the advantage of a low build time, but if their upkeep costs are not met, they may rebel against you in the middle of a fight.
Another neat thing about the game is that your buildings and peasants and cannons aren’t necessarily tied to your control. They assume the allegiance of whatever military units happen to be closest to them at any given time. This means that as you march into someone’s city, you needn’t destroy every single building. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Once you gain control of a structure or a group of peasants, you’d best post guards around them to make sure the enemy doesn’t take them back.
Although things are kind of complicated, they’re still quite fun. Like the good reviewers we are, we’re still waiting to see how things look once the game is released. At this point the difficulty level is really high, even for a game of this type. It’s not so much the interface that’s the problem as it is the challenge posed by the AI. I guess I should just look at that as a chance to get better at the game. One further point of note, however — the developers have already expressed interest in an expansion pack to the game. All they’ll say so far is that it’s set on the North American continent. Hmmm…
— Steve Butts