Peter Robbins, 13 December 2023
Thirty Years War by Wargame Design Studio was recently released and we wanted to take a quick look at it to get a true First Impression without delving too deeply into the user-manual-level descriptions of functionality. We try and do this to test the intuitive approach to the UI and the logic of its execution.
click images to enlarge
Just to lay out my particular likes and tastes a tad before moving on (just to show you I have a reasonable breadth of wargaming experience with WDS products), I personally purchased for myself: Jutland, Tsushima, GuadalCanal, Gettysburg, Marengo, Leipzig, Air War Over The Middle East, and North Germain Plain ‘85. I’ve otherwise received review copies of Kriegsmarine, and just recently, this title Thirty Years War. The closest I’ve gotten in miniatures or board gaming related wargaming to this time period is about a century earlier in fact, with the Battle Of Fornovo, 1495, which I’d actually created a TTS module for use with the D&D centric wargame, Domains At War, I digress.
Now, I’ll say rather openly, that I am not a Thirty Years War expert. And guess what, that is why I really love WDS games, as they beg for me to go and research the history around their titles. I personally enjoy the ones that I’ve bought or obtained that I do NOT know the history of too well for. So, take all of the above into account as I roll into this First Impression.
We all know WDS kicks arse in wargaming. The engine is SOLID. John Tiller, Rest In Peace sir, I never met you, never had the honor of interviewing you, but my single (ok, several) sentence First Impression of Thirty Years War is this:
“John Tiller would be proud. This game kicks ass. Really nicely done all around. WDS continues to improve a tried a true engine with continued palpable improvements with each of their series title additions. All that, and as they can, they offer those same improvements to the other games in the series! It is rare in this industry to see that level of devotion to the fans. My two main first impressions are this: Great Music, and Much Crisper Graphics throughout.” – (Another Gratuitous Self-Quote, 2023)
I don’t say that lightly, I don’t say that from the hip whimsically just for an article – it’s really solid. Bravo! Ok, with that fanboy-esque first impression review out of the way, let’s dig into it, and let you decide if it’s the right wargame for you.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ALERT : This is written after two hours of play, primarily with the getting started scenario.
The absolute first impression that will hit your ears is the Background Music. Oh my gravy. Its really good. I normally don’t give a hoot about it, but right out of the starting gate you are pleasantly transported to a tranquil fluty harpischordyesque salon, and then of course travel at dreamspeed to a bloody, corpse-filled field of men wrapped in pieces of armor, pointy metal hats, with long pole arms, and the trappings of sticks that go boom. Whoever worked on the background music in this game deserves a Gaming Grammy. Yes, I wish you could turn it down a bit separately from just turning it off, but I will keep it on mostly while playing. This is the first WDS title I would do that for.
In the above three screenshots you see the tried and true menu system for picking a scenario. You select New to start a new match from scratch, and you’d have used Old (by Name) or (by Date) to select a saved game. You then choose the side you want to manually play as the Human player, and then the side you want automated by the AI. Yes, if you are a sadist level Bobby Fischer style solo artist wargamer that likes to play with himself, then you could hotseat with yourself and have no AI take part. You are then able to select from a plethora of options, most of which are tried and true. I’ll need to stare and compare later, honestly, to check what may have been added specific to this wargame.
The tried and true WDS wargame interface. Everything is well-organized. You can, of course, still filter the larger amount of color coded buttons at the top down by click on the buttons that read All, Unit, Combat, Report, etc. at the top. No real news here for WDS fans, but the one thing that struck me at this zoom level, and all the way down the to 3d views: the graphics and art are stellar. I mean, a visible improvement over other titles by WDS. Not to not knock the others!1. But that was a distinct feeling I had, a first impression if you will (duh, article title): The graphics are much tighter/cripser throughout. WDS is taking what you would THINK is a long-in-the-tooth engine and upping the ante considerable with each title they release. Bravo.
Spectacular backgrounded soldier images. Such a great time period of conflict of course, full of color and variety of armor pieces as the elements needed to keep protection but allow for more arm movement to quickly reload the firearm. Oh, and of course, moustaches. Many many moustaches and flavor-savers.
I love this little ‘no line of sight’ marker. This very well may have been recently introduced elsewhere, but it struck me as a new feature. Also, what strikes me with first impressions is the CLEAR icons used on the counters. The ones that threw me off only a tad were the cavalry formation images, but perhaps this is a common format for war mapping from the time period. It definitely feels like a Thirty Years War-specific set of iconography used for the counters throughout, and bravo on that. It gives it much more of a I’m playing Thirty Years War and not a DLC for a long in the tooth engine vibe. WDS is really taking the time to clean up graphics here and there.
And BOOM. Look at the close up 3d graphics now. This is an incredible improvement over other titles. I don’t want to be too zinging in this comment, but others agree with me, that we players most often do not play at this zoom level. But this title’s crisp, clear, beautiful graphics at this fully zoomed in 3D view level are outstanding. Bravo WDS on this in particular. And for this colorful, armor-glinting time period, this was vital to get right, and I think you all did it in spades here. You can just see the spires of pole arms glistening in the sun, amor flashes as you watch from eagle eye altitude, with the blood flying above the yellows, reds, golden orange banners… Ahhh, the smell of death and decay, a bird playing catch with an eyeball…. I digress.
I mean, look at this! Awesome.
Snagged this from the Getting Started PDF manual, and noticed the nicely provided weather statement, which affects LOS. I really hadn’t know they baked this into the engine in the WDS game series. Bravo. All of the information WDS provide you in these wargames is just slowly but surely improving over time. Such a good wargame.
Just a quick shot, showing the objective flag in the center of that clump of trees near center there. Enemy are more so shown in formation level graphics until you are fully in LOS to them. You “see” a block format or line formation enemy ahead, can tell its cav, but not if its light or heavy. This is really nice. I don’t know if other titles in Musket and PIke already depicted fog of war in this manner, but bravo. You really get more of an “impression” of whats in front of you, until its nearer to your forces. It “feels right” at least – as a general first impression.
A victory panel you are likely used to from other WDS titles. Nothing crazy new here.
An extremely complete Musket and Pike user manual is a single click away by the Help / User Manual menu. The Getting Started manual is also available in that single pull-down. Nicely-organized Help menu. Most wargames you can possibly get to one of them this way, but I’ve always liked in WDS titles they spell out and allow you to click through to all of them in the menu system.
So this is awesome! Now, again, I’m speaking from primarily Napoleonics, and Civil War gameplay in wargames by WDS, so this may have already been a Musket and Pike series thing, BUT, I love the A, C, D, B and white dot imagery on the counters. This really lets you know quickly the command level of the leader that is on top of the stack. I love this. This is really intuitive to my brain at least. The legend there in the image is my own typing, not in the game engine.
For visual sake, I’m using the Command Radius button functionality here. This is an A level commander’s command radius.
Here is a Corps commander’s radius.
And here is a Brigade level command radius.
click images to enlarge
Above are four charts from the extremely well done General Help, which is a Musket and Pike Summary Info PDF with many charts of helpful information about the game terrain, units, you name it. Well worth reading through and printing a few important tables out from possibly.
The group movement functionality, (by Alt+Right Clicking using a “lead” unit for the formation) is still here as in most WDS titles, but the arrow visibility describing it I think has been improved. Just little graphic crisping improvements throughout really round this title out.
Just to describe that a little better, here is the description of Travel Movement in the User Manual
There is another form of movement called Attack Movement, which is also beneficial to use to keep formation of unit cohesion on advancing lines to attack unit to their front. That is described in the User Manual as above
And yes, there is even a menu item to tell you the title of the background music that is playing. Neat.
Organization Dialog example. If present, clicking on the unit name will highlight it on the base of the counter. ONE thing I don’t like about this (all WDS titles), if it shows you entire branching systems of OOB, even if that unit is NOT present. That can get a little cumbersome to have to hunt and peck through it to find what is present on the field of battle. Possible improvement in future titles? Nudge nudge wink wink.
Above shows the simple settings for overwatch fire basically. Oh, and the pretty pretty oh so pretty fully zoomed in pieces. Really well done graphics throughout Thirty Years War.
Above shows the Jump Map functionality, like other WDS games.
Another example of Travel Movement. Just to show that it automatically will determine whether to auto move the formation in line or in column/road format.
Above shows the simple reporting you get after the Melee phase towards the end of the turn in the Default turn system.
Now the above is the cool Artillery Dialog, that I’ve either been a dolt and missed in other WDS offerings, or this is newer. Likely I’m a dolt. You click on it, and it shows all Artillery that have enemy within line of sight. You then double click on it, or hit the [Find] button on the dialog, and it will put a blinking Red border on the counter hex of the firing artillery, and it will yellow highly border the potential targets in line of sight. This is a nice little tool.
This is a slightly closer view of the Artillery dialog. (You get to this with the cannon button in the slew of buttons at top of the screen). I also turned on the Line Of Sight view button, also in the top bard of buttons, to show you more readily what this particular artillery unit can “see”.
For now, we will stop there. My first impression of Thirty Years War is that my family is going to be seeing less of me over the next couple weeks as I delve further into its deep end by playing out the 1st Battle Of Breitenfeld (1631) as an full game after action review. A couple teaser shots are below. WDS keeps improving upon its overall wargame engine, and Thirty Years War is a nice leap forwards for the series, and the engine as a whole. It includes crisper imagery throughout , at all zoom levels, tried and true existing and tweaked performance for the time period, and a background music set that is outstanding. This wargame is well worth your hard earned moola.
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