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Some Thoughts On The Evils of Multiplayer

February 20th, 2013 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Me, Multiplayer, Paradox

Hello, blog. Clearly I suck at promises, like one substantive post a week, but that’s because I am writing long essays to reframe the strategy game language space and then realize I wrote them backwards. So, sometime in the next week expect a couple of 6000 word posts. Clearly I need more modest goals, like just playing a game and writing about it.

I do want to follow up on a post I wrote for the Evolve corporate blog a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, this post is about March of the Eagles, a game we represent or at least recent experiences with it, but mostly it’s about how you can never let Rob Zacny rule France. Standard workplace disclaimers apply.

Last night, I joined a bunch of media that were at the Paradox Con in Iceland for a March of the Eagles multiplayer session. I don’t do a lot of multiplayer Paradox stuff for the reasons outlined in the Evolve post – these are long games that take longer when you have to keep the speed constant so that everyone can pay attention to everything, getting enough players to have fun can be a challenge, and people are dicks that like to mess up your empire.

The players included folk we’ve had on the podcast and other general strategy people – Rob Zacny (Gamespy/PCGN/3MA/You Know Him), Joe Robinson (Strategy Informer/RPS), Paul Dean (PCGN/Eurogamer/Shut Up Sit Down Show), Fraser Brown (Destructoid), Rowan Kaiser (Gamespy/Joystiq/AVClub) and TJ Hafer (PCGamer US). A good group and many of them will reconvene this weekend to play more.

To put on the PR hat for just a brief, shilling moment, March of the Eagles is a much more streamlined experience than other Paradox grand strategy games. Don’t expect this game about the Napoleonic Wars to be full of great diplomatic subtlety; it’s a war of domination and much of the game is about finding the right moment to strike in the right direction and then turning traitor with impeccable timing. Like Diplomacy, no power – even France – can get to their objective provinces on their own, so there has to be some co-ordination.

Last night I played Russia and it was a good choice. Mostly isolated from the mess in Western Europe, I could pick off bits of Austria while they were harried and nibble at the Ottomans. Problem is that Russia is very big and when a war starts in the Baltic, moving those dudes up from the Caucasus can take forever, especially with the speed set to a leisurely 2 out of 5.

We only got about a year into the ten year span of the game, but some valuable lessons about grand strategy multiplayer games were learned.

1) Never use the public Skype chat to talk about being low on manpower or where your scattered armies are. This leads to unwelcome assaults on Finland, Poland, the Netherlands or wherever you just told people you were not. All strategy games are, to some extent, about information but a grand strategy game against other people is even more so. You are dealing with humans that are capable of lies and deceit, but also stupid honesty so knowing when to use one and not the other is pretty important. You do want to say something in public chat – just to be social. But Emperor Joe of Austria did not need to be told that I was building up near Persia and not reinforcing my Polish line. And I used some information from King TJ Adolphus of Sweden to opportunistically move on Sveaborg.

2) You must accept small defeats. Multiplayer grand strategy is as much about knowing what setbacks you can take for now as it is about plotting revenge. You can’t be everywhere at once, so a lot of the game is about knowing how little you have to pay to just end a nuisance. Though for many countries the Napoleonic conflicts were close to total war, in multiplayer, you can’t really afford total war. This applies to pretty much any grand strategy game you can imagine, from Dominions to Civilization. If you can deliver the death blow quickly, then do it, but holding on for a long struggle in a six or seven player game is just inviting a strike from a sideline observer.

3) Bluff a little, but not too much. This is just general sound planning for any multiplayer game that requires thinking on the part of the participants, with poker being the obvious analogue. You can’t bluff on every move because then you become the tsar that cried wolf and no grandpa is going to bail you or your animal friends out of trouble. But if I could back up my boast of the power of my navy by landing an army to turn the tide of a poorly fought battle, then I could boast that those three transports were just the landing craft that fronted a navy I had building since Day 1. (Note: I had not been building a navy since Day 1.) The possibility that maybe Cossacks could land anywhere in the Baltic or Mediterranean so long as Britain and France weren’t bothering me was a useful lie. But it was also the only real bluff I made. Everything other action was backed up – if delayed. So yeah, these games are about deception, but also about trust. You will need allies in pretty much every grand strategy game you play against other people.

The experience did remind me that I miss playing MP more than I thought I did. I don’t have a lot of time for games in the evenings, but I am planning some Combat Mission adventures soon, and I hope my opponent and I both take the time to write about our experiences with the new Battlefront versions. Maybe the Italian campaign…

As for March of the Eagles, I will be streaming the game on my Twitch TV channel tomorrow night, probably around 8 PM if you want to see the game in action and ask me some questions. I want to do more streaming, and not just games that Evolve is fortunate enough to represent.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Hell-Mikey

    Thanks for sharing. We do like hearing from you, even when it’s relatively dashed off. I always learning something. This time I learned, “[A]nd people are dicks that like to mess up your empire.” Based on the other lessons you’ve taught, I’ve generalized this to “People are Montezuma”