Praise the lord and pass the ammunition!
This is the Age of Rifles, baby! There are no tactics except to attack. There is no finesse except in seeing how far your cavalry can charge blindly into the enemy rear. There is only your bright, colorful 19th century uniform, your trusty rifle, and enough glory to last one lifetime. This is as close as war comes to football, in the days before modern weapons such as machine guns and airplanes transformed gallantry into carnage.
Backed by a beautiful soundtrack reminiscent of SSI's Steel Panthers, the creators of that fine piece of electronic entertainment have done it again. Nearly every major battle (62 scenarios) from 1846-1905 is included in the package along with eight different campaigns and quite a few "what-ifs". The player can fight both sides in the American Civil War, which is showcased, or can go even further back to face the Mexicans in the 1840's, or jump ahead to the 20th century and play either the Russians or the Japanese in 1905 Manchuria.
Also included are several campaigns and scenarios from Europe, including the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, and even the 1856 Crimean War. Remember Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade?" In this program, the player has the option of reliving the fateful Battle of Balaclava from either side. Finally, if one has a penchant for imperialism, the creators have included several scenarios dealing with British colonial exploits from India and Egypt to South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion China.
Gameplay is surprisingly simple and concise, with on-screen help appearing every time the cursor is placed over a particular button. Units are moved across the finely bit-mapped landscape by a seamless point-and-click movement. To attack, simply place the cursor over the enemy force(s). A small crosshair appears, the music heightens in its intensity, and the smoke and bullets begin to fly! In fact, I became so engrossed in my game (a recreation of the Mexican-American skirmish at Palo Alto (Texas, 1846) that I soon lost track of time and realized that I needed to quit someday so that I could write this review.
Another excellent element is the powerful scenario editor. The player can take any scenario, any unit, any nationality, and then place them on the board for battle. Or, one even has the option of creating his or her own map and then adding buildings and different troops. Imagine this: a combined force of Mexicans, Prussians, and Zulus marching upon Washington DC in 1875, a city defended by a handful of Americans, a British legion, and several Chinese Boxers and Indian Sikhs. Makes you think.
Also present is an on-line encyclopedia of battles, troops, and weaponry, along with an official history of the rifle and the era in which they were used. This is also an important reference for someone who is looking for tips on how to fight (the world's first on-line hint book???).
Age of Rifles is the finest strategy war game I have played to date. The interfaces are seamless, the learning curve is short, and the gameplay is totally engrossing. The variety of forces, options, and the powerful campaign editor will keep it interesting and playable for years to come. This is a must-buy for any fans of strategy wargaming.