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Birth of America II: Wars in America 1750-1815 (PC) artwork

Birth of America II: Wars in America 1750-1815 (PC) review

"BoA2 is incredibly detailed. I'll admit I've not checked the historical accuracy of all the in the game's events - that would take days if not weeks - but from my knowledge at least it's pretty thorough. The native tribes are all accurate, the armies and regiments are accurate, the map's accurate... Someone, presumably in a dark room at the home of French developer AGEON, has clearly become something of a recluse, buried deep under piles of tome-sized history books."

Contrary to all rational and logical brain processing that goes on during the course of reviewing a game, I've actually grown rather fond of Birth of America 2. It's a visually outdated, mechanically simplistic and sometimes counter-intuitive turn-based strategy game, so alarm bells rang from the start. But after just a couple of hours with BoA2, they diminished. Like its predecessor, it's actually quite good.

Firstly, it's incredibly detailed. I'll admit I've not checked the historical accuracy of all the in the game's events - that would take days if not weeks - but from my knowledge at least it's pretty thorough. The native tribes are all accurate, the armies and regiments are accurate, the map's accurate... Someone, presumably in a dark room at the home of French developer AGEON, has clearly become something of a recluse, buried deep under piles of tome-sized history books. The result is an engrossing world of war, one that despite its many shortcomings will have strategy enthusiasts hooked for hours on end.

The presentation could date it as far back as the mid-90s, but it's refreshing to discover that it's to no real detriment to the game. There's no 3D engine at play here; we're simply given a lovingly hand-drawn map with some nice little overlays representing the numerous regiments and tribes. BoA2 falls disappointingly short in its portrayal of the battles themselves. There's no on-screen representation at all, in fact; just a text box at the bottom of the screen explaining the outcome. Disappointing but, again, not significantly detrimental. It works just fine.

From the outset, players can select from a wide range of campaigns, each playable from the perspective of any of the factions involved. Enthusiasts will lap up the lack of limitations here, but it does create a significant problem in the lack of a sense of reward. There's nothing to unlock, no reason to do anything but dip in every now and then to bash through a single mission. Still, while some can be completed in just fifteen minutes or so, others demand hours of careful, patient planning, and it's here where BoA2 really shines.

The gameplay is a litle unbalanced at times. Difficulty levels seem to matter very little in the shorter campaigns - I managed to beat the first couple on both the easiest and hardest setting with almost identical results. It's a more apparent distinction during the lengthier missions, and enemy AI can be fiendishly clever at times, seemingly second-guessing you at every turn. Some players will find a way to exploit the game by playing solely as defensive factions, which does generally provide the much simpler task of working out which areas need protecting, and simply dragging half your units to those locations. To do so would be to accept the game's weakest side alone. The most fun to be had here is when strategically planning months upon months of attacks, and in the campaigns that last up to a decade this can be gloriously challenging and pleasantly rewarding.

BoA2 has one major downside, and it's that newcomers to the genre will likely find themselves lost and frustrated within minutes. This is a game that assumes a hefty knowledge of the turn-based world, and the available tutorial does little to establish anything but the basics. You're taught how to move your units, how to adjust their nature from defensive to attacking and how to navigate your way around the map, but some of the game's intricacies are skipped. In particular, the Engagement Points system, which, while far more lightweight than anything in the Civilization series, allows you to tweak your political, diplomatic and economic policies in a similar way, using your experience points to 'purchase' such changes. It's in these details that victories become more of a widened, strategic reward than a lucky combination of moves, but without reading the full manual this simply isn't apparent. A combination of this and the sheer amount of numbers and statistics will likely leave all but the most hardened of strategy players disgruntled and in a confused mess.

If there's one thing that will draw such people back into this ultimately enjoyable game, it's the undeniable charm present throughout. Whether it's the chirpy, authentic soundtrack, or the classic board game presentation, BoA2 has a charisma about it that its more average competitors lack. It's not going to challenge the big boys, but AGEON know that. Instead of trying, they've poured all their efforts into creating something of their own. The result may be dated on the surface, but at heart it's refreshing and entertaining enough to succeed of its own merits.


Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (September 01, 2008)

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wolfqueen001 posted September 01, 2008:

Hahaha. I love how the European cover art, which I submitted because the US cover art on GFs was too small, shows a completely different picture. Haha.

Anyway, there was a time, about three weeks ago, when EmP offered this one to me, but we decided against it because by the time it got here, I'd be back at school, I'd have very little time to get through it before deadline, and I wasn't even sure it'd work on my laptop. Haha.

Now for the feedback.

This is an honest effort for a genre that's extremely difficult to cover. You're informative, which is great, but your writing seems a bit inflexible... By which I mean you're basically following the same sentence structures over and over again. This sort of makes the review a bit dry and less entertaining as it may have been otherwise. Also, some of your sentences could probably do with a bit of polishing up - cutting down, rephrasing, and the like. But overall, this is a decent attempt at, from the sound of it, a difficult game to cover. The important thing is that you were informative, though. With a game like that, and especially if you want to appeal to TBS/RTS fans like me, that's extremely important. Really, your reviews (of the ones I've read) sound like you're just trying to come into yourself. I'm sure you'll get much better at it as time progresses.

Which reminds me, I should read your Vampire review... I heard that one was pretty good.

Also, some things I found. If you don't want these kinds of catches pointed out in topics like this, say so and I'll HG mail them to you next time.

it's refreshing to discover that it's to no real detriment to the game

Typo. Should be omitted.

and in the campaigns that last up to a decade this

Comma after decade
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Lewis posted September 01, 2008:

Cheers for your feedback. You hear the Bloodlines review is good? Christ, you mean people actually talk about my work behind my back?

I've been working as a freelance journo, doing a bit of paid but mainly unpaid stuff, for about five years now, and I have to say this is one of the trickiest titles I've covered yet. It falls into that category of being so specific that it's difficult to write an emotion-based review on it, as the target audience will likely not be affected in the same way. I'll confess that, while I've played a good few strategy games in my time, this level of historical accuracy isn't something that massively appeals to me. As such, it seemed best - as you say - to write an information-based review as to how the thing actually works, while pointing out that, despite technical shortcomings, it's actually quite good fun.

As for the grammatical errors... well, I'm in the middle of a linguistics degree, so perhaps I should brush up - but they're up to the editors to pick up on, not me! I tend to think stuff like that is fairly malleable, anyway. Too many commas make me cry.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
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EmP posted September 01, 2008:

Bloody slacker freelancers, shifting their blame onto me...

Nothing but overly-complex strats for you from now on, me lad.
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wolfqueen001 posted September 01, 2008:

People said your Bloodlines review is good... Mainly I speak of EmP and boo who posted in your feedback topic, which I'm sure you saw, as you posted in it. I'm pretty sure they liked it - otherwise they wouldn't have said it made them want to play it, but then again, I could've just been making assumptions. I'll leave you feedback there, since I just read it, even though the topic's over a month old.

Anyway, I forgot you'd been doing this for a while... I keep thinking you're a rookie - probably because you haven't been arund HG that long - but really you're not. So sorry if anything I say/will say ever sound(ed) patronizing or anything. Still, I notice that a lot of your writing follows the same sort of format... Maybe you'll do something a bit different or exciting in one paragraph/sentence or another, but not enough to make the review as a whole exciting. Honestly, I think you let the formality of journalism soak into you too much... I'm not sure how diverse you can be with your paid job or what you do at school (are you still at school?), but with my experiences, I found journalism to be very restrictive. And it's showing here in your reviewing at this site.

I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be afraid to change things up a little - Felix gave me this advice some time ago, and I'm glad I listened. I think it made my writing a lot better in the end, and that reflected in later achievements. I'm sure the same will happen to you if you try.

You should try joinnig a tourney at some point or something - see what everyone else thinks.

Anyway, that's just my general advice. This game, as I said before, sounds extremely difficult to cover. And you seemed to do the best you could with what you had. It's a decent effort, and really, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to write an absolutely AMAZING review for this game.
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Lewis posted September 01, 2008:

Absolutely. I don't want you to think I'm going into defensive mode. I'm always more than happy to receive feedback, and apply it to my work.

"School" in the UK sense at least is but a memory for me... I'm currently half way through a Linguistics degree at Leeds University, so that's probably where my over-analytical style comes from at times: my academic writing. I make my little bits of money out of this, music and web design. It also might be worth mentioning I'd still consider myself primarily a music journalist rather than a videogame one... I'm generally of the opinion that music reviews are often more entertaining to read, while games stuff is more fun to write than to read. I'm here, therefore, for purely selfish reasons ;)

Good to meet you :)
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honestgamer posted September 01, 2008:

For what it's worth, I like to have a diversity in styles on the site, so that people don't come to expect just ONE type of review. Reviewers should feel free to express themselves as individuals, provided they write professional-level reviews of games.

The typical Lewis review is written quite well and the level of analysis is actually a strong point for me. As a gamer, I'll take in-depth analysis over vague but entertaining any day, and it's really quite difficult to go into serious depth without reading like a textbook at times. As long as the writing is interesting--and what Lewis writes is--then I don't think there's a huge change needed in writing style.

More dynamic sentence structure and so forth is always great, but I personally wouldn't ask to see Lewis make changes beyond that. Certainly, there's room for improvement and I encourage him to continue pushing himself (as I do all reviewers on the site).

I'm glad to see constructive feedback topics like these popping up on the site and I hope that more people will get involved in them. These site forums were once a treasure trove for writers intent on improving their craft, and they can be that way function again!
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Lewis posted September 01, 2008:

Funnily enough, the pieces I've had either rejected or seriously scrutinized in my writing history have largely been 'entertaining but a little vague'. The only exception is a Manhunt piece I wrote for PC Gamer UK a few years back, rejected for being 'too checklisty'. Hopefully I'll get the balance just right more and more in the future. Cheers for all the feedback!
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WilltheGreat posted September 03, 2008:

Knocking the French because they got hit first in WW2 = classy.

L2History, nub.

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