No Greater Glory: The Civil War
for PC (DOS)

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Mr Creosote:
Company: SSI
Year: 1991
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Historical / Politics / War
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 15335
Review by Mr Creosote (2010-02-26)
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A word of warning first: If you're not willing to spend at least a couple of frustrating weeks learning the very basics of a game before you can survive the first few turns, this game isn't for you. No Greater Glory is one of the last truly 'expert' wargames - a genre very popular in the 1980s. If you give it time to grow on you, chances are you'll grow to love it.

On the surface, things aren't that bad. The game takes place in the United States where civil war has just broken out. It is controlled by fairly intuitively structured screens providing clear information and listing the available options. This makes it attractive to 'just try things out' carelessly. Which the game punishes almost immediately, though. Even on the lowest of the five difficulty levels (mislabelled 'very easy'), the computer-controlled side will gain the upper hand against any casual player right away.

The problem also isn't that an unmanagable amount of options is presented to the player. The game is structured in clearly defined phases (movement, attacking/defense, domestic politics, foreign politics,...) with only a few decisions being demanded from the player in each. It's the subtlety of many of these decisions which makes it so hard.

The very first decision of the player is to appoint a cabinet, for example. Here, the player has to take various factors into account; among them are the loyalty, the ability, the party membership and the state of origin of the candidates. If you appoint only people from one party, the other one will be pissed. If you don't appoint people from a certain region of your country, states in that region will be less sympathetic to your cause. Weighing these factors isn't easy although the game gives a decent amount of feedback concerning the effects of your decisions.

Same with the foreign policies. Depending on whom you play, you will want to get the European powers England and France involved or to stay out of the conflict. How do you achieve this? By threatening to cut off delivery of raw materials? Or by being nice? And whom do you send as ambassador?

Even the war itself, as straightforward as it may seem, is influence by such factors. Moving armies around is easy enough (provided you don't get into problems with recruitment, infrastructure or logistics - did I already mention this is a very complex game?), but whom do you trust with command of which army? How do you keep the soldiers morale up? How do you counter the effects of the other side's propaganda efforts?

No Greater Glory is absolutely excellent, save for one thing: the difficulty. Not the fact that it's difficult per se, but part of how that is achieved. The AI cheats [see below for Ed Bever's comment concerning this]. No matter which side you choose, you will always have severe internal problems to overcome in the early game: the congress won't let you increase taxes or introduce conscription, preventing you from earning enough money and building up a decently sized army - while your opponent apparantely doesn't have those problems at all. There are nasty indirect effect of this, too. So you can't recruit a big army; which means that your generals will be disappointed with the commands they receive; which means that their home states will be disappointed with you for not fulfilling the wishes of their local heroes; which means that in the best case, you will only be able to recruit a few less soldiers next round, but probably, it'll even cause riots against your government. Again, no problem on the other side of the war - unless you take control of it yourself in the next game.

This cheating is unfortunately all too obvious. Most importantly, it's completely unnecessary. The AI opponent plays just fine. It would be still a huge challenge to beat it on fair terms. If you can look beyond that, you'll find an extraordinary multi-faceted strategy game which will keep you occupied for years to come.

Comments (8) [Post comment]

B A ORegan:

I also note that - having been playing the game ceaselessly as of late - the computer "cheats" as Ed noted based on knowing the "best" outcomes not only in cabinet assignments, but also troop organization and command orders.
Specifically, when playing as the Union, your generals (in early turns) frequently refuse to move.
And yet, when playing as CSA, those same Union generals routinely move in the same exact order as you had asked them to (and to which they refused) playing as the Union.
It appears that despite multiple formulations, I am not able to match the mathematical precision required to motivate Union generals to move against enemy positions in the 1st turn.

All this discussion aside, the game still represents an excellent balance of "hard choices" and need to actually strategize. The game logic will not let you steamroll to victory (unlike most other modern strategy games). It requires real thought on the strategy, and although the AI is "smarter" than you in many instances, you still hold all the "real" decisions about movements and selections. It makes it rewarding to play despite its frustrating elements. As the manual notes, it is equally about education as it is about entertainment. And certainly, I have found a renewed intellectual interest in the period as a result. It also makes playing it more fun to see how well Ed and his team mirrored the hard choices Lincoln and the Union faced - and how touch-and-go the war effort for the Union really was until after 1863.

Mr Creosote:
Interesting observations. Maybe, after all, the issue is that the AI is too strongly hardcoded based on assumptions of "default" player behaviour? If the player acts in expected ways, it will be hard to compete against the computer, but it is not very adaptable when it comes to unexpected situations?
B A ORegan:

I played this games in 1992 as an 8 year old.
It was exceedingly frustrating then, given the complexity and nuance required to achieve desired outcomes.
I am now 38, and took it on myself to re-learn the game as a fairly sophisticated adult.
Still frustrating.
It "feels" like the AI cheats mostly in the overall strategy of its campaigns, given what Ed Bever notes below about issues regarding the AI taking the initiative.
The best example I have found is this:
Playing as the Union (Historical difficulty, limited sight, historical attributes), I am able to amass a naval force from Massachusetts early in the game (i.e., about 20k troops completely supplied in Mid or Late 1861), and assign any general to an invasion of Jacksonville.
The invasion goes unopposed - no Confederate movement into the region, and no militia.
Subsequently, I expect - given that it would "be unmilitary to leave a castle in [their] rear" (quoting Henry Knox) - the Confederacy would move huge amounts of men and materiel to re-take Jacksonville. To Pensacola, and Savannah.
The following turn, I move a naval feint to Mobile, and hit both Pensacola and Savannah hard with additional naval deployments.
A force of 20,000 under U.S. Grant moves against Pensacola with high morale New England troops - against 2,000 enemy troops and no incoming Confederate forces or general with high ability garrisoning the town.
I am routinely repulsed.
And at Savannah, only about 16,000 troops - 4,000 of which was temp. militia - show up for the naval engagement.
My garrison at Jacksonville is 18,000 strong - and the enemy makes no move against it.

This made me question "why" the Confederacy did not move back twice or 3 times as many troops to garrison Pensacola and Savannah - and to stage for the following turn an assault on Jacksonville. Holding Jacksonville as the Union would allow a slow creep up the Tidewater to capture the coastal ports - or west overland to New Orleans.
It makes no sense - UNLESS you factor in the note Ed Bever made about "initiative".
Clearly, the Confederate AI is programmed to "go North" in order win the war.
It ignores the "reality" of a real war, in the sense that no commander could "assume" or "count on" a Union-held Jacksonville, with high naval support, not being an absolute threat to its rear.
I could imagine a real-world scenario where a commander with high risk tolerance would gamble that a blitzkreig to the North would end the war quickly without need to address the enemy "castle" in his rear (a la the Allies bypassing Cherbourg on D-Day; but also note, the Allies could afford to ignore Cherbourg given the Axis lacked air/naval capacity to re-supply it).
But in this game, it does "feel" as though there is a glitch in the AI programming that favors Confederate initiative to the North, while ignoring Union flanking maneuvers. Successful Union flanking maneuvers that take deep Southern ports "should" especially halt all Confederate advances to the North until they are re-taken.
And consequently, Union victory would ensue by overwhelming a weakened Western theater and taking control of the rivers much earlier.

Mr Creosote:

Thanks for those insights, Ed! I've put a cautionary note into the review where it talks about potential cheating of the AI.

For sure, games were generally much harder in those times. Yours was even on the tough side of things back then, though. I struggled a lot with it. To this day, I've never won once.

Ed Bever:

Hi. I made this game a long time ago, but I didn't make it cheat as claimed. The AI plays with the same rules as the human player, with just one exception: the human always goes first in the combat portion. I did that because I was able to get it to react to human moves pretty well, but not take the initiative. Otherwise, whatever advantage the computer seems to have I think is because it knows the right moves in terms of balancing cabinets, selecting repressive policies, etc., because I programmed it to do its best (and I knew what "best" was). Didn't think of this as cheating.

One other possibility is bugs. However, the only bug I know is that it doesn't actually do inflation for the south – we didn't discover that until nearly the end of development, and there just wasn't time to fix it because that would have meant rebalancing the whole game. But the lack of inflation isn't connected to the player's role, it doesn't happen as advertised for both sides (it was too late to change the documentation too, and since the South has a hard enough time anyway it didn't seem to big a loss just to ship it as it was).

In any case, it's nice to see people talking about this game 30 years after it was produced! Glad you enjoy it.

Mr Creosote:
Very good strategy advice! The point of the AI cheating, however, remains. No matter which side you choose yourself, your opponent will inevitably pull ahead in money as well as army strength early on. I don't mind the challenge this represents, but it's the obvious unfair means with which this is achieved which bothers me.
thebard:
Quote:
The AI cheats. No matter which side you choose, you will always have severe internal problems to overcome in the early game: the congress won't let you increase taxes or introduce conscription, preventing you from earning enough money and building up a decently sized army - while your opponent apparantely doesn't have those problems at all. There are nasty indirect effect of this, too. So you can't recruit a big army; which means that your generals will be disappointed with the commands they receive; which means that their home states will be disappointed with you for not fulfilling the wishes of their local heroes; which means that in the best case, you will only be able to recruit a few less soldiers next round, but probably, it'll even cause riots against your government. Again, no problem on the other side of the war - unless you take control of it yourself in the next game.

I've played this game more then I can remember. I've won the game in the hardest difficulty (although that was with Full intelligence on and traditional general ratings/prestige) and the opposite side will struggle as the tide turns against them. For example, taking control of a good amount of the Old Northwest as the CSA will cause riots. The problem is balancing your rabble rousers (I forgot the name of the phrase). If you try to cause Sedition too early in the game in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas it has the opposite effects. But as you win major victories the ability of your agents to cause sedition increases. I've had times as the CSA when I was able to bring down New England to a 4 loyalty while I had a 4 in the same area.

Increasing Taxes and Conscription will give you a warning of how congress is reacting. Sometimes when raising taxes or conscription you can get it approved even if congress has a negative thought towards it. The reality is though is that it's a war, you can feel free to go into as much debt as you want. As the Union it takes a while to actually raise inflation and fall into debt. As the CSA you'll always be in debt, but if you can get intervention (which should be one of your goals anyway) British and French loans will cure your inflation problems usually just at the right time.

Lastly the problem with commands is relative. Without looking at the stats, let's just say McClennan has an 8 prestige and a larger army then Pope who has a 7 prestige. McClennan refuses to move, but Pope attacks and wins a battle. He gets 2 prestige for the victory moving him up to 9 prestige. When giving out commands next turn you can either shift troops from McClennan to Pope so that Pope has the larger army, or you could just switch Pope and McClennan's command. You never have to create new commands, it's just a matter of moving leaders up and down till people stop complaining.

Great review though, and a great game that never gets enough love.

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