How many computer games do you know of that take place in the 18th century? How many wargames? How many games based on the Seven Years War? Frederick the Great? You probably couldn't count them beyond a few fingers. Don't fret though, you aren't alone - there simply aren't that many games to take place in this period in time, and there really aren't that many combat-oriented games that take place in this period of time. So it's always nice when a small developer produces a gem from a rock. David Erickson and Art of War Publishing's Dragoon: The Battles of Frederick the Great may be a bit rough along the edges, but it is such a gem nonetheless.
Dragoon - referring to a form of cavalry during the period in question that was used as a form of mounted infantry with matchlock muskets and pikes - is a tactical-level simulation of the battles involving Frederick the Great during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1749) and the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Set up as a traditional hex-based wargame, Dragoon includes seven scenarios, featuring three major battles and smaller subsets of these battles therein (an expansion, including six new scenarios centered around Prague in 1757, is already available). Each hex equals about 150 yards, with 15-minute turns, and units are battalion sized.
Dragoon's command structure and control system are very similar to Interactive Magic's Great Battles of History series but with some important differences. As in the Great Battles series, leaders on all sides are activated during a sequence in the turn - each leader commands a group of troops, so when he is activated they can move, fire, rally, and so forth. This form of leader-based command is used to re-create the ebb and flow of attacks and the momentum of battle.
But Dragoon differs from Interactive Magic's system in a number of ways. For instance, commanding officers can lend subordinate points to friendly leaders within a certain radius at the beginning of the turn on the hour. Why is this useful? Because the sequence of leader activation is based on the leader's individual initiative, and the sequence is descending in order - so a leader with high initiative will go first. The more points a commanding officer lends, the higher in initiative that leader will go. However, this doesn't mean that all of the subordinate leaders will get to go - when it comes their turn to activate, they undergo a check first. Fail the check, and you can forget about moving that leader's forces that turn. There is also an artillery bombardment phase, which is actually at the very beginning of the turn.
Combat can take place before and after movement, and assaults happen last. Casualties are typically incurred in groups of ten (a single battalion can consist of 700 men). Most of the obligatory wargame features, abstractions, and ideas are present: Units can rout and be rallied, troops can move in column formation and moveinto a line or square at the right moment, and units emit a zone of control and can change their facing. Unfortunately troops can only be moved one hex at a time, which can make for a lot of mouse clicking. Battles are won by capturing specially marked objectives and inflicting heavy casualties (each side has a withdrawal level) on the enemy. Terrain affects combat, and your individual leaders can become casualties themselves. The AI is very strong, and it'll give you a run for your money.
The weakest part of Dragoon of course is the graphics, which are functional at best. Terrain elevations are differentiated by color; towns and villages look like a collection of small huts; roads and rivers are clearly marked; and formations of men are colorful, but occasionally it is hard to tell exactly which way they are facing, since a unit can move and face in two different directions. Units animate when they move and engage each other, but not significantly. Sound is also only functional. Dragoon comes on three floppies and takes up about four megabytes of disk space, so space will not be a problem. The print installation guide will get you started, but it would be wise to print out the online manual for the real details.
Dragoon has some other small nuances, like the fact that the sides of the battle are not identified by nation, but rather by "Side A" and "Side B," and there is little real historical information. But this game is quite fun. Battles are typically fast, furious, and entertaining once you get them rolling, and any game worth its salt set in a time period most people tend to ignore deserves at least a look.