Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great is the perfect introduction to PC wargaming, miniatures gaming, and the history of Alexander the Great's astounding campaigns.
- Very easy to learn, yet challenging
- Does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Alexander's battles
- Miniatures theme is implemented wonderfully
- Terrific detail on unit graphics.
- Low-resolution graphics
- Later battles are incredibly tough
- No editor
- Not many single-player battles.
Many PC wargames are based on board games, but Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great is the computer implementation of a miniatures system, covering most of the major engagements Alexander the Great participated in as he conquered his way from Greece to India.
There are plenty of hardcore PC and console game players around, but miniatures players tend to take their hobby to entirely new extremes of fanaticism. Putting together a respectable-sized army of minis costs anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and in most cases hundreds to thousands of hours are then spent meticulously painting each and every figure. More painstaking work (and another boatload of cash) goes into creating terrain to fight on. When you finally get down to playing, you have to deal with reams of bookkeeping, rules arbitration, and carefully moving units around the map and taking constant measurements. It's more a lifestyle than a pastime, and Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great gives the rest of us a relatively inexpensive glimpse into this type of gaming without having to deal with all of the drawbacks.
This game doesn't just have a miniatures theme--it's basically a carbon copy of a real miniatures game ported to the PC. Unit graphics, while not 3D, are digital images of real hand-painted miniatures. Even the trees on the maps have round bases like those you'd purchase at the hobby store, and the game takes this theme so far that a virtual hand descends from the top of the screen to grab units off the map when they've taken casualties. There are no unit animations during movement or combat, with units simply sliding from place to place, but the sound effects and especially the soundtrack are excellent for a game of this type. It's too bad the cutscenes that set the stage before each battle are of such low quality, and it would be great if the unit graphics had higher resolution, but overall the game is a joy both to look at and to play.
Only eight battles are included with the game, but some are very large. Starting with Alexander's crushing of the rebellion in Thebes, play then progresses to the Granicus River, Alexander's first encounter with the Persian King Darius III at Issus, and his attack on Gaza as he marched to Egypt. After that, you can relive the battle of Gaugamela and fight against King Porus at the Hydaspes River in India. Two special multiplayer-only scenarios are included, covering the battle in Bactria and a final, obviously hypothetical fight that takes place in Alexander's afterlife on the Fields of Elysium. In the single-player game these battles must be fought in order during the campaign game, but two players are free to try any of them right off the bat in multiplayer mode.
Arguments can be made that many of the battles modeled in the game are not accurate re-creations of the historical realities, but that problem is inherent to any miniatures system. Designers must decide where to draw the line between abstraction and simulation, and in this case it's just about perfect for the subject matter. Even when the particulars of a battle aren't modeled well, the key elements that defined it remain intact, which makes for a much more compelling and balanced game than a strict simulation would be.
The bulk of the fighting in each battle is done by light, medium, and heavy cavalry and infantry. Archers and slingers are also incorporated, but they weren't used in significant numbers in most of the battles fought during this period. All combat is subject to a long list of modifiers, including the type of armor the unit wears, the unit's morale status, the skills its leader has, the weapon it uses, the type of attack or defense it is ordered to carry out, and so on. When plotting potential moves, all of the modifiers involved are computed, and the final tally is displayed on the screen, giving an instantaneous calculation of the odds for every attack. If you see +6/-2, for example, that means your unit will have six added to its base attack roll, while the enemy unit will have two subtracted from its base defense roll. This makes it easy to learn the game while playing it, although some understanding of the roles the different units play helps immensely when setting up for attacks or figuring out what defensive stance to take.