ST-urday #017: North & South

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mento

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Edited By mento  Moderator

It's mid-October and I still don't feel very "Halloween-y" yet. I guess I've never been one to partake in spookathons and other annual events around this time, but I have at least been enjoying the Super Best Friends Halloween content throughout October (I've been following it on the list I maintain, so feel free to check that out if you need some horror game ideas of your own this month).

As for horror games I'd be interested in trying personally, the top item on that short list would be the soon-to-be-released Fatal Frame V: Maiden of Black Water. I've been following the series since the beginning and was a little put out by Nintendo's decision not to localize IV for the Wii outside of Japan, so I'm glad they acquiesced for this one. It promises to be terrifying with its use of the WiiU GamePad to represent the Camera Obscura: an idea that must've seemed an obvious destination for the series after ZombiU's similarly suspenseful application of the WiiU's divisive peripheral. I'd also like to check out Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (it's been sitting in my Steam library for a while), SOMA and Stasis eventually, but it's a low priority for me. There's a few big 2015 names I ought to be getting around to before the end of the year, if possible.

North & South

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Today's game choice has nothing to do with the fact that I've been watching a lot of Drunk History of late and everything to do with how it's an American Civil War strategy war sim game that's actually a lot of fun with its relative simplicity and darn goofy besides. It's certainly no "Gettysburg" or "Gods and Generals" or any of those serious historical war dramas angling for a Best Beards Academy Award.

North & South is a French game from our old friends Infogrames - presently butchering classic properties as Atari SA - which in turn is based on a Belgian comic about United States history: Les Tuniques Bleues ("The Bluecoats", but then I guess you don't need a whole lot of French class to work that one out). It depicts a comedic take on the American Civil War and allows the player to jump in at any point between 1861-1864. As with other historical war simulators, the year the player chooses will shift around everyone's resources and armies to approximate where both sides were at logistically speaking when that year began. The player can also add "events" that can be beneficial or detrimental to either side, and determine whether or not the player takes part in the game's various "action" modes. It's also a great looking game for its era, making the excellent choice of going all-in on its source material's comic book art style, which not only makes the game's graphics and animations look sharp and distinctive but doesn't make the game look hopelessly dated some twenty-six years later. It was released on a number of systems, including the NES, but the ST and Amiga versions are probably the most presentable.

Welcome to North & South! These two at the front are the main characters of the comic. I think the dude at the back is meant to be Ulysses S Grant, but don't ask me.
Welcome to North & South! These two at the front are the main characters of the comic. I think the dude at the back is meant to be Ulysses S Grant, but don't ask me.
A lot going on here in this campaign customization screen. The two sides are represented: if they have a flag as the background, they're a human player, and the big computer is naturally a CPU. The events along the top include outside hostility (essentially, either side can get attacked by Native Americans or Mexicans). The thundercloud randomly hovers over states and makes it impossible to move troops out of there. The ship will give occasional reinforcements to whichever side is occupying North Carolina at the time. Most important is the little Arcade dude: this activates the
A lot going on here in this campaign customization screen. The two sides are represented: if they have a flag as the background, they're a human player, and the big computer is naturally a CPU. The events along the top include outside hostility (essentially, either side can get attacked by Native Americans or Mexicans). The thundercloud randomly hovers over states and makes it impossible to move troops out of there. The ship will give occasional reinforcements to whichever side is occupying North Carolina at the time. Most important is the little Arcade dude: this activates the "action" parts of the game. More on that to follow.
The game quickly brings us up to speed based on the year we chose. The South took the momentum after the First Battle of Bull Run and the war began in earnest. Both sides are about equal as of right now.
The game quickly brings us up to speed based on the year we chose. The South took the momentum after the First Battle of Bull Run and the war began in earnest. Both sides are about equal as of right now.
As you can see, we're mostly concerned with the territories involved with the Civil War. The sleepy Mexican (it's a very Belgian thing to spread the stereotypes around evenly, just see Asterix) will occasionally bomb troops in Texas, while the Native American will tomahawk a random unit on any of those western states. Doesn't happen every turn, but just often enough to be irksome for either side.
As you can see, we're mostly concerned with the territories involved with the Civil War. The sleepy Mexican (it's a very Belgian thing to spread the stereotypes around evenly, just see Asterix) will occasionally bomb troops in Texas, while the Native American will tomahawk a random unit on any of those western states. Doesn't happen every turn, but just often enough to be irksome for either side.
Already shit's popping off as the Union moves troops into Tennessee. Each
Already shit's popping off as the Union moves troops into Tennessee. Each "event" in the game is accompanied by one of these animated cutaways. They look fairly good, though the actual animation is minimal.
The actual combat in this game has a wonderful simplicity to it. The player can quickly switch between cannons, cavalry and infantry, and each performs a different role on the battlefield. Cannons are devastating, but you need to fill up a power bar to a specific point to hit enemy units a distance away: the amount of precision required in the middle of a battle makes it hard to accurately remove units, especially the fast-moving cavalry, but it's of paramount importance that you remove the enemy's cannons with your own ASAP. The cavalry has no ranged attack, but are very fast and can move in a serpentine fashion to get into melee range of the other unit types. Infantry can fire a barrage of deadly bullets, but they need to get into range and moving infantry forces them in and out of formation, which makes them pretty slow.
The actual combat in this game has a wonderful simplicity to it. The player can quickly switch between cannons, cavalry and infantry, and each performs a different role on the battlefield. Cannons are devastating, but you need to fill up a power bar to a specific point to hit enemy units a distance away: the amount of precision required in the middle of a battle makes it hard to accurately remove units, especially the fast-moving cavalry, but it's of paramount importance that you remove the enemy's cannons with your own ASAP. The cavalry has no ranged attack, but are very fast and can move in a serpentine fashion to get into melee range of the other unit types. Infantry can fire a barrage of deadly bullets, but they need to get into range and moving infantry forces them in and out of formation, which makes them pretty slow.
In spite of all this, battles are frantic and over fairly quickly if the player can't quickly switch between units when necessary and full use of what units they have. A system like this also makes it possible for a smaller group to outmaneuver a much larger opposing force, as there's less juggling to be concerned with, which can lead to all kinds of upsets.
In spite of all this, battles are frantic and over fairly quickly if the player can't quickly switch between units when necessary and full use of what units they have. A system like this also makes it possible for a smaller group to outmaneuver a much larger opposing force, as there's less juggling to be concerned with, which can lead to all kinds of upsets.
Every turn a train will pass from one occupied state to another (the stations are represented as dots). If they successfully complete the journey, the player that owns the two occupied states earns some cash. With enough cash, they can purchase new units.
Every turn a train will pass from one occupied state to another (the stations are represented as dots). If they successfully complete the journey, the player that owns the two occupied states earns some cash. With enough cash, they can purchase new units.
This is a great stage if you have the advantage with cannons (or just prefer using them). You can remove the bridge with a well-aimed cannonball, forcing the enemy cavalry and infantry to make the far more precarious route across the landbridge on the bottom of the screen. On two-player mode, however, it can lead to a lot of standstills.
This is a great stage if you have the advantage with cannons (or just prefer using them). You can remove the bridge with a well-aimed cannonball, forcing the enemy cavalry and infantry to make the far more precarious route across the landbridge on the bottom of the screen. On two-player mode, however, it can lead to a lot of standstills.
In this situation, the Confederates have moved into a state that holds one of the priceless train station spots. In order to actually conquer this territory, they have to take over the fort in the game's other
In this situation, the Confederates have moved into a state that holds one of the priceless train station spots. In order to actually conquer this territory, they have to take over the fort in the game's other "action" mode. It's an awkward brawler/platformer mini-game in which you have to quickly make it to the flag before the time runs out - the player and timer are represented along the bottom as competing icons.
The opposing player - the fort's present occupier - can click to send out a trooper who will automatically try to stop the invader until they get knocked away. The invader can't be killed: the only way they'll fail is if they run out of time. The opposing player only has so many troopers to send out, so it's best to pick the most opportune times to send some interference your enemy's way.
The opposing player - the fort's present occupier - can click to send out a trooper who will automatically try to stop the invader until they get knocked away. The invader can't be killed: the only way they'll fail is if they run out of time. The opposing player only has so many troopers to send out, so it's best to pick the most opportune times to send some interference your enemy's way.
If the invader fails to reach the end in time, well, they don't take it on the chin.
If the invader fails to reach the end in time, well, they don't take it on the chin.
Because this game is a goof, you'll occasionally get the
Because this game is a goof, you'll occasionally get the "this side has earned more money" cutaway with the soldier standing in front of the safe instead of next to it, which knocks them off the screen when it opens. Does nothing to one's standing armies, fortunately.
In the rare case where one player owns both terminals of a train journey but an enemy soldier is occupying a state the train passes through, they have a chance to rob it.
In the rare case where one player owns both terminals of a train journey but an enemy soldier is occupying a state the train passes through, they have a chance to rob it.
These sequences play out much like the fort invasions, but are a little trickier: the robber can only climb up the train at certain points, and if they get knocked off (or mess up a jump) in the gaps between the train cars, they have to quickly run to keep up. Once again, the rival player has the chance to slow down the robber with a handful of troopers they can send out judiciously.
These sequences play out much like the fort invasions, but are a little trickier: the robber can only climb up the train at certain points, and if they get knocked off (or mess up a jump) in the gaps between the train cars, they have to quickly run to keep up. Once again, the rival player has the chance to slow down the robber with a handful of troopers they can send out judiciously.
Due to circumstances beyond my control - I decided to set this as a CPU vs. CPU match so I could focus on screenshots - the Confederates won after about three turns. Whoops.
Due to circumstances beyond my control - I decided to set this as a CPU vs. CPU match so I could focus on screenshots - the Confederates won after about three turns. Whoops.
This is a fantastic looking screen, though obviously it carries more than a little melancholy (not to mention historical inaccuracy, which the game is quick to call you out on).
This is a fantastic looking screen, though obviously it carries more than a little melancholy (not to mention historical inaccuracy, which the game is quick to call you out on).
In case it's not clear from the screenshot, as soon as you click to move past this
In case it's not clear from the screenshot, as soon as you click to move past this "utter defeat" screen, the guy on the right gets up and giggles at you. Damn you, Private B. Traya Esq.!

So that's North & South in an anachronistic nutshell. While it doesn't exactly sport the strategic complexity of any given Paradox Interactive game, it does offer some addictive multiplayer wargaming in brief and breezy sessions. If the action stages aren't to your liking and you want something closer to Risk, the game's built-in "board game" mode is happy to oblige you. While the diehard strategy games fans at the time didn't much care for it - remember, this was released on a number of home computers that were well represented by the sort of heavy, number-based strat-sims that became synonymous with "PC gaming" before Steam made it cool again - there were a generation of younger Civil War nuts (that can't be a very big group) that loved its simple but fun mechanics and goofy Gallic charm.

(Back to the ST-urday ST-orehouse.)

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Naoiko

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Didn't know this existed. Pretty cool article dude. =)

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BlackLagoon

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I played a bunch of the DOS version back in the day. It was pretty much all against friends, and none of us really knew much about how the strategy worked. It was just fun invading each others forts and robbing trains.

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bobafettjm

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Me and a friend used to play the NES version a ton. I actually just recently checked out a few minutes of that newer Steam version that came out a couple years ago.

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Very cool. This style of game seems a good fit for asynchronous multiplayer sessions on mobile devices - although, given Apple's recent reaction to the Confederacy controversy, perhaps not this game specifically.

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