Total War

Empire’s change in tactics through technology was on the right track

Empire: Total War might be redheaded step-child of the franchise due to bugs and 'incompleteness' (seriously, look up the missing and unfinished features!). But the time period and scope makes it one of my favorites. After seeing the polish in Napoleon and Shogun II one can only imagine what Empire could have been. One of the coolest things though was how technology affected game play features and how it sort of changed tactics.

When a campaign begins your infantry do not have bayonets and are vulnerable to cavalry charges; pikemen are useful to some degree early on. Artillery is also static and cannot move once deployed at the start of the game. Cavalry charges are viable because infantry are usually at their mercy, and they can ride down artillery positions.

But some technological advances give your infantry bayonets, and later square formation – both of which allow them to contend with cavalry, which makes cavalry charges obsolete, as well as pikemen usage. Artillery becomes mobile and can start being limbered/unlimbered and moved around the battlefield; different shot types are unlocked as well, like canister shot, which drastically affects how useful artillery can be. Dragoons can at least dismount and fight as infantry; carbines allow light dragoons to fire from horseback. I could go on about how cool other techs are – like Fire by Rank.

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But if you own Battle Cry of Freedom (or want to Google a PDF of it) you should flip to page 472 (depending on your copy) and read some excerpts from the Billy Yank's Chickahominy Blues chapter. Many officers in the American Civil War were educated at West Point, which stressed the works of Antoine-Henri Jomini (who fought in the French Army under Napoleon Bonaparte). Napoleonic tactics served the Americans well in their war with Mexico; offense was greater than defense.

With smoothbore muskets, infantry would move forward and fire in volleys, then charge the last few yards to break their opponent. Artillery could move forward with the infantry and soften up the enemy positions. Rifled muskets did have a greater effective range and accuracy, but they were slow and hard to reload and required more maintenance – which was disadvantageous except for select sharpshooter and skirmisher regiments.

Then the minie ball was perfected. The minie ball allowed rifled muskets to be reloaded much more quickly and easier. This was made evident by the French and British in the Crimean War. But it didn't become widespread until the American Civil War. In 1861, many Civil War soldiers used smoothbore muskets, but when the superiority of the rifle became evident the Federal army equipped their men with rifles in 1862. The Confederates were finally able to start equipping their own soldiers with rifles in 1863, once they smuggled or captured enough of them.

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Rifles drastically altered warfare. The new effective range and accuracy of infantry made charges obsolete. Artillery could no longer stay with the infantry lest they get picked off by riflemen. Cavalry charges, already obsolete by now, would certainly be decimated by rifle fire. Where offense originally trumped defense, rifles strengthened the tactical defensive. The rifle and trench came to dominate the Civil War.

I think there's definitely something here for a future Total War game, one that could focus on the waning years of the pike and shot era to the early modern period, and hopefully the Crimean War and even the American Civil War. A game where new technologies can affect the gameplay like we saw in Empire: Total War.

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