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Topic: PC Game Review: HPS's Renaissance

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30 MAR 2009 at 5:35pm

Sigma One


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Posted In: Articles : PC Game Review

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The period 1500 to 1610 saw changes not only in intellectual and cultural matters but was also a seminal period for military affairs. Firepower began to seriously challenge shock combat as the dominant force on battlefields. Tactics for the deployment of firearms and field artillery were the target of much examination. HPS and John Tiller have undertaken to seriously examine this fascinating time with the first installment of the Musket & Pike series, The Renaissance.

Graphical Regrets

Renaissance armies were a varied and colorful lot with plumes, armor, and bright colors. Attempting to display such a cavalcade in 3D seemed a possible waste of time for a game dealing with an underappreciated period. Not unexpectedly, units and terrain are in 2D. Many players play most of these games in 2D, but 3D views can be invaluable in judging facing, formation, terrain and line of sight. Moreover, the 2D icons are not standard and, without a close zoom function, are difficult to see. Uniforms, facing and formations as well as weapon, morale, fatigue, and movement points are in the unit info box. Alas, these boxes have problems of their own. When units are selected, the some backgrounds of some boxes can be so bright as to overwhelm important data. Another disappointment is that artillery units only show gunners, not the unusually shaped guns. Better graphics are promised if the series prospers.

The game is well-documented, although the optional rules explanations were absent from the release version, through PDF files viewed by using the windowed format for access. Sound is fine with arrows whishing, arquebus and cannon blasting, and charging men screaming. Unfortunately, the long-standing bug of melee noises going into an unstoppable loop, forcing a save, exit and restart, remains.

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 A zoomed in view of the city of Pavia with its fixed garrison. Note the cannon and arquebus troops at the bottom.

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Zoomed out, the besiegers of the city and a relief column are shown.

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The jump map shows not only the city but the park where the crucial battle of Pavia was fought.

Push of Pike

The basic mechanics of the turn-based system is retained ad described in www.wargamer.com/article/1273/Napoleonic-Battles-3:-Campaign-Wagram

The scale is hexes of 100 meters, turns of fifteen minutes and units number from 35 to over a thousand men. Individual leaders affect morale and the ability for disordered and routed units to reform. What marks The Renaissance as different from the Napoleonic games are different formations, units, and clever mechanics embedded in parameters that give it an extremely unique flavor.

Renaissance warfare was a laboratory mixing the status quo ? cavalry, the resurgent old ? infantry and the new ? firearms. Cavalry is represented by eight different types, ranging from variations on the stock heavily armored knight to lighter troops armed with spears to mounted ranged weapon carriers using everything from short bows to early pistols. Heavy cavalry can triple their effectiveness by going into a ?charge? formation and moving in a straight line. Dragoons have firepower and can fight dismounted in some scenarios. Light and irregular cavalry are almost ubiquitous as skirmishers, either impeding enemy movement or warding off small bodies of archers and gunmen.

The resurgent infantry of the period is typified by Swiss pikemen and their German counterparts, Landsknechts. These troops used shock combat to disrupt and break all kinds of formations in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although their supremacy waned in the late Renaissance. Their column attacks could be irresistible and, when formed in blocks, they could deal with cavalry in a vicious manner. The game allows the ?block? formation which is almost immobile but is the only infantry formation that can melee mounted units. Variations of the pike formations are the halberd and English bill troops. The shock combat counterpart to the pike is the Spanish sword and buckler soldiers, able to slip under the long weapons and savage their bearers.

Six kinds of infantry missile troops are included. Of particular note are the longbow and arquebus. The longbow is used exclusively by English armies and is not only devastating to targets but can be used in an indirect fire role. Arquebuses are the first firearm used widely in field armies. Although slow to load, they had a cost and time advantage in that gunners did not need to have the years of training or physical strength of long bowmen. Use of arquebuses became more prevalent as their ability to disrupt enemy formations became more apparent. The casualties they inflicted weren?t yet as important as the damage these firearms could do to morale. Rarer firearms are the musket and very early rifles. An understandable glitch in the game engine is that pike and arquebus units are ?pure? when, in fact, pike units of the age always had a number of arquebuses that would increase with time. A way to compensate for this is to stack the two types.

Field artillery was the infant terrible of the period. Everybody realized it should be useful but nobody was sure how to use it. Seven different cannon are in the game with exotic names like ?saker? and ?falconette?. These cannon are rated for caliber, mobility, and range. Collected into small batteries of three to six guns, these pieces are not devastating at any range over two hundred meters, and they could not be fired together within fifteen minutes. However, the game shows show their effectiveness grew over time. Cumbersome, some are fixed in position for specific battles. More importantly, a special rule mandates a ?set up? period after unlimbering when the battery has only a 33% chance at first of becoming functional with better chances the second turn. Guns can be captured and used by enemy forces.

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This view of Flodden Field shows the Scottish army before it destroys itself

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Troops from two Turkish armies are colorful.

All of these troop types are featured in the game?s 112 scenarios that include 45 historical battles and their alternate scenarios covering the period from 1495 to 1603. Also included are twelve hypothetical encounters, representing small meeting engagements. Five branching campaigns allow players to make crucial operational decisions. All major powers and many minor ones clash in this mix, thereby making players break from their usual tactical paradigms.  A mixture of arquebuses and pike calls for very different handling than bayonet-capable muskets or even Roman legionnaires. A profusion of paid mercenaries creates more A and B quality units than usual.  These elite troops can stop a more numerous foe. An emphasis on formation makes disorder from movement and formation change more common so that attacks by smaller formed units can overwhelm much larger but disordered formation. In short, these battles are not your father?s game engine.

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The context of a campaign is explained

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A decision point in a campaign

Replay is assured through data and order of battle files that are much easier to edit and create. PBEM and LAN play are possible but battle-specific scripts improve the AI.

The Renaissance is a ground-breaking game. One could wish the graphics were better, but the innovative rules, the dazzling number of unit types and the chance to try new tactics with unfamiliar force mixes should tempt any tactical gamer. Break out of those Napoleonic/American Civil War/ World War II shells and play a fine game where the outcome is as experimental for gamers as it was for the soldiers of the period.

System Requirements


Minimum Specs


Reviewer's Specs


Pentium-based 1GHz PC


256 MB RAM


300 MBs disk space


Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista


MicroSoft DirectX 9.0


Windows XP home
       2.08 GHz AMD Athlon XP
       1 GB RAM
       NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GS
       80 GB hard drive
       DirectX 9.0c


About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Ganesquad and Gaming Chronicle.

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