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The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3

DennisScimeca

Posted July 25, 2012 - By Dennis Scimeca

The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3

The American Revolution will make for an interesting backdrop to the Assassin’s Creed series, and the franchise’s fiction maps onto the Revolution nicely. The Assassins believe in individual freedom and rights. The Templars believe in providing order and control. Of course, Connor will be giving the hidden blade to Templars to either side of the war so that’s as far as that train of thought goes.

While Assassin’s Creed III doesn’t touch on all aspects of the American Revolution, there have been video games that used the Revolution as more than just a setting but as the heart of the game.

The Japanese developer Koei might be best known to modern-day video game audiences as the studio behind Dynasty Warriors, but since the mid-1980’s Koei has been producing and became famous for its “historical simulations” series. Liberty or Death is a turn-based Revolutionary War game released in 1993 for MS-DOS and in 1994 for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3

The player can fight for the American Continental Army or the British Army. The Colonies are broken down into 53 districts that either side may seize and control. The Americans win if they hold out until 1820 or seize all 53 districts, but the British can only win by seizing complete control of the Colonies.

While military conquest is the means to seize districts, the player also has to manage the war effort through either the Continental Congress or the British House of Commons. Officers have to be paid in gold, and the Americans need to build their navy from scratch. The British begin the game with a navy and can hire mercenary regiments like German Hessians from the outset.

Liberty or Death is a pretty hardcore simulation. Each district has to be managed individually. Domestic policies like holding parades or distributing pamphlets can raise support for the military, supplies can be shared with neighboring districts, and officers commanding a district can borrow gold from local investors to help fund the war effort. Troops have to be supplied with food, gunpowder and arms, and districts can build cannons and boats. The player can recruit new regiments or bribe enemy officers into switching sides, reforming damaged regiments, and training them for battle.

Battles take place on hex-maps and are fought with infantry, cavalry, guerillas and cannon-armed engineer units. Terrain is important and a day/night cycle plays into tactics. Commanding officers also have effects on regimental performance and an extensive list of potential officers for both sides is drawn from the history of the Revolution. French and Spanish armies can eventually be brought into the war on the side of the Americans if treaties are signed. The key for a British victory is to win the war early before the Americans gain strength, and the Americans mostly need to hold out against the initial British superiority until it becomes increasingly difficult for the Crown to field reinforcements.

The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3

American Conquest is a real-time strategy game that stretches over 400 years of American history, beginning with the arrival of the Spanish in 1492 and ending in the middle of the 19th century. The game isn’t specific to the Revolutionary War, but the title does include battles set in that time period. The engine is based off a previous game called Cossacks and therefore has some weird mechanics that don’t quite mesh with Colonial America like requiring “peasants” to create other units, but if you’re looking to set a horde of American soldiers in Revolutionary War period costume against some British redcoats in an RTS environment, American Conquest will do the trick.

There aren’t many commercial titles set during the American Revolution, but the mod community has helped fill the gap. The American Revolution mod for Total War adds new textures and units for American, British, Spanish, Hessian, French and American Indian units, and five campaigns set specifically during the Revolution.

Battle Grounds 2 is a Half-Life 2 multiplayer mod that allows players to fight as members of the Continental Army or British Army using muskets and bayonets. The original Battle Grounds mod was released in 2006. Battle Grounds 2 was released in 2009 and is still being developed and updated. Forming lines and slowly reloading muskets certainly puts the idea of an “old-school” shooter into different perspective.

The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3

These are all games that focus on the military conflict of the Revolutionary War, but not any of the social or political issues at the heart of the American Revolution. For that we turn to Mission US, a free interactive multimedia game that takes a much more sedate approach but also gives us more to reflect on for the Fourth of July.

Mission US is laid out similarly to an old-school adventure game. The game is more about exploration and dialogue sequences than mechanics, but the story gives players a chance to negotiate some of the thorny aspects of the American Revolution. We should be clear that this is a game intended for a younger audience, but if you’re interested in the Revolution it’s worth checking out.

This Revolution was not a black-and-white affair, nor was it a popular revolution. Only a third of the Colonials revolted against the Crown, with another third declaring their Loyalty for England (some of whom fled to British Canada), and the final third sitting the conflict out. Mission US takes place in 1770 and puts the player in the role of a 14-year-old named Nathaniel Wheeler who moves to Boston to become a printer’s apprentice. Nathaniel is faced with the rising tide of public opinion against the British, but also plenty of Bostonians who are quite okay with the Crown’s presence in the city.

The quests in Mission US are simple, like selling advertisements for the Boston Gazette, the newspaper produced by the printer to whom Nathaniel is apprenticed, Mr. Ewes, or shopping for materials for Ms. Ewes to make homespun thread rather than purchasing from importers. The player can choose to support the Crown by purchasing goods from importers or only buy goods from Patriots who refuse to provide import taxes for the British and instead smuggle their goods into the Colonies.

Regardless of how the player chooses, Mission US concludes with an epilogue about the Boston Tea Party, the British retreat from Boston, and the battles at Lexington and Concord. One of the two extras is a quiz that’s clearly meant for younger-age students. There’s also a hilarious mini-game called Pennywhistle Hero where the player performs Revolutionary-era music using the same rhythm mechanics as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Mission US is clearly a serious game versus an entertainment product, but if you want to know what set the stage for all the strategy, tactics and gunplay in the other games on our list, Mission US can be played through in an hour or less.

The History of Revolutionary War Games -- Moving Beyond Assassin's Creed 3
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