This is a big game. Let me qualify that. Cossacks is huge – “so much to do and so little time” will be a recurring thought while playing, and for two good reasons. Within the game, you have to build up your towns, armies, and economy before the enemy is at the gates. Outside the game, in the real world, the sun can drop and rise many times before you realise that you’ve been playing for FAR TOO LONG and still only just begun.Cossacks-Back to War is a “gold” package from Ukrainian developers GSC Gameworld and German publishers CDV Software Entertainment. It is a stand-alone game and does not need the original Cossacks. For your money you get everything barring the fur hat and knee-length leather bootsThe original Cossacks – European Wars missions All the missions from the Cossacks-Art of War add-on pack New missions and two new countries 20 nations to play for – this includes now defunct states like Prussia and Venice A rich map and mission editor (more on this later) An Encyclopaedia of historical events, architecture and military technology The gratifying and disturbing ability to train and recruit soldiers and send them to their deaths A much greater appreciation of stone, iron, gold and wood 2 new nations: Switzerland and Hungary with of 8 new units One of the main selling points of this add-on is the two new races and the new units that come along with them. The Swiss have the halberdier, lance knight with sword, harquebusier, 18th century warrior, light cavalryman of the 18th century (mounted chasseur), 18th century chasseur. The Hungarian armies also include the Militiaman, frontiersman, Pandur, mounted Pandur and camel-mounted Bedouin. While the new units are well and good its more to get your head round in this already massive game.What’s it all about?Like the previous titles, the aim of the game is to build up a strong economy so you can wage war successfully against your neighbours. Or you can build up a strong economy so that your rich, mighty army can convince neighbours to become allies. So, a strategy of aggression or accommodation is yours to decide upon, but the base of your success will be your economy. Have I stressed that clearly enough? The Cossacks economy is based on natural resources and exploitation of labour. Stone gets quarried, forests get chopped, fields get planted, gold and iron get mined. The more you have, the more you can do with it. As you build up your stockpiles more building and unit types become available – Town Halls, Churches, Barracks, a research Academy, defensive walls.Onto the fighting. Your warriors consist of soldiers of varying types, starting typically with the trusty pikeman. Groups of pikemen tend to need a drummer to make sure they all move together and perform well. Each group of soldiers can be set into a formation and put into ready states (e.g. patrolling an area or guarding buildings). Your pikemen can be used together with musketeers (complete with ridiculous hats) and also, when things get desperate, peasants. Peasants are valuable soldiers and when used en masse can definitely make a difference. Remember that the aim here is to win, not look pretty, and peasant armies are a nice historical touch. Of course if you really want to make a splash you can bring in cannon, cavalry and even hot-air balloons (!). There is a lot to play with and it’s all good fun. There are also naval units – galleons, galleasses, galley slaves and of course naval battles. Trading and fighting at sea make the game so much richer and exciting. A galley, for example, lets you blockade a port, attack troops with ship cannon, and destroy buildings deep inland.The battles are colourful, intense, and exciting. If only you didn’t have to concentrate so hard it would be great to sit back and enjoy the show; the battles, especially the REALLY LARGE ones, are carnivals of destruction. Cannonballs smash into tightly bunched cavalry. Ranks of musketeers cut down lines of spearmen at 20 paces. The game editor is fun to use, fairly quick to pick up, and lets you create and share your own worlds and missions. The history and setting are also refreshing. I urge schoolteachers and pupils to petition their school network administrators to buy this game and make it compulsory to play. It is a brilliant introduction to Modern European History and the basics of economics, warfare, and smashing churches with cannon fire.Multiplayer Action You can play over LAN or the internet via GSC-Game.Net, GameSpy or through direct TCP/IP. Multiplayer games naturally focus on the battles – whether historically inspired or pure deathmatch scenarios. Prepare to be slaughtered; there are a lot excellent players out there (and this reviewer isn’t one of them). Multiplayer action is what gives a game like this a longer lifespan and a huge following. There is a large community of gamers whose lives seem to be completely given over to playing Cossacks, talking about it, giving advice, and creating and uploading their own missions and maps.Map EditorThe “Mighty Cossacks Engine” is what drives the map and mission designer/renderer. The map editor is accessible from within the game, and allows you to create your own worlds and scenarios. First you need to set out the topography. Using brushes (much in the way of Bryce or Illustrator) you can add and remove water, grow hills, plant trees. Then units – serfs, cavalry officers, cardinals and so on. Each nation has its own mix of unique units (like Musketeers or Don Cossacks), and the nation you choose determines which unit types will be available.Once you’ve laid down the land and the people it is time to lay down the law of the mission. There are various action triggers which can be set to fire either when a given amount of time has passed, or when particular units enter a given zone. The actions triggered will be computer driven: an ambush, a counter attack, victory, the enemy retreating before your foppish musketeers.EncyclopaediaA Cossack salute (how does that go?) to the game makers for including an online history of the epoch and events that form the background to this game. The encyclopaedia is full of good useful stuff, like, battle tactics, research paths for obtaining military and other technology, potted histories of the nations in the game
and clear, interesting descriptions of fighting unitsConclusionThis is not a quick fix for a gaming itch, but then again it doesn’t aim to be. A lot of love and attention to detail have gone into this game. It demands the same investment from the gamer. At times the game can also feel like hard work. I sometimes asked myself whether this was supposed to be fun. I could have got all the stress, failure, challenges and disasters by staying at the office. This is a jealous game. It wants you all to itself. There is no room for friends & family, work & study, sleep & personal hygiene. Only the next battle counts, and the next raid on a village. So what for the casual gamer, someone who only has half-an-hour to spare at the end of a day? Well, my advice is, quit your job, ditch your partner, become a full-time Cossack.Furry hats off to the Ukrainian developers for producing a solid game that can be played for all eternity. It stands up well against the legacy of trendsetting games like Caesar 2/3, Pharaoh, and Age of Empires. Cossacks back to War isn’t a trendsetter itself, it does its job admirably and expands on the already popular previous titles, but it is just more of the same.