Wargame Construction Set III: Age of Rifles 1846-1905
DOS - 1996
Description of Wargame Construction Set III: Age of Rifles 1846-1905
As pointed out in the comment, you can find additional resources on Age of Rifles on this site : http://aorlog.info/.
Another Thoroughbred from the Stable?
Many gamers will recognise the names of a few of the more reputable game designers and programmers; in the strategy arena there are a few with a proven track record, including Sid Meier, Gary Grigsby, and Norm Koger Jr, the author of Age of Rifles. What Norm offers his customers is not only that track record, which includes the prequel WCS II:Tanks!, but also an implied commitment to support his games, even to the extent of releasing "unofficial" patches beyond what the publisher would ask for. WCS II:Tanks! went through a stream of patches, some "beta" for testing and comment, before settling down to version 1.30. There's every reason to expect Age of Rifles to have the same pedigree and support.
What's my angle on Age of Rifles? Well, to be honest, the ACW period is not one which has interested me greatly before, and while I've played a fair amount of Napoleonic wargames, I'm coming to Age of Rifles looking to get interested and to find out more about the period and combat tactics. Perhaps the single most striking lesson I learnt is the surprisingly high casualty rate in such battles. While many people in commenting on the game are suggesting these rates are higher than the historic figures, the result is still excessively bloody. Yet the generals who directed the even higher carnage of World War One clearly didn't learn this lesson. Playing Antietam, the bloodiest of battles from the ACW, is rather sobering.
As the game covers 1846-1905, it has much greater scope than just the ACW, though that is clearly a main focus for it. There are campaigns covering the full 1846-1905 time frame, and of these the "Soldier Queen" campaign is of particular interest to me, as it covers the Crimean War, Zulu Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Also there are campaigns from the following wars: Franco-Prussian, Mexican-American, Russo-Japanese, Seven Weeks War (Austro-Prussian), and of course the ACW (West, East, or Full). The full ACW campaign includes 16 scenarios. There are about 60 individual scenarios.
Out of the Box
The glossy manual is of a good standard, running to some 80 pages. It includes unit/weapon listings, and a well-written tutorial which can be played through step-by-step online. The main features of the game system are well-explained, if not in great detail. Age of Rifles has a slightly messy install script, but it got the end result OK, taking up 45Mb on my hard disk. The reference card has a caveat on running under Windows 95 - it suggests you run from DOS mode. If you do try to run under Windows 95, which I did, you need a minimum 12Mb RAM, and you can't switch out of Age of Rifles without crashing the game. As with most applications under Windows 95 though, 16Mb is probably a wise minimum, and with RAM prices as they are, 8Mb is cheaper than a new game ...
The install script will only let you run from hard disk - the game data is compressed on CD; thus if you want to see the introductory movie, you must install it to HD. Worth seeing once though for its historical content, after which you can delete the 13Mb movie file.
While wargames can be played with minimal graphics (the old but timeless Battles of Napoleon is testament to this), gameplay is helped no end if the presentation is up to the mark. In Age of Rifles the graphics are clear and well-drawn. The main battle view is 10x6 hexes, which is enough to get a good view of most local encounters. I do miss the zoom feature of Steel Panthers - a view of 20x12 hexes would help in some cases, even if most artillery only has a range of 6 hexes or so. Range, though, in hex terms, varies with scenario - the game has three scales: 40 minutes per turn with 400 metres per hex, or 20 minutes/200 metres, or 10 minutes/100 metres. Thus in some battles you'll see tens of thousands of troops deployed, in others it will be much less.
With a wide range of terrain types well-represented, it's a shame that the terrain effect details are only listed in the online readme file (make sure you get the patch to at least version 1.01). Having said that, movement costs are clearly indicated as you "drag" your units to potential target hexes.
Unit graphics can be one of three types; conventional "board game" pieces with military symbols, "miniature" figures with (oddly) shiny sky blue bases, or "realistic" graphics showing troops as they would have been and in keeping with the terrain graphics. Age of Rifles has a number of tuneable options such as this, which help you get the game to run to your personal taste.
Each unit can have a "wallop" factor displayed beside it showing fire and melee strengths, as well as a flashing move indicator, and a coloured dot showing the unit's overall capability (from green down to red). The more capable a unit (based on it's training, morale, experience and vitality) the better it's performance in battle, and the more likely it is to pass a "capability" check in reaction to certain events.
The main game screen is split into three. The battle window is obviously the prime window; beneath that is information for the unit currently under the mouse pointer. Clicking on the left-hand soldier figures brings up the unit info window (see above); this gives lengthy details on the unit's status and the many factors which may affect it's performance. Clicking on the weapon graphic lists the weapon's lethality and it's effectiveness with range. Other icons let you do tasks such as change formation (at the cost of some movement points), deploy or recall skirmishers, mount or dismount (for cavalry/artillery), change facing (also easy to do with the right mouse button), and change firing orders (hold fire, free fire, fire at point blank, fire at nearby, fire if fired on). The "move bar" shows how many movement points the unit has left; the green part of the bar is normal movement, the yellow part represents points which can be used at the expense of possibly "winding" the unit.
The third part of the main screen is the vertical strip of icons down the right-hand side; these are not intuitive in what they do, but you soon learn them. They allow such things as command summaries to be displayed, unit's line-of-sight (LoS) to be viewed, stacking order to be toggled, orders scope to be switched (unit, stack, or whole command), and tactical maps and scenario status windows to be brought up. All useful stuff, and just a click away. The only slight snag is that unless you set the mouse scroll delay, the view window scrolls right as you move the mouse right to get to the icons. After a while though I found myself using the arrow keys to scroll the view and the mouse to act on units.
The sound quality is very good. The main game menus feature similar stirring war music to Steel Panthers ; being another SSI product it's possible the same guy did the music. In the battles you get music in keeping with the subject. This does mean that "Rule Brittania" chimes out in the British "Soldier Queen" campaign, but a bit of pomp never goes amiss. The sound effects are adequate, and, as with many similar products, what you'd expect. Certainly nothing to complain about.
The only down side to the overall presentation is the lack of glue to hold the scenarios together - campaigns jump rather uncerimoniously from scenario to scenario. Perhaps I miss the video clips and text from the likes of Steel Panthers, but something more could have been done here to smooth out the creases. The "gazetteer" (a section off the main menu listing historical info and weapons data) is also poor - being rather "cramped" in style rather than fullscreen. The content is there, but the presentation is not. This, however, is not a major criticism, but something the SSI team could improve.
So the game looks good in battle, but does it play well too? In short, it does, though a lot depends on which of the 12 or so rule options you're using, and which of the 5 difficulty levels you're trying. Tactically, the first point to note is that (in the games I played) your forces are predeployed for you. Some may arrive from off map, but in general you have to develop your devious strategies from wherever your units arrive, which is often quite challenging. Scenarios (optionally) have approximate turn limits (you never know exactly when a scenario will end), and these are relatively generous, so it pays to be patient in your plans.
There is a wealth of game rules which make Age of Rifles an interesting game to play. These include: formation changes, optional morale/supply/command/environment/vitality effects, variable turn initiative, skirmishers, fog of war, detachable leaders, variable reaction fire orders, stragglers, capturing guns, battlefield engineering, smoke and fire effects, (re)supply and command and control radii. And the good news is that these are all implemented in a pretty well-integrated fashion, which means you can concentrate on the more "important" tactical issues while letting the game model the effects.
It seems that a great deal of research has gone into developing the game. Certainly at least in ensuring that historically sensible tactics are those which work best. You want to deploy skirmishers at the right time, and recall them at the right time. You don't want to send your cavalry into free-firing enemy artillery kill zones. Picking the right formation (eg. marching column, attacking column, supported line, square) for the right circumstance is vital, but not all units are capable, or well-enough trained, to adopt every formation. Supported-line gives all round fire and melee strength and reasonable mobility, while marching column is excellent for quick movement but don't get caught exposed!
While it is a turn-based game, the reaction fire system allows the non-moving player a chance to fire on enemies who come too close. Reaction fire can be set for point blank, near, or free fire, or only in reply to being fired upon. Artillery is usually best set to fire at range, with infantry units set for closer fire, ideally with a "staggered" kill zone aimed at decimating approaching foes. Checking the game readme file will tell you that if you start up the game with the reactions+ argument you'll get much "freer" use of reaction fire. This may be more realistic in some senses, but will also put your units at risk of running out of ammo. Thus the right reaction fire orders to conserve ammo are important. The more a unit fires, the bigger it's chance of ammo depletion. However, a unit with a traceable route back to a supply point will likely be in good supply anyway.
Units are not superhuman; they have morale and are liable to be pinned by reaction fire, or rout if their overall capability drops into the orange or red zone. Leaders can affect units in their command radius; a good leader (with high competence, bravery and charisma) can prevent an otherwise likely rout, or can boost the morale of a flagging unit. The ability to move leaders between units can thus be important too.
Moving units is easy enough; you can "drag'n'drop" them to the desired location, and a small flag shows the associated movement cost. Keeping movement "in the green" helps preserve troop vitality, which can otherwise only be recovered by resting. With the "binocular" button selected, you get a continuous view of what the selected unit can see and fire upon, and how lethal that fire might be. You can move hex-by-hex, or all in one go, if you trust the game's movement algorithm not to divert you into the range of enemy guns (as it has done for me!).
To assault an enemy in melee you simply move onto it. You should ensure you have superior melee strength and capability to have the best chance of success, else it's likely your attack will bog down. By stacking your units, or moving through friendly units (which doesn't seem to create any noticeable penalty) you can concentrate a joint assault by fire and/or melee. A successful melee can force a defender to retreat, at which point your unit may (without your command) follow up and have the chance to assault again. Such follow-ups do, however, expose the attacker to reaction fire from new units that it sees.
Unfortunately, it seems that artillery cannot fire over friendly units at enemies. I had assumed that this would be possible, certainly with artillery firing at (say) an enemy 6 hexes (maybe 1200 yards) away over a friendly unit 3 hexes (maybe 600 yards) away, but the LoS is blocked so the artillery cannot fire. Perhaps this is historically accurate, but it makes artillery support something of a headache to plan, as after an initial barrage your artillery can't keep firing over your infantry as it closes in on the enemy position.
As you can't fire over friendlies, a kind of chess-like "exposed check" tactic emerges whereby you side-step an infantry unit to allow artillery a shot before moving the infantry back in line again. The fact that the LoS algorithm appears a little "out" doesn't help; eg. a unit in front and to the left of another unit appears to block off far more view than it perhaps should.
Despite these relatively minor oddities, the overall battle feel is good, and invariably entertaining. Having played Tanks! there's a definate familiar feel to Age of Rifles, yet in a rather refreshing way. Devising and executing the right tactics is fun, and you may often find the same plan doesn't work the same way if you replay a battle, which is an indication of the complexity of the various morale (capability) and other effects being calculated behind the scenes.
Perhaps my favourite encounter to date was when in the first scenario of the Mexican-Amercian war I led a Mexican cavalry unit right through the advancing American column, scattering troops left and right, leaving two accompanying cavalry regiments to swoop in and tear into the confusion, before artillery and infantry support tidied up the pieces. All over in 3 of 14 turns. Of course, the chances for such bravado are rare when facing readied artillery, but it's exciting stuff when it comes off.
The AI Challenge
There are five levels of difficulty, as well as various game rule options which can be toggled. This allows a pretty wide range of challenge, depending on what you want to face. For example, the full undo option is a powerful, um, "weapon" should you use it (then again, you can load and save at any point too). I found the medium (3rd of 5) setting with advanced rules to be enough of a challenge for me early on. I'm now on level 4 and hoping to move to the highest level soon, but it looks daunting. I think it's more useful to learn tactics with a more "forgiving" AI before facing the sterner virtual generals.
Some of the AI moves have been good. I've seen cavalry charges used well in counter-attack, for example. The crux of the AI performance is likely to be dictated to a large extent by the scenario designer and the way he or she places objective hexes and their associated values, and what orders the computer units get given. The general orders can include: attack, defend, scout, support, hold and wait. It's possible for units to have multiple objectives which is essence act as "waypoints", but weighting the objectives can alter behaviour. Thus each enemy command is trying to act in a relatively flexible way as set by the scenario designer; part of the skill in evaluating a battle situation is determining what these orders are - eg. Will that enemy just defend there? Where might those units be heading? From what I've seen of the computer player, it provides an interesting opponent, though it isn't prone to "sweeping" changes like unexpected and largescale tactical shifts in mid-battle, at least in the same way a human opponent might do.
I've given a hint of what the scenario editor can do in mentioning the way the AI behaves. The system is certainly quite flexible. The editing is split into three parts. The map editor lets you get artistic, or perhaps recreate a real battlefield, or you can press a button for a random map. Sadly, Age of Rifles has no random scenario generator, something which was nice in Tanks! and which I use a lot in Steel Panthers. At the time of writing (October '96) Norm Koger is rumoured to be working on including this in a future patch. There are a number of terrain tilesets, including temperate, savannah, jungle, arid and frozen. You can set the weather and timeframe for the scenario here, along with an implied (approximate) turn limit. You can freely annotate with text on the map.
Having got the map sorted, you then move on to the Order of Battle editor, ie. you select and create units to fight in the battle. Here you can assign unit stats (morale, vitality, experience, training and supply level), along with weapon types (at which point you can choose some very silly options!), then create leaders and set command structures. Created units can be cloned with the copy command to help build large forces that much quicker.
The last stages are then to set the supply points and objectives for each unit, and unit orders. Supply points can be either on-map, in which case they can be captured, or off-map, in which case they're represented by supply points on the map edge and they can be interdicted (cut off). Objectives can be set for each unit, in effect defining a potential movement path for the unit. Any objective with a point value set becomes a "flag" on map which can be captured in the battle. The unit orders, as mentioned above, can be varied, from defend, through hold, scout, support or attack. Units can also be set to be reinforcements, entering later in the battle. To test the scenario, you can set the game for computer vs computer play and watch the action unfold ...
There aren't many glaring problems with Age of Rifles. The casualty figures seem a bit high according to some sources, but battles have the right feel of ebb and flow as they progress. Units will take heavy casualties when they finally break and are eliminated; perhaps in reality more men either fled or were captured. Either way, this isn't a big problem unless you're a comitted purist. I'd be more concerned (morally) if casualty rates were too low.
The LoS algorithm seems a little "enthusiastic" at blocking your unit's views; this can be an irritation when things get "ugly" at close quarters. Perhaps some more tolerance to view through "edges" of hexes or smaller sized units would have been good. Also, as mentioned, the LoS rules hamper artillery, or at least make you use them in a different manner (which may be realistic of course).
Being a turn-based game, Age of Rifles will inevitably suffer the same problems as most other turn-based games. The reaction fire mechanism in part reduces these problems, but the "stop and go" effect is noticeable. Being turn-based does, however, lend Age of Rifles to play-by-email, and SSI have good support for pbem in the game; save files can be exchanged and your opponent can watch a VCR-style playback of your previous turn before making his/her moves.
The Final Volley
I think Age of Rifles will stay on my HD for quite a while; perhaps not as long as, say, Steel Panthers, or the imminent modern-day Steel Panthers 2, but it gives a good insight into the tactics and weaponry of the period, and despite covering a wide time span (over 50 years) it is flexible enough to represent battles in a number of very different campaigns.
Age of Rifles has given me a keen interest in the period, and got me thinking about a number of things. Longevity should be good with around 60 scenarios in 7 campaigns, plus the scenario editor and pbem support. Hopefully a random scenario generator will be released soon, as that will allow players to "dip in" to Age of Rifles for quick games. Overall, an impressive game with plenty of challenge.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Raider 2021-03-15 1 point
What are the additional files at the bottom of the screen?
I just double click START THE GAME.bat and everything works fine. All the scenarios are there including the Little Big Horn and the other scenarios you mention.
Montmorency 2021-02-15 0 point
Update - I did not see the added files at the bottom of the screen so after installing them everything is up and running fine including the expansion scenarios. So nice to be playing this wonderful game for the first time in about two decades.
Montmorency 2021-02-14 0 point
Thank you very much Turtler for your link. I downloaded it but the only problem is that the DOS display screen is small and will not allow me to maximize it when I right click the bar at the top. Is there a fix for this or a way around it? Also I am hoping to download or install the rarely mentioned expansion AOR Campaign disk. That is over 92 scenarios including the French Foreign Legion and the Battle 0f the Little Big Horn! I believe a long time ago I saw a website where a community offered mods from the builder that offered other Boxer Rebellion scenarios and the Boer War. Also the Alamo and the War of Texas Independence would be nice.
Raider 2021-01-21 0 point
Thank you very much, Turtler for the download link and assembling the complete version of this fantastic game. The version you uploaded works greats and has hundreds of scenarios.
Thanks again. You made my day.
Skip 2020-08-13 -2 points
I have downloaded several scenarios but can't get them to appear for choosing w/in the game menu. Help?
KC 2020-01-06 0 point
Now I have downloaded the other version of Rifles, not the ISO version, and I am having the same problem. The game loads, but then when I try to open the game, rifles.exe, I get an error stating no such file or directory exists. There are only four files you can open, and one is a readme.bat, and I have tried opening all four with no luck.
I am using DosBox, and I have tried using Boxer and am using a Mac.
Usually I can get a game to work with some imagination, but this time I am stumped.
KC 2020-01-06 0 point
This ISO version doe snot work with DosBox. It loads, but then afterwards it states there is no such file or directory.
Bolitho 2017-03-10 2 points
Turtler, you just made my day. I remember playing AoR for weeks on end on my 386 or 486. A long time ago that was. Thanks mate.
Turtler 2016-02-25 1 point
To everyone looking to get this game, I managed to jury rig a fairly easy to launch and very, very complete edition of the game. You can download it from the link here.
Hope you guys enjoy!
Regarding the casualty rates, I think people tend to overstate just how exaggerated they are. Certainly it is for the American Civil War and the like (and while I can understand some of the logic behind why an attack against a square with two units in it does more, the exact degree causes problems).
But from what I know, it seems to have hit a lot of the others dead on. In particular for things like the Colonial and mid/late 19th century European Wars. If anything I'd argue it might even be a bit understated against groups like the Zulu.
It also helps that most of the casualties you see aren't just killed, but also the wounded and missing.
ia 2016-02-21 0 point
AOR website with lots of information:
David 2014-04-30 -3 points DOS version
I downloaded and installed AOR through D-Fend, but it will not run. Other games run (but not all). Any suggestions?
Nicolas 2013-08-22 1 point DOS version
A site dedicated to this unforgettable game
A Wise Old Man 2013-02-19 -1 point DOS version
The casualty rates could have only been achieved in real life if each shot was a combination of wide-field fragmentation projectiles all laced with cyanide *and* anthrax. Not even the Andromeda Strain could have produced such ridiculous numbers. I think there may have been a tweak to reduce each weapon's damage, but the dips at SSI should have known better.
Jorgusson 2013-01-07 -1 point DOS version
I partly agree with AndyfromVA, but I think that it is still good game.
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