Pride of Nations preview

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Stock up on moustache wax and Gatling Gun ammo, AGEOD are about to unleash an extraordinary colonial-era strategy game. Pride of Nations has the boldness of a young General Gordon and the bulk of an elderly Queen Victoria. It could capture the character of the 1850-1920 period better than any turn-based strategy yet.

The danger with such globe-spanning romps is that the empire-building ends up feeling generic, the timeframe irrelevant. PoN avoids this with clever, historicallysensitive play twists. This isn't one of those titles where you paint the world pink by marching armies across every inch of it. Even giants like Britain don't have the manpower and materiel to support massive wars. No, to win you must use military might like a scalpel, not a steamroller.

Scattered across the cellular map are a plethora of potential colonies. Bringing these under your wing is the key to victory. It's a gloriously subtle process. Every 15-day turn you can influence target territories by playing 'decision cards'. Not all of the 30 types are available in every situation, but in the same fortnight you could find yourself, say, organising an anthropological expedition in New Guinea, building a mission station in Burma, and bribing a chieftain in the Congo. Some actions are riskier than others. Act clumsily and you can end up nudging a region into the arms of a rival.

Colony cultivation will be a crucial aspect of the 1680-turn Grand Campaign, but will take a backseat in the shorter scenarios. The preview code includes a compact Russo-Japanese War challenge that reveals the AGE engine for what it is: a tried-and-tested conflict simulator. As in earlier outings such as Birth of America 2, martial operations are as simple as picking up an army, choosing a combat stance, and dumping it at a destination. However, the simplicity hides a wealth of detail. Supply chains, weather, terrain, fatigue, leadership quality... it all impacts combat outcomes. Though you never get to see the fiery belches of cannons or the glint of sunlight on bayonets, the drama is there, if you look for it, in the rows of narrative icons on battle reports.

In the blizzard-blasted battle of Wonsan (my last run-in with the Russians) General Nogi's army won an unlikely victory against a force twice its size. Scanning the icons I see the reasons. The Ruskies were exhausted and poorly led. Faced by Nogi's do-or-die aggression, they attempted to retreat twice, failing both times. In the chaos of melee even Cossack regiments lost their nerve and fled.

Whether you want to explore neglected 19th century conflicts, or shoulder the full 'White Man's Burden' [ Please don't write in – Period Flavour Ed] Pride of Nations is looking unmissable.