Mare Nostrvm Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in the review are the writer’s own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in any way.
Mare Nostrvm (Latin: “Our Sea”) is a turn-based hex grid naval battle wargame developed by Turnopia. Inspired by board wargames and ancient Mediterranean history, it is one of those games where a minimalist interface and plain graphics are a misleading cover for complex mechanics and a steep learning curve in gameplay.
Featuring a historically faithful single-player campaign and a robust skirmish generator in both single and multiplayer modes, Mare Nostrvm will appeal to either turn-based combat buffs or history buffs, but the former may not care much for the setting and the latter may be put off by the difficulty, which is non-negotiable.
The single-player campaign has a total of 24 battles across nine chapters and five centuries, which is more than enough to keep players busy for dozens of hours, depending on how tenacious they are about achieving at least a Tactical Victory in each battle, which is much harder than it might seem at a first glance.
The main interface features a beautiful map of the Mediterranean Sea styled as a ceramic mosaic, which fits in with the minimalist design and gives it a genuinely Roman aesthetic. The soundtrack is also obviously Roman martial music in brass tones. There is no in-game volume control, so be careful with loud headphones.
The tutorial is very much necessary; nodding through it will leave the player lost and unable to take full advantage of the mechanics based on the stats of ships. Movement is fairly straightforward, but not taking the ship’s stats into account when trying to grapple or ram into another ship will sometimes result in sinking failure.
And failure will be very, very common, probably even for experienced wargamers (which I’m not). It’s actually expected, as victory is not required to advance to the next battle of each chapter. In the first chapter I managed a tactical victory, a draw and a tactical defeat, which is not too shabby for the first 10 hours of playtime.
There is an admirable elegance to the design of Mare Nostrvm: the core mechanics are based on the WEGO or We-Go system, which executes turns simultaneously instead of the more traditional IGOUGO or I-Go-You-Go, which makes the game as realistic as it can get from a top-down perspective.
As such, it is nearly impossible to predict what the AI will do with each ship, and so coordinated movements of three or more ships are required to either grapple, ram, or halve their movement. Manpower must be taken into account for each maneuver, as it can either cripple or sink the enemy ship depending on the direction of the assault.
Turn movement execution could be a little faster; even when you fast-forward it is still very slow. The game could use more shortcuts and keyboard functionality; the Ctrl key with mouse selection would make movement less frustrating, at least when the ships are all facing the same direction and the flagship was lost.
A “next unit” button to find every ship that is available to receive orders would be extremely helpful in large battles, which tend to be very chaotic, making it hard to pin down exactly which units are stuck or out of combat. Micromanagement of fleets and ship stats can turn gameplay into a bit of a chore.
Mare Nostrvm was designed by Daniel López, a turn-based combat aficionado and Rome aficionado who also designed another Roman-themed game, Qvadriga. Daniel’s design style calls to mind Daniel Fedor, who developed NEO Scavenger, a turn-based hex grid post-apocalyptic roguelike RPG, also difficult and minimalist.
Available at $19.99, it will offer dozens of hours of challenge to obstinate wargamers with the single-player campaign alone. Multiplayer skirmishes can be set up through Slitherine, the game’s publisher, but the servers are empty most of the time, so multiplayer-oriented wargamers should take that into account.
As noted by RPS wargaming connoisseur Tim Stone, it has been decades since the last ancient naval warfare game (a 1985 DOS game called RAM!), which makes Mare Nostrvm quite unique in the currently crowded indie games market. It’s a very niche game, certainly, but as such it has no direct competitors and no equals.
- Challenging and rewarding gameplay
- Historically faithful overview of ancient naval warfare
- Long single-player campaign with ample replay value
- Unintuitive mechanics for beginners
- Somewhat lacking in keyboard functionality
- Often empty multiplayer server