Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, a set of two CD-ROMs in English by GSC Game World, distributed with a 73-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows 98 and up and a Pentium IV PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 199 to NIS 219. - Rating: ****
Do you have a Napoleon complex? I mean, do you want to play a complex, real-time strategy (RTS) game set in the Napoleonic era some two centuries ago and featuring the undersized French general battling for control of Europe?
If you like being immersed in history, making tactical decisions and controlling masses of combatants and also have heaps of patience for small details and a good command of English, this program is for you. If not, you had better pass.
The word "cossack" doesn't evoke particularly good memories for the Jews: Cossacks, a people of southern European Russia and adjacent parts of Asia who]served mostly as cavalrymen during czarist times, weren't benevolent to the Jewish residents of these regions. But this highly animated disk - a sequent to an RTS set in the 17th and 18th centuries - is not really about them.
You can choose to fight for any of six powers - the French, British, Russians, Austrians, Prussians and Egyptians (although Napoleon was ready to settle Jews in the Land of Israel, he never managed to do so, and Israel is beyond the borders of the game's map). Aside from differences in names, uniforms, environments and architecture, there aren't many differences among the powers when you play.
This piece of software is somewhat reminiscent of another Hed Artzi-distributed game Alexander: Fortune Favors the Bold, an RTS offering that focuses on Alexander the Great and used the same excellent graphics engine as Cossacks II.
Learning to control hundreds of fighting infantry or cavalry men at once, keeping up their morale, using a variety of swords, bayonets and muskets, ensuring supplies of food (wasn't it Napoleon who said "an army marches on its stomach"?) and ammunition are a lot to juggle. Thus, before you begin the campaign, battle for Europe, skirmish, and multiplayer modes, you are best advised to take lessons via the on-disk tutorial, which is available at both sergeants' and more advanced officers' levels. Take note that when you return from officer training, you'll find that your father has been taken captive and your hometown has been pillaged. But take the course nevertheless, as the thick user's manual - with small Hebrew black print on a gray-and-white swirled background - is a pain to read.
The game is introduced by a segment from a live-action battle movie from the Napoleonic era (what film it was taken from is not given), and from time to time, videoclips of fighters wearing period costumes and preparing for battle appear in small boxes on the screen as a nice surprise.
All of the action is observed from a bird's eye view; gamers cannot zoom in at ground level and see their tiny soldiers face to face. Although this is a minus, the view from above not only helps you control troop movements more easily but also to enjoy scenic vistas of quaint homes, stately windmills, hectic factory buildings, sea currents and fog lifting from these scenes. In addition, no blood or disfigurement is visible.
Even more important than procuring enough food and gunpowder, you have to maintain troop morale, which rises when you defeat your enemies and declines when you're surrounded or pushed to your limit; if soldiers are demoralized, they will disperse to their barracks, forcing you to regroup. Placing a man with a drum in front of a unit to pound on it rhythmically or one bearing national flags will tangibly raise spirits. Also crucial is timing in giving orders to fire. You are best advised to maneuver your troops on roads and not over rough territory, as the effort tangibly exhausts them.
Surprisingly, Cossacks II is fought in enormous battles completely on land, and there isn't a single naval battle, so don't expect to hit the waves and participate in the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the major Napoleonic War clashes that successfully pitted Admiral Nelson's navy against French and Spanish ships.
Musical background is classical and not overbearing and the shooting sounds are authentic, but one of the weaker points of the disk is the voice acting: I laughed out loud when I heard an American-accented actor playing the role of a British commander.