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Updated: 11 hours 24 min ago

Tomorrow's War: You Made Me Do This (Revisited)

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 01:49

Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a blog entry entitled "You Made Me Do This!" In a nutshell, it was my rant about the terrible state of PC gaming. At the time I had every intention of checking out of PC gaming and devoting my free time to board games and miniatures, something I hadn't done since the mid to late '90s. Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Shortly after setting up my first game of Tomorrow's War, I became ill and had to let it sit fallow for a few weeks. By the time I felt better, the madness of the holidays had arrived and I just didn't have time. Then the holidays passed, and while I did finish painting a few more miniatures, I never did recover the impetus to return to the game.

Winter turned to spring, spring turned to summer and, as is usually the case, summer turned to autumn, and now here I am, right back where I started. With the exception of needing to clear off some dust, and making a few repairs (I am discovering rubber cement cannot be trusted), the game board is almost exactly as I had left it. Seeing how PC gaming has only marginally improved over the last year, this has proven fortuitous as I am, once again, seeking an exit.

So let's return to this futuristic battle, shall we? It is long past due for this battle to be resolved!

Notes:

1) Obviously, all images are heavily touched up. I have done this because a) I have become addicted to fancy PC gaming screenshots (LOL), and b) I am just a beginning miniatures player, so both my artistic skills, as well as my paltry collection of minis and terrain, need all the help they can get! Plus, I like the graphic novel look I came up with.

2) I make no pretense about the accuracy of my rule interpretations. I am finding Tomorrow's War to be a bit hard to digest at first. I am also finding myself deliberately changing things just to suit my own sensibilities. One of the great things about non-PC gaming is that I can tinker with the 'programming' all I want!

3) I added graphical snow and, sometimes, a bluish tint to the images because I love winter fights when it comes to a sci-fi setting.


With that out of the way, let's begin!





This is based on Lost & Found, the infantry-based training scenario found in the rule book. Here, a technologically superior USMC force (on the left of the board) needs to cross a river and rescue a downed fighter pilot who is sheltering in some ruins. A force of technologically inferior DPRG troops (deployed on the right of the board) are going to attempt to stop that from happening by ambushing the Marines.

I began by sending Fire Team 3 from its patch of wooded ground in an attempt to cross some open terrain and make it to the crashed fighter (the fighter is my personal addition to the original set-up). Meanwhile, Fire Team 2, which was hunkering down in the same patch of woods, would provide overwatch fire if needed.

As they left the woods, Fire Team 3 came under heavy fire from a five man DPRG squad that was hiding in the patch of woods on the far right of the game table. My overwatch team preempted their ambush by bringing them under heavy fire:




The more advanced technology of the Marines made a big difference in this long range shoot-out: they inflicted casualties on the enemy, stopping their ambush, and pinning them down. The Marines received no casualties in return.

While that fight was taking place, Marine Fire Team 1 to the far north quietly made their way to their first objective, a patch of trees crowning a small hillock, meeting no resistance.

Before the battlefield could completely quiet down, however, the enemy decided to make a move of their own. A large, seven man squad, including an officer, departed some ruins and made a quick run at the ruins where the pilot was hiding. Their intention seemed not to be to capture the pilot, but to make a firing line along a low brick wall the lined the property, something that could prevent any attempted river crossing. Fire Team 2 spotted the movement and open fire on the column of troops:




Again, the superior technology of the USMC weaponry took a heavy toll on this unit, pinning it down and inflicting casualties while receiving none in return. So far, the Leather Necks were in control of the situation!




A medic was attached to the DPRG squad that was caught moving to the stone wall, something that helped lessen the severity of the casualties.




The medic (front) treats the man behind him (standing on a wound marker) while the CO orders everyone forward!

The most seriously wounded were stabilized, while the lightly wounded were stitched up and returned to duty. Good thing, too, because they were going to need it!

The next few minutes of combat were furious as every DPRG soldier opened fire on Fire Team 3 as they attempted to cross the open ground and, eventually, ford the river and make it to the pilot's location. Fortunately, Fire Team 2 was still on the ball and delivered devastating overwatch support to interrupt many of the planned DPRG ambushes:




Superior technology continued to prove decisive for the USMC. Nonetheless, it was only a matter of time before the tremendous volume of low-tech enemy fire took their toll on the Marines. Fire Team 3, as it neared the crossing, took its first casualty.



A DPRG team preparing to ambush USMC Fire Team 3 as it approached the crossing


The team leader was seriously injured by the squad of DPRG troops that was sheltered near the pilot's building:




Their morale held, but would they be able to make it the rest of the way with such a badly wounded man? Guess I would find out!

Despite successfully wounding the team leader for FT3, the situation looked grim for the DPRG. Casualties were mounting, and morale was breaking. Surely the Marines would be able to dash across the river, snatch the pilot, and get back to base in time for dinner!

Well...not so fast. Even though the superior USMC tech had been savaging the DPRG, their troops were still a tough, committed lot. They weren't going to allow these leathernecks to just waltz into their territory and snatch a high value target! Whether by willpower or, more likely, by the threatening muzzle of their CO's sidearm, the DPRG suddenly roused themselves into action. In an unexpected flash of fury, the DPRG regained the initiative from the USMC and unloaded on Fire Team 3. Their fire was so intense that Fire Team 3 was forced to abandon their attempt to cross the river, and needed to flee for their lives!



These DPRG troopers mock the retreating Marines. On a nearby hill, a USMC squad leader can be seen calling FT3 into cover
Even Fire Team 2's overwatch proved ineffective. In a rare reversal, the dependable Fire Team 2 proved ineffective against the enemy. This left Fire Team 3 totally unprotected. Enemy fire nipped at their heels the whole way back to cover:



But the DPRG wanted blood this day. Even though the Marine fire team made it to some light cover in the form of sheltering pine trees, the DPRG fire exacted a heavy toll as the seriously wounded team leader would be hit again, this time fatally:



The Marines had suffered their first KIA of the battle. Fire Team 3 was now thoroughly shot up. One man KIA, one man seriously wounded, it was down to half strength and incapable of fulfilling its mission.

If the news was bad for Fire Team 3, the USMC did get some good news further north. Fire Team 1 had managed to gain the upper hand in an attack launched by a DPRG team on the opposite hill. This attacked proved to be a very bad idea as the DPRG squad wound up with three severely wounded men, one lightly wounded man, and just one man intact. This enemy squad wouldn't be much of a factor anymore.

A calm descended on the battlefield, leaving both sides to lick their wounds. The SITREP:




The original USMC plan was now in tatters as FT 3 was no longer in any condition to rescue the pilot. It looked like Fire Team 1 might have to leave the fringes of the battlefield and attempt a crossing at the ford located further north, near a lake.

With time running out, the success of this mission hung in the balance!

With Fire Team 3 being a shadow of its former self, Fire Team 1 took the lead. Taking the initiative back from the DPRG, Fire Team 1 dashed from cover and quickly forded the northern crossing. They were covered the whole way by Fire Team 2. Good thing too, as every unit still capable of firing on the DPRG side did so! Fortunately, Fire Team 3 continued to provide deadly accurate fire, pinning almost every unit that tried to make trouble for the would-be rescuers. The plan worked: Fire Team 1 made contact with the downed pilot shortly before 1530z hours. The celebration was short lived though as the DPRG squad that successfully fought off the crossing by Fire Team 3 now made a furious charge and attempted to smash FT 1 in hand to hand combat. The remnants of FT 3 and the overwatch team opened fire in an attempt to pin them in place before they could do much damage:




The USMC overwatch team was as deadly as ever, killing the DPRG leader mid-stride, and pinning the rest of the team. Emboldened by the awesome "can do!" attitude of their fellow Marines (officially, a "It's a Good Day to Die" Fog of War card), Fire Team 1 redoubled their efforts to bring back the package. Grabbing the pilot, Fire Team 1 let loose one last volley at the pinned enemy before attempting a getaway:




Meanwhile, in the north, the savaged DPRG squad's morale finally broke - no surprise with one dead, three seriously wounded, and just one effective! Disgusted, they trudged through the snow and left the battlefield:



It was the result of a Fog of War card called "It's a Bad Day to Die" - I reinterpreted it to mean a complete rout for this badly hit squad

This was now crunch time for the DPRG. If they didn't stop Fire Team 1 from getting away with the pilot, they never would. With the unit CO killed the previous turn, it was up to the squad leader to rally the men. With a bellow, the DPRG squad picked themselves up from the ground and charged through the snow at their USMC enemies once more. Fire picked men from their ranks, but they managed to close with the enemy nonetheless:




But it proved to be not enough. The full strength USMC fire team was ready for a fight and met the enemy gun barrel to gun barrel, iridium bayonet to iridium bayonet. Despite their best effort, the DPRG squad was beaten to ground again, this time losing yet another member of the squad, with the rest receiving various injuries. It was too much. The DPRG had to break contact. The USMC fire team was free to take their charge across the river:




Liars! With their last rounds of ammo, the DPRG squad attempted once more to pin the Marines but failed miserably due to their casualties. All they really accomplished was to get another squad member killed as he attempted to rush across the ford.





Fittingly, it was the shot-up Fire Team 3 that stopped the attempted rear attack. They might not have been able to complete their mission to get the pilot, but they certainly helped Fire Team 1 get the job done!

And with that, Operation Lost & Found came to an end as the remaining DPRG squads were all rendered combat ineffective due to casualties sustained during the course of the battle. Victory for Charlie Squad of 1st Platoon!


Casualties


USMC DPRG
Dead 1 11
Seriously Injured 1 9
Lightly Injured 1 1

Overall, I really don't have any thoughts on what I might have done differently as the DPRG player. This was a messy play-through as I was just too busy coming to grips with the rules to have keenly focused on the optimal tactics. Truth be told, I often just threw the troops at each other to see how the rules worked! I will say that the quality difference between the USMC and the DPRG definitely swung the balance in favor of the Marines. Even though the DPRG had far more troops, a d8 roll for the Marines versus a d6 for the DPRG was just too great an advantage at times, hence all the DPRG casualties. Still, I like to think that the DPRG put up a good fight nonetheless!


Concluding Thoughts


Wow, that was tough! This PC gamer isn't used to doing so much work myself to play a game. Usually I just sit back and punch buttons. LOL! Being in total control of a game - not just moving the pieces, but also applying the appropriate rules and calculating the results - can be a shock to the system after having a computer do the heavy lifting all these years. Still, it was a refreshing experience because it was nice to have such control. Not having to wait for a dev to fix a bug or tweak a sub-optimal rule is a breath a fresh air (seems like PC gaming these days is 25% gameplay, 75% waiting for a patch). Also, knowing just why a certain result was reached - that is, seeing all the usually behind-the-scenes calculations for yourself - makes for a much more transparent experience. I found these factors made this a much more memorable gaming experience.

As for Tomorrow's War itself, I have to say that I find the rules to be a bit cumbersome. Even though each part of the game is relatively straight forward, I find putting it all together can get confusing at times. I think this might be do to how dicey the game is. A d6 for this, a d10 for that, an initiative die for this, and quality die for that...it can all get very muddled. I think I would have appreciated some streamlining abstractions instead as having to constantly recall which die, not to mention how many of them you need for a roll, can be a pain. Still, I have no regrets about trying this system. And I am looking forward to seeing how vehicles are handled....

Speaking of, that is the next chapter in the book that I need to learn. However, I don't think I will be getting to it any time soon because I haven't even began to paint the three tank miniatures I received as a gift last Christmas, and I doubt I will get to do so anytime soon what with the Christmas rush kicking off NOW. Not only that, but having the infantry portion of the game sitting on my table for so long has made me a bit tired of looking at this particular game (this is no fault of TW, of course!). LOL! So I think I will shelve this minis adventure for a bit and explore the many, many other board / minis games out there in the short term. Still, I am eager to return to Tomorrow's War ASAP!

[This is cross-posted from my main blog. For a slightly more in depth retelling of this battle, visit here: http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/2...revisited.html
Categories: Blogs

Tomorrow's War: You Made Me Do This Revisited

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 01:49

Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a blog entry entitled "You Made Me Do This!" In a nutshell, it was my rant about the terrible state of PC gaming. At the time I had every intention of checking out of PC gaming and devoting my free time to board games and miniatures, something I hadn't done since the mid to late '90s. Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Shortly after setting up my first game of Tomorrow's War, I became ill and had to let it sit fallow for a few weeks. By the time I felt better, the madness of the holidays had arrived and I just didn't have time. Then the holidays passed, and while I did finish painting a few more miniatures, I never did recover the impetus to return to the game.

Winter turned to spring, spring turned to summer and, as is usually the case, summer turned to autumn, and now here I am, right back where I started. With the exception of needing to clear off some dust, and making a few repairs (I am discovering rubber cement cannot be trusted), the game board is almost exactly as I had left it. Seeing how PC gaming has only marginally improved over the last year, this has proven fortuitous as I am, once again, seeking an exit.

So let's return to this futuristic battle, shall we? It is long past due for this battle to be resolved!

Notes:

1) Obviously, all images are heavily touched up. I have done this because a) I have become addicted to fancy PC gaming screenshots (LOL), and b) I am just a beginning miniatures player, so both my artistic skills, as well as my paltry collection of minis and terrain, need all the help they can get! Plus, I like the graphic novel look I came up with.

2) I make no pretense about the accuracy of my rule interpretations. I am finding Tomorrow's War to be a bit hard to digest at first. I am also finding myself deliberately changing things just to suit my own sensibilities. One of the great things about non-PC gaming is that I can tinker with the 'programming' all I want!

3) I added graphical snow and, sometimes, a bluish tint to the images because I love winter fights when it comes to a sci-fi setting.


With that out of the way, let's begin!





This is based on Lost & Found, the infantry-based training scenario found in the rule book. Here, a technologically superior USMC force (on the left of the board) needs to cross a river and rescue a downed fighter pilot who is sheltering in some ruins. A force of technologically inferior DPRG troops (deployed on the right of the board) are going to attempt to stop that from happening by ambushing the Marines.

I began by sending Fire Team 3 from its patch of wooded ground in an attempt to cross some open terrain and make it to the crashed fighter (the fighter is my personal addition to the original set-up). Meanwhile, Fire Team 2, which was hunkering down in the same patch of woods, would provide overwatch fire if needed.

As they left the woods, Fire Team 3 came under heavy fire from a five man DPRG squad that was hiding in the patch of woods on the far right of the game table. My overwatch team preempted their ambush by bringing them under heavy fire:




The more advanced technology of the Marines made a big difference in this long range shoot-out: they inflicted casualties on the enemy, stopping their ambush, and pinning them down. The Marines received no casualties in return.

While that fight was taking place, Marine Fire Team 1 to the far north quietly made their way to their first objective, a patch of trees crowning a small hillock, meeting no resistance.

Before the battlefield could completely quiet down, however, the enemy decided to make a move of their own. A large, seven man squad, including an officer, departed some ruins and made a quick run at the ruins where the pilot was hiding. Their intention seemed not to be to capture the pilot, but to make a firing line along a low brick wall the lined the property, something that could prevent any attempted river crossing. Fire Team 2 spotted the movement and open fire on the column of troops:




Again, the superior technology of the USMC weaponry took a heavy toll on this unit, pinning it down and inflicting casualties while receiving none in return. So far, the Leather Necks were in control of the situation!




A medic was attached to the DPRG squad that was caught moving to the stone wall, something that helped lessen the severity of the casualties.




The medic (front) treats the man behind him (standing on a wound marker) while the CO orders everyone forward!

The most seriously wounded were stabilized, while the lightly wounded were stitched up and returned to duty. Good thing, too, because they were going to need it!

The next few minutes of combat were furious as every DPRG soldier opened fire on Fire Team 3 as they attempted to cross the open ground and, eventually, ford the river and make it to the pilot's location. Fortunately, Fire Team 2 was still on the ball and delivered devastating overwatch support to interrupt many of the planned DPRG ambushes:




Superior technology continued to prove decisive for the USMC. Nonetheless, it was only a matter of time before the tremendous volume of low-tech enemy fire took their toll on the Marines. Fire Team 3, as it neared the crossing, took its first casualty.



A DPRG team preparing to ambush USMC Fire Team 3 as it approached the crossing


The team leader was seriously injured by the squad of DPRG troops that was sheltered near the pilot's building:




Their morale held, but would they be able to make it the rest of the way with such a badly wounded man? Guess I would find out!

Despite successfully wounding the team leader for FT3, the situation looked grim for the DPRG. Casualties were mounting, and morale was breaking. Surely the Marines would be able to dash across the river, snatch the pilot, and get back to base in time for dinner!

Well...not so fast. Even though the superior USMC tech had been savaging the DPRG, their troops were still a tough, committed lot. They weren't going to allow these leathernecks to just waltz into their territory and snatch a high value target! Whether by willpower or, more likely, by the threatening muzzle of their CO's sidearm, the DPRG suddenly roused themselves into action. In an unexpected flash of fury, the DPRG regained the initiative from the USMC and unloaded on Fire Team 3. Their fire was so intense that Fire Team 3 was forced to abandon their attempt to cross the river, and needed to flee for their lives!



These DPRG troopers mock the retreating Marines. On a nearby hill, a USMC squad leader can be seen calling FT3 into cover
Even Fire Team 2's overwatch proved ineffective. In a rare reversal, the dependable Fire Team 2 proved ineffective against the enemy. This left Fire Team 3 totally unprotected. Enemy fire nipped at their heels the whole way back to cover:



But the DPRG wanted blood this day. Even though the Marine fire team made it to some light cover in the form of sheltering pine trees, the DPRG fire exacted a heavy toll as the seriously wounded team leader would be hit again, this time fatally:



The Marines had suffered their first KIA of the battle. Fire Team 3 was now thoroughly shot up. One man KIA, one man seriously wounded, it was down to half strength and incapable of fulfilling its mission.

If the news was bad for Fire Team 3, the USMC did get some good news further north. Fire Team 1 had managed to gain the upper hand in an attack launched by a DPRG team on the opposite hill. This attacked proved to be a very bad idea as the DPRG squad wound up with three severely wounded men, one lightly wounded man, and just one man intact. This enemy squad wouldn't be much of a factor anymore.

A calm descended on the battlefield, leaving both sides to lick their wounds. The SITREP:




The original USMC plan was now in tatters as FT 3 was no longer in any condition to rescue the pilot. It looked like Fire Team 1 might have to leave the fringes of the battlefield and attempt a crossing at the ford located further north, near a lake.

With time running out, the success of this mission hung in the balance!

With Fire Team 3 being a shadow of its former self, Fire Team 1 took the lead. Taking the initiative back from the DPRG, Fire Team 1 dashed from cover and quickly forded the northern crossing. They were covered the whole way by Fire Team 2. Good thing too, as every unit still capable of firing on the DPRG side did so! Fortunately, Fire Team 3 continued to provide deadly accurate fire, pinning almost every unit that tried to make trouble for the would-be rescuers. The plan worked: Fire Team 1 made contact with the downed pilot shortly before 1530z hours. The celebration was short lived though as the DPRG squad that successfully fought off the crossing by Fire Team 3 now made a furious charge and attempted to smash FT 1 in hand to hand combat. The remnants of FT 3 and the overwatch team opened fire in an attempt to pin them in place before they could do much damage:




The USMC overwatch team was as deadly as ever, killing the DPRG leader mid-stride, and pinning the rest of the team. Emboldened by the awesome "can do!" attitude of their fellow Marines (officially, a "It's a Good Day to Die" Fog of War card), Fire Team 1 redoubled their efforts to bring back the package. Grabbing the pilot, Fire Team 1 let loose one last volley at the pinned enemy before attempting a getaway:




Meanwhile, in the north, the savaged DPRG squad's morale finally broke - no surprise with one dead, three seriously wounded, and just one effective! Disgusted, they trudged through the snow and left the battlefield:



It was the result of a Fog of War card called "It's a Bad Day to Die" - I reinterpreted it to mean a complete rout for this badly hit squad

This was now crunch time for the DPRG. If they didn't stop Fire Team 1 from getting away with the pilot, they never would. With the unit CO killed the previous turn, it was up to the squad leader to rally the men. With a bellow, the DPRG squad picked themselves up from the ground and charged through the snow at their USMC enemies once more. Fire picked men from their ranks, but they managed to close with the enemy nonetheless:




But it proved to be not enough. The full strength USMC fire team was ready for a fight and met the enemy gun barrel to gun barrel, iridium bayonet to iridium bayonet. Despite their best effort, the DPRG squad was beaten to ground again, this time losing yet another member of the squad, with the rest receiving various injuries. It was too much. The DPRG had to break contact. The USMC fire team was free to take their charge across the river:




Liars! With their last rounds of ammo, the DPRG squad attempted once more to pin the Marines but failed miserably due to their casualties. All they really accomplished was to get another squad member killed as he attempted to rush across the ford.





Fittingly, it was the shot-up Fire Team 3 that stopped the attempted rear attack. They might not have been able to complete their mission to get the pilot, but they certainly helped Fire Team 1 get the job done!

And with that, Operation Lost & Found came to an end as the remaining DPRG squads were all rendered combat ineffective due to casualties sustained during the course of the battle. Victory for Charlie Squad of 1st Platoon!


Casualties


USMC DPRG
Dead 1 11
Seriously Injured 1 9
Lightly Injured 1 1

Overall, I really don't have any thoughts on what I might have done differently as the DPRG player. This was a messy play-through as I was just too busy coming to grips with the rules to have keenly focused on the optimal tactics. Truth be told, I often just threw the troops at each other to see how the rules worked! I will say that the quality difference between the USMC and the DPRG definitely swung the balance in favor of the Marines. Even though the DPRG had far more troops, a d8 roll for the Marines versus a d6 for the DPRG was just too great an advantage at times, hence all the DPRG casualties. Still, I like to think that the DPRG put up a good fight nonetheless!


Concluding Thoughts


Wow, that was tough! This PC gamer isn't used to doing so much work myself to play a game. Usually I just sit back and punch buttons. LOL! Being in total control of a game - not just moving the pieces, but also applying the appropriate rules and calculating the results - can be a shock to the system after having a computer do the heavy lifting all these years. Still, it was a refreshing experience because it was nice to have such control. Not having to wait for a dev to fix a bug or tweak a sub-optimal rule is a breath a fresh air (seems like PC gaming these days is 25% gameplay, 75% waiting for a patch). Also, knowing just why a certain result was reached - that is, seeing all the usually behind-the-scenes calculations for yourself - makes for a much more transparent experience. I found these factors made this a much more memorable gaming experience.

As for Tomorrow's War itself, I have to say that I find the rules to be a bit cumbersome. Even though each part of the game is relatively straight forward, I find putting it all together can get confusing at times. I think this might be do to how dicey the game is. A d6 for this, a d10 for that, an initiative die for this, and quality die for that...it can all get very muddled. I think I would have appreciated some streamlining abstractions instead as having to constantly recall which die, not to mention how many of them you need for a roll, can be a pain. Still, I have no regrets about trying this system. And I am looking forward to seeing how vehicles are handled....

Speaking of, that is the next chapter in the book that I need to learn. However, I don't think I will be getting to it any time soon because I haven't even began to paint the three tank miniatures I received as a gift last Christmas, and I doubt I will get to do so anytime soon what with the Christmas rush kicking off NOW. Not only that, but having the infantry portion of the game sitting on my table for so long has made me a bit tired of looking at this particular game (this is no fault of TW, of course!). LOL! So I think I will shelve this minis adventure for a bit and explore the many, many other board / minis games out there in the short term. Still, I am eager to return to Tomorrow's War ASAP!

[This is cross-posted from my main blog. For a slightly more in depth retelling of this battle, visit here: http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/2...revisited.html
Categories: Blogs

Moving Away From 4X

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 21:58
Crossposted from my blog at Rindis.com.

This was originally going to be a completely different essay, but I've realized it's past time to tighten up my definitions some, so I'm not continuing having to stop and figure out/explain pieces of my foundation just so I can say something coherent. This really should have been the first post in the 'game genre' series. Well, second would have been acceptable.

So, now to talk about what's been the elephant in the room, the 4X genre. Borrowing from Wikipedia:

The term "4X" originates from a 1993 preview of Master of Orion by Alan Emrich, in which he rated the game "XXXX" as a pun on the XXX rating for pornography. The four Xs were an abbreviation for "EXplore, EXpand, EXploit and EXterminate".

....

While many strategy games arguably contain a similar "explore, expand, exploit, exterminate" cycle, game journalists, developers and enthusiasts generally apply "4X" to a more specific class of games, and contrast 4X games with other strategy games such as Command & Conquer. Hence, writers have tried to show how 4X games are defined by more than just having each of the four Xs. Gaming sites have stated that 4X games are distinguished by their greater complexity and scale, and their intricate use of diplomacy beyond the standard "friend or foe" seen in other strategy games. Reviewers have also stated that 4X games feature a range of diplomatic options, and that they are well known for their large detailed empires and complex gameplay. In particular, 4X games offer detailed control over an empire's economy, while other strategy games simplify this in favor of combat-focused gameplay. The next thing to note is that I both agree with the fact that '4X' adequately describes the course of a wide range of strategy games, and that I tend to define it even more narrowly than the restrictive game journalists. Because of the initial definition of "4X" with MoO, I always associated it with space conquest games. Part of this is also from the fact that the standard 4X cycle is implicit in the nature of space-based wargames. The standard idea, from Stellar Conquest and StarWeb on, is to start with one planet in a big, unknown universe, explore it, claim and settle it, build your empire into a powerful economic force, with which you can eliminate the other players and win the game.

In fact, MoO itself subverted this already existing style with its diplomatic model, and the ability of the game to end without conquest (the Galactic Council vote). For me, 4X naturally already meant games that strongly relied on this cycle without fiddling around with 'greater complexity' or 'intricate diplomacy' as differentiators, and I would indeed say those don't make an adequate definition. Reach For the Stars is not that complex compared to many strategy games, and there is no in-game support for any diplomatic status other than 'war'. But it is a space 4X game.

The heart of the 4X game is the interplay of discovery (explore), colonization (expand), development (exploit), and warfare (exterminate). I've touched on the role of colonization in some strategy games already, and should probably tackle those subjects explicitly soon.

But for the overall definition of '4X': Command & Conquer (to use Wikipedia's example) has you explore the map, and Tiberium fields are one of the things you look for. Then you send units out to get the Tiberium, and get it to your base so you can build more units to kill the enemy with. Sounds fairly 4Xish. And it is. As Wikipedia then points out, it can get hard to say many typical combat-heavy games are not 4X games without a lot of hair-splitting and tightening of definitions.

But I would say the difference is the hair-splitting of scope and emphasis. In fact, it has to be, as everything we are talking about here belongs to the general category of 'games about being rude neighbors and wanting their stuff more than they do' (and 4X, no matter how defined, is a subset of that). My first rough breakdown, with the genre labels I tend to like using:

  • Wargame
  • (Base-building) RTS
  • Fantasy Conquest
  • (Space) 4X
  • Empire Management
  • Civilization


There's more, and overlap, and complications, but that's enough to be going on with. I've also arranged them in something of a sliding scale with games that have detailed combat and little else at the top, and games with simple combat a lots of other detailed systems at the bottom.

There's some strangely specific ideas mixed in with some very broad ones. Of course, these are meant to be... real genres—genres where there are a number of different games that center around similar ideas or mechanisms, even if that is a fairly lumpy distribution. The main standout from that viewpoint is wargames, which is a superset genre with a long and varied history in both board and computer games, and has plenty of sub genres, like hex-and-counter, CDG, area-impluse, and so on. The definition in this list says they are games with combat, and no real economic or diplomatic systems. Risk fits here as easily as War in the East, but Third Reich starts separating out and moving down the list. That will sound a bit strange to an old board wargamer, but helps with the more general discussion I hope to continue soon.
Categories: Blogs

Fantasy Conquest

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 17:28
Crossposted from my blog at Rindis.com.

Medieval-style fantasy has long had a strong hold on the imagination. It didn't take long for fantasy to become a popular genre in computer games either. As various board wargame-derivative designs evolved during the '80s, a fairly distinct genre that I call 'fantasy conquest' emerged.

These are related to the more general '4X' games, but don't always hew to all parts of that style, probably because the distinctive space 4X game emerged in parallel. (There's also some internal bias, as I generally only think of 'space 4X' games as '4X' games, with non-space borne games not being part of the genre even though some can be very mechanically similar.) They are a fairly cohesive group; for some reason, as soon as you say 'fantasy' you start seeing heroes and touches of RPG tropes appear in otherwise normal strategic games. There's a good number of board game antecedents, from LOTR-themed Diplomacy variants to The Warlord Game and Borderlands, but I'm just looking at the computer game side here.

Warlords (1989) seems to be the start of this genre. I'm sure there's other strategic fantasy games from around this period—I have dim memories of seeing a few, but don't remember titles, and have not seen anyone else mention them. It's not properly a 4X game, as the map is non-random and fully visible the entire time; also there's not much to be done to the map. New towers (defensive installations that I've never seen anyone use) can be built, and the defensive values of cities can be improved, but there's no eXploration, and very little eXploitation.

In many ways, it's a straightforward game. Start with a city, it produces military units. Use them to capture more cities, and they produce more units. Go forth and defeat the other seven factions on the map. And this is the enduring backbone of the genre: cities are always valuable strategic goals; they're a bit less valuable here, as they are more numerous and less detailed than in other titles. Also, there's no castles, or rather, the identities of castles and cities are muddled together, as all these 'cities' look like little four-tower castles.

The new thing here is the heroes. The idea of singular, highly capable units in fantasy games is an old one, and the existence of 'hero' and 'superhero' units in miniatures are the mainspring that powered the invention of RPGs, but they're not so much of a constant at this level of abstraction. The interesting part here is not only do they exist, but they can go looting ruins and visiting sages scattered around the map. The main bonuses from this is that the hero might recruit monster 'allies' (ghosts, demons, dragons...), or find artifacts that will increase the abilities of the hero. Heroes can also gain experience and 'level up', gaining combat power and movement speed.

The second game (Warlords II, 1993) was pretty close to the original, but did make one important change: what a city could produce could change. You could 'sack' cities when you take them, which would grant gold, but reduce the options for production there. Each city had up to four slots of possible units, and you could purchase new unit capabilities in empty slots. Also, there were multiple maps (and the ability to add in new, user created, ones in the Deluxe version), with standard explore-the-world vision rules, making it a full 4X game.

However, one of the charms of the world of Erathia in the original was the fact that the dwarves were in one region, the gryphons in a different, overlapping region... and the units might be different. There was one city with better light infantry. A set with tougher, but slower, heavy infantry than normal. A city that produced wolf riders faster than normal. The cities, and world, acquired character from all these little differences. But now every unit of the same type was exactly the same, so that they can be plugged into any city.

Master of Magic (1994) was Sim-Tex's combination of SidCiv and Master of Orion and Warlords. Just as MoO introduced tactical battles as an essential element of space 4X games, MoM introduced it to fantasy conquest games. Cities become complicated places like in Civilization, with plenty of buildings to construct, that control what units can be built there. An interesting thing is that each city has its own native race, and that determines the buildings and units that can be built. The tree for the building requirements are always the same, but not all buildings are available to all races.

Civilization and MoO are heavy into the colonization aspect of their respective games. While that also exists in MoM,there's also a large number of neutral cities scattered across the landscape at the beginning of the game. Taking a cue from Civilization, there are also engineer units that can build roads for faster movement.

While some space 4X games have allowed different populations to mix on a single planet, I have yet to see this occur in a fantasy conquest game, even though that would be physically easier. However, fantasy conquest games that have different powers for different races, and separate them out by city, always allow a player to control whatever he can take, whereas some space 4X games force you to kill off alien populations rather than let you take them over.

Combat was resolved as a small miniatures game. Most units have a number of 'figures', each with their own attack and defense, so their ability erodes as casualties are taken. More powerful units generally have fewer figures, with the most powerful being singular monsters. Units also have experience levels, with veterans being somewhat more effective in combat than their inexperienced counterparts. And then there are heroes.

In Warlords, heroes were just a bit more capable units, with the ability to go dungeon delving, although a large collection of artifacts could make them nearly unstoppable. Here, heroes are personalities, each with his or her own set of abilities which grow and develop as they level up. There's all sorts of lairs and ruins scattered around the landscape. Heroes aren't needed to fight the inhabitants and get the treasure, but they do often generate artifacts that require a hero to use.

Finally, MoM used a complex magic system in place of Civ's technology. You play as a wizard holed up in his tower, sending minions out to conquer the world while you research your next world-bending spell. These spells add to combat, as units can be enchanted with any of a variety of bonuses, or magical creatures summoned. Also spells that effect the entire world can be cast. All of this adds a lot of interesting choices and interactions to the game, especially as no player has access to more than a small subset of all the available spells.

The next year, long-time RPG series Might and Magic took a detour into the strategy game space with Heroes of Might and Magic (1995). It featured cities with buildings to build, armies that fought in separate tactical battles, heroes and lots of places on the main map to visit for bonuses, that came with a bit of text to add an RPG 'encounter' feel.

In many ways, HoMM is notably unusual in the genre, while following its main features. First, heroes are not separate units, but merely a leader who allows armies to move across the map, with normal military units being immobile (kind of like computer RPG parties?). Cities are extra large structures on the map, which is also choked with a large number of impassible objects: mountains, forests (which are usually just slow terrain), lakes, and more, with creatures holding 'choke points', that must be defeated to access the next area (they also are used to guard small areas that have treasure behind them, like many dungeon monsters; the more area-based ones can be considered akin to the more plot-driven 'roping off' of areas in many computer RPGs).

HoMM also had a campaign game, where you progress from scenario to scenario, facing challenges to get further in, as had become popular in RTS games of the early to mid-'90s (though the entire game is present from the start, just the challenges got harder). It was weak in the first one, but later versions of the game attempt actually tell a story in the vein of Epic Fantasy novels. It also points up a change in scale. The first two Warlords games feature large swathes of land, continents even; MoM is explicitly depicting an entire world like Civ (or, actually, two). HoMM is much more constrained in scale.

Like MoM, it has a complex magic system, but like everything else, it is more constrained in scale. Only (some) heroes cast spells, and while they can have a powerful effect on combat, they only have an effect on combat. There are few permanent enchantments, no spells of vast scale affecting the entire world.

The initial game had four different types of heroes (two each 'good' and 'evil' and 'might' (combat bonuses) and 'magic' (spell casting)), which were each associated with a type of city, with it's own structures and unit types to recruit, with no real differences between heroes of the same type. Later games introduced skills, which you could choose between as they leveled up, allowing heroes that started out similar to act very differently.

Combat was fairly simple, considering that it did have it's own mini-game. An army could have up to six unit types in them, which all move and fight as a single 'stack' (even when there's hundreds of them present), akin to how MoM's progenitor MoO worked, but in opposition to the detailed combat system of MoM.

Despite (or more likely, because) of all of these simplifications, while maintaining a game style much closer to MoM than Warlords, HoMM has been the most successful brand in the genre, with seven games so far, plus various expansions and the like (Master of Magic has never had a sequel, Warlords has only had four games plus expansions and a parallel release, and slightly later game Age of Wonders is just getting to its third major release). It has also come a long way from its roots, though I still need to get to the post-3DO games (V through VII). Heroes got to intervene personally in IV, at the same time that armies got to move without a leader, and the ability to transfer units directly from one point to another without the tediousness of manually moving them was added in (which makes the game feel more like Warlords...).

The genre continues to be a popular one, with not only new HoMM games (now titled Might & Magic Heroes), but other series, such as the Elemental games coming out. I haven't played any of the recent games in the genre (yet), but the unique genre structure of strategic conquest and heroes acting out RPG tropes seems to be perfectly intact.
Categories: Blogs

A New World

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 11:06
Crossposted from my blog at Rindis.com.

An approximate pattern for 4X games in general is to start out with a single base/settlement, move out, find valuable terrain and claim it with further bases, solidify borders to keep others away from the valuable bits you've found, and then go take their stuff.

Thus, these games generally start out as ones of colonization. Whether it's sending ships out into the galaxy, or settling the barbarian-infested wilderness, it's much the same. Colonizing the New World is a natural fit for the common strategy game desire of building up. But, other than a fad in the late-'80s to mid-'90s it has not been a popular subject. More interesting, they're a fairly disparate bunch.

Gold of the Americas (1989) from SSG is a favorite of mine, in part because it is so small. It covers three centuries at a rate of a decade per turn, and is playable in an afternoon. You play as the king's viceroy in the New World, in charge of colonizing and developing the new world so as to fill the King's coffers back in Europe. Europe itself only imposes itself in the game in the form of support from the King (if you paid your taxes...) and deciding who is at war or allied among the four powers. Slaves can be imported and exploited along with the native Indians, and at low development, colonies can die out.

Sid Meier's Colonization (1994) is a spin-off of Civilization, and it shows. However, it does a lot of things differently that give it a good colonial feel. Population, and units on the map are interchangeable, and can be shifted from city to city; in contrast, there is not a lot of population growth in the game; population generally comes from Europe. Population exists in several forms, from convicts and indentured servants (who are not as productive as normal 'free' population) to more productive specialists. Slavery does not show up, nor the dying off of the natives from disease, though they may 'convert' and come live in your settlements. Trade is important, with a need to send cargo back to Europe to sell to buy tools and weapons (until you can produce them yourself). And finally, the game is completely goal oriented: instead of just trying to build the best colonies you can in the time provided, you must declare independence and win the resulting Revolutionary War to beat the game.

Conquest of the New World (1996) is close in structure to Colonization, but with a lot of attention on the world environment. The terrain is done in a simple 3D style, with elevations shown. Exploration is explicitly rewarded with points awarded for the first player to explore the length of a river or a prominent mountaintop (and the ability to name the feature). Combat is more involved, using a simple mini-game that is well done. The influence of Europe is minimal, with further colonies having to be be built as settlers from existing one. Not only is independence not necessary for winning the game (but it does add to the victory point total), but you can play as the natives and attempt to 'federate' the other tribes and establish a powerful native nation to resist the colonials.

[Imperialism II (1999) isn't really a colonization game, but that is part of what it shows. The New World is important because it has materials that are needed to make your nation more productive, but victory is determined purely by the Old World. The Europa Universalis series (2000-2013) is also in this period, and features similar concerns though it is more oriented to colonizing the region rather than specific worries for particular trade goods.

All of these games feature exploration, but only Conquest tries to make it a goal sufficient unto itself (though Colonization also has 'goodie huts', of rewards scattered through through the world). Exploration is probably the most abused system in gaming. You either know what's there or not. On the scale of any of these games, exploration is not a binary proposition. Sure, there's hills over there, and mountains further off, but what's the place really like? How fertile? How many villages in the area? I'd love to see a system where you slowly progress from very general knowledge to more detailed, as you move from small expeditions moving through the area, to regular trade, to settlement.

One of the nice points of Colonization is the treatment of the natives. They are split up into a number of generalized tribes, that differ in how powerful they are (and how much loot they have), and will each have their own relations with different European powers. They can trade, and train people into specialists, and slowly get alarmed as European presence continues. They can gain horses and guns and become more dangerous. Only Imperialism II and Europa Universalis come close to this, but without as much interest. Conquest allows you to play as the 'high natives', but the representation of the various Indian tribes is shallow.

Overall, I am surprised that we haven't seen more games on the subject. I'm pretty sure Conquest was inspired by Colonization, but the chain stopped there. There is a new version of Colonization (on the Civ IV engine), but it is a very faithful re-release of the original, and not really a new game. Perhaps these games (and GotA and Colonization in particular) said most of what needed to be said, but I think there's room for a very interesting exploration-based game, if someone wants to tackle the challenges of partial knowledge.
Categories: Blogs

Reviewed: Hellsing Ultimate

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 01:41



Ready for some Halloween entertainment?

Hellsing Ultimate is now the third title to officially make it to my august list of anime suitable for viewing by adults. I really wasn't expecting it to make the list at all as, again, I am not a fan of anime, nor of horror, and especially not of vampire stories. Personally, I find the whole vampire craze to be as banal as the more recent zombie craze. Blood suckers don't terrify me in the same way meeting a werewolf would (this probably has something to do with being exposed to vampire schlock like Twilight for too many years). But Hellsing Ultimate is commendably different. In the same fashion that Guillermo del Toro is seeking to rehabilitate the vampire with his solid television series The Strain, Hellsing Ultimate is going back to vampires that don't sip as much as crunch (sorry about the large images! I am just too lazy to resize them for here :)):



Yeah, they are pretty nasty. Even the official webpage emphasizes this fact:


Remember when vampires had fangs? Remember when they were known as terrifying monsters that stalked the night, instead of moody teenagers that sparkle in daylight? It’s time to drive a stake through the lovesick heart of contemporary vampire nonsense. Satisfy your bloodlust with Hellsing Ultimate, the definitive action-horror anime. That is truth in advertising right there!

But here is the kicker: while this is what initially caused me to give Hellsing Ultimate a viewing, that is not what ultimately hooked me into the series. In an unexpected twist reminiscent of Girls und Panzer, Hellsing Ultimate ultimately snared me with its wonderful characters. Okay, they weren't necessarily "wonderful"in the lighthearted way of GuP's Ukari Akiyama or Mako Reizei, but more in the captivating way of a homicidal maniac. Take, for example, Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, the freaky chick who can be seen here:



I wasn't at all thrilled with the character when she was first introduced because of how we initially meet her: as a young, frightened girl being hunted by her uncle. As I watched her cower, all teary-eyed, from her father's insane brother - he sought to steal the lucrative family business of monster hunting away from her - I figured I knew how this was going to play out: that she would survive, of course, but be more forgiving for the experience. That she would bring a new compassion and feminine sensibility to the rough and tumble world of monster hunting.

Nope.

Much to my pleasure, Sir Integra Hellsing is actually revealed to have become a stone-cold killer because of that experience. She had morphed into a monster hunter of such singular purpose and dedication that her feminine side had actually become muted, hence the reason why she is referred to as SIR Hellsing rather than Lady Hellsing. And I, like her devoted employees, came to love her all the more for it. Nice trick!

And then there is police officer Seras Victoria (I love the names in this show!):



She inadvertently becomes the newest member of the Hellsing organization when a plague of vampires wipes out her police department. She does survive the attack but only as a newly minted, if reluctant, vampire. Her journey is a tragically fascinating one as the viewer gets to see her slowly morph from an innocent, country bumpkin police gal into a raging tool of vampiric vengeance.

And then we have this guy:



That would be Hellsing's secret weapon, her personal pit bull, the vampire king A La Carte...er, I mean Alucard (an obvious palindrome). To be honest, he turned out to be my least favorite character of the show because of his tendency to burst into completely inappropriate bouts of manical laughter, not to mention that fact that he is really, really OP. Regardless, I ultimately came to applaud the show for his presence because he represented a return to the hateful, spiteful, revolting vampires of old. Alucard is very reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter; a monster who relishes manipulation and killing (and feasting on his victims, of course) as a way of affirming his superiority. And he is very good at it.

Then there is perhaps the best anime character I have ever come across:


Meet Father Alexander Anderson, the "Bayonet Priest," the genetically engineered slayer of vampires and other evil, and the foremost soldier of the secretive Vatican Section XIII, the Iscariot Organization. If Alucard is a bat out of hell, Anderson is the man holding the net to catch him. Indeed, whenever these two men are in the same scene together, it is...divine. Remember that age old question about what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force? Same thing going on here, and the resultant sparks and explosions are wonderful to watch. Besides being a great antagonist to Alucard, Father Alexander is just a wonderful character because of his zealotry. You just have to love a man who is inclined to say such things as "violence is never the right answer...unless used against heathens and monsters." LOL! Lord, how the world could use a man like him right about now!

These characters, and many more that populate the world of Hellsing Ultimate, really serve to elevate the show to a much higher level of engagement than one might initially expect from a show about vampire hunters. I was expecting something closer to a Scooby Doo mystery, but ultimately found a drama closer to a gritty Dick Wolf crime drama.

Of course, having great characters without a great plot would be a waste. No worries here, though! The ultimate plot for Hellsing Ultimate is one heck of a wild ride. Not knowing anything about this series prior to watching it, I figured it was going to be about Sir Hellsing and her exploits battling the creatures of the night. While the first episode does begin with such a simple premise, the show quickly spirals into wild territory that involves a new world war were a Nazi - yes, Nazi! - vampire army returns to conquer the world (albeit, the action is entirely focused on England). Of course, Hellsing's organization of "Protestant Knights" soon finds itself on the front lines of this renewed invasion. But before Hellsing and company can come to grips with this new situation, things quickly become even wilder when a rogue Vatican archbishop by the name Enrico Maxwell takes advantage of the chaos and launches his own Catholic "Reconquista" of England! Good times!


Vampire Nazis on the attack!
What results are some truly excellent carnage-filled scenes of battle that stretch from a carrier at sea, to the streets of London, and even to the halls of Hellsing's HQ itself. The battle for Hellsing's manor is particularly engrossing because it requires the shrinking violet Seras Victoria to step up and lead a die-hard band of French mercenaries, known as the Wild Geese (great movie, btw!), in vicious, last man standing combat. What results is something reminiscent of Stalingrad...but with, you know, vampires. And French soldiers. And magic. Moving on....


The Wild Geese before all heck breaks loose


Now, there are "vampires" and there are "VAMPIRES!" in Hellsing Ultimate. Rank and file vampires are rather unremarkable, but boss vampires are formidable creatures with unique powers. This is what makes them so terrifying. Alucard, for example, has powers that can best be described as demonic, something that makes him particularly vicious when provoked.


Alucard's ability to summon the hounds of hell
But other vampires have other "gifts." For example, the Nazi vampire Zorin Blitz is a master of illusion:



In Hellsing Ultimate, even non-vampires can have special, magical powers. Walter, for example, Hellsing's "butler" and former master vampire hunter, can summon lethal magical strings that cut opponents to pieces:



Now, you would probably think that having the ability to call up magical weaponry would probably be enough when fighting the creatures of the night, right? Nope. This isn't some lame fantasy tale where everyone is reduced to magic and swords! We're in the modern world here, and that means modern weaponry! Oh yes! Bring it on!

Check out Alucard's preferred sidearm, something that probably would qualify as a "hand cannon":


Or Seras Victoria's preferred undead slaying weapon, a recoilless rifle:


"Bitches love cannons"
This show is a NRA fantasy come true! As with Larry Correia's fantastic Monster Hunter International, the weaponry in this anime is given detailed attention, something that makes it all the more awesome when the viewer gets to see it used in battle. I also liked how the equipment often comes with Christian battle cry embellishments:



Cool, cool stuff.

Needless to say, when you have central characters wielding magic and sporting some awesome weaponry, the resulting fights can be downright epic. Really, the characters in Hellsing Ultimate have more in common with the superheroes of The Avengers than they do with your typical cast of mortal vampire slayers. When these guys engage in battle, it is like watching the gods of Olympus slugging it out. Again, the coolness factor goes way up in these moments.

[BTW: I am sorry to keep using that word, "cool," but it really does best describe Hellsing Ultimate. In many ways, this anime is to the vampire genre what The Matrix was to cyberpunk. It is just a really cool re-imagining of a stale genre.]

What else is there to praise about Hellsing Ultimate? I have to say that the artwork is darn good. I understand that Hellsing Ultimate is based upon a multi-part graphic novel, and it shows in a good way. This anime definitely tries to preserve that manga style, leading to some memorable scenes that really are quite stylish at times.

Lastly, the music often hits the right note (pun) at the right time. Maybe not Cowboy Bebop good, but good nonetheless.


So, What's not to Like?

First off, this is no Girls und Panzer. Unlike that charming bit of anime that is quite safe for youngsters, Hellsing Ultimate comes with a well-earned Mature rating. There is a lot of swearing, tons of gore, and almost non-stop violence. So be warned.

Secondly, this is one of those anime series where the original Japanese soundtrack is inferior to the dubbed English version. Hellsing Ultimate is a story with an international cast of characters that spans Brits, French, Italians, Germans, and Irish personalities. With that in mind, I was somewhat surprised to hear that the original Japanese cast didn't attempt to try to sound like the respective nationality of their particular character; everybody just sounded Japanese. With the English dubbing that noticeable problem isn't an issue. While the English cast did resort to cliched accents, it nonetheless made for a marked improvement to the acting and, hence, the immersion.

Lastly, this show suffers from that annoying anime tendency to resort to farcical humor at the most inopportune moments. Nothing ruins a tense moment as having something like this suddenly pop up in the anime:



I am sorry you needed to see this

It is almost as if the professional animator left the studio only to have a 13 year old boy sneak in and vandalize the show with his own scribblings and bizarre sense of humor! Yes, I understand that there is probably some sort of cultural thing going on here but that doesn't make it any easier to take! This is a particularly bad tragedy for this anime because most of this goofball stuff centers on Seras. As I wrote above, she is an interesting character to watch because of the terrible predicament she finds herself in, but stuff like this just reduced the girl to an annoying clown. Not funny, not entertaining. More like unwanted graffiti, especially when the rest of the show is so dark. Can we get a "director's cut" where this unwanted slop is excised from the series?

Lastly, this anime is a ten part series. Sadly, the final two episodes will not be made available in the US of A until October of this year. Seeing where episode 8 ended, this amounts to torture!


Concluding Thoughts

As with Girls und Panzer, I never expected to get much beyond the first episode or two; I really just called this show up on a YouTube lark. The fact that I ultimately found myself watching episode after episode, enjoying each one more than the last, says just how much this show really shines as an example of a fresh take on a tired subject. When I wrote my GuP review, I remarked how the tank battles in that piece of anime was far superior to anything I had seen come out of Hollywood in a long time. I rhetorically asked how badly was Hollywood doing its job for that to happen? I say the same thing here, except that this is actually a MORE embarrassing situation because Hollywood is constantly pumping out vampire flicks. Just how poorly is Hollywood performing again if this bit of Japanese anime is providing something more original and more engrossing than any vampire flick I have seen emerge from their army of writers and multi-million dollar budgets in a long time? It is at times like this I wish I was a producer who could get on the phone and acquire an IP such as Hellsing Ultimate. In the right hands, this anime would absolutely shine as a movie. Sadly, with movies like Dracula Untold on the horizon, it looks like Hollywood is still stuck in the same, tired slump. Do yourself a favor: skip that movie and watch this instead. Here, I'll even get you started:





SCORE: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS


PS: How do I get my eyeglass lenses to shine like that?!? :D
Categories: Blogs

Building Economy

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:29
Crossposted from Rindis.com

I've been playing a fair amount of the old city-builder game Pharoah: Gold recently. (Bought it on sale at GoG at the beginning of the month.) And I've been pondering why.

I have played SimCity. I have a copy of SimCity 2000 (bought for cheap after 3000 came out). I have spent time with OpenTTD.

I think they're all fine enough. But they don't hold my attention for long. A few hours fiddling around with them and I'm done.

I am, in general, a strategy gamer. Which is a computer game genre definition so broad as to be close to useless. (The excellent strategy game podcast Three Moves Ahead has had occasional side discussions on 'what is a strategy game?', with Tom Chick asserting that 'everything is', and even making an interesting argument for The Sims as a strategy game.) There is, of course, a large number of sub-genres (ranging from overly-broad to tiny niche), and I've been meaning to talk about some of the smaller ones I've observed.

But, anyway: city-builders. SimCity is kind of the genre definer, and is generally a pure sandbox simulation 'game' without a lot of goals, and limited interaction with the actual mechanics. Pure sandbox games generally don't do much for me; that's the common thread between the games that don't hold my interest that I mentioned earlier.

Caesar was a popular city-builder game, that spawned three sequels, and two spinnoffs based on the the Caesar III engine (Pharoah and Zeus). I enjoyed the Caesar III demo way back when (somewhat to my surprise, and that demo is why I bought Pharoah: Gold). I've now played Pharoah: Gold obsessively for over a week, which is now tailing off (I think).

The difference is that while the Caesar/Pharoah-model city-builders look a bit like SimCity, there is a decided difference in execution. As mentioned, SimCity is pretty much pure sim. You zone areas, lay out roads, and mix in essential services, and wait to see if the sims can put together a viable economy. Pharaoh is actually an economic engine game (who knew I had that much eurogamer in me?). You are placing specific industries to produce raw materials which are then taken to other industries to turn them into usable goods which are needed for other purposes (building weapons, improving living conditions, etc). It can be seen as a close-up of the 'exploit' part of 4X (a genre I regularly enjoy).

This brings me to another game that I discovered and enjoyed years ago that could be mistaken for a city-builder: The Settlers II: Gold Edition. It is fairly close to Pharoah/Caesar, but is easier to see as not related to SimCity. Settlers is a pure economic engine game. Every building has a cost in lumber and stone to build. So you need to cut down trees, convert it to lumber and quarry stone to get anything done. The full set of resources needed to get everything done is much more complicated (but mostly turns into providing food to miners to generate iron and coal for creating weapons and armor, and gold to pay/upgrade the resulting soldiers), but does not involve any hidden mechanisms.

Pharoah on the other hand still has the 'sim' aspect of the residents having wants and desires that are not entirely surfaced to the player. A basic building needs to be provided with water, so the residents do better and upgrade it; then they need a bazaar to get food from, then religion.... But there is also 'desirability'. Placing a storage yard (for example) too close to a residential area makes it a less desirable location, and the building can only climb so far up the scale of increasing wealth. While there are ways to look at this in the game, no real guidance is given. How far does this effect spread? Which buildings are the worst for desirability? There's also an 'overall' mood which can keep new immigrants from arriving when you open up new areas, but I have no idea what contributes to that....

There is a final, very important thing that Pharoah and Settlers share that SimCity does not: They both have campaigns, which have missions. I'm not set loose to just make my own city. I have goals. In Settlers II this is to take control of the gate that leads to the next island/mission (or just wipe everyone else off the map in the alternate campaign; both campaigns are quite challenging). Pharoah starts with a 'build these buildings' format common to a lot of early/tutorial RTS campaigns, but is looking like it is shifting over to 'hit these arbitrary metrics in a challenging situation'. That makes sense, but I have a feeling I'm going abandon the campaign if it continues down that road.

There's also a framing story around the main campaigns in both. Settlers II is the story of a Roman expedition that got shifted to some pocket universe, and is trying to find it's way back through a succession of gates, hoping that one will lead home. Pharoah is about the successive generations of a family of administrators serving Egypt; the transition I mentioned happens at the beginning of the Old Kingdom stage. The former is far more effective at keeping me playing, but the latter is nicely used for a loose presentation of the history of Egypt.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 19:23
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog


Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Austerlitz

Waterloo


Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 12:13
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Austerlitz

Waterloo

Tactical Studies Series

Point of Attack 2


Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

The Fate of EVE Online

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:05
Word has it that CCP, creators of EVE Online, are closing their SF office and laying off numerous support staff. How that will affect EVE over the long term is uncertain, but it got me thinking about the state of the game and where it's headed. And, sadly, from where I sit it doesn't look good.

CCP wants a dark, dangerous, dystopian universe where actions have consequences and risk really means something. But the truth is that CCP has no idea how to create such a dynamic. What they've created instead is a chaotic stew of half-cooked ideas.

CCP and the EVE community rant and rave about the failures and childish gameplay of MMOs like World of Warcraft, and rightly so. But despite all the effort to make the gameplay more challenging and more consequence driven, EVE has devolved into as much of a pointless grind as WoW ever was. It just takes you a hell of a lot more time and effort to discover it's all been kind of pointless.

But it wasn't always that way. Back in the day, EVE had a ton of problems but it also had some very cool adaptive gameplay and a ton of potential. But slowly, inexorably, the most militant players systematically exploited every possible aspect of the game, forcing CCP to constantly make significant changes in order to try to maintain balance and stamp out the worst of the exploits. Sadly, the end result is a game that's so "fair" that there's hardly any point in even investing in your character. CCP has fallen victim to its own logic, and has helped foster a culture where the only thing that means anything is raw currency. Everything has been reduced to money, and since you can now easily buy as much game currency as you need with real world money, what's the point of playing at all?

You don't really get more powerful in EVE, and it's essentially impossible to really do anything meaningful beyond trolling your fellow players. So EVE, pretty as it is, is really nothing more than a giant sandbox to troll other people you don't know by blowing up stuff they don't really care about anyway.

EVE's purported goal was to be a persistent universe where actions had consequences, and one where those consequences mean everything. Instead, EVE has become an incredibly tedious, time consuming game where nothing means anything, really.

It's not all bad. There have been many small changes that add up to a significant quantity of overall improvement in the game. And you can still have some cool PvP action if you go and look for it. But EVE's problems are fundamental structural problems, and CCP won't ever change those things because the problems are simply beyond the skill level of the developers. The folks at CCP are wonderful game developers and they deserve credit for that. But though their technical prowess as developers is undeniable, their shortcomings as game designers is equally manifest.
Categories: Blogs