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Updated: 10 hours 24 min ago

HPS Games

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 15:14
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

Panzer Campatigns

Tobruk '41

Ancient Wars

Roman Civil Wars

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

French and Indian War

Naval Battles



Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns



Napoleonic Battles




Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 20:03
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

Panzer Campatigns

Tobruk '41

Ancient Wars

Roman Civil Wars

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

French and Indian War

Naval Battles



Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns



Napoleonic Battles




Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

The Not-So-Secret Secret World

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 17:09

I think one the greatest events in any gamer's life is that magical moment when he knows that he has discovered an original game universe, one that he intuitively knows he will be exploring and enjoying for a great many years to come. Such moments are unfortunately rare. Gaming is no different than other media, be it books, television, or movies: works of true genius are exceedingly rare, so such magical movements are few and far between. For me, I've only had two such gaming moments: when I first discovered the fantastically grim military science fiction setting that is Warhammer 40K,and now that I have belatedly discovered the wonderful Shadowrun universe (thanks to Harebrained Schemes fantastic PC translation).

When I first heard about the Shadowrun setting I was not all that interested because it seemed like such a weird mash-up of differing genres....

Shadowrun initially seems like your classic cyberpunk setting: a near future, a high tech dystopian world where mega-corporations rule with an iron fist due to their vast wealth and power. What is more, it is world where trans-humanism has become the norm, where people replace entire body parts with cybernetic enhancements, and can "jack in" and experience virtual reality in the same way as Neo experienced The Matrix. And, of course, it wouldn't be a cyberpunk setting without the crucial element of small time hustlers who run missions - "shadowruns" - for corporations, missions that can involve everything from corporate espionage, to outright hits on competing executives. Needless to say, these seemingly simple missions usually go very wrong for the runners in classic noir form, leading to some entertaining and grim scrambling for all involved. Good stuff!

But where Shadowrun throws a curve is by introducing a healthy dose of Tolkien into the mix. In 2011 "the Awakening" occurs, where a portion of humanity slowly mutates into the archetype fantasy races of dwarves, trolls, elves, etc. However, unlike their somewhat trippy portrayal in fantasy media, in the world of Shadowrun these races basically blend back into society as would any other racial subculture (I particularly like how trolls often come across as goombah Italians. LOL!). In addition to the genetic mutations, magic has also started to come back into the world, something that makes for a fascinating contrast with the setting's cyberpunk high technology. Of course, if you have the reappearance of the fantasy races, and you have the return of magic and wizardry, well, you can count on the reappearance of dragons, ancient horrors, vampires, and even the confirmation of urban legends like the existence of Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Like I said: "a weird mash-up" that never seemed like it would work. Let me tell you: it DOES! And in a big, addictive fashion! The world of Shadowrun is one of of those things that is simply greater than the sum of its parts. By taking such disparate genres as science fiction and fantasy, and by putting them together into the same Petri dish, you get a mix that is absolutely volatile with fascinating potential!

And I am now a rabid fan.

Since discovering this wonderful setting I have since learned that its generic name is "urban fantasy", a catchall term that denotes a modern city-based story that contains the elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. It is, in short, a smorgasbord of imagination and escapism. I guess in retrospect it isn't a surprise why it has become so popular seeing how it spans so many genres. And popular it is. A quick search on Amazon reveals a growing library of urban fantasy titles (with a surprising number involving romances - I guess that is the Twilight phenom at work?). In fact, one of this year's Hugo Award winners is the urban fantasy title, Warbound: Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by conservative author Larry Correia of the famed Monster Hunters International series of urban fantasy.

It looks like urban fantasy is here to stay. Huzzah!

Well, as it often the case with me, I am never just content to have fun with a single game. No, I immediately become restless and demand "more, more, more!" (in internet speak: "MOAR, MOAR, MOAR!"). And that is how I stumbled upon Funcom's MMORPG, The Secret World.

Well, "stumbled upon" might not be the precise term because this game had snagged my attention from the moment it's first teaser was unveiled back in 2011. It is a good one:

Truth is, as soon as the "dark days are coming" tag line appeared I was hooked. That is, unfortunately, my gut feeling too concerning the state of the world. I mean, when Ivy League universities offer a satanism major, when bloodthirsty heresies are on the march, when professors of the dark arts encourage the slaughter of the innocents, and when cadavers walk the earth to instigate mayhem, happy days are most definitely not ahead of us. Dark days indeed....

Now, even though I was interested in this game from the start, I never actually bothered to check it out. The primary reason is that I just don't care for MMOs because I often find the premise to be sabotaged by the restrictive nature of a MMO design (more on that later). What is more, when The Secret World first launched, it was the standard MMO dealie of needing to purchase the base game followed by a reoccurring monthly membership fee. Not gonna happen. A game developer will get one out of me, but not both. So this game just dropped off my radar.

Now, however, things have changed. Fueled by my new found love of urban fantasy, I recalled this game and eagerly sought it out. Sure, it is not a cyberpunk-themed urban fantasy as is Shadowrun Returns (too bad), but it is definitely of the same vein what with its theme of a contemporary setting where "every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true". Close enough for me! Even better, I discovered it has since gone down the Guild Wars route of ditching the monthly subscription. Great! Excited by the game's prospects, I requested a free three day pass from the community and off I went into The Secret World....

....And landed smack in a by-the-numbers MMORPG. Darn it.

The game starts off interestingly enough with a compelling cutscene where your custom designed character has a weird dream about being forced to chose a side in a coming conflict. Upon awakening, he discovers that he has acquired magical powers...powers he can barely control. Days pass and your character is seen mastering his new gifts. Eventually a knock on his apartment door is heard and depending upon which faction the player has chosen during the character creation process - the Templars, the Illuminati, or the Dragons - a messenger summons the player to the HQ of his specific faction where he is to be briefed on the new reality of monsters and magic becoming part of the world once again. All of this is executed very well. The cutscenes are nicely rendered, the dialogue is sharp, and the voice acting is quite excellent.

This solid introduction comes to an end and the player is off on his first assignment to combat "the Filth" (great term!) that is slowly corrupting the world. Tragically, it is here that I first felt my enthusiasm for the game slipping. In a bizarre move, The Secret World, a game that describes itself as being about vampires hunting "for mortal blood in London nightclubs" and about demons "lurking in the shadows of Seoul", incongruously decides to deposit the player in the decidedly un-urban Maine city of Kingsmouth, a classic small New England town that is thematically as far removed from an urban setting as possible. In fact, it isn't all that far removed from the typical medieval villages players usually encounter in a MMORPG, one of the cliched settings this game was supposedly going to buck. I really was dumbfounded by this choice. Now, that is not to say that the game doesn't do a good job of realizing this setting - Kingsmouth proves to be brought to life with vivid detail - but New York it is not.

This disappointment was quickly followed by another: the typically dull "gofer" (aka: "Fed-ex") missions that are part and parcel of the MMO genre - this is where you need to go someplace, collect a certain amount of something and bring it back to the mission giver. Boring. However, even here there is some nice chrome on hand as each story mission gets its own fully voiced cutscene, something that does serve to make these threadbare missions seem as something more important than just pointless grinds for XP...which is what they really are.

So my character sets out on his first gofer mission and discovers another tiring MMO convention: the large packs of monsters - in this case, trite zombies - roaming the countryside. Again, this is a failing of the core MMO design: if you are going to have potentially hundreds of people playing the game simultaneously, you need to make sure there are plenty of baddies hanging around so everyone gets a chance to play the part of the hero. Same thing here. Even worse, these packs usually respawn quite quickly, too, so as to further ensure no shortages of moving targets, a convention that I have always found counteracts any sense of progress in clearing out the bad guys. Sigh.

The triteness of packs of roving monsters is particularly bad in TSW due to the nature of the game itself, and here's why: the early part of the TSW goes to great lengths to try and convince the player that he is standing at the threshold of a new reality, one that the rest of the world is still largely oblivious to (albeit, a recent "terrorist attack" in the Tokyo subway system might change that). Fine. But judging by the massive amount of beasties roaming the Kingsmouth / Solomon Island locale, this isn't the beginning of a gradual infiltration by the Filth, but rather it is a full-on invasion that is anything but secret! I was really disappointed by this because I was hoping my character was going to be involved in an gradually escalating investigation into a paranormal presence - indeed, that is precisely how this initial mission was described. But upon entering Kingsmouth, it is clear that you are just another grunt in a battle for an entire town under open assault by paranormal forces! How is the "Secret World" remaining secret when entire towns are being overrun with otherworldly armies?!?

And then I came to the combat. Ugh. I hate MMO combat. I hate the button-mashing, I hate the stilted combat animations, and I hate the repetition. And it is all here. It did help a little that unlike fantasy-themed MMORPGS, The Secret World's modern setting permits the use of all sorts of firearms, from pistols to assault rifles. That is cool, but it would have been all the more "cooler" if the combat was skilled based, if the player could aim and fire the weapons himself like in a third-person shooter, instead of just hitting a button and watching the game roll some dice and produce a scripted combat animation. Still, being able to go into combat with duel pistols makes for a nice change of pace. Other weapons are available too, like bladed instruments, war hammers, and magic, of course, and players are free to mix and match as they see fit by using earned skill and attribute points to unlock new weapons and increase their deadliness. Again, nice...but still not the MMO revolution I was hoping TSW would deliver.

After an hour or two, I was quickly tiring of the stale MMO conventions that I had experienced in the game so far. The Secret World promised to be something different, but it wasn't. It was the same formulaic MMORPG I have played and abandoned many times before. If only this title was a single player RPG, something that would allow it to break free from the tired necessities of the MMO template! Then this setting could really shine as Shadowrun Return shines. Then we would truly have something special. But it wasn't, and we didn't. Sadly, I resolved to uninstall the game the next day.

But I didn't.

Instead, I found myself logging back in...for some reason I couldn't quite explain (witchcraft?). And once again I quickly found myself gritting my teeth as I suffered through the banal MMO conventions that littered this game. But why couldn't I stop playing it?

I decided that it was those darn missions. Those introductory cutscenes were really well done, and served as a preprandial treat to the actual meat of the quest. But more so that that, some of the quests were actually interesting in their own right. Sure, there were a bunch of those boring gofer quests, but even some of them were suitably spooky and fit in well with the "end days" theme of the game, leading me to actually looking forward to their final resolution. Not only that, but I eventually discovered that the game includes some nice artwork to compliment these quests. For example, when I uncovered a newspaper article relevant to a certain quest, instead of getting what I expected - a pop up window with a transcription of the article - I instead got an actual picture of the article. In another mission I located a cell phone and was treated to an actual in-game image of the phone with relevant text message. I was happy to discover that TSW didn't take the lazy route of just text, text, and more text, but incorporates the sort of art assets one usually encounters in an old school point and click adventure.

Now, in addition to these rather straight-forward gofer quests, I discovered two other types that did add some nice variety to the game. For example, The Secret World has some very interesting investigation missions. In these quests, the player is presented a mystery that he must solve. Now, solving these missions breaks with the linear nature of the gofer quests by usually requiring the player to go outside of the game and research topics on wikipedia, or even visiting some faux webpages created especialy for the game, to find the necessary bit of info that advances the story. Frankly, this is something I have wanted to see in a MMO for a very long time (I mean, the player is forced to be constantly online anyway, so why not make use of the internet in the game?). While I do think that these investigation missions can be ridiculously hard, largely because the game sort of dumps the player at a narrative dead end and expects him to pull his hair out until he finds the right course of action (thank the maker for the helpful wikis out there!), the mere existence of such puzzle quests really adds a sense of novelty, and mental challenge, to TSW.

Then there are the sabotage missions. Like the investigation missions, these made for a refreshing change of pace to the standard gofer missions. In fact, these missions are much closer to what I hoped would be the norm for The Secret World: quests that don't involve simplistic "kill this" or "fetch that" quest templates, but involve doing something much more suitably convert for a secret society operative, things such as infiltrating a facility, or needing to disable a security system, or even hacking a terminal. What is more, unlike the other quests, these missions involve isolated instances, something that slows the pace of the game and narrows the focus to just one player at a time - you! Because you are alone in these quests they are much more creepy, especially since they usually involve a boss monster of some type hiding in the shadows, awaiting its final battle. This is something that definitely adds to the "dark days are coming" paranormal feeling. Again, these sabotage missions are much closer to what I had hoped to find in TSW, something much more representative of a slow paced investigation into the paranormal rather than the open warfare, you-are-late-to-the-party nature of the main game world.

So I played a bunch of missions that second night and discovered some I really liked, many that were completely forgettable, and a handful that were just plain weird, but still concluded that The Secret World just wasn't my type of game. I would delete it after logging out.

But I didn't.

Instead I found myself logging in once again the following night. And I still didn't know why! What kept drawing me back?!?

This time I thought it was the oppressive nature of the setting of Kingsmouth - it really put its hooks into me. As I wrote earlier, this locale is something less than the exciting urban setting I was initially hoping for. Really, it is just a pastiche of the many small towns that have graced countless horror movies (particularly Antonio Island from The Fog - a deadly fog even haunts TSW's Solomon Island!). Be that as it may, Funcom has nonetheless managed to bring some real horror to this in-game setting. Despite the ridiculous amount of zombies and other creatures plaguing every nook and cranny of the town, not to mention the many cliched horror plot points borrowed by the various missions, the setting nevertheless becomes a very disturbing place after awhile. I didn't really appreciate this until I left Kingsmouth to return to my HQ back in London (I was in search of some cosmetic improvements - TSW seems very stingy with clothes and gear). While there, I found a local pub where I was able to listen in on a conversation between two long time Templars. As with much of the game, the writing was very good, and the tale they told was interesting as well as being informative of the game's backstory. But what really struck me was how I was relaxing for the first time in a long while. The background noise of happy patrons chattering away, not to mention the pleasure of not seeing a single filthy monster anywhere in sight really was a breath of fresh air after my time on Solomon Island. When it finally came time for me to depart this cosmopolitan slice of reality, I actually found myself dreading the return to the hellhole of Kingsmouth. It was then that I realized that The Secret World, despite all the limitations attendant to a MMO, actually had achieved something of what it promised to do: give us a chance to experience truly "dark days".

This realization of just what an unceasing horror show Kingsmouth actually was made me even more committed to following through on the quests to rid the town of its curse and restore some normalcy - despite the fact that my Templar supervisor warned me that my purpose was to investigate and not save; there are no conquering heroes when confronted with such evil. So I set out with gusto exploring Kingsmouth, now more determined than ever, but soon discovered something disconcerting: Kingsmouth is significantly bigger than I had first thought. While most of the initial missions take place within the reasonably sized town itself, the entire questing area of Solomon Island is at least three times bigger, with entire sections locked off until...who know when? This was going to take longer than I thought!

For the first time, I didn't log out of the game with the idea of deleting my account. Instead I planned to return the next night to uncover some more of the horror plaguing my first assignment.

But I never returned.

My trial had ran out.

Will I return to The Secret World? Incredibly, my answer is an unexpected "yes!" Even though this game suffers from all the frustrating shortcomings of the MMO genre, in the final analysis TSW managed to deliver on its (urban) fantasy premise in a very entertaining way. And let's be fair here: I've only sampled a handful of hours from the starting location of a game that has been under development for two years now. Having safely launched the game with boilerplate MMO content (this starting slice of TSW just screams safe game design), hopefully Funcom has since added material that is more daring. And even if they haven't taken that more adventurous step, I still have to say that what is in the game so far seems sufficient to keep me entertained for...well, certainly a few hours more, anyway.

Having said that, I should point out that I haven't actually purchased the game yet. Even though I am hankering to get back into The Secret World, I decided to put it on ice for a bit yet because, frankly, TSW is going to make for some fine Halloween gaming (especially seeing how Kingsmouth is decorated with jack-o-lanterns; apparently the dark days of the secret world arrived with the dark days of autumn). Of course, if a sale happens along I will not hesitate to jump on the game (TSW often sees 50% price cuts), but with that exception I will be content to wait until at least summer is officially over. The Secret World is so dark at times that I fear I will tear a hole in the universe and spill demons into our reality if I play the game in the sunlight of summer.

Well, that is the plan, anyway. When it comes to The Secret World, anything is possible. The game certainly made that clear.

[As usual, a better edited version of this article appears on my main blog:]
Categories: Blogs

Your Friendly Guide to DCGs

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 21:11

As I just blogged about, I am getting increasingly fatigued by modern gaming. Everything is "hurry, hurry, hurry!" Or, if not that, it is often about "second life" experiences. That is, it is about deep experiences where the player can invest hundreds and hundreds of hours immersing himself in a virtual world almost as tangible as his material reality (games likeSkyrim and Eve Online, come to mind). Now, I am a fan of such experiences - in fact, I think such games are what is best about modern gaming - but it can get all so tiring after awhile. Sometimes I just want to be able to sit down and quickly and easily invest myself into a game. You know, sort of like with a board game where you read the rules, set up the board, and off you go! No muss, no fuss.

Usually Chess is my go-to game in this regard. Despite its 21st Century online trappings, it remains first and foremost a classical board game in style and temperament. Indeed, it's these very same hoary characteristics that have proven so irresistible to me over the years. But as I suffer from "poor little rich girl" syndrome (but I suppose it would be with a 'guy' in there instead!) I can't help but to occasionally turn my back on this pearl and cast about for something new and different, something that not only has the endless stratagems of Chess, but also the inviting "pull up a chair and join in" gameplay as well.

And that is how I found myself in the world of digital card games.

Of course, I have heard of the grandmaster of such games - I speak of the world famous Magic: the Gathering, of course - but I have never actually tried it. Much like I was largely disinterested in the Dungeons and Dragons craze of the 1980s, I was never interested in the collectible card craze of the 1990s. That is, until now.

It would seem that the collectible - or is it 'tradable'? - card game craze has spread to PC gaming with all the virulence of a sub-Saharan Ebola breakout. I guess this is understandable as digital card games (DCGs), like their CCG/TCG paper counterparts, are designed to get the player in a collecting mood, hence it is perfect for an online translation with built-in "micro-transactions". For that reason alone there are now more DCGs than I can keep track of! I have to confess: after trying a bunch of them, I am now glad that this is a growing trend. A lot of these DCGs can be a lot of fun in a very Chess-like "easy to play, hard to master" kind of way.

With that in mind, I'd thought I would provide a quick synopsis of those DCGs I have tried and why you might want to as well. Just bear in mind that I really haven't had a chance to try any of these games too deeply yet, so I might be overlooking some great features, or even missing some flaws. The following isn't meant to be a review, just an overview of what I have discovered so far.

1) Scrolls by Majong

As soon as I saw this DCG's Chess-like battlefield, I knew I had to be an early adopter - something very unusual for me, especially when this game is still only in a v.1XX stage of development! But seeing how great it looked even at this early stage of development, not to mention having the legendary Minecraft dev studio, Mojang, behind it, I concluded this was a risk I was willing to take.

And I have not regretted that decision as Scrolls really does feel like Chess in a DCG world. Gameplay is simple: use your deck of cards (or "scrolls" in this game's terminology), currently divided into four armies - Growth, Order, Energy, and Decay - to call units onto the battlefield or to cast all sorts of spells, something only limited by the amount of resources you currently have available (resources are gained by sacrificing cards from your active hand). Once on the battlefield, your units attack after a specific countdown period ends (which, of course, can be influenced by the appropriate spell), eventually rushing across the board to hack away at anything in front of them, including the enemy's five idols that lay at the end of the board. Of course, your opponent is going to be doing everything he can to stop you from hacking away at his idols' fragile 10 hit points, including placing combat units and other obstacles in your path, to casting spells and other dirty tricks. Play continues in this fashion until one side loses three idols, signaling the end of the game. And that is pretty much all there is to this game!

But as with Chess, the simplistic gameplay hides a deep vein of strategy and tactics. Just putting together a deck that properly balances units, resources and spells is quite a game unto itself. Take that challenge, and add in the Chess-like battle board with its idols, lanes of attack, and units that can slide from attack lane to attack lane, and you have a lot on your plate to manage. And let me tell you: it all is a lot of fun. Oh, did I mention the crafting, as well? Yup, you can convert your duplicate cards into something better if you wish. So add that in there as well.

Of all the DCGs I have tried so far,Scrolls has the best art of the bunch. I know that doesn't sound like too much, but in a game genre where the cards are the primary focal point, the card's artwork is essential to getting the player immersed in the game's setting. Scrolls really knocked one out of the park here with all the art being really evocative of the fantasy world it seeks to create, one I hope we get to further explore with some sort of campaign.

Speaking about campaigns, there isn't one yet, but there are a bunch of "Challenges" where you can play against the AI for loot. And, of course, you can spar against the three levels of AI at any time, too. So there is sufficient gameplay for the loner who might not want to go online and compete against real people just yet.

The music in this game is also quite good, too. While it currently is limited, what is in the game also goes a long way to create an appropriate medieval atmosphere.

Another important point to mention: Scrolls, unlike the following DCGs, is NOT free-to-play, but requires an upfront purchase. This is something that I think might actually further its popularity as there is a degree of hostility to micro-transactions in the gaming world. So, once you buy the game, all the scrolls (cards) are yours to unlock!

It might still be in a very early stage of development, but I hope Scrolls makes it to a proper v1.0 because I think there is a lot of promise in this package already. The only downside to speak of is the small player base (about 1000 people online per 24 hour period). I suspect this will change once the game gets further along and closer to release.

2) Card Hunter by Blu Manchu

As Scrolls saw fit to step outside of traditional DCG design with its Chess-like board,Card Hunter has done the same by a) wrapping the experience in a very nostalgic Dungeons & Dragons wrapper, and b) making the player's cards into pieces of equipment for your questing party. This last point needs some explaining because it is so unique.

Unlike most other DCGs where the cards are the actual playing pieces, in Card Hunterthe cards represent the abilities that are integral to the equipment used by your party of card hunting adventurers. For example, in the following picture, you can see that my Elf warrior can equip a level 3 suit of "plain old armor" that comes with three types of armor cards that can be used to turn aside attacks:

It is this very clever use of incorporating cards that really sets Card Hunter apart from other DCGs. That, and the traditional RPGs elements of leveling up via XP, and collecting loot from fallen foes.

But there is also the nature of the gameplay itself. Really, Card Hunter is less a card game than it is a traditional turn-based game of tactics. Unlike your traditional card game where cards are placed this way and that on a flat surface, in Card Hunter the player is presented with something more closely resembling a match of D&D where figurines are used:

As you can see above (with my party heading into an ambush!), it really is a charming presentation. Also a well-thought out one as such things as line of sight, difficult terrain, other other aspects are displayed on the game board. Really, at times Card Hunter feels more like a tabletop wargame than it does a card game, especially seeing how your cards are just extensions of your gear. Gameplay even reinforces this notion as its tactical, "fire and movement" nature feels like anything but your typical game of cards (which makes me wonder why we haven't seen a WWII card game yet!). These little battles are actually quite challenging as the AI puts up a really good fight. I also love how the battles are linked together in a narrative framework along the lines of a proper D&D module:

All in all, Card Hunter is a wonderfully inventive package for the DCG enthusiast. Of all the DCGs I tried, I also think it is the most friendliest to those seeking an expansive single player experience as in addition to the MP battles, there are plenty of SP quests to go on, too. My only possible concern is that while Card Hunter is F2P, it can feel a bit pushy at times when it comes to getting you to open your wallet. While you can earn in-game currency from selling loot, this only seems to net you a few coins per adventure - something you'll burn through with all the equipment shops in this game! This means that you will probably have to buy more than a little "pizza", this game's premium currency, if you want to buy some decent gear in an expeditious manner. But I think what concerns me more is the fact that this game's "Basic Edition", which unlocks 11 Treasure Hunt adventures, 9 collectible figurines, 100 pizza slices and 1 month of premium club membership (which nets you extra loot), costs a pricey $25. And if you want the Attack of the Artifacts expansion that includes a similar line-up of goodies, that is another $15. All together that is $40, something that leaves the browser-based DCG (yes, CH is browser-based) genre behind and begins to approach the realm of a Play-to-Pay game. To be fair, I actually think I could see myself eventually springing for this package because Card Hunter is that good, but it still can lead to a bit of a price tag shock as far as I am concerned.

3) Duel of Champions by Ubisoft

When playing Duel of Champions, you definitely get the impression that some suit at Ubisoft was green with envy over the success of Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering and demanded: "What about our beloved fantasy franchise, Heroes of Might and Magic?!? Doesn't it deserve a DCG of its own?!?" Good question. And somebody at Ubisoft delivered a good answer with Duel of Champions.

Of all the DCGs I wrote about so far, Duel of Champions seems the closest to what I imagine a traditional CCG is, in that here the cards of your deck are the only stars of the show. No game boards, no RPG elements, just deck building and dueling. Fortunately, Duel of Champions makes this as interesting as possible.

In some ways, Duel of Champions is similar to Scrolls. Here, the name of the game is to whittle away the 20 hit points of the opposing champion who lies at the far end of the board, much like the opposing idols in Scrolls. And while there are no actual pieces as inScrolls, the player's unit cards behave in much the same way as the pieces in Scrolls in how they unleash attacks on opposing units, and can even slide from row to row in order to seek a less obstructed path to the enemy champion. Likewise, there are a variety of spells that you can cast to buff/debuff units on the field.

But where Duel of Champions differs from Scrolls, and just about every other DCG I've tried, is how this basic gameplay formula is given tremendous depth due to a slathering of other elements. For example, there are three different resources players need to manage in DoC - Might, Magic, and Destiny - and all are needed to make use of the different types of units/spells. Then, in addition to the actual unit and spell cards, you also have other types of cards to play, such as "Buildings" that provide location-specific benefits to units, or even "Event" cards that not only provide benefits to both players, but also manage to add a sense of a larger world to the game:

There are also Fortune cards to consider, cards that can fundamentally change the rules of the game. Finally, there are even "Ongoing Spell" cards last from turn to turn until disrupted by a counter-spell. Here is one of my favorites: Poisonous Bulbs:

Now you know why the game board has so many different slots for different types of cards! Add in the fact that there are SEVEN different armies that you can currently collect, and the player soon realizes that there is almost an infinite number of possible strategies/combinations that he will encounter while playing this game. This, I have since learned, is called the "meta-game". When it comes to Duel of Champions, the meta-game is as robust as they come, which explains why it is currently the most internationally popular DCG out there amongst dedicated CCG/TCG aficionados.

In addition to the requisite multiplayer battles, DoC features a decent SP campaign system where the player can fight against the AI in a linked series of thematic battles spread across multiple campaigns. Not only do these provide some much needed practice for the player to come to grips with the tremendous variety in this game, but it also will unlock some faction decks, as well as providing sizable gold rewards that the player can use to purchase more decks. In general, I have found DoC to be a very generous game when it comes to providing the player with gold for new cards. Not only can the player earn gold by playing in MP and SP games, but there are even daily rewards that provide increasing amounts of gold just for logging in on consecutive days!

So, what's not to like? Well, as with all DCGs, beware the ferocious community! Be prepared to lose a lot, perhaps even more so than in other DCGs because of this game's deep mechanics, and the fact that Ubisoft has done a great job of organizing regular tournaments for prizes, something that has fostered the creation of a very competitive and competent community.

Sadly, players must also beware another issue with DoC: the many gold farmers who are plaguing this game. DoC is an internationally popular game - and gamers know what that means: fanatical players who game the system to earn in-game currency as fast as possible. I suspect there is a lot of this going on in DoC because the vast majority of games I have played in DoC were against people with some random handle along the lines of "Johnny12345", something that is usually a dead giveaway for a person with multiple gold farming accounts. More to the point, the majority of these players also immediately take to the chat channel and demand that I play as fast as possible so they could get their bag of gold and be on their way to the next match (apparently the 2 minute game times is too long for them), or they outright ask if I could throw the match so they can unlock a deck / get some gold. Not good. It is so bad that I really wish Ubisoft would include a way to turn off the chat function because these deck/gold farmers are really hampering my enjoyment of the game. You've been warned.

Be that as it may, Duel of Champions is a very impressive F2P DCG, one I find myself coming back to time and again in a (vain) effort to comes to grip with the game's mechanics and win a few games.

Hearthstone by Blizzard Entertainment:

I have to confess: when I heard that even Blizzard, developers of the ultra-popular Starcraft and World of Warcraft games, were getting in on the DCG craze, I sort of rolled my eyes. Blizzard might be the kings of RTS and the MMORPG, but what did they know about DCGs? Wasn't this just a shameless attempt to cash in on their iconic fantasy universe yet again, but in a different gaming genre?

As Hearthstone has since reminded me, there is a reason why Blizzard is considered to be the Cadillac brand of game developers. Not only is this an enormously talented studio, but it is also a studio that never releases anything until they are 100% sure it is perfect as can be (I'll conveniently look the other way on that whole Diablo III auction house fiasco as it was a rare slip....). Hearthstone in living proof of this.

Remember how at the start of this game article (so long ago) I said I started exploring the world of DCGs because I was looking for that good "easy to learn, hard to master" board game feeling? Well, that is exactly what Hearthstone has in spades. Indeed, even the opening moments of the game reinforce this notion by showing you what appears to be a medieval-looking game box, one accompanied by an inviting host who starts the game with something along the lines of "a busy night, but there is always room for another!" Even the actual game board looks just like what it is: a compact game board of the sort you would expect questing rogues would take with them as a diversion for those moments when they were not clearing out a nasty dungeon:

The game design itself is pure genius. Blizzard clearly took a look at the state of DCGs (and, no doubt, their cardboard cousins) and distilled those games down to their gameplay essence. The result is that unlike games such as Duel of Champions where the formula was to add as much depth as possible via all sorts of gameplay chrome, Blizzard decided to follow Chess' example and stick with a formula that is built upon an "easy to learn" base, but allows for deep gameplay via all the possible combinations inherent in a randomly drawn card game. Like with Chess, what results is a fantastically addictive game that initially entices the player with its elegant and fun gameplay, but eventually ensnares them with the limitless strategic possibilities.

The gameplay itself is similar to Duel of Champions: the players choose one of ninepossible heroes and face off across a board where the name of the game is too, again, whittle away at the opposing heroes hit points (thirty, this time). Units and spells are called into battle via the games single resource, mana, that accumulates in a straightforward manner of one crystal per turn. Simple. From there gameplay continues in the fashion of the other DCGs in that cards are played to call units and spells into battle, but unlike DoC's decks that can contain over 200 cards(!), players are limited to choosing only 30 at a time - again, another nice simplification that keeps thing manageable. Units operate in similar fashion to DoC in that some block enemy attacks (but not physically as in DoC where one card needs to be in front of another to block it; inHearthstone a unit needs the "Taunt" attribute to actually stop an attack, otherwise the player can just ignore it and go for the enemy hero - an interesting twist), others can "charge" and attack immediately, and spells are popping everywhere to the benefit and detriment of units. The nine heroes themselves also come with unique special abilities - such as the Warlock's ability to harm himself for -2 HP in exchange for drawing a new card - something can that be decisive over the course of a game. Again, nothing radical here, rather a general simplification to the gameplay found in other DCGs. But that is what makes it so addictive as it serves to make everything more comprehensible, especially for players new to the genre, not to mention serving to keep the matches nice and short. This is the ongoing theme of Hearthstone: keep it simple, keep it fun.

Even the cards are nicely simplified:

None of that "+/- divide by zero and add the square root to all cards of a certain shade of gray" complexity that you would see in games such as DoC.

Blizzard even took steps to make the tournament system as painless as possible. In Hearthstone, whenever you play a ranked game - and really, why shouldn't you? - you are automatically placed in a competitive ladder that resets each month. In this way the casual player can compete over the course of a month without actually feeling the need to obligate himself to some lengthy process. Nice! And for those who prefer something a bit more intense, the player can even enter the "Arena" where he gets to pick from three randomly selected heroes, and then build a deck from randomly selected cards. A series of games are then played until the player wins 12 games or loses 3. Either way, prizes are awarded based on performance. It is a wonderfully fun mode, albeit it does cost 150 in-game gold, or $1.99 to participate.

Not surprisingly, Blizzard polish can be seen everywhere. While the other DCGs each have their own fair bit of polish, Blizzard has made sure this game absolutely shines. The board itself is often nicely animated - I particularly like the griffin who will begin following your mouse pointer with his gaze if you annoy him enough! - with the cards themselves having some nice vocalizations. The spells are also nicely realized with some cool special effects that serve to really bring them to life.

Blizzard even thoughtfully limited the in-game chat options to about eight or so generic utterances, such as "well played!" (much appreciated after the nonsense in Duel of Champions!). Blizzard even helps the player recognize he is out of gameplay options during the course of a turn with a belly-laugh inducing "Job's done!"

When it comes to a single player experience, Hearthstone is largely as limited as Scrolls. Until recently, players were reduced to sparring against generic normal and hard AI, but with Blizzard's launch of their first expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, now players can match decks and wits against challenging thematic AI opponents and have a chance at winning unique cards in the process. However, as with Card Hunters, I do think the expansion's price tag of $19 is a bit steep even if you can unlock it with in-game gold, as well.

All in all, Hearthstone is a thoroughly enjoyable DCG, one this is smartly designed to be easy to pick up by inexperience players, yet offer plenty of meta-game challenge for the more die-hard card game warriors (as seen by all the guides and videos popping up on the intertubes). In many ways, Hearthstone reminds me of the slot machine of DCGs, a game designed to be so addictive that you can but help to pull that handle one more time. In this regard, Blizzard has succeeded in their mission. But they have also succeeded in another mission: to create a game seemingly designed to be perfect for playing on dark and chilly nights, preferably by the (virtual) hearth in an (virtual) inviting inn. In this regard, Blizzard has also succeeded wonderfully.

Other Mentions

There are two other games that I have tried, but due to time limitations, I haven't been able to give sufficient time for a detailed mention here. So here is a quick summation:

Magic: 2014: This, of course, is the official PC conversion of Wizards of the Coast's world famous CCG. From what I experienced in the demo, the game reminded me ofDuel of Champions, but with an interesting land-based resource system. Unfortunately, before I could even finish the tutorial battles, Magic: 2015 was released. So I stopped playing 2014 with the idea of switching to 2015. However, seeing that Magic: 2015 costs $10, I haven't really had the urge to go back and try it as I am having a blast with these other free-to-play DCGs. Still, I did like what I saw and hope to give this title the time it deserves.

Infinity Wars: This is a DCG (or is it Digital TCG - I am so confused by this nomenclature!) that clearly is trying to innovate. As you might have noticed, all the DCGs I have covered have had a fantasy theme to them (no doubt due to the success of the fantasy-themed Magic: The Gathering). What a waste! While I enjoy fantasy themes as much as the next guy, I think this is so shortsighted, especially in light of how the DCG template could be utilized in a wide range of thematic settings. This is why Infinity Warsinitially caught my attention - it was the only DCG that I have encountered that incorporates some sci-fi units (the game's story involve multiple dimensions clashing, hence the sci-fi meets fantasy mash-up). But there are also other notable innovations to this game. For example, unlike all the other DCGs that have static card art, IW features animated art that can be quite nice at times. Also, IW has an interesting war theme going on where the player's cards are led by commanders (but the player is represented by a fortress that must be defended), and cards deploy to separate assault, defense, and support zones. There is even a morale system that makes it possible to lose a game by suffering too many (card) casualties! Currently in open beta, Infinity Wars is definitely a game I want to explore some more once it goes v1.0.

HEX: I don't have much to say about this because it is currently in close beta. I do, however, know that this is a game that was launched through one of the biggest crowd-sourced funding campaigns of all time, so there is that. Also, this game promises to marry the DCG with the MMO in a way never attempted before. In short: HEX has already created quite the buzz, but card game aficionados await the final verdict.

Final Thoughts

So there you go, some digital card games to get you started. Really, all the games I mentioned on this list are worthy of your time as they each have their charms. As of right now I would have to say that if forced to choose one, Hearthstone would be my favorite - I really enjoy its quick matches and elegant gameplay, but that is just me.

If you do decide to give this beguiling gameplay genre a try, I urge you to go into it with the idea of just having fun. Like Chess, this is a very competitive environment where experience pays a lot in dividends - not to mention giving you lots more cards and, hence, options. So, again, be prepared to LOSE A LOT OF GAMES at first! It is going to happen. But be patient, play your best, and enjoy each match just for the ride. And before you know it, you too will soon be winning your fair share of games.

Well, that is what they tell me, anyway....

[A better edited version of this article appears on my blog: Burke's Joystick :D] Attached Thumbnails
Categories: Blogs

Sunday - July 20, 2014

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 15:13
Well then, it has been awhile!

Time to get this rolling again.

Quite a lot has happened with the Campaign Series and Middle East lately. A new UPDATE for the Campaign Series bringing it up the 2.01 UPDATE standard is available here: UPDATE DOWNLOADS

That and the 2.00 UPDATE are HUGE UPDATES for the Campaign Series, incorporating many new features and User Interface improvements. A huge thank you to the new programmer on the team, Berto. Here is a link to the changelog:


With the active support for the game, we will also be releasing a 2.02 UPDATE in the next few weeks.

With his capabilities, a lot of Wish List items are now becoming a reality. Middle East is getting a thorough work over and incorporating many new features. I'll share more as we get closer to the planned Q1 2015 release. In the meantime, the playtesting continues and the remodeling of the various OOBs for the initial set of countries continues diligently. There are about 50 scenarios of varying size included at the moment, with a couple of Linked Campaign Games. I'm presently focusing on a number of solo scenarios that will boost the initial release total up to 70 scenarios or so.

Hope you're all well.
Take care and good luck
Jason Petho
Categories: Blogs

Summer Games: Battlefield 4

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 02:24

Lately, I've been pretty harsh on the world of PC gaming, even to the point of labeling the industry as being downright disreputable. I still stand behind those sentiments. And little, if anything, has changed in the intervening months. Things are still pretty rotten around these here parts, perhaps more so as we now can add disreputable indie developers to the mix. It's all enough to make a man want to take up chess again.... ;)

Be that as it may, there is one aspect of the shameful record of modern gaming that I do feel I need to revisit in the interest of fairness, and that would be EA/DICE's Battlefield 4. As I have gleefully pointed out time and again over the last few months (most notably here & here, amongst other threads :D), BF4 was a good poster child for everything that is ailing the modern games industry: a sequel for the sake of sequel cash, bug-ridden and incomplete code being sold for full price, and months and months of patching before the player gets what he paid for.

Shameful. Inexcusable. Reprehensible.

But having said all of that, I do have to give EA/DICE a hard to swallow "kudos" for, finally, releasing a game worthy of the Battlefield name. Battlefield 4 has finally arrived - granted, some seven months post release - but arrived nonetheless. :rolleyes:

It all makes for some good summer gaming. Why summer, you ask? Because Battlefield 4 has so much swimming and boating in it, that they should have called it Battlefield 4: Extreme Water Sports. :D

Would be a great spot for some sunbathing...but for the fighter jets dogfighting overhead
This is perfectly acceptable and appropriate, though, as this version of the Battlefield franchise deals with a theme long overlooked by a world of combat games obsessed by a 1980's-styled World War III setting that deals with Americans and Russians going at it. Blessedly, not here. Instead, this is a game tailored for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia (one of the scant areas where I completely agree with this administration - like with BF4, credit where credit is due :)). With the exception of the map pack that revisits some of the favs from Battlefield 3 - mostly Persian Gulf / Caucuses settings - most of the maps in Battlefield 4 all seem appropriately set in believable PTO settings, such as island-hopping campaigns, sub pen and carrier assaults, jungle fights, and Asian-themed city sieges. Really, DICE has outdone itself in the thematics department based on what I have experienced so far. it is all convincing and on target (unlike Treyarch's Black Ops 2, a game that initially visited the same geopolitical theme, but later got distracted by wacky DLC that featured such incongruities as skateboard parks, rock concerts, and other WTF oddities).

With that in mind, be prepared to get wet! I hope you like to swim because you will be diving into the refreshing waters of the Pacific quite a bit!

The sea turned turbulent on me!
You will also be doing your share of recreational boating:

One if by land, two if by sea....

Now, DICE has made much of the "Level-ution" thing in the lead up to the release of this game, but I have to say that, by and large, "level-ution" is more often than not missing from most maps. This is a shame as where it is present, it can really add some nice additional atmospheric effects (I am less impressed by the gameplay implications, though). There really is no describing how thrilling it can be to be assaulting an island when a tropical storm blows in, something that causes the sea to become suddenly frightful, especially when you need to cross it on a boat. Likewise, it is pretty darn cool to be fighting your way through a Pacific Rim city when a rainstorm blows in and begins flooding the streets.

"Water water everywhere" is definitely the theme of BF4....

The streets of this city are awash after a storm

To be honest, I am not really surprised that water is everywhere in BF4 as the new theme in the world of video game design is clearly the art of creating believable moisture effects. I noticed this trend beginning with the unveiling of Watch_Dogs at last year's E3 - was there ever more ink spilt in transcribing all the "oohs" and "ahhs" that were heard when that's game's rain-slicked streets were first unveiled? So, yeah, expect a lot of moisture in your gaming for the foreseeable future because high fidelity rain effects are clearly the "hot, new thang" in gaming. As a lover of rainy skies, consider me enthusiastic for this trend.

Dawn, after a brutal, rainy night of combat
I will say that DICE has also amped up the destruction engine in this game. While I still think it might be a bit behind where the classic Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was, it is a definite improvement over the surprisingly limited destruction in BF3.

Destruction 3.0! Or is it 4.0 now?

As fans have come to expect, all sorts of things can be smashed, from vehicles, to buildings and even the landscaping.

I am literally hiding under a table as an enemy gunboat demolishes the bungalow across the way, and part of mine, too!

I am also glad to see the return of totally collapsible buildings, something that has been missing from the BF since we left the glory days of Bad Company 2.

I also have to give credit to DICE for providing many more cosmetic options in this iteration of the series. BF3 was a paltry Call of Duty rip-off in this regard, what with its minor handful of cosmetics. Not so in BF4. At last, the BF4 community has a very nice selection of custom camo for both our soldiers and our weapons, as well as the ability to design our own logos and have them appear in game:

My custom logo can be seen on the side of my jeep, as well as on my weapon (near the bottom of the magazine). It also appears as a patch on my uniform!
Finally, I am happy to say that DICE has finally addressed the "Hollywood sound stage" map design issues found in BF3 (you can read about it here). Now buildings actually seem inhabited with furniture and stuff!

I like to think maybe I had a bit to do with this change. :whist:

Even though DICE has clearly upped the graphic ante from the Battlefield 3 days, I am still impressed by how well this game runs on even a dated stock GPU like mine. While it is true that I have had to step down my BF3 high-ultra settings to medium-high for BF4 for a good framerate (roughtly 45-50 fps), I will say that I hardly notice a real distinction as the game still looks mighty fine while running great. Here, DICE deserves a definite pat on the back from PC gamers for taking the time to see that this game didn't become a resource hog. For example, compare the great graphics and solid performance of the Frostbite engine as used here to the highly modded Source engine(!) being used in another EA title called Titanfall - that game looks nowhere near as good, but runs like a fat pig (I am actually forced to play that game on all low settings! :(). Nicely done, DICE.

What about the infamous netcode that plagued the early months of this game? I can say that I have encountered few issues of rubber banding and/or delayed hit detection. Now, I said "few" issues for I have encountered such issues very occasionally - say, a dozen or two times out of roughly 50 hours of gameplay to date - and that is with the most recent patch's latency setting set to "medium" (if I set it to high, I probably could cut back on such issues even more). While a competitive player might have a better eye for such issues, this casual player is more than satisfied with the netcode at this point.

Keeping my powder dry
Final Thoughts

It's hard to stay mad at DICE when despite all the initial hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, they still managed to deliver another excellent entry in the Battlefield series. Granted, their behavior (along with EA's, of course) was disreputable and reprehensible at the outset. This is something that must not be forgotten. However, they ultimately did right by their fans in delivering the product we all hoped we would have had last October.

Now, having said that, I still believe DICE and EA need to be held accountable. With that in mind, I made it a point to refuse to pay full price for either the base game or the premium add-on. By doing so, I not saved myself money (roughly 60% discount in total off the original purchase price for the base game plus premium by waiting for sales), but hopefully also sent a message to EA that I will not reward their egregious behavior by paying full price. And, needless to say, I also waited over half a year to jump into the game. I am sure that if other gamers likewise delay their purchases, and also refuse to pay full price, EA will quickly get the message loud and clear (and perhaps already have).

But let us put all that ugliness behind us. Battlefield 4 is finally here, and I am having a blast yet again. DICE likes to use the "only in Battlefield" slogan as a selling point, but the truth is that there really is nothing like Battlefield when it comes to combined arms action in a highly destructible and immersive environment. Only in Battlefield do I find myself holding my breath and ducking my head as my in-game avatar hunkers behind a car as rounds from an enemy MG spang off the body. Only in Battlefield do I dive under a table as a gunboat tears the walls down around me. And only in Battlefield do I relish the opportunity to belly crawl into some shrubbery and set up the perfect ambush.

Only in Battlefield indeed....

Categories: Blogs

Balance and Playability

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 07:09
HAYSEED: 'That's the fifth black card you've drawn in a row.'

SUNDANCE: Yeah, lucky...'

HAYSEED: 'I think there's more to it than luck.'

SUNDANCE: 'What are you sayin'? Are you saying that I'm cheating?' '

HAYSEED: I'm sayin' nobody draws five black cards out of a Russian pile without drawing a single red card.'

BUTCH: 'Soviet.'

HAYSEED: 'OK, Soviet then. It can't be done. Take that last FFE off the board or I'm gonna fill ya full of holes.'

BUTCH: 'C'mon, Sundance, it ain't worth it.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

HAYSEED: ' the famous Sundance Kid outta Laramie?'

BUTCH: 'Look mister, just apologize and you can go back home to your carrot farm.''

HAYSEED: 'If I'da known he was the Kid, I wouldn'a said anything.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: OK, Kid, just let turnip-boy here go home to his mare. There ain't gotta be no killin.'

SUNDANCE: 'Butch, tell him I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: 'Look, sodbuster, the Kid don't cheat at draw piles. Oh, sure, he may knock over a few concealment stacks or forget which StuG is outta smoke, but who doesn't?'

SUNDANCE: 'Thanks, Butch.'

BUTCH: "Don't mention it. Now, be a good dirt farmer and apologize so we don't have to spend four good dollars on a casket.'

HAYSEED: 'Sorry, Kid. I hope ya didn't take me wrong. I know you wouldn't cheat.' BLAM!

SUNDANCE: He didn't say it with enough conviction. I even gave that son-of-a-bitch the balance.'

BUTCH: 'I know, Kid, I know. I heard the face to face is a lot better down in Bolivia."

As we go into ASLOK weekend (or, in my case NotASLOK), I become curious about play balance. Here in SoBo, we play according to a loose Gentlemen's Agreement. It is always kept in mind that we do not play for wagers--not large ones anyway. Even among the wider expanses of the Centennial State, comradeship is the norm and I have only once had a firearm drawn against me.

However, in a tournament setting the stakes can often be as high as a $30 module that you won't even have to pay shipping for. The idea of a $10 trophy to set prominently in one's man cave is a unholy, beckoning lure that turns an otherwise affable fellow into a HIP-swapping swine of the lowest order. Cheating? Yes, but there is sharking as well. Some dude lays up and gives you the old, "I've always wanted to play Grinding Mill as the Russians."

Scenario balance is generally considered a function of playtesting. A well-playtested scenario should be relatively balanced. While ASL is not generally played for money, fame or sexual favors, people generally like to believe that they have a chance of winning a scenario they are about to play. Hence, the term "unbalanced dog" is a term which all scenario designers run in fear from lest they fall prey to the pumpkin headed horseman.

Using data from ROAR, the Remote On-line Automated Record, I compiled a list of scenarios to see what the data say about ASL scenarios. Now, as TEDMS will certainly point out, ROAR is not perfect. It does not take into consideration the levels of the players, in many cases the balance used and of course randomness which is inherent in the game. However, once a critical mass of playings is reached, there are no reasons to think these random effects would not balance out. ROAR is self-reporting and (while I'm not accusing anyone of doing this) it is susceptible to manipulation by third party marketers that wish to show their scenario packs as balanced and getting a lot of play. However, especially in the case of large numbers of playings, we can assume that the data here are a pretty dependable source of inference about the balance of a scenario.

This involves analysis of 4141 scenarios, although only 3477 have a recorded playing.

First, I develop a percentage of playings where the attacker wins the scenario. Not surprisingly, but noted with some comfort, the mean (average) probability of wins by the attacker is 49.8%--very near the 50% we would expect if we chose the winner at random.

The percentage of wins by attacker is then plotted with number of playings. The hypothesis is, of course, that more balanced scenarios are more likely to receive regular play. Thus, the more playings recorded by a scenario, the more likely it is to be balanced. However, we need to be very careful about this inference because statistics and probability always suggests that the more often you observe something, the less likely you are to observe a mean which deviates from the expected pattern. Nevertheless, here is the plot:

On the right hand (vertical) axis is scenario balance. This is calculated by taking the absolute value of the difference between the percentage of wins by the attacker and .5 (the expected random result.) The formula for this is:

B = |(a/p) - .5|
Where B is the balance, a is the number of attacker wins and p is the number of playings.

While in general, there is sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis (that is, the data suggest that scenarios with greater balance are more likely to get more play), there are a number of curious deviations.
The n, or total population of playings, is 71567. The standard deviation from the expectation of scenario balance (50%) is 95.1, meaning that we can be confident to almost 1 chance in 1000 that the overall balance of scenarios is nearly 50%.

This, of course, leads to a wealth of new questions. Which are the most balanced scenarios? That I can answer! The top ten scenarios by statistical confidence measures are not much of a surprise to the grognards:

A pretty wide variety of publishers--an far fewer than I would have thought for "official" publications.

On the other hand, here are the most unbalanced scenarios with more than 50 playings:

Note that nearly all are official TAHGC/MMP scenarios. And all of them are pretty well known. Since many people consider balance to be crucial to scenario selection and (at least among reporters) everyone has access to ROAR, why are these scenarios getting played?

Clearly, these are some good scenarios with a great deal of prima facae attraction.

According to ROAR, the most played, least balanced scenario in the archive is ASL14 Silence that Gun from Paratrooper. While tipping 30% pro-German, StG has 320 recorded playings. What is the attraction?

First, a synopsis: A half a company of American paratroopers complete the “Longest Day” by attempting to seize the board 3 village and/or a hidden AT gun. The Germans defend with the usual collections of Sad Sacks and Hiwis which, for some inexplicable reason, were stationed in Normandy to clear the good troops for the Eastern Front. The board is the classic 2-3-4 arrangement, meaning that this is, largely, playable with SL components.

What makes it a favorite? Well, it’s D-Day and Paratroopers. It’s one of the first scenarios and has components practically everyone has. In all, this seems like a classic scenario waiting to happen. It’s a scene straight out of a John Wayne movie.

What makes this scenario unbalanced? Well, first off, it is a half-company attacking a company. While there is a HUGE qualitative difference, the Americans enjoy a firepower advantage but only a marginal morale advantage. Leadership is equal. Germans enjoy a rather large advantage in SW—the HMG and the MMG. The VC do not force the Germans to spread out and, it seems, the best strategy is to have the fortified building and HIP gun covering each other or to move the HIP gun completely out of the way and never, ever use it. With six squads and six turns, it’s simply impossible for the Americans to find it in time except by sheer luck or by a really bad strategy on the German’s part.

Destroying the HIP gun seems to me to be a hopeless task for the Americans. It involves deploying and doing lots of searches—which will still take time. There are 450 hexes in the German setup area. Probably around 100 have concealment terrain. Six American squads, six turns. Do the math.

So, the Americans have to “solely occupy” the fortified building in the board 3 village. Logic dictates that this will be building N1. It’s tallest. It’s biggest. It’s stone. This kind of takes the guesswork out of it, but can anyone really justify any other building? Perhaps M5, if you were adventurous. While it is wood, it has a first level. It is more difficult to approach—but the Amis have lots of smoke. You could cover it from N1. Still, it has less than half the locations of N1, making things a lot easier on the Americans.

Therefore, it looks like this one devolves into an “Americans assault 3N1 building” scenario. It is do-able. Perhaps not all that fun.

The balance fix is to remove the second level from N1. That doesn’t seem like much, but an examination of the board shows precisely why it is extremely important. N1 suddenly doesn’t cover the approach from the east, allowing paratroopers to deal with a few covering squads and then run up next to the building.

One “fix” is to not allow the gun to set up HIP. That’s a pretty big balance and changes the scenario substantially. It provides the Americans a real alternative to assaulting 3N1. Perhaps more importantly, it makes the Germans set up differently, making them bring the gun into the safety of the N1 MG nest cover.

Funny, but I don’t ever remember having played this one. My view of “Silence that Gun” is that it is a pretty simple scenario and one that is good for teaching first timers (give them the Germans.) It’s kind of a classic, but it’s hard to imagine how many plays it would have if it were more balanced. And it’s not really that far off. I would be interested to hear what others have to say about this one.
Categories: Blogs

Bring the HEAT...

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 06:46
ME: Thinking, thinking...

TEDMS: Time's up.

ME: I'll fire APCR. A "7", I haven't got it. Firing AP. A "9," miss.

Earlier I talked about various to kill effects of Soviet APCR rounds. These range from the moderately effective 45mm APCR round to the why-bother 76L round. Range is a key factor on whether APCR is worth firing. APCR is most effective at close range. Which means that good tankers save APCR when you need to kill a monster at close range.

However, good tankers also know that APCR can increase your hit chances. Because depletion numbers are low numbers and therefore, you are more likely to not have it (and, therefore, no shot takes effect), you get a second shot--a "do-over" or a "mulligan." As a result, the probability of getting a hit usually increases.

But there is a lot of math behind this. A lot of math. As demonstrated above, it is possible to attempt special ammo and have your non-shot be a hit and then miss on the do-over. For this reason, it is a bad move to use the APCR to-hit strategy when you have a low depletion and a high to hit unless you need the TK bonus.

These figures are, approximately, the modification to your to-hit probability based on your depletion number if you first try APCR. The horizontal axis is your FINAL to hit number. As you probably guessed, this strategy generally works best if your depletion number is high and your to hit number is somewhere in the middle. The easier a target is to hit, the less it makes sense to attempt an APCR shot--if you are simply seeking to increase your hit probability.

Why do the lines drop to the negative? Because of the likelihood that you will deplete your ammo but hit with the first shot and miss with the second. Keep in mind also that you are effectively doubling your chances of malfunctioning your weapon. APCR may also increase the risk of creating smoke where you don't want it.

A good tanker also assesses the risk of depletion when firing APCR, because you don't want to use a shell to increase your likelihood of hitting a softer target if you have a monster to deal with. Even depletion numbers as high as a 7 make it extremely likely you will only get one shot. The WORST case scenario for you is firing and missing with your last APCR round.

So here are your probabilities for each depletion number for each shot taken:

In fact, these numbers are good for HEAT as well (although I think some of the Soviet heavy guns have higher depletion numbers and if you throw low ammo into the mix it changes everything.)

All of this boils down to a rule of thumb: If you face something that you need the APCR for later, you probably don't want to fire it simply to increase the likelihood of hitting. If you are firing it to increase you chances of hitting, don't fire it if your final to hit number is greater than your depletion number, because the benefits drop off very quickly.

I find this tactic kind of gamey and unwholesome and it is a bit silly for the rules to provide an advantage simply as a mechanism for determining rarer ammunition availability. As an alternative, I might suggest treating APCR, HEAT and even SMOKE more like panzerfausts. When the player announces the shot, he makes a dr based on his depletion number:

Rolling less than or equal to the availability number means that gun has the special ammo and is in a position to fire it for that shot. To preserve balance, I would also suggest the following modifiers:
+x for each previous shot with that type of ammo by that gun.
+1 for low ammo
-1 for attempting (and failing) to fire special ammo with the previous shot
-1 for target's best AF > or = the gun's TK number
+2 for a deliberate immobilization shot

Gunners rarely unloaded their AP shells to replace them with HEAT or APCR. Standard practice was to fire the round in the gun and then load the desired ammunition for the follow up shot. So the alternate system provides a degree of realism by increasing the likelihood of a second shot being special ammo.
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LOADER! Um...surprise me.

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 05:13
Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) ammo is made from a nickle alloy. In fact, the hunger for nickle drove many campaigns, many in the most inhospitable conditions (e.g. Narvik, Petsamo). Nickle was so valuable, in fact that the US stopped using nickle to make nickles and used them instead to make shells. You can still find some 1943-1945 nickles out there in circulation with an "S" stamped on them for the steel they were made from.

APCR can really seem like a difference maker when taking on tanks you really have no business taking on. But is it? Here I am going to examine the real to-kill effects when using APCR for common Soviet gun types against different levels of armor protection.

Because dice probabilities are not linear, we would assume that APCR has different effectiveness against different targets. APCR is limited in its quantity, so knowing when to use it can be a crucial decision. First, we look at the effectiveness of APCR and AP ammo at medium range:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 7-12

From this graph you can see that the to-kill chances tend to be much better for 45mm APCR than 45mm AP. This is not so true for 76L ammo, which game designers again hamstring and shortchange proletarian production models. However, we can see the difference is particularly crucial for 45L's looking to crack those 6AF PzKwIII's and T-34/85's taking on Tigers.

These differences look meek when compared to close up shots:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 0 or 1

Here we see huge gaps in performance of nickle ammo compared with their regular counterparts. Particularly, we can see the value in the T34/85's APCR when confronting Tigers and Panthers head on. But the very large across the board differences between the solid lines and dotted lines make it clear that firing at close range gives your gun a much greater punch.

Later, I will look at the differences in penetration of the most common Soviet guns at each range and on the effects of special ammo on a to-hit roll. In the meantime, keep in mind this crucial lesson: APCR is most useful for dangerous situations when you suddenly find yourself face to face with a monster and is somewhat less useful at range, where, in any case, you may have more maneuverability to get in a side shot which makes APCR less crucial. While you are using the nickle mined by Fascist dogs in Siberia, remember to use it wisely to kill their co-conspirators.

Also remember that Soviet workers turned out 5 times as many T34/85's as Panthers and more than 25 times as many as Tigers
Categories: Blogs