I Played a Mobile “Wargame” for a Full Month.

So a while ago I purchased a White Dwarf magazine from my local hobby shop. I used to read White Dwarf quite a bit, but fell off the wagon years ago as the magazine degraded into a flashy catalogue and I got busy with other things. This issue caught my eye because it included a dozen Warhammer PC game codes. I’ve got a few of the more prominent ones, but I thought it would be interesting to see what the good and bad of digital Warhammer games are these days and maybe squeeze a few reviews out of the deal.

One that immediately tripped me up as I went to redeem it was Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest. This was a mobile wargame in the tradition of Clash of Clans. Something I vowed, as someone who respects video games, to never willingly engage in. But here it was, a code for some free stuff to get you off the ground. A morbid curiosity grew in me, followed by a crafty rationalization to convince myself this would be a good idea. Why don’t I play using what this code gives me and see how long I can last?

The experiment opened my eyes to a sad reality. But I’ll get to that.

How Does Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest Play?

So there isn’t really much game here. The general gameplay loop revolves around timers. You want a high power score. In order to get a high power score, you’re going to need soldiers and defences for your fortress. This is accomplished by acquiring resources, constructing buildings, researching new skills, and training soldiers. It sounds pretty typical for a strategy game, but in Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest, as in most other mobile wargames, there is no real strategy involved. Each building linearly increases in value and power as it levels up. Some allow you to gain more resources, some to recruit more troops, some to let you scout farther or faster. None of these things require choice as there is room for it all in your base.

The true enemy is time. Every build requires resources and time. Some of the early timers are easy. 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there. But by the time I finally hit my limit, I was waiting a full week to finish researching tier three units. Of course, you can always pay real money to reduce timers.

Combat is another simple numbers game. There are plenty of AI ‘armies’ dotted around the world map that you can attack, but combat consists of selecting an army, a general to lead it that hopefully makes good use of your troops, and sending them on their way. Units do damage to each other, you earn some items for your trouble, and the army marches back.

PVP is where these games flourish, but the tragic part is that it will always come down to the player with higher power winning. There is no tactical choice to be made. I never lost a fight against a human player, mostly because I never engaged unless I had far superior power, but really, my safety came down to the true meat of these mobile wargames, clans.

The Social Trap of Mobile Wargames

Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest, like most similar games, heavily encourages players to join a clan. This helps reduce timers, allows players to share some resources, and creates a sense of community. The community aspect is frightening in its ability to quickly ground down players on the fence about spending. Each server wide event shows exactly how much help each member is contributing to a victory, and is quick to show relative power levels. Those who spend some money to help out and top off a win for their clan are greeted with praise by their fellows. Those who do not are, in my experience, just kind of ignored.

PVP being a clan versus clan thing also helps to inflame players and goad them towards spending money. Several times in my month I saw enemies from different clans swear across the open chat to out buy each other in an effort to win personal or clan glory. I also saw players spending in order to act as protectors for their weaker clan mates. It was almost baffling until I realized just how important these games could be to certain people.

The Vicious Necessity of Mobile Games

I tried to chat a lot with my clanmates while I played. Mostly about the limited strategies we could employ to improve our lot, but also about their lives. More of them than I expected were playing this because they couldn’t really do anything else. Several spoke openly about disabilities preventing them from playing other games or engaging in other hobbies. Others spoke of this game as their escape from a difficult world, using the easy mechanics and linear progression for a sense of satisfaction and fun, and even other seemed to have little else besides the game to spend their time and money on.

It made me more than a little sad, but also, I think, helped me understand why these games are they way they are. Yes they exist to bilk money out of their players at an absurd rate, but I also see that this connection of real money to in game prowess helps those who cannot find that power elsewhere to feel good about themselves. Is it an actual solution to real life problems? I don’t really think so. But I understand it now. For some, spending money on these kinds of games and participating in a community is an important part of their lives that fulfills them in a way they can’t or aren’t getting elsewhere. I’m willing to bet that if the real money component wasn’t part of the equation, there wouldn’t be the same sense of real impact.

For the record, almost everyone I spoke to while playing the game said they had a budget they were keeping to, though I suspect some were pushing it. I know these games do everything they can to get players to fork over cash, and I really do wish there were some better ways for people to get at that same sense of community. But for some, this seems like all they can do, and I can’t fault them for that.

I took all images from Steam. Don’t spend money on this game if you can avoid it.

Age of Sigmar 3.0: A Test Game

My friend and I decided to finally take the plunge and try out the game that replaced Warhammer all those years ago: Age of Sigmar. A lot has changed both in terms of rules and in terms of the game’s background lore, and wading back into Age of Sigmar for it’s 3rd edition release was actually a lot more fun than I had anticipated.

As a brief reminder of my tabletop qualifications, I’ve been a steady player of Warhammer Fantasy since my 12 year old self managed to scrap together enough for a 6th edition starter set. My friends and I all slowly chipped away at armies using our middling-at-best understanding of the rules and a lot of proxy-hammer to have a grand old time romping around the Old World. We’ve stuck with miniature wargaming, dipping into 40k, historical, and skirmish games all while continuing to build and play to Warhammer Fantasy. Until Games Workshop destroyed it.

Since Warhammer died and we took a bit of a break, we’ve been playing (when not COVID restricted) One Page Rule’s Age of Fantasy Regiments, which I’ve said numerous times on this blog and elsewhere is my favorite game system ever. But now that things are open and a new edition of Age of Sigmar just dropped, we thought we’d give it a shot.

The Realm of Ghur

The Age of Sigmar

Our battle, as per the 2021 General’s Handbook, takes place in the feral plains of Guhr, a realm suffused with wild magic and a vicious will to survive. Our battle plan (read: scenario) was “Savage Gains” rolled from a list in that same handbook. While we both anticipated a grueling weight-lifting competition, instead we found a fairly standard ‘control the enemy’s objective’ scenario with a little twist. Objectives were worth more the further into enemy territory you went, and on the 3rd turn of 5, the player going second was able to remove a single objective, denying remaining points.

Our armies, my wife’s wonderfully painted Warriors of Chaos and my friend’s High Elves (Now Slaves to Darkness and Lumineth Realm Lords in Age of Sigmar parlance) were arrayed across the beautiful and Guhr appropriate table at our local gaming store Game Knight League, ready to fight.

The Lumineth host before the lines met.

The Battle

Earning the first turn, The Lumineth Realm Lords calmly organized their detachments. Archers, spearmen, and the dreaded blade masters maintained a tight formation while they move to secure key junctures of the rapidly flowing rivers that cut through this region’s mountains. Their leaders, wizards all, cast wards of protection and accuracy on their soldiers, only minorly bothered by the tug of Chaos at the edge of their minds. On the far flank, a lone Hero emerged from the undergrowth to deny passage to any Chaos warriors who might try to get the drop on his allies. Spying only a pathetic Chaos Spawn, the Hero swiftly put it out of its misery with several well placed arrows. Back on the other side of the battlefield, archers opened fire. Sensing the oncoming taint of corruption, arrows loosed at high arcs towards unseen targets. Drawn to the immense power of a Demon Prince of Nurgle, several shafts found their mark, but it was not enough to bring down the beast, who quickly healed himself using his dark god’s power.

Bolstered by the laughter of their dark god, the more mobile forces of Nurgle charged across the rivers, Chariots crashing through the water and demonic steeds leaping the gap to come down with thunderous weight on the other bank. Seeing an unholy speed that belied the gross bulk of the warriors approaching them, the Blade Lords holding the center repositioned themselves at the edge of a tangled wood, blocking the path to their home objective and dominating a pass between two mighty peaks.

Two key river junctures on the left and right, with a mountain pass in the middle, made up the battlefield

The lone Hero, satisfied at having removed the taint of the Chaos spawn from the realm, almost didn’t hear the wingbeats that brought a second Demon Prince of Nurgle hurtling out of the sky to land almost on top of him. Far away, The main host of Nurgle advanced, drawing closer to the arranged elven warriors, the sky about them darkened with a plague of flies. Lumineth archer showed their skill as arrows filled the sky and managed, beyond all reason, to navigate the clouds of flies that surrounded the oncoming horde to find gaps in armour and slits in visors. The horde was slowed, but not stopped.

Eventually arrows could do no more and the mighty hosts clashed. Chariots crashed into steady ranks, wreaking bloody havoc before being brought down by pin point accurate blades and spears. The Spearmen of the Realm Lords, emboldened by their leader’s magic, were a glowing engine of death. Dozens of hulking warriors and even a demon prince fell before their efficient onslaught. It took the might of the Putrid BlightKings, scions of Nurgle’s Will, to turn the tide. As the spear elves slowly began to fall before weight of the advance, the weeping of the Scinari Cathallar took the pain of his fellow realm lords and weaponized it, turning their suffering and sorrow into pure energy that wracked the brains of the assaulting Chaos Warriors. When the dust settled and the flies were silenced, none but Fecula, Sorceress of Nurgle remained on that bloody field.

Warriors of Chaos and Lumineth Spearmen and Blade Lords move to meet on the critical juncture, a now desolate plain that will forever be known as the field of flies

A mountain away, The advanced forces of Nurgle’s host were struggling. The Blade Lords used the forest to their advantage, striking out at the Chaos Kngihts as they blundered through the gigantic trees. Even farther afield, The Lone Hero dueled with the Demon Prince over control of a key ford. He put up a valiant fight but could not contain the fury of the beast. Eventually, a triumphant and bubbly laugh signaled the Demon’s victory, and the capture of the ford. The triumph was short lived, as the Hero had managed to stall the beast long enough. The battle had shifted and the ford he died beside was no longer strategically critical.

While their soldiers butchered each other on the wide plain that would evermore be known as the field of flies, The Chaos Lord confronted the Leader of the Lumineth. It was he who Nurgle had told his champion to slaughter, and so he did swifty, the sorcerer no match for the god touched warrior. His success was met with a great boon, as Nurgle saw fit to bless him with Demonhood, elevating him beyond mortality.

It was clear that the elves were in danger of losing the field of flies and therefore the key river junction. Leaving some Blade Masters to hold their flank against whatever forces might come, the archers and remaining Blade Masters repositioned themselves to take back the field. The newly minted Demon Prince, arrogant in his new form, dove upon them alone, intent on finishing the puny elves and taking the pass for his god.

A Great Demon of Nurgle

His hubris would be his undoing, as the combined might of the remaining archers was more than enough to send his newly twisted soul into the void of Chaos. This left only a handfull of BlightKings and a Demon Prince alive on the field. Though the BlightKings pulled their weight in the final moments of the battle, they were brought down, leaving the Lumineth Realm Lords in control of the key remaining juncture and their own home area.

Though the Field of Flies will remain rotten for generations, the three key mountain passes remain in the hands of the forces of Order, the Lumineth earning a sizable, if costly, victory over the forces of Chaos.

Demon Prince and Lumineth Realm Lord

Game Review

Age of Sigmar is fun! At first we were both overwhelmed with the sheer number of special rules we had to look up. I’m sure we both missed some here and there. But the management of Command Points, Hero Abilities, and combat activations made every turn feel important and full of meaningfully tactical decisions.

The victory conditions, tied to objectives instead of merely killing opposing forces, kept the game up in the air until the final couple of turns when in quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to overcome the Lumineth lead.

Lumineth Realm Lords

The most important part was that the game was entertaining and led to a lot of fun emergent narratives. The duel between Demon Prince and Lone Hero. The Sad-ening of my warriors killing most of the unit, and the overeager Demon Prince spawning out of my general only to be shot down with his hubris. It helped that we had mostly painted armies and a beautiful battlefield, but I’m more than ready to hop into a new Age of Sigmar Army. It was a great night out, and isn’t that the point of tabletop wargaming?

Paper Time Machines: Live Stream with Volko Ruhnke

Hello everyone! It’s my pleasure to announce here on the blog that Sunday September 19th and 9:00AM EST, Jack and I will be hosting the Paper Time Machines talk by legendary designer Volko Ruhnke!

Please come check out the stream for an enlightening talk about science fiction and historical simulations! Here’s the official description:

“Boardgames can transport us to different worlds by showing us on a tabletop how these worlds work. This is as true of fantasy and science fiction boardgames as it is of historical simulations, because great fantasy and science fiction draws from knowledge of human history to make its alien worlds work in coherent and realistic ways. Historical boardgame designer Volko Ruhnke will show how science fiction and fantasy boardgames and historical boardgames all share and can reveal facets of human affairs, including:

• The flow of resources in warfare: DUNE and Falling Sky (Caesar in Gaul).

• Medieval military operationa: War of the Ring and Nevsky (Teutons and Rus).

• Insurgency and counterinsurgency: Star Wars Rebellion and Fire in the Lake (US in Vietnam).”

We’ll be there to moderate questions and comments so if you want to get some words in with the big man himself about wargaming and conflict simulation, drop on by!

Link to the Event

Sunday, September 19 2021, 9:00AM EST

-Joe

HighFleet Review

Thousands of meters above a sparse desert, filled with ruins and angry warlords, a small fleet of combat airships cruise to their next objective. The commander of this grand fleet sits in his command room, staring at a map. Various lights blink and alarms buzz intermittently. Encoded messages are intercepted by the comms team as the fleet sends out a strike force to hit the upcoming town before they can call for reinforcements, just as tactical nuclear missiles are fired at the main fleet by an enemy strike force some hundreds of kilometers away.

HIGHFLEET RULES.

The player is, of course, the commander of this (high)fleet, a group of massive war-airships (air-warships?) stuck without help in NotAfghanistan, as the heir to the NotRussian Empire. The tutorial helps explain the premise of the game tidily, and introduces the main story beats, which I won’t spoil too much because although it is basic, it is a good concept. Along your journey, as your (high)fleet cruises between towns in a desolate desert you learn more about the world and the characters you can call upon for help in your time of need. And boy, will you need help.

Your (high)fleet will spend the game cruising around enemy territory, going from town to town to assault enemy defenses, grab repairs and supplies for your ships, as well as hire mercenaries to supplement your relatively tiny force. In my time playing, I’ve only had a fleet up to about 10-12 ships at max, and enemy formations can vary from just a few ships to having about an equivalent number. Worse still, the enemy seems to have easier access to big fuck-off cruisers that will pummel your ships into oblivion given the chance.

So, that’s enough lead-up I think. Let’s talk about the meat of the game: the cool-as-hell combat.

LIKE A FLASH GAME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

So, when faced with an enemy formation, you are given the ability to organize your fleet’s combat order, the first ship will go out to fight first, then when that one’s retreated or blown up, the following ship will come in, and so on. I thought this was confusing at first, given that the enemy will have multiple ships deployed at the same time, but Highfleet is, at its heart, a 2D aerial shooter. Your ships can fly along the x and y axes, facing off against enemy ships who want your blood. The action is difficult to sell through text, but as your destroyer thrusts above the enemy to fire several rounds of 120 mm high explosive into the roof of an enemy vessel, causing it to catch fire and careen wildly out of control, deploying escape pods before it hits the ground… well that in the industry is what we call “the good shit.”

Ships can vary between being floating fortresses, massive structures with massive cannon, missiles, and parasite planes attached, to what is essentially a thruster with some guns tied to them. Damage in combat is determined based on what type of shell/missile hits what part of the structure of your ship, and things will blow up/ fall off satisfyingly. Ships can easily spin out of control if one of their thrusters is damaged, and your landing gears can also be broken off, making landing for repairs (a mini-game you can do in towns to speed up the repair speed for a ship) a non-starter. Of course, that assumes your ship survives combat, which it easily couldn’t. Combat is generally pretty fast, with errant shots able to detonate ammo stores, but larger ships can duke it out for minutes, which feels like running a marathon. Fortunately, as your ship sustains damage against several enemy combatants, you can bring it to the side of the screen to retreat, and the next ship in rotation will appear, hopefully fresh and able to beat up on the enemy forces.

I really have to commend the developer, Konstantin Koshutin, for how good combat feels. It feels exactly as violent as it is, with ships weighing thousands of tons shooting heavy artillery at each other hundreds of meters in the air. The weight of movement and weapons feels right, and the action is visceral. A feature that is sorely lacking in Highfleet is a skirmish mode, as it would be fantastic to throw these massive beats at each other outside the context of the campaign. Speaking of which…

A MERRY TREK TO DOOM

As I mentioned above, the gist of the campaign is to move your fleet from one end of the campaign map to the other, your objective being the enemy’s capital. You are, except your current fleet, alone, and need to scavenge for supplies, ships, recruits, and allies on the way. This is an interesting and deep part of the game that I feel unfortunately doesn’t stack quite up to the excitement of the combat. Maybe I’m just not great at being the head strategist of the team, but to me, it can frequently feel like a lot of shuffling around between enemy cities to try to pick off lone transports or rushing an enemy oil depot to get a cheap refill of your tanks. It’s also very hard to come back from a losing situation, as you are being hunted by what feels like increasingly strong enemies, with your own fleet succumbing to constant attrition through skirmishes.

Thank you, Petr.

The campaign layer does have several interesting systems, such as various methods of radar detection, the ability to intercept messages from the enemy, which warn you of positions of their transports and terrifying strike fleets, and the ability to form up smaller task forces to strike around the region. These are interesting diversions on the campaign layer, but I feel like they can become just a bit of extra noise.

Added to the stack of things you have to keep track of, in addition to all the enemy fleets, your fleet’s status, the opinion of the people you’re “liberating”, you can also do some tinkering on your ships to customize them. This is a very cool feature that scares the hell out of me. All changes seem to take place immediately, and it’s not super apparent to me which part of the ship does what… through experience you can figure it out, or you might have a better idea than I do already. Unfortunately for everyone, including myself, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts instead of an engineering degree, so this doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have seen other players cannibalize ships in their fleets to build ugly but incredibly efficient monstrosities that pulverize enemy forces. I hope there’s an update to the ship building system that makes it kinder in the future, as there isn’t much of a tutorial for it, and the fear of messing up one of your few valuable ships can be felt the whole time you’re refitting.

CONCLUSION

HighFleet is a unique beast. I have complaints about it, as I’ve said, but a lot of that comes down to my personal experience with the game so far, your mileage could vary with it. Maybe you really like building ships, or maybe the strategic layer is meant for you, there are a lot of you who would probably like that.

I can say though, one inarguable fact about HighFleet though, is that the game is absolutely dripping with style. The aesthetics of the game are great, with the screen shaking on hits in battle, bullet holes puncturing the UI, you can hear crew talking and sending radio messages in combat/ landings, as well as the ambient sounds of the ships in the campaign. And the sounds and looks of the guns in combat! It’s really something great to behold, and if you’re unsure about the game, I recommend taking a look at a video of this on Youtube, to at the very least appreciate the vibes.

You can convince some locals to help you through a card-based mini-game that feels somewhat under-utilized.

I can’t really compare HighFleet to any other wargames out now, as unique as it is. If you like experimental projects oozing with cool, check it out!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations 1942 DLC Review

Ah yes, Panzer Corps 2, my old friend, has returned yet again with another DLC set. I have talked before about how their DLC series, taking the player through some of the hotspots of the German campaigns in WW2, has been very good and varied so far, and each iteration seems to be better. This one is no exception so far, as the DLCs continue to add interesting scenarios to take the player through.

This DLC, as you can imagine, focuses on the eastern front, and campaigns in the Soviet Union starting in early 1942. In a change from what the normally aggressive player will be used to, there are several scenarios that call for a more defensive approach, especially the first one, which sees the player’s army surrounded. There is a nice amount of variation in these scenarios, which I want to say are great overall, because the formula of Panzer Corps 2 works really well, and what these DLCs are is essentially new map packs for your persistent army.

That being said, I have a bit of a bone to pick with this set of scenarios specifically. Perhaps it was because I began reviewing this set while I was stuck in my house with no air conditioning, but some of the scenarios felt like they took and incredibly long time to finish. I really like the gameplay of Panzer Corps 2, but defending a static position for over 20 turns with 20+ units to manage each turn can become a bit tedious.

Another thing I noticed somewhat on the 1941 DLC but moreso here, is that while the game will give you a pre-built army to work with if you don’t have an army to carry over from the previous DLC (which is a tremendous feature, by the by), you’re probably better off importing or building your own army. The scenarios are noticeably tough, at least in my opinion, and you’re better off with an army you’ve crafted yourself.

One other important thing I’d like to mention is that the end of this DLC pack has different endings, which is a first. Of course, 1942 is the year of Stalingrad, and the end of the pack brings you to there, and the ending changes based on how you perform in battle. I’m not sure how much bearing that will have on a potential Axis Operations 1943, but it is cool to see a bit of variance to the overall story of your army.

All in all, I can’t say much else about this DLC. It’s more Panzer Corps 2! Panzer Corps 2 is great! If you like the game, you’ll like the DLC. Despite my gripes, it still stands as one of the best turn-based strategy games in the WW2 sphere at the moment.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

(P.S. sorry for the lack of variety in screenshots, my HDD seems to have eaten most of them D:)

Let’s Talk About Wargames Weekly Roundup 8/16/21

Hey folks, it’s that time of the week again! We’re here to bring you the latest news with what’s going on in our necks of the woods. This’ll be a short one this week, as Joe is away, so it’s just Jack (Also, apologies for this being late).

Jack: Unity of Command 2 Moscow ’41 DLC and Frostpunk 2! A big week for good games (I’ve heard Frostpunk is good, I never played it. Sounded too ‘child labor-y’ for my tastes), and with what’s going on in the world today, some good news is nice.

Speaking of good news, my AC is back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I will be able to resume reviewing things and editing podcast episodes shortly. My PC was stuck in the hottest room in the house, so if it didn’t overheat, I would have. Expect to see reviews for the Panzer Corps 2 Axis Ops 42 DLC and Highfleet in the coming weeks.

While I was stuck in my room, I got around to playing a gem that I had missed, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, on my PS5. It’s a combination visual novel/ tactical combat game, and is really good, in my opinion. If you have a PS4 or PS5 and are looking for a tactics game, catch it the next time it goes on sale! I’ll be sharing more thoughts on this one later on.

And that’s it from us for the last week, but you can expect at the very least the review for Panzer Corps 2 Axis Operations 1942 to hit your screens sometime this week. Stay safe everyone!

Let’s Talk About Wargames Weekly Roundup 2021/08/06

Hey folks! This will be a special, weekly column where we review what we reviewed, talk about what games we’re playing (for review or otherwise), drop some facts about new podcast content, and other news of that nature!

Jack: This week, my AC continued to be broken (and has been since the beginning of July. I crave death.), so I snuck downstairs late at night to my PC when it’s cooler, as the PC room is obviously the hottest area in the house. I got a bit of time in on the latest Panzer Corps 2 DLC, which is an interesting pivot for the DLC series that I appreciate, more on this to come as I get more playtime in, of course. Similarly, I played a little bit of Highfleet, which reminds me of some of those old flash games you’d find online years ago, but in a good way. Certainly very unique! Full thoughts on the way there as well.

In my time stuck in my room with my work laptop, I haven’t been able to do much wargaming besides, but I did watch an 80’s classic and prepare to play the associated board game, which is baffling that it exists. Expect a review soon of a game that makes light of a certain “danger zone.”

We’re also recording a new episode over the weekend with a guest, in which we’ll be talking about the gaming community and how it treats certain members, both as players and as developers. Expect that episode out towards the end of the month!

Pictured: An online game

Joe: I’m struggling! Work is still eating up 90% of my time and trying to get some gaming in for reviews in that final 10% is a bit of a challenge. But I am happy to say that I’m enjoying what I am getting my hands on.

I’m getting closer to completing Warhammer 40k Battlesector, and I’m happy to report in the meantime that my initial opinions have not changed very much. We’ll have to see what the end game content does for me.

I’m also chipping away at another more traditional wargame that should delight those of you who are interested in some classic JTS action. Hopefully that will come out as soon as I finish another couple scenarios.

Finally, and happily, the latest drops from Microprose are looking to be something special. With Jack’s take on Highfleet forthcoming, and my own look at Carrier Command 2, fans of outlandish and stylish wargaming have a lot to look forward to.

Some Official Updates from Publishers:

Slitherine is happy to report on the progress of Masters of Magic with this neat update about in-game events:

“There are several different types of events in Master of Magic, and they will all make a comeback in the remake: The map of Master of Magic is filled with various locations that can be explored by the player.  These include things like fallen temples, ruins or mysterious caves where both treasure and challenge may await. There are also three power nodes, Sorcery, Nature and Chaos, and the magic towers that serve as portals between Arcanus and Myrror. All of those locations have an event attached to them, so that the appropriate path will trigger – combat if there are defenders, or loot if it is abandoned. Those events are fairly straight forward and apart from some extra fluff here or there, they will remain unchanged.

“The land is scattered with the ruins of some past civilizations. Who were they, where are they now? No one knows. Beware, this place may be guarded.”

All of the random events from the original MoM are returning, but they are slightly modified. In the remake, we want to give the wizard a chance to react to some of those events, instead of them being a simple notification of what occurred. You will always have the option to simply accept the default result, but in some cases, you will be able to either alter or even avoid the consequences. This will typically be achieved by offering a payment via mana/gold or other means that an event may respond to.”

Slitherine also released a new dev blog about Distant Worlds 2: You can read it here.

Age of Empires IV’s closed BETA is underway having started on August 5, and while personally we haven’t managed to get in on that, I’m cautiously optimistic about how AOE4 is shaping up. Let us know (if it won’t break a NDA) how much fun you’re having if you’re one of the lucky thousands who got in on it.

We hope everyone has a happy and safe weekend.

Ultimate General: Civil War: A Retrospective

Not many people know this, but Ultimate General: Civil War was the first game I wrote about back when I started as a freelancer. The piece was, admittedly, not my finest work, nor was it published, as I had submitted it as part of my initial pitch. Nevertheless, I have an immense fondness for the game as both the stepping stone that allowed me to be here on this blog and podcast, as well as for the fact that, in my opinion, the game just rules.

The Ultimate General series has roots back in the Total War games, part of the development team being Nick Thomadis, otherwise known as good ol’ Darth of the DarthMod mod series, an excellent series of enhancements to the mainline Total War games up to Shogun 2. These enhancements typically involved improving the AI, making the battles more realistic by changing unit sizes and stats, as well as adjusting the campaign AI, economy, and buildings. These were very popular mods, and the team took that experience into Ultimate General: Gettysburg, what was essentially a spiritual successor to the earlier Sid Meier’s Antietam and Gettysburg games.

General Weed in UG: Gettysburg blazing some rebs (look at the kill count I’m proud of this one).

And it was great! The AI reacted in largely intelligent ways, and had scaling difficulties and personalities you could set it to (a feature I wish more games would copy), and had fewer but more distinct unit types than its forebears, painting arrows for them to march along the battlefield. These units controlled much like the units in Total War, but in lieu of a bunch of abilities they can activate, turning battles into an APM mess (I still love you Total War), battles are much more about proper planning and placement of troops. Troops that are camped in the woods take less damage from incoming volleys, wheat fields hide units until they can see the whites of the enemies’ eyes, and river crossings slow units down and make them far more susceptible to incoming fire.

Gettysburg was a solid, if small, experience, allowing the player to go through multiple scenarios of the three day battle, with alternating paths based on how well the player fought. This formed a sort of prototype for Civil War, which said “what if we give the whole war the Gettysburg experience?” The result is an imperfect game, but its quirks make it all the more charming and have kept me returning to it over the past few years.

So, what changed from Gettysburg, other than the fact that the whole game doesn’t take place over one battle? Well for starters, individual units and officers are far more important, as Civil War features a persistent campaign. Those soldiers you start the game with improve over time with experience, becoming better sharpshooters, better melee fighters, or having better morale as they’re exposed to combat. Similarly, your officers are promoted as they survive engagements, and higher ranking officers are considered to be better at commanding their troops, leading to buffs from officers who manage to dodge bullets. This leads to a surprisingly intimate relationship with your army over time, as you want to keep those troops and officers who were with you from the beginning alive, not just for the sake of keeping your army in fighting shape, but because they’ve been with you since 1st Bull Run, and now the man who was a Captain of skirmishers lays dead at the head of his division in Gettysburg. It’s built to tell stories by telling you the names of these officers.

In between the real-time engagements, you’re return to your army’s camp, where you can bring in new recruits, create new units, and equip your men with new manners of weaponry, such as rifled muskets, 20lb cannon, or even repeaters toward the end of the campaign. Juggling what little resources you have to replace losses and upgrade your troops with better equipment is tough, and you’ll be forced to play favorites just by the nature of the game, as you want your best units (the ones that started out under your avatar’s command, likely) to have the best guns so they can kick the most ass, leaving the new corps you form with old 1842 muskets. Or at least, that’s one way to play it.

My III Corps with now-seasoned troops, but relatively poor equipment.

Here however, I must mention the faults of Civil War, beginning with the most egregious and blatant sin: it’s too damn linear. I’m not just saying that because 95% of all strategic wargames ever are American Civil War games and yes we know the whole story by now, but the campaign is structured into a series of set scenarios, which is and was disappointing. You’re basically role-playing as either the Army of the Potomac or the Army of Northern Virginia, based on which side you choose. If you, as the Army of the Potomac, decimate the rebels at Antietam, that should be it! It should be game over! But the campaign is structured to take you through a series of levels. I’m not adverse to linear design in strategy games, as I am fond of this game, as well as of Unity of Command 2 and Panzer Corps 2… but at this level, more freedom of choice would be welcome. I should get to decide on better strategies as the leader of 5 corps running around, rather than McClellan’s legendarily shitty “wait and see” approach.

The linearity is felt in missions as well. The AI adapts pretty well at all difficulty levels, but the main battle of the campaign that you can fight are scripted. These can offer memorable experiences, but if you know exactly where and when scripted enemy forces are going to appear from your last failed attempt at a campaign, they don’t stand much of a chance against you. Similarly, if you reach one of the time milestones in battle and you’re not where the game expects you to be, things can get… weird. Take my most recent Union campaign, for example. At the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, I managed to break through Confederate lines and capture their headquarters on the first day of battle, after initial skirmishing. However, the game did not grant me a victory and let the battle end when the clock ran out. Instead, we were brought to day 2 of the battle, with the Confederates now reformed and reinforced in the woods around the point I had captured. It was irritating, to say the least, that my success had been punished in that manner. 

I enjoy beating up on the rebels regardless of the game’s quirks.

That being said, despite the fact that playing the game can feel repetitive, especially when new players will get their faces stomped in by the AI, the core gameplay is fun. The combat feels nice, directing troops feels natural, building your army can be very zen-like, managing the balances between pushing for goals in battle or just keeping your boys alive… there’s an appeal to that. Other persistent games feel very satisfying to play, but I don’t think they get the human element down as well as Ultimate General: Civil War does. Maybe I’m just a softie, but in a game where you can fight for the freedom of fellow men (or to own them, I guess), it’s nice to be as connected with your men as you are here.

-Jack Trumbull

How to Break WWI with Making History: The First World War

I thought I’d share some of the fun Jack and I are having playing through Making History: The First World War, a grand strategy game from Factus Games. There’s a lot to like in this fun little turn based simulation, but it is an indie title and that means that some bugs and strange design choices can slip through the cracks. Luckily for all of us, exploiting those choices can be just as fun as playing the game properly.

What Kind of Game is Making History: The First World War?

This is a grand strategy wargame in the same vein as the big paradox titles like Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis IV. Players can take control of a single nation across the world starting in 1912, 1914, or 1917 and lead them through the global political and military struggles surrounding the First World War.

Like Paradox games, the open nature of grand strategy means that things might not happen as they did historically, though scripted events here lend a significant hand in steering the great powers in the right direction. But sometimes the fun in these massive simulations is experiencing just how far things can fly off the rails of history.

Systems and Subsystems!

There are a lot of interlocking systems at work in Making History, and that’s generally a good thing. Players are going to have to take care to exploit their resources, build regional and city infrastructure, conduct research, train soldiers, and deal with international trade and diplomacy. The tragic thing is that there is very little in terms of documentation available for Making History: The First World War. When we started playing the game, we had no idea what we were doing. The manual is unfinished, and the included tutorial simply walks players through the UI.

This meant that we had a rough time when we started our game as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. managing the empire was difficult and some test battles against Serbia (Reloading after we saw how the mechanics worked) were drawn out affairs, hard fought and hard won.

That is, until I discovered the manual for the previous game in the series: Making History: the Great War.

Breaking Combat Over Our Knees

So here’s the play. In Making History artillery operates in a strange fashion. According to the manual, when artillery fires into a province, it has a 50% chance to hit friendly troops in that province and 50% chance to hit enemy troops. Each hit unit then rolls to save against that hit based on their defense and the defense of the terrain. But, and it’s a big but, the chance to hit friendly units can be reduced by 1% for every observation balloon stacked with the artillery, and by a further 1% for every unopposed friendly airplane flying over the target region.

So, if one were, to say, stack 50 observation balloons with a stack of artillery. And if, we also say, that that stack of artillery contains every single gun in the empire’s army, what happens?

Armies disappear in a blinding flash of righteous howitzer justice, that’s what.

There are no stacking penalties or limits in Making History. Attacking a province with engineer units reduces an enemy’s fortification defense. Attacking a province with 20 engineer units that is being shelled by the grand battery from hell ha terrifying results. Our war of aggression against the Balkan League resulted in a province falling every turn.

War Never Changes

Now, we’re embroiled in a three front war against the Ottoman Empire, Italy, and Germany. We are holding our own across all three fronts and proceeding to vaporizing the Italian Army with the Grandest Battery in existence.

Why don’t you try yourself?

Check out Making History: The First World War here. We don’t get anything if you click this link, so click away!

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Tiger Leader Review

Solitaire wargames occupy a special place in our hobby. On the one hand, being able to sit down away from the noise of modern life to escape into a tabletop game experience, whether narrative, systems focused, or even just an examination of history, can be a relaxing and almost meditative experience. On the other hand, I know plenty of wargamers who are turned off by the transparency of the randomness of a lot of solitaire games, or who don’t enjoy some of the contraints placed on players to make engaging against an artificial opponent more of a challenge.

When it comes to reviewing a solitaire only game I try to come at it from at least three angles. First, will solitaire wargamers like this? Second, will this do anything to change the minds of those who dont? Finally, what about those who have never tried one? Is it friendly enough to newcomers?

Tiger Leader, from Dan Verssen Games, is my first exposure to the ‘Leader’ system of solitaire wargames and is definitely a good first impression, even if there are some systemic foibles and strange errors that irked me as I played. But what of the three types of gamers above? Who is Tiger Leader for? Let’s dig in, shall we?

What Kind of Game is Tiger Leader?

Tiger Leader is a solitaire wargame in which the player takes control of a Wehrmacht kampfgruppe and leads them through a campaign of World War Two. After selecting a campaign and performing some initial set up, the gameplay loop of Tiger Leader sees players building a kamfgruppe including infantry, AFVs, and artillery, recruiting officers to lead these units, and then committing them to battles on a weekly basis to overcome enemy brigades. After the set number of weeks, the campaign ends (barring an auto fail) and the total score of the player’s victories are added up to see how well they’ve done.

Throughout the weeks of a campaign players will have to manage the spending of campaign points, deal with the abstract movements of enemy units, fight tactical battles on a hexagonal map, and manage the stress and experience points of officers. It’s a detailed system without being overwhelming, and it keeps players on their toes from start to finish. I quickly became fond of how the different systems of combat and management come together to offer an entertaining roleplaying wargame experience.

To break it down, the real focus of the game is managing your kampfgruppe. After selecting the campaign and mission(setting the parameters for the battles of that campaign) players are given a set of resource points to spend on officers, units, and extras like trucks and scouting capabilities. There are a ton a vehicles in the base game, so I always felt like I was spoiled for choice. Playing through the Poland campaign for instance, I was happy to be able to choose a 38(t), a Panzer II, and a Stug to support my infantry.

Each unit has its own stats for anti-personnel and anti-armour attacks, defense, movement, special rules governing movement, attacking, and stress. These stats interact with the stats of the officers that lead them. Officers begin with different skill levels ranging from recruit to legendary. Each level has different modifiers for firing, speed of action, stress thresholds, and special rules (more on those later).

Each week players divide their forces into smaller groups to attack some number of enemy brigades. Resources will be stretched very thin, and more often than not players will have to throw their units against numerically superior forces. You are the tip of the spear after all. Battles are time limited, and victory only really comes from destroying the enemy brigade.

COMBAT! and MANAGEMENT!

During Each week’s battles, a randomized set of terrain hexes are laid out to represent the battlefield. In the base game these tiles are either clear or contain soft or hard cover. There is a lot of variety, with different tiles representing Europe, north Africa, or the Russian winter. I appreciate that battles can have wildly different layouts that will obviously impact tactics as players are going to be spending a lot of time on these maps. An issue I encountered was that the manual indicated that terrain should have a visual indicator as to which level of cover a hex provides, but none of that existed on my hexes. I decided to go with ‘forests’ as light cover and ‘built up areas’ as heavy cover.

Combat itself is an interesting puzzle. Players only have five turns (unless scouts are purchased to add a turn) to destroy enough enemy units to remove the brigade from the campaign. Enemy Brigades have a threshold of damage they can take before they become understrength, offering up some victory points and reducing their capabilities. A second threshold, denoting a destroyed status, gives up the rest of the points and eliminates them from the game. Making sure your forces can do enough damage in five turns to reduce or destroy a brigade is a difficult prospect, as each brigade will have its own spread of units and its own special rules, and players will have to take on multiple brigades a week to keep up with the campaign’s demands.

Combat basics involve getting in range, rolling dice, and inflicting casualties when hits are scored and defenses overcome. Player forces will be overwhelmed, but this is balanced somewhat by how damage is modeled. Every time a friendly unit takes a hit, a random chit is pulled from a cup with some type of damage (or rarely, a miss) printed on it. Enemies go down in one successful hit. The damage that friendly units receive persist and must be taken care of in between battles by spending points or using officer abilities.

Enemies act according to a chart that breaks down units into groups and has them move according to a die roll and their options. Tanks are more likely to charge forward into combat range while mortars are content to stay back and support with indirect fire. I found the system believable and fun. A good enemy roll would see them aggressively take ground, but after they had suffered significant damage, the dice were more likely to force a cautious withdrawal to covered positions. Being able to model this with one dice roll is great, as anything that reduces overhead while playing solitaire is good in my books.

Your own units are interesting to manage. Often less skilled units will have penalties to defense, or add significant stress when forced to move and fire. Deciding when to take these hits to do an aggressive push of your own is a fun challenge. But exposing troops to enemy fire can be deadly, especially for officers.

Officers are a core part of the game’s strategy. They add special rules to the units they lead, add modifiers, and sometimes allow units to move before the enemy. They can be wounded, killed, or acquire stress as the result of enemy hits, but making it through a mission also offers experience points that see your officers grow from mission to mission, leveling up and changing their stats. It’s a great bit of progression that makes the campaigns come alive, and make it hurt even more when an officer dies to a single hit, forcing you to cross out their names on the ledger and bring in a low level replacement. Such is war.

It’s not perfect though, some officers have literally useless skills. An infantry officer that gives indirect fire to a unit will never be applicable, as the only infantry unit with more than one hex firing range already has an indirect fire rule, for example. It’s little things like this that make me think a bit more playtesting and proofreading should have gone into Tiger Leader.

Final Thoughts

Tiger Leader is fun. A lot of fun, actually. It manages to cram a lot of interesting decisions into almost every segment of a campaign’s gameplay, from spending on units, assigning forces to combats, carrying out those combats, and how to spend precious resources to recoup after combat. There’s enough content and different campaigns, missions, special events, and units to offer plenty of replayability. The core system is easy to learn, and the game doesn’t take up too much tablespace.

Component quality is also quite nice, with the map, cards, counters and hex map pieces all sturdy, easy to read, and easy to organize. Once a campaign is up and running, there is very little overhead, and I love that.

That being said. It’s not perfect. There are a lot of little errors here and there in the manual and in how units and officers interact. A lot more playtesting and proofreading could have done away with these issues. Tiger Leader is also not a simulation, as I hope you gathered from the above descriptions. It is much more a puzzle and narrative experience wrapped in a fun military setting. You’ll have a lot more fun charting the progress of your officers, repairing vehicles, watching infantry upgrade from raw to veteran, and seeing how the game reacts to your decisions than you will trying to properly replicate blitzkrieg actions. I feel solitaire wargamers will appreciate the way the systems interact to provide a engaging experience, but I’m not sure it will win over players who aren’t into the idea of a solitaire game. I would encourage those who haven’t tried solitaire games to give this one a go. It was much easier to get into than some others I’ve played.

What About Solitaire?

I said I would include these sections for every game, but yes, Tiger Leader is a pretty great solitaire experience. I bet if would even work coop, if the player spending is divided and two players each build up a portion of the kampfgruppe to send into actions. In fact, I might try to do a game like that with my wife at some point.

Will Tiger Leader Stay On My Shelf?

Yes! The problems I had with the game rarely detract from the actual play of it, and I find it creates the sort of narrative solitaire experiences I like. While I will dig out GMT’s Fields of Fire periodically, I see Tiger Leader getting more table time because it manages to deliver narratively without being quite so involved. It’s the action movie, not the documentary.

When deciding if Tiger Leader will be something you’re interested in, you’ll have to understand that it isn’t perfect, isn’t a simulation, and has some sloppy editing and playtesting. But beyond those issues, Tiger leader is a fun, easy going, narrative puzzle game that will see you sighing in relief as your favourite officer gets off with only a wound, and cursing as your Panzer IV goes up in smoke after a single lucky shell.

THANK YOU to DVG for sending Let’s Talk About Wargames a copy of Tiger Leader for review!

Check out Tiger Leader here. We don’t get anything if you click this link, so click away!

Let’s Talk About Wargames has a podcast! We talk about wargames, history, and the community.

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