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:)

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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Back With a Proper Schedule!

Hey everyone. You may have noticed a drop in the frequency of reviews and articles across the Let’s Talk About Wargames blog over the past few weeks, and I want to apologize for that. The past few weeks have been a bit of a mess with work and thesis writing taking up a lot more time than I had budgeted for.

Thankfully, the storm seems to have calmed somewhat and to prevent something like that happening again, LTAW’s blog posts will be coming at a fixed interval of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings (EST). We’ve got some great content planned including reviews of the latest from Slitherine/Matrix, a continuation of my personal attempt to review and decide whether or not to keep games in my board wargame collection, and some new pieces like unboxings, after action reports, and classic wargame analyses.

The strict schedule will help maintain some semblance of regularity in publications. Long time readers will remember some weeks with a new post a day, and others with only one or two. We’re hoping to make the blog a good spot for regular stops in one’s online weekly wargaming journey.

Come join us if you like!

Also want to take this time to again highlight the other things we do:

We run a monthly podcast discussing wargaming, games about war, and the community.

We run a twitch/youtube channel where we let’splay some wargames.

We have a discord for community discussions and hanging out.

We have a patreon that we’re hoping will allow for the purchase of more wargames to discuss/review/let’splay.

Mystery Teaser From Relic’s Twitch

Well, that’s something. Relic, the makers of Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, and the new Age of Empires game, are teasing something on their Twitch stream. What we see is a map of Italy with the occasional overlay of 40s war propaganda films, so it’s safe to say that this is an expansion for Dawn of War 3, best game ever this is related to Company of Heroes somehow, though whether this is a new game entirely or a DLC a whole 8 years after release isn’t certain.

Here’s what we’re seeing.

If you want to sit in on the stream with us and find out what the reveal’s about, you can get to it here: https://www.twitch.tv/relicentertainment.

-Jack Trumbull

Valor & Victory Digital Review

As mentioned before, Valor & Victory is my current favourite squad level board wargame. It’s basically Squad Leader’s laid back and easy going little brother, and I’m finding myself more and more drawn to that kind of game when it comes to an afternoon of wargaming with friends. Maybe it’s the pandemic? Who knows?

In Valor & Victory, there are only a handful of rules to hammer down before diving in, but the system is robust enough to capture the fire and movement feel of WWII squad level tactics: Machine guns can wreak havoc and create fire lanes, pinning is essential on the assault, tanks can provide amazing support but can also fall victim to close infantry attack and AT guns. It’s not the most detailed game, and not the most accurate simulation, but it manages to convey what it should in games that take around 45 minutes for the experienced player. So, you know my feelings going in. That said, I’m not 100% sold on the digital version.

Valor & Victory Basics

Valor & Victory is a tactical game in which both players control leaders, squads, teams, AT Guns, and vehicles from the US, UK, and Germany fighting over geomorphic hexagonal boards representing Northern France. Each nation has a few types of squads at their disposal. The US for example has infantry, Rangers, and Airborne, each with slightly different profiles. Squads and teams can be equipped with heavy weapons and explosives that further specialize units.

Each scenario has one of three objectives: Capture key hexes, eliminate enemy units, or exit units from the board at certain spaces. The variety is there and its nice to see how far the game can take these victory conditions. But keep them in mind, they’ll become important to my frustrations with Valor & Victory.

On a given turn, one side performs a suite of actions before the opponent does the same. The command phase allows for rallying, joining and breaking down of squads, and the transfer of equipment. The Fire phase is for firing, and precludes later movement. Then movement, which can be interrupted by enemy reaction fire. Then enemy defensive fire, in which units that didn’t react fire can shoot. Then there is a final assault-move phase in which every friendly unit can move one hex. If this brings them into an occupied hex, an assault occurs.

Whether or not fire hits comes down to the roll of two dice. The total firepower of all the selected units in a hex is calculated, the dice are rolled, and the result is cross referenced to see how many casualties are taken. One casualty can be converted into a pin, but the rest need to be taken as losses.

Overall its a great system, especially on the tabletop. The simple calculation works to keep the game flowing, and there is just enough granularity to make interesting tactical choices the name of the game. On the PC though, the simplicity hurts the overall package, highlighting some of Valor & Victory’s biggest problems.

Valor & Victory Digital is…Good…If You All Make it Good.

There is a lot to like about the system, and the digital adaptation has promise, but the issue is that it depends entirely on how the community reacts to the launch, and how committed they are to mutliplayer and to scenario creation.

Here’s Valor & Victory’s goods:

The game is authentic. If you want a digital, multiplayer version of Valor & Victory that lets you play with friends across the country. You’re in luck. It does that and does it perfectly. The included scenarios are fun with friends and overarching system does what the V&V does, but it does automate some things like casualty application and defensive fire that some might want control over.

The scenario editor is great. Really, it’s fast, intuitive, and you’ll be cranking out modified ASL scenarios in no time. If the community steps up we could have a treasure trove of interesting scenarios in no time. Editors can set victory conditions, add history, deploy units and equipment, and choose from all of the included map boards in a variety of layouts.

Here are the not goods:

The AI is not great. In multiple games that I played, they barely moved. Or when they moved they did so haphazardly, dancing back and forth between positions. When the AI is tasked with taking objectives, they very rarely make decisive efforts to cross open ground, preferring to stand in cover and fire. Reasonable move to make, I suppose, but not when doing so will lose you the game. The AI is also a little wonky with its target selection. You can very easily bait anti-tank weapons to fire at infantry if they’re closer/more exposed than tanks.

The AI is better at defense, when the game becomes an exercise is how best to minimize casualties as you push towards objectives. The AI lacks a good deal of the reactive ability of a human opponent, and while I get it, AI is difficult, I was still saddened to see them put up such light resistance.

Valorous, Not Quite a Victory

The core is good! Really! If you’re going to play with friends, and if you’re going to engage with the scenario creator, Valor & Victory is great. If you’re looking for a single player board game experience, its not stellar. There is potential for updates, I believe, but I’m very optimistic to see what fans of the game will do with the resources available to them when they get their hands on it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Valor & Victory has a solid foundation built upon a great boardgame, and the included multiplayer and scenario editor are worth checking out. The AI is not great, which limits single player enjoyment.

Here’s the link to the game, We make nothing if you click on this.

New Unit Pack For Warhammer 40k: Gladius – Relics of War

Well, isn’t this something special! Warhammer 40k: Gladius – Relics of War is adding new units to the 40k 4x game via a “Specialist Pack,” adding… specialists. Each faction gets a unit from this, and they all do wildly different things, from functioning as support units to being straight-up ‘eavy ‘itters, boyz. Here’s what Developer Proxy Studios has to say about the new units:

Astra Militarum – Ratlings
Sniper infantry unit that can move after shooting.
Though less resilient than their human comrades, Ratlings are naturally excellent shots. It is said that Ratling marksmen can take the head off a heretic from over a kilometre away. Coupled with their knack for staying out of harm’s way, this makes Ratlings formidable snipers who can take a surprising toll upon superior enemy forces.

Chaos Space Marines – Dark Disciples
Infantry unit that increases the defenses of Chaos units.
Dark Disciples carry profane accoutrements of their masters’ worship and parrot the fell words spoken in his baleful prayers. Many such disciples have been augmented to better serve in their role–their skin stretched out and inked with grim litanies, or their mouths fitted with Daemon-touched vox-grilles to project their voices into the warp. Amidst the din of combat they join their Dark Apostle’s chants, crying out for the Chaos Gods to manifest their blessings.

Craftworld Aeldari – Warlock
Psyker infantry unit that can teleport around the battlefield and cleanse their foes.
When the Warlocks of the craftworlds join their minds, the fate of worlds can hinge upon their actions. As true sons of Khaine, these militant psykers will plunge into combat at the slightest provocation. Witchblades and singing spears are swung in graceful arcs, leaving coruscating webs of energy behind them as the Conclave carves through the ranks of their adversaries. They do so with joy in their souls, for of all the seers of the Eldar hosts, the Warlocks are the fiercest and most violent of all.

Necrons – Canoptek Wraiths
Extremely mobile infantry unit that passes through terrain and enemies with equal ease.
Canoptek Wraiths flit across the battlefield like the spectres of the restless dead. Using their dimensional destabilisation matrices, these strange constructs are able to phase in and out of reality at will. This unique technology means that, though no more than mindless drones, Canoptek Wraiths have manifold uses in war. Fortifications are no obstacle to a Wraith, and they are able to pass more or less undetected even through the midst of the foe, making them exceptional spies and assassins both. Furthermore, Canoptek Wraiths make effective terror- troops, appearing as if from nowhere to strike at vital targets in the enemy’s midst. Here, swirling through the panicked gunfire of the foe, the Wraiths flicker rapidly in and out of phase with reality, shots and blades passing harmlessly through their indistinct forms.

Orks – Kill Bursta
Super-heavy vehicle with a big kannon and transport assault capacity.
Kill tanks are an Ork heavy tank design based around the twin Ork loves of speed and extreme violence. The Kill Bursta’s main gun is an immense, wide-bore siege mortar mounted in the centre of its forward hull, much in the manner of a Space Marine Vindicator, only much, much larger! The huge rocket-boosted ordnance launched by the bursta gun, while appallingly short ranged, is powerful enough to blast a hardened bunker or defensive bastion to smithereens, and has been observed in direct fire shattering Imperial super-heavy tanks in a single shot, based as much on luck as good judgement by its gunners.

Space Marines – Devastator Centurion
Very bulky infantry unit with massive armaments.
Devastator Centurions pound their enemies with a remorseless, relentless rain of fire. Bloody havoc is wrought upon anything that falls within the Centurions’ targeting reticules. The pilots’ marksmanship is augmented by the grim machine spirits of their warsuits, decimator protocols guiding servo-assisted recoil absorption and oracular auto-targeting to ensure the Centurions maintain a punishing rate of fire. Return fire is a futile gesture, akin to flinging stones at a fortress, for should the enemy launch an assault in an attempt to silence the Devastator Centurions’ guns they must contend with the suits’ massive strength and the pilots’ skill at arms.

T’au – Krootox Rider
Sneaky infantry unit with both ranged and close combat capabilities.
Surging from the undergrowth with their rifles blazing, the warriors of the Kroot Carnivore squads fall upon their victims with feral shrieks. In their midst lumber massive Krootoxes, gunners perched upon their backs as they direct sawing bursts of heavy fire into the foe.

Tyranids – Venomthrope
Infantry unit with poisonous attacks and a protective spore cloud.
The Venomthrope serves as a living chemical weapon dispenser for the swarms of the Tyranid hive fleets. Its whip-like tentacles drip with a multitude of alien poisons. Indeed, so potent are these toxins that it is believed that a Venomthrope’s very touch means certain death.

It’s always nice to see games still get some love from devs several years after launch. I personally haven’t played Gladius, but it is in Joe’s words, “a fun game,” and I trust his judgment. You can find the unit pack here, and the base game on Steam here.

-Jack Trumbull

Field of Glory 2: Medieval: Reconquista Review

The 11th Century to the 13th Century. A very tumultuous time in the Iberian peninsula and North Africa, as Christians and Muslims fight each other tooth and nail for the lands that now make up Spain and Portugal. Elsewhere, the Byzantine Empire expands its influence to Italy, battling the Papal States and other, smaller kingdoms in a bid to “reconquer” what had been Roman land, and that the Byzantines view as their own. Simultaneously, Norman adventurers, harkening upon their Viking heritage, arrive in Italy, looking to make fortunes and claim titles for themselves. 

Field of Glory 2 is, as we’ve talked about before, an excellent turn-based wargame, pitting mid-medieval era units against each other in big bloody battles that seem to always turn into hellish melees. While this is not always the case for the period, it’s very fun to play! And delightfully, Reconquista gives us more to play with in the period. Mentioned above are the hotspots featured in the DLC, but what’s particularly exciting (other than the fact that I get to play as the Byzantine army, who are incredibly cool in the period) is that there are a whole 20 new nations and 45 new army lists in this DLC. Holy crap, Slitherine!

You can find the full list of army lists on the Steam page, but there are several army lists here that have may differences from their northwestern European counterparts. For starters, yes, heavy cavalry is still king, but you see more variances on it than you would up north. Several of the Arab tribes have access to camelry (yes that is the real word) units, which are excellent anti-cavalry units, because as we all know, horses are terrified of camels. As a fun effect, the camels can also disorder friendly cavalry units as well, so any camelry heavy armies should make sure to keep their dromedaries and their horses a healthy distance from each other.

The Arab armies also typically have access to massed archer units, which can rain down much larger quantities of arrows than their Christian counterparts. Curiously, some of the Arab spearmen units had a description saying “mix of spearmen and archers” but the unit was 100% spearmen with no ranged element. I’m not sure whether this is intentional, to represent the cooperative nature of the Arab archer elements in the army, or if it was an oversight. A bit disappointing, as the Byzantines do have infantry units with ranged elements built in. You can quickly see why my army of choice was so feared in the period, with units typically able to whittle down their opponents a fair amount before any engagement even occurs, though the fact that half the unit has the “bow-capability” tag means that they aren’t the best in prolonged engagements.

I could continue to talk about the Byzantine army list for the rest of this review, but I would be doing the DLC a disservice if I didn’t bring up the new campaigns and battles. There are 4 new campaigns and 8 new battles in the Reconquista DLC, seeing action in Iberia and Italy, with loads of different combatants. The campaigns follow the careers of El Cid (Spanish for “The Cid”), Frederick II Hohenstaufen (the Holy Romans loved invading Italy), Muhammad II of Granada (founder of the last Muslim state in Spain), and the Norman de Hauteville clan (the aforementioned Norman adventurers). I haven’t played through each campaign yet, but there is a lot of variety with what scenarios you encounter and the maps you see.

I still have a particular fondness for the dynamic campaign tool of FOG2M, as it enables the player to follow a narrative and make decisions in between battles, and it continues as my favorite piece of Reconquista. As far as i can tell, Reconquista did nothing to change it other than to add some biomes and the army lists from the DLC, but being able to set up a 9 battle campaign where you take your Byzantine army against Andalusians and fight off Lombard reinforcements from seizing a fort you took on the previous campaign step is some marvelous gameplay. Especially nice is the fact that the new army lists also play nice with the time warp lists, so you can have your 550 BC Achaemenid Persians fight your 1200 AD Byzantines for the glory of Asia Minor.

So, should you get this DLC? Definitely. Reconquista adds a lot to the base game of Field of Glory 2 Medieval. None of the base components of the game are changed, but that’s perfectly fine; if it ain’t broke, etc. $20 for an expansion can seem a bit steep, but with the sheer amount of content in the DLC, you will definitely find something in here that tickles your fancy if you’re a fan of the base game. Do yourself a favor and grab this.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad

I’ve been putting off this review for a long time. The fact of the matter is that this reviewer gets no pleasure from writing poor reviews. All the more so when it’s a game I really should have liked. A bit like Operation Blue itself, somewhere along the operation Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad loses its way.

I remember playing the original Cauldrons of War “concept”. It was barely even a tech demo. You set the stance of your various fronts, clicked next turn and somehow it turned into one of the most convincing portrayals of the Eastern Front I’d played. 

Fast forward, past Cauldrons of War: Barbarossa, and we are presented with Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad. It really should be a match made in heaven. The Red Army is no longer the Stumbling Colossus of 1941 and cracks are beginning to show in the Wehrmacht. Over 1942 perhaps one of the greatest military dramas of all time will play out across the Eastern Front. Glimmers of that drama shine through in Stalingrad’s portrayal of the fighting, that they remain only glimmers.

For the uninitiated, Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad portrays the Eastern Front at the strategic level with a scope equivalent to Gary Grigsby’s: War in the East. The player commands all frontline forces and directs the operations of Army Groups, smaller operational groups and fronts. Eschewing hex grids, Cauldrons of War focusses upon the big picture, creating an Eastern Front made up of various regions that change as the frontlines ebb and flow. Units are assigned to those regions answering to the higher command in charge of that area. Each HQ, whether it be an Army Group or front, has a limited amount of command points that it uses to direct the units below it. This limitation means that players must be very careful in choosing what units will do what.

These fundamentals are a strong base for Cauldrons of War. The limited command points lead to some very careful thinking on the player’s part. Furthermore, it also keeps the game moving. Too often information overload make these games very difficult to learn. The limited ability of the player to give orders in Cauldrons however means that the game moves quickly and focusses the decision-making to a few crucial orders rather than busywork.

So far, so good, unfortunately Cauldrons of War’s lightning advance through the fundamentals begins to falter as it heads deeper into the actual gameplay. For a start, the game’s writing does it no favours. It might seem like a small thing, but in such an abstract game writing is a critical part of how one becomes immersed in the unfolding story. The quite crude English only serves to remind you that you’re playing a game, rather than the gaming equivalent of a serious but approachable history book. It’s altogether a shame.

Then there’s the gameplay itself. The tutorial is adequate – at best – and if you miss or forget something the in-game wiki is quite unfit for purpose. Time and again I would try to find out what a “Grand Offensive” or a “Breakthrough” was. To me it seemed like another kind of attack.  All I seemed to do however was take away a command point for no gain. Eventually, I worked out it represents the overarching plan that your units will follow. It makes sense; but mixed up with all the other options – many of which also were along the lines of “attack” – it simply became annoying.

Fighting the interface is something of a theme with Cauldrons. Its issues run deeper than just game knowledge. With how limited command points are and how your units are assigned to different regions, making your decisions straightforward and transparent is vital. Cauldrons fails here, with the regions your units are assigned to difficult to identify through the interface. Your only option is to continuously click between the map and the HQ you are giving orders to make sure your units are going where they supposed to. For the Germans, who have less HQs than the Soviets, this is a particular problem, with Army Group South having up to a dozen regions under its direction. I want to fight the fascists/commies, not the interface.

The final weakness of Cauldrons however is one of perspective. When playing Fall Blau from either side, whose role am I playing? Am I equivalent to the Stavka or the OKW or one of the dictators themselves? Time and again I found myself asking these questions as one of the many pre-scripted decisions and events appeared at the beginning of a turn. It made little sense, with next to no resources available to the Stalingrad Front to commence its attack, for Zhukov should turn up with a wagonload of command points and a single extra army to begin operations. It’s true that many, often futile, attacks were launched on the flanks of the 6th Army’s push toward Stalingrad during the period – but it strikes me that that should be the player’s decision to cock up, rather than a scripted event. The way HQ command points are handled are equally irritating. I, as commander of all forces on the Eastern Front, able to launch night attacks on a whim, have no ability to influence what resources a HQ has available to it. Likewise, not all HQ actions are created equal. Stalingrad Front, whose fellow fronts are ordering entire armies to make massive assaults outside Moscow, will instead use all its resources for the week ferrying two divisions across the Volga. It would not be unreasonable for the Volga flotilla to use up all the week’s resources pushing two divisions across the Volga – but an entire front?

Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad is a fine achievement and, in many areas, plausibly and skilfully abstracts the enormous complexity of the Eastern Front. It is clear that the developer has done his homework and I especially enjoyed reading his explanations for many of the design decisions within the game. Many aspects work well and it was a nail-biting pleasure to see my panzers reach the Caspian Sea, even as their flanks collapsed around them. Unfortunately, abstraction is a double-edged sword. Time and again I felt I wasn’t fighting the enemy so much as the game. It is a problem Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad does not recover from.

-Charles Ellis