You know it’s going to get good when one of the first things you do in a campaign is eat your siblings for getting uppity. Fantasy General II: Evolution is the latest expansion for the already excellent Fantasy General II released in 2019. The third official DLC, Evolution places you in control of the Lizardfolk Szzlag as he attempts to devour his way to prominence across the Broken Isles.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Fantasy General II on its release, and I was very surprised with just how good a job the developers, Owned by Gravity, managed to do conveying the spirit of the classic 1996 game while modernizing a whole heap of systems. If nothing else, go check out the base game when you get a chance. It’s a good game and worthy of a playthrough. Now, to the swamps!
Fantasy General II has generally done a good job of creating a fascinating fantasy world and backed it up with good game narratives in the base game. The story of Falirson and the Empire was entertaining and I’m glad to see that Szzlag’s story is as well. The writing, possible decisions, and outcomes all reinforce the fact that Lizardfolk are not human and do not share a lot of human sensibilities. Theirs is an eat or be eaten world of hunting and raiding where weakness means a swift death. Don’t let Szzlag be weak. Don’t let Szzlag be human, it may save you later!
Evolution goes that extra mile and demonstrates the nature of this harsh world through gameplay. The game does an excellent job out of the gate of introducing you to a totally different playstyle. Lizardfolk are not the strongest fighters out there, but they are excellent ambushers and full of crafty light infantry. Since Lizardfolk can maneuver quickly through water tiles, and can even hide in deep water and kelp forests, setting up ambushes and luring enemies into traps is the name of the game. Just watch out for the carnivorous fauna! Setting up an ambush and seeing it go off without a hitch is second only to massive encirclements for giddy wargaming highs. There is nothing quite as fun as watching the enemy’s giant crab trigger 3 different ambush moves and defensive fires as they move to attack an exposed gaggle of newts.
Eventually, you’ll encouter Hoomans, with their fantastical trinkets, floating hovels, and distinct lack of swimming ability. The dichotomy between fighting humans on the coast and fighting humans in land is amazing, and requires a very different approach. Pelting humans with javelins and stones from the water while luring ships to underwater ambushes is great fun. Hiding in the jungle, sacrificing newts to lure humans out of position so your weaker units can scrape some advantage, is equally so.
On the campaign layer Lizardfolk play very differently as well. Szzlag and some high tier units require evolution points to upgrade. These are generally acquired by eating notable Lizardfolk, which quickly becomes tied to the central narrative of the campaign. In addition to evolution points, liquid mana is a key resource. This is acquired by raiding certain settlements or, more reliably, whenever a friendly unit dies. Now the cost of hiring a new unit of newts can be weighed against the value of their death. If these units can be killed in a manner that serves an ambush, well then, everything turns up Szzlag!
I was generally enthralled with this expansion. Lizardfolk make you think and play very differently from most wargames, not just from the base Fantasy General II experience. The campaign can be made more difficult though a few settings, but I felt the difficulty was good, punishing foolish mistakes and rewarding careful plays. I rarely sit down for several hour gaming sessions anymore, but I found myself making time in the evening to get through a mission or two. I really had fun.
Fantasy General II was already a great wargame and this expansion does about everything I’d hope an expansion would do. Gameplay is significantly different, the narrative is interesting, and the campaign is engaging throughout. Definitely check out Fantasy General II: Evolution if you have any interest at all.