Wildermyth Review

We were a bit late to this party, unfortunately. Somehow both Joe and I, both of us being big tabletop role-playing game fans, hadn’t played Wildermyth up until a short time ago. That was a mistake on our end. Wildermyth is an incredible game with some of the best character-based storytelling a tactics game has offered us since…. Ever, basically (I didn’t play Final Fantasy Tactics, don’t hate me).

So, what exactly is Wildermyth? It’s a tough question, as the structures that make it up are familiar, but in practice everything is just a bit different. There’s a map you can move members of your party around on, and they have a chance to happen into events illustrated in a sort of comic book/ fairy tale style, with your party’s characters placed there, with different dialogue depending on their personalities and relationships with other characters. That’s already a lot to take in, especially considering that there are branching dialogue options in some events.

The aforementioned map is divided into different provinces that can have buildings and resources that provide materials to your party between story chapters, and untamed wilds, where all sorts of nefarious enemies may lurk. Here, the game enters a turn-based tactics game, where you can throw present members of your party against the foe. It feels sort of like a fantasy XCOM, but that wouldn’t do the system justice, as it is its own unique beast. Your three base classes, warriors, hunters, and mystics, can acquire all sorts of crazy abilities that in any other game might make them feel overpowered. However, the balancing in Wildermyth is superb, and towards the end of a campaign, enemies can and will be absolute menaces to deal with, and your super soldier that’s been with you since the beginning can end up monster-chow.

The combat, to elaborate a bit further, is captured in a relatively familiar dual-action system, in the vein of XCOM. You can move your guy and then act, or move him twice as far, and use a “free action” during your turn. The system isn’t too complicated to initially understand, and its accessibility does the game great credit. This is a game that you can have your non-wargame-y friends play, even if you’re a glutton for punishment, things can get brutal on the higher difficulties.

In late-game battles, there’s a lot going on all at once

Each class has their own line of abilities that make them special, essentially boiling down to warriors hitting things and having melee overwatch abilities to hold the line, hunters are rogues that can sneak, lay traps, and ambush enemies, while mystics… well. Mystics are perhaps some of the most interesting magic users I’ve seen in a game like this. Rather than just blasting enemies with magic from their hands, magic in Widlermyth is centered around the environment, so your spellcasters will “interfuse” an object with their magic, and can then use their magic to make said object do a thing. If it’s a fire, they can throw the fire at enemies. If it’s a plant, they can have it grapple an enemy with vines. If it’s made of wood, they can have it explode on the enemy with a shower of splinters. The list goes on, but you can see that there’s depth behind the initially simple system.

In between these scraps, your characters will march around the procedurally generated country, rooting out monster infestations in some provinces, leading a defense against a horde of monsters in another. Every battle, every event has an opportunity to cause something new to happen, to fundamentally change your party members’ relationships with each other, or to change them physically. That’s where Widlermyth shines, in creating and telling these stories. Your starting warrior and hunter may fall in love with each other, giving them the ability to have higher crit chance if their lover is damaged in combat. They may, in between chapters of the story, have a child. Their child may become a rival of the party’s founding mystic, leading them on an ever-expanding game of one-upmanship. That child could then accept the blessings of story-telling spirits, giving them a fiery personality and the ability to shoot flames out of their hands to match. None of this is hypothetical, that’s all something that happened in one of my campaigns.

Another example, just because I love this particular character: take Garlad. He was the mystic, the spellcaster from my first campaign. His personality was somewhat sarcastic but romantic, and he had a hard time making friends with the other two members of the party. So when the wilds called to him, he accepted their call, and now he has a wolf head. Later, he happened into a storm, receiving a lightning leg for his troubles. Over time, this originally shy loner of a man was turned into a 40% bolt of electricity and 60% werewolf. His sarcasm and romance holds different meaning now considering that he is this outcast that can’t hold things very well, considering that one of his arms is living electricity and the other is a wolf claw. But he can shoot lightning out of his arm and claw people, so you win some, you lose some.

Our beautiful boy

These characters that you bond with over the course of the campaign can, upon completion of the campaign, appear in your other games, in a manner of Greek mythological figures or Arthurian knights finding themselves in many adventures, not just the first. I clapped with delight seeing Garlad appear in a later game, lightning and wolf parts all accounted for. I must admit I have a soft spot for games that highlight characters like this, that let you grow your own connection with them, and Wildermyth makes every character unique in their own way, either to start out with or through changes they undergo over time.

There’s a lot of thought that went into Wildermyth, and you can feel the love and effort that went into making each part of the game. It’s rare that I come across a game that doesn’t fall short in anything it set out to do, and Wildermyth does achieve everything it set out to do. Plus, it has great mod support, so the system looks to be quite flexible and has a burgeoning community around it.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Wildermyth. Wildermyth is a great game. Go play Wildermyth. That’s what I’m going to be doing right after I post this on the site.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Unity of Command II – Barbarossa Review

Ah, Unity of Command 2, my old friend. I’ve written about Unity of Command 2 before, as well about Unity of Command 2’s first DLC, Blitzkrieg, and I was very pleased for the chance to play more of this excellent WW2 turn-based wargame. Bottom line up front: if you didn’t like Unity of Command 2, there’s nothing new here that would change your mind (unless you’re a really big Wehraboo, gross). If you did like Unity of Command 2, you should definitely check out Barbarossa, as it’s a better realized German experience than Blitzkrieg, while still delivering a similar style of action to what fans are used to.

Barbarossa’s premise is familiar to any WW2 gamer at this point: the Germans launched the largest land invasion in history into the USSR, using surprise blitzkrieg tactics to punch holes through Soviet forces with the goal of reaching and seizing Moscow (as well as other key points) before winter came around. Barbarossa follows the historical path here, with the goal in the most of scenarios you face being to push hard against the defenses of the Red Army and seize key logistical points, generally by exploiting weaknesses in their lines and shoving mechanized units through the gaps.

Unity of Command’s logistical system is the star of the game, and that continues to be the case in Barbarossa, even moreso than in the base game, I’d argue. So many of the cities and other objectives you need to capture are very, very far from your forces at the start of the scenario. Your forces need to maintain a supply network in order to remain fighting capable through their stampede across Eastern Europe, and to do so, need to seize rail lines across the maps. I really can’t emphasize enough how important this is, keeping the railways open, because the terrain is not conducive to supplying units far from the railways, and you don’t have time to waste. Many of the maps are designed that it can be extremely difficult to get infantry units to the end objectives by the time limit, even without fortified enemies to slow them down. You’ll depend on your armored units smashing paths clear, and your infantry running behind them to keep things clear and finish off encircled opponents.

This gameplay loop is very satisfying, and the maps are designed in such a way to encourage envelopments of enemy forces, with many natural chokepoints enabling a sneaky general to cut off the enemy’s supply easily… but you can also get cut off easily yourself. Like I said, maintaining the supply lines is vital, so you’ll frequently find yourself playing maneuver games with enemy forces on rail lines, both of you trying to keep it open for your side. Managing to overcome an enemy armored division to complete the encirclement of an enemy army is one of digital wargaming’s best feelings in recent years, and that is Unity of Command 2 distilled.

On the campaign layer, Barbarossa plays largely similarly to the Blitzkrieg campaign, albeit with much more army groups than I remember in Blitzkrieg. You’ll end up juggling points between seven different Army HQs, all of which need investment to achieve peak efficiency. The HQs are slow, and should be prioritized to increase range for your units, given the size of the maps and the speed of your armored columns. There’s another big wrinkle in the addition of the new “Blitzkrieg Command” card, which refreshes the command points for an HQ on a turn. Handy if you’ve invested in your HQs, but it’s easy to overlook them and to have largely ineffectual HQs.

This can be a bother after the initial scenarios, and particularly on any ahistorical scenarios; these tend to be more difficult than the historical scenarios, and it’s somewhat easy to achieve bonus objectives that unlock the harder scenarios in the early missions. However, going down these routes, you will then end up facing some really tough situations, in my opinion. The ahistorical routes, as in the other campaign, provide stiff challenges to the player. I recommend sticking to the historical route on your first play of any Unity of Command 2 campaign, Barbarossa included.

I don’t actually have any negative things to say about Barbarossa, any reservations I have about the game are limitations from Unity of Command 2’s engine. My chief complaint is that units are still unable to travel via rail, which would be realistic and provide infantry units a way to catch up to the quickly advancing armor columns. This small gripe, however, is the only thing that bothers me about Unity of Command 2. The game and its DLCs (Barbarossa included) continue to be some of the best and most accessible games for the wargaming crowd of late. If you like turn-based strategic games, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Gem Wizards Tactics Review: Like a Fun-Sized Tactics-Filled Chocolate Bar

I have to say, I’m surprised I like Gem Wizards Tactics as much as I do. I took a first look at it and thought “this looks like a hex game with a neat aesthetic” and I was right, but didn’t realize the tactical depth behind that first look. There’s enough mechanics here to keep a turn-based tactics fan pleased for bite-sized scenarios for a long time, especially considering the procedural nature of the game.

The premise of the game is thus: there’s a magical land with 7 gems, the 8th one, which is extra magical, has been discovered and now you have to fight to keep your home safe. Pretty standard fantasy premise, but the game is pretty cheeky with it. Anyway, as you begin a campaign, you get to choose one of the (currently) 3 factions to lead against the forces that would oppress you. Essentially, it’s an excuse to go beat up on enemies in a series of small scenarios. Perfectly reasonable stuff there.

These 3 factions are led by unique hero characters, that will be the heavy hitters of your force through the campaign. The Potato faction is led by Andromeda Robin, a witch that can grow fast but weak allies, and create a lightning storm centered on an enemy. The Azure Order, led by Gelf Lanz, is a knight/ mage that can also summon allies, and charge into enemies, bumping them out of position. The last faction, the Business Demons (lol), are headed by their CEO, Bill Milton, who uses money as a unique currency to buff his units. Most other special abilities cost Gems, which are strewn around the map, but good ol’ Bill loves to offer his units Predatory Loans (yes this is a real ability) for dosh.

The factional units are the stars of the show in GWT, as they all have unique skillsets that play into a faction’s strengths. Some units, such as the Potato Roll Guard, will roll forever when shoved, until they hit an obstacle, another unit, or roll off the map. Others, like the more standard Azure Order Longbow, have a special ranged attack, which is just them firing arrows, go figure. And others still, such as the Business Demon (lol) Drill Sergeant, can modify the terrain around them for fuel for future attacks. There’s a nice variety to these units, and their abilities often synchronize well with other units from the same faction. For example, several of the Potato units can create wet ground, from which Andromeda can create her seedling allies. A particularly good combo I found was using one of the Potato Splashmasters to push a Roll Guard into an enemy, and the water trail the Splashmaster left behind can be used to grow seedlings.

Each campaign sees your force choosing to deploy at a few different maps, each offering a different level of progress toward completely freeing your people, and sometimes units you can approach and recruit on a map. The new player could be tempted to focus only on recruiting new units, but making progress is important as there’s also an enemy progress counter. Yet, the only way a player can grow their forces is by rescuing units on these missions, which is necessary to bolster your army. Handy too, considering that you can recruit units from other factions and therefore diversify what your army is capable of. The scenario maps are quite nice too, with a variety of terrain features that alter attack and defense, and frequently play a role in unit abilities as well.

The goal of each scenario is to capture a number of “flags”, represented by either forcing your way into a fortified castle and having your unit capture it, or by killing certain enemy leaders on the map. This must also be done with relative speed, as more enemies will spawn in on the map every few turns, and considering that you will always be outnumbered, speed is key. No playing turtle here! The need for speed is balanced with a need to keep your forces alive, as units are persistent and your strong veteran units are essentially irreplaceable. Their basic attack and defense stats are stronger than most units, and it takes time to grow that kind of experience. 

All in all, Gem Wizards Tactics is a solid, but small, game. The combat is tight, the scenarios are tough and engaging (you will likely lose a lot until you figure out how to use your army’s abilities), and it’s easy to play in multiple sessions. It doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack and writing for the game are really good. The game isn’t that deep, but it comes in a tiny, replayable package, and if you’re looking for something to scratch a tactics itch, you can find it here.

8/10

-Jack Trumbull