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What happens when you take a developer known for their deep, yet utterly arcane historical strategy games, and link them with a publishe...

Field of Glory: Empires Field of Glory: Empires

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

Field of Glory: Empires



What happens when you take a developer known for their deep, yet utterly arcane historical strategy games, and link them with a publisher known for making wargaming accessible to the masses? You get Field of Glory Empires, a rich grand strategy title that carves out its own space in the genre. 

At a glance, one could quickly draw comparisons to the Total War or Paradox grand strategy games, but Empires sets itself apart with multiple mechanics that address some of the shortcomings of those series. One wholly unique feature of Empires is the way it integrates with a completely separate game, Field of Glory II, to allow you to play out the battles in that game. Though I must immediately point out that having Field of Glory II is by no means necessary to enjoy Empires. In fact, you probably won't want to command every battle personally, since that would add hours and hours to a campaign. However, if you already own Field of Glory II, and enjoy grand strategy games, it makes a whole lot of sense to get Empires. Suddenly, those fun tactical battles, the results of which were mostly inconsequential, take on significant weight. Now you are defending your capitol from an invading army, or fighting to claim a critical new province for your empire. Some may balk at the idea of needing two different games to get the "full" experience, but each can be had for much less than a typical $60 game, and both are worthwhile on their own, so I think it is reasonable enough.

Now, back to Empires itself. The basics of the grand strategy genre are mostly here. You begin the game by selecting one of dozens of different ancient tribes and civilizations. All your ancient favorites are here, from Rome and Carthage to the Greek city states and the "barbarian" tribes of Europe, and many more. The map spans all of Europe, North Africa, and stretches east to cover a portion of India. The standard campaign runs from 310 BCE to 190 CE. This is a lovely starting point just after the death of Alexander the Great and before the Punic Wars. Rome is on the rise, but many older civilizations are still lingering, their historical decline still a bit in the future. And that concept of rise and decline is a core theme of the game.



Unlike in many other similar games, simply painting the map your color will not lead to victory in Empires. As the Romans and many empires before and after them can attest, growing too large leads to many problems. In many cases, an empire that reaches a certain size will inevitably experience a rapid and sometimes total collapse. However, despite their complete collapse we still discuss and often think highly of the Romans today, almost 2000 years later. They left quite the legacy, didn't they? That is how victory is measure in Empires - how many "Legacy" points you are able to accumulate before the end of the game. Legacy points can be gained in many ways, and only lost in one or two ways. However, many of the ways you accumulate Legacy will also earn you "Decadence" points. This can be countered by focusing your resources on things that generate "Culture" points. Too much decadence leads to unrest, revolts, civil war. Countering those problems gets more difficult as your state grows larger and gets older. 


The Emerald Isle makes for a nice "Tutorial Island" to learn the basics.

It's a bit difficult for me to explain succinctly, but the long and short is this: Empires uses several core mechanics to capture a story that has played out so many times in history. Powerful states tend to rise out of obscurity, build themselves up to great heights, and then collapse more from internal rot than from outside aggression. I definitely recommend cracking open the player manual and reading through the relevant sections, as it's a bit obscure how it all works at first. The game does have in-game tutorials and a helpful glossary that will teach you everything else without much trouble. However, you will initially be at a loss as to the importance of progress/decline tokens, Culture-Decadence Ratios, Loyalty, and Legacy points if you don't at least skim through the manual. The manual also has a lengthy strategy guide section and designer's notes that explain the reasoning for the mechanics in the game, so it's well worth your time.



As an example, winning battles and raiding enemy provinces will sometimes net you slaves that you can distribute into your provinces. These slaves will naturally have a high level of unrest and always be a potential source of rebellion. Likewise, taking control of peoples who are ethnically different from you will lead to them being less than happy with their new rulers. The larger your population in a region, the greater their unrest will become as well. Much of this can be mitigated by building things like circuses and gladiator arenas, but these buildings grow your decadence score. As you slide from, let's say, a meritocratic republic built on duty and honor, into a bloated empire dependent on bread and circuses to keep people happy while slaves do all the work, the risk of revolt and civil war will grow despite your best efforts. It's a wonderful system that naturally responds to your actions and pushes your empire into the logical consequences.

As to the less abstract and more "day-to-day" mechanics of the game, any veteran grand strategy player will easily be able to hop in and get going with minimal fuss. The map is broken up into hundreds of provinces, and depending on who you are playing as, you will start with anywhere from one province to a couple dozen under your control. Within each province there is a population under your control. Population is represented by blocks of manpower that you can shift around to focus on food, infrastructure, money, or culture production. You can also construct buildings that will enhance production of those four resources. One interesting note in Empires is that you can only construct one building a time in a province, and you can only select what you want to build from an ever changing pool of options (one building per resource). If you don't like your current pool of options, you'll have to waste several turns rolling a new one. This creates an interesting strategic dilemma. I only have a very limited number of building slots in this province, and I really want to build XYZ, but it hasn't come up as an option yet. Do I spend several turns to see if it comes up next time, or do I go with Plan B right now? I'm not sure how historically accurate the concept is, but I found it refreshing to not use the same cookie cutter build order in every province like you would in other grand strategy games.


Each icon on the map indicates a special trade good in that province.
Many of the buildings require trade goods in order to function efficiently, or to give a bonus to their production. There are a ton of these trade goods, some examples being horses, iron, wine, fish, and many more. Some of these are available in certain provinces from the start, while others are produced by buildings. You can trade for these goods internally and with other states. Trade is another area where the game functions differently than you might expect. Unlike in say, Civilization, you don't make a direct agreement to import some good from another state and have it be available for your own use wherever. Rather, in Empires, trade goods are moved around in an organic way, with the buildings you construct creating a demand that can be met by any trade good containing province within range. If you control the source of the good, you'll make a little cash even when trading with yourself. If you have to import it from elsewhere you'll pay full price, and vice versa, you can make money by exporting your goods. This is all only indirectly under your control, and creates a neat living economy as demand for goods appears in regions depending on the buildings constructed there, and buildings are constructed depending on what goods are available.

The military side of things should be familiar enough to most strategy gamers. If you have ever played an AGEOD game before, you will immediately recognize the how all of this works, but be relieved to find that things are very simple this go around. Various unit types (skirmishers, infantry, and cavalry of all variety are available) are built in a region and then combined to create an army. Every unit has strengths and weaknesses, special perks like performing better in specific terrain, and each individual unit has an experience level that rises as they survive battles. On your turn you assign an army to move here and there, and give them a "stance" such as simply moving about, or immediately assaulting any forts they come across, or to go raiding neighboring provinces. Units don't actually move until you hit the end turn button, at which time ALL units from every state move at once. This means you could miss that enemy army you were targeting, or blunder into one you weren't aware of. 



When two armies meet, a battle commences. As I mentioned above, you can opt to take direct control if you own Field of Glory II, and play the battle out there. This is a mostly seamless process, as Empires closes, Field of Glory II opens, and you hit a button to import the battle. Then the reverse occurs and you are right back in Empires with the battle result. Otherwise, the battle plays out in Empires with no real direct input from you. Your input is in how you decide to compose your army, and where you send them to fight. Army composition is far more engaging than in something like Europa Universalis, as unit types are far more distinct, and your army will very much reflect the empire you have built. Most units require that you have access to particular trade goods or meet other requirements. Additionally, almost every province can produce some variety of unique unit, that is better than its standard counter-part and often has extra perks, but is also more expensive. I really liked this feature, as it gives historical flavor to an army raised in any particular region.



So that hits all the highlights, but don't be mistaken, there are plenty of additional nitty-gritty details that I didn't get into, but you can learn about as you play. I want to reiterate how genius the victory point system is in this game. Because your legacy points remain in place even if your once great empire collapses, it's entirely possible to win the game while NOT being the biggest blob of color on the map. You can play through the rise, the golden age, and then the decline and fall of an empire, and still win the game. A fall is not guaranteed, of course, but the mechanics of the game will push you further and further in that direction unless you prove yourself a very capable leader.

The deep and interesting designs of developer AGEOD have finally evolved into a game system that anyone can play (without an excessive amount of head scratching), and it is a great moment that bodes well for their future. Despite going up against some of the most popular grand strategy games out there, I think Field of Glory Empire really shines as a fresh take on the genre. The Culture and Decadence system fleshes out an idea that is usually relegated to a simple "happiness" score in other games, and makes it the core of the gameplay loop. This completely changes how you think about building and managing your empire, and makes the plausible scenario, that your empire eventually crumbles, still be a fun part of the game.  
I give a strong recommendation to Field of Glory Empires, and it's a real no-brainer if you already own Field of Glory II, as both games benefit from combining the two. 

Field of Glory Empires can be purchased directly from Slitherine, as well as on Steam and GoG. 

(As of this writing it's 10% off, go grab it if you are interested!)


- Joe Beard











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Panzer campaigns Japan '45 by John Tiller Software  It is fall of the year 1945 and the Allies (United States) ar...

Panzer Campaigns Japan '45 by John Tiller Software Panzer Campaigns Japan '45 by John Tiller Software

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

Panzer Campaigns Japan '45 by John Tiller Software

Panzer campaigns Japan '45

by

John Tiller Software





 It is fall of the year 1945 and the Allies (United States) are determined to invade Japan. This is an alternate universe where there has been no Atom Bomb, and Japan is still refusing to unconditionally surrender. The U.S. has designed a plan to invade Japan called 'Operation Downfall'. The first part of the plan is 'Operation Olympic', the invasion of the island of Kyushu. That the U.S. troops will face fanatical resistance is a tremendous understatement. Even women and children have been semi-trained to fling the invader back into the Sea. The U.S. certainly has the firepower to inflict tremendous casualties on the Japanese people, but does it have the resolve to face the amount of casualties that will be inflicted upon it? Panzer Campaign Japan 1945 gives you the chance to game the outcome of Operation Olympic.




 John Tiller Software has been dishing out meat and potatoes to wargamers for twenty years. Yes, some of their games are that old. It is also true that the very core of the game is still the same. I can hear the groans now. "Oh this makes my eyes bleed",
"A computer game is old in six months", "How do you expect us to play the same old thing". I not only expect you to play it, but also to like it. We play boardgames that make these games seem like whipper snappers. They have been continuously updated down through the years to make the games still great, and not just ones that are played for nostalgia. The latest round of updates have definitely brought the games visually and play wise right back at the center of computer wargaming.




 These are the features of the game from the horses mouth:

Game scale is 1 hex = 1 km, 1 turn = 2 hours, with battalion and company size units.


44 Scenarios covering all sizes and situations, including specialized versions for both head to head play and vs. the computer AI.

The master map covers most of the island of Kyushu (87,720 hexes) where Operation Olympic would have taken place.

The order of battle file covers all of the forces that would have taken part in the campaign.

Order-of-Battle and Scenario Editors which allow players to customize the game.

Sub-map feature allows the main map to be "chopped" up into smaller segments for custom scenario creation.

All new images for unit art on both sides, including guns and vehicles covering all of the forces of the Allied and Japanese armies involved in the operation.

Design notes which cover or include the production of the game, campaign notes, sources and a scenario list.

All new game graphics including terrain, in game counters and 2D & 3D units as well as the toolbar icons.

All new sounds.

Japan '45 provides multiple play options including play against the computer AI, Play by E-mail (PBEM), LAN Internet "live" play, and two player hot seat.




 These are the scenarios:

Panzer Campaigns: Japan '45 Operation Olympic covers the entire campaign to take southern Kyushu from November to December 1945: 


The landing on Tanega-Shima - 1 thru 3 November 1945

The Invasion Phase - 4 thru 6 November 1945

The Breakout Phase - 7 thru 10 Novemeber 1945

The Linkup Phase - 14 thru 17 November 1945

The Final Phase - 19 thru 24 November 1945

Japanese Counterattacks - Mid December 1945

The 44 scenarios range from small actions such as the 6-turn, second day fighting at Ariake Bay to the super-large 283 turn "Take Kyushu" scenario. The wide variety of scenario length and size will give the players a stiff challenge! Weather conditions range from normal to mud. The terrain on Kyushu can be as much of an obstacle to victory as the enemy forces. 




 The game is not for the faint of heart or for someone who is looking for a Panzer General fix. This is a game where you will study the map longer than a Chess board before you make your move. These games are for the gamer who is in it for the long haul. The game play is meant to show how difficult it would have actually been to successfully invade the Japanese Home Islands. Playing as the Allies, you have to have your crowbar and C4 handy. You are not going to break a thin crust and then sweep your tanks for miles like Patton. This is Iwo Jima and Okinawa on a grand scale. As the Japanese player you are not going to be able to push the Allies back to sea. The Allies' monumental advantage in firepower etc. won't allow it. You are going to have to tenaciously fight for every inch of your homeland. The Japanese player will have to accept losses that would make the Eastern Front seem like a walk in the park. That said, this is what makes the game great. We play these for exactly the reasons mentioned. The long scenario will try you as much as playing The Campaign for North Africa. The good thing is that your cat won't mess up the counters and your wife won't give you evil sideways glances because her dining room table has disappeared. John Tiller Software games give you the ability to have that monster set up 24-7 just waiting for you to devote some time to it. 




 Without all of the updates to the games, and the tedious (I mean strenuous) play testing, I might slam the game also. I actually was a play tester for one of the Civil War games, and it is no joke that I had a kid go through High School before it was done. I had to drop out because it seemed too much like a job. The largest improvement to the games for me is the AI becoming so much better and the scenarios being much more solitaire gaming friendly. The early games were not really meant for solitaire playing except just to learn the games rules etc. They are now so much better in that regard. I know sometimes the AI will make a dumb move. So will Bill, that guy you play games with on Saturday nights (and so do you!). You can play the game if you want against human opponents. However, you can also now have a great solo game experience. The other new part to all of the games is the addition of an easy to use and unbelievably complete editor for anything and everything. You don't even need to play the game. The person who is into minutiae can fiddle for years on any aspect of the game.

 I have probably spent too much time writing about/defending the whole series of games that John Tiller Software puts out. It is just that they span so many eras that any wargamer can find something they would like to play in their repetoire. Japan '45 is an acquired taste. Some people enjoy gaming the Pacific War land battles and others find them a bit boring. I just suppose it comes down to a matter of taste. I normally do not like to play 'what if' battles unless they are based on what very nearly did happen historically. Had the A Bomb fizzled out (it was a very real question at the time), this invasion would have taken place. The Allies had drawn up all of the plans for the campaign and we know the Japanese dispositions for the campaign as well. So in this case, we are not entering the realm of make believe. It is much like gaming Operation Sea Lion, except that this is a grueling slugfest without an end. 




 Old yes (so am I, and I bet you are also), hell these are ancient for computer games. Just fire up a simulation from 1999 and see how much it resembles Pong. Enjoyable, you bet. Let us just hope that John Tiller Software keeps cranking them out for the next twenty years.

 Not only did I misspell campaigns in the title, but I forgot to mention anything about Wargame Design Studio. WDS is the brains behind all of the newest updates including this game and the Panzer battles series, among others. 

Link to the games page:

These are links to other Tiller games I reviewed:



Robert

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1914 Glory's End/When Eagles Fight by GMT Games  This game box actually contains two separa...

1914 Glory's End/When Eagles Fight by GMT Games 1914 Glory's End/When Eagles Fight by GMT Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

1914 Glory's End/When Eagles Fight by GMT Games





1914 Glory's End/When Eagles Fight


by


GMT Games




 This game box actually contains two separate games. Ted Raicer originally designed both for (sob) Command magazine. I don't have many of the Command magazines, but the few I have I keep pristine and they are some of my prized possessions. Mr. Raicer was like a prophet in the wilderness when he started designing WWI games. No one was interested in WWI; it was all static trench warfare without any room to maneuver or use any finesse. Oh, how wrong we were. World War I is actually one of my favorite eras to wargame, especially the Eastern Front. There you have sweeping and swirling campaigns. The first game, '1914 Glory's End', is about the first campaign on the Western Front of WWI. So it is about the German army's swing through Belgium to outflank the French and take Paris. This culminates with the 'Race to the Sea' and the 'Kindermord Bei Ypern' (The Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres). While history has taught us that the German reservists were actually closer to middle age, they were still massacred in droves. The second game, 'When Eagles Fight', represents the entire war on the Eastern Front. The chaotic nature of the first and second years of the war come through loud and clear.

 This is what is in the box for Glory's End:

One 34"x22" Map
Two countersheets
Two Player Aid Cards
One Pad of Roster Sheets
One Rules Booklet
One Mini-map 

 This is what you get for When Eagles Fight :

One 34"x22" Map
Two Countersheets
Two Player Aid Cards
One Rules Booklet
Two dice 

 GMT has done a complete overhaul of the original games. Not that the original versions were bad, but usually everything can be improved upon.

 Per GMT the difference from the Command version of 1914 Glory's End:

"The game scale is 9.5 miles per hex and three days per turn. The campaign game runs a full 30 turns, but the new edition will include not only a previously published mini-scenario on the Battle of the Marne, but a short ten turn campaign scenario covering the decisive opening weeks of the war. In addition the campaign games can be played in historical or free set-up versions."

 This is from GMT about the differences in When Eagles Fight:

 "But the new edition of When Eagles Fight is more than just a reprint of the original version. The Random Events Table has been exchanged for a system of random events chits allowing for more events. The effects if the Germans do not launch a Verdun offensive in France-which sometimes threw off the balance of the original design- have been revised. Changes in the stacking rules after 1914 more accurately reflect the effect of trenches on the course of the campaigns. And the map now contains the rail lines removed by Command from the first edition. The game also includes a short alternative-history scenario in which the bulk of the German army goes east rather than west in August 1914."



                       

 This is the Turn Sequence for 1914 Glory's End:

I. Allied Player Turn A. Reinforcement & Replacement Phase (Not on Turn 1)
 B.  Entrenching Phase (Turns 10-30 Only)
 C.  Command Control Phase (Not on Turn 1)
 D. Strategic Movement Phase (Not on Turn 1)
 E.  Operational Movement & March Combat Phase
 F.  Prepared Combat Phase
 G. Attrition Phase (7.12)
 H. Allied Victory Check Phase (Not on Turn 30*) *  On Game Turn 30 make one mutual victory check at the end of the turn, adding in all conditional VPs at that time.
II. German Player Turn
 A. Reinforcement, Replacement & Withdrawal Phase (Not on Turn 1)
 B.  Entrenching Phase (Turns 10-30 Only)
 C.  Command Control Phase (Not On Turn 1)
 D. Strategic Movement Phase
 E. Operational Movement & March Combat Phase
 F. Prepared Combat Phase
 G. Attrition Phase (7.12)
 H. German Victory Check Phase (Mutual Check on Turn 30*)

 This is the Turn Sequence for When Eagles Fight:

The Russian Player Turn is the first each Game Turn. Exception: When play begins, the Russian Player Turn of Game Turn 1 is considered to have already taken place, so play begins with the “Central Powers Regular Movement Phase.”
 I. Random Events Phase (From Game Turns 5 to 24)
 II. New Units & Withdrawals Phase A. Russian  • Reinforcements  • Replacements  • Withdrawals B. Central Powers • Reinforcements  • Conversions  • Replacements  • Withdrawals III. Strategic Movement Phase
 A. Russian
 B. Central Powers
 IV. The Russian Player Turn
 A. Russian Regular Movement Phase
 B. Russian Combat Phase
 C. Russian Attrition Phase
 V. The Central Powers Player Turn
 A. Central Powers Regular Movement Phase
 B. Central Powers Combat Phase
 C. German OberOst Combat Phase
 D. Central Powers Attrition Phase
 VI. Victory Check (Game Turns 2, 6, 11, 15, 20, 24) 




 Both games are listed as a '4' on GMT's complexity 'Meter'. So, they are both easy to get into for the player, and a good step up for new gamers from introductory games. Yet, both still have all the bells and whistles that Grognards love, such as Forts, Cavalry, Strategic Movement, Sea Movement, etc. 

 In 1914 Glory's End the German Player, just as in real life, has to smash through Belgium and its forts as quickly as possible. The German player has a timetable that has to be met if he is to take Paris. The German Player is given the historical choice of invading Belgium or not. If the German Player does not invade Belgium, Britain is kept out of the war for now. If the German Player reaches 20 Victory Points, then Britain does declare war. So you have to juggle the pros and cons of invading Belguim. I think most of us budding generals will choose to follow Schlieffen's thoughts on the matter. The Alied Player must delay the German Player as much as possible. The game shows how the original distribution of the French forces leaves the German Player a small window of opportunity in Northen France. The Allied Player has to play for time until his forces can be moved into Northern France to stave off defeat. The start of trench warfare on the Western Front is very effectively shown by the game's rules.

 When Eagles Fight gives the armchair general the chance to fight the entire war on the Eastern Front in World War I. This game is a strategic one instead of operational like it's brother. In 1914 the roles are reversed in Northeast Germany. The German Player must play for time and avoid being crushed by the 'Russian Steamroller'. In the South the 'Central Powers' Player must decide what to do with the Austro-Hungarian army (although I doubt anyone could do as badly as Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf it's commander for most of the war). Luckily for the Central Powers Player he does not have to worry about Serbia, other than not being able to move the 2nd Austro-Hungarian Army on turn one. The Central Powers Player does have to worry about the Italian Front after turn seven. The game's Random Events are full of opportunities or disasters that both players must work around. The Russian Player is hamstrung by ammunition shortages, just like in reality. The Russian Player has to decide if and when he will go on the defensive and what to do on the German and Austro-Hungarian part of the Eastern Front. Luckily for the Russian Player, the game's rules show the lack of cooperation between the Central Power's armies. The Russian Player is hamstrung by ammunition shortages, just like in reality. The Russian Player also has to worry about the threat of revolution depending upon how the war is going for them. 




 The games do unfortunately come with the maps printed on each side of one sheet. This means that unless you copy one of the maps you can only setup one game at a time. The maps are, however, done in typical GMT Games fashion, meaning that they are very well done with all the tables etc. at your fingertips without making the map look too 'busy'. The counters are your typical 5-6-4 type using NATO symbols. They are 5/8" and are very easy to read, even for old eyes. The Player Aid Cards are also very well done. The components are all up to GMT Games standards.

 These games were one of the few that we could play about World War I when they were released. We now have a multitude of games we can play on the war. Some are much more complex than these two games but I think both games have withstood the test of time, and are still two of the best in depicting their different fronts and scales. The Random Events for When Eagles Fight are only that, and do not dive into the realm of fiction or non-plausible as some games do. Do yourself a favor and pick up this great bargain of two great games for really the price of one. Thank you GMT Games for allowing me to review both of these games.


Robert

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Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matri...

Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video



Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matrix Games, and I'm excited to give it a spin. Check back in a couple weeks for coverage of the final product, releasing on October 3rd.

(Sorry about the audio on this video, I forgot to adjust settings and so my voice is drowned out by much of the shooting. You aren't missing much, just my ramblings.)





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RICHARD III digital from  Avalon-Digital I've been a constant fan of Columbia Games ' many block games and was a daily onl...

RICHARD III - DIGITAL RICHARD III - DIGITAL

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

RICHARD III - DIGITAL

RICHARD III digital
from 
Avalon-Digital

I've been a constant fan of Columbia Games' many block games and was a daily online player of Hammer of The Scots with other gamers worldwide, when Columbia hosted their own site for play.  Sadly they chose to close that some years ago.  When I discovered that Avalon-Digital were in line to produce four of my favourite Columbia games: namely Hammer of the Scots, Julius Caesar, Crusader Rex and Richard III, I was hyper when I got the chance to review the first of the four that they are working on.



Being from the UK it was a double bonus that their first choice was Richard III.  At this point I should point out that I've been playing with a beta  model that is still in the process of being finalised.  Also its original physical version demands a very asymmetrical style of play from the two sides, so I was intrigued to see how well they would cope with this.  


For those of you unfamiliar with this game and many of the similar games produced by Columbia, its system uses an area movement map.  In this case broadly covering the Wars of the Roses, it features most of Great Britain.  In its original physical version, the units are wooden blocks to which adhesive labels designating the major lords who took part in these wars have to be affixed on one side, thus creating a simple but effective fog of war.  Around the edges are a series of pips that indicate the number of dice that are rolled in combat and an alpha-numeric value [e.g. A1, B3, C2 etc] that shows the number or less to be scored to achieve a hit and the letter conveys the order of precedence for firing.

In the case of Richard III, the game plays over three Rounds that represent a period of three Campaigns.  Each Round a player is dealt 7 cards and each player plays one at a time simultaneously and their value determines both initiative and how many areas can be activated and/or new blocks introduced on to the map.  Among these cards are a few that introduce special Events.  Victory is achieved by having the most nobles on the board by the end of the game or by eliminating all five of one player's potential claimants to the throne.

In essence the digital version is recreating all that the physical game covers both in what you see and how it plays.  Inevitably, though the map is identical, the reduction in size to a computer screen or tablet makes for several difficulties. The first is in distinguishing both the names of the areas and the colour of the boundaries between them; the latter being very important for deciding how many units may cross a border and whether they may continue movement or cease movement.  Though there have been suggestions that the ability to zoom in will be part of the final game, the copy I'm working with does not have that facility.  This is something I judge to be ultimately essential to ease of play.

The other factor here is that the map also has heraldic shields printed in the areas that show where nobles may be placed on the map when recruited.  Currently, this is physically impossible to see at all clearly, but the problem is avoided by potential areas lighting up when you place your cursor over the block you want to select.  That's fine, but it does mean that in the early stages of a Round you can spend rather a lot of time cycling through the blocks to check where they might be placed.   Also there is no take-back facility.

For those who prefer [especially when playing solitaire against an A.I.] to be able to way up multiple options that may be a feature that they will object to not having.  However, as one who tends to be a little impatient of those who suffer from excess Analysis Paralysis, I'm more than happy with the current process.

What is totally satisfactory is the combat sequence which is handled very effectively and certainly cuts out the sort of potential mistakes that can be made in a game with real physical components and opponents.  No getting the order of battling with units wrong, no having to remember which units have the special ability to conduct a charge or roll for treachery and no problem of remembering which units are reinforcing a battle or what happens on the odd occasions when the Attacker becomes the Defender. 
Instead you have a clear display, as seen above, showing which unit currently may fire and what its other options are.  When there is a choice of unit to attack it will also indicate those choices.

As in the original game, you will also have the option where to move your units to if you are defeated and have to retreat or where you can regroup to, if you are victorious.  The computer also rolls the dice for you - no cocked dice on a computer screen - and allocates hits totally accurately.  This is an excellent part of the program which speeds up immensely what tended to be the parts of the game that took up most time.

All in all, the game plays out swiftly and with no technical glitches.
However, there are currently two drawbacks.  The first is that at the end of a Round, nobles follow a set of rules for where they have to return to on the map.  This can be every important for your intended plans for the next Round, but at the moment the computer doesn't just decide for your opponent, but also returns your blocks too.  This is a very important element that needs to be returned to the player's active control.

There is one final concern and it is a major one; the quality of the A.I. for all its actions whether moving, moving into a combat situation or introducing new units to the board.  So far, playing either side multiple times I have won every single game and nearly always by substantial margins.

So, at the moment, the program has the potential to be a success and as a lover of these games I hope that ultimately the A.I. will be developed to the level needed to give a genuinely challenging opponent.














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Fantasy General II revisits a classic title, over 20 years old, and hurls the series into the 21st century. How does the style and set...

Fantasy General II - Invasion Fantasy General II - Invasion

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

Fantasy General II - Invasion





Fantasy General II revisits a classic title, over 20 years old, and hurls the series into the 21st century. How does the style and setting hold up, and how have the advancements in game design over the past couple of decades been used to improve over the original? 


The original Fantasy General, as the name implies, and as you may already know, is direct re-theming of Panzer General, the game that launched a thousand spiritual sequels. The core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played Panzer Corps, Order of Battle, Warhammer 40k: Armageddon, or any number of other games featuring turn-based combat on a hex grid, in which the player carries over units from mission to mission in a lengthy campaign. Sound familiar? I'm sure you've played something like it before. While Fantasy General II does not break any innovative new ground overall, it does offer a very satisfying rendition of this gameplay style.


Fantasy General II picks up 300 years after the events of the first game, which focused on the "Shadow Wars" which ravaged the land, leaving a shattered world fought over by numerous factions. This is especially true for the various barbarian clans of the west, who have been set against themselves by the powerful Empire of the east. No one has been able to unite the clans for many years, and they instead squabble among themselves. As the player, you take on the role of Falirson, son of Falir One-Eye, who is the chief of your barbarian clan. While the game opens with some simple missions where you fight and raid other clans, before long you are swept up in a high fantasy story of mysterious wizards, forest dwelling witches, and trolls galore. 


One aspect I love about the game is how it gives you plenty of chances for some light role-playing via choose-your-own-adventure style choices. These pop up both in and out of battle, and almost always have some kind of tangible effect. Choices that benefit you in the immediate moment can sometimes have consequences down the road in a different mission. What would be a simple, meaningless dialogue choice in most games, can sway the morale of your entire army in Fantasy General II. 


The writing and story are well done overall, avoiding the common pitfalls of such games by skipping on cliche, over the top characters and instead offering a set of characters who are grounded and speak in a realistic tone, given their circumstances. Important characters and even your own troops will speak up to offer valid points about what they think you should do or say when faced with a dilemma, and sometimes choosing what you believe is "right" will be met with sharp consequences.


In addition to hero units like the protagonist, your army is yours to create and customize as you see fit. Units you recruit are retained from mission to mission and gain experience in battle, allowing them to level up and become more powerful over time. You begin with just two unit choices, young barbarian warriors that are either male or female. These raw recruits then proceed up one of the two class trees as you scrape together the resources and cash needed to make the promotions. These can be tough choices, as you only get a very limited number of these resources (weapons, armor, and mana) and you have a need for just about every type of unit. 


The various unit types you can field all have advantages and disadvantages, special traits, and distinct roles in combat. There are shock troops, skirmishers, soldiers with shields for stopping ranged attacks, mounted warriors and ranged attackers of your own. Units can pick up special items over the course of battles, and use these to further specialize themselves. For example, an early item you get is a magic ring that makes the unit holding it fight better in forest terrain. While that might sound like a minor thing, there are numerous small tweaks like this which make all of your units feel unique. Your various individually named squads can also pick up permanent perks from one-time events hidden away here and there in the campaign, making them feel like they have a bit of history to them. It can really hurt to lose a unit that has been with you since the beginning, and has accumulated multiple boons. I'll be honest, I've reloaded more than once in order to save such a unit.



The campaign is a sprawling 30+ mission affair that will take quite a while to work your way through. Though I have not finished it entirely, I can say that so far the missions offer a good amount of variety. Some have you escorting a character through hostile territory, others task you with defending against invading hordes, and of course many involved you attacking enemy positions and defeating their army. Many areas of the map are covered in fog, and hide secrets well worth seeking out. Ancient ruins, caves, and more can be explored by your troops in order to find treasure and items. Temples give your entire army a buff as long as you hold them, and mana pools offer a steady supply of mana points for your magic users. There are also usually villages scattered around the map that can replenish your losses mid mission. 


One neat thing is this game is how casualties work. Every unit has a health bar. This starts off filled with green, but after combat sections will turn red. These are "wounded" soldiers which can be restored by having the unit spend its entire turn resting. Sometimes though, the red sections will be lost as well, these units are "killed" and cannot be restored except by visiting a village or replenishing them between missions. I really liked this mechanic, as it forces you to choose between pushing your forces hard, or slowing down to let them rest and be replenished. There is another mechanic which puts pressure on you to complete missions as quickly as possible, essentially the longer the battle goes on, the more civilians who flee the area, leaving no one around to tax after the battle. Without funds, you can't upgrade your units or buy new ones.



So, what about complaints with the game? This is one of those games where there really aren't any glaring flaws to discuss, but the experience overall probably won't blow you away. It's a fun, satisfying game, but not unlike games you have played before. With at least two expansion packs promised in the future, I suspect we will see even more variety in units and perspectives in terms of the story in due time. The core game will certainly please anyone who likes this sort of gameplay and wants a fantasy version of it. It's one of those games you can load up in under a minute and find yourself having a fun time just like that.  I look forward to seeing where they take this series in the future. 

Fantasy General II is available directly from Slitherine as well as on Steam and GoG.

- Joe Beard




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THE LORD OF THE RINGS:  JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE-EARTH from FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES A new all-time favourite! There have been many gam...

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE EARTH THE LORD OF THE RINGS: JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE EARTH

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

September 2019

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE EARTH

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: 
JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE-EARTH
from
FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES

A new all-time favourite!
There have been many games that I have been enthusiastic about both in the 43 years I've been playing board wargames and in the more recent period that I've been reviewing for A Wargamers Needful Things.  But this is something special.

I have rarely spent in the past so much time playing any one game, as I have in the few weeks since receiving my review copy from Asmodee to whom I can only say a massive thanks.  This is a system I am going to be totally hooked into.  

First of all I want to make clear that this is not a game attempting to get you to play out or recreate specific scenes from either The Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit [whether you're thinking of Tolkien's original novels or Peter Jackson's films].   Nor is it a game that allows you to play out individual adventures as stand alone episodes.  This is a campaign formulated in a sequence of adventures pure and simple. The other absolutely crucial factor is that it is specifically an app-driven game that cannot be played in any other way, but before exploring that core part of the game, you need to have a good idea of the more traditional materials that you will be playing with.

Like many fantasy games involving exploration, your map board will mainly be made up of a series of tiles of different shapes and sizes that will be laid out as you travel the land.


Just a few of the many terrain tiles, plus our six heroes

Occasionally, your adventure will play out on a more conventional set of one or two boards described as Battle Map tiles [seen in the image below].  On these, terrain pieces will be set out such as bushes, boulders, tables, barrels, fire pits, statues, the walls of buildings or streams.  Such moments in your campaign tend to be the major confrontations.

Critical though these episodes are and often involving one or more powerful figures, I enjoy just as much and sometimes more the exploratory adventures where the map grows and your mission develops and branches.

Some have expressed their wish that the game had used tiles that represent specific locations drawn from the Tolkien oeuvre, such as the Prancing Pony or the Barrow Downs.  To achieve this would frankly be impossible, as it would need a mammoth set of tiles that would probably fill several boxes! To me this seems both illogical and highly constraining. To conjure up the multiple locations that emerge over the course of the campaign would be impossible except by using just such a generic set of double-sided tiles as the game does provide.

There is a wide variety of different sizes and configurations that build up to create an evocative landscape, such as the one below.
While we're discussing the terrain, I'd strongly recommend that you sort the tiles according to their numeric order at the beginning of each adventure for ease of finding and to maintain the smooth flow of the narrative.  

Here the app provides one of its best roles.  Each adventure - called a Chapter -  begins with you being instructed on the placing of a limited landscape, created from usually one to three tiles with a slight mist encompassing the direction(s) in which the land will develop as you explore it.  Text and voice describe what you can see and also you're shown where to place such things as exploration/ encounter/threat tokens and the minions of evil themselves.  A banner headline will also state your current objective.

Now you have an idea of how the land lies and what it looks like, I'll  move on to the figures in the landscape.  Surprisingly, the six heroes that you can choose from seem the weaker element in the physical casting of the models.  All tend to have broader, solider plains, as seen with Legolas and Aragorn here.

On the other hand, this did make them much quicker and easier to paint.


By contrast the enemies that they encounter are substantially more detailed as even a quick black undercoat and light brushing of white demonstrates.


Though I shall be going on to a complete paint job, even with such a basic preliminary coat the figures are beginning to take on more identity.  Though the range of enemies is relatively limited, which has raised some queries, I've been more than satisfied with all I've got in the core box.  The one thing that you can be sure of is that there will be more, much more to come in expansions. 


Nonetheless, there's plenty to engage with as illustrated on the contents page below.
In addition to the components I've already considered is a substantial range of cards that cover identical sets of Basic Skills for each character, plus each Hero's own personal set and a set of Role skill cards.  At the moment there are six roles offered, just as there are six heroes.  Very oddly, the one obvious missing role is that of wizard, just as the one missing Hero is Gandalf.  Definitely some complaints have been vociferously forthcoming about that omission! 

These cards form the heart of each Hero's play deck that provide the key mechanic for all the different tests that will have to be made during the course of a turn as well as an ever changing tableau of abilities that will help and augment your Hero's actions.  These sets of cards will slowly evolve over the course of the Chapters, partly through potential purchases and upgrades bought with Experience Points and Lore during the interim between Chapters and partly through Items awarded in the course of a Chapter.  

In addition at the beginning of the whole Campaign, each Hero draws a random Weakness card which serves as a minor encumbrance to clog up his/her play deck and more of these will be added occasionally, mainly as the result of unsuccessful tests.

On the opposite side will be found the Damage and Fear cards that will also build up; this time from such things as enemy attacks or a Hero finding themselves in darkness during the Shadow Phase which can best be considered as the time for evil to strike back.  These do not go into the play decks but are positioned near each Hero's character card.  Reaching your assigned capacity for Damage or Fear leads to a Hero testing for a Last Stand.  Failure in this dire situation will bring doom on the whole party unless they can accomplish the Chapter's objective before the next Shadow Phase.

The final items in the box are two superb booklets.  The first is the slim Learn To Play booklet.  Abundantly illustrated, it is one of the clearest and easiest set of rules that I've read.
A quick read through and you really have all the basics you need to play the game.  Backing it up is a much more substantial booklet - titled the Rules Reference.
Again this works perfectly to give you an alphabetic explanation of all the terms you might come across, primarily on the many cards, but also through the app.  Though the booklet does have an excellent index, it is really unnecessary as it is so quick and easy to find whatever word you want. 
Above you can see a typical extract from the extensively well-illustrated basic rules, while below is one of the excellent examples, in this case of the all-important use of testing.


So, eventually we come to the APP.   This vital part of the game has been developed to perfection.  First of all it is a very easy interface to work with - far easier to navigate than many another computer interface I've experienced.    Here is that all-competent games master you always wanted when in the past you were forced to draft in either the least reluctant player or the most easily lent on or, dare I say it, the megalomaniac member of your group who just loves cackling evilly!  

At last we have one who narrates the narrative text in suitable tones, doesn't make mistakes[very few glitches have so far been encountered] and handles so many of the mechanics of the three-phases of the sequence of play.


A typical screenshot on my ipad


Many games have sought to overcome that very problem of the neutral games master by turning the role into the highly aggressive one of being the evil overlord.  In Journeys in Middle-Earth, the app virtually drives everything.


This has led to two interlinked complaints.  The first is the amount of inputting, the second is that all you do as the active player is shuffle your card deck and turn over cards making the game dull and repetitive.  Both criticisms neither do any justice to the game nor relate to the amount of excitement and enjoyment I've experienced while playing the game.  

First of all, the interaction with the app is very positive.  It provides plentiful atmospheric text, which whether playing solo or as a group, can be enjoyed aurally.  The on-screen visuals complement what you see physically in front of you in the form of all the components I've described.  


Legolas encounters two marauding orcs 

However, more than anything, consider what it replaces at its very simplest: namely,  a multitude of charts that would have to be referenced, endless modifiers and their accompanying rules learnt and then dice rolled, followed by more rules for the outcomes.  By comparison, the inputting you have to do becomes a quick and easy part of the whole experience.  

You, the player, have the pleasure of physically building the map, placing the items to be explored and interacted with, the characters to be met and spoken to and, not least, the enemies to be targeted and fought with or evaded, deciding what paths you will take through the land and which Heroes will undertake what task.  All the while drafting your deck to make best use of the skills that your card draw allows you to prepare.  
Legolas confronts a goblin hunter


Your whole focus is on what's happening instead of having your head buried in rules and endless charts.  Hence the swift and smooth flow of the experience.  Having played and enjoyed in the past solitaire games like the much praised and revered Ambush with their sleeves of written events to be checked as you moved from hex to hex, there is no way that such methods could be used to achieve the complexity of plot lines in each Chapter of  Journeys in Middle-Earth.

I tested out the potential for diverging storylines by playing out the opening Chapter four times and was very pleased with what I discovered.  The first thing was that each time played the map differed in its development.  Next, though certain events did have to occur in order to complete a Chapter, the locations and order might change, incidental characters [what are often termed NPCs -i.e. Non-Player Characters] might change, along with many other elements.  

A dangerous place to be
More than anything, a factor I highly relished was that all tests are not a simple question of Pass or Fail, though some are.  Instead for many you input the number of successes and the app gives you the result which will change according to the degree of success.  The same will often be true of combat, as you input the number of hits. Both these lead to frequent agonising choices, as you decide whether to influence the outcomes by spending some of the cards that are  currently in your character's display or whether to spend some of your inspiration tokens to affect the  random cards that you draw from your play deck when testing. 

At other times you will be conversing and interacting with characters, trying to gauge which response might be the best choice in the circumstance: outright aggressiveness, helpfulness, simple kindness or a neutral tone.  This is especially true of the Chapter where your goal is to uncover a spy!!

Meanwhile as damage and fear mounts and one or more of your Heroes moves inexorably towards having to take a last stand test, the tension is screwed tighter.  This is augmented by the fact that each Chapter has a timing mechanism called the Threat level that increases each turn during the Shadow Phase [a few actions will even decrease the Threat level].  Reach the end of the Threat line before you've succeeded in your mission and you're defeated.

The painting begins!
Perhaps strangely, defeat does not mean your character is out of the game or that you have to return to the very start of the whole campaign.  Instead you will continue on to the next Chapter with your character restored to health.  This is a feature I've met with in both computer games and some fantasy board games.  I still remain uncertain as to my final response to this element in any game, but here I think it is essential [until when/if the game is developed for it to become possible to replay single episodes].

However, as I've already made clear, I've had so much in depth fun, excitement and absorbing adventure from this game purely from this first Campaign that the minute a second Campaign became available to buy, that's exactly what I've done, as well as buying the Middle-Earth game-mat to set everything out on.

So my next crucial decision will be whether I set out on this first Campaign again with a new combination of characters and new roles or plunge into the second Campaign.  Whichever I decide, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take the first steps on that famous road that goes on for ever and get a copy of The Lord of The Rings: Journeys In Middle-Earth. 


Approx. cost £68.35

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