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Something is Stirring, down in the Abyss. A submarine, the USS Salem, has a mysterious incident which leaves the crew scattered across the s...

Stirring Abyss Stirring Abyss

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

turn based

Something is Stirring, down in the Abyss. A submarine, the USS Salem, has a mysterious incident which leaves the crew scattered across the sea floor in diving suits. You awaken as one of the officers, and set to work finding other survivors from the crew and figuring out what happened. As you explore, it becomes apparent that this was no simple naval incident. Aggressive, monstrous creatures stand in your way, and nature seems to be corrupting in disturbing ways all around you. going on.

Just in time for Halloween comes a spooky strategy adventure from Sleepy Sentry and Slitherine Games. Stirring Abyss combines elements of XCOM and the Lovecraft mythos to create something quite different than anything I've seen before. As the leader of the surviving crew from the USS Salem, you'll go on a series of missions, defeating monsters and gathering resources as you unravel the plot. While you might glance at the screenshots and think that this game seems simple enough, there is actually quite a lot going on...beneath the surface. 

After coming to his senses on the sea floor, your starting character makes his way back to the USS Salem, which has suffered heavy damage. Fans of XCOM will immediately see the influence of the base building in that series reimagined here. Instead of building a base, you'll instead be pumping water out of the various compartments in the sub, and then spending resources to get things operational again. Some rooms have a pre-determined use, while quite a few can provide a benefit of your choosing. Stirring Abyss is very stingy with resources, forcing you to make hard choices about what rooms to bring online first. 

Stirring Abyss is actually stingy in a lot of good ways, constantly putting your team under a ton of...pressure. Crew members don't automatically heal between missions. Resources that you need for repairing the sub are also needed for crafting items and equipment. Power generated by the sub can be used for special abilities during the tactical phase, but needs to be conserved if you're going to keep pumping water out of the sub. During the tactical phase your team is closer to running out of air with each turn that passes. On top of all of that, the tactical combat itself is unforgiving, often pitting your team against overwhelming odds and demanding that you use all of their special abilities to good effect, or else. 

The tactical combat is relatively simple in terms of mechanics, but still very satisfying. There are three classes of characters: officers, scientists, and crewmen, each with a different set of options for unlocking new abilities as they level up. Additionally, each character you bring on board is unique, with a few custom traits of their own. Most combat early on consists of stabbing enemies with your handy diving knives, but eventually each character will have a variety of options for dishing out extra damage, hitting enemies with status effects, and supporting each other. Making this far juicier is that this is a game set in a Lovecraftian world, drawing much of its inspiration from The Temple, a short story about a German sub in WWI that meets a troubled end. After just a couple of missions you gain party wide supernatural abilities that you can fire off several times per mission. These include things like teleporting short distances and massively boosting your accuracy. A little further into the campaign you'll unlock a room in the sub where you can mutate your crew members and give them straight up crazy new "perks" like tentacle arms and giant claws. 

You'll need every advantage you can get, as Stirring Abyss pulls no punches with difficulty. Besides dealing with scant resources, you'll also need to keep a close eye on the hit points of your crew members. While there are a lot of ways to restore hit points (abilities, items, submarine features, and occasionally by killing enemies) almost none of them are free, and absolutely none of them will fill that health meter up in one go. This strategic concern translates to careful maneuvering during the tactical phase. Recklessly wading into a fight can put you at a disadvantage later on. Instead, you'll want to make full use of the options you have. You'll also need to learn how each of the many different enemy types operates. Most have at least a couple of special abilities that you'll need to work around. Besides health points, your crewmen also have a sanity meter which can be depleted by various events, like say, seeing a teammate get ripped apart by a giant shark-man monster. Suffering too much sanity damage can eventually render someone completely insane, which could cost you a veteran of many battles.  As units level up they can choose from new perks and abilities, depending on their class, as well as stat bonuses that increase things like damage resistance and critical hit chances. These upgrades are pretty straight forward, but to add some complexity there are also a large selection of party-wide bonuses to be unlocked over time. 

While the combat and XCOM elements are quite good, if relatively simple, what really makes this game sing is how it dives into its theme. The impressive music tracks are dark and foreboding, playing up the dread of a deep sea mystery and something unimaginable lurking in the darkness. The graphics, which still screenshots don't fully convey, charmingly draw from the well of 1950's era sci-fi and adventure art. Each mission carries the narrative forward, with lengthy discussions among the crew, detailed descriptions of the various horrors you come across, and the occasional choose-your-own-adventure style minigame. I don't want to spoil too much here, as the mystery of just what is happening is a big part of the draw to go from one mission to the next. 

As a fan of Lovecraft stories and someone who can't get enough XCOM style strategy games, this one was a very pleasant surprise when it popped onto my radar and eventually ended up in my hands. I haven't gotten too far into the campaign yet, as there was a bug (since ironed out in the release version) which tripped me up several times. Even so, there's no doubt in my mind that this game will hold your interest if you give it a shot. The story is fun right out of the gate, and the tactical combat is comfortable but challenging. I look forward to pursuing the mystery further and seeing just what sort of eldritch horrors are causing so much chaos in the briny deep.

Stirring Abyss is available on GoG, Steam and directly from Slitherine.

- Joe Beard

Battle Brothers newest DLC invites you to visit the frozen frontiers and battle barbarians. From Overhype Studios, Battle Brothers was ...

Battle Brothers - Warriors of the North DLC Battle Brothers - Warriors of the North DLC

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

turn based

Battle Brothers newest DLC invites you to visit the frozen frontiers and battle barbarians. From Overhype Studios, Battle Brothers was one of my favorite games of 2017, and you can read my original review here. In this excellent mash up of Mount and Blade and XCOM, you build up a plucky band of mercenaries as you travel the land taking on jobs to earn money. More money means you can hire more men, buy them more expensive gear, and keep them fed. If, like me, you enjoy sticking new gear onto an RPG paper doll, this is the game for you. Each man in your company has his own little equipment screen, where you can equip him with armor, headgear, weapons, and trinkets. Each mercenary also has an extensive set of stats like morale and max fatigue that can be improved over time. The game has two layers, the over world, which is very much like Mount and Blade, and turn based battles. If you want to read more of the details of the general gameplay, check my review linked above. If you are familiar with the game, you probably want to know what this new DLC is all about.

Warriors of the North, as you might guess from the title and artwork, adds in an entire new faction of enemies to face: Barbarians. These guys have a primitive Viking/Rus feel to them, coming at you with fur covered armor and horned helmets. Like the other enemy factions in the game, they have some unique mechanics that you will want to consider when you go into battle against them. The barbarians like to come in hard and take big swings, but this tires them out quickly. They'll often be accompanied by a tribal drummer, who restores their fatigue at quicker rate. They also might have a beastmaster with them, who brings along a big scary pet or two. Taking down these special enemy types will play a key part in your strategy. 

To go along with these new northern enemies, the north end of the map has been fleshed out a bit, and the game has received some new music tracks. I usually don't pay too much attention to music in games, but I found these to be noticeably good. All the barbarian gear can of course also be looted and equipped by your soldiers, giving them a more "northern" look if you so choose. This is a game that shines all the more brighter with more variety, and this DLC adds to that quite a bit. Previously you mostly had standard medieval style cloths and armor, but now your guys can be decked out with furs and helmets with antlers and the like.

While the barbarians make up probably the single biggest feature of the DLC, there's a lot of other good stuff here too. Previously, each time you started the game, the beginning was always the same. You were part of a mercenary company that is ambushed and the leader killed. You then take control of the company and get three mediocre members to get you started. Now, when you fire up a new company, you'll have a choice of ten different origin stories. These aren't just slightly different variations that ultimately don't matter, no, these starts all have long term advantages and disadvantages. 

I'll highlight the two I was most drawn to for this review. The first I tried was, naturally, the one rated most difficult: the lone wolf start. In this scenario you begin with exactly one merc, a veteran hedge knight equipped with upper end gear and a decent amount of money. This guy can take on two or three early game bandits without breaking a sweat. Where's the challenge? Oh, this hedge knight is actually you, so if he dies then the game ends. In a normal campaign, "you" are never represented in the field. Any given mercenary can die and it doesn't matter. Not so with this scenario.  Pair it up with Ironman mode and you've got yourself a whole new level of tension. Also, you can't hire more than a dozen men at a time, so that means your avatar will have to continue fighting, even as the enemies you face get nastier.

The other scenario I tried is pretty much the opposite. In the peasant militia start you begin the game with 12 peasants looking to take their local militia show on the road and win themselves some glory and coin. While you start out with 12 men, they all have bottom-tier equipment, if they have anything at all! It takes a lot of money to keep all of these men fed and paid, and buy them all some decent stuff. Once you have the funds to supply and pay them all, you can even take 16 men into battle instead of the usual dozen. The downside to all of this is that your group is prejudiced against anyone of higher birth, and so you can only recruit fellow peasants and lower class individuals. This means that any mid and late game losses will have to be replaced with level one nobodies that will need a lot of experience to catch up. 

The other start I'm interested in trying is the Davkul cultists. Yes, you can play the game as a roving group of cultists, recruiting those of like mind and maybe sacrificing them to Davkul at some point...

Another new addition to the game are the Champions. These are especially strong enemies among each faction who carry unique named items for you to take for yourself. While a straight forward addition, it's a welcome one that gives you some emergent gameplay as you follow tavern rumors to track down these mini-bosses. Along that line, there are two new legendary locations and bosses to take on, and a smattering of new quests and events to discover, and of course new weapons and armor to equip. In Battle Brothers, weapons define the abilities of your men in combat, and so adding new ones isn't just a visual effect, it opens up entirely new options in strategy. 

Since I never did a review on it, I'll briefly mention here the other major DLC for Battle Brothers called Beasts and Exploration. This one came out last year and really fleshed out the game beyond the solid, but limited main game content. It adds lots of monsters, bosses, and legendary locations to the game. It also allowed you to loot trophies from all of those new monsters and craft them into new stuff. In addition, it added the ability to customize your gear, upgrade your armor, and even repaint shields. Before that, they put out the Lindwurm add-on for free. This was likely a test run for the bosses and such that came later. It only adds one special enemy and some related items to the game, but hey, it was free! Since release, they've also patched and balanced the game several times, turning what was already a great game into an even better one.

With a reasonable price tag of just $8.99, I find it very easy to recommend Warriors of the North to anyone who enjoyed Battle Brothers. The new faction, items, and bosses add ever more variety to the game world, and the new origins will ensure that you can play several campaigns with quite a different experience than the default start. As I said in my original review, this is a game that has tons of room for quality DLC. The two so far have been exactly what I was looking for, and I hope there are more to come. This game is a wonderful sandbox, and the more toys the better.

- Joe Beard

Battle Brothers is available directly from the developers and can also be found on Steam and GoG.

BATALJ is a simultaneous turn-based tactical game about 1v1 combat with each player leading their own custom built team of units. ...


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

turn based

BATALJ is a simultaneous turn-based tactical game about 1v1 combat with each player leading their own custom built team of units. The title is the first game from studio Fall Damage and shows a lot of promise, but may need some more work to be given a full recommendation. 

BATALJ features combat that in some ways resembles the new XCOM games, where each of your units can move and do one action each turn. The twist is that each player chooses the movement and actions of each of their units in secret, and then once both players hit go, the action plays out. The units do not act all at once, however, instead they go in a specific order that is known to the players while choosing moves. This opens up some serious strategy calculations. Do you go for the sure kill, knowing your units can act before their hapless victim gets a chance to escape? Or do you try to predict your opponent's actions, hitting them where they least expect it? Of course, you might be totally wrong, and watch helplessly as your units whiff at empty air. You also need to think about future turns when making your choices. Different actions incur different amounts of delay, which is what makes the overall unit order get rearranged each turn.

 All of this action takes place in one of several small arenas, with three objective locations that the players must fight over. If you end a turn with more locations in your control, you get a point. 5 points wins the match. A location can be contested by both players, which means no one gets control of that spot. The really interesting thing to me was that control of more objectives only ever gives you one point. So, if you have control of one objective, and no one controls the others, you get one point. If you control two or even all three of the locations, you still only get one point. This creates the opportunity for a variety of strategies. You can try to use fast units to spread out and have a presence across the board, or you can move your units in a blob and try to crush whatever resistance they encounter, or a hundred other approaches in between. Each side gets some reinforcements at specific intervals, and depending on how the battle is going you might want to bring in a healer to fix up your hero, or a unit to counter whatever strategy the enemy is using. Everything, of course, depends on what units you have and what the enemy has. Being a novice, I just picked a variety of units and then figured out a strategy as I went!

There are three different factions of units in the game, each with a different theme and set of heroes. There is a default squad for each faction, but the real tinkering fun comes from assembling your own squads and thinking about how different units could work together to create some serious combat synergy. In my relatively brief time with the game I did not get into the nitty gritty details, but I did play several matches and studied the various abilities available to each unit. Each faction has a half dozen or so different unit types, and each of those units has its own set of two to four possible actions it can take during a turn. Many units also have passive buffs that shape their role on the battlefield. If you are a fan of MOBA's you will immediately feel comfortable with this aspect of the game. Most units have some kind of basic attack, and then either more powerful attacks or support type abilities. There are units to heal, units to take out an enemy's armor, units that can cloak, some that can fly, some have area denial weapons while others focus a ton of damage on one target. There is a lot of variety here and simply exploring what the various units are capable of will take some time.

So, it might sound like I have nothing bad to say about this game, but, unfortunately, we are about to get to that part. The actual gameplay is very solid, the problem is that you might have a hard time finding an opponent. BATALJ is meant to be a competitive game, focused on 1v1 matches between human players. The game has some lovely stat screens and battle logs, and promises that ranked play is on the way. However, it isn't clear whether the player base is there to support it. I was able to find several matches via the automatic matchmaking, but at times I was stuck waiting for a while with no opponent to be found. The forums aren't very busy, and Steam Charts shows that only a handful of people are playing at any given time. Normally, I wouldn't knock a game for having a small player population (some of my favorite games over the years are pretty obscure), but in this case, if you don't have a reliable supply of opponents, you can't really play the game. There is no single player mode to speak of. There is a tutorial against some bots, which I found enjoyable the first time through, but after that you have to go online.

I really, really hope the game finds a player base, because the developers seem enthusiastic and responsive to player concerns. Perhaps a few more updates and greater awareness will draw people into the game, but I fear it might be a tough sell without any kind of single player gameplay. Another option would be adding asynchronous matches as seen in Frozen Synapse. That would make it a lot easier to find and play a match, even with relatively few players out there. 

As it stands, I would like to recommend this game, but can only do so with the massive caveat that this is an online only game with a very small player base, which may or may not be around in a couple months. I hope this doesn't discourage the developers, because they clearly put in a lot of work into this and released a game that is fun to play and looks great. Hopefully they can find a path forward that will bring in the player base that this game needs. 

BATALJ is available on Steam
Developer/Publisher: Fall Damage

- Joe Beard

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: The Broken Alliance (BSGD:TBA...still a mouthful, let's just go with BA) is the freshly released expa...

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: The Broken Alliance Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: The Broken Alliance

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

turn based

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: The Broken Alliance (BSGD:TBA...still a mouthful, let's just go with BA) is the freshly released expansion to last year's surprisingly excellent we-go space fleet strategy game from Black Lab Games. I never got a chance to play the base game before a few weeks ago, so this review will cover both the full game and the new DLC. 

For players already familiar with Deadlock, I'll cover The Broken Alliance in detail first, then go back and give a overview of the base game for newbies. BA integrates smoothly into the existing dynamic campaign structure, enhancing it rather than being a separate experience. The campaign exists as a series of eight special missions that you can attempt to complete in the midst of the existing war against the Cylons. The first mission marker will appear as soon as you finish the initial tutorials, giving you the option to add one of the brand new ship types to your fleet right away. You can of course ignore it for awhile if the Cylons are focusing your attention elsewhere. As the name of the DLC implies, these missions center around the tenuous alliance of the human worlds in the face of the Cylon onslaught. Much like in the BSG TV series, the aims of the front line military commanders and the ambitions of various politicians don't mesh, leading to plenty of drama and tension. There are several new characters with strong personalities who are part of a neat story line that will keep you hooked. These events all take place within the overall war that you are already fighting, and add more decision points to a campaign that already had a good amount of replayability.

Along the course of the campaign, you will get to try out some new toys and face new enemy ships. Each side of the Human vs Cylon war gets a new offensive capital ship, a new support ship, and a new fighter type. These give you some fresh options for building your fleet in the campaign, and add a little extra spice to the multiplayer gameplay. For example, the first mission of the BA campaign gives you access to the Celestra class resupply ship, which can augment armor on a specific section of a friendly ship, and also send extra missiles or torpedoes over to restock your offensive ships. The Celestra has no means of attack at all, but opens up new tactical options. You can use the armor buff to help a ship take the brunt of the enemy attack, constantly moving the extra layer of defense around to offer the most protection.  The ability to restock missiles makes another early game ship type, the Ranger missile frigate, able to continue firing long after its munitions racks would normally have run empty. Although a resupply ship may not seem that sexy at first glance, it really does give you a new dimension to consider in your battle plans.

The Broken Alliance expansion released alongside a substantial patch which adds many improvements to the game even if you don't pick up the DLC. The Endurance Update adds one key new feature, persistent damage, which effects both the tactical and strategic layer for the better. Previously, ships would return to full health after each battle, regardless of whether they took a beating in the last fight. This meant that there was no reason not to rush in headlong as long as you knew you could kill the enemy before they knocked out one of your guys. Now it's in your best interest to fight each battle with the future in mind, minimizing damage whenever possible. This damage is shown visually as it happens, which makes the battles feel much more like the show, as ships limp away from a tough fight covered in bruises.

Overall, The Broken Alliance is easily worth the cost of admission and, along with the Endurance Update, enriches an experience that was already rather solid. This is the best kind of DLC, one that seamlessly integrates into the original game and makes what was already there better. Between the new content and persistent damage, veteran players have more than enough reason to spin up their FTL drives and hop back in for another round against the toasters.

What if you're fresh to the BSG Deadlock scene and want to hear a bit more about that dynamic campaign and those cool looking tactical battles? I've got you covered!

BSG Deadlock is a game about the first Cylon War, which happened many years before the events of the rebooted TV series. The Galactica is not some ancient warship ready to be turned into a museum, but instead it is one of the premier flagships of the Colonial Fleet. Unfortunately, the Galactica has gone missing, and following a strong blow from a surprise Cylon assault, the Colonial Fleet is in rebuilding mode. This is where you start the campaign, right in the middle of a war that has been going on for some time with no end in sight, hence "Deadlock." There's no running and hiding from the Cylons here, this is a game all about big ships slugging it out in head-to-head confrontations. 

The gameplay is broken up into two distinct halves. The tactical battles, and the strategic layer. Each heavily influences the other, and you will need success in both to carry humanity to victory.

On the strategic level, the game features a dynamic campaign where you maneuver your fleet, and later, multiple fleets, around the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, fighting off the Cylons where they appear, and also taking on special scenarios that move the story forward. The twelve human worlds provide you with resources each turn, but they can drop out of the alliance if you don't defend them, much like nations in XCOM. However, here you can bring them back into the fold over time. As part of the strategic layer you are able to build ships, research new designs, assign and promote officers, and set priorities for the war as you see fit. 

There's some interesting decision making to be had in terms of how you use the resources available to you. New ships can be built fairly cheaply over the course of a few turns, or pumped out immediately for an exorbitant price. Likewise, officers can be promoted (allowing you to level up their abilities) for free as they gain experience, or you can use valuable resource points to push them faster. The technology tree isn't vast, but does require you to decide priorities based on how you want to fight your battles. If you want to jump straight to a Battlestar tier of ship, you'll have to forgo many of the cheaper upgrades and designs that could make your starting fleet more potent.  There's something to be considered here every turn, since even moving your ships rapidly across the map can put a strain on your resources. Letting them idle for a few turns is much more fuel efficient, but of course means that the Cylons are raiding unchecked somewhere.

I enjoyed the strategic part of the game because it gives you the freedom to conduct the war how you want, while still pushing you forwards constantly. Your operations are centered around a mobile shipyard that tags along with one of your fleets. It gives your starting fleet a bit of help in battles with its two fighter squadrons and some turrets. However, soon you must build additional fleets and send them out alone to keep the enemy in check across the twelve colonies. Doing so will give you benefits, since worlds support you more when you have a military presence there, and having more fleets spread around makes it much easier to drive off the Cylons wherever they appear.

The other half of the game is the tactical battles. This is the meat of the game, where you face the enemy head on and do your best to defeat them while taking minimal casualties. The interface for commanding your ships is easy to use, but there is a ton of depth to explore. The action is broken up into we-go turns where orders are given by both sides, then the action plays out briefly before giving you another chance to issue orders. 

Ships have separate armor on all four sides plus the top and bottom. Once the armor in one section gets chewed up, the ship starts taking damage to its "health" points. Ships have specific sections like engineering and fire control which can be damaged and must be repaired to restore functionality. Each ship also has specific arcs of fire depending on where the turrets are. One of your starting ship classes can only fire forwards and backwards, while the other can only fire broadsides. Later models have more arcs, including some that are on the top or bottom. All of this means that you absolutely must use the concept of three dimensional space to your advantage. I tried a lot of tactics like stacking ships vertically and doing a space rendition of crossing the T. One must also consider that missiles or torpedoes fired by your ships will crash into any friendly ships in the line of fire, so you need to consider that when coming up with a formation.  There are some other small tweaks you can make every turn, like using a slider to add more power to either defense or attack (at the cost of speed) or boosting all power to the engines to cover some space. As your ships take damage, you can direct repair crews to whichever section of the ship you think needs to be repaired first. 

Besides your large ships, you will also be fielding plenty of Viper and Raptor squadrons. The Vipers are your fighter jets, going out to attack enemy fighters and harass larger ships. They are great for projecting some power rapidly across the battlefield where needed. They can also play defense, and try to intercept incoming missiles. The Raptors are your utility players, equipped for electronic warfare, defense against Cylon hacking, boarding operations, and a small rack of missiles just for fun. Probably my only big complaint with the game is that you never seem to get those close in third-person shots of the Vipers that were so common in the show.

The tactical battles initially seem like they could get repetitive or easy since you see a lot of the same ship types over and over, but that isn't the case. Each time you go out the enemy is in a different configuration, and the battles are so dynamic in how they flow from moment to moment that they never become repetitive. I had a constant drive to experiment with different strategies to see what would produce the best results. Again, I have to mention how the 3-D aspect of space combat really does come into play here, unlike in many space combat games where it doesn't really matter that much. As you add more ships to the mix, the tactical possibilities open up even more and as different enemy ships appear your tactics must adjust to the new threats they pose. All of this taken together makes for a lot of variety as the campaign progresses from small-medium skirmishes to late game heavy-weight bouts.

Even when a battle mostly goes your way, this is a war between powerful opponents, and you will lose ships. It's heartbreaking to see a ship you've had from early on get caught in a kill zone because you maneuvered them too aggressively, or when a Cylon frigate manages to get off one last salvo of torpedoes which hits the one weakened section of armor on one of your ships, destroying it just as the battle ends. Losing ships and building new ones is part of the game, and really makes it feel like you are in a fierce battle for survival.

The graphics and sound do a great job of depicting space battles in the style of the BSG reboot. Missile trails, cannon fire, flak bursts, it's all there and puts you right into the show. Zoom in on a ship and you can even see its name painted on the side. As ships take damage they will shows the scars of battle on their hull, with fire leaking out here and there. The sound effects perfectly match the action, with the dull boom of cannons followed by the deep cracking of a capital ship breaking up. One cool feature of the game is that you can watch a complete replay of each battle once it is over, with cinematic camera shots showing off all of the action. This turns a long series of brief turns into an uninterrupted movie that can be very enjoyable to watch when a battle goes your way. I have to praise the music in particular. It is not the exact same music from the show (as far as I can tell), but it captures the same style perfectly. If you want a game that puts you right into the action of a Battlestar Galactica battle, this is it. 

It goes without saying that I give this game a strong recommendation. If you are a fan of the show, you must play it. If you are a fan of turn-based tactics, XCOM style strategy-tactical mixes, or space combat, you should definitely be interested. The combat is great, the dynamic campaign provides a rich context for why you are fighting, and the game perfectly captures the atmosphere of the BSG universe. I didn't even mention the great voice work that goes into the story scenarios and briefings, where you get all the political intrigue and infighting that is common to the setting. With the addition of The Broken Alliance expansion, a good game is made even better. The game is half-off for the next week, so it's a great time to join the fray. 

So say we all!

BSG Deadlock and its expansions are available directly from Matrix Games. 
Deadlock Base Game
The Broken Alliance DLC

The game is also available on Steam, PS4, and XBOX ONE.

- Joe Beard

Your planet is under assault from ugly, violent invaders. Your innocent people have been killed by the score. Resistance to the host...

Attack of the Earthlings Attack of the Earthlings

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

turn based

Your planet is under assault from ugly, violent invaders. Your innocent people have been killed by the score. Resistance to the hostile aliens is the only option. Will you lead your people to victory over the evil invaders, these...humans?  That's the premise of Attack of the Earthlings, a new tongue-in-cheek tactical combat game that puts the player in command of deadly alien creatures fighting the humans  who are trying to rob a planet of its resources.

The humans are members of Galactoil, your typical evil galactic space corporation, have landed a huge drill on the surface, which carries the entire corporation within it. Starting down in the lower levels, you will fight your way all the way to the top over the course of several scenarios. At the very top is the Board Room, where all those smug executives are just waiting to get eaten by vengeful aliens. Each level gives you different tasks to accomplish, and occasionally throws some surprises at you. Early on you just need to kill off all the humans, but in some you must complete goals like defending a set location against waves of ever stronger enemies, or rescuing another alien before turning on the humans together.

Carol is looking just a bit under the weather. But certainly is not host to an alien parasite...
The heart of your force is the matriarch, a powerful creature which can kill humans, eat them, and then use the resulting biomass to spawn underlings at a frightening rate. The basic units you spawn, called grunts, can be evolved into three specialized units using more biomass. There's a sneaky backstabbing form, a big bruiser with lots of health, and a frail ranged unit.  The matriarch is powerful in combat, but losing it will immediately end your mission, so you will mostly rely on units created mid-scenario. Between levels you can spend points to upgrade the units and make them far more powerful. Some of these upgrades give direct stat boosts, while others give the unit type an entirely new ability. The better you perform in each level (winning quickly, taking few losses, among other factors), the more points you will be able to invest. Levels can be replayed for a higher score if you do poorly the first time around.

Attack of the Earthlings uses a turn-based combat system that should be familiar to fans of XCOM and the like. You get a limited number of action points for each unit each turn and can use those points to move or use abilities.  Each of the previously mentioned classes has a role to play on the battlefield, and your strategies open up as units gain more abilities. Depending on the "terrain" and your personal style, you may lean on one type of unit more than another.  For example, there are vents scattered around the levels that let units quickly move behind enemies or traverse large distances, but only the smaller classes can fit into them. On the other hand, you may be facing enemy types that punish melee attackers, so you will need to switch your ranged unit and pick them off from afar. The additional abilities you gain are key to winning the tougher fights as the game goes on. You'll soon be able to lay traps, distract enemies, and even mind-control humans to act as scouts and saboteurs. 

An important aspect of the combat is how stealth plays an important role. Enemies all have vision cones that your units must avoid to stay unnoticed. If they spot one of your creatures, the humans can react immediately and alert other nearby humans. Once alerted, guards will move their vision cone much more erratically and seek out your units. Your best course of action is to get to the flanks or behind every enemy and take them out one by one. Many of your actions, like opening doors, killing humans, or spawning new grunts generates sound. The range of the sound is visualized, so you can see if an action will draw the attention of a human. You can use this to your advantage often times, if you get creative.

The game includes some wonderful dialogue by the human characters, hitting various alien movie tropes and general humor. Since this is humor involving people being murdered and eaten by monstrous aliens, it of a decidedly dark and over the top style. Just wait until you bump into the most unfortunate turret to ever exist. Its AI was programmed to love and protect humans, but no one loaded it with ammunition. Hilarious tragedy ensues. I seriously laughed out loud at this game more than a few times.

The game is filled with wonderfully dark humor.
For those looking for a solid tactical strategy game, something like XCOM but without the global strategic layer to worry about, Attack of the Earthlings is a perfect fit. The only negatives I could come up with are the handful of bugs I ran into and the lack of much replayability. The bugs I reported and got a quick response that they are being worked on. The lack of replayability might be a bigger negative for some. The campaign contains a set number of scenarios, and once you finish them, which will maybe take ten hours or less, there isn't much left to do. There isn't a random scenario generator or anything else other than chasing a higher score. What is there is great, but you will finish it in fairly short order.

Attack of the Earthlings is available on Steam for $25.

Official Website:

- Joe Beard

Warbanners, developed by Crasleen Games, is the latest game in a sub-genre I've covered a few times already this year: the turn-b...

Warbanners Warbanners

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

turn based

Warbanners, developed by Crasleen Games, is the latest game in a sub-genre I've covered a few times already this year: the turn-based tactical combat game in a medieval/fantasy setting. The game offers fast-paced, yet detailed combat with a very clear and responsive UI. Outside of the combat, there is a light layer of RPG elements and party management to give context to the battles. There is nothing here that you haven't seen before, but it is all handled so competently that I think it is worth your time if you are into this kind of game. Now, let's dive into each section of the game in a bit more depth.

 In the campaign, which consists of 42 linked scenarios (some optional),  you command a small company of mercenaries, setting out to slay monsters and make some coin in the world. Unlike Battle Brothers, which focused on a sandbox world in the style of Mount & Blade, there is a linear story here, featuring your avatar Roderick. The story is the typical stuff of fantasy lore, there are necromancers raising undead, a mysterious cult, a war against orcs, elves feuding with dwarves, and so on, but it makes for good fluff to link the various missions together. You will often be given some kind of choice at a decision point in the story, and what you choose can change the shape of a coming battle, or have you avoid fighting at all. Many of these decisions will increase or decrease your "karma", which goes up as you do nice things, and down if you are a baddie. This doesn't change the game dramatically, but does lock away some options for your party if your alignment is one way or the other. 

The story moves along at brisk pace, and before you know it you will be caught up in the war against the orcs, which of course goes poorly for the humans and throws your party into some bad situations in the aftermath. I've not finished the whole campaign yet, but I think I'm about halfway through and can safely say that there is a good variety of mission types which force you to use different kinds of strategies. There are sieges, ambushes, desperate defensive stands and all out large scale battles where you have many allies and foes.

Managing your company consists of buying potions, equipping gear as it becomes available, and leveling up your experienced troopers. At the start you only have basic swordsmen and archers, along with your leader, but soon you gain access to additional fantasy archetypes. Dancers (basically rogues), mages, healers, knights, and so on. As you add in these more interesting classes, their abilities add much more complexity to the battlefield since they all have multiple special abilities and traits. The dancer, for example, gets bonus to flanking attacks and ignores enemy zones-of-control when moving. She can zip behind the enemy line and stab them in the back, inflicting bleeding damage as she goes and even has a limited ranged attack when needed. However, in return for all those perks, she has less health and can't take many hits.

As units level up, you can choose one stat boost from among three random options, so no two swordsmen will be the same after a few outings. Units can also gain new perks and abilities at higher levels. Another way to make a unit special is to give it one of the unique pieces of gear that are awarded after some missions. There are boots which can make a swordsman move like a dancer, a bow that increases an archer's range, and an item that lets a character attack in a 3-tile arc with each swing. 

Tactics play an important role in winning battles without losing a lot of units. Long term success in the campaign is much more assured if you can avoid losing any of your units in a battle. If they die, they must either be replaced with a fresh, level one newbie, or resurrected at a higher cost. Spending a lot of your limited cash on resurrections means that you won't be able to buy many potions, which are very helpful in certain situations, or hire the "assistants" which are essentially permanent buffs of various types. These assistants are people you hire to augment your mercenary band, but who don't actually fight on the battlefield. They do things like boost morale, unlock additional classes, or even give you a game-changing catapult in every mission. They are expensive but quite useful and you want to accumulate as many as you can afford. There isn't any way to get extra cash outside of completing missions, so for the entire campaign you are working with a very finite budget.

As you might expect, your forces are often outnumbered, so you will need to use the terrain to your advantage, creating choke points and kill zones when possible. Most every mission has the ultimate goal of killing every single enemy on the map, but how you go about that can differ a great deal depending on the circumstance and how you have built your army. I often used a tactic of holding a defensive line in one section of the battle, while punching through somewhere else and getting behind the strongest part of the enemy line. Potions, as I mentioned before, are very useful in this game and can help turn the tide of a fight. There are about a dozen different types, besides just health and mana potions. You can stun enemies, poison them, freeze them, or use other potions to buff your own soldiers. These potions cost cash, so you can't use them willy-nilly, but you will absolutely need them at times. One particular case was when I went up against the "boss" orc in a large battle. He was unstoppable in a straight up fight, able to kill multiple units in one turn, but toss a few potions at him and you can hobble him long enough to get in some attacks and wear him down.  Attack an enemy enough times and you can exhaust their stamina, which means even the nastiest warrior can't do anything on their turn. Every unit also has a morale value which goes up and down depending on how the battle is going, and other factors. Get an enemy to rout and they will be easy pickings.

All of this is tied together with a clean and efficient UI. When a unit is selected, all the hexes it can move to are highlighted, when colored numbers showing whether a unit will still be able to attack after they reach that destination. Unit stats and special abilities appear on the sidebar, along with any consumable items like potions they are carrying. It's all very straightforward, but works well and quickly. 

I really enjoyed the time I spent with Warbanners, and fully plan on going back and finishing the campaign even after I write this review. It's simply a good crunchy tactical strategy game that doesn't demand too much of your time to have a satisfying play session. I fully recommend this game to anyone looking for a solid tactical combat game with a classic fantasy theme. 

Official Website -

Warbanners is available on Steam.

- Joe Beard

Ogre is a turn-based game of strategy which has been around in tabletop form for 40 years. It was first released in 1977 and has been u...

Ogre Ogre

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

turn based

Ogre is a turn-based game of strategy which has been around in tabletop form for 40 years. It was first released in 1977 and has been updated with numerous editions since then. I've only been a boardgame fan for a couple of years now, so I didn't know much about Ogre going in to this review. I did take the time to check out the various tabletop versions, so that I would have an understanding of where this game was coming from.  From what I've gathered, this is a very faithful rendition of the classic Ogre boardgame, which is great for fans. At the same time, Ogre suffers a bit from the double edged sword which is strict boardgame-to-PC adaptations. However, any game which remains popular over the span of four decades has certainly got something going for it, regardless of how you are playing it.

Ogre succeeds unequivocally in one aspect, which is the presentation of playing a boardgame in a digital medium. The visuals are simple and clean, while giving the distinct feeling that you are looking at a hex-map covered in models, all set up nicely on a table. The game runs buttery smooth, which isn't surprising given the level of detail, but does make the presentation all the better. You want to feel like you are looking over a boardgame table, and smooth camera movement is key to that. While the units only have limited animations, they are adequate for the job, accompanied by equally simple explosions and other effects. The sound effects were rather less impressive, with most being extremely repetitive. On the other hand, I found the music to be surprisingly good for this kind of game. It's not Command & Conquer, but there are some decent techno/rock type of tracks to give the game some ambiance while you play.

Ogre, according to the lore, depicts a futuristic world where humanity does battle with each other using tactical nukes as the standard weaponry. This is because armor has advanced so rapidly that nothing else can make a dent. Even the armored soldiers are closer to nuke launching tanks than infantry, Starship Troopers style (the book, not movie). Deciding that wasn't enough death and destruction, the humans of this world invented the Ogre, an armored machine bristling with enough weapons to destroy a city or three, and piloted by an AI. As you might guess, the story of the game involves that AI going all Skynet and attempting to wipe out humans for good.

While the game features a variety of armored units for the human forces, like light/heavy/super heavy tanks, long range artillery, fast GEV's, and infantry, the Ogres completely dominate the battlefield and shape the gameplay. An Ogre can only be disabled by knocking out their dozens of tracks and each individual weapon, rather than being destroyed outright. The Ogre comes in a series of models, from I to VI, with the relatively small Model I Ogres requiring a dozen units or so to defeat, and the big bad versions able to take on entire armies alone. This creates a stark strategic difference between the Ogre and everything else on the battlefield: most of the other units can only fire once per turn, but their sheer numbers give them flexibility of movement, while the Ogre is often alone, but able to engage many targets at once.

Combat follows a set series of phases, where the player gets a chance to move and attack, and then the other side goes. Maneuvering around the Ogres, such that your units can get close enough to attack, while maximizing their chances of surviving the opponent's turn, is at the center of the game's strategy. The game seems extremely simple at first glance, but there is much more subtlety to the tactics than may first appear. I actually had to research some common strategies just to get through the first mission, but once I had a better understanding of the mechanics, a mission which seemed impossible became far easier. That isn't to say that the game throws you in blindly. There is a solid tutorial to start things off, where you learn about moving and attacking and so on. However, after that the ten mission campaign drops you straight into the deep end of the pool. If you are like me, several attempts will be needed for each mission before a winning strategy emerges. In particular, I enjoyed stacking my forces with the quick GEV's, since they get to move again after firing. This lets them zip in, take a shot at an Ogre, then flee out of range of its wrath. 

The UI for handling all of this moving and attacking is mixed bag. On the one hand, it is perfectly functional and clear about what you are doing. Click to select a unit, click a highlighted space to move, click to select a target, select the units you are using for the attack, click "Fire" to attack, and so on. The problem is that you are very often moving around quite a few units, and each one requires this slightly too lengthy series of clicks to function each turn. The movement animations are also a touch too slow, and you can't do anything else while they play. This makes moving a stack of five tanks from one space to another a real chore. If you were playing the tabletop game, you could just pick up a whole pile of units and, assuming they are all the same type, move them to another space in the blink of an eye. In the PC game, this could take a good thirty or forty-five seconds of clicking. The developers have been steadily sending out patches to address feedback, and I hope they will add in some means of speeding up this area of the game. 

The combat, while for the most part compelling, had some stumbles for me as well. There is a lot of good strategy here. How you position your units, what priorities you set for targets, and the composition of your force all matter a great deal. More than once I lost a mission and felt frustrated, but then immediately jumped back in with the thought "Well, what if I did it this way instead?" From what I've learned on my own, and gleaned from reading online, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy here. The simple question of "How does one kill an Ogre?" has all sorts of answers. With that said, the boardgame origins of the combat mechanics don't always feel right in video game form. Rolling the dice always introduces luck into a game like this, and you will see a lot of dice rolled in Ogre. Part of the strategy is balancing the odds. Do you go all in on one sure-thing attack, or do you make several lesser attacks, with the chance of destroying multiple targets? One aspect of the combat which drove me crazy though, was taking out the treads on an Ogre. Unlike the weapons on an Ogre, the treads are targeted by each unit individually, with a rather low chance to hit, and there are a LOT of them to destroy. Sometimes this boils down to watching fifteen units pew-pew at a weaponless Ogre for multiple turns in a row, slowly grinding away the treads until you win or run out of time, with no skill involved whatsoever. I'm sure a long time fan of the game could jump in here and tell me that I'm approaching it incorrectly, and they might be right!

If you want to flip things around and take command of the Ogre yourself, that is certainly possible. Besides the campaign, the game features skirmish maps which include several different generic scenarios. Some are balanced, while others involve lopsided forces, like a human army and a small Ogre defending against an extra dangerous class V Ogre.  While the AI is decent enough, and will give you fits in the tricky campaign, there is of course the option of online play against a human opponent, the sort of match that Ogre was originally designed for. I didn't get to experience this myself while playing the game for review, but it seems to be functioning based on reports from other players.

It feels almost wrong to render any kind of verdict on a game that is been enjoyed by thousands of players longer than I have been alive, especially after only spending a week or so with it, but here we are. Ogre will most certainly please fans of the tabletop game. Everything is here, presented in a very clean and functional digital wrapping. There's online play for beating up your distant friends, and a couple of modes for solo play that will keep you busy for many hours. For players coming into it strictly as a PC game, it may feel constrained in some ways. The luck of the dice which can turn the best laid plan on its head, and the at times clunky UI could drag down your experience. Despite those criticisms, there is a very solid core of strategy gaming to be found here. New tactical layers reveal themselves as you get familiar with the mechanics, and usually reward your improved approach with much better results. I think any fan of turn-based strategy gaming will find something here to sink their teeth into.

Developer: Auroch Digital

- Joe Beard

Can you just not get enough of leading Space Marines against the enemies of the Imperium? Then I have good news for you! The latest in...

Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf

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

turn based

Can you just not get enough of leading Space Marines against the enemies of the Imperium? Then I have good news for you! The latest in the endless march of Warhammer 40k titles has recently released and I'm here to tell you all about it. Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, developed by HeroCraft, attempts to stand out from the pack by offering up a fresh mish-mash of genres that work surprisingly well together.

Basically, this is a turn based tactical game that plays out on a grid, where each unit can take two actions per turn, much like XCOM. The twist is that each character takes actions based on cards in their hand. Most of these cards are weapons that have different attack patterns and damage values, from chain swords and power fists to heavy bolters, rocket launchers, plasma guns, and every other weapon you know and love from 40k. Most weapon cards can optionally be used to move your character. Once played, the card goes back into the deck. There are also other kinds of cards, such as dedicated movement cards which let you cover much more ground, healing cards, special weapons which can be permanently equipped and reloaded, and combo cards which give you some kind of bonus simply by staying in your hand.

For the enemy, the cards in hand are usually generic, and based primarily on whether they are ranged or melee fighters. You control your primary character and two fellow Space Marines chosen from a squad of five. Your allies have unique decks based on their class. There's a scout-sniper, a heavy weapons dude, a Terminator, and others. You can tweak their decks to a certain extent, but really their options depend on their class. Your primary character, however, can be fully customized with a 30 card deck chosen from dozens of options. This process feels very much like that of Hearthstone. You can open new booster packs of cards, or spend a currency to randomly generate new cards of a particular power level. Cards come in several tiers, from common to legendary. As you play the game you will unlock more and more cards to toy around with. Gotta' collect 'em all!

Now, one might think that you would simply put all the most powerful cards in your deck, but there is a trade off. Turn order in Space Wolf is dynamic. It changes constantly depending on how much "effort" the most recently active character built up with his actions. More powerful cards add a lot of effort to your character, and whoever has the lowest total gets to go next. So if you play two really strong cards in one turn, some of your enemies may actually get to take extra actions before that character goes again. There are, of course, cards that can help lower your effort faster and offset using a big powerful card. I found this system to be one of the better ideas in Space Wolf, as it gives you a good reason to consider whether you should take an action now, or perhaps delay it until later for greater results.

The tactical decision making is where the game shines. Positioning matters a great deal, since most weapons have a limited firing arc or distinct shape. Some examples include the sniper rifles, which have a very long range, but the arc is only one square wide, so you must be facing the enemy directly. The big power axes can one-shot KO most enemies, but can hit only the single square in front of the Marine wielding them.Other weapons do less damage, but have much wider arcs. The flamethrowers fire in a cone pattern, so you ideally want to engage a group of enemies from medium range to hit several at once. The battlefields of the game are often somewhat cramped, so you need to think ahead as your Marines move to engage. You don't want to have one standing in a spot that denies another a golden opportunity to do some damage, or even keeping one of your soldiers out of the fight entirely. You will need to press every advantage you can, since your Marines are always outnumbered, and often facing a seemingly endless flow of fresh enemies. If you allow too many foes to close within striking distance of your men, you will start taking damage much faster than the limited healing cards can restore it.

Despite being a game that is also available on iPad and Android devices, Space Wolf manages to look quite respectable on PC. The textures and models are simple, but well done, the Space Marines in particular. The huge variety of weapons all have appropriate attack animations and effects, though some are better than others. For example, the flamethrower spews out a ton of fire over a large area and looks great doing it, but the poor bolters only spit out a handful of rounds before going silent. It's a bit underwhelming really, but makes sense for game balance. The melee attacks, I am happy to say, all look quite good and result in blood spraying everywhere. This is 40k after all!

The area where this game struggles the most is scenario design. While the combat itself is entertaining, and there is a surprising variety of locales to fight through, the objective is pretty much always the same: walk through the level and kill enemies as they spawn in around you. Enemies appear here and there and everywhere, which removes any sense of overall strategy from the game. You have no way of knowing whether a new group is going to appear from a direction that makes sense thematically, or just materialize from the ether right next to your Marines. One mission looked to mix this up, by having you defend a Space Marine priest as he performed some sort of ritual, but then all of the enemies simply came running down a single hallway, two or three at a time. This defied the normal expectation in the worst way, it gave you a new objective, but still took away any strategic decision making. At the end of the day, this is a game focused on tactical combat. Kill the enemy faster than they can damage your men, and you will walk away the victor.

In addition to the twenty or so missions of the campaign, there is a survival mode, which you can watch me play here and PvP multiplayer. I tried a couple of times to find an online match, but it seemed no one else was on at the time. Looking at the leader boards, there are at least a few dozen dedicated players out there who have played hundreds of matches online, so I can only assume it works well.

Space Wolf is a good value for the price, you get a lot of places and people to fight, and lots of options for customizing your team. Anyone who is addicted to building decks of cards in Hearthstone or similar will love that aspect of the game. While the combat lacks variety in terms of strategy, it makes up for it with a nice spread of maps and enemy types. There are cultists, corrupted Imperial Guardsmen, Chaos Marines and even more supernatural foes to kill as you progress through the game. The survival mode is almost a game unto itself, since you will need to build a deck focused on long-term sustainability if you want to complete all of the waves. Finally, the online mode is there if you can find an opponent, which is where you would need some real strategy to win. If you are looking for a fresh take on the turn-based tactical genre, and especially if you like purging chaos, give Space Wolf a try.

Developed by HeroCraft
Available on Steam, iOS, and Google Play.

- Joe Beard