Gods of Gaming, Please don't let Stardock get the Master of Orion License

Quicksilver’s Master of Orion 3 was personally my biggest disappointment in gaming–and singlehandedly dug the 4X turn-based space game’s grave after a decade or so of good stuff (MOO2, Ascendancy, Reach for the Stars, etc.).  We’ve had some independent efforts since, and some semi-big name games that were incredibly lackluster, either didn’t do multiplayer well (forgivable), were just effectively mods of CIV 4 (Gal Civ I’m looking at you) or just plain huffed a pan-galactic cockle (Sword of the Stars).  With the’ release’ of Elemental War of Magic we’ve seen that while Stardock may have the passion for attempting to recreate some of the older games we love with new graphics, and even the financial clout and true grit to get them published (that’s the hard part), that does not mean that they are able to make good games.

What I’d like to see is Stardock to focus on their Gal Civ games, and now that CIV 5 is out for them to copy all the gameplay from, a new release is inevitable in the next few years.  While I have no interest in the Gal Civ games (I can just go play CIV 4 or 5 and pretend it’s a space field), they have a following that may help to keep the genre alive while someone else– almost anyone else– picks up the Master of Orion Licence from Atari where it sits, languishing after Quicksilver Games cascade of space piss debacle.

Disgaea 4 sprite compare

FukaNippon Ichi has had a tough couple of years–and I daresay it’s from not focusing on what they do well, and what they do well is make Disgaea (and Phantom Brave), so they are staking everything on the new iteration of the game. Given that sometime a few years ago, some new consoles came out that allowed more colors and better graphics, NI has finally gotten around to redrawing their sprites a bit bigger than what we’ve seen on the PS2 or PS3 so far. Stuff looks great– a full compare here.  I’m worried about this game– not because it won’t be good, but because it will finally push me over the edge to get a PS3 along with the worry that my non-gaming responsibilities have finally added up to the fact that I can no longer put the time in to actually enjoy a good old SRPG…

Dorking out with the Dark Elves

The new Blood Bowl computer game by Cyanide has given many of us fanatical fans of the game a chance to sandbox with teams we either don’t have miniatures for or wouldn’t normally play.  However, with the arrival of the free patch to the game a few weeks ago, I can eschew all the other teams that I pretend to love and get right down to playing my all-time favorite, the ‘coaches’ team’ as my brother calls them: the insidious Dark Elves.

In reviewing the team in the computer game, I give the developers at Cyanide immediate points on the score board for absolutely NAILING the aesthetic.  Having started back in high school with First Edition Blood Bowl, the crunchy, spiky look of the original illustrations and models by Aly Morrison have stuck with me as the essence of how Blood Bowl teams should look.  While I thoroughly enjoy many of Gary Morley‘s sculpts for third edition (in contrast to 2nd editions more ‘sports-like’ armor), I think a few of his lineman models were phoned in, and this is especially true with the Dark Elves (circa 1994 mind you).

While I’ve played the Dark Elves in many leagues and tournaments, I hadn’t played them with the new Living Rule Book 5.0 set up, and had a bit of a shock as all I remembered was that the number of blitzers increased from two to four.  The major change in the roster is that the throwers have now been replaced by a runner (with a skill that I have never selected for a player in my entire career as a Blood Bowl coach: Dump Off) and the team has a new position: the Assassin with Stab (a new skill) and Shadowing. Unlike many teams, the Dark Elves have no ‘big guy’ to hold the line or push all the smaller players around, yet they are one of the best running teams in the game. How? Agility. Agility increases the Dark Elves mobility on the pitch by a vast amount and while you can pass the ball with them, it’s often short passes or even side/back passes, the real gains are made running through and sometimes over your opponents. That said, you are never going to out-casualty a bruiser team but that’s not what wins games: putting it over the line does and Dark Elves are excel in this region of play.

I’m going to try to shy away from telling you how to play the Dark Elves but I want to review each of the positions and how they synergize with each other.  Inevitably you’re going to see my slant as how I like to play, and that’s always up for discussion, or if needed, a quick game to show my superiority.

Lineman: Dark Elf lineman (and their cousin lineman for the Hight Elves) are the best lineman in the game, hands down.  They have average speed, average armor, average strength and an awesome 4 agility.  You could have a team of only Lineman and still win matches.  What really puts these guys into the win column is the combination of 4 agility, access to Agility skills (i.e. Dodge) and 8 armor.  They are one of only two teams that have lineman with 8 armor and 4 agility consistently across the team.  As much as your opponent will expect to beat up your elves, the 8 armor assures that you will rarely be taken off the pitch without some mighty blow action and as they progress, the Dark Elf Lineman have access to the ideal two-skill mix in the game: Block and Dodge.   Even without the Dodge skill your Dark Elf Linemen are able to dodge away on a whim to get into position for a 2-dice block somewhere else.  The best skills to get as they progress with normal rolls: Block, Dodge, Tackle, Frenzy, Dauntless.  On Doubles get: Guard.  Once you get 3-4 of these naughties with Block and Dodge, your opponents will be sweating it.  Do NOT bother with Dirty Player–it’s been nerfed so bad and these guys are so valuable: it’s a waste of a skill slot.

Runner: I’m still not sure what to think about the runner as he’s just not fast at all, living up to his name not in the least.  He can hold on to the ball with sure hands, but the replacement of Dump Off instead of Pass is quite confusing to me.  Dump off as a 3 agility player is a crap skill; most of the time the ball will simply land right near the opponent’s players in a scrum and you’ll wish you had just let it scatter normally.  With 4 Agility, Dumping off the ball has a much higher percentage of success, but I have really rarely seen this skill work well.   Also, you really don’t have that many issues picking up the ball to justify a slot for a player with Sure Hands; a Blitzer is quite a spot better starting with block to hang onto the ball. Runners are the only players that have access to the Passing skill set however, so if you are going to run a throwing game, you’ve got to pick up at least one (eventually). The best skills with normal rolls? Block, Pass, Nerves of Steel, Side Step.  Doubles: (let’s face it, he’ll be in a scrum or on the line like everyone else) Guard.

Blitzer: Here you have your storehouse of amazing potential for popping out the ball on defense and scoring on offense– and you can get FOUR of these naughty boys.  The 4 agility means they can get in places to lay a block that most other players can only dream of, and while their movement is nothing to masticate over, they’re fast enough.  That said, get Dodge first, then Tackle is a must as well as Strip Ball.  They cannot get strength skills like most other Blitzers, so on doubles, look at the strength skill tree for either Guard or Mighty Blow.   A Blitzer’s essential duty is to run through, over or around the opponents line, sack the ball carrier, pick up the ball and either pass back to a pocket or run it in for a touchdown.  Leap, while still dangerous with 4 agility, is awesome to get as a 3rd or 4th skill.  With four of these guys available, you can tailor two as defensive ends (tackle as second skill) and two as scoring machines (dodge as second skill).

Witch Elf: As tempting as these ladies are to have on your team, they cannot go it alone and need to be fostered and protected during their early, pre-Block career.  The only way to do this is, again, start with all lineman and a blitzer, build up your team and then add in the extra positions once your other players are toughened up.  That said, the Witch Elves are crucial to the later league/season success of the Dark Elves.  You will be praying to Nuffle at each skill roll for a +1Ag or +1 St as it will blast your naughty lady into the top of the scoring roster for your league.  Without stat upgrades they are still fast, dodgy and if you can get them Block and Dauntless, gift their opponent’s players with a trip off the pitch to see the fans more often than not.  Best normal roll skill progression: Block, Dauntless or Catch, Leap.  On doubles– get Juggernaut.  They are not blitzers, so keep them as far away from the opponent’s line as possible and have them run in for a Blitz only outside a big scrum. They are also not catchers, and you don’t need a lot of catch skills with their four agility. What’s more, as filthy as they are, I can’t stop staring at their sweet cans.

Assassin: The Assassin goes against one of my rules for playing a non-crunchy team (which the dark elves certainly are) and that’s to never ever rely on getting the opposition off the pitch.  That’s stuff the dwarves and Chaos teams do– not the elves.  The Assassin appears to be the Dark Elves answer to the ‘Big Guys’ on other teams, which, by the looks of the other big guys, puts him in the ‘maybe if I had a ton of gold lying around I’d get one of them.’  While shadowing is nice, I would love to see the Assassin get tackle and diving tackle– making him a dodging player’s nightmare, but leaving him a stomped corpse against any hardcore rushing teams.  Again, I would say that the Assassin is absolutely extraneous, and if you have one and have a roster of 16 players, he’ll rarely see his feet on the pitch.  I’m going to start a team with two of them as an experiment however, just to make sure (Note: it didn’t go well).

This is your future if Nuffle is with you.

If you are a new coach you may want to run the humans or orcs for awhile to get the hang of it. As noted above, the Dark Elves are IMO the coaches team, they have some glaring weaknesses (they are expensive) and they don’t have a very clear path to victory (i.e.: they aren’t tough, they aren’t fast and they aren’t the best passing team) but are not wussy elves that you will be worried about flying off the pitch with every armor roll.