Gratuitous Space Battles Campaign trailer action

Trailer is up for GSB: Galactic Conquest.  I’m trying to weigh my expectations (which are high and are all based around waiting for SOMEONE to make a good Master of Orion + Dominions 3 game) and the reality that while this may not be that game, it will still be damn fun and not a cascade of space piss into our open mouths like MOO3 was.  Here is a link to the trailer:

Gratuitous Space Battles: Galactic Conquest

Artemis Bridge Simulator and true Space nerdery

I got in on a LAN over the weekend with THIS going on.  It was a ton of fun, and quite challenging.  We had just the right number of people for the roles: captain, engineering, helm, weapons with science and communications combined and the ideal set up: a main screen plus each of the station screens.  We each got better at our individual roles, but most important, we got better as a team.  I dug the engineering the most as you are constantly shifting power around the ship for a myriad of reasons and you’re never sitting around waiting as you can always make some tweaks or prep for upcoming power needs if you are idle. Weapons is my second favorite. While firing the weapons themselves is sort of boring, you have a ton of information on screen you are trying to relay to the team.  You also control the main screen view for the captain.

I really dug the fact that this is a LAN game– at this point it cannot be played over the interweb tubes at all, but I assume that will happen eventually if there is $ in it for the developers.  In the time of extreme anti-LAN (even fake LAN’s over hamachi) from the major publishers, this is really refreshing to see.

Gratuitous Space Battles review

Gratuitous Space Battles is game where you select a race, edit 2-d ship templates by placing some icons of equipment into blank boxes, drag a fleet based on scenario limitations to a 2-d map. After deployment is over you press play and sit and watch explosions, listen to various noises and then get a score if your fleet wins. You can’t control the ships themselves like Rome Total War or Warcraft 3: you just watch.  If you watch your fleet win you get some points to spend on unlocks (new ship hulls, equipment and races).

GSB does all these things very well, but without a campaign wrapper I found myself setting up the battle, tweaking ships a bit and then walking away to go do something else while it ran through the explosions.   That said, the explosions and sounds are fantastic and it’s really fun to watch, the ship designs are gorgeous huge 2-d sprites, but it gets sort of old and you just want the results after awhile.

My main tactic that worked pretty much all the time was to take rockets and put my ships all squeezed as tightly as possible into one corner of the map, so that the enemy fleet (usually spread out across the board) had to attack my huge lump of ships piecemeal and be thus destroyed piecemeal.   Since my fleet mass cannot be flanked (the space map has a ‘corner’) this worked really well and I won almost all the scenarios on normal on the first go without tweaking or even buying much new equipment other than better rockets.

If you’ve ever played Dominions 3, Evernight or Ultracorps, you can see very clearly that this battle method would work perfectly as a component to a multi-player friendly 4X strategy game: you set up your armies/fleets, you give them orders, then you complete your turn and at a certain time each day (or when all the players turns are complete) the turn ‘ticks’ and all battles are resolved. Since the players have no in battle interaction, you aren’t waiting around for players to fight out their battles making the entire multi-player experience far to long to actually complete a game ever (ala MOO2).  Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen of the strategic portion in development for GSB, you will have one choice during battles (rather than none or setting orders for your fleet BEFORE the battle) and that is to retreat.   While not a design flaw for a single player 4X game, this is a fundamental flaw if the developers of GSB want to move into the multiplayer realm with this game– it will have the same issues as MOO2– the game takes too long (and by too long I mean MONTHS too long) because players have to fight out their battles by hand rather than just watching (if they choose too) after a turn ticks.

Where Dwarf Fortress has tons of stuff to do and explore, but is so incomplete, graphically challenged, poorly documented and with a monumentally bad user interface (even for a Nethack style game), Gratuitous Space Battles has a fantastic interface, looks just stunningly beautiful and is really well documented– however, there’s just not very much to do in the game but wait around for some sort of campaign mode to be completed.  That said, I do like the game and bought it immediately when the strategic portion was announced.  If you’re thinking of picking this up, I would wait until they implement the 4X campaign.

WHAM

Z-man is putting out an updated version, a direct reprint mind you, of Tom Wham’s Kings and Things.  The rules are available here.   If you’ve played this game with me, first you must know I am a huge Tom Wham fan (I’ve only met him once personally and I became a fan of his beard as well) and try to pull out his stuff whenever I can get it to the table because even if people hate the games (I had some players absolutely despise The Great Khan Game by turn 2 when I busted it out) we have a lot of fun.  I’ll be the first to admit that his games are not the greatest games in the entire world–but for my personal taste, they are favorites. What Wham games are the best at doing for me and for many, many others is sparking ideas about making games.  I am absolutely convinced that without Wham, and especially his best game from Dragon Magazine, King of the Tabletop, we would not have Magic the Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and certainly no Nexus Ops (which I see as a direct decedent of KOTT) and ultimately, no Shadowfist.

While I advise anyone that likes a good ameritrash sluggathon ala Nexus Ops to pick up Kings and Things, I’ve always felt that the little innocuous magazine game version (King of the Tabletop) was more elegant and ultimately more playable.   What Kings and Things has that King of the Tabletop does not is a big map made up of Hexes (yes like Catan).  You can move armies around this map to explore and control these hexes, turning the game into area control.  What King of the Tabletop has is a big mess of Chits that represent land.  When you acquire it, either through conquest or exploration, you bring it in front of you.  When someone wants to attack, they just pick their player and line their forces up on the land they want to attack.  This simplifies the fact that most of the rest of the game consists of piles of different THING chits with numbers on them, and these are big upside-down stacks that get, well, real messy–and very messy if you try to place them all (upside down) on a hex board.  What’s more, because in Kings & Things your dealing with a map and not some abstract set of ‘lands’, some players can stay out of the action if they corner themselves up or shield themselves with another player in an Australia/Risk type maneuver — in King of the Tabletop, any player can attack any other player whenever it’s her turn because it abstracts movement.  This makes, in my humble opinion, for a more dynamic game for the whole table.

And the art– sadly, with Dave Trampier leaving the gaming industry many many years ago, we are not going to be blessed with his artwork in this new edition (a few of the chits look very similar though), but overall it looks good and I expect the production values will be top-drawer.

That said, I hope this is just the beginning of Z-man putting out Tom Wham’s games as from what I’ve seen on his site, he’s got quite a few up his sleeve.  Bring us a new version of THE GREAT KHAN GAME with some cards that won’t be destroyed in 3 plays!

Revisiting the Race for the Galaxy

We played quite a bit of Race for the Galaxy a few years back, but with the DELUGE of games of the board coming out in the last few years, it hasn’t hit the table overmuch. I consider it a great game, but not one of my all time favorites. I think after the two games I lost last night, I now know why: there’s no real player interaction at the level of play our group plays at. If we played hardcore Race all the time, we may be able to card count and estimate the optimal action card to play by reading the other player’s tableaus, but when you play a few times a year, you can get by really well by just picking a strategy (military, get 12 cards out the fastest, or Consume) and playing whatever you think is best tactically for that strategy based on your cards in hand–not really factoring in the other player’s goals or tableau at all.

Since we aren’t card counting or really looking at each other’s tableaus, Race boils down to a mutual solo game where the actions of the other players may help (say if you wanted to develop and colonize in the same turn and can anticipate which you should play), but are rarely detrimental. Again, this view of the game would vary drastically at higher levels of play, but even casually playing Race’s parent game, Puerto Rico, you are forced to plan around the role selection step a great deal more to score points FTW. In contrast to Puerto Rico, with Race, there is often so much going on with the other players abilities to score points, and very little you can do to impede their progress except work out the Nash Equilibrium to determine if you absolutely need to play the cards that don’t immediately score you points (Produce, Consume: Trade, Explore).

That said, Race for the Galaxy is still a great game (I’m not sure the most recent expansion has helped it however) and will hit the table from time to time–but when you have greats like Nexus Ops, Cosmic Encounter and the like that have tons of player interaction, it’s tough to get this to the table.  Theme and art never fail to impress.

the top 10 musics

I got a new machine at work and installed iTunes on it with some trepidation as I only use it to play wavs and mp3’s and not any of the other stuff (I am still searching for something w/out all the bullshite). Anyway I figured I’d post my top 10 most played every week or so while it’s fresh. With my old machine, my list was all Future of the Left at the top due to only having one of their albums on MP3 the first 6 months I worked where I’m at, this list makes me look like I only like the super heavy stoner metal– which may be the case.

Mastodon – Hand of Stone
Mastodon – The Mortal Son
The Sword – The Chronomancer I: Hubris
The Sword – Lawless Lands
The Sword – Astrea’s Dream
The Sword – (The night the sky cried) Tears of Fire
The Sword – Warp Riders
The Sword – Night City
The Sword – The Chronomancer II: Nemesis
AFX – Every Day

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.