So long 2016!

Running Man

2016 was a busy year, but not totally insane like 2012 or 2013.  I got some good gaming in,  not as much RPG playing as I would have liked with only the 13th Age game really going strong.  The GM for the Strahd game never held another session after two, and we just couldn’t get Runequest/Mythras going again after a couple sessions, though the PVP gladiator game was fantastic.

Board game play was pretty much Dungeon Quest revised this year and shockingly it’s a game that everyone enjoys that has played.  What’s more it’s a board game emulation of old school D&D with rapid death from traps, terrible calamities and the like. Who knew?  With the GW/FF split, best pick this one up quick-like.

The big game from CMON this year was the Others. We played several times, but while beautiful and well designed, it has the quarterback problem in games with more than two players.  There’s just no reason to play it more than two and really this is not a multiplayer game.  The lack of connection between scenarios was a bit of a miss as well.   For two players though, it’s great.   I did not get to play enough Blood Rage (can you have enough?) Dead of Winter, Struggle of Empires, Study in Emerald or Eclipse this year.

My new board game of the year has to go to Game of Thrones: Iron Throne.  Great implementation of the Cosmic Encounter rules, let’s hope there is an expansion with the remaining factions!  This year, I expected to like INIS a lot, or Scythe but wasn’t really a fan of either.  Scythe is a beautiful game (like INIS) but while it seems like a war game, it’s really one of those Keyflower/Hegemony/Francis Drake style point accrual and worker placement games.  I’d just rather bust out Eclipse instead of Scythe and Blood Rage instead of INIS.

Video games are going to be biased towards what I am playing at the end of the year here.  I just started playing DOOM and it’s quite WOW, I can see why many people have chosen it for the video game of  2016 hands down.  Notable games this year include the redux of Master of Orion, Stellaris also in the 4X space pysse genre, I am really digging both Guilty Gear Revelator and Blazblue: Chronophantasma extend as well.  Game of the year for video games for me personally has to go to Attila Total War by far.  TW games are probably my favorite computer game, and we were at a low low with the original release of Rome 2 and all it’s bugs, but CA has certainly come back from the brink and not only fixed that game but came out with one of the best TW games right after.

2017

I’m working on a few things, including a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure though it really won’t matter the system (it’s been playtested so far in 5th Edition).  I’ve got a Feng Shui adventure that I have written but just need to finish the playtesting.  Lastly I’m working on a campaign adventure that I will probably do in Mythras, but maybe Lamentations.

In terms of running games, other than 13th Age, I’ll likely give Dungeon Crawl Classics a go as soon as the 4th Edition book comes from the mail man next month.  Really looking forward to that from the Feeder/Flaming Carrot perspective.  Must be played with the right group though!

Looking at getting in on a game as a player in FASERIP, which I haven’t played since the 80’s and I wouldn’t mind someone running Strahd in 5E as well, or any of the good big modules.

Let’s start the year off right with a reading of The Shunned House by HPL read by Wayne June.

Fuckstarters 2016 edition

A year ago I posted about fucked kickstarters that I made the terrible mistake of backing. I want to post again because some of them have become unfucked, made progress or are now even more fucked than before. I backed a couple more since and I want to add one I’m really sad about being fucked as well.

First let’s get Star Citizen out of the way. From the Kickstarter viewpoint, there hasn’t been an update since 2013: that’s almost THREE YEARS and no updates. I realize there are other channels they are going through, but my policy is this: deliver me your finished game and we’ll call it a day. Based on kickstarter, this has never happened, and the backers on kickstarter have been abandoned. The last time I installed anything Star Citizen it did not work at all. There have been big articles on the internet the last couple months on issues surrounding development– bottom line is: I kickstarted this game and haven’t been contacted via kickstarter for three years.  Poster child of Fucked.

Second, River City Ransom. This is fucked as it’s shockingly late at this point (2014), and updates aren’t looking very good for completion. This is not an easy game to make but you know who did it? Behemoth with the Castle Crashers! It can be done. Where is it? is it Fucked forever?

Third, Exalted 3. There’s no book. Nothing has come in my mail box. The rules are out in PDF form and despite them not being all that great, (what did we expect, seriously….) they are better than 2E’s.  The art, even with all that budget, ALL that fucking budget, is weak compared to 2E though.  Those things aren’t the issue, the issue is that I don’t have the book I paid for nearly four years ago. Fucked.

Fourth, Bulldogs! 2nd edition.  It’s a year late now.  I shouldn’t have backed this as it uses FATE, which we had a brief affair with for five sessions or so, and like everyone else, we realized that FATE quickly becomes a total waste of time.  FATE is useful in that it influenced other games, but itself is just not worth bothering with.  Despite that, I like the Bulldogs! universe and adventures– it just needs a better system to go along with it (Mythras? Sci Fi 13th Age?  Numenera???).  Fucked.

Fifth, Thirteenth Age in Glorantha.  While I don’t think I would ever game using Runequest in Glorantha as a GM, I’ve played some con games and am intrigued by the setting due to King of Dragon Pass.  This is over a year late!  What’s the deal? FUCKED.

Last is going to be nearly a year late, and that’s the 4th Edition of Dungeon Crawl Classics.  I talked to Goodman at Gencon and saw the proof version of the book and had a fucking orgasm right there over it. It is a massive tome. Ridiculous really.  Technically this is a fucked kickstarter, but like 13th Age Glorantha, it’s just real fucking late: it will happen.

Here are kickstarters that have become UNFUCKED in the last year.

Moongha Invaders – this took a long, long time to come, but it did and it’s a great game.  If you can find this, for sure pick it up.  It’s a Martin Wallace jewel.  UNFUCKED.

Double Six dice rollers.  Came late in 2015.  Great dice, was just very late. UNFUCKED.

 

Attila is the Dark Souls of Total War Games

I was home sick a couple weeks ago on a Monday and decided to give Attila Total War another go.  I played it for awhile when it first came out and it was just too hard to get into at the time.  After a fairly static and easy time (for the most part) with Rome 2, Attila and is insanity incarnate for a 4X game, a true successor to Rome: Barbarian Invasion from back in the day, and it’s  fucking awesome.

There are a few very hard Total War games, most are pretty easy to play, even on the hard or very hard difficulty.  Of the ones I’ve played, Attila and Shogun 2 rank up there, with maybe Napoleon in there somewhere.   The main thing about these three games is that your imperial designs are not pre-determined at all in the face of all the shit that will be going on in the game.   In Shogun 2, even if you made a move to attack your neighbor, the other neighbors will instantly pounce and attack your stronghold, so you needed to be patient to start to be able to build up a group of provinces.  And if you do, you will likely attract attention of the larger factions that will swat you like a fly early on.   Attila is similar.  Even if you play as one of the three big empires (eastern and western Rome, Huns) you still have a tough time of  it with both the Roman empires collapsing on all sides, and the Huns in one big horde to begin with.  If you play as one of the minor factions, you will be lucky to even survive a few years with some really pissed off neighbors.  In Rome 2 and other TW games, factions nearby typically have to get ‘triggered’ before they come after you.  You don’t start in a massive war with the Achaemenid  Persian empire and all their allies at the beginning of the game in Rome 2 for instance.  In Attila, you basically start at war with all the big factions and are surrounded by pyssed off little factions.  While some of them get weaker over time, some do not.  If you yourself are a little faction (like the Franks or Jutes) it is essentially a street fight to see who is going to survive long enough to even interact with the larger factions.  This is golden.

Getting hit with a giant stone is no fun.

Yes, Shogun 2 is a hard game, but what happens in Attila that makes Shogun 2 a bit of a cakewalk is the fact that factions pushed out of their homelands will become hordes and start ravaging wherever they are in order to raid for money, or try to find an unprotected city or village to take over and settle down: and that could just as well be yours as anyone else’s!  You can be sure that your conquests will create these hordes, but even worse, the conquests of others will fire these guys up as well, especially as the Huns move West.  Everything will be going OK and then bam!, two hordes show up on your doorstep and either need to be dealt with, or just waited out, accepting the path of destruction that they will cut through everything.  The Hunnic hordes are different as they do not peter out, but get stronger and stronger until Attila himself is killed at which time they become normal hordes.  Since horse archers are the absolute best unit in the game, the Hunnic hordes are very, very difficult to deal with.

The weather is another factor in the game, as in Climate Change.  During the early Dark Ages, the northern hemisphere got colder and places like Greenland, Iceland and Northern Germany became places that could support far fewer people than centuries before.  This happens during campaign game, making anything north of Italy subject to severe winters and reduced crop yields.  Think you have your food shortages handled after 15 or 20 turns?  Nope.   This has the effect of forcing everyone south and west to grab up the arable land.

Lastly, a rather new mechanic for TW games is razing settlements.  Basically if you, or your opponents, win a siege battle against one of your settlements, they can completely destroy it, so that it has to be recolonized entirely.  Much like bombing planets in MOO, this has horrifying potential if you are backstabbed by an ally or have an angry horde come over the horizon.  The Caledonians in my campaign were reduced to a single fleet that I ignored. It ended up in Southern Britain and destroyed two of my provinces before I caught and slaughtered them.  Thankfully, the viking reavers will rarely Raze, hoping only to pillage so that they can come back the next year and do it again.

I started play as the Saxons and I think I had to restart 4-5 times before I was able to even survive past the first few years.   You begin with the Franks and Langobards nearly at war with you from the outset, and all of the northern pre-viking factions aiming directly where you know you need to go:  Britain.

Spear fuchery

Over the campaign, I was able to make some friends with the proto-vikings in the north and solidify my hold on Britain and Fresia (Belgium).  The South of Europe and East were in total chaos with everyone just running away from the huns.  Nearly all of eastern Europe, including Italy, was a complete wasteland.  The Western Roman Empire was stuck in southern Spain and many of the major migratory factions (Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals) were hiding in Northern Africa.  Eventually my expansion met with the Hunnic horde and they declared war and it was on!  Saxons vs Huns, just like it was supposed to be.

What’s unique about Attila is that this scenario may not have happened.  While the Huns always attack, they may have spent most of their time vs the Eastern Romans and never came into Europe, or the Visigoths or Vandals may have created an empire strong enough in central Europe that was able to hold them off.   This not knowing what the fuck will happen is a major draw.

You go girl

Overall, like Rome: Barbarian Invasion of old, after suffering through the early difficulty and realizing the TYPE of game that it is, I like Attila more than Rome 2 and it could be one of the best Total War games. While I really enjoy the classical battles vs the Macedonians, Persians and Gauls, the absolute chaos as well as the remorseless destruction of the Western Roman Empire over the course of the game, just puts Attila as one of those special Total War games that will get years of play.  It doesn’t hold your hand and it lays out it’s challenges early on and says: here they are, see if you can handle it.

This is the body of Attila himself!

Dawn of War 3

There’s been teasers for DOW 2 and the like and now footage is coming out so the game must be hitting in Winter/Spring 2017 or the hype machine wouldn’t be this fired up yet.  I must say I’m pretty excited for this one.  I played a lot of DOW 1 as it’s in the BEST RTS lineage of Warcraft 3 > Company of Heroes > Dawn of War (a lineage that Blizzard has since abandoned for the very boring Starcraft 2 style).  Below is a run down of the factions and main characters in each. It’s the best three of course: Orks, Eldar and Marines.

On Holiday!

Fuck yeah.  I may have to work a bit next week (from home) but otherwise I’m off for the rest of the year.    It will go too fast, I will get nothing I wanted to get done DONE, but I’ll at least get to try.   We’ve had a bit of a snowmagedon here in Wisconsin and so I leave you with this, SNOWBEAST 1977.

General plans are to try to play a 6-man Blood Rage game, play something Martin Wallace (probably Struggle of Empires or Moongha Invaders), paint some miniatures, play some Warhammer 9th Age (am I allowed to say that in the same phrase), get some more time in with Attila Total War and Guilty Gear XRD Revelator.

and lastly, run a D&D game with the kids.  They probably aren’t ready, but what the heck.

Master of Orion – review

First off, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to play and review a new Master of Orion game.  From my youth, MOO1 is still one of my favorite games and frankly stands the test of time just fine vs other 4X.  Props to NGD for taking this project on and putting the resources and time into this game that so many people love.  The shoes they are trying to fill are vast and were filled with space piss from MOO3.

So, I’ve got over 30 hours into the new MOO and I figure it’s about time for a review.  I just finished a medium sized game and I’ll use that as a backbone to discuss various systems in the game and how they work.  I have a lot to say, but I’m going to keep this at near exactly 2000 words!  This is PRE-ANTARAN update, which changes the game in a few ways (and crashed on me too much this weekend to update this review).

If you don’t want to read further, I like the game and I cannot see going back to MOO2 ever again.  MOO1: I would play that again for kicks, but there’s a lot of jagging around getting it to work right in DOSBOX with the himem sys and shit like that.  The new MOO is an easy game to play, it’s not extremely complex and it plays fairly fast, but it’s a slow game compared to MOO1.  You will finish a medium size game in about a week of playing a couple hours a day.  This is in keeping with what MOO1 was– a lighter (and awesome) 4X game.  It has elements of MOO2, but not overwhelmingly so.

This is what the fuck I'm talking about.
This is what the fuck I’m talking about.

This is not a review of multiplayer.  Haven’t gotten a game of that yet. Maybe soon.

Aliens!

First off, I like playing Humans.  I’ve always felt that the AI attacks the player-controlled races more than the others, and Humans have some abilities that stave that off so you can better choose when to go to war.   They are fairly average in everything except shield tech, diplomacy and trading but really what do you need the most?  Money.  So this is with the Humans.  Think they are boring? Fine.  I also dig on the Meklars for just out producing everyone (even the Klackons).

The other choices are pretty standard because originally, they SET the standard! Most of the alien races, in MOO style, equate to some sort of animal.  Dogs, Cats, Birds, Ants, Lizards are all represented and the designers didn’t hold back in the redux trying to make them NOT be directly anthropomorphic.   A few of the aliens don’t fit the animal mode, and generally these are the stronger races in the game.  Psilons, Darlocks, Meklars and Silicoids are all stranger aliens.

Darlocks looking good
Darlocks looking good

Planet Management

I lean towards the Total War style of ‘base’ management as in, I don’t want to do all that much of it, nor do I want to deal with a bunch of CIV style tricks that are required for optimal play. I just want it to be enough planet management to feel like I’m making interesting choices, and not too fuckn detailed.

I miss the sliders, but planet management in the new MOO is fairly easy.  You pop open your planet and move your little guys around from farming to science to production (sorta sliders) and queue up what you want to build.  Planets, based on their size and environment, dictate the capacity of the little guys you move around.  Switch your environment for the better or pollute the shit out of your planet until it’s envirofucked (like our planet earth), and your amount of little guys goes up and down.

Buildings are pretty much what we had in MOO2.  Hydroponic farms, Automated factories, research facilities, planetary shields, missile bases.  What MOO does well is not having the same building being rebuilt in an incremental upgrade, like the lazy design of having Missile Base v2,  Planetary Shields V, etc.   When you get a tech level that allows a new type of planetary defense, it’s usually something very unique and non-mutually exclusive from what you’ve already built. The old building doesn’t go out of style to build, because it’s usually cheap!

Pollution is an important, but not too annoying concern.  Production planets where you constantly build stuff get polluted and you need to dedicate time to clean them up.  Leave pollution to hit a certain threshold and the planet will turn to shit, population will die, less production in the future.  Simple and also a useful mechanic for disasters and invasions/bombardments.  There has been an update since I started this review where  you cannot explicitly ‘work off’ pollution like you used to could– so I’m not sure how that effects the game, yet.

System Management

Moving out from the planetary level is the system level that can hold multiple planets.  Systems are just like the ‘points’ in MOO1, except they have specific points within them where they connect to other systems.  Your ships can only move from systems along these ‘tunnels.’

You will need a colony ship to inhabit the other planets in your first system, you can’t just jump people over there with transports.  This means it’s as costly to colonize in-system planets as out of systems.

At each tunnel entrance, you have the ability to build military installations or ‘listening posts.’  Military installations block any non-allied aliens from moving past into the system.  While easily destroyed, they are a good idea to build all over the place to stave off nasty surprises.  Anything built at the entry-points of systems will stave off the enemy for a turn as they will typically destroy whatever’s there instead of hitting the planets right away.

Overall, system management is more complex than MOO1 because there are multiple planets within each system.  However, fleets fight it out within systems and not just at ‘points’ in space, increasing the ability for tactical play.  Sometimes you will share systems with other races in harmony.  Most times not.

Galaxy Map

Outwards from the systems is the galaxy map. This is where most of the action takes place from a strategic level.  There are various configurations of galaxies, some of which start with a mosh, and some are turtle-esque.  What to watch out for is if your race is bounded by RED warp lines as these can only be traversed by your ships much later in the game.  I’ve been cornered off from most of the galaxy instead of thrown into the plague pit from the start and it’s a different game.

While most ship movement is forced along the warp lines, you can build jump gates that connect two different systems in a straight line.  Your ships still have to move at their rate between them, so it’s not instant.

I can’t find a way to AUTOMOVE built ships from my factory systems to the war front. Need to look into that.

Overall I dig the look of the galaxy map.

Make the fucking text bigger!
Make the fucking text bigger!

silicoids

Diplomacy

The diplomacy in MOO1 was built to piss you off so you attacked all the aliens relentless.  They would talk shit, make stupid requests and be generally annoying when you were trying to deal with them in any meaningful manner.  In newMOO, I found the AI not annoying,  more logical but more silly.  They still have stuff they say that will pysse you off, but not at the same level as the old MOO games.   You can make much better and more robust deals with them, and other than most strategy games I’ve played, they actually sometimes accept these deals instead of never accepting anything.  The “What would make this work” button helps a lot to speed up diplomatic actions and guesswork, which I appreciate.  Playing the Humans, I use diplomacy a lot, and have no complaints here.

Ship customization

MOO1 had two types of useful ships.  Big ones with the massive weapons that would destroy whole stacks, and small planetary bombers that you could build thousands of and clear out whole areas of space of aliens by bombing their planets, and leaving their fleets to rot.

The new MOO has almost an Ascendancy level of customization, where you add on modules and hope for micronization tech so you can fit more shit on a ship.  I really don’t care about this part of the game very much, so did little customization, feeling that if I built enough of the stock ships, it would be fine.  You do not have many ship slots, so if you build a custom ship type, it better fucking work well or you will be deleting it before you get many of them into space.

I think a key part of making custom ships is that you run them in real time combat.  Otherwise, just build and upgrade the base models and build enough shit to overwhelm everyone!

Combat

This is where MOO1 has it over MOO2 (and MOO3).  The way the turn-based system worked in MOO1 was excellent, where you could make a couple moves, then let the AI take over to finish off the battle with out dealing with the tiresome grinding and moving when you know you’ve won.  You could still see what’s going on with your weapons’ effectiveness, but you controlled what you wanted and then stopped when your control didn’t matter much.

In the new MOO, the designers chose to go the Total War route: real time battles.  I think this was a good move as certainly I have a shitload of mileage in TW games and really enjoy that part of the games the most.  Like Gratuitous Space Battles, it’s all about those key battles with massive fleets that take up the whole screen.  While the combat is certainly better than say, Endless Space, MOO2 and Birth of The Federation, I have some issues with it being sorta fuckin boring.

Coming to new MOO as a Total War fan, I expected the real time battles to have benefits to some tactics and maneuver.   In TW, you can win battles or cost the enemy dearly if you use the correct tactics for the situation at hand.  For example if you are a non-horse archer empire in TW (I pity you!) you’re going to be hunkering down in your castles a lot.  If you use your army to attack and destroy a horse archer opponent’s infantry (of which he won’t have much), he will have a very, very difficult time in later sieges against you, allowing you to whittle down the rest of the horse archers at you leisure.   So far as I can see, there’s nothing like that in the real time battles in MOO except kite around and shoot missles, which I’m not a fan of doing, it bores the shit out of me.   You can target specific ships and try to take them out, but I found in the games I’ve played that it just didn’t matter that much. You throw your ships across the void and just watch the explosions.  Making a couple choices here and there.  Overall I just run most combats without going into the tactical view.  I hope they improve this (just fucking copy Dominions 4).

Spying

It’s there, you put dudes on planets and try to do stuff. As you succeed, your spy starts to unlock more bad stuff he can do.  I didn’t do very much with spying in my games, but it seemed fine.  I’d have to play as the Darlocks to really get in on this as a ‘catch up’ mechanism.   I like all the different spy portraits for each race– there are tons of them and they are beautiful.

moo1

Aesthetics

Space monsters look stupid with the exception of the Guardian.  The alien portraits and animations, voice, all that stuff that gives the aliens character: it’s grown on me.  When I first saw the cat lady there was an OH JEEZ, yet MOO1 was campy and they’ve followed through with that.  There’s not much you can do when more than half the alien races are anthropods right out of the gate!  There are races I hated in MOO1, that I would always destroy immediately (Silicoids, Sakkra, Klackons) that I feel differently about in MOO1 based on their graphics and presentations.   They’ve captured the feel of the aliens, but if there’s one thing that MOO3 did well (and only one thing) it’s the alien design/animations.   It was great.

Ship designs are descent, but not really inspired.  We just don’t see the level of art here that Endless Legends has.  All ship levels have two types of chassis so at least you can tell your carriers from your warships, bombers from frigates, etc.

Overall, it’s functional, looks fairly good and most importantly, isn’t annoying.

Final thoughts

Unlike MOO3, MOO is not a cascade of space piss into my open mouth, nor is it the greatest 4X game ever made (like MOO1 is).  That said, MOO is a really good game and I’ve been playing since early release.  There have been a lot of addons and changes to the game that has fleshed it out quite a bit, so I don’t think they are done with development (and the recent Antaran patch proves it).  They have made some LARGE shifts in the gameplay based on player comments since early release, ripping out minor races and then putting them back in fixed up, which is pretty cool.  Despite having to suffer people pissed off because new MOO is not a direct rip of MOO2, over– very vitriolic complaints as people on the internet are wont to do.

MOO does not grab me like Empire or Rome 2 Total War* did where I can’t stop playing for months, but I do not believe that was the ultimate aim of the developers; MOO is a lighter 4X.   I can sit around on a Sunday, put a few hours in and get a good game going that I can finish up by early the next week with a few more hours of play.  The game has enough depth to feel meaty, but it’s light enough for me to just want to jump in and not feel like I have to relearn the spreadsheet like Civ players do.

Lastly, the game crashes and hangs up fairly often late game, and sometimes games cannot be recovered. This is no different than MOO, MOO2 or Birth of the Federation, but I think we’d all love if this didn’t happen!

mooundecided

*my favorite thing in TW games is the real time battles within the campaign context.  For example, to be fighting an enemy for a long time on the campaign map and finally catch their big army short or in a bad position where you can watch the slow, methodical slaughter of their entire force for 15-20 minutes or so is just my meat and potatoes.   Especially when you trap a huge amount of them in city streets and slowly grind them down where they have no where to run.  The battle was over in the first 5 minutes, the rest is just raw butchery.