Sunday, February 19, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

You Can Linger Too Long In Your Dreams...

So the spectacular crew over at ( on a wind about the games fondly remembered from their youths and that they'd like to see rebooted.  I, for all my years, believe firmly that the best of times, especially for PC gaming, is right here and now.  For all the time and attention I lavished on Battles of Napoleon, Castles, Populous, System Shock, &c., very few of them hold up well by contemporary standards.  I've tried GoG and DosBox only to find that most of the games I so fondly remember just aren't that good any more.

This mutated into an obsession, viz.:  review the list of those games mentioned in this thread and, for those with which I had sufficient familiarity to comment (a horrifyingly high number) share my own, highly biased thoughts as to why we've seen no proper sequel or update.  Then, to make things really interesting, set my own house odds for how likely I think any reboot is.  I should state clearly that I'm fond of most of the games on this list and, I believe, owned them all.  Sometimes more than once for various reasons.  Taking only B-17 as an example, I'm not happy that I think the genre gone, I'm just convinced that it is.  I'd be very happy, indeed, to be wrong.

It's all for fun and wildly subjective, but beneath it is a reminder that the best place to look in most situations is forwards rather than backwards.  As the poet said, "...the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

Age of Rifles -- Few games are dearer to my heart, but a "game box" like this is unlikely.  John Tiller has argued, and none have proven him wrong, that you can't make it worthwhile giving everybody all the tools.  This is also one of the few games on this list that I can think of that has taken a real hit from VASL.  The grogs have moved on. (Replaced)

Airborne Ranger -- I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved this game, but a wiser mind than my own pointed out that this is Metal Gear Solid's bunk now. (Replaced)

Alpha Centauri:  They've tried to capture that lightening twice and failed, both times fairly abominably to hear tell.  No one wants the game itself back -- that's available.  They want a pretty, shiny, new one.  And they'll keep trying so long as you're asking. (Replaced)

B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth -- Dead genre.  Much missed.  (500-1)

Battles of Napoleon:  I cannot discuss this.  I become more a gibbering gibbon than usual.  (No bets)

Birth of the Federation -- Strikes me as far more likely that we'll someday get either a turn-based or real-time ship-to-ship combat simulator with a strategic layer.  Surprised that hasn't happened, frankly, but Attack Wing wasn't the success that X-wing Versus Tie Fighter was either. (10-1)

Car Wars or Roadwar 2000:  Top-down tactics are largely done and, while I'd love to see it, I can't see an X-Com - scale sequel working with cars. (75-1)

Chaos Gate:  Behold Sanctus Reach.  (Replaced, although I continue to be amazed at how many games are trying to jam themselves into this gamespace)

Dangerous Waters/Sub Command -- Didn't sell well in the first place, not that Battlefront has proven itself able to manage much other than CM.  This, too, is now CMANO's space. (Replaced)

EA/Interplay RPGs, e.g. The Bard's Tale and Wasteland -- The last of these that I can think of was Might and Magic X: Legacy.  I loved it.  No idea how it sold, but it was widely mocked for its square-based movement and lack of an open world.  That's expected now. (100-1)

Emperor of the Fading Sons -- I assume the desire here is for a straight re-make as the war-in-space category is a crowded one.  If so, I see zero chance as that IP is locked in some ancient vault with the keys guarded by deathless cobras. (No bets)

F-119A Stealth Fighter and Gunship -- Victims of the evolution of sims.  There are plenty of great sims that allow you to fly all kinds of awesome planes and helicopters.  These were both wonderfully accessible arcade games with sim gloss that you could successfully navigate with an Atari 2600 controller.  I know. (No bets)

Freedom Force -- This will never again happen without an IP.  No small miracle that it ever did.  (No bets)

Great Naval Battles -- I, personally, have asked JTS to take this mantle up...right after they give me a proper Age of Sail II.  Nothing since the first counts even a little.  I'm getting way too old for this sort of a wait. (500-1, because I must hope)

Gulf Strike -- As with any other board game, the most popular will make their way to digital and the rest will be played over VASL.  Except for HexWar which makes all kinds of weird marketing deals (why C&C: WWI before Ancients, for example).  (100-1)

Imperialism II -- Always a curiosity to me re: what people like in this game, even after all these years over any of the other games in the genre.  Far too niche these days. (50-1, especially as Paradox seems uninterested)

Incubation -- This was X-Com meets Aliens and, as terribly fond as I was of it (I can still hear the theme song in my head), I think X-Com now holds this field. (25-1, on the notion that somebody might try it with the Aliens property)

Knights of the Old Republic -- One of the most likely on the list, but isn't all this stuff kicked out of the canon now? (5-1)

M.U.L.E.:  This one wandered the other way onto the tabletop.  Far better on the iOS platform.  The PC environment would never again tolerate this level of simplicity in anything but a value title.  Heck, it's real spiritual successor, Offworld Trading Company, was criticized by some as too shallow.  (100-1)

Panzer Elite -- If the desire is a WWII proper tank sim, I see zero chance.  If not, is this not the offerings from Graviteam? (Replaced)

Red Storm Rising -- Seems to me this is CMANO's niche now.  If you're looking for simpler than that, you're into an iOS app. (Replaced)

Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe -- An add-on pack for MSFSX.  (2-1)

Soldiers at War -- While X-Com lives I can't consign this genre to irrelevance, but it's on life support. (50-1)

Steel Panthers -- The lack of a credible sequel in all these years speaks volumes.  Again, top-down tactics is, if not dead, flat-lined. (30-1)

Syndicate -- I think the failure of Satellite Reign has ended this one for the foreseeable future. (40-1)

System Shock -- Never, ever happen.  The days of the moody, brilliantly-written, single-player experience are done.  (500-1)

Terra Nova -- It stuns me that this has never been re-done.  It obviously inspired Tribes which has since fallen on hard times.  This is one of the few on this list that I cannot figure out. (5-1, just because I think a re-make is so obvious.)

X-Wing/Tie Fighter -- The full content of both these games and all their expansions wouldn't satisfy the contemporary market.  They'd be taken as a mini-game. For much the same reason, by the way, I think Wing Commander might re-appear as an IP, but never as anything close to the same game. (30-1)

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Rante. Parte the Firste.

All right, time to get this one out of my head lest it explode.

I'm a board game guy.  I love them.  I have an IKEA wall system full of them, two closets piled up with them, and several more dozen binned up in the basement in those clear plastic containers.  I hated Monopoly the first time I played it and quickly went in search of better alternatives.  When I happened on Starship Troopers, the die was cast and I began what now stands as a 40-year love affair with the form.

I hope I come as a friend to my grognard brothers when I ask them why they persist in playing certain games on the tabletop when there are manifestly superior digital equivalents.

Let me begin with Talisman, if I may.  I remember playing this game in the original GW edition seemingly a lifetime ago.  I was never enamored of it, but friends who wouldn't play War and Peace with me were at least willing to give it a go so I had to settle.  When the short-lived Black Library edition was released I snatched it up a Gen Con -- took me three morning "runs" (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) for those who have ever been there -- and eventually added the Fantasy Flight Games upgrade pack.

Then I saw the digital version during the Steam Holiday Sale.

Now I know not what course others may take, but I spend during this sale as if today is the last day to purchase software 'til the end of time.  I not only picked up the base game, but I also bought, at a remarkable discount in retrospect, the "season pass" which entitles me -- two years after the fact -- to every bit of DLC they produce.  Then, like so many other games purchased during a Steam sale, I shelved it in favor of some other new, shiny, low-cost trinket.

A couple months ago, though, I wandered into my FLGS and found a fellow playing Talisman.  Forgive me.  I have understated matters.  This gentleman was lolling about in a pool of Talisman.  He was Scrooge McDuck diving into a vault brimming with doubloons, save that every doubloon was Talisman.  I watched in amazement as he ran three other people through his game and as he did so was compelled to choose between dozens of card decks with each roll of the dice.  He had the main, basic board surrounded by the expansion boards which were in turn surrounded by all the cards, counters, figures, &c., the twisted minds at GW could imagine.  And all of this was in service of a game that, basically, is Chutes and Ladders with demons and a mighty set of "screw your buddy" mechanics.  I was dumbfounded.

I went back home and fired up this game on my PC.  There it all was.  All the expansions, all the card decks, and all the characters.  I mean, seriously, look at these card decks:

How damaged do you have to be to want to play this on the tabletop rather than on a PC?  Note that I'm stipulating that you want to play this game in the first place because that's a topic for a different piece.

The PC version gives you the board:
 It gives you the pieces -- painted even:
And there's a live community of human beings to play against should you be so inclined.  If you're not so inclined, though, it will happily provide you with as many A.I. opponents as you wish which, based on my experience, would have giggled as it left Dave to die out in the cold void of space.

Surely there must come a point where a boardgame is simply too much for the table to bear?  All equal, why in the name of all the blue hells would someone prefer a tabletop Talisman to the PC experience?

And, seeking to parry one particular argument even before it's thrust my way, I don't think the whole "human interaction" component can carry the day.  No game that has metastasized in this way can be enjoyable for actual people without a PC handling the drudgery.  I've played ASL and La Bataille, so I certainly know from complex games, but this is something all together different.  This is a game that, to my eyes, collapses of its own weight when reduced to paper and cardboard.

But, oh yes, ASL, I would like to talk to you next...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

CM:RT: It's What You Can't See That Kills You.

Jobu88 and I have been playing CM games for a long time, dating well back into the days of x1.  Having just wrapped up an excellent "Scenario of the Month" from, it was my turn to chose and I took one "off the rack", as it were, one of the stock scenarios for CM:RT, "Bunkers Burning".  It's an historical scenario set in the early days of Operation: Bagration in which elements of the Soviet 16th Guard Rifle Division are tasked with punching a hole in the German lines near Orsha for the following troops to pour through.

A couple general points are in order.  First, sitting in my comfortable office chair mulling over my deployments for this battle, I was struck with how distant I am from the terror that must have been in the mind of the Soviet commander knowing that he had the stavka ever at his back.  Surveying the terrain, this was nothing short of a kobayashi maru.  Seriously, look at this:

My troops are being told to cover acres of open ground into the teeth of multiple lines of German defenses, prepared during the previous winter.  It would seem the lines had been there long enough for the Soviet high command to get an unusually (at least in my experience) sense of their dispositions.  War of maneuver my Aunt Fannie.  The Battle of Ypres is more like it.

Still, as Jobu pointed out to me, the designer put an awful lot of love into this map.  As is often the case, it's not so much the broad strokes seen in the below, although the model railroad lover in me will always appreciate how nice CMx2 renders them.  Pay particular attention to the ground just to the right of the trees lining those railroad tracks.

What is not readily apparent is that there's a rise, gentle though it may be, that my support AFVs and troops will have to climb before coming into full view of the defenses beyond.  Knowing the CMx2 engine as I do, I'll have to strike a delicate balance between moving as quickly as I can while still giving my forward troops enough time to spot the Jerries wherever they might be hiding.  The recon platoon in the lower photograph is slowly making its way to the top of that ridge in the hope of both finding the enemy and not having their collective heads shot off.  The AFVs, for their part, are going nowhere until they have something more certain to shoot at.

As will be seen in the top two screenshots, I've placed a fair amount of smoke into the area around "The Hill" objective hoping to give the men advancing steadily from behind some cover.  I also do have a battery of medium mortars at the company level at my disposal.

Oh, and the "burning" mentioned in the title?  Well, more on that in a bit, eh?

Into the breach, lads.  Into the breach.  Comrade Stalin demands it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Napoleon 1806 -- A Kickstarter Just For Me!

I can't imagine the craziness of trying to get a successful boardgame Kickstarter up and running, but the fellows at Shakos still took the time to answer my questions about their project.

I wish them every success and this is is well worth checking out.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Much Deserved Warm Review for "Fields of Fire"

I've run Fields of Fire games at Origins for the nice folks at Proving Ground games for two years now.  We've done both modern micro-armor and WWII 15mm.  Participants have always found the game easy to learn and a lot of fun.  Underneath, there's also a very thoughtful rule set to which, I'm proud to say, the boys and girls of Grogheads Central Command have contributed a thought or two.

Now Bill Gray has given the rules a go and this review is, frankly, glowing.  Credit to him for giving it a spin and to the Wargamer website for giving a great company some much-deserved attention.

I would note that, God willing and the creek don't rise, MB, HL, and I will be back at Origins this year both teaching and playing Fields of Fire.  Rumor has it they're also bringing something special to add to the experience.

Looking forward to it.

And, because everything is better with miniature soldiers, a couple shots from Origins '15:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Eagles: That Old, Drunken Friend

Greetings to the few and sundry that stop by here from time to time.  I know it's been a bit, but the grim hand of real life has prevented far more enjoyable activities like, for example, reminiscing about old friendships.

To that point, did you ever have that one friend who was forever showing up at 2 a.m. with a desperate need to tell you that now, for real this time, he was setting his life right?  The one who wanted to borrow a cigarette even when you only had three Basics left?  The one who was forever falling madly in love with a girl, telling you to mind your own business that this time Tristan had found his Isolde, only to wind up drunk on your couch regaling you with her sudden but inevitable betrayal?

And yet you -- for reasons that you can't quite discern -- loved him anyway?

This is how I feel about Columbia Games' Eagles: Waterloo.

Offspring of both Dixie, which took up the American Civil War, and, by indirection, the seminal block game Napoleon's tactical system, it's honestly hard to believe that this game has been in my head space for 21 years.  Originally a collectable card game (more on that in a minute), the game is intended to be a colorful, quick-playing way to hammer through the battles of the Hundred Days.  I love this game.  Honestly, I do.  But, damnation it can stink up the couch.

Let me count the ways:

1. It was collectible (told you I'd come back to this).  The original point-of-purchase product was a deck of 60 cards that had a weighted, though random, selection from not one but three collections of playable cards.  Each one of these collections, labelled bronze, silver, and gold,  had a total of 300 cards.  A Waterloo game from Columbia was and remains utterly unresistable (despite my somewhat precarious personal situation in the mid-1990s) so I invested in several decks, but I got nowhere close to a set until the market for CCGs crashed and, suddenly, individual decks were available for well less than $5 each.   Candidly, I find the idea of a wargame CCG, at best, tedious.

2.  It was obnoxiously collectible.  I mentioned above that there are three types of cards.  A scant 10% of the cards in the weighted distribution are gold.  The grim secret, revealed right in the rules pamphlet, is that there is no difference between any of the three sets.  I cannot for the life of me imagine why you would bother to release what amount to three identical sets of the same cards.  Surely some of that money could have gone towards hiring a better artist.  Turning to which...

3.  The art is not to standard.  I am being kind.  Behold:

Nosey, a dough golem, and, Lemmy. 
Mind you, some of the unit art is quite nice and I like the landscapes very much, but, overall, it's a sub-par effort.

4.  The rules aren't done.  The game is intended to be simple and quick and, by and large, succeeds.  There are, however, holes, some of which were addressed over time, but some of which, in my mind, remain.  These become more grievous as one attempts to play the campaign game which imagines playing with the whole of the 300-card deck.  A few examples:

 4.a.  Fundamental to the game is the "Left-Center-Right" deployment areas for both sides facing off over a "Middle Ground".  The problem is that for everything except artillery to attack, units must advance over this "Middle Ground".  It's said not to be a space itself, but, given simple ergonomics, should have been granted a clearer place in the rules and its illustrations.  I understand that the rule writers didn't want it to be a "space" of its own, but it takes several playthroughs to figure out just how important it is and begin making allowances for it during play.  And there really should have been some mechanism developed to demark a unit as having advanced to engagement and therefore being ineligible to fire or shock attack.

Middle Ground Matters

4.b.In the Campaign Game, do engaged troops undergoing their second rout check receive the benefit of commanders and terrain?

4.c. In the Campaign Game, may I reinsert those Special Cards that have multiple battles listed on them into a later battle's deck, even if I used that card in a battle I lost?

4.d.  In a Campaign Game, which units does the loser of a previous game get to advance to the next battle.  Obviously not those destroyed, but how about those on the field, in his hand, or in his reinforcement deck?

And I love playing this game.

I love the feel of pouring troops from my hand into the maw of a sector that I seem certain to lose.  I loved it just this evening when HL played the "Friendly Fire" card on the Old Guard and he argued that, as they are old, they likely lack good eyesight anyway.  And I particularly love the decision of when and where to commit your leaders.  They provide no benefit in combat, but, in the all-important morale phase that begins each player's turn, they make it more likely that units damaged in the previous player's turn will not turn tail and run.  Leave then about too long, however, and they, like the Emperor himself in my last game, will meet a grim end.

As we are given to say, "Boney took the pipe".
And, of course, I'm extremely fond of using the Eagles system to play out the tactical battles in Napoleon, 4th ed.  (You could do it with previous editions, but why would you when 4th ed. is available?)  That right there is a long weekend of great fun trying to undo the wrongs of June 1815.

Now and always, Vive L'Empereur!  If I could only get him to pick his socks off the floor.