Saturday, March 18, 2017

Two Fine Bits of Reading I Commend to Your Collective Attentions...

In which my guy Doug goes after a video guy for not understanding how horsies used to work.  He's dead on right.

In which your host opens many boxes, stickers many wooden blocks, wonders at game production choices, and revels in Napoleonic battles.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Back to Gallipoli -- John Tiller's SB: First World War

It's been a while since my friend Charles and I were hard back at one another in the Dardanelles.  We'd made our way through the first six Gallipoli battles on John Tiller's Squad Battles: First World War when we ran into a technical glitch that bollixed our PBEM save.  With that behind us, we've started scenario seven.

I'll let it speak for itself:

1915 May 19, Gallipoli Front. 0320 hours.

Size: small (company +)

After the opening battles in April, the ANZAC sector saw little activity as both sides were disorganized and expended. Both sides spent weeks reorganizing and digging in. The Turks inched their positions as close as they could to ANZAC lines to avoid naval gun fire, since the British ships would not risk firing on their own troops, and the ANZAC forces dug in where they could to hold the small beach head.

In May, sporadic Turkish artillery fire, sniper fire and sporadic small attacks occurred but on the 18th the whole line was strangely calm. ANZAC forces suspected something was brewing and this was confirmed when British aircraft reported another Ottoman division arriving in their area and that enemy forces seemed to be massing for an enormous assault.

In the early morning hours of the 19th, ANZAC forces manned their trenches and stood at the ready for the suspected Turkish attack. At 0320 ANZAC infantry peered across the flat 400 Plateau and observed wave after wave of dense Turkish troops advancing with fixed bayonets.


(Allied Powers) Hold your trench line at all costs! We cannot fall back!

(Central Powers) Attack across 400 Plateau and overrun the ANZAC trenches. Doing this will overrun their front line in this area and will cause their whole position to collapse.


*Historically the Turks advanced bravely and were shot down en masse, littering the whole plateau with hundreds of additional corpses. In a couple of hours, the Ottoman attack along the whole front line had failed, with over 10,000 dead and nothing to show for it.

One of the things I've enjoyed about playing through this sequence is the terrific research the descendants of the ANZAC forces have done to keep the memory of both sides of this conflict alive.  There's a lot of great photographic tours of the grim space where all this took place, but I also found this sketch which portrays well, I think, just how much was in the hazard.

This is the setup for my Turks at game start.  As I said regarding the Combat Mission game below, it's what you don't see that gives you the willies.

 I figure there's nothing for it but to advance, light up the trench (it's 0320 at start, if memory serves) and have at them.  At the end of the first turn, I've marched the lads out in front of their officers -- better to rally the pinned with my dear -- and will set on Charles' Aussies next turn.

There are many scenarios provided with this game that speak to a more sweeping war of maneuver than is usually depicted in World War One.  I have a fancy hunch this will not be one of those scenarios.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Rante: Parte the Seconde...With A Worthie Assiste

Very, very strange serendipity.

The crew at asked if I'd be interested in interviewing the folks behind the Pub Battles series of games.  Having been a fan for some time, I jumped at the chance.

What I did not expect was that Marshall Barrington's critique of rule complexity -- up to and including a pretty direct hit at ASL -- would match my own thoughts on the subject.  In a way likely more concise than mine, he makes the case the war games generally will either simplify or die.  Mind you, they need not become "stupid", but complexity is not realism, over-narration is not completeness, and beauty is not truth.  In this last bit, I digress.

I think all his responses are well worth a read (I would think that, wouldn't I), but his remarks concerning the above are particularly noteworthy.

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...