Be part of my Europa Universalis IV / Paradox Dev’t Studio Q&A!

Hi, everyone! I’m very happy to say that the folks at Paradox have agreed to an email interview about the forthcoming Europa Universalis IV, so if there’s anything you’d like to ask them, please chime in.

At this stage, I expect my own questions will be geared towards the big picture — the developers’ vision/ design philosophy, the lessons learned from other games such as CK2, how they plan to pace EU4 through the mid- and late-game (often the weakest part of Paradox games), their approach to history and historical phenomena that don’t appear as lines on a map, such as the diffusion of new crops around the world,  etc.

Suikoden Tactics: a reunion with an old friend

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Suikoden Tactics

2013 05 25 SuikodenTactics_screen02

 

Oops.

 

When I made my last move, I thought I’d seized an opening. The pirate had his back turned; and when I saw I could take him down with one attack from Kyril, the game’s young hero, I couldn’t resist. But now the shoe is on the other foot. In my haste to push Kyril forward, I’ve left him standing alone on the deck of the pirate ship. And before any backup can reach him, several pirates have their turns coming up…

 

The first pirate attacks. Kyril’s health plummets. Next pirate’s turn. I grit my teeth – only to watch, impressed, as the boy’s father leaps in to protect him from the blow. Kyril took only half damage from that hit, and the pirates’ opportunity has passed. It’s Andarc the mage’s turn next, and he opens up with a barrage from his Lightning rune, killing one pirate and wounding another. Then it’s the turn of more and more of my characters, and as they run up to join Kyril, the danger is past.

 

I’m several hours into Suikoden Tactics, a 2005 spinoff from one of my favourite RPG series, Suikoden. As its name suggests, it’s a grid- and turn-based tactical RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and Disgaea (in other words, in my classification scheme, it’s a Type III game).  From a mechanical standpoint, it is reasonably straightforward: different characters have different strengths and weaknesses, and while characters’ classes appear to be effectively preset – for instance, Kyril will always be a melee fighter – there is some scope to customise them by choosing which skills to prioritise. The actual combat is standard TRPG fare, though with a couple of quirks: characters have elemental affinities with particular tiles on the map, and tile elements can be changed by items and spells. That said, so far this seems to be good standard TRPG fare. Combat feels intuitively fluid in the way that the best tactical RPGs do: characters go down in just the right number of hits (too many would lead to tedium; too few would be frustrating), move far enough for squishy characters to be vulnerable, but not too vulnerable; and so on. Aesthetics are a mixed bag; the in-game sprites have not aged well, but character portraits are crisp and attractive. Storywise, no spoilers, but I’m definitely intrigued.

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Musical Monday: “Dream of Albion” (Medieval: Total War II), composed by Jeff van Dyck

This week’s song is the haunting, beautiful title theme of the Britannia campaign, from the Kingdoms expansion for Medieval: Total War II. As with “Uncle Samurai” from Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai, this is one case where Jeff van Dyck’s music was better than the rest of the game —  Medieval II is my least favourite entry in the series. Enjoy!

(Fun trivia: this is actually built around an old Scottish folk song, “Ailein duinn”. Personally, I prefer this to the original, or at least to the versions of the original I’ve heard on Youtube.)

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Wargame: AirLand Battle: right troops, right place, right time

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Wargame: European Escalation/AirLand Battle/Red Dragon
A view to a kill: a French Super Etendard strike plane fires a missile at a command vehicle.
A view to a kill: a French Super Etendard strike plane fires a missile at a command vehicle.

 

 

My last attack failed. This one, I promise myself, won’t.

 

I’m playing a NATO vs NATO mirror match, one of the options available in skirmish and, in this case, multiplayer. (In universe, I imagine it as an especially realistic military exercise.) Last time I made the rookie mistake of advancing without reconnaissance; my raiding force drove straight into a platoon of Challenger main battle tanks. This time, I’ve infiltrated an SAS patrol behind enemy lines to scout out my objective, and they’ve spotted nothing but a platoon of mechanised infantry. Since then, I’ve spent several minutes hatching my plans: Norwegian infantry will assault from the south, US marines and French tanks will come from the southeast, and I’ll use artillery smoke shells to screen their advance.

 

It’s time to go. A smokescreen billows into life, and my tanks and APCs burst out of cover. No resistance so far – the recon work paid off. Excellent. I look at the minimap… and see an enemy horde advancing on the other side of the map,  towards an objective I’d secured earlier. My opponent, it seems, chose the exact same time to make his push.

 

I’ve already committed my ground reserve, but I have one last lever to pull – RAF Tornados loaded with tank-busting cluster bombs. Aircraft are as fragile as they are valuable, and if the attackers brought enough anti-air units, my Tornado pilots could be flying into a suicide mission, their planes’ advanced countermeasures notwithstanding. But sometimes, fortune favours the bold…

 

Welcome to the second part of my Wargame: AirLand Battle preview, based on the game’s current pre-order beta! I’ve divided this into two sections, below – one for new players, and one for returning European Escalation veterans – before offering up some concluding thoughts.

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StarDrive: First impressions

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series StarDrive
StarDrive main map
The main map of StarDrive. You’ll spend a lot of time on this screen.

 

I’m five hours (per Steam) and three abortive practice games into StarDrive, a new PC space strategy title from one-man studio Zer0 Sum Games. So far, I can perhaps best describe this by reference to two games: one that’s obvious, space 4X stalwart Distant Worlds, and one you perhaps may not expect, fantasy TBS Warlock: Master of the Arcane.

 

Just as Warlock looks very much like Civilization V, StarDrive’s vast galaxy and pausable real-time gameplay appear to resemble Distant Worlds; but for both these games, appearances are deceptive. I get the impression that StarDrive’s design goals are very different to Distant Worlds’ – where DW aspired to be a living universe simulator, complete with a bustling ecosystem of NPC civilian spaceships, AI advisors, and derelict armadas, StarDrive strikes me as a far more warfare-centric game. Let’s break down what I’ve seen of StarDrive, X by X.

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Quick impressions: Talisman: Prologue

Talisman Prologue

 

Talisman: Prologue is a recently released Android/iOS adaptation of an old board game (which I have not played), Games Workshop’s Talisman. TP is a solitaire game in which the player controls a single high fantasy adventurer (a warrior, troll, assassin, etc), who moves around a board, attempting to solve a “quest” (kill X monsters, bring the princess to Y castle) chosen at the start of the game.

 

Note my choice of words: the character moves around the board, not the player. That’s because almost everything in TP – how far the adventurer moves, the monsters he/she encounters, whether s/he defeats the goblin, whether the enchantress turns him/her into a frog – is determined almost entirely by chance. Never mind strategy or making interesting decisions; in TP, there are very few decisions at all, and in mechanical terms, that makes it a lousy game.

 

So what’s the point of TP, then? Its theme, which I think you will enjoy to the extent that (a) your imagination can construct a story from card art and random numbers (TP‘s high production values help), and (b) you like ‘80s high fantasy. The last time I played, my assassin stumbled on a mischievous imp (drew an Imp card), who teleported him to a cave (I rolled a certain number), where he slew a serpent (drew a card, rolled a die, and compared his die roll + strength against the serpent’s) and discovered a rich hoard of gold (another die roll). There is a cool and exciting, if brief, story in there, even if I had to fill in all the details in my head.

 

The last thing I should note is that the game’s own designers seem very aware that it lacks the depth for sustained play. The game’s quests – and hence, its play sessions – don’t last very long. However, finishing each quest unlocks both new quests and new adventurers, which is what provides the incentive to return.

 

Overall, I can’t recommend TP for gamers in search of a meaty ruleset, a tense challenge, or even much in the way of player agency. However, for those who don’t mind being spectators while the dice do the work, TP is worth a look as a coffee-break-length ticket to Fantasyland.

 

A technical note: while the game is playable on my 7” device (Nexus 7), the font is too small for my liking. People with larger screens may find the font more appropriately sized.

Musical Monday: “Hymn to Red October” (The Hunt for Red October), composed by Basil Poledouris

With Wargame: AirLand Battle bringing the Cold War to virtual life, I can think of no better choice for this week than Basil Poledouris’ theme to The Hunt for Red October. It’s a powerful, Russian-language choral piece, well suited to the movie’s subject, and another feather in Poledouris’ (Conan the Barbarian) cap. Enjoy!
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Wargame: AirLand Battle: opening a box of virtual chocolates

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Wargame: European Escalation/AirLand Battle/Red Dragon
The raciest thing you'll ever see on this site
The raciest thing you’ll ever see on this site

 

Wargame: AirLand Battle is the upcoming sequel to Wargame: European Escalation, a Cold War-themed fusion of two genres: the RTS and the beer-and-pretzels wargame. EE was one of my favourite games of last year, and despite its beta status (1), AB is shaping up to be one of my favourites of this year, too.

 

AB’s appeal begins even before the first shot is fired. In AB as in EE, players start by choosing the units they will take into a match, and then grouping these into a “deck”. However, where EE offered “only” 361 units, AB offers a whopping 826! More units are not necessarily better, but here it works for two reasons.

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