Clippings: Strategic September

Skylines - After DarkSeptember saw several notable strategy releases:

  • The PC version of Shenandoah Studios’ Battle of the Bulge;
  • After Dark, the first paid DLC for Cities: Skylines;
  • The English version of KOEI’s Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence; and
  • Act of Aggression, the latest RTS from Eugen Systems (Wargame).

Battle of the Bulge is the only one I’ve played enough (3 playthroughs1, totalling several hours) to assess. The iPad version has drawn a lot of praise, from the likes of Troy Goodfellow and Bruce Geryk, and wow, does the PC version live up to the hype. It’s the kind of quick-playing, evocative, elegant strategy game I love to evangelise2 – the panzer divisions will run wild for the first few days, while the outgunned Americans buy time, hold strongpoints, and maybe launch the odd spoiling attack. Once the skies clear, and Allied reinforcements arrive, it becomes the Allies’ turn to bludgeon their way back across the map.

As much as I like the game’s design, its implementation suffers from two flaws. First, the AI has the bad habit of overextending itself. On several occasions, I was able to cut off isolated German spearheads, leaving the once-fearsome panzers stranded without fuel or ammo. Second, the game is a bit buggy3 – on a couple of occasions, the screen began shaking and I was unable to give orders, forcing me to quit and reload. Still, the underlying design is so strong that I look forward to seeing the sequels on PC.

While I haven’t had the chance to play much of Nobunaga’s Ambition: SoI or Skylines: After Dark4, I’m optimistic about both. I’m looking forward to unlocking the new entertainment and tourist precincts in After Dark – tourism was rather bare-bones at launch – and the new day-night cycle (added via free patch) is gorgeous. Check out the image at the top of the page!

Nobunaga's Ambition - Map of JapanSpeaking of gorgeous, I love the aesthetic of Nobunaga’s Ambition: SoI (above). KOEI’s strategy franchises, such as Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, have great art, great music, and the only character-driven 4X/grand strategy mechanics outside Crusader Kings. I suspect SoI’s campaign will take quite a while to play – RotK 11 suffered from “strategy late game” syndrome. If I do dig further in, I’ll be sure to report back.

The only one of the four I haven’t picked up is Act of Aggression. First, I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea – it’s a homage to the ’90s, C&C-style RTS (and a spiritual sequel to Eugen’s earlier Act of War), a genre on which I burned out many years ago. Second, its reception has been mixed. On a happier note, Eugen is working on a free map patch for Wargame: Red Dragon –  that might be my cue to jump back into the Cold War.

In non-strategy news:

  1. The Race to the Meuse scenario twice and the randomised campaign once, all three times as the US.
  2. See also Vietnam ’65.
  3. Apparently the bugs are worse on iPad.
  4. Paradox supplied me with a review copy of the Cities: Skylines base game, and I bought After Dark out of my pocket.
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