In the three months since I departed Your Majesty’s presence, I have travelled first to our colony of New Spain, then thousands of miles north overland. I write to you now from the court of Meiguo, on the shores of another sea.
Like ourselves, the rulers of Meiguo are not native to the New World. They trace their ancestry to a deposed emperor of China, who fled his home near two centuries ago. Since arriving, they have extended their reach far south and east: they abut our colonies in Mexico, and also along the Rio Grande.
While Meiguo’s domains are vast, they are sparsely populated. I saw few towns during our journey north; I will be surprised if these lands contribute much to the Meiguo purse.
In 1402, the Ming Emperor’s uncle usurped the throne.
The imperial palace burned.
According to one legend, the Emperor survived, and fled overseas; Zheng He’s fleets were dispatched to hunt him down.
What if the Emperor made it further than Zheng could have dreamed?
Hello, and welcome back to my coverage of Europa Universalis IV. Since I last wrote about EU4, it has received a further two expansions – El Dorado, which added a custom nation designer, and the newly released Common Sense. For my current game, I will play as Meiguo, a Chinese custom nation on the west coast of North America.
This is Meiguo in 1456, 12 years after the game began:
Welcome to the final instalment of my Let’s Play of Shogun 2.
Previously, I stood on the verge of Shogun 2’s endgame — “realm divide”, in which most of Japan joins forces to stop the player. My armies were ready. My treasury was bursting. And so, I resumed the offensive after a long period of peace. Here is the situation, shortly before the end of Part 2:
In the east, my armies had just won their first victory against the Hatekayama clan (green). In the west, I was at peace; I shared my border with an allied clan, the Imagawa (grey), and a former ally, the Jinbo (light blue). Further west, past the Jinbo and Imagawa, was the single largest computer player: the Otomo clan (blue, also my ally).
Once I resume the game, Takeda Shingen and his son Nobushige lead my eastern armies against the Hatekeyama’s remaining force.
When we left off, my Takeda clan controlled a modest slice of Japan, to the north and west of modern Tokyo. To the east were my enemies: the Satake and Satomi clans. Further north were my old foes, the Uesugi clan; an uneasy peace prevailed between us, ever since I crushed their last invasion attempt.
My previous victory against the Satomi in Part 1 gave me a window of opportunity. and so, my first order of business is to march east. Takeda Shingen, lord of the clan, is off on another frontier. Command falls to his two brothers: Takeda Nobushige in the north, leading his army out of North Shinano province, and Takeda Nobukado in the south, crossing the river from Musashi.
Hello, and welcome to my Let’s Play of Total War: Shogun 2.
Shogun 2 casts players as a daimyo, one of the regional warlords of sixteenth-century Japan. The ultimate goal is to march on Kyoto, at the centre of the map, and enthrone oneself as shogun. Along the way, the player must manage a realm, raise armies, and command them in battle. The game triumphs on every level — as an exercise in strategic decision-making; as an epic come to life; and as an aesthetic treat. It is my favourite strategy game of all time.
For this run, I have opted to play as the Takeda clan, led by one of the most renowned warlords of the period — Takeda Shingen. This is, in fact, my second Takeda attempt — I abandoned the first after painting myself into a corner. I turn the game’s difficulty up to “Hard”, which affects both the strategic map and the tactical battles. My intent is to turn down the battles to “Normal” — the computer cheats on higher battle difficulties. Instead, I forget. As a result, the game so far has been entirely played on Hard.
I’ve chosen the Takeda for two reasons. First, their location in central Japan will make for a nice change — I won my last Shogun 2 campaign (using the Fall of the Samurai expansion pack) as an outlying island clan. Second, I’ve been meaning to make more extensive use of cavalry in Total War games, a job for which the Takeda are well-suited — all their horsemen receive a bonus.
Here is the opening cinematic for the Takeda:
And here is the situation at the beginning of the game:
The Takeda start in Kai province, a landlocked mountain pass that runs north/south. All cavalry trained in Kai will receive a bonus, courtesy of the province’s superior horse pastures; this stacks with the innate Takeda bonus to cavalry.
To the north of Kai is North Shinano, also landlocked. It is home to the Murakami clan, who begin at war with me — you can see a small Murakami army near the border. To the south are Musashi province, home to modern-day Tokyo, and Suruga province, home to the allied Imagawa clan.
To win the game, I have to hold 25 provinces, including Kai, Kyoto, North Shinano, and three other provinces all to the north of Shinano. Before then, I must face one of Shogun 2’s most distinctive challenges — realm divide. When I draw close to victory, most of the remaining computer players will declare war on me; I’ll need to build my empire around surviving that final difficulty spike.
If you walk around London today, you will still find monuments to the war heroes of the 18th century, and cross streets named after the ministers who led Britain to victory over France and Portugal and the Dutch. But from a modern perspective, what stands out is how much blood was shed for so little effect. When the century opened, Britain, France, Portugal and Spain were the foremost powers of western Europe; and a hundred years later that had not changed. The true change of the period occurred inside borders, not between them.
In 1665, Great Britain lay in ruins, her navy and trade fleets sunk, her cities occupied by French soldiers. It was the culmination of a series of unsuccessful wars waged throughout the 17th century, and as His Britannic Majesty’s hangdog envoys filed into the negotiating room, it was in doubt whether Britain would even survive. Previous wars had seen Wales, Cornwall, Northumberland lost, albeit temporarily. Could her victorious enemies even force her to give up Scotland?
The troubles had begun in the year 1600, when Great Britain had barely found its feet after the last century’s Wars of Religion. Decades earlier, Catholic rebels had not just wrested Ireland from the British crown; they had pledged their fealty to France. For Britain’s king, Octavius I, this was intolerable. His plan seemed foolproof: the British fleet would keep the French bottled up in harbour, Britain’s Austrian and Spanish allies would keep the French army busy on the European mainland, and Britain’s own modest army could seize an undefended Ireland. What could go wrong?
As it turned out, plenty. Distracted by rivals closer to home, the Austrians soon signed peace with France. The French demolished the Spanish army, and occupied Spain. Britain in turn occupied Ireland, but compared to the victories the French had racked up on the continent, that mattered little. The war settled into stalemate – the French fleet unable to match the British, the British army unable to match the French – and it could have dragged on forever.
(If this were a normal war Spain would have separately capitulated, but Spain and I were in a coalition war, in which individual coalition members can’t sign separate peace treaties. This rule seems a little odd – after all, if Napoleon could pick off coalition members, why can’t we?)
In 1584, under siege by French-backed Catholic rebels, King Augustus I of Great Britain renounced the Protestant faith. It was a last resort; the British treasury was empty, the army shattered, the realm ruined – and the rebels endless. One could almost hear the cackles in Paris as Augustus put his signature to the document reinstating Catholicism as the state religion of Britain; it was the greatest humiliation a British monarch had suffered since the Hundred Years’ War. Well satisfied, the Catholic rebels went home. The British Wars of Religion had come to an end.
In the summer of 1475, Anne, Queen of England, celebrated the fifth anniversary of her assumption of power from her regency council. They had been five fruitful years; her first act had been to standardise weights and measures throughout the realm. Some of these we still use today. Her second act had been to order the reconquest of Wales and Cornwall, which had broken away after the English defeat in the Hundred Years’ War. These campaigns did not last long: the English army was a pale shadow of what it had been a generation earlier, but it still outnumbered the Welsh and Cornish three to one. Now, as foreign ambassadors filed in to pay their respects, the queen seemed justified in resting on her laurels.
(Anne was a competent though uninspired ruler – she had a 3 in all her stats, out of a maximum of 6. Still, after Henry VI’s solid zeroes, this felt like manna from heaven.)
Then, as Anne waited for her next audience to begin, a man tumbled out of a rug. A moment later, he began to speak – very quickly, as the queen’s guards and the bolder courtiers were advancing on him. Apologies for the intrusion, but this was the only way he could think of to gain an audience. His name was Albert Gloucester, navigator and sea captain. He planned to sail west through the Atlantic, and that way reach distant Asia. Would the queen sponsor him?
She would. The next year, in May 1476, Gloucester set sail from the Portuguese-controlled Azores with three ships. He was not heard from until the following January, when his three ships limped back into the Azores, badly damaged, their crews half-dead, starving… and bearing tales of a New World.
November, 1444. Under the Ming Dynasty, China is the greatest empire in the world:
Further west, the rising Ottoman Empire dominates the Middle East and is pushing into eastern Europe:
Western Europe is a chaotic patchwork of kingdoms and duchies and free cities:
The world system that existed just a century or two ago, which saw Europe and China tenuously connected by the likes of Marco Polo, has fragmented; now Europeans and Asians and Americans carry on in their separate spheres.
The world will not stay this way.
Welcome to my Let’s Play of Europa Universalis IV, a grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studio set during the early modern era of world history. I am playing as England from the earliest possible start date, 1444; I will continue until either the game ends (in the early 19th century) or I stop having fun. In that time, I’ll explore aspects of the game such as exploration, trade, diplomacy, and war. I am also playing Ironman mode, which means I have just the one save slot and can’t abuse save/reload, and I am not using any mods except for one that enlarges the font (uncomfortably small by default). Lastly, I’ll emphasise narrative rather than gameplay, and if I do interject with an “out of universe” comment, I’ll mark it clearly, (like so). Onward to the game!
Welcome back to my Let’s Play of Wargame: AirLand Battle!
In Part 1 of this LP, my effort to defend Scandinavia (playing NATO in the War in the North campaign) got off to a promising start:
1. The Danish army wiped out two Warsaw Pact brigades that attempted to seize Aarhus;
2. The Swedish army did the same with an amphibious landing at Malmo;
3. As at the end of the last instalment, the Swedish and Norwegian armies had recovered their fighting trim and were in position along an Oslo-Stockholm defensive line.
What were the key lessons learned? First – and I am indebted to this excellent guide from the official forum – that the objective in battle isn’t to kill so many of the enemy that the survivors run away, it’s to wipe them out (which will earn me the morale points I need to win the campaign). In game terms, that means (a) pinching off the enemy reinforcement sectors so they can’t retreat, and then (b) win the battle by hunting down their command vehicles. Unable to flee, the losers will surrender.
In practice, the campaign is designed such that it is difficult to decisively win battles unless there is a large discrepancy (due to some combination of morale, initiative, positioning, and equipment) between the combatants. Otherwise the two forces tend to get stuck in a spiral of falling initiative (reducing the forces they can deploy) and increasing morale (making it harder for them to rout the other), broken only when the arrival of a fresh brigade tips the balance. Other players have complained about this, and I can see both sides of the argument; I like what the developers were aiming for, but I do agree it could do with some reworking.
For present purposes, though, what the rules should be is beside the point. The key is to focus on what the rules are, and if I need to engineer massive mismatches to win, then that is what I shall do. That means (a) ensuring each sector of the line has fresh brigades in reserve, so that they can polish off a weakened enemy, and (b) conserving my strategic buffs/debuffs (e.g. air raids) until the time is right.
With that in mind, let’s see how the rest of my Nordic campaign plays out.
March 1985, Moscow. Mikhail Gorbachev loses the race to succeed Konstantin Chernenko as head of the USSR.
Early September, 1985. A clash between Soviet and US Navy aircraft leaves several pilots dead. The world totters on the brink of war.
Late September, 1985. World War III erupts. Norway and Denmark, comprising NATO’s northern flank, are on the front line. The Norwegian army manages to halt the Soviet advance – only for Soviet troops to roll into neutral Sweden, threatening Norway’s eastern flank. To the south, the Soviet advance into West Germany leaves their forces on the border with Denmark.
NATO’s troops are badly battered. Enemy reinforcements abound. Scandinavia hangs in the balance. Can my leadership save the day?
Welcome to my Let’s Play of Wargame: AirLand Battle.
Wargame: AirLand Battle is a newly released strategy game for PC, a blend between the real-time strategy and traditional wargame genres (for more background, check out the other posts I’ve written about the Wargame series, linked at the top of this page). In addition to multiplayer and skirmish modes, AB offers four single-player campaigns of varying length and difficulty; I have finished the shortest and simplest campaign, which is really a tutorial in disguise. For this LP, I will be jumping all the way to the longest and most challenging, “War in the North”.
The game bills this campaign as “Very Hard”, but I’m confident I’ll be up to it. (And, hey, everything worked out the last time I LPed a difficult game.) I will play the campaign either until I win/lose, or until it stops being fun. Here goes!
North America, 1 September 2015. The aliens’ forward base on Earth, the wee hours of the morning. Above the landing bay, a shape appears: XCOM’s Skyranger, followed moments later by a hover SHIV and five of XCOM’s finest operatives. The soldiers rappel down into the base, plasma rifles at the ready. Little do they expect what lies ahead: an anti-climax.
The battle of Melbourne, June 2015, dealt a bitter blow to XCOM. It left us down two countries and five soldiers (four of them amongst our finest veterans), and painfully exposed the inadequacies of XCOM equipment against the aliens’ latest toys. The laser weapons and carapace body armour that had served us so well, just a month or two ago, now look like a joke against Cyberdiscs. The new faces joining the squad are under-levelled marksmen of dubious skill.
But XCOM is a game about fighting back against the odds. This update is the story of how my survivors – a lopsided bunch, with too many snipers and too few heavies and support troopers – make do.
As Part 4 ended, things were going smooth as butter. XCOM’s soldiers were winning battle after battle, and coming home almost invariably in one piece. The strategic layer was under control, thanks to XCOM’s ample satellites and newly ample cash.
As June 2015 dawns, it seems fair to ask: what could possibly go wrong?
After Part 3’s successful terror mission, the rest of April passes without incident. Dr Vahlen and her scientists finish research on beam weapons, which unlocks laser pistols and laser assault rifles for use by my squad!
Unfortunately, I’m too broke to build more than one of each. Not only do they hoover up cash, they also require precious alien alloys – and my stock of alloys is running dangerously low. Farnsworth gets the laser rifle; LeSquide, our sniper, gets the laser pistol (since he can’t move and fire his sniper rifle in the same turn, he’s the one most in need of a decent sidearm).
At the end of the month, the Council gives us our scorecard and funding cheque:
As feared, the XCOM Project has lost its first two countries: Japan and Mexico have raised the white flag to the aliens. Three more, Argentina, India and China, are teetering. But all is not lost – I have no fewer than three satellites in the pipeline, plus the cash to build more (and their supporting infrastructure). This coming month, May, will be do-or-die. If XCOM can make it through the month in one piece, by its end I should have enough satellites to halt the tide of global panic. More than that, I’ll have so many satellites, and so much funding, that I’ll never have to worry about scrimping and saving again. If, if, if.
Welcome to the third part of my Let’s Play (Classic difficulty, Ironman mode) for XCOM: Enemy Unknown!
When we previously left off, I had two worries. One, whether I could obtain better arms and armour before the game ramped up in difficulty. Two, a rising tide of global panic. And soon, the game does its best to exacerbate (2) by throwing a devil’s choice at me:
Welcome back to my Let’s Play (Classic difficulty, Ironman mode) of XCOM: Enemy Unknown! We finished our last instalment on March 20 (game time), with a successful end to XCOM’s third battle. Following that battle, XCOM earned a new, experienced Heavy named Talorc, and I began construction of the Officer Training School.
But before I can train any officers, not one day after the previous mission, it’s time to sortie again:
March, 2015. We are not alone in the universe. Humanity is under attack from an alien army equipped with technology beyond anything we have seen. The armed forces of the Earth are powerless. All save one – the mysterious international organisation known as XCOM, sponsored by a Council of sixteen nations. It’s up to XCOM’s soldiers, outnumbered, outgunned, but brave and (one hopes) well led, to stop the aliens in the cities and in the fields. It’s up to XCOM’s scientists to unravel the alien technology the soldiers bring home, and up to XCOM’s engineers to adapt it into something the troops can use. And it’s up to me, the player, to give them all direction. Will I succeed, or will humanity be destined to end up as just another course on the alien buffet menu?
When we left off, I was debating which piece of equipment to leave behind in order to pick up a shiny new hull-smasher laser. In the end, I ditch my unused anti-ship drone. I have only limited power available for the drone control unit, and I want to focus on the life-saving defensive drone.
We make it to the end of Sector Seven without incident.
Sector Eight: The Last Stand
This is it, the cusp of the final showdown. This is what the sector looks like. The Rebel flagship is the ominous red shape just visible at the far left:
On the way to fight the flagship, we come to the rescue of a beleaguered Federation squadron under attack by the Rebel:
This time I remember to turn on the defence drone at the start! The Rebel does little damage as a result, and the grateful Federal survivors hand me some supplies. I back up my save again, and carry on. A second Rebel is just a speed bump, and then it’s onto the flagship.
Here we go.
The fight is long (my Dxtory recording comes to over 30 minutes!) and, to be frank, a bit tedious once I’ve destroyed most of the flagship’s weapons. At this point, I just have to wait for my weapons to do enough damage. However, the tipping point comes once I use my Mantis boarders to whittle down the flagship’s crew, at the same time I use the fire bomb I purchased back in sector 6 to set the flagship’s med bay alight. This prevents the crew from simply running away from the Mantes, healing up in the med bay, and running back to pick off my weakened boarders. Even then, it’s chancy – I lose my second crewmember this game, Mansvik the Mantis – but his sacrifice isn’t in vain. Eventually, most of the flagship’s crew is dead, save for one gunner in the forward compartment. Mopping up is easy after that.
At the end of the fight, the battered flagship jumps away. I back up my save yet again, and prepare to give chase.
… and die horribly when my cloaking device – the key to my survival! – gets knocked out by an unlucky hit. This is why I backed up the save, because I’m not starting this LP (or playing that half-hour flagship battle) again.
Let’s try that one again.
This time it goes much better. A quick barrage of firebombs, and Sem the surviving Mantis, take care of most of the flagship’s remaining weapons. I dust off my anti-boarder drone, and that takes care of the boarding drones the flagship sends my way. The cloaking device stays intact, and I can survive the worst the flagship throws at me. Soon the battle is over. I back up my save once more, spend the last of my scrap, and head off to fight the third and final phase of the flagship.
I have to reload twice – this time, the flagship carries Zoltan shields that prevent me from quickly disabling its most dangerous weapon, a triple missile launcher, with my boarders/firebombs. In the time it takes me to lase the shield down, the flagship pulverises me. Cloaking barely helps, as using the cloak against the missiles meant it wouldn’t be available against the flagship’s special attack, and vice-versa. But on my third attempt, I pull it off! Eventually I bring down the flagship’s shields, and soon after, the missile launcher. Once the launcher is out of commission, it’s smooth sailing.
The high score table looks like this. The duplicates are the result of my savescumming (somewhat disappointingly, winning the game doesn’t confer extra points; oh well):
And that’s it for this playthrough! For players who want to try saving the Federation again, beating the flagship unlocks a new ship type, the Federation Cruiser. (There are nine ships, plus variants, in the game – so there is room for completionism.) But for now, I think I can rest on my laurels and proclaim myself done with FTL. Thank you for following along, and I hope you had as much fun as I did!
The Kestrel’s exploration of Sector Four continues, with mixed results.
The good news: beefing up my weapons, and being willing to fire off a missile at the start of combat, have paid off. The next enemy I encounter goes down in flames.
The not quite so good news: the next shop I find is a re-run of the previous one. It has a drone control and crew teleporter for sale, but I don’t have enough scrap to buy anything without selling my spare equipment. This time I grit my teeth, sell a spare missile launcher, and buy the drone control unit. At least I can get some immediate use out of it. Hopefully I’ll find a crew teleporter – and some crew to actually teleport! – later in the game.
I make it to the exit with the Rebel hot on my heels, and head into Sector Five.
Sector Five: Rebel-Controlled Sector
The drone control unit promptly pays off, when I answer a distress beacon:
Sending in the drone leads to a little bit of hull damage, but I earn 42 scrap as a reward. At the next beacon, I take on a quest that requires me to travel to the far top-right corner of the sector:
Along the way, I deal with a Rebel scout before it can jump out to warn the fleet of my presence, fight off a boarding party with a big helping hand from my anti-boarder drone (good thing I bought that control unit!), and find a shop with both a crew teleporter and recruitable crew! I hawk an unused repair drone to pay for the teleporter and a Mantis of my own, name of Sem. Remember, Mantes are the hand-to-hand specialists of the game, so this should give me a big edge in boarding actions.
I take the time to play around with the Kestrel’s loadout:
The weapon on the far right is a healing bomb, which I can deploy (at the cost of 1 missile ammo) to either my own ship or to an enemy ship to heal friendly crew in the vicinity. That means I can send over, say, Sem the Mantis and King the Rockman to slaughter the enemy crew, teleport in healing bombs as necessary to keep Sem and King alive, and then earn more scrap from capturing the enemy ships alive!
Completing the quest lets me offload some drone parts for scrap, and defeating another Rebel gives me enough scrap to return to the shop and hire an Engi crewman named Maradine:
On my way to the exit, I run into a Rebel who gives me a taste of my own planned medicine and boards me. Sem, King, and my drone deal with the boarders, then Sem and King head over for some payback.
The first try does not go as planned, thanks to a certain Captain forgetting to actually charge the healing bomb before sending Sem and King over. I quickly teleport the two almost-dead crewmen back, heal them up in the medbay, then send them back. The enemy ship has no medbay, and the enemy crew has had no chance to heal. The second trip goes much better. The scrap I earn from the intact, lifeless Rebel ship (60+) is about double what I’d have previously earned.
I make it to the exit, and onto Sector Six.
Sector Six: Rebel-Controlled Sector (another one)
The first few Rebel ships I encounter are AI-controlled, and hence pointless to board (as well as dangerous; they have no oxygen!). My luck turns when I run into a Rebel whom I can board. Killing the enemy crew (one of whom, I notice, is named Geryk) lets me liberate a Mantis prisoner named Monsvik, who joins my growing team. This is good – it lets me form a dedicated away team of two Mantes, while King the Rockman can stay back and man the Kestrel’s shields.
At the next shop I encounter, I pick up a fire bomb in preparation for a certain battle later in the game. I also sell my venerable heavy laser and pick up a level 1 burst laser instead – the heavy laser does 2 damage to hulls but only 1 to shields, whereas the burst laser fires twice, dealing 1 damage per shot and granting a second chance to hit. The Artemis missile launcher goes into storage:
The new configuration seems to work well, letting me chew through enemy shields while preserving precious missile/bomb ammo. With my newfound love for boarding actions, I upgrade my sensors so I’ll be able to map out the enemy crew. Sector Six ends without incident, as I again just barely beat the Rebel fleet to the exit. I’m getting better at this!
Sector Seven: Zoltan Homeworlds
We’re almost there. Just this, and then the gauntlet in Sector Eight. Stay on target. Stay on target…
Our first encounter is hostile, as a Zoltan ship shoots first and asks questions later. Luckily, its defences are poor. My pre-ignited lasers make short work of its shields and weapons, and injure the crew. Then, since Zoltan are lousy in boarding actions, my Mantes teleport over to finish the job. When the dust settles, I have more scrap than I’ve ever seen in one place. And luckily, there’s a shop right next door:
I refuel, and buy a level 1 defence – i.e. anti-missile –drone. Seeing another shop right after that, I head over… and see a level 2 defence drone. Oops. The level 2 requires more power, but is also more useful, meaning I wasted the scrap on the level 1 drone. Oh well. I trade it the level 1 and buy the level 2. I then promptly forget to upgrade my drone control unit, leaving me unable to use my new toy.
One battle later, it ceases to matter. After killing the enemy boarders, setting their spaceship on fire, and lasing the surviving crew to death, I’m swimming in scrap again (240 scrap). So much so that when I get the option to pick up a new augment, a “reverse ion field” that gives me a 20% chance to shrug off incoming ion fire, I ditch my scrap recovery arm (+10% to collected scrap). This close to the end, I want maximum survivability.
The next fight chews me up badly – the enemy is strongly shielded and armed to the teeth, with a missile launcher and assorted lasers. My defence drone II would have protected me– had I remembered about it. Eventually I do turn it on, resulting in a much easier fight… only for the enemy to flee before I can administer the coup de grace. No reward.
Crushing the next enemy, and harvesting plenty of scrap from a random distress beacon, provide some solace. One jump away from the exit to the final sector, I get into another tough scrap, but walk away with a new piece of loot: a level 2 hull smasher laser, a more powerful, less energy-efficient cousin to my starting burst laser. I’ll have to drop something to pick up the hull smasher laser, but what?
On that note, as I mull which piece of kit would be most useful against the final boss, it’s time for me to wrap up this instalment of the LP. And to hedge my bets, I finish by backing up my saved game (aka save-scumming). This goes against the intent of the designers – FTL only allows you a single, automatically overwritten save slot – but this close to the final boss, I’d like the ability to retry different tactics, and different loadouts, without starting again from scratch.
When we left off, the Kestrel was in good form: decently armed and shielded, with enough fuel and supplies and scrap to last a while. I decide to make the most of it by looking for trouble. It’s time to head into the nebula.
After steeling myself that way, the rest of Sector Two ends up as an anti-climax. I fight off two separate boarding parties in the nebula by the simple expedient of rushing my crew into the med-bay, where they heal faster than the boarders can hurt them. The only hostile ship I meet lacks the firepower to pierce my upgraded shield, resulting in a decidedly one-sided fight. Buying a scrap recovery arm (which gives me +10% to all future scrap income!) rounds off my time in the sector. With the Rebel hot on my heels, I briefly debate looking around a little more, but eventually decide to play it safe. Off to Sector Three we go!
Sector Three: Engi-Controlled Sector
The aptly named Engi are a race of sentient machines, lousy in hand-to-hand combat but great with repairs. They’re also friendly to the Federation, which makes Engi space that much more pleasant to traverse.
Right off the bat, I hit the jackpot. An Engi ship, thinking I’m a pirate, hastily offers up its cargo of scrap. I demur, telling them I’m friendly:
But the Engi go ahead and offer me the scrap anyway, to help me on my long voyage.
Thanks, Engi! And it’s a good thing, too – I’m perilously low on fuel. The red-highlighted “2” in the top-left means I only have enough fuel for two more jumps! One jump away there’s a shop… and there, I find a cloaking device for sale. I want that cloaking device, but buying it would consume most of my scrap, leaving precious little for fuel.
I roll the dice and buy the cloaking device anyway. And a couple of jumps later, my gamble pays off when I first hoover up some more scrap, then – just as I was about to run out of fuel – find another shop. The whole crew probably heard my sigh of relief!
The rest of the sector proceeds smoothly enough, with the Kestrel able to easily defeat foe after foe. It goes so smoothly, in fact, that I get a bit cocky and end up taking too much time to explore. When I finally make it to the exit, the Rebel is waiting for me. And for the first time during this playthrough, I run from a fight. The Artemis missile launcher comes into play just long enough to disable the Rebel’s weapons, and then once the jump drive is charged, it’s off to Sector Four.
Sector Four: Engi Homeworlds
On my first three runs, I spent scrap as fast as it came in to upgrade the Kestrel. This time I’ve been saving up, and now it pays off. Right off the bat, I find a shop, and this time I hit the jackpot. Specifically, the shop sells a weapon pre-igniter, which will allow me to begin a battle with fully charged weapons, and an ion blaster, which will allow me to efficiently disable enemy systems. Combined with my burst laser, I should be able to start a fight by taking down the enemy shields with my pre-ignited arsenal, then ripping apart the enemy’s weapons. After that, all I should have to do is mop up. Should.
Then the next few enemies I meet teach me about the dangers of assumption:
Specifically, “starting a fight by taking down the enemy shields with my pre-ignited arsenal” only works if I actually have the firepower to take down the enemy shields. But as of Sector Four, the enemy ships are all now sporting 2 points of shields – on a par with my own. With a burst laser 2, a heavy laser, and an ion blaster, I could punch through level 2 shields if I fired every weapon at once, and hit. But at first, I lack the power to actually fire all these weapons, and I can’t count on guaranteed hits! The bottom line: the enemies have more time to hurt me, often with newer and scarier weapons, before I can silence them.
By the time I make it to the next shop, several jumps later, the Kestrel looks like this:
Not only am I almost out of fuel again, but the “Hull” bar in the top-left is now yellow, less than half-full. If that reaches zero, it’s curtains for the Kestrel. That I owe to a Rebel with a missile launcher, which ignores my precious 2-point shields! It took my own last-ditch missile – not the starting Artemis, but a hulking breach launcher I picked up along the way – to save the day.
With the Kestrel in for some much needed refuelling and repair, this is a good time to ponder battle tactics. I have a whopping 25 missiles – perhaps I should actually use them, say as part of my pre-ignited opening salvo? Buying a couple of new missiles is cheaper, and safer, than fixing a hull that’s been turned into Swiss cheese.
The shop, welcome as it is, also poses its own frustrations. Specifically, I have 112 scrap available. My priorities are repairs (38 scrap) and fuel (I want to buy the station’s whole stock, which will cost 18 scrap), totalling 56 scrap. The shop also stocks a drone control (80 scrap), which would be nice but isn’t essential, and a crew teleporter (75 scrap), which I lack the manpower to use right now, but will be essential later on. I would love to buy the drone control, the teleporter, or both, but – I – don’t – have – the – scrap! I do have some spare equipment – a couple of different missile launchers, a presently unusable anti-boarder drone – I could sell, but I don’t know if I’ll need them in the future.
With a rueful sigh, I pay for the fuel and repairs. Since I don’t want to sell anything, that leaves me with 56 scrap, enough to upgrade my ship’s reactors in lieu of buying anything else at the shop. Maybe that “first strike” tactic will work if I can throw an even bigger first volley…
With the Kestrel ready to head into the unknown again, this is also probably a good time to wrap up this instalment of the LP. After the relative ease of the first few sectors, things are getting hairy for Han, Leia and King. Will they survive their journey?! Tune in to the next part of the LP to find out!
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships have overrun most of the Galactic Federation. During the battle, Federation spies managed to steal secret plans to the Rebel’s ultimate weapon, the REBEL FLAGSHIP, an armoured behemoth with enough power to obliterate an unwary player. Pursued by the Rebel armada, Captain Peter races home aboard his starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can bring victory in this game…
Captain’s log, starship Kestrel
Three times I’ve attempted this journey. Three times I’ve failed, the Kestrel – the game’s starting ship – turned into so much space junk. Now, by the grace of the alien artefact known as the “New Game” button, I can make a fourth attempt.
For this try, I’ll use the Kestrel again. There are other ships available in the game, and I’ve unlocked one (the Torus), but I want to try to see this through with the Kestrel first. The Kestrel packs a well-rounded punch, mounting a powerful burst laser and an ammo-chewing but potentially devastating missile launcher. Once I upgrade its energy shield, it should see me easily through the first few of the game’s eight sectors (each sector is progressively harder). Its starting crew of three is too small, especially when considering there are four systems (helm, engines, weapons, shields) to be manned, but c’est la vie.
After naming my initial crewmembers “Han”, “Luke”, and “Leia”, and ensuring the difficulty is set to “Easy”, it’s time to begin this journey.
Sector One: Civilian Space
The first sector begins uneventfully. The Kestrel skirts an asteroid field, buys fuel at a space station, and ignores a distress beacon (our mission comes first!). On our fourth jump, we meet our first Rebel.
Several barrages of the burst laser neutralise his weaponry before he can do too much harm, and when he tries to flee, another barrage does the same for his jump drive. Beaten, the Rebel tries to surrender. We refuse. We need the scrap metal from his hull: scrap is the game’s currency, used for purchasing weapons, upgrading components, recruiting crew, and paying for fuel and repairs. Upgrades are life. Scrap is life. And soon enough, we have more of it. The scrap quickly goes into upgrading our shielding system, and onto the next beacon we go.
This time it’s another Rebel, a small transport. I demand surrender. The Rebel refuses, and manages to flee in one piece. I growl, and jump away to the next beacon. Upon consulting the star map, I see the Rebel fleet has now arrived in sector! The Rebel main fleet begins each sector several jumps behind the player, and it’s not a wise idea to let it catch up – running into fleet forces a high-risk, practically zero-return battle. However, I’m still well ahead, giving me the luxury of exploring the sector a bit more. A hidden Federation outpost gives me a bit of scrap and a quest to rescue a Federation base in the next sector, but my luck doesn’t hold up at the next location.
While boarding a space station to look for survivors, Luke is struck down by a fatal illness. The measly scrap I pick up seems a lousy compensation for losing one of my scarce crew.
I roll the dice again. One more look around before I head off to the next sector… and what should I run into but an enemy, a Mantis fighter.
The Mantes are vicious if they can teleport over to your ship, but luckily for me, the fighter is too small to have a teleporter. I won’t have to worry about Mantes slaughtering my diminished crew in melee! Our first salvo takes out the Mantis weapon battery, our second hits the shields, and the third reduces the Mantis to scrap. I hightail it to the sector exit one step ahead of the Rebels.
For this sector, I had a choice of heading into either pirate or rebel space. The pirates seemed like easier foes, so off that way I went!
Along the way, I stop off to rescue the Federation base I heard about in the last sector. The Rebel ship attacking the base turns out to be just a scout – no match for the Kestrel – and soon I have not only more scrap, but a quest reward! After saving the base, I acquire a new crewman – a Rockman alien named King – and a new weapon, a heavy laser. The laser doesn’t seem too shabby, but the really big prize is the Rockman. Not only was I dangerously short-handed with only Han and Leia left, but Rockmen are great in their own right. They’re tough and immune to fire, which makes them perfect for repairing burning compartments or fighting hand-to-hand.
Soon enough, I deal with another Rebel – this one lurking inside an asteroid field – and pour some scrap into upgrading the ship’s power supply, so I can actually use the new laser. Then I investigate another distress beacon, and this time things go my way. It turns out to be a burning space station, and the Rockman promptly earns his pay:
The grateful scientists on board the station give me a new long-range sensor, and I scope out the sector:
As with Sector One, I have some time before the Rebel (the red line at the left) reaches me, so I should make the most of it. I’m in a decent position: I have an adequately armed and shielded (for the early game) ship, and a nice pool of scrap to play with. Where to next? With the sensor, I can see that the yellow triangles represent spaceships. Jumping to those locations will likely lead to battle, but the rewards (read: scrap) could be worth it. On the other hand, I could simply head into the nebula (the pink blob to the right). In the nebula my sensors would be blinded – carrying its own dangers – but the Rebel’s pursuit would also be slowed. In either case, things could go south in a hurry – or I could stumble across a remarkable find that would turn the Kestrel into a killing machine.
There is a lot of luck in this game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing . That chanciness helps create a sense of exploration, a sense that I really am a starship captain racing through the unknown. And it often throws up interesting decisions – even if they’re as simple as, “do I roll the dice?” (see: the asteroid belt and space station back in Sector One).
But for now, I’ll have to leave those decisions for another day. “Get out while you’re ahead,” they say, and it looks like a pretty good time for me to close this episode of the LP. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of the Kestrel, and I’ll see you next time!
At the start of the game, I had sent Britain’s shipyards into overdrive producing warships and merchantmen, and that pays off. With the defeat of the French fleet at the end of the first turn, this leaves the Royal Navy – and accompanying British ground forces – free to go on the global offensive, ready to make the world safe for tea, cricket and British trade.
Britannia’s might lands most heavily in the Caribbean. The pirates, in their lairs at Antigua in the Leeward Islands and San Jose de Oruna in Trinidad & Tobago, learn that His Majesty’s soldiers do not know the meaning of the word “parley”. The undefended Spanish – formerly French – colony of Martinique surrenders without a shot.
To be sure, the Spanish computer player ensures that the naval campaign is not a one-sided affair. The Royal Navy takes its fair share of losses in a series of largely auto-resolved skirmishes in the Caribbean and in the East Indies. But when the smoke clears, the Spanish navy has been driven from the East Indies, leaving British trade fleets free to move in.
What’s Spanish for “‘tis only a flesh wound”? The Battle of the Invincible Frigate
When the Spanish fleet finally shows up in force in the Caribbean, my luck looks like it’s run out. Against my fifth-rate frigate and sloop, the Spanish have brought a frigate and sloop of their own, plus a galleon that tremendously outguns anything else on the field. My first response is to panic. And then, once the battle starts, I breathe a sigh of relief: the Spanish ships are damaged and missing most of their guns. It’s still not a done deal – even in its weakened state, the galleon is able to blow away my sloop when it strays too close. Still, the frigate duel is as one-sided as I could have wished. I shoot away the Spanish frigate’s masts, destroy many of its remaining guns, leave its hull blackened and punctured. Yet the crew neither flees nor surrenders in the face of volley after volley of cannon fire. And, to add insult to injury, their morale remains high even as the ship rides lower and lower in the water.
I am left wondering, over the in-game chat, what the Spanish sailors are eating for breakfast. It takes the outbreak of fire for the crew to abandon ship, by which time I am convinced that if they had been around 120 years earlier to man the Spanish Armada, history would have taken a very different course.
Disaster in the Low Countries (I): Never rely on a computer-controlled ally
Back in Europe, though, things don’t go quite as smoothly. When we left off, the French had been repelled at the gates of Amsterdam and John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was leading a mid-sized force into what is today Belgium. The small Spanish garrison in Brussels falls quickly, and I turn the territory over to the Dutch. I feel well pleased with my raid! While my army doesn’t have the movement points to make it back to the sea on the same turn, I am able to withdraw my army so that it’s close by a friendly, smallish Dutch force. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, plenty. The French army – numerically superior, even after its defeat at the walls of Amsterdam – moves in to attack Marlborough. The Dutch computer player, instead of taking up a good defensive position, charges out into the open field, and I follow suit, fearing the piecemeal annihilation of the allied armies. My infantry-short army lacks the numbers to shoot it out with the French, and I botch the timing of a cavalry charge at the French flank. When the dust settles, the British army in Europe is reduced to Churchill, a single artillery battery, and a handful of horsemen who escaped the rout. In an eighteenth-century version of Dunkirk, they slink back across the channel, and with them goes any thought of a quick land victory in Europe for Great Britain.
Disaster in the Low Countries (II): Le Roi, Jeeeenkins!
Still, when the French army follows up on its victory by marching into the Netherlands and laying siege to Amsterdam for the second time, I am less than fazed. True, the Dutch are outgunned – the professional garrison is small, so most of the defenders consist of hastily armed townsfolk. But as the first battle of Amsterdam showed, even armed civilians can put up a good fight from within the fortresses protecting the city. “No problem,” I shrug. “I held off the French once, I can do it again.”
The turn ends. And the Dutch AI player abandons the shelter of its walls to attack the French.
The resulting battle, trained and experienced French soldiers versus the Amsterdam mob on an open field, goes predictably. The best thing about the fight turns out to be a bout of unintentional comedy, when one Dutch regiment, retreating from the massacre, climbs the walls of its own fort to get back inside after the gates refuse to open.
Amsterdam falls soon after. And with that, Britain’s strongest ally is now out of the war. (Portugal remains in the fight, but is too far away to threaten France.) With the French in force across the channel – over the coming turns, they march out of Amsterdam and briefly lose control of the city, but retake it soon afterwards – and a mighty Spanish fleet of galleons crawling up towards the English Channel, I’m getting nervous. For all my successes overseas, the European theatre isn’t looking too good for the British Empire…
Unfortunately, at this point, we had to switch French players, as PC issues forced Peter Davies, our original France, to drop out of the game. Stay tuned for the next update!
The following post, by Peter Davies (aka Beefeater1980), playing France, is the belated first instalment in the Empire: Total War multiplayer campaign write up! Click here to see what it’s all about.
In this episode, Britain and France go to war on the high seas and in the Low Countries. Will one side score a knockout blow early on? Or will the war turn into an early stalemate?
Over to PD…
Here they come (Crick! Crack! Bang!), those red-coated, black-booted, musket-toting minions of a mercantile empire, flags waving and cannons bristling. In ETW, Britain has advantages to make a royal weep and hang up his ius primae nocti: unassailable home regions in Europe that can each churn out a land unit or several every turn; high-value ports, ready to knock out those sleek and deadly fifth-rate ships that will demolish the sixth-raters I can build in the time it takes to say ‘Hornblower’; and the most powerful alliance in Europe at its beck and call.
Against them stands France and my enviable record of five defeats and no wins against the campaign AI on ‘Normal’. Oh, and Spain as an ally: 10/10 for machismo but, in deference to Real Historical Fact, her glory days are behind her and she will lose interest a few years in, only to spend the rest of the game swigging Sangria and reminiscing about Pizarro and Cortes. Gentlemen, place your bets!
And yet. PS may have more and better ships and an invulnerable home base but the British army starts the game small and unimposing: France on the other hand has a solid core of infantry, cavalry and artillery in Europe itself and a huge income from her home regions – after a couple of turns I was pulling in around 8000 income per turn net despite a comprehensive trade blockade. If anyone can save the world from the fate of British hegemony, association football and the expression ‘eff off’, it is La Grande Nation.
LE PLAN: France is likely to fall behind Britain diplomatically early on, since my fleet is made up of a couple of bathtubs floating in the channel with only three one-eyed gunners between them. Unfortunately, the one thing CA didn’t mess up in programming this game was making the AI a vicious little jerk whose sole aim is to kick hard in the unmentionables the human player it judges to be weakest. Naval strength is a major component of that determination. Left to their own devices, Britain’s AI allies (Portugal, Netherlands and Austria) will declare war on me in the first few turns, leading to a three-front war on sea and land and a very, very short LP.
However, I have a cunning plan. Because my position starts uncertain, Peter S (who is a solid strategist) will probably expect me to try for a boom, building a couple of grant continental armies – he’ll never suspect a pre-emptive attack. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: attacking in turn 1 will force Britain’s scary allies to make a snap decision on whether to join the war at a time when the calculus is more likely to be more favourable to me. This is why my first action in the game is to move my leaky little fleet to attack the nearest British armada, a move which goes swimmingly in the sense that the remains of my navy are now doing the breast-stroke back to Le Havre.
A SHAMEFUL DISPLAY! Over the next couple of turns, PS moves his fleets into both of my northern ports, leaving them smoking ruins. However, what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabouts. Austria and Hanover – the only land powers in Britain’s coalition – decided that they had better things to do than get in a bust-up with my army and have said ‘Nein’ to this war.
On the home front, while conventional wisdom is to tear down those religious schools as soon as possible and replace them with hotbeds of radical study so as to speed off down the tech tree. I want to see if the additional tax and stability I get from keeping Europe Catholic can outweigh this, so I’m following the Jesuit path for now. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.
DIPLOMACY: Diplomacy? Diplomacy! I’m worried about protecting my American colonies, since I need all my resources for the struggle in Europe. To get around this, I sell a few of my less wealthy colonies to Spain for 1000 / turn over 10 turns. It’s probably not a great deal, but it’s better than trying to extract income from provinces I can’t reliably hold.
Over the next couple of turns, I start my army marching on Amsterdam. My initial plan was to carry out the siege for the full 5 turns, but immediately after deciding to end turn 4, I get a bad case of invader’s regret; now that he’s smashed my fleet, PS probably has an army inbound and, while it’s not going to be as big as France’s, if it catches our force at the walls of Amsterdam, my only army is going to be ground into so much mincemeat. Since I have more artillery than the defenders, I will try an assault next turn, and hope that it it goes badly I’ll have enough of a force intact to hold off a British counterattack until reinforcements get there.
Drawn up before the walls of Amsterdam. Imposing, aren’t they.
Onward for France! They charge, they charge…
…and they retreat, as natural to my troops as eating frogs and cruelty to geese.
So, yeah. That went well. At least the army didn’t get totally smashed. To add insult to injury, as my battered soldiers flee in disarray from the walls of Amsterdam, PS has landed a large army under the command of John Churchill, aka 1st Duke of Marlborough, aka the Mindelheim Murderer, who eats Parisian babies with his morning breakfast and cleans his teeth with toothpicks made from the bones of French grenadiers, to besiege Brussels. I try to console myself with the knowlege that it would have been even worse if the army had attacked while I was besieging Amsterdam, but it doesn’t help.
The Total War series of PC strategy games does not dream small. Players choose a nation – a sweeping empire, ambitious upstart republic, barbarian horde, or anything in between – and set out to conquer all before them. On the games’ strategic map, players move around armies, spies, and generals; form new alliances and break outdated ones; and sink their money into economic development or raising fresh troops. When those armies clash, the game swoops down to put the players in control of a 3D battlefield showing hundreds or thousands of men at a time, charging, fighting, dying, fleeing. Set in periods such as the late classical world (Rome: Total War), Sengoku Japan (Shogun: Total War), and the Middle Ages (Medieval: Total War), the games wear a veneer of history, but ultimately they are not about accurately representing the past. They are about bringing toy-soldier childhood play to thrilling life.
The series’ ambition reached its zenith in Empire: Total War (my writeup here). Set in the 1700s – a century which started with a war over who should become king of Spain, and culminated with the American and French revolutions – Empire propelled the series into the age of gunpowder. And instead of tasking the player with the conquest of Europe or Japan, Empire broadened its scope to the whole world. In Empire, players can fight in three main theatres (Europe, North America, and the Indian subcontinent) and send ships to four lesser ones (the coasts of Brazil, West Africa, and the East Indies, and the straits of Madagascar). British redcoats can square off not just against French regulars in the fields of Flanders, but Iroquois warriors in the Thirteen Colonies, Maratha cavalry in India, or those same French in Quebec. Empire also plunges into naval warfare, allowing players to command their ships in battle and using overseas trade as a carrot to reward players for achieving command of the seas.
Unfortunately, Empire has a particularly noticeable Achilles’ heel. As with many other strategy games, the computer player cannot keep up with a human over the course of the campaign*.
The option to play the campaign in multiplayer alleviates this problem.
And this is what Peter Davies, aka beefeater1980 (edit: later replaced by Shane Murphy, aka Talorc), and I are doing. Each of us manages his respective kingdom and commands his troops and ships on the battlefield. And the way the Empire multiplayer campaign works, each time one human player fights a battle against a computer player, the other player is given the chance to take over for the computer. The result should be a game that’s exciting and epic in equal measure, and so far, it has lived up to our hopes.
The game: Empire: Total War.
The rules: The winner of the game will be determined by Prestige, which as far as we can tell is awarded for researching certain technologies, and building fancy public buildings ranging from infrastructure to palaces. We have set the campaign difficulty to Hard (which gives a boost to the computer players) and the battle difficulty to Normal.
The two sides: Peter Sahui (PS) as Britain (that’s me!). Peter Davies (PD) and later Shane Murphy as France.
I’m pleased to present this blog’s first cooperative after-action report (AAR)/Let’s Play (LP)! For today’s post, The Stompers of Comps #1, we played one of my preferred timekillers, a polished and, I’m glad to say, profitable space-opera RTS from a small developer that punched well above its weight.
The game: Sins of a Solar Empire, with the Diplomacy expansion.
The rules: Two human players versus two Hard AI players. Locked teams. Diplomatic victory DISABLED.