Clippings: Victoria 3; Mario Rabbids: Sparks of Hope; Anno 1800 DLC; Shadow Empire DLC; delays

Hi, everyone.

Earlier this month I finished, and loved, the first season of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. Despite a few rough edges, it’s my favourite show in years. I also finished the Silmarillion last month, and went on to read Tales from the Perilous Realm, a collection of Tolkien’s short fiction. Now I need something else to watch — and read. Easier said than done; Tolkien set a high bar!

I’m still extremely positive on hard science fiction strategy game Terra Invicta, although I’ve put it on hold pending another update or two. I watch the beta patch notes like a hawk and the developers have addressed the AI issue that I encountered, so I don’t think it will be long until I resume my game. Lessons learned the hard way: terrestrial militaries are in the game for a reason…

Forming Australia 50 years early in Victoria 3.

The highest-profile recent PC strategy release is Paradox’s Victoria 3. I’ve had my ups and downs with the series — I played a lot of the original Victoria back in the day, but liked the ideas behind Victoria 2 more than the actual game. So far, I’m more positive on Victoria 3. I’m playing a practice game as New South Wales -> Australia, and now that I’ve learned the basics, I’m enjoying it. Should the game measure up, there are a few countries I’d like to try, such as Meiji Japan or Habsburg Austria.

On the Switch, Ubisoft has released Mario Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. The details are quite different from the first Mario Rabbids, but the overall effect is similar. It’s a low-stress, fairly easy tactical RPG – even on hard difficulty, only one battle has given me any trouble so far. Worth checking out for fans of the first game.

Anno 1800 is still my perennial game. The game’s latest scenario, “Clash of Couriers“, arrived as part of the most recent DLC. It’s very charming, with the premise being delivering mail, collecting stamps, and solving city-building challenges along the way. So far, I also find it easier than the previous scenario — although it’s still early days, so this could turn out to be a case of famous last words.

In the video below, Shadow Empire developer Vic Reijkersz explains the upcoming “Oceania” DLC, which will add ocean planets and NPC maritime trading houses. I’m a big fan of SE and once the DLC is out, I look forward to jumping (diving? swimming?) back in.

Finally, a few upcoming games have been delayed:

  • The Front Mission remake is now due out for Switch in November, per Nintendo’s website.
  • Amplitude and Aspyr have delayed the console port of Humankind indefinitely, which doesn’t sound good (hat tip to frogbeastegg).
  • Matrix will publish Rule the Waves 3 by the end of the March quarter of 2023. The game will also come to Steam — a first for the series.

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Clippings: Middle-Earth; new Humankind expansion; Victoria 3; Two Point Campus; Sherlock Holmes; Regiments; Expeditions: Rome

My 1994 HarperCollins edition of the Silmarillion. Finally being read!

Hi, everyone. I’ve been on a Middle-Earth kick, beginning with a rewatch of the Extended Edition LOTR movies, this time with the director’s/writers’ commentary on. For the first time, I’m watching the “making of” discs, and they are fascinating. I particularly love seeing the process of choosing locations, designing the visuals, and bringing them to life.

Since then, I’ve begun watching the new Rings of Power streaming series. No spoilers from me – so far, so good.

I’ve even finally started the Silmarillion (after several failed attempts — the trick was skipping the opening chapter). I like it! What strikes me is the unflattering view it paints of its characters. Much like the characters in real-world mythologies, the folk of Tolkien’s First Age might be immortal, but they are also petty and not very wise. The Valar bicker over turf; Feanor is rash and petulant; Morgoth and Ungoliant fall out over loot like a pair of common thieves. They’re a far cry from the wise elders we meet in LOTR.

In 4X gaming news, Amplitude has announced “Together We Rule”, the first expansion pack for Humankind. This is great news for me – I played Humankind last year and found it excellent. I’ve been waiting for an expansion before playing again.

Separately, Humankind will also come to console in November this year. The Xbox version will also be on Game Pass, which will be good – sometimes, I want to play on the big screen.

On the grand strategy front, Paradox announced Victoria 3 for October. I’ve always loved the idea of the series. In practice, my history with it is mixed — I had a lot of fun with Victoria 1 back in the day, but repeated failed attempts to enjoy Victoria 2 made me conclude it wasn’t for me. I hope Vicky 3 does work out, because there are a few countries I’d love to try in that period.

An incoming Soviet assault in Regiments, spearheaded by multiple platoons of T-80BVs. They demolished my first line of defence, but I halted them with a defence in depth.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly playing two new releases (Two Point Campus, Regiments) as well as a release from earlier in the year, Expeditions: Rome, and a 2021 release, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One.

Two Point Campus looks and feels pretty similar to Two Point Hospital. It does seem easier, especially early on – I found the first few levels too easy. Now that I’ve hit the mid-game, it is more challenging to achieve 2-star and 3-star goals; but so far I haven’t had to scramble to stay afloat the way I did in some Two Point Hospital levels.

I was a big fan of 2014’s Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. Chapter One feels a little clunky – especially when navigating menus on console – but its setting is a labour of love.

Regiments and Expeditions: Rome both deserve posts of their own. I like them for opposite reasons: Expeditions: Rome is big, sprawling, and could have done a better job of presenting information to the player; but what it gets right, it gets RIGHT. It’s atmospheric, its characters are engaging, and the tactical battles are very satisfying now that I understand the system.

By contrast, Regiments is a study in elegance. It’s an indie spiritual successor to Eugen’s Wargame series, trimmed down to focus on a tight single-player campaign. There’s less micro, fewer units, no multiplayer, and generally less “stuff” than Wargame, but it executes well, navigates the line between “fun” and “frustrating”, and overall delivers a strong experience. It even includes one feature that Wargame lacked, night battles (which generally favour NATO’s superior technology). Recommended to old Wargame hands.

Clippings: Upcoming releases; Dune: Spice Wars early access impressions; Around the World in 80 Days


Hi, everyone. While reviewing upcoming games that interest me, I realised that the next few months are surprisingly bare, before the calendar picks up again towards the end of the year:

  • Two Point Campus is due out in a few weeks (August 2022).
  • Rule the Waves 3 (previously announced as an expansion pack for Rule the Waves 2; since promoted to a standalone release) is due out this October.
  • Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is also due out in October.
  • Beyond that, Slime Rancher 2, the Switch remake of Front Mission, and Terra Invicta are set for indeterminate windows — (northern) summer 2022 for Front Mission, northern autumn 2022 for Slime Rancher, and “2022” for Terra Invicta.

I’m pretty confident in the sequels — I think it would be hard to mess them up! Terra Invicta will come down to execution — it is an extremely ambitious, unique design. At the same time, I have always wanted a game built around that concept, and I do have a soft spot for ambitious indie strategy games.

I have tried the early access version of Dune: Spice Wars, which seems pretty decent for this stage of its development. It feels very distinct to “traditional” RTS games. Instead, it has a much greater emphasis on economic management, building out settlements, and juggling resource flows. It shares that economic emphasis with Northgard, but the details are very different (for instance, there’s no worker placement in Spice Wars) — this is no reskin. Based on my first skirmish match, its overall flow and pacing remind me a little of Sins of a Solar Empire. So far, the rough edges (units walking through dangerous areas, having to manually deploy and re-deploy spice harvesters) are the things I’d expect to be smoothed out during early access. And while it feels slightly bare-bones for now, the roadmap looks promising. Worth watching as it heads towards release.

Storming the Harkonnen capital in Dune: Spice Wars. Playing on easy, the Harkonnen AI managed to get into a death spiral so bad that NPC soldiers (dark grey, bottom left) would spawn every few minutes to attack them.

Meanwhile, fans of Amplitude (Humankind, Endless Space, Endless Legend) might be interested in this interview with the studio’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Romain de Waubert. There’s an interesting discussion of his history as a modder, his attitude to mods, and his pre-Amplitude games — I never realised that he’d worked on the Battlefield and Might and Magic series.

In television news, I’ve started watching the new version of Around the World in 80 Days. It has strong raw material — acting, visuals, music. The issue is that, so far, it takes itself too seriously. It’s much better when it remembers to be a fun adventure story!

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Clippings: Top Gun: Maverick; Old World; back to Hades

Hi, everyone.

Since my last update I finished Triangle Strategy – very good! It more than lived up to my impressions. The grounded, low-fantasy setting was a breath of fresh air, the story was interesting, and the battles were challenging – I ended up turning down the difficulty from “hard” to “normal” for the final quarter of the game. I’ll be first in line for any DLC or sequels.

I also really liked Top Gun: Maverick, which lived up to its rave reviews. It succeeds because it tells a human story: Maverick is older, wiser, and sadder than he was in the original movie, and a much more interesting character as a result. The creators understand when to homage the original, and when to acknowledge it’s been decades since then. (They also homage the broader world of aviation books and movies – one scene feels inspired by The Right Stuff.)

Meanwhile, Old World, the 4X strategy game set in classical antiquity, launched on Steam after a stint as an Epic exclusive. Designwise, I quite like it — although I found the learning curve much steeper than Humankind‘s. Its focus on named characters, like Crusader Kings, creates memorable emergent moments, from succession crises to miraculous births.

I did my part for palaeontology.

My main complaints are technical — on my PC, the late game became sluggish and the AI turn times dragged. I think the UI could also do with some work — for instance, it’s hard identifying resources (unlike Humankind and Civ, which flag them with a little icon).

Here is a recent Three Moves Ahead interview with Old World‘s developers – Mohawk Games CEO & Creative Director Leyla Johnson and Design Director Soren Johnson (of Civ IV fame). Here is a slightly older interview with the History Respawned podcast.

Finally, I’m revisiting Hades, 2020’s surprise indie hit, which is as good as ever. The art is striking, the gameplay excellent, the writing snappy, and I love mythology. Now up to eight successful runs and counting!

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Clippings: Triangle Strategy; Elden Ring; new Daniel Abraham novel

I haven’t felt much like playing games lately — but there are notable releases, so let’s cover them.

Triangle Strategy, the tactical RPG for Nintendo Switch, has just come out. I really like the little I’ve seen so far – I’ve nearly wrapped up the first stage, which was surprisingly engaging for an introductory battle. The difficulty feels just right so far, playing on “normal” (the second-hardest of four difficulty settings). Reviews are positive and I liked last year’s demo, so I’m optimistic for the rest of the game.

The bigger news is the release of From Software’s Elden Ring. Reviews have been glowing – I’m particularly interested in the focus on exploration and the comparisons to Breath of the Wild, one of my favourite games (my favourite game?) of all time. Unfortunately, with next-gen consoles out of stock whenever I check the shop, it will be some time before I play this.

Following the recent release of Flight Simulator‘s Australia world update, the Stormbirds blog flew from Sydney to the Gold Coast and took some nice screenshots along the way. I can confirm that the Sydney CBD is fantastically true-to-life now – I was able to recognise several of the office buildings where I’ve worked (sadly, the photogrammetry doesn’t extend out to the suburbs).

Finally, Daniel Abraham, my favourite fantasy author of the last couple of decades (and one half of James SA Corey, the duo behind The Expanse), has released the first book in a new trilogy – Age of Ash. This will probably be the next fantasy novel I pick up.

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Clippings: Nintendo announcements; Expeditions: Rome; Nebulous: Fleet Command

My heavy cruisers prepare to open fire on enemy sensor contacts in Nebulous: Fleet Command.

The latest Nintendo Direct had a big announcement for me – new Mario Kart 8: Deluxe DLC, which will add 48 tracks to the game. Given how much I’ve played the existing tracks, more variety is what I need!

The rest of the announcements were “wait and sees”. Notably, a bevy of classic RPGs & tactical RPGs, including Chrono Cross, Front Mission, and Live-A-Live, will come to Switch. I quite liked Front Mission 3 back in the day, and the new graphics in the Front Mission remake look great (for that matter, so do the new graphics of Live-A-Live) – the question is time.

I could say much the same for Triangle Strategy, the upcoming tactical RPG – I quite liked the demo last year. My main question is whether the writing will measure up to Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, the two obvious inspirations for the game.

Between the new announcements and the release dates for already-announced games (for instance, Two Point Campus comes out in May), I think it will be a good year for the Switch.

In PC news, Expeditions: Rome – the latest in the series of tactical RPGs that began with Expeditions: Conquistador – has launched to positive reviews. The Three Moves Ahead podcast has a good discussion, also positive. I quite liked Expeditions: Conquistador, and the thought of crossing swords with the likes of Mithridates of Pontus in Expeditions: Rome is very tempting to my inner classical history buff. My main concern is the game’s reported length – at 60 hours, it may be challenging to finish.

Meanwhile, Nebulous: Fleet Command has launched in Early Access. Nebulous is a space real-time tactics game with heavy influence from wargames & milsims (it reminds me a little of Cold Waters, the sub sim, and Eugen’s Wargame). Controlling units in 3D is taking some getting used to; the game itself, however, has some really interesting ideas. Sensors, detection, and electronic warfare are important. Enemy jammers create false contacts all over the screen. You can hook missiles around asteroids to hide them from enemy radar, or direct them to come in from multiple angles. The current build includes a tutorial and skirmish mode; a single-player campaign is due to come later. This will be one to keep an eye on.

Finally, I recently started playing Rimworld, the science-fiction town building game. Even in peaceful mode, it’s an engaging challenge – and I like how it captures the rhythm of pre-industrial life, as my little settlement grows crops, preserves food, and makes warm clothes to prepare for winter. No wonder it’s so popular.

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Clippings: the Fighter Pilot Podcast; new Dune RTS; Anno 1800 DLC

My great audio discovery this year has been the Fighter Pilot Podcast, an interview series about military aviation. Some episodes discuss a general topic, such as callsigns or what military pilots do after retirement, while others (most?) focus on a specific aircraft.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the podcast is how it preserves an oral history of military aviation, from WW2 to the modern day. In each episode, what stands out for me is the human element. A great example is the show’s interview with a retired Air Commodore in the Indian Air Force, who first flew the MiG-21 over 50 years ago – and whose enthusiasm shines through all these years later. For subject matter fans, the show is well worth a listen.

In gaming news, Northgard developer Shiro Games has been announced as the studio behind a new Dune RTS. I quite liked Northgard when I played it earlier this year – it’s a clever, elegant variation on the RTS,with a greater focus on building a town and managing villagers. It also has one of the rare RTS campaigns that I finished. While detail is scant, the developer’s track record suggests the new game will be in good hands.

Other than that, Anno 1800 players may be interested by Ubisoft announcing an upcoming fourth season of DLC – not bad for a game that was originally only going to have two seasons of DLC. I’m interested in the upcoming scenario mode – the first scenario is due to launch together with a patch in a few days’ time. As much as I love Anno 1800, it is a mammoth game that takes Paradox or Total War levels of time to reach the late game – I’ve been playing my current save since last year, through multiple releases of DLC. Shorter scenarios will add welcome variety.

Clippings: the history in historical strategy games; the siege of Gondor; AOE IV

Fans of historical strategy games should check out this recent episode of the Three Moves Ahead podcast, which features Dr Bret Devereaux – a gamer and historian – discussing the assumptions and worldview behind games such as Europa Universalis IV. The episode ranges widely, from Mount & Blade‘s depiction of medieval politics, to the difference between Civilization‘s uninhabited world versus how agrarian societies expanded in real life. Well worth a listen.

Dr Devereaux’s blog, which analyses pop culture’s (games, movies, TV) depiction of history, is also well worth a look — for example, here is his take on Lord of the Rings‘ Gondor campaign, seen through the lens of military history.

In strategy game news, the highest-profile recent release has been Age of Empires IV. Reviews indicate it is a well-executed take on the traditional RTS genre (IGN, PC Games N, Game Informer). For now, it’s too traditional for me – I haven’t played past the tutorial.

Finally, in site news, keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with the creators of Stars in Shadow – a very good indie space 4X game.

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Clippings: Old World coming to Steam, and more

I thought I’d give a “where are they now?” update on two games I wrote about earlier this year, Highfleet and Humankind. Both are on hold, for slightly different reasons:

  • I made good progress in Highfleet and defeated all five of the enemy’s mobile strike groups, only to bog down afterwards — the game’s map is big, and clearing out the remaining garrisons, juggling logistics, and fighting my way towards the capital turned into a slog. I still think it’s a great example of what indie games can do in terms of originality, atmosphere, and challenge, and I would like to finish it one day. Here is a good interview with the developer, who highlights how important the interface is to the game’s atmosphere.
  • After winning Humankind on my third try, I put it down, well pleased — by then, the developers had already patched the bugs I encountered at launch. The next patch is due on 28 October — that may be a good time to jump back in.

In other game news, Hooded Horse Games recently announced it will publish Soren Johnson’s Old World. The game, currently an Epic exclusive, will come to Steam and GoG in mid-2022, together with an expansion.

In the meantime, Soren’s blog hosts some fascinating designer notes about the game. Here is the latest entry, about how the design team approached victory conditions, which doubles as an interesting discussion of the broader genre.

In site news, I have drafted most of the next update for the Recommended Reading list, which will cover aviation memoirs. Stay tuned.

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An oldie but a goodie: The Wargamer’s Joe Fonseca compares how three games (Shogun 2, Sengoku Jidai, and Nobunaga’s Ambition) depict the battle of Nagashino, one of the great engagements of Japan’s Sengoku era.

Alister MacQuarrie at Eurogamer reflects on the philosophy and worldbuilding of Alpha Centauri, still one of the best science fiction games ever made after two decades.

Tim Stone, the Flare Path columnist at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, recently wrapped up a marathon play-by-comment game that challenged readers to lead an outnumbered NATO force to safety. Read on for a tale of courage, reversal, and desperate last stands.

Clippings: Strategy game quarterly, June 2018

Hello, and welcome to the latest Clippings. This one focuses on quarterly news in the strategy game genre – stay tuned for future updates.

New releases (games I’ve played marked with an asterisk)

Battletech* — my “new release of the quarter”, a turn-based tactical RPG built on two solid pillars: (1) customising ‘Mechs that complement one another and are strong in their own right; and (2) taking them into battle, a test of your design and tactical skill.

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia — this one has sat in my Steam backlog since release (notwithstanding the appeal of its setting, the ninth-century British Isles). I’ve been daunted by reports of lacklustre AI and sluggish late-game pacing, the traditional banes of Total War games. Next time, I’ll wait for reviews…

Surviving Mars — this science-fiction city-builder launched to a rough reception. Since then, several patches have reportedly improved it.

Frostpunk — well-received survival/city-builder game set in a steampunk world overrun by the cold.

Upcoming releases

Total War: Three Kingdoms has been delayed until 2019 (it was previously scheduled for later this year). The first glimpse of gameplay appeared at E3, and previews are starting to go up.


Paradox Interactive has acquired Harebrained Schemes, the developer of Shadowrun Returns and Battletech. This deal will strengthen Paradox’s RPG line-up and (presumably) its ability to develop new RPGs in the future, consistent with an increasing focus on the genre.

Clippings: Strategy Gaming in November; Discounted Wargames

Hello, and welcome back to the site! It’s been a bit of a break as I juggle real life and other projects; however, I still keep one eye on what’s going on in strategy games.

November is set for a number of releases, including:

  • Empire Divided, an expansion for Total War: Rome II that depicts the Crisis of the Third Century. This is a very significant period in Roman history – the dividing line between the early Empire (the Principate), and the later Empire from Diocletian onward (the Dominate, familiar to players of Total War: Attila). Rome II itself has come a long way from its deeply flawed launch and I’m eager to play this latest expansion.
  • Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith, the latest in the long-running myth/fantasy series. Looking at the features list, I suspect this will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Given all the delight that the Dominions games have given me over the years – they feel like epic fantasy should feel, magical and awe-inspiring, in a way that bigger-budget games have struggled to match – this looks like another early purchase for me.
  • Jade Dragon and Cradle of Civilisation, the latest DLCs for Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, respectively. Central Asia is one of my favourite regions to play in CK2, and so I’m particularly interested in Jade Dragon, which adds China as an off-map power with significant influence over the Silk Road.

Meanwhile, Fanatical – the renamed Bundle Stars – is currently running a sale that features a significant number of Slitherine’s wargames. I picked up two games from opposite ends of the complexity scale – the incredibly detailed  Command: Modern Air and Naval Operations, and the biere-et-bretzels Victory and Glory: Napoleon. Both seem promising so far – see my Victory and Glory impressions here – and I look forward to spending more time with them!

Clippings: Total Warhammer 2, Nintendo’s Mobile Business Model, Fallout 4 Mods

Creative Assembly has announced Total War: Warhammer 2press release here. Notably, it will allow owners of the original Total Warhammer to play a “mega-campaign” that combines the maps of the two games, a feature I remember being discussed when the first game was still in development. Eurogamer has an excellent interview here. PC Gamer and PCGamesN add some details about, respectively, victory conditions and retrospective tweaks to the first game’s factions.

Masashi Isawa at the Nikkei newspaper highlights Nintendo’s respective experiences with Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes. Although revenue from SMR “did not meet expectations”, Nintendo still prefers its premium pricing model over the more lucrative F2P model of Fire Emblem: Heroes.

Finally, Christopher Livingston at PC Gamer highlights Sim Settlements, a Fallout 4 mod that makes settlements dynamic places that inhabitants build up and furnish. Very cool!

Clippings: Afghanistan ’11, Julian Gollop, Video Game Photography, and more

Strategy gamers are in for a treat this week with the release of Afghanistan ’11, the sequel to Vietnam ’65. Like its predecessor, Afghanistan ’11 captures the experience of waging counterinsurgency warfare against an unseen foe. The Taliban lurk, place IEDs, ambush convoys, and occasionally emerge in force. Just as important are logistics and the need to shore up political support. On “normal” difficulty, I find the game rather punitive (which is probably appropriate to the theme), and I’ve encountered some annoying bugs. Overall, I would still recommend it to those interested. Update: I would recommend it once the bugs have been addressed; I’ve encountered several crashes and – infuriatingly – an already-met victory condition resetting itself, preventing me from winning a campaign map on which I’d spent hours. For more details, check out Tim Stone’s review in his Flare Path column.

Julian Gollop, of X-COM fame, has conducted a Q&A about his upcoming game Phoenix Point. His stated ambition is to realise the vision he first set out to create X-COM: Apocalypse, involving multiple factions and alien monsters that mutate to counteract the player.

Micah Dutro at Explorminate gives a positive review to Battle Brothers, a low-fantasy tactical RPG.

Nadia Oxford at USGamer discusses Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a post-apocalyptic game

Simon Parkin at Eurogamer discusses video game photography from Final Fantasy XV to Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Meanwhile, Robert Purchese from Eurogamer meets Andrzej Sapkowski, the author of the Witcher books.

Finally, fantasy fans might be amused by this analysis of the frequency of braid-tugging in Wheel of Time.

Clippings: the design philosophy of Breath of the Wild, building a career out of mods, subscription gaming, Tooth & Tail

This week’s top read is Chris Thursten’s (Eurogamer) analysis of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which frames its design in the context of games such as Far Cry 2 and Morrowind. These titles expanded the list of available verbs and then encouraged the player to experiment–a philosophy that, the article argues, goes on to guide Breath of the Wild.

Joe Donnelly at PC Gamer profiles two Cities: Skylines modders whose hobby transformed their lives — one now works for Arkane, while the other overcame depression and returned to creating art. Inspiring stuff.

Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry discusses the subscription models being pursued by Microsoft and Sony.

Finally, Tom Marks at PC Gamer previews Tooth and Tails, a short-form action-RTS. While the preview likens it to a condensed Starcraft II, it reminds me more of Herzog Zwei.

Clippings: Frog City’s Imperialism, Ubisoft’s VR, Kickstarter, Persistent Video Games, Steel Division: Normandy 44

Last night, I fired up Imperialism, the classic 1997 strategy game casting the player as a nineteenth-century Great Power in pursuit of world domination. It holds up remarkably well. There are two notable features about its design: (1) it’s elegant, with much less micromanagement than a Civilization or a Paradox game; and (2) it captures its subject very well. Early in the game, the world is a liberal, free-trading place; if you need raw materials you can easily buy them. Later on, the Great Powers carve up the world market and you can’t depend on anyone other than your colonies. Colonialism becomes a matter of “eat or be eaten”. It’s a cynical view of international relations… and one suited to the game’s theme. (If I have a complaint, it’s the military side of the game, which–at least for this rookie player–tends towards stalemate.)

The news of the week is Nintendo’s launch of the Switch – GamesIndustry has a good round-up. For me, the Switch is the reincarnation of the Vita – a way to play high-quality “core” games on the go – and I hope it will enjoy better fortune!

Ubisoft discusses its VR approach with GamesIndustry. The key takeaway is that the company views its early forays into VR as experiments, rather than profit drivers. I’d argue that this is exactly the right approach for a technology as nascent as VR.

The headline and subtitle of this GamesIndustry post say it all: “”You need a community before doing something like Kickstarter: Press coverage doesn’t result in more backers, indie developers say, so it pays to have your own community before you start.” I’d be interested in a study as to the characteristics of successful Kickstarter campaigns over time — anecdotally, backers have less appetite for taking a punt on untried creators (I know that I’ve become very selective, and typically prefer to back creators with a track record).

At Eurogamer, Alexis Kennedy discusses the notion of persistence in video games – from the early days of persistence-free ‘drop a coin in the machine’, through the saved game and the MMO, and to modern designs such as Elite: Dangerous. It’s an interesting topic, although personally I doubt I’d have the energy/stress tolerance for a highly “persistent” game.

Finally, two of my favourite companies in the industry have teamed up: Paradox will publish Steel Division: Normandy 44, a real-time tactics game from Eugen Systems, the developer of the Wargame series. Based on TJ Hafer’s preview at PC Gamer, the new game looks like an evolution of the Wargame formula (as visible in the screenshot below, the interface is straight out of Wargame). The differences appear to be a greater focus on morale, a new front-line system replacing Wargame‘s sectors, and a new mechanic whereby different units unlock in different phases of a match. I’m excited!

Steel Division: Normandy 44. Image supplied by Paradox.


Clippings: JRPG Translation, Stagnant 4X Games, CK2 Retrospective

US Gamer interviews two of the people who localised Playstation RPG Vagrant Story. Notably, one of the interviewees is the superb Alexander O Smith, who subsequently worked his magic across titles such as Phoenix Wright, Final Fantasy XII, and the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre. Well worth a read for JRPG fans and those interested in video-game translation.

In a 2016 article, Rob Zacny argues that the problem with 4X games is that “they are ultimately games about progress that nevertheless have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject”; he then goes onto Alpha Centauri and Victoria 2 as games that did this right. Rob is one of the best strategy game writers today, and his analyses usually make for an interesting read.

Five years and many expansions after the release of Crusader Kings 2, its designers take a look back at what worked, what didn’t, and what had to be cut.

Clippings: Counterinsurgency, Mars, RPGs

Several years ago, I wrote about Vietnam ’65, one of the most interesting asymmetric strategy designs I’ve encountered (and a fine “short-form” exception to a genre typified by sprawl). Now, Tim Stone at the Flare Path has posted a good preview of its upcoming sequel, Afghanistan ’11. I look forward to picking up the game when it’s out.

Remember Take on Mars, the space simulator from the developers of ARMA? PC Gamer has now posted a review. While my initial reaction was “huh?”, it turns out that the game has evolved significantly since its Early Access days; an interesting read.

How should the RPG evolve? PC Gamer asks several developers.


Clippings: low-spec strategy gaming, what Nintendoes, and 4X sales

Welcome back to Matchsticks for my Eyes!

At present, my gaming comprises what’s playable on an ultrabook with Intel integrated graphics.  Over the last couple of months, this has included:

  • Hearts of Iron IV – following the launch of Together for Victory, the Commonwealth-themed DLC, I had a great time leading (the newly expanded) India to independence and victory over the Axis, although by this stage, I know HOI4 well enough for the AI cracks to show. Playable on “medium” texture quality and 1920×1080 graphics, although definitely more so in the early game (lag was painful by the late game).
  • Shadow Tactics – I have started, and really enjoy, this Sengoku Japan stealth tactics game. For the best write-up of the game, check out Tim Stone’s review at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Playable, although this required turning down the graphics to low and shrinking the resolution to 1600×900.
  • Armello – I dabbled with this gorgeous, fairy tale-themed game (refer to this Three Moves Ahead podcast for a good discussion). Comfortably playable on “medium” graphics and 1920×1080 resolution.
  • Games on the Battle Academy engine, including the original Battle Academy and Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun, unsurprisingly run fine.
  • Wargame: Red Dragon – I returned to its single-player campaign, which was comfortably playable on low/medium graphics and 1920×1080 resolution.
  • Other games I intend to try on this machine: Civilization VI, the original Dishonoured, and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

In other news, GamesIndustry rounds up Nintendo’s latest investor Q&A (the full text can be found here). It’s an interesting read; topics range from Nintendo’s mobile strategy to the trade-off between expanding the company and maintaining Nintendo’s culture.

Finally, eXplorminate analyses 4X sales data on Steam over 2016. Out of the year’s new releases, Civ 6 and Stellaris dominated, with the new Master of Orion running a very distant third. Interestingly, Endless Legend has had strong legs since its initial release in 2014.

Clippings: Civilising the Kaldwins

2016 looks to be a bumper year for strategy games, based on the release of XCOM 2 (my current pick for GOTY), Banner Saga 2, Stellaris, Total War: Warhammer, Hearts of Iron IV, and now Civilization VI. While the Civ 6 previews all seem to be based on the same briefing, PC Gamer has also conducted a follow-up interview.

In other news:


The next month will be busy with strategy releases – Stellaris, Total War: Warhammer, and Hearts of Iron 4. Look forward to my Stellaris coverage once the game is out next week!

Further out, Relic has announced Dawn of War 3 – details at PC Gamer.

Interesting times for console games, with Nintendo confirming the NX for 2017 (do check out this Q&A from Nintendo’s FY16 earnings announcement), and Sony and Microsoft rumoured to be working on refreshed hardware. This retrospective on 2006 – when the PS3’s US$599 price was revealed – makes for an interesting comparison.

The Banner Saga 2 is out to a positive reception (Metacritic score 83 at time of writing). I like IGN’s and PC Invasion’s reviews – be warned that they contain spoilers for the first game.

Finally, fantasy and anime fans might be interested in this comparison of epic fantasy and shounen anime – one about heroes summoned by an external call, the other about heroes driven (or so argues that piece). Note that Django Wexler, who wrote the article, is the author of the crackingly good Shadow Campaigns series, a military/political fantasy inspired by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. I look forward to the next in that series!


With Dark Souls III out to rave reviews, Eurogamer has analysed the lore of Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. Interesting read for series fans.

Meanwhile, Cold War board game Twilight Struggle has been ported to Steam. The original game is highly regarded and so far, the PC port has been technically solid. If time permits, this is one game I’d like to explore further.

In other news:


Clippings: A Return to Mass Effect

The link of the week is Shamus Young’s incredibly detailed retrospective of the Mass Effect series – 41 parts and counting. Even with my limited experience of the series, I found it fascinating; just the two introductory posts (the history of Bioware and the difference between “details” and “drama”-oriented science fiction) could stand alone by themselves. Enjoy!

In other news, here is an interesting interview with Pixar president Ed Catmull on managing a creative organisation, while balancing innovation and risk.

Clippings: From Tristram to the Stars

Paradox has announced the imminent release of its next two grand strategy games — Stellaris (9 May) and Hearts of Iron IV (6 June). The gameplay video above highlights the start of a Stellaris game – it looks promising! The key will be the extent to which Stellaris can combine the best of the 4X (discovery, exploration) and grand strategy (dynamic empires) genres, while avoiding the usual late-game pitfalls, snowballing and micromanagement. This is one reason I’m so interested in the game’s AI sector governors – if implemented well, they hold out the promise of a transition to late-game “macromanagement” a la Nobunaga’s Ambition.

In other news:

Clippings: En Route to No Man’s Sky

Short update this week – No Man’s Sky now has a release date, 21 June, and a flurry of previews have gone up. I like the preview/interview pairs from USGamer and PC Gamer; for a more personal look at NMS‘ creators — and their process of creation — check out this May 2015 article from the New Yorker.

Meanwhile, the Master of Orion reboot is now available on Steam Early Access. Previews appear scarce, and PCGamesN is downright unenthused.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter now has a confirmed release date, 27 May (hat tip to frogbeastegg).

Clippings: Firaxis February

Still alive! While this year has been busy (in a good way), I’d like to carve out bits of time for this site when I can.

This week’s highlight is Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s interview with Jake Solomon, lead designer of Firaxis’ XCOM games. It’s one of the best developer interviews I’ve read in some time, touching on issues such as:

  • What to do when theme and mechanics (in this case, XCOM2‘s controversial timer) clash;
  • Player psychology;
  • Elegance in strategy design – a topic where I agree with Solomon.

On the subject of Firaxis, the 25th anniversary of Civilization has seen the release of several interesting articles: an overview from a panel with Sid Meier, Brian Reynolds, and Soren Johnson; two interviews with Sid himself; and for a different perspective, an interview with Bruce Shelley.

Finally, Looking Glass fans might be interested in this interview with Warren Spector.

Clippings: Strategic Assessments

Have you ever wished for more elegant, quicker-playing 4X games? One such title is Eclipse, a boardgame ported to iPad several years ago. It contains the traditional building blocks of the space 4X genre: research, colony ships, ancient treasure troves, and even ship design. Yet there are relatively few moving parts – no individual build queues, no planetary management, small fleets, and a limited number of actions that can be taken per turn (design decisions that, in the PC space, remind me of Armageddon Empires and Skulls of the Shogun). Individual decisions matter, a philosophy I’d like more PC developers to explore.

I also dusted off Order of Battle: Pacific, a well-regarded “Panzer General-like” that I briefly played last year. At the time, I was lukewarm on its naval battles; I put it on hold after seeing that a naval engagement, the Marshalls-Gilberts raid, was next in the campaign. Now that I’ve played several carrier battles, I quite like them. While they appear fairly simple – use recon planes to find the enemy fleet, torpedo bombers against capital ships, and dive bombers against small ships or to finish off damaged capitals – it’s still a thrill to watch my strike package approach the Japanese carriers at Midway. Next up: Guadalcanal.

This week’s top link is Quantic Foundry’s map of the strategy genre, broken down along two dimensions: Excitement and Strategy. Europa Universalis is high strategy and low excitement; MOBAs are the other way around. Total War is similar to EU, slightly lower on strategy and higher on excitement. Relaxed, “free-form” titles such as Cities: Skylines and tycoon games are low-strategy and low-excitement. It’s an interesting and, I think, useful classification system for what is a broad genre.

In other news:


Inspired by this episode of the Three Moves Ahead podcast, I recently revisited Star Wars: Rebellion and Empire at War, two grand strategy games released almost a decade apart.

Rebellion is… interesting. After playing for several hours, I was still getting a feel for it, and I don’t know yet whether it’s good or bad. Playing as the Rebels, I experimented with massing guerrillas in an attempt to incite uprisings on Imperial-controlled worlds. When that failed, I launched a conventional offensive with the Rebel fleet, took out an Imperial garrison that had its boot on the neck of the Corellian Sector, and was rewarded when multiple planets flipped to my control. My main complaint so far is the UI – not as bad as I’d feared, but still, it can be a hassle managing the galaxy.

Rebellion does intrigue me, and that’s more than I can say about EaW. I last wrote about EaW about a year ago, noting that I vastly preferred its skirmish mode to its campaign. I gave EaW‘s campaign a second chance and unfortunately, it’s still bad.

In other news:

  • This week’s notable release is the PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, to a favourable reception. I remember the original Dragon’s Dogma on PS3 as pretty difficult – I didn’t make it very far in.
  • USGamer reviews the cleverly named Aviary Attorney, which may appeal to adventure game (and Phoenix Wright) fans.
  • Next month will be big for strategy gamers, with the release of XCOM 2 in early February!

Clippings: settling in for the season

Heading into December, my gaming time has been split between recent releases (Fallout 4, Thea: The Awakening), other purchases from Steam’s November sale (the British DLC for Company of Heroes 2), and finishing off my Nobunaga’s Ambition campaign. I’m looking forward to more time with the newly released Charlemagne DLC for Total War: Attila – it’s well-regarded, doesn’t look too big, and, based on my short and ill-fated first campaign, offers a good challenge. I’d also like to finish Tales from the Borderlands and try Life is Strange, which I also picked up during the Steam sale.

Meanwhile, we’re learning more about next year’s major strategy releases:

  • Paradox is broadcasting a weekly staff multiplayer game of Hearts of Iron IV, pitting the UK against Germany. You can find episode 1 here; as at the time of writing two episodes are out, and a third is due to air tomorrow.
  • While Paradox is more circumspect with Stellaris footage, the dev diaries are promising. I’m particularly interested in the research system, which presents a dynamic choice of technologies rather than a static tech tree, and about interactions with pre-spaceflight species, which players will be able to uplift.
  • XCOM 2 footage is also out – I like this video from Eurogamer, which showcases the base screen, soldier customisation, and tactical combat, accompanied by developer commentary. Also check out USGamer’s interview with Jake Solomon.

In other news:

  • Fallout: New Vegas Tour is a really cool look at the places that inspired the game. I had no idea they were so rooted in fact.
  • This USGamer article has done a lot to pique my interest in Yakuza 5. Mini-games built around serving ramen and talking to taxi passengers? That is unique.
  • And this is an interesting discussion of violence in Rise of the Tomb Raider. In some ways, it echoes my thoughts about the 2013 reboot.
  • With Xenoblade Chronicles X just out, Eurogamer examines the career of its creator.
  • Finally, Gimmen Gong, who composed much of the soundtrack for Guns of Icarus Online, has written in to tell me that an expanded album is now available. It’s dominated by slow, mournful ambient music, of which my favourites are “The Last Spirits of Time Forgotten” and “Original Main Theme”. There are also several faster-paced tracks; I like “Captain’s Maneuver” and “Grand Skyway of the Armada”. If you liked the GoIO soundtrack, the samples are worth a listen. Note that this album excludes the main menu theme and the drumbeat that plays when going into combat (“Adventure” and “Battle”, respectively), which were composed by Zain Effendi and are included with the collector’s edition of the game. It does include 3 tracks towards the end that overlap with the collector’s edition.

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.