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price_of_glory

The Price of Glory is the second in Alistair Horne’s trilogy of books examining the three major French/German conflicts from 1870 to 1940, the first being The Fall of Paris about the Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune which I reviewed back in April of last year.  The Price of Glory moves on to World War I and carefully examines the battle of Verdun.

Few names have been etched into the annals of Western Civilization as those of Verdun and Somme, and both of these horrific battles occurred in 1916 as part of the pivotal year on the Western Front of World War I.  Roughly 1.7 million men perished in these two battles which marked the beginning of the end of the Central Powers war effort.

At the start of 1916 things were looking bright for Imperial Germany for the first time since the bitter defeat of it’s initial drive into France in 1914.  A series of Allied offensives launched in 1915 had collapsed with heavy casualties, while the British landing in Gallipoli had become an expensive failure.  The Russians were reeling from a series of defeats and for a brief period Germany had the opportunity to take the offensive on the Western Front, the only front where the war could truly be decisively won.

This led the supreme German military commander, General Falkenhayn, to devise a fairly radical strategy: an offensive intended to bleed the French army white in a death struggle over a strategic city that the French High Command would refuse to give up.  Horne claims a battle of attrition on this scale was a new and unheard of concept at this time and I’m inclined to think he’s correct.

The area selected, the traditional fortress city of Verdun, was symbolically important but had by 1916 largely been stripped of its artillery and was fairly lightly defended.  Ironically, the carefully planned and orchestrated German opening offensive was almost too successful as the German’s gained so much ground initially that they were in danger of capturing the city before drawing large French forces in to defend it.  Horne proposes that an opportunity was present for a great and unexpected German victory but Continue Reading »

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SRBIG

Star Realms by White Wizard Games is a fast-playing deck building game using the “Center Row” mechanic also used by the popular game Ascension.  The game was launched via a very successful Kickstarter and is now seeing a steadily increasing popularity in Boardgamegeek due to it’s combination of affordable price, quick gameplay, interesting decision-making, and confrontational nature.  This game was tailor made for me; I’ve toyed many times in the past with developing a deck-building confrontational space-themed game, so even though I missed the Kickstarter finding that one already existed was quite exciting.  I really enjoy Rune Age which has a similar confrontational deck-building style, as well as Ascension which uses a very similar Center Row mechanic.  After a few plays I can tell this game is a solid gem and one that I’m happy to review and recommend.

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Components

Part of the elegant design of Star Realms was the decision to make cards the only component, which allows the game to sell in a tiny deck box and at the incredibly low MSRP of only $14.95.  The base game only supports 2 players, but 2 base games (raising the price to $30 MSRP or roughly $20 from online retailers) allows up to 4 players at once which is still a very low price point for the amount of gameplay you get.

The 118 cards in each copy of the game are broken down into 2 10 player starting deck cards (8 scouts and 2 vipers for each player), 10 neutral and always available Explorer cards, 18 cards that can be used to track Authority totals (basically life counters) and an 80 card Trade deck used to populate the center row.  The cards in the Trade deck all belong to 1 of 4 factions, with each faction having 20 cards total.  The physical card stock is acceptable but I did sleeve mine due to all the shuffling involved; fortunately they are standard trading card size so easy to find sleeves for.

The card art is vibrant and colorful, with a slightly stylized look that suits the feel of the game just right.  While this sort of art is very much up to taste, I enjoy it.  It is all from the same artist and so has a consistent style.  The card layout uses symbols to describe the most common abilities, with text used for the few cards that have more complex abilities.  It’s quite easy to tell at a glance what most cards do, which is nice since you are constantly evaluating new cards as they appear in the center row.  Overall the design of the cards is nearly perfect and does much to improve the experience of the game while also keeping it easy to teach.

Personally I don’t use the number cards provided to track authority, I prefer to use a counter of some kind such as the Threat Trackers from the Lord of the Rings LCG or just a pad and paper.  However the cards are a nice thing to have as they allow the game to be transported and played with just cards alone.  They are also kind of necessary to make the game complete in the box so I can understand and appreciate their inclusion even while I choose not to use them myself.

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Gameplay

Players play starship cards to Continue Reading »

Boardgame Review: Coloretto

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Though pretty much all my recent posts are related to computer gaming, I have in fact been playing and enjoying some boardgames recently also.  Today I want to post about a small, light game I picked up specifically to play with my kids that has turned into a pretty good investment.

Coloretto was first published by Rio Grande games in 2003 and the basic drafting mechanic in it has since spawned a whole series of games including Aquaretto and Zooloretto and their many expansions.  Zooloretto is a great game that I have owned for years and enjoy as a light game that is often acceptable to non-gamers due to the fun theme and simple mechanics.  Coloretto I somehow missed until seeing it on a list of recommended kids games recently, but it is an even simpler and more accessible game that has the benefit of being playable by even younger players (my older kids are 6 and 4).

Components

The game comes in a very small, portable box and consists of 88 cards; 63 cards of chameleons in sets of colors, 3 “wild card” chameleons that match all colors, 10 “+2 points” cards, and 12 other utility cards (last round card, stack cards, scoring summary cards).  The chameleon card art is vibrant and the lizards on their various colored backgrounds are quite cute.  The utility cards are clear and easy to understand with nice colors.

The art on the +2 point cards are a bit abstract, showing some kind of sky background, and perhaps my only complaint as they don’t contribute to an already pretty thin theme; not that it detracts from gameplay, but a weak theme can make it a tad harder to draw new people in.  I’ve taken to calling them “lizard food” so that the kids understand you just always want them.

Gameplay

I want to make an effort in my boardgame reviews not to let my review devolve into a full-scale rules explanation, but in this case the rules are so simple I’m gonna pretty much cover them completely.

Each player starts the game with a lizard card of a different color.  The remaining lizard color cards and +2 bonus cards are shuffled into a common deck, and a number of stack cards are placed in the center equal to the number of players.  Each around, players rotate taking turns in which the player either Continue Reading »

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Blizzard has finally put out the first details of Hearthstone’s long-awaited single-player “story mode” at Pax East and an online article.  The theme will be the raid of Naxxramas, which has long been one of the more memorable and popular dungeons in World of Warcraft; first appearing in the original game and then re-appearing in the Lich King expansion after being remade and re-balanced for the higher level content.

After reading the article, here is what I can glean:

– The adventure mode will consist of 5 separate bosses that must be defeated, one per “wing”

– Each boss will function as an AI controlled hero that must be defeated in 1v1 combat, and will have unique hero powers and probably unique cards also

– The first wing will be free.  Remaining wings will release one a week after the first, and must be unlocked via either gold or real money.  No prices listed.

– Defeating a boss will unlock one of the 30 new player cards associated with the adventure.  Defeating all wings of the adventure will reward players with a legendary, most likely the Baron Rivendare card spoiled in the article.  4 other player cards are also spoiled.  All spoiled cards have or interact with the “Deathrattle” keyword.

– The adventure will also include new “class challenges” for each class, the defeat of which will unlock a new card for that class.  Details are this are very sketchy though.

– The adventure will be played on a new game board themed to the dungeon

– No release date announced or hinted.

So, some thoughts.

First off, on the positive side I think this is a pretty cool development for the game.  I really loved the concept of the Raid decks for the WoW TCG and they really seem to be retaining the flavor of those, albeit as a single player experience which is too bad but expected.  I also really like the idea of opening the wings over 5 weeks, it will give the community something to talk about and will give players a reason to keep coming back.  Depending on how the class challenges are formatted, those might also allow for a whole lot of replayability as players keep coming back with different classes to unlock the class cards.  The new neutral cards spoiled seem pretty powerful to me and may make silence effects incredibly important.  Deathrattle was already a powerful keyword on it’s own even without these new buffs to it.

Still, though, there are a lot of questions.  How will the class challenges be formatted?  Will they be some sort of optional twist on the content?  Will they be specific to one boss or include multiple bosses?  It’s really unclear.  Also, the difficulty level will be interesting to see; there will be huge amounts of public decks posted for defeating the adventure immediately after it comes out, it will be interesting to see how the difficulty is tuned with this in mind.  Also, how many of the new player cards will be available via the single free wing?

But probably the biggest question of all is pricing for the 4 wings after the first free one.  This is the first micro-transaction added to the game apart from the basic purchasing of packs and arena runs, but surprisingly it will be available for gold also… Blizzard is being even more faithful to the Free-To-Play model than I expected, though this is also because presumably they want to ensure all cards can be acquired for free.  It will be interesting to see how they price it.  If it’s skewed too far in either direction they will suffer.  Too little gold and no one will pay the cash, too much gold and you’ll see massive whining about pay-to-win.  Currently Blizzard has established a conversion of 100 gold is approx. $1.25-$1.50 so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the wings cost 200-250 gold each or $1.99.  But we will see how much of a cash cow Blizzard is shooting for here.

 

Panzer Corps Invades Steam

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After a long journey through the Steam Greenlight process, Panzer Corps and all of it’s expansions and DLC are now available on Steam thus making this great game more accessible than it’s ever been.

As I’ve written in the past, Panzer Corps is a medium-weight turn-based strategy/puzzle game with a boardgame feel to it, playing out on a hexagon map with single units per hex.  The scenarios represent actual or hypothetical operational-sized engagements from WW2 but are designed to favor gameplay over historical accuracy, so the game is not a serious simulation by any means.  The AI opponent, more accurately a programmed opponent, is of limited capability but is specially programmed for each scenario.  The scenarios are well designed and plentiful leading to lots of game content, as each scenario presents it’s own unique challenges and an array of difficulty options ensure your experience can be tuned as hard or easy as you like.

The game includes a simple but effective representation of command elements such as experience, airpower, fuel and ammo supply, and replacements.  Even more fun, the scenarios can be linked together into campaigns where you move from scenario to scenario with the same core of units, which can make losing an experienced tank unit you’ve had for a long time even more meaningful than in the context of a single scenario.  It also allows the game to model some of the technological advancement of the war as larger and more capable units become available in later scenarios as a lowly Panzer II unit driving through Poland in 1939 may many scenarios later be fighting on the Steppes of Russia equipped in King Tiger tanks.

The base game is $19.99 and includes the game engine and the original branching campaign which covers the entire war from 1939-1945 and includes several possible outcomes.

The two major expansions, Afrika Korps and Allied Corps, are each $14.99.  Steam requires the original game for them to function.  They each add a large new campaign as well as new units and graphics.

Lastly there are the Grand Campaign DLC, these are $4.99 packages which cover one year of the war and which can be linked together to form a large and much more detailed campaign that spans across more than 70 scenarios.  A lot of these scenarios are very unique and large scale and offer the ultimate Panzer Corps experience.  These scenarios are personally my favorite part of the game as they present the most interesting and fun challenges.

For someone who wants to dive right in there is the $79.99 bundle which includes everything at a 20 dollar discount.

The simple interface for the game has also been ported to create a Panzer General for iPad.

If you have an interest in WW2 operational level combat and enjoy turn-based decision-making and problem-solving but don’t want to commit to an overly complex simulation or learn a bunch of complicated mechanics, Panzer Corps may be a great game to check out.

6days

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East is a detailed narrative of the Six Day War fought in 1967 between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Israel by Michael Oren.  The 1967 war is generally considered the third Arab Israeli war and is by far one of the most interesting wars ever fought because of both it’s brevity and the far-reaching consequences of it’s outcome for the modern Middle East.

I first became aware of the Six Day war from my Dad, back as a kid during one of the conversations we would have about history while working on an outdoor project.  I was just getting into wargaming and military history at the time (largely because of my Dad’s influence) and studying long-running wars such as WWII and the Civil War, so the concept of a war lasting only six days was fascinating to me.

I picked up Six Days of War from a Goodwill for only a couple bucks a few months ago and after taking the time to read through it I’m pretty happy with my find.  The book is not truly a military history of the conflict; in fact, the accounts of the actual fighting are relatively few and far between, and are there more for flavor than as a proper military history.  Relatively information is present regarding equipment, orders of battle, and other details that military historians normally look for though the key military events are all discussed.

Instead, the author’s focus is on the war as a political event, and his dizzying cast of characters is the complex web of politicians and generals that were pulling the strings in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Soviet Union, and the United States at the time.  After a very brief history of Israel’s previous conflicts with the Arabs the book’s narrative closely covers the months, then weeks, then days of time period leading up to the war.  The steps to war are carefully explained, from Nasser’s eviction of UNEF, to the closure of the straits of Tiran, to the Israeli decision to launch a preemptive strike.  The actual war itself is covered with a chapter per day, again primarily focusing on the political events and decisions more so than the military ones.

Where the book truly excels is in it’s careful explanation of why the Arabs lost the war so quickly and suddenly, a war that they had been fully anticipating and planning for years and which had been Continue Reading »

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Ok maybe not profit, but if smashing planets has appeal to you look no further than Planetary Annihilation, an up and coming RTS title from relatively new developer Uber Entertainment and with involvement from Jon Mavor of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander fame.

Some History

The very first RTS title I ever played was actually C&C: Red Alert but the first RTS game I really sunk my teeth into was Total Annihilation which I picked up fairly cheaply from a video game store back in High School and fell completely in love with.  The grand scale of combat, the real-feeling physics of the projectiles and units, the ridiculous explosions and destruction, and the very open-ended strategy had a huge appeal to me.

I later spend significant time playing the RTS staples of the day; Age of Empires II/III, Starcraft, and Warcraft 3.  Age of Empires eventually sputtered out as a franchise after only limited success with Age of Empires Online.  The Starcraft/Warcraft franchise were enjoyable and paved the way for the eventual emergence and dominance of the MOBA genre, while Starcraft II is still going pretty strong.  But the only game that managed to somewhat capture the feel of Total Annihilation was Supreme Commander.  Unfortunately, Supreme Commander suffered from some bad balance design as released.  The Forged Alliance expansion went a long way in correcting this but the damage had been done, and the larger RTS genre was in decline  A true spiritual successor to Total Annihilation was still sought by a niche community.  An open source TA clone had been created and even after Supreme Commander more or less shut down a small dedicated community kept it viable, but the future of the large-scale RTS genre seemed bleak.

Then… Jon Mavor and others announced Continue Reading »