Posts Tagged ‘Turn-based strategy’

So I’ve played enough games now that I’m comfortable giving some quick impressions on my latest purchase. To coincide with the launch of Civilization V in 2010, Fantasy Flight Games also released a boardgame, simply called Sid Meier’s Civilization. In 2011, the game received its first expansion pack, Fame and Glory, although so far there doesn’t seem to be any hints or rumours of a second. I bought both the main game and the expansion at the same time as I figured there was no point beating around the bush, plus I have a core group of four others that I play with, so I needed the extra space F&G afforded me.

In a word: It’s good. It’s also long. Generally speaking, if we start a game at 7, we can have it done and dusted between 12-1, depending on how things are going. The first session we tried with five people, we were nowhere near finishing when it came to midnight, and two of our number had to go home. The second 5-player session we tried, again, we weren’t finished by 1am and decided to call it quits, although looking at the lay of the land, one of our number might have been able to win it in the next turn. I’ve also played two 2-player games, in the first one I got trounced, and the second one wasn’t finished because we had a late start and it was a weekday.

Yeah, that’s another thing – so far I haven’t really been playing that well. I’ve won plenty of Spartacus matches, RISK, Game of Thrones etc… but for some reason I can’t seem to get a handle on this game. It’s definitely about momentum – you need to get a second city up and running as quick as possible, and you can’t suffer any set-backs (like taking on some barbarians and losing, which can and does happen). Also, you have to play to your faction’s strength as much as possible. True to the PC game, there are multiple ways to winning – Culture (uses a track you simply have to get to the end of) Technology (be the first to research the Level V tech), Economy (You have to collect 15 coins) and Military (You have to be the first to take someone’s capital). Each faction in this game lends itself to certain tracks, and provided you get a good economy set-up going, you can open up others to you as well quite easily. If you don’t play to your faction’s strengths though, you can fall behind and/or get your ass handed to you very easily (which is what happened to me in one of the one-on-ones).

Still, this flexibility make sit a very interesting game, but you really have to commit from the off or you just meander about not really doing anything. There are a lot of rules as well, so it can be hard for people to keep it all in their head. It’s quite easy though to ‘disable’ some elements of the game from the expansion however, if you need to. If you only you could disable victory types, like I often do in the PC game (Domination all the way, baby).

The only long-term problem I see with this game is that, eventually, people are going to know what strategies they prefer, and in turn what factions they prefer playing as. I can see this leading to a situation where everyone just chooses the same factions over and over, and so in turn you know what their strategy is going to be from game-to-game. Also, if you don’t get momentum going quickly, you’re essentially a non-entity from the beginning, and that’s without any having even touched you. In other games, I’ve easily come back from a weaker position or still been able to significantly affect the outcome of the game, but in Civ there’s not as much scope for that – military conflict is dialled down because it’s only 1/4 of this game essentially, and while there are some tech/culture card effects that could be considered ‘offensive’, it’s down to whether or not you actually acquire those cards.

In the other boardgames that I’ve played so far, you’re not so … locked? I mean in Spartacus every House as its own play style, but there’s a lot of luck involved and it also depends on what assets you ultimately end up acquiring. A Batiatus player may never have more than say, two gladiators (which makes his abilities hard to use), but he could still win the game through some shrewd playing. same with Glaber and Guards, or Tullius and Slaves. Civ is a lot more ‘hands-off’ in the sense that someone could just sit there, and still win, and if no-one is in a position to do anything about it can be a bit depressing as you feel impotent.

Still, it’s a good boardgame, and I reckon we’re going to get many, many good play sessions out of it. I hope they do decide to expand on it with more releases.

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I’ve been doing this gig for over four years now, and I’ve still never given a game a 10/10, although I’ve come close several times. The most recent was XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K’s remake of the classic Alien Invasion series that 90’s PC gamers will remember with fondness. Being a ‘remake’, there was every possibility that 2K would mess up in some way; not quite capturing what was (and so not getting the old audience) and not quite enticing new audiences either.

Remakes can be a bit like movie tie-ins that way. But as preview builds and information started to get released, it soon became apparent that we may be onto a winner here. I was certainly excited; That’s not to say that I went into the review thinking “This is going to be 10/10″, but during the first few hours I was thinking “This could be the one”.

It’s an interesting emotional process – playing a game, being so full of hope and excitement (slightly unprofessional, but there you go) and then slowly but surely (as you take stock of the faults, bugs, annoyances etc…) realise that, actually, it’s probably not worth a 10 and we need to settle on some arbitrary number that basically translates into “Good, but with the odd issue”. It’s one of the things that’s annoying, from a reviewers point of view. Really good games are easy to score; really bad games are easy to score. Games that are highly subjective or have issues that may or may not annoy others though? Nightmare. You’ve probably heard this from others, hell, you may have even said it yourself, but the numbered rating system really is a bit naff. But hey, I got over it; I always do. You just have to soldier one in these instances, pick a score that seems about right and just make sure your words are spot on.

XCOM really is a cracking game though, even on the console. I’d argue actually that it’s probably slightly ‘better’ on the console, only in the sense that a PC version of XCOM could do so much more than what was actually done. Strategy games and Consoles haven’t always had the easiest of relationships (EndWar, Y U NO get sequel!?), but XCOM is the best console-strategy & management experience I’ve ever had. The controls, the presentation, the interface… everything just works, and works really well. It’s a shame really that it wasn’t as polished as it could have been.

Don’t get me wrong, the PC version is good – visuals are better, you get more customizations options with your troops which is quite nice (only if you buy new though), but there’s nothing else really to it, and a PC-only version of XCOM could do a lot more – just look at the originals. I know, the lower visuals on the originals meant that a hell of a lot more depth could be achieved, but I can’t help but think a lot more could have transferred over if console limitations weren’t also being considered (although it could have just been a question of time and resources as well). The same bugs and issues plague the PC version as well, and then there were some basic design decisions that spoil the game sometimes. You can read more about it in my review if you really want.

But yeah – you should really consider getting XCOM. Dishonored was the other great game to launch recently, and I hear good things about that as well although to be honest the whole Steampunk thing doesn’t really grab me. I’m a sci-fi boy all the way. If you can afford them both, do, although Christmas is not too far away.

This is what being type-cast must feel like. Despite working for a website called Strategy Informer – a site who’s history and content historically originated from an obvious source, I seem to be the only guy who handles the strategy genre at the moment. They’ve been others, don’t get me wrong – if you look at a list of all the strategy games we’ve reviewed recently, there’s some other people in there as well, although one of them has moved onto PR now. Others though generally have to be coerced into it, as few these days seem to want to take up strategy projects willingly. Take this one, for example:

It’s a hardcore political-grand strategy game, one of Paradox’s titles. No one’s going to claim it – it’s just going to sit there until I get around to doing it myself because that’s always what happens with games like these. In fact, Susana Graham, Paradox’s Head of Marketing and a very lovely person, once told me that all the good strategy/PC writers (amongst the larger outlets anyway) were starting to move onto other things, and not being replaced, and I can readily see her point. On the UK side, thankfully there’ still a lot of ‘old-school’ games journalists, who have more of an appreciation of PC and Strategy gaming floating about, but even magazines like GamesTM, or popular websites like Videogamer.com lack full time staff with proper experience of these kind of things.

To be fair, this is mainly a problem the smaller or middle-of-the-road publishers (like Paradox, 1C, Kalypso etc…) have to deal with. AAA franchises get a lot more attention. Our news guy Simon, for example, is a Blizzard-nut and so did our Starcraft II review, and we have a fair few freelancers on our books who could easily handle the likes of Total War, or Command & Conquer (If we’re ever going to see that again), even Civilization. But for the rest, it’s usually me who picks them up.

Can’t complain too much – having an identifiable niche and good contacts amongst the key people in that niche is a plus to a resume, and could even be a deal-maker for the right outlet (you could almost say there’s a lack of decent PC writers in general these days, but that’s a point as fluid as the whole “PC Gaming is DEAD” phrase). I don’t mind being the ‘go-to’ guy for that sort of thing, although it does mean I play a lot of strategy games at the moment. You talk about Game fatigue in a general sense, but it can apply to specific genres as well if you play them enough. Still, it does become a problem when I end up with a game even I don’t really like. Supreme Ruler above, a game I did recently called Pride of Nations…  they’re not bad games, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very stats and management based, with a focus on the micro as opposed to macro/action. Thos games are hard to wrap one’s head around, and to be honest I’m not that much of a fan. Heart of Iron and Victoria, two key franchises from Paradox, are about my limit when it comes to grand-strategy.

At the moment, as well as writing up everything from the Ubisoft showcase yesterday (good stuff), I’ve got a review of Storm: Frontline Nation to do (Supreme Ruler, less content, but more fun) and a preview of Sengoku (Crusader Kings set in the Shogunate era of Japan). Not only that, but I hear Tropico 4 code has just come in  as well… although that one might actually get taken by someone, who know. Oh well, I like to think of it this way – I could be doing Le Tour De France  or Cars 2.

I suppose there are worst things than being type-cast – enjoy your weekend! I’m going to be too busy to enjoy mine.