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Freeware/Shareware review roundup: Strategy edition by Mischief Maker 03/10/2007, 8:33am PST
Kingdom Elemental ($20):

Negative.

Kind of like a cross between Myth and Freedom Force. This is a pausable single player real-time tactics game where you spend a given amount of gold on units, then fight off waves of enemies. As you progress though the game you get unlock points to make new units available or unlock up to three bonus abilities for your existing units. Secondary spells and other abilities recharge with time. Gameplay mainly revolves around screwing with the AI. You can't form a line of fighters to prevent an enemy from getting through, so the way to keep them occupied while your ranged units do the heavy damage is by pissing them off and keeping them pissed.

Unfortunately, this all works way better in theory than in practice. The level 1 swordsmen, who take no damage from 1/4 of attacks and have the ability to piss an enemy off and keep it attacking them, is better than any other close combat unit combined, especially when higher level support units come into play. The only thing that keeps you from stocking up on swordsmen and archers and bards late-game is the 9-unit cap, despite how much money you may have available. Plus, while the whole "unlock new secondary abilities as you go" thing sounds interesting, some units, like necromancers, are useless until you have all 3 unlocked.

The controls are pretty awkward, too. Keeping up with the recharge of secondary abilities requires watching those life bars like a hawk and a momentaary distraction can destroy your defensive force. There's a reason only turn-based games require micro management at this level. Plus, while the game doesn't take itself seriously at all, the voice acting ranges from barely-passable to teeth-grittingly awful and they give verbal confirmation to EVERY SINGLE THING you order.

Despite all this, it still is pretty fun in the skirmish mode. Each randomly generated set of monsters is like a puzzle. How many ranged attackers can I safely cram into my 9 to handle this? Still, it isn't worth $20, especially with Chronic Logic's "limited number of installs" web-based copy protection.

Space Hulk (Free):

Positive.

I know I mentioned this game already, but I've got to pimp it again because it's so fun. Space Hulk was a boardgame set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe where one player controls a squad of Space Marine Terminators sent on some suicidal mission in an ancient conglomeration of debris and spaceship wrecks which may contain priceless treasures, and the other player controls the endless hordes of alien genestealers that lurk onboard. The thing was, while the marines needed all kinds of tactical skullduggery to survive, the aliens' job was so simple (run straight at the terminators and kill) you could play the game single player. So here's the single player game on the computer! (if you want to play multiplayer, try Nethulk.)

The rules for the game are simple, success is equal parts tactics, puzzle-solving, and luck. But this has got to be the mose tense turn-based game since X-Com. The board consists of 3x3 rooms conntected by hallways. Every round a number of blips appear at genestealer entrances. Each blip will turn into anywhere between 0-6 genestealers when it enters a space marine's field of view. The space marines (except for the one with the flamer) have unlimited ammo, but if a genestealer manages to close to melee range there's only maybe a 10% chance the marine will manage to kill the genestealer instead of vice-versa. The marines can also set their guns on "overwatch" mode in which they take a free shot for every action a genestealer in view takes during the genestealers' round, but that adds the risk that your gun might jam. Since a single fuckup or bad dice roll can kill a crucial team member, tension is high every single round.

The main complaint to be leveled at this game comes from its simple boardgame roots. Shooting doesn't take range into account so sometimes you can find yourself in fucking bullshit situations where you use all 4 action points to try to shoot a door open at point blank range (genestealers are smart enough to shut doors to block your line of sight) and miss every single time. The other, more unsettling problem is that this game might require you to copy some files to your windows system32 folder and register them to get the game to run. The files and instructions can be found in the README HTML file. I've had the game for 2 weeks with the files added and registered and none of my other programs have fucked up, nor has my virus-checker been grumpy.

The game includes the 18 missions, complete with backstory, that shipped with the original game. If you want extra challenge, the game gives you the option of doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the number of blips that appear every round. SUPER DUPER PROTIP: For those that don't bother reading the instructions, holding shift while moving or turning will finish the action by firing a shot at no extra action point cost. I'm amazed I managed to finish any of the levels before I found out about that.

Styrateg ($13):

Tenatively Positive.

This was a crappy strategy game, then the price dropped and a heroic patch came out and it became a very very "lite" but enjoyable tactical RPG. If there's one thing Rake in Grass is good at, it's finding good talent to provide the soundtrack for their games, and here they've got some people doing traditional medieval music for the game. Note that I have a tendency to be very very forgiving to games if I like their soundtrack so take what follows with a grain of salt.

For $13 you'll get your money's worth but not really anything more. The game plays like Heroes of Might and Magic without armies. Heroes move and fight across the overland map using a limited pool of action points. I strongly suggest turning the turn limit option to OFF or all your footman units will be worthless. Your dudes can collect random magic items, gain levels, and pick up quests. I play it like RPG solitaire.

The other big thing I like about the game is the plot and setting feel very medieval european with the plague and witch burning and inquisitions. It's nice to play a fantasy RPG in a setting other than samurai tolkien. It would be nicer if the Czech developers found someone with a stronger grasp of the english language to do the translations.

Battle for Wesnoth (free):

Negative.

Yech. I've probably given this game 5 different chances. I really want to like it. Tons of work and love have obviously gone into it, the graphics and music are very respectable for indie standards, there are half a dozen included campaigns, and it's been ported to every OS the team can get their hands on.

Unfortunately the game mechanics are abstract to the point of being fucked. You capture towns and recruit units advance-wars style, but after you have a decent sized force your slow rate of income is dedicated to providing army upkeep. Units gain 1 XP for attacking or defending, and 8 XP for landing a killing blow. After somewhere between 40 and 60 XP they level up (sometimes in a branching fashion) into a totally superior unit. Your entire surviving army can (and must) be recalled in subsequent missions. Later in the campaign your enemies get the ability to create level 2 or 3 units from scratch so if you haven't diligently been leveling and protecting your forces, you're fucked. Is this what those Fire Emblem games were like?

The other screwy thing with the game is the attacking system. To make ANY attack, including ranged attacks, you need to occupy an adjacent hex to the enemy. Each unit type has a melee and possibly a ranged attack. Units hit back at full strength with the same type of attack so the only advantage archers have is that they can hit a unit who has no ranged attacks without counterattack. But when the enemy's round comes the archers are standing right on top of the melee guy who doubtless has a superior hand-to-hand attack. Hit points are so high and the chance to hit so low that it takes at least 4 archers to be able to take out a single melee unit in one round.

The whole thing is just too screwy and abstract for my tastes. This is more of a Final Fantasy fan's game than a strategy game.

War on Folvos ($20):

Positive.

My favorite missions in Advance Wars were the ones without factories, where you had to win the game with just the units you were given. Some dudes in Slovakia share my tastes and made this gem of a game. It's tactical Advance Wars with 3D graphics on a hex map.

The plot, which may be a subtle allegory, involves an intergalactic superpower discovering a valuable energy resource on an otherwise worthless desert planet and moving in to take control of it. The planet's government quickly capitulates and the superpower expects their takeover to be a quick and painless affair only to find themselves locked in combat against a guerilla insurgency.

The differences between the two sides are interesting. The superpower's units are one for one superior to their insurgent equivalents, but they all have shitty sight range and no dedicated scouts so they're usually fighting their way out of ambushes. This is even more important because howitzer fire not only does damage, it robs a unit of one of its 2 action points. It's like fuckin' Nam out there, man!

Other things of note are that infantry comes with its own built-in mechanized transports so they're faster moving than tanks and get extra bonus from defensive terrain. Air units can pass over and occupy hexes with land units on them. The other nice thing is that supply vehicles have guns. Shitty guns, granted, but at least they have something.

The only real complaint I have to aim at the game is that the lime green movement indicators are really hard to see against the yellow desert background. My other complaint is that I want more. You get 20 missions in the game total (and 3 AI difficulty levels) but I want some kind of skirimish mode.

Recommended.
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Freeware/Shareware review roundup: Strategy edition by Mischief Maker 03/10/2007, 8:33am PST NEW
    Re: Freeware/Shareware review roundup: Strategy edition by Flavio 03/10/2007, 10:05am PST NEW
        Oh. by Mischief Maker 03/10/2007, 11:14pm PST NEW
    Re: Freeware/Shareware review roundup: Strategy edition by Flavio 04/21/2007, 7:26pm PDT NEW
    Well if it's Frontpaged by Mischief Maker 05/16/2007, 7:05pm PDT NEW
 
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