Category Archives: Strategy

Starcraft, again

This is news I’ve been waiting to hear for years now:

There were rumors that Blizzard’s big announcement would be a Starcraft MMORPG, but I’m glad they’re sticking to their single-player strategy game roots. It looks like they’ve kept the core Starcraft gameplay almost entirely intact. Usually, you’d expect a sequel to introduce tons of new gameplay elements, but in the case of Starcraft, I hope they’ll resist the urge to reinvent the wheel. The original is pretty darn close to perfect already. (Certainly, it’s the only game that has been continuously installed on every computer I’ve owned since 1998!)

Now I’m just hoping that when Starcraft 2 does finally hit store shelves, I’ll own a computer powerful enough to run it…

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Nostalgic gaming: a look at Iron Crown's 1983 Fellowship of the Ring

The hall closet in our apartment is, much to my wife’s dismay, stacked high with boardgames I’ve acquired throughout my sordid life as a gamer. Both of the adults in the family have degrees in archaeology, so perhaps it makes sense to view the tall stack of games in the closet as a sort of stratigraphy of my gaming life: the uppermost strata contain such recent artifacts as Arkham Horror and a few of the latest Axis and Allies releases; moving down the stack and back through time, one comes across Civilization, Gulf Strike, and Squad Leader; and buried in the bottommost layers are relics from my junior high and high school gaming days: B-17: Queen of the Skies, Battletroops, and other classics of yesteryear.

Today I want to reminisce about one of the games from the very earliest strata of that gaming pile–a curious and nearly-forgotten boardgame with which I was obsessed throughout junior high, and which eventually served as an entrypoint for me to the world of roleplaying games. The game is The Fellowship of the Ring, published in 1983 by Iron Crown Enterprises, and–like some of the Iron Crown RPGs I would later play–I loved it, although I didn’t always completely understand it.

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Free strategy games from the dark depths of the 80s

Ever heard of Dwarfstar Games? I hadn’t either, but it turns out they released eight rather quirky little strategy games in the early 1980s, all most of which are now available for free download. Most of them look like fairly short and straightforward strategy games, with an obvious wargame influence–the hexgrid maps and cardboard chits are a dead giveaway.

Downloading digital scans of the game maps and playing pieces isn’t quite as cool as actually owning the physical thing, of course, but for $10 or so at your local copy shop, you could probably recreate a fashionably old-school physical copy of the games. Might be a fun change of pace from all those new-fangled, high-production-quality games you kids are playing these days.

(More info and reviews of each game are available here. Spotted at Game It Yourself, which lists many, many other freely downloadable games.)

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Remembering Gettysburg! (the game, that is)

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jeff Shaara, author of several excellent Civil War (and other) novels. My interest in the American Civil War thus stirred up, I resolved to do something to capitalize on said interest. I’m not really into the Civil War re-enactment thing, and the movie Gettysburg, while an excellent film, seemed a bit too long and melodramatic at the time.

The solution? I dug through my computer desk drawer and found my old copy of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, a fine strategy game if ever there was one. I was a bit startled to learn that it’s nearly a decade old; and I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that it’s just as fun to play now as it was ten years ago. Meier is best (and justly) known for the Civilization series; but I happen to think that his game-design genius is just as evident in some of his lesser-known titles–games like Covert Action (if you remember that one, I salute you) and Gettysburg.

If ever there were a game that desperately needed to be remade today (with updated graphics and an improved interface, perhaps), it’s Gettysburg. The Civil War is generally only touched on by games that are set firmly in the hardcore-wargame genre; but Meier’s Gettysburg (and its follow-up Antietam) are so fun and simple to learn that anyone can be replaying the battle within fifteen minutes of installing it, even if you’ve never touched a wargame in your life. You don’t need to worry about memorizing your units’ attack ratings, tracking their remaining movement points, or dragging game pieces with obscure military symbols around a hex grid; Meier’s game is all about fast manuvers and outflanking the enemy before he does the same to you.

The game engine was even used, I believe, by BreakAway Games to create one or two Napoleonic battle games. Back when I was addicted to Gettysburg, I would’ve killed for a “Great Battles of the Civil War” collection using the same game engine. But alas; the Civil War has once again largely disappeared from the gaming scene. Matrix Games has recently released Forge of Freedom, but I think that’s about it as far as notable Civil War games go. (If you know otherwise, please let me know.)

It’s not easy to find a fresh copy of Gettysburg these days–your best bet is to pick up a used copy of the Civil War Collection–but if you should come across a copy and have even the slightest interest in strategy gaming, I highly recommend it.

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Why Battletech and Star Fleet Battles rock

Jeff Rients has a great post about what makes Battletech and Star Fleet Battles so much fun to play. They’re two quite different games, but they share some traits that have kept them popular even 30+ years after they first hit the market. Jeff hits on a couple points I hadn’t considered, one of which is that the wonderfully complex record sheets can make even losing in these games an enjoyable activity.

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