Civil War & Book Haul

Over the course of two nights, my dad & I managed to set up and play the first two turns of Civil War. My girlfriend could not wrap her head around the notion that we’d spent 3 hours playing Friday night and only finished two turns. Part of the reason for the length of turns in Civil War is the method of determining actions and turn length; turns can go on, while not indefinitely, for a very long time.

Each turn, both sides roll for command points and initiative. On the first roll, each player gets a number of command points for each theater based on their own roll and the priority of theater (which is set secretly by each player the previous turn). The difference between the players’ die rolls is used to determine how many actions each player may take, with the higher rolling player going first with an initiative advantage of one reinforcement point or one general without the cost of an action. Rolling identical initiatives will give both players additional command points, and move the command track marker along, unless the identical initiatives are listed on the command track as ones which will end the turn immediately. This goes on back and forth until both players have spent all of their command points and reinforcements or players make a turn ending initiative roll.

The mechanics of Civil War are designed to reflect the problems both sides had during the conflict. Supply and logistics are an issue for both players, but the south moreso. Historically, no sides were ever able to strike quick and decisive blows, but would rather skirmish, shift about, skirmish some more, and hope to eventually wear their enemy down. In Civil War, you can win several victories against an army, but in a subsequent pulse, reinforcements can negate any damage you’ve done beyond gaining advantageous grounds. Unless you have an exceptional general (a Lee or a Grant), most armies in a theater will only have two attacks in a turn, and there’s probably more productive use of your command points than having the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia go tit-for-tat. But when you’ve won a skirmish, you just feel like you have to press in pursuit for the kill, even knowing mechanically you’re not really getting that much of an edge.

So, in our first two turns, much of the mucking about happened in the Trans-Mississippi region. Stonewall Jackson led a small force to take Springfield and drive the Indians out of Kansas. Most of the operations were a wash, I couldn’t hold anything in Missouri, and Jackson was eventually ran back east, but not before three Union supply depots were burned. I may have made a mistake in not sticking Earl Van Dorn in Arkansas, thinking he’d do less harm banished to New Orleans; despite being an absolutely lousy general, he’s just about the only army level commander that the south can spare for that region early in the game.

Most of the rest of the turn was tit-for-tat along the Maryland/Virginia border while I built up the Army of the Tennessee. Beginning on Turn 3, both sides can make a play for Kentucky, and I want to have an army ready to do so while the Union’s attention has been divided.

I’m trying to get more reading done and less screwing around with antique video games (but Sword of Aragon is just soooo good!), and managed to knock out two of the books on my list from this weekend, a posthumously published Fritz Leiber Lovecraftian Sci-fi Horror, The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, and a supplemental volume (a chunk of an earlier collection not entirely released in English) of short fiction by Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs of a Space Traveller: the Further Reminisces of Ijon Tichy.

Leiber’s Lovecraftian tale was a treat, and I’ll leave it at that; Lem’s short stories were a mixed bag. I find that I personally enjoy Lem the most when he is writing sci-fi horror tales of the “what hath we gods wrought?!” variety, in which mad scientists have unveiled their monstrosities that require a rethinking of human body, mind and soul. Some of his absurdist (often ad nauseum) stuff is a little too precious for me, and I won’t hold any attacks on straw capitalism he was probably forced to write in the 50s against him. But I prefer the Ijon Tichy as Randolf Carter to the Ijon Tichy as Baron Munchausen.

I really need to start doing my Short Reviews again, especially as I’ve got a lot of fodder for them. It’s just that my own writing and game development has taken up a lot of my time. Over the weekend, I picked up quite a haul to supplement my meager pulp collection, hopefully of the variety that will blow those 70s issues of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction out of the water. For a little over $20, I got a stack of 15 issues of Astounding from between 1949 and 1951. The real score of my Sunday haul, though, was this copy of Planet Stories from 1949 featuring a Leigh Brackett Mars novel.

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Thanksgiving Gaming & Such

Had a chance to play some more flash games over the long weekend. Took a break from Tower Defense for bit and did some RPGs, Shooters and RPG Shooters.

The biggies were Ge.ne.sis, Wings of Ge.ne.sis and Starwish.
Two of the three highlights of the weekend were from the same developer taking place in the same universe, though I accidentally played them out of order. Ge.ne.sis and Wings of Ge.ne.sis are a tactical RPG and shooter with RPG-esque elements respectively.

The art in the Ge.ne.sis games are phenomenal, despite being slightly minimalist and streamlined. It’s anime-esque, but with a lot of surreal and chunky, for lack of a better term, elements that help establish the dreamland feel. The “chunky” art element comes into play a bit more with Wings, often-times giving is a paper-doll theatre aesthetic.

The characters are rather flat (haha! paper dolls, right?) but manage to be incredibly charming, especially Sisily who takes the bizarre dreamland she’s ended up in in perpetual pollyannaish stride. Sadly, I got stuck in the first game around 2/3s of the way through.

The first game is a fairly linear tactical rpg. All of the encounters are story-encounters, so there’s no grinding to it, but therein lies the problem. I got to a particularly tough fight where you have to fight against shadow versions of the party who are invulnerable against physical attacks. There are some neat ways around this, but one unlucky rounds, your characters will drop like flies, especially Sisily and Emi, who can be kinda glass cannons against certain damage types. Even if you can take out all of the minions, bosses, who can often one-hit-kill Sisily or Emi can send you into a TPK-death-spiral awfully quick, since Ge.ne.sis lacks healing items & revives.  I’ll just have to be both really smart and really lucky if I’m going to win that fight.

Normally I hate square-based tactics games, because the square is terrible for when it comes to units blocking each other in and screwing up movement and attack ranges, but I’ll forgive Ge.ne.sis for this because it still manages to be a fun experience, even if it is a bit of a puzzle. Sadly, the developer who made the RPG and the Shooter disappeared before completing the true sequel to the Ge.ne.sis RPG. The numerous consumable and equipable items in the shooter would’ve found quite the welcome spot in a tactical RPG featuring the same lovable cast.

Starwish is a bit of a different animal than Wings of Ge.ne.sis, even though it is a shooter with RPG elements. Wings of Ge.ne.sis put the shooting aspect first and foremost, integrating in the rpg and item elements into the gameplay fairly well while letting the story be told more through the evocative art rather than dialogue, which was sparse and (admittedly, since I hadn’t played the RPG first) a bit confusing. Starwish places its story front and center, with a servicable shooter game tacked on to advance the narrative in a way that the player has ‘earned it’.

There’s a lot more depth to Starwish’s cast in terms of their backstories, though they’re still ultimately a troupe of tropers. The tough-but-really-a-sensitive-guy pilot hero. His Childhood-friend doctor lady. The alcoholic panda bear man who raised them as pirates when their parents died. The wise old captain lady. The quirky and possibly deformed sadistic science girl (who I think might also be a Skullgirl). The lecherous bartender with more depth and feeling than he likes to let on. The shy-but-hard-working mechanic girl. The cool quiet strong silent robot ace pilot who’s better than the main character and will maybe even be revealed to be a woman and possible love interest before the game is over. Still, it works in a way that’s enjoyable even though you could swear you’ve seen it all before.

A wide variety of weapons and subweapons help the fairly simple shmup play keep from getting too stale. The game relies more on upping the HP and damage-dealing of the small and unchanging handful of foes you fight, but I have found that there is a giant spike in difficulty come the 3rd sector.

Probably the best part of Starwish is the soundtrack of cool, low-key sci-fi electronica, the type that my band might have started making two albums down the road once we’d worked all of the Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire out of our systems had we kept on going.

I’d hope that a sequel would feature a bit more robust shooter experience to go along with the charming story elements, though I don’t know that one is in the works or ever will be. One thing i find is that a lot of the games on Kongregate that are even a few years old, their creators have, if not vanished, stopped putting out new creations.  There are donation-based unlockables, for example, in the Ge.ne.sis games, but the creator has not been active on his own forum since 2011; another mod has helped a few folks who donated after he disappeared and got them fixed up, but I don’t think I’ll be taking any chances personally, though if he were to reappear with Ge.ne.sis 2 in tow, I’d find a way to try to support him.  Not sure about the creator of Starwish.  I’ll look into him/her when I have some more time.

On a final note, I finally finished Valley of the Horses. Much like Clan of the Cave Bear, I saw the ending coming a mile away. Only Clan of the Cave Bear ended with the epic mystic doom of the Neanderthal tribe and Valley of the Horses ended with a blow job. I’ve given up on Earth’s Children and, since my girlfriend accidentally hid my biography of Tallyrand behind the framed puzzle of an alchemist at work (my house is clearly a Blueholme dungeon!), I started Peace on Earth by Stanislaw Lem, one of those authors I kept hearing about and meant to get around to reading. And wow. I’ll dribble out some inarticulate descriptions of that at a later time, but so far, color me impressed.