Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Adam Jensen Steals Turbines Money

Normally I am a miser when it comes to game purchases. My threshold of pain is about €10 which pretty much rules out new releases. Nevertheless I had made up my mind to pre-purchase the Isegard expansion for Lotro despite having sufficient Turbine points accumulated that I can probably buy it from the TP store after release. Having bought my lifetime sub at the lowest ever price of £75 some years ago I feel it is probably time I gave them some extra cash.

Unfortunately reconciling myself to spending more than I need to on a game has weakened my resolve  and I now find myself seriously eyeing Deus Ex Human Revolution (currently €36 from Get games). I know I will be able to get it much cheaper in a few months time but once in a while it would be nice to be able to play a game while everyone else is still talking about it.

If I do splurge on Deus Ex that exhausts my budget and Turbine will have to wait for new cash from me.

Decisions, Decisions.

EDIT: When I went tot purchase Deus Ex I found that I could get it from €10 cheaper from the same site if I lived in the USA or the UK. This has annoyed me sufficiently that I have put off my purchase for the moment. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Napoleon: That's Egypt done, can I be Emperor now please?

Following a very rocky start the remainder of the Napoleon Total War Egypt campaign was something of an anticlimax. I faced no more rebellions and by garrisoning my conquests with a couple of units of militia I found I could keep them subdued if not entirely happy. Napoleon's sojourn in the South of Egypt was time consuming but worth it in the end because one Southern Egypt was pacified neither the Bedouin's nor the Mamelukes managed to raise a significant force again. Most surprisingly the time limit was more generous than expected and by January 98 Napoleon's grande armee had worked its way from Awlad in the South West corner all the way to Tyre and was only a few turns from taking Damascus itself with a whole year to do it in. The Ottoman's proved a tougher enemy than the Mamelukes with several large combined forces well supported with artillery. By this stage though I had built the Grand Armee up to a full stack of experienced troops and the Ottoman's never had a chance. The only point of note is that after sitting quietly for most of the game the Ottomans made multiple sorties to try and recapture towns just as I approached Damascus and the end of the scenario. I am pretty sure this was scripted as they went for victory condition towns but it was too little too late.

French artillery again warrants a special mention. I never bothered upgrading Napoleon's two units 6-lber cannon  even though I was often faced with larger numbers of heavier pieces from my Ottoman adversaries. What the six pounders lacked in firepower and distance was more than compensated by their high accuracy. With veterancy bonuses I had 88% accuracy with the 6-lbers as opposed to the miserable 37% accuracy of the Ottoman's big 18-lbers. I am sure a human opponent could exploit the  limited range of the 6-lbers to punish me but it never seemed to occur to the AI.

The hardest objective in the scenario was the optional one of pushing the British from Cyprus. I put this off for most of the game because I was afraid of Nelson's massive fleet but in the end I was able to sneak and army past him using a decoy. The battle against the redcoats on the island itself was easily the most challenging of the game.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Total War: When do you use autoresolve?

For me the battles are the highlight of any Total War game with the campaign map being a secondary albeit also enjoyable part of the game. For this reason when I started out I fought every single battle manually. This attitude has changed over time and I now use auto resolve for a signifcant number of battles.

At first it was simply a matter of saving time. On some turns you can have five or six separate battles to fight, many of which are already foregone conclusions because one side (hopefully mine) has an overwhelming superiority. There is nothing particularly edifying about crushing 100 enemy troops with 1000 of yours and yet you can spent quite a long time chasing them around the map to do it. A few experiments convinced me that if one side has an overwhelming advantage (as shown by the red-green relative strength bar) then the random number generator can generally be relied upon to give a reasonable result. Sure you can experience slightly heavier losses than if you fought the battle yourself but on the other hand you are spared the friendly fire incidents that can so easily happen when you have a momentary lapse of attention directing a large number of troops.

For some time then my rule changed from "fight every battle" to "auto resolve the push overs". If numbers were similar and in particular if I was at a disadvantage I still fought manually on the battle map. I'm no military genius but I can certainly do better than the AI when numbers are more or less equal. There have been exceptions to this rule such as when I used auto resolve to play out the last few turns of a Rome campaign  but these were specific unusual circumstances rather than a general change in policy.

Recently however I have started using auto-resolve in a slightly more creative way. I have noticed that while I generally do better fighting manually there are some battles where the random number generator gives better results. Often this is due to the mix of unit types. For example if my force contains only light infantry and I am facing a force of cavalry then I know from experience that it is very hard to avoid a massacre. The auto resolve tends to more kind in these circumstances, perhaps reducing the size of the loss or even avoiding it altogether. I don't do this all the time because it does feel a bit like cheating but it is a handy trick to have up the sleeve none the less.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Napoleon: Egypt Campaign Fun in the Sun

Napoleon had a hard time in Egypt and the advisor at the start of Total War's Egypt campaign leaves you under no doubt illusion that you will too. You have two and a half years years to drag your armies from a toehold in North West Egypt all the way over to Damascus in Syria. Everyone is out to stop you including the British, the Mamelukes, the Bedouins and the Ottomans. These guys are so pissed off with Napoleon that the diplomacy option is greyed out - you won't be able to bribe your way out of this.

Things start out calmly enough. You start with three generals, two armies and a foothold in Alexandria. The advisor helpfully suggests that you take Cairo to the South to deal a blow to the Mamelukes and while you are at it why don't you send a few ships to Cyprus to end the British threat too. The Cyprus mission seems a bit premature because the British already have a massive Mediterranean fleet  and I don't have so much as a leaky bathtub. Cairo seems more reasonable so I dispatch my largest force under Napoleon to take it Everything goes well for a few short months.  Cairo falls to Napoleon and he then leads his army South to root out further Mameluke strongholds while my second army mops up a few weakly defended regions to the West.

So far so good but then everything goes horribly wrong. Cairo erupts into rebellion and a full stack of rebels destroys my defending forces. The Mamelukes make aggressive sorties from South and from the West. The Bedouins send a large force of camel troops northward to teach me a lesson and a massive British fleet turns up on the doorstep of my capital to drop off an army. As if all that weren't enough the workers in many of my captured towns decide to show their displeasure at my occupation by going on strike and rioting. This  strangles my economy to the point where I cannot afford to recruit new troops. Arghhhhhhh.

I almost gave up and started over at that point thinking that I must have done something radically wrong. On reflection though I decided that  for things to go so wrong so quickly some of these events must have been scripted. I decided to tough it out.

Napoleon's Grande Armee was too far to the South to deal with the main threats so I let him continue his march Southwards to root out Mameluke and Bedouin strongholds. That left my other two generals and a handful of troops to root out the Rebels, the Bedouin and the British in that order as best they could. There were a few touch and go battles but thanks some hastily recruited fusiliers and a lone unit of canon that Napoleon had left behind I managed to survive the immediate threats in the North. Although firearms have altered the face of warfare since Rome days one thing that hasn't changed is that you still need a backbone of solid infantry units to hold a formation and fusiliers provide this. The cannon serves a dual purpose. With round shot its great range allows me to control the battlefield sometimes tempting an enemy to come into closer range, sometimes frightening them from the field altogether. At short range switching to canister shot will quickly rout large numbers of enemy troops with a "whiff of grape".

The widespread unrest in my settlements caused  own problems. With the reduced town management features of Empire/Napoleon games there are really only two steps you can take to quickly quell unrest: Stuff the garrison with militia or exempt the region entirely from taxes. Both of these steps incur significant financial costs and further contributed to my ongoing penury. 

Is now Late December 1798 and after several months of desperate fighting some semblance of stability has finally been restored to the Western side of the map. Napoleon has been busy mopping up Mameluke and Bedouin strongholds which should reduce the likelihood of further attacks from these factions. The immediate threats in the North have been eliminated and I can start to think about Eastward expansion again. Tax break carrot and militia stick tactics have tamed the unruly provinces and I am finally getting a small surplus of income over expenditure to invest in expansion.

All I need now is a bit of time: time to replenish my armies sorely depleted from constant battles and gruelling desert marches, time to establish an economy to pay for further expansion and time to build up a Navy to stand up to the British. Unfortunately time is the one thing I haven't got. The game ends in barely two years and Napoleon's sorely depleted Grand Armee is sweltering in a one camel desert hovel  at the far Northwest corner of the map just about as far as he could possibly be from the end game goal of Damascus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Napoleon Total War: Italian Campaign

In order to try and squeeze a bit of gaming into this fairly busy period I finally got around to installing Napoleon Total War and playing one of the campaigns.

Although it is very similar to Empire in period and gameplay I find the Napoleonic setting and atmosphere are more familiar to me and therefore more immersive. The Italian campaign that I played is really an extension of the tutorial and still has limited units and abilities. Nevertheless it is still quite challenging and the campaign kept me entertained for several hours.

Unfortunately I somehow overlooked the tight timescale allotted and set out to play a marathon when I should have been aiming for a sprint. Playing carefully and cautiously I reinforced all my conquests as Napoleon marched Eastward to displace the Austrians. I guess I should have been suspicious that my "Grande Armee" was so much bigger than anything the opposition could pit against me but I thought I was being very clever biding my time and trying to bribe Austria's friends and allies away before going in for the kill.

I got quite a surprise then when the game alerted me to the fact that I had only 8 turns left to complete the final objective and capture Klangenfurt on the far right had side of the map. At that stage my Grande Armee could not even reach Klangefurt in eight turns never mind capture the town so it looked like the campaign was already lost. In desperation I noticed that if Napoleon ditched his slow moving artillery the remaining cavalry and footsoldiers might just be able to travel the distance in 8 turns.

One of the helpful hints that pops up at loading screen assures us that "cannons win battles" so going against the Austrian strongholds without artillery sounds suicidal. Nevertheless I knew from experience that the campaign AI is not always the smartest so I reckoned that I could still win battles against cannon equipped armies by playing carefully.  Unfortunately playing carefully often means playing slowly (for example waiting to be attacked rather than attacking) and it wasn't clear that this approach could get me to Klangefurt in time. I decided to do an experiment,  racing my army towards the goal auto-resolving any battles that arose to see how far I might be able to get within the timescale.

Sure enough my route was blocked by several Austrian armies but auto-resolve was kind to me and by pressing auto-resolve / end turn in quick succession I was able to progress all the way to Klangenfurt arriving in late December 1797, the very last turn of the game. At this stage my depleted troops were severely outnumbered and outgunned by the defending army but with nothing to lose I attacked and pressed auto resolve one more time. Surprisingly my luck held. Napoleon won the battle and I was sent into the "Victory" cut scene.

I must admit to finding this a very unsatisfactory victory as the most important battles of the game were decided in a matter of seconds by a roll of the dice. The trouble is I am not sure I want to go back and fight those final battles manually. After all Napoleon was a master of artillery and without it there is no guarantee I would have the same level of success as the random number generator.

I find myself at a dilemma  that has cropped up for me before in Total War campaigns with a discrepancy between the things I need to do to win and the things I enjoy doing in the game. I guess that makes me a scrub according to Sirlin's famous analysis. Does Sirlin's "Play to Win" philosophy make sense any way in a single player game?

EDIT: Eventually I went back to a prior save game and played the final battles through manually. Happily I found that the Venetians could be bribed into giving temporary military access which cut months off Napoleon's journey time and allowed him to drag a few cannon all the way to Klangenfurt. There were a few minor skirmishes and two serious battles against full stack armies in which I was very glad of the canon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Proof that Bethseda's games have longevity.

More than five years ago I started this forum thread in which I asked "What are the best side quests in Oblivion?". Rather than a torrent of replies the thread attracted a trickle but that trickle hasn't stopped to the present day. More than five years later the game still has the power to enthuse players enough to want to tell someone about their experiences.

PS. Yes Mad Mike is an alter ego of mine and no my real name is not Mike.

PS Apologies for lack of recent posts. Trying to cram a holiday into a period which was already busy both personally and professionally left little enough time for gaming or blogging.

Apparently I have a coffee problem

 A couple of weeks ago my wife alerted me to the fact that I had developed an occasional odour problem. This surprised and distressed me som...