Stonewall Defense

Bird’s Opening leading to Stonewall Attack is one of my favourite chess openings these days. Admittedly, all of my friends know this now and are well aware to defend against it (and how to defend against it), but I like it nevertheless. The emphasis is on such a strong offensive defensive position the opponent really has no good moves left.

On the Stonewall Attack

Mind, all the times I have tried have also led it to develop into a position where I have no good moves left, but it’s worth it.

Bird’s Opening is in general a fun non-standard way to start, and I have tried going for other options. It’s just that sooner or later the Stonewall formation becomes one of the wiser positions to adopt, and I can’t fault that. What comes naturally, must be right, eh?..

As said, my success with it is perhaps not the most amazing because the standard openings are stronger, especially against a more equal opponent. I don’t plan on leaving the Stonewall behind entirely, but I do want to try more options in the future…

Risk

I find Risk to be an entirely invigorating game. The standard methodology of the World map is, however, not nearly as interesting as the full spread on ConquerClub which is where I play most of my games. The other alternative, of course, is in-person games; however, these are uncommon in my experience mostly due to the large time requirement playing a game requires.

The other benefit of an online environment is the ease with which maps can be added to the game mechanic. Hence, CC has options for the War of the Triple Alliance, Europe, Eurasia, the North America, and other places & times. The plurality of these choices, while it doesn’t quite replace the option for ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ or Middle Earth maps, is enough to give one quite unlimited options for replaying the game without getting bored.

Indeed, the standard World option is one of the more boring ones in my mind and the ones I mentioned above fit the format quite a bit better. Or, perhaps, not fit the format per se rather than make it more fun for me. And, this obviously will be personal because everyone will have their own map they like more than the others.

I am quite happy to have my own sturdy crowd of Risk enthusiasts, and playing the game with these people makes it even more fun. If only there was a Middle-Earth map online…

Of course, a good question is how good this game is in developing tactical or strategic understanding, at least as that is the basis on which the usefulness of go and chess is often ranked. I like both of those two, and I believe them to be quite good for different reasons. However, Risk fits into the same category: as the main principle on which the game revolves is luck, one cannot ever be certain in winning or losing. I have won battles of 5 against 10, and lost 14 against 3. However, one might think in the end these even out at 50-50. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What’s certain is that one can gain an appreciation for the fickleness of luck by playing Risk.

Total War: Shogun 2

As I’ve mentioned before, I have restrained from commenting much on games in the past. Or, at least, I have avoided commenting on the vast majority of games that I play. This has slowly turned around and I am of a mind to keep the outlook that I have in this blog rather varied, so I decided to write down a few thoughts of mine on Total War: Shogun 2 before the new Rome 2 is out in the end of this summer. Whenever I get my hands on that, I’ll probably be saying a few words as well.

At present, Shogun 2 is the game I’ve played for the most hours on Steam. That is saying something since for at least half that time I had to deal with a computer which was too slow to run the game properly. And yet, I endured. I endured because Total War is a rather good strategy games series, and I endured because I love Japan. In Shogun 2, they come together.

There’s three main campaigns: one from the Genpei War, one from the Sengoku Jidai, and lastly one from the Revolution. Of these I probably enjoy the Genpei War one best, if only for the simple reason that the gameplay seems most efficient there — it really is possible to demonstrate why the “samurai” troops are better than the “levies”, and one memorable occasion where I did exactly that my good commanders with 600 men utterly routed 2100 enemies. It is moments like this which are somewhat rarer in the Sengoku Jidai campaign — although that might be more due to my own stubbornness.

Stubbornness? Yes, because for at least thrice I tried beating the campaign as the Takeda by following the Furinkazan and not really fortifying my lands while trying to create the fastest and most efficient cavalry army possible. Not the wisest of ideas for inevitably I managed to meet a four-or-five times larger enemy army which, unfortunately, was not comprised of useless levies but of good quality troops. Queue defeat.

Needless to say, the stubbornness did pay off in the end: I now have the Takeda Victory Achievement under my Steam belt. So that’s that…

What feels somewhat lacking in this particular game is the opportunity to vary strategy — the beginning is rather different, but since victory is always dependent on the conquest of Kyoto I feel that I have fought in those same lands under different banners in different times so many battles that I’d really rather keep to some other island for the next game. Alas, I cannot do that!

The AI is slightly a bit too aggressive with naval invasions — they can be so very annoying and frustrating when they land another useless army: useless not because you can actually defeat it this turn but you could if your own army was home and not fighting on the frontiers… And this inevitably happens. As an exampe, in my Chosokabe campaign, I had great pleasure in a constant stream of enemy armies to my island. I really do wish it had been otherwise.

And, maybe, that brings me to the “total war” side. I feel it is a bit too ‘total’. Inevitably, one ends up fighting the entire world, and while that may have been a good way to try to code in balance, I don’t really appreciate my longest lasting allies attacking me because I now have 22 provinces instead of 21. This is especially not appreciable if these said allies are going to conduct a naval invasion. Which, obviously, will happen.

But, I guess, that is also part of the fun of this game. Things go wrong, and players are defeated. It doesn’t happen often, and in most situations one’s luck can turn around… But it is also possible that the AI simply grinds one into the ground. And that, even if frustrating is a different type of fun.

March of the Eagles

I’ve generally avoided commenting on games for some reason, but I do remember having posted on Crusader Kings II some time ago. That is a game I enjoy for the historical depth and strengths it has, and it is a remarkable achievement by Paradox Interactive. That company is generally good with treating history in a gaming context, and one of their more recent titles is March of the Eagles (abbreviated as MotE).

I appreciated the approach that March of the Eagles took by bringing us into the military sphere of the Napoleonic Wars, and while the game does have its problems, it also has a compellingly easy gameplay mechanic that drew me in. MotE runs on the same engine that works so well in Crusader Kings II and Sengoku, called Clausewitz in honour of the Prussian general, and I think that this choice of engine might have been one of the good starting points for me. It brought me into a world I was already familiar with.

So, here goes: What do I like about MotE? It is about war. There is very little diplomacy. Diplomacy with AI is often, in games, so broken that it is not really worth the effort (I am always dubious about my efforts in ‘Total Wars’ for they do end up in a total war… of everyone against me, and that is a tiring prospect). MotE allows us to more or less suspend the realm of diplomacy and go on into the one where we can array our sixty thousand men against the enemies’. It is straightforward.

Now, there are a fair amount of imbalances in this game, especially concerning combat and technological advancements — indeed, I would go so far as to say that for a truly pleasurable game it would be necessary to abandon AI and play with humans instead. That’s not always so with Paradox games (CKII comes to mind again), and I would say that the studio has let the community down here. I’m afraid that this deficiency in the artificial intelligence present is worse than it should be, and this feeling pervades very much of the single player experience.

Of my experience in-game, I have tried a few games thus far: France, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and the Ottomans being the countries I’ve tried playing as. And I have found that these games play out in a very similar way — unless we’re talking of a huge empire such as France or Russia, a dominance victory (the more “important” kind) is difficult to establish. It is difficult to establish mostly because what happens is that I end up with a number of men, say around 100k, trying to fight against three times as many — since I’ll be fighting one of the big dogs and they nearly always outnumber the small one. All that the enemy needs to do is group up, and victory is theirs — by numbers alone if nothing else.

In the case of a game with other people, a more diplomatic alliance to preserve the balance of power would be possible allowing for a more fluid and dynamic game. And I truly do wish that Paradox had managed to implement this in single player so that this game would be even better, and that I could take part in the Napoleonic Wars with all the fervour possible.

Essays on Gaming

I found yesterday from a link at RockPaperShotgun two essays which were very interesting to me. Their main field was to look into social gaming, and how it entraps people, and furthermore how much of the industry is entirely based on that idea.

While long, they are certainly worth a read.

The first one can be found here, and speaks of the general trend in social gaming.

The second one at here is a more in-depth review on The Sims Social.

I will finish by just adding that I have never felt the wish to play any additional games on Facebook. Much as said there, Facebook itself feels like a game some of the time. I also feel that they would just spend my time without providing the (wonderful) immersion some proper games do (or rather, that proper games do more easily).

 

Darkfall: Unholy Wars Trailer

As mentioned above (or is that considered below? =P ) in the ‘Faces of Rome’ post, I also saw a really underwhelming trailer earlier on today. That one is for the upcoming game Darkfall: Unholy Wars, and by god even if I had had some interest in it before watching this, the trailer effectively destroyed any hope of that for eternity.

Here it is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG40NPkI4rA&feature=player_embedded]

It honestly has to be the most uninteresting trailer posted. Would you recommend this game to anyone after seeing *that*? Can you think of any possible worse depiction of ‘Stomp’ or ‘Stampede’ than *that*?

Just to finish on a positive note, this probably belongs to that category where after watching it once it starts to amuse.

‘Faces of Rome’

Despite this being a measly trailer for Rome 2 Total War (or as they like doing it these days, Total War: Rome II), I really enjoy ‘Faces of Rome’. It has this dramatic appearance plus the very excellent music… and how brilliant are those few keynotes in the end!

The end makes me so want to see the next day in Rome!

[This also makes me wonder whether I should post a really bad example of a trailer I saw earlier on, which I might just do for the fun of it. Then people can see how a dramatic and striking appearance that can generate interest is set contrary to a base idea of what people could like.]

The music for ‘Faces of Rome’ was done by Jeff van Dyck, and he is also the composer/author for the Rome: Total War soundtrack. Admittedly, I can’t remember much of it, but people seem to say it was good. This here is a link to his own blog/site where he has a more thorough video of this trailer. Enjoy!

‘Dear Esther’

Amongst the many things I’ve wished to post here, has been the relatively recent experience for me of the computer game ‘Dear Esther’. While unimpressive as a game, it is one of the finest pieces of art I have seen in a great while. Truly, I would just classify it as art, for thinking it is a game would make it seem… more interactive than it really is. I do believe that future simulacrums will develop upon that side of this game, but this one didn’t. It is, however, truly fine enough without that side.

Now, to the ‘game’ itself: you are representing someone who is one of the Outer Hebrides islands, and who went there out of his own volition for some reason. Now, I am not entirely sure what the reason is (I have two theories based on the events in the game) but it seems valid enough. To get to the end-point, you run through this island (which I presume is one amongst the Outer and not the Inner Hebrides) and discover pieces of your, the island’s, the world’s, and your beloved’s history, and stretch the limits of your disbelief as well.

All of this “action” (no actual action in this piece of work, just moving around and discovering the world) leads you to a conclusion, but many of the steps on the way are laden by interesting quotes and comments that come from a variety of sources, although in a similar style. But what a style! Truly good and well written they are!

There is little else for me to say about ‘Dear Esther’ except that I heartily recommend anyone to try it. It won’t be for anyone, no, but it will be for a few people, certainly. And I would like to include two interesting quotes from the game (one of the binding pieces in this game which tie it all together, and confound you).

I believe you’ll be able to sense the strength of emotion present within these two short quotes.

“From here I can see my armada. I collected all the letters I’d ever meant to send to you, if I’d have ever made it to the mainland but had instead collected at the bottom of my rucksack, and I spread them out along the lost beach. Then I took each and every one and I folded them into boats. I folded you into the creases and then, as the sun was setting, I set the fleet to sail. Shattered into twenty-one pieces, I consigned you to the Atlantic, and I sat here until I’d watched all of you sink.”

“I’ve begun my voyage in a paper boat without a bottom; I will fly to the moon in it. I have been folded along a crease in time, a weakness in the sheet of life. Now, you’ve settled on the opposite side of the paper to me; I can see your traces in the ink that soaks through the fibre, the pulped vegetation. When we become waterlogged, and the cage disintegrates, we will intermingle. When this paper aeroplane leaves the cliff edge, and carves parallel vapour trails in the dark, we will come together.”

Crusader Kings II

Having recently bought the new Paradox game Crusader Kings II, I have already managed to spend a fair amount of time trying to carve out a realm that I could rule as I wish.

The game itself is quite good — Paradox has in many ways overdone itself though I am not that familiar with the company itself. But here at least I am not with the objective to review the game, but more to review a game — given we’ve got tens of goods general reviews as is, I would hope that this try of a more specific one will be of interest.

So, starting in the December of 1066 (so that the Normans would have finished the conquest of England) I played as Ernst I, Duke of Österreich (Austria) . Starting out with one county does not seem very promising, and by now I have little indication of how I actually managed to get past that stage — but I have the recollection that as one of my first conquests I took over Venice. That might have been around twenty-thirty years into the game, certainly not any sooner. That conquest was followed by the assimilation of de iure Austrian lands just north of the county of Austria (Steiermark was taken over around two-hundred and thirty years into the game).

Titles slowly accumulated: Duke of Austria and Venice, then also Anjou and Normandy. Some time after that, I assimilated my first realm by marriage (Dauphine) so my holdings as the Duke of Austria spanned Northern France, Burgundy, Italy, and Austria itself. Crusades into Lithuania made another county join the Holy Roman Empire, the good and loyal Duke that I was. A different holy war in Sicily won me a province on that island as well as Malta, which was the height of my extent for a lengthy period of time.

I mentioned crusades — indeed, I’ve just recently seen my luck turn with those: before my current character to whom I will come in due time, I had led at least six unsuccessful crusades into Aragon and Castille to reconquer those lands as well as two to the Baltics (one successful) and one into Anatolia (failure).

In the beginning of the 14th century, I got relatively bored of the political situation (France was at no Crown Authority and getting destroyed by Muslims; England in constant civil war; Eastern Rome owned the Middle East; and the Holy Roman Empire at Absolute Crown Authority). The good and friendly Duke I was, I succeeded in two consecutive plots to lower crown authority, after which I kindly told the Kaiser of the HRE that I would like to rule in his stead.

And from that point — starting with Kaiser Simon I the Old von Babenberg, Duke of Austria — my dynasty has kept that throne. My present status — as Kaiser Adam III von Babenberg, King of Poland, Duke of Austria and Anjou — is a relative indication that things have just got better since the low-point where we almost lost Barcelona to the infidels (mind you, they already owned the entirety of western France). Indeed, three recent wars have seen the reconquest of Aragon, Gascony, and Toulouse — all areas now under the safe protective sphere of our Holy Roman Empire (which also includes Northern Finland, most of Central Europe, Southern Sweden, and Jerusalem with the adjacent areas).

All in all, a most interesting game, though I dare say playing as Emperor is hardly as interesting as I hoped it would be — only so many times I wish to kill my wife again in a plot after all.