So I’ve stumbled across a noble undertaking by an Australian developer called Membraine Studios who are in the process of developing a turn based strategy game for PC & Mac based on Exodus Wars by Steel Crown Productions.
The jist is this: There are no shortage of RTS games. There are also no shortage of turn based hex/tile strategy games. What there isn’t is a, for want of a better term, a virtual table top wargame.
What’s the point? you may ask, and you’d be forgiven for doing so as the fun of table top gaming is building and painting your toys and then sicking them on your opponent across a hand-made board. However, as Mark Sheppard pointed out in a guest blog post over on Gamasutra, in a modern world we all have a hell of a lot less free time than we use to do anything let alone build, paint and play toy soldiers.
I can certainly vouch for this. I still haven’t built the Contemptor Dreadnoughts I bought at Salute in April. I’m also lucky to game once a month because of the time and faff it can often involve just getting the right people in the room at the same time. It’s a valid argument but I think there’s a fundamental point that isn’t being acknowledged – which is the same reason why any video game of a wargaming IP gets our community all of a flutter – which is seeing the units that we shuffle around the board tearing the living shit out of each other in beautiful computer animation. THQ’s Space Marine is a prime example. The plot was flimsy, some of the artistic licence was a joke but nothing could distract you from the fun of manging the living shit out of Orks.
There’s also the added benefit of not only playing people you know, but, presumably, other wargamers from local communities or further afield without contending with the ‘wanky gamers’ and the teenage body odour that so often is found in wargaming clubs.
And that’s the point of Exodus Wars. It’s all the hard-core strategy of a turn based, tabletop, wargame with all the shiny animations but without that sense that a unit is just moving from one square to another ala the Civ games or the long forgotten Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War. Which was broken. And shit.
Plus there’s the added bonus of fielding massive armies, without having to worry about the cost, on beautifully presented battlescapes without having to go to the trouble of building them. Granted, for many, that is all part of the fun but few can deny the appeal of having the freedom to create and customise a, theoretically, limitless army and fling it at your opponent. Of course the important thing for Membraine to remember is keeping forces balanced. It’s all well and good having tank divisions at your disposal or titan-esque constructs stomping about the place, but it renders infantry moot – which was a problem that the Command & Conquer games never got the handle of (who can say tank-rush?). Wars are fought and won by the might of combined arms and there in lies the challenge for all game writers – lots of variety but none of it gaming winning on their own.
The point is that Exodus Wars Fractured Empire is the truest recreation of a turn based tabletop wargame that has ever been attempted. All the best bits of a night with The Chaps playing toys but with all the fun of getting to see stuff getting blowed up in real-time. It’s a big challenge especially as the temptation would be to recreate gaming boards as you or I would have them due to budget, our ability to build terrain or allowing for the limitations of the model. Regular players of Warhammer 40,000 will know all about that, especially – ironically – when using GW’s multi part plastic kits.
As well as nice looking – customisable – units it’s really important for games of this nature to take the best from the medium it’s using in the form of convincing, interactive, environments. Especially as it’ll give the game a crucial tactical edge that’s actually very difficult to represent in table top games without lots of mucky rules. And considering the big bastards the game is offering, shown below, something to hide behind is definitely useful.
So it’s all rather splendid then. Yes and no. Yes in that it looks awesome and you can see the boys of Membraine are heading in the right direction. But no in that a super niche product doesn’t have publishers beating at Membraine’s door, – although I might so I can blag a job – so they have come to our extraordinary little community for assistance in making Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire a reality.
There’s no shortage of companies doing Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns but I think this is genuinely worth a look and a few quid if you can spare it. Take a look at the videos below and if you think it deserves a shot you can review Membraine’s campaign information here. Just bear in mind it’s far from finished but you’ll get the idea of the potential the game has at this early stage.