Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire – A First Look

You may remember back in June I wrote about Membraine Studios talking about the video game version of Exodus Wars, by Steel Crown Productions, called Fractured Empire.

FE logo11

Well they’ve been hard at work on Fractured Empire despite their Indiegogo campaign not being as successful as they’d hoped. Since then they’ve managed to get the game to a Pre-Alpha stage and they kindly let me have a little play.

For those that are unaware of the project, EW:FE is, in a nutshell, a video game adaptation of the table top game. Not an RTS etc, but a virtual strategy wargame animated and realised in a realistic environment. So basically gamers get to see the destruction they imagine in a more traditional setting.

So having had the access for 24 hours and played a half a dozen games it’s all looking very promising. The graphics are, obviously, not quite there yet as is any real explanation as to who is who and what’s going on. The Pre-Alpha is all about demonstrating game play which is actually pretty tight.

I could moan about layout and buttons being too big so they get in the way of the action but it’s pointless because it’s a Pre-Alpha game. It’s as pointless as complaining about unfinished animations or the odd game crash.

The important things to note is that the alternate activations flow backwards and forwards nice and fast which encourages you to think and react quickly. This will, eventually, give the game a very fluid sense of action rather than a ‘you go, I go’ turn based game. That said game set up didn’t give a proper indication of the game itself as the forces were deployed just a little bit too close together meaning I could concentrate fire on units from turn one and I actually managed to not only take the objective but wipe out my opponent without a single casualty.

The AI isn’t an issue because it’s still early days, my concern is the ease with which units take damage. Without being able to zoom in or find out what I was facing I was slightly put out when my tanks were being picked off by what seemed to be nothing more than infantry. This makes me think that the units haven’t been quite balanced yet.

One of the very cool things about EW:FE is that moving and shooting dramatically decreases the amount of damage you inflict but suppresses the enemy so they can’t shoot back. My only worry is that if one side has the advantage of range they can effectively cripple their opponents offensive capabilities, allowing the attacker to pound the enemy to dust.

Obviously it’s still early days and it there is lots left to do. The rest of the faction units for a start. And the big Titan-esque bastards. We like them. But for the niggles etc. what EW:FE has is potential. Bags of it. Bags and bags. If the screens and videos that Membraine Studios released 6 months ago are anything to go by it’s going to look the absolute tits if nothing else. The sweeping camera, the animated units, the simple but important effects of war.

I’m really excited to see the next phase for Membraine. I’d actually like them to take another swing at a Kickstarter campaign as they’ve got some real mettle to show off. But whatever happens next I’ll be front in line to have a play.

So, what’s next for Membraine and their proverbial bun in the oven? Well the guys from Membraine had this to say on their website:

Back in June and July of this year, we ran a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. While successful to a point (we raised almost US$7,500 of our US$35,000 minimum target and saw great critical response), we nonetheless did not reach our funding goal, and have since (unsurprisingly) struggled with financial issues.

It became clear we needed to rework our go-to-market strategy significantly or risk not delivering Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire.

You see, our crowd funding campaign failed, yes, but it nonetheless left us with the certain knowledge that gamers want to play Fractured Empire. We quickly realised we would never get to the finish line and ship the game with the funds we had, however. And so we embarked on some serious navel-gazing, asking ourselves the hard questions, like “Can we really attempt to make this game?” and “Does the market really want a turn-based strategy wargame that captures the essence of tabletop wargaming?”

We decided the answers were all obviously Yes, and so we stopped navel-gazing and instead started developing a plan of action that would enable us to make good and deliver this game to the community. The result is a new go-to-market strategy.

We recently made the first playable build available to our Alpha perk-level Indiegogo contributors and started our Alpha QA cycle, which will see us regularly releasing updated builds. In the near future, we will also be inviting our Beta perk-level Indiegogo contributors to join our QA testing team by providing them with the then-current build. In this way, we will have met our obligations to our Indiegogo Alpha perk- and Beta perk-level contributors as best we can.

The new go-to-market strategy for Fractured Empire

The decision has been made that we will adopt what we’re calling a “Minecraftian” pre-order model for Fractured Empire.

For those not familiar with Minecraft, what we’re talking about here is a go-to-market strategy of releasing playable builds for sale well before the game is in a Release state, where earlier adopters receive distinctly greater discounts on purchase than do later adopters. These types of pre-order models are becoming increasingly common among indie developers.

Key elements

Here are the key elements of our new go-to-market approach:

  • When it eventually reaches the Release Build state, Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire will sell for US$30.
  • Alpha Build pre-orders—currently available for purchase—are discounted by almost 66% at US$10. These purchasers will be eligible to access the then-current Fractured Empire build as soon as our QA team (which is us and our Alpha and Beta perk level Indiegogo backers) has completed an initial round of testing and we are confident of a good playing experience. This should be very soon.
  • Some time before the game reaches Beta, we will stop taking Alpha Build pre-orders and start taking Beta Build pre-orders. Beta Build pre-orders will be discounted by almost 33% at US$20. Pre-order purchasers will now be eligible to access the then-current Fractured Empire build immediately.
  • Some time before the game reaches Release, we will stop taking Beta Build pre-orders and start taking Release Build pre-orders. Release Build pre-orders will be discounted by almost 10% at US$27.
  • When the game reaches a final state and the Release Build is available, we will stop taking pre-orders and the game will no longer be discounted, selling for its full price of US$30.
  • Over time, we will expand the Release Build of Fractured Empire via a combination of free updates and, depending on demand, DLC.

Studio Sparta

The second bit of big news is the launch of Studio Sparta. Much like the Specialist Games range from the Games Workshop – only with support – Studio Sparta will be rolling out models and games that fall outside the primary focus of Spartan Games. It’s a very exciting move on the part of Spartan, aggressively diversifying into new systems.

The first big release is Firestorm: Invasion. A 10mm ground war game set in the Firestorm Armada universe. Kinda interesting that this has come out so shortly after Hawk Wargames’ – founded by former Spartan employee Dave Lewis – Dropzone Commander.

But I tell you what, the models look freaking awesome. Only the Terrans and Dindrenzi are available at the moment. Starter sets are £45 which is staggeringly good value, especially considering how much you get in there (20 models, rules and some other bits). I think we can expect a pretty rapid release schedule to capitalise on the stir all the new Spartan is throwing at us will cause. I for one am massively excited and will be getting my grubby little mits on a set of rules just as soon as I can.

WANT!

And were that not enough, Studio Sparta have also released the Invaders for Dystopian Wars. Remember this…

Some may have seen it on this humble blog back in April and I was poo-poo’d no less for suggesting the Martians were coming. Well all I shall say is…

…BOOM!

That’s right, aliens have made their legged bad ass way to Earth and they’re bringing some heat ray pain.

The range is available now so if you’re a Dystopian Wars ground battles player then not owning this stuff would just make a mentalist.

 

A First Look at Dropzone Commander

Yesterday I had the extreme pleasure of going up to the nerve centre of Hawk Wargames in Kent and having a play of Dropzone Commander.

The first I noticed when I stepped into Dave Lewis’ office was just how hard this guy works. His desk runs the length of the room with a computer at each end and in between the surfaces are covered in proofs, bits of models, piles of rulebooks from which to draw inspiration. Dave’s commitment is incredible and I’m not exaggerating when I say he works 19 hour days every day to bring his vision to gaming tables everywhere.

Of course the other thing on his desk was a cabinet. And in that cabinet was some of the most beautifully cast and painted models I’ve ever seen. They. Are. Gorgeous. And the love and care that they were painted with is evident. The photos on the website, although superbly done, just don’t compare to holding (yes he let me touch them) them and taking in all the detail.

The quality of the resin used puts Games Workshop’s Finecast, Forgeworld and Spartan Games to shame. As does Dave’s quality control. He showed us a ‘miscast’ that he had failed. He is, quite rightly, taking the quality of his product and his brand very seriously. Being a long time gamer he knows, as he puts it, what he hates, and cutting corners or cutting costs is just not an option.

Each force is very distinctive in both look and style of play to suit your particular brand of violence. But, to be honest, I could have been told the Post-Human Republic were made of paper mache and fired rainbows, nothing is going to stop me collecting those models because they are so damn cool. And this is a game where the rule of cool is very evident, to Dave’s eternal credit.

PHR Neptune Medium Dropship

And his chosen resin mix is tough. ‘Watch this,’ Dave says as he picks up the hull of a Shaltari Gaia heavy gate from his desk and throws it against the wall. Both myself and Lee of The Chaps – who Dave allowed me to bring along – took a sharp intake of breath as we watched the model collide with the wall and bounce off clattering to the desk. I picked it up and checked it over. Not only was there not a scratch on it but the glued on aerofoils were still intact. So; impeccable detail, flawless casting, near indestructible. Yep, I’d say the models are worth the money.

Shaltari Gaia Heavy Gate

But on to the game itself. I won’t go into too much detail about the fluff as I’d much rather save that for the full review in the coming weeks, and Dave has asked that I not be too specific about certain rules at this stage as things are subject to change. Although I can talk about the mechanic and phases etc. I’m quite proud to say that between us and the guys from 6inch Move, who were also invited along, we were able to contribute some cool additions which (fingers crossed) will be making it into the final version of the game.

In the game we played we used the Scourge, fast and munchy, and the UCM, slow and shooty. Somehow I ended up on the side of evil which may well explain my truly diabolical dice rolling through out because there’s always a part of me who wants my own side to lose. At least that’s my excuse.

Dropzone Commander works using alternate activations, but with a twist. Rather than move and shoot a vehicle or squad or blokes, you activate a group. Allow me to explain; You’re army is structured in tiers. So for example, in the case of the UCM, the Command vehicle may have scout elements attached to it which allows it to better use its special rules. The Scourge command unit – the ominously named Desolator – can have light transports attached to it carrying Minder Swarms which are, basically, floating AA guns that allow you to completely lock down the local airspace. Which is way cool. If you activate one element in that group you activate them all, wherever they are on the board.

At first this seemed a little messy. A lot messy actually as there was more than on occasion we forgot to move all our units in their activation. But it does work. It’s just a very different way of playing. In 40k you move your army, shoot your army and then punch some people in the face. In Dystopian Wars you move a unit, shoot a unit and possibly punch some people in the face if you every get close enough. Either way from a tactical point of view, be you the one doing the shooting or being shot, you focus on one element of the battle at a time and, equally can make an educated guess as to what the enemy does next and plan accordingly.

In Drop Zone Commander, elements can be deployed and dispersed so when activated hit multiple parts of the enemy’s line at once. Or, equally, if kept together, punch a hole through lines to allow another task force to move through. It’s a very tactical game. Add in fighters streaking over the battle field and it feels every bit as cinematic as it’s intended to be. The thing about Dropzone Commander is that it’s all about combined arms. No unit can survive for long without the support of the other elements, particularly its parent dropship. Not only are dropships armed but they’ll allow you to pull your forces out of a sticky situation. Equally, not everything can shoot at everything. The majority of vehicles cannot shoot at dropships. The majority of dropships cannot shoot at other flyers. Interceptors can shoot at bloody everything. But it means that your dropships will not get torn to shreds if they try to extract a unit, unless they’re foolish enough to fly over a hot zone full of anti-air fire. As I say, it’s all about combined arms. The game rewards you for taking a well-balanced force, however it will brutally punish you if you use it unwisely. But that’s war for you.

What this means is that although dropships are the focal point of the game and account for some of the coolest models they will not win  you the game. Nor will you lose it if they all get shot down. What is cool though is that all flyers are assumed to be 6 inches off the board, even if the flying stand isn’t. This means that they can fly over buildings lower than 6 inches. But, more to the point it means that they can’t fly over buildings taller than that. This presents some genuine tactical problems and on a board full of skyscrapers your dropships are going to be as much a hindrance as a help.

Another nice touch is that infantry, despite all the cool tanks, flyers and walkers, are really important to your success, and they’re surprisingly durable. What Dave has recognised is that no matter how many tanks and planes at your disposal, its soldiers that will win the war. If soldiers make it in to a building the only way you can weed them out is by pounding the living shit out of the building and let the falling masonry do the work – which is massively entertaining – or you have to send in troops of your own to get them out.

Close combat can only be fought in buildings. At first this made no sense to me because I have been raised on a diet of Assault Marines manging people in the face. But ask yourself; when you’re fighting street to street why do you want to run at someone and mang them in the face when you have a perfectly good gun with which to shoot them in face? And, more seriously, when they have guns to shoot you in the face? CQB is brutal. I mean brutal. And therefore awesome. It’s also very slick so although it will have a genuine impact it won’t take ages to work out and there won’t be time wasted trying to find the combat resolution rules.

Initiative flows back and forth nicely and combined with the way units operate that balance of power in the game can change very quickly. In fact, the Scourge had the edge for much of the game despite losing the initiative 5 out of 6 turns. Strategy cards specific to each faction are drawn that can tip the game in your favour if used at the right time. Generally speaking they won’t win you the game but it’ll throw up some nasty surprises. Although the UCM managed to get an emergency extraction card getting the all important 5th objective off the board right on the last turn, but you win some you lose some. Which actually sums up Dropzone Commander in some ways. Nothing is without cost. There isn’t anything in the game that’s too powerful or comes without a handicap. Even then Desolators super mega awesome energy field of energy (not its real name) isn’t without its drawbacks. For a start to get the best out of it you need to move it into the middle of your enemy lines. Which means keeping it alive. You then need to annihilate everything around it because if you don’t it’ll get torn to pieces in the subsequent activations. Plus, as we found out to our horror, it can blow up your own units as well…

Dropzone Commander is a great game. I wouldn’t say it’s a pick up and play kind of game, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It’s incredibly tactical; from your formations to your deployment to how you activate those formations once the game has started. Combined arms is vital but so is balls and bayonets and holding your nerve. It’s a game that has replay value to rival the likes of 40k especially as there is tremendous emphasis on terrain and how that makes your vehicles, particularly flyers, perform so you can have some really incredible scenarios if you have the patience to create the boards. I rather suspect that Dropzone Commander, especially those incredible models, will be an instant and enduring hit.

I see a sea shell on a Big Scary Monster…

Whilst trawling the interwebs I stumbled across what appears to be an aquatic skirmish game that goes by the name of Shadowsea. A rather unique looking animal it looks like it falls into my freshly created Steamfantasy genre*. The models look good enough and on the surface just appear to be dudes rather than named characters so that’s promising. Plus I quite like the thought of a Journey to the Centre of the Earth style romp.

*I may not have created Steamfantasy

The fluff goes a little something like this:

The underground world discovered by Captain Brewer was unlike any that the scholars and alchemists had seen, but there had been hints of such a land in crumbling maps found in desert tombs and on murals discovered in temples in the steaming jungles of the New World. Beyond the stupendous finding of lost civilizations and undreamed hoards of gold, was the discovery of ancient artifacts that appeared to have powers that could only be described as diabolical by all but a few decrepit sages. How else to explain devices made from crystal and unknown alloys that could cause things to occur that defied all of the laws of nature. Lightning without clouds, buildings lifted off the ground, instantaneous transportation of objects or even people, all and more were found as properties of the few artifacts that were retrieved from this new underground world and its shadowy sea.

The book looks a little like this:

And some of the beasties look like this:

It all looks like a good bit of fun. I shall investigate further and report back…

Halo 4 First Look

Another gaming video but you should all know by now about my affinity for the Halo Universe. If not, do a search on my blog…

Anyway, here’s a video from 343 Industries showing off some snippets from the new game including the new look Master Chief. I’m personally still in two minds about it, but I’m sure I’ll come around.

Three Plains Rule Changes

Dave Scholes (@DaveTheWargamer) creator of The Three Plains, over at Epic Wargaming has posted the below video talking about the new scenarios, Dwarves and some rather interesting rule changes. You can read my review of The Three Plains V2 here.

The changes to the movement rules that Dave is discussing the video actually have a dramatic impact on the game because, as Dave puts it, units are now more like sponges than bricks as in the regiment moves and flows through its environment. So, perhaps, more like silly putty?

Aside from making an absolute boat load of sense it makes the game quicker, more dynamic but far more tactical. Ranged units won’t be able to sit any longer at one end of a bridge smug in the knowledge that an attacking unit will take two or three turns to get to them thanks to all the faffing about reforming.

More significantly than that, loose forming units – Skirmishers and the like – will now be able to envelope (cool name for the rule if you ask me Dave) an enemy and curb stomp them to high hell. Take the example on the video, about 8 minutes in, of the Ogres and the hero. Under the new movement rules Ogres are able to evenlope (hint hint) a smaller unit delivering maximum damage and increased battle stress. It makes sense, especially restricting it to certain types of unit, not to mention being far more cinematic and satisfying for the person doing the kicking.

The impact of the rule is this:
1. To take that specific example – although the Ogres surround the hero, it prevents other units from attacking also, which stops gamers from mobbing other regiments thanks to careful manoeuvring and perfectly proportioned blocks of troops that happen to fit all nicely together.

2. Although the Ogres are, indeed, giving the hero a good kick, they are now vulnerable to counter attack from all sides, all in their rear/side arc which, in turn, makes them far more likely to get their skulls caved in and puts any survivors under increased battle stress. So now positioning of troops is vitally important beyond getting the charge in. Especially as terrain is now less of an issue to navigate. Skirmishing screens will become exactly that, mobbing outriders, chariots or holding up units, but will only last if there’s other units nearby for support. Otherwise, they can find themselves rear charged whereas a ‘standard’ unit would have remained in closed ranks.

So, overall, units will be easier to move generally, thanks to the additional rule that units have an anchor point in the middle of the front rank now, but their ability to respond to their environment means that games will be more satisfying, and  a lot less of a faff. Loose forming units will also play a much bigger part in games as they’ll be far more combat effective albeit at the risk of counter attack.

One thing that I think is worth considering is that not all units will blindly launch themselves into combat. Training, strategy and self-preservation will play a part to a greater or lesser extent. Rather than have a blanket rule either way, the player gets the choice to either hold ranks or envelope. However, holding ranks in the face of an easy kill is almost too tempting for even the most battle hardened warrior, and impossible to resist if you’re an orc, so if a unit that can envelope chooses to hold ranks instead must pass a soldiering test.
This gives players the option of either delivering maximum kills or maintaining formation and protecting themselves against counter attack. This obviously means that orcs and the like will almost always envelope whether you’d like them to or not, but makes them a far more characterful army for it.

It’ll be interesting to see how the rules develop over the next 10-11 months leading up to The Three Plains V3. I’ll keep you posted.

Sedition Wars – First Look Review

Studio McVey, as in Mike McVey, as in one of the founding members of ‘Eavy Metal, is currently working on a cracking  game called Sedition Wars. In its at the beta stage at the moment so you can expect the finished article to be rich and visually beautiful. For now the beta rules can be downloaded for free from the Sedition Wars forum.

Sedition Wars, in a nutshell, is about a conflict between the Vanguard and the rebel slaves and clones called the firebrand. Throw in techno-phage exforms called the Strain and you’ve got yourself a barn dance.

Before I get on to the game proper I have to talk about the models. Aside from being beautifully sculpted, dynamic and wonderfully styled, I’ve never in all my 22 years of gaming come across metal models that didn’t have mould lines. I have no idea how they managed it but Studio McVey seem to have casting down to perfection.

Below is the images from the Sedition Wars website of the samples I received. I know I promised I’d put up the images of my own paint job but I was too excited about the game to wait. I’ll put mine up in a separate post once I’ve finished them.

I especially love the corpsmen above. With a different paint job he’d make a cracking Bounty Hunter and he’d have to be called The Doctor.

The game is, essentially, a board game, the factions fighting over maps a kin to Space Hulk. And like Space Hulk the movement and shooting mechanic uses squares. Unlike Space Hulk, Sedition Wars uses, rather sensibly uses three different range bands which presents a variety of tactical choices, especially as the Strain – the force used in play testing – has a variety of grizzly weapons that do their thing at short-range. Sedition Works hard for you to take the fight to one another rather than the Space Hulk method of one side running head long into the others incoming fire.

The various troops/strain have skills available to them at the cost of tactics points which can do useful things like heal troops or hack networks…or just cause general untold misery to their foes. And as certain skills are only available to certain members of the team it does force you to keep the victory conditions in mind because if key members of the team get slotted then it’s game over.

Sedition Wars is excellent for two very simple reasons. The first being that the game mechanic is so straight forward. The turns flow smoothly. Combat is quick to get to grips with and works incredibly well considering both myself and my opponent were coming to it cold. It’s also assisted along by the Sedition Wars forcing you to complete each model’s actions in full before moving on to the next . It gives the game a very cinematic feel. Combine this with brilliantly balanced forces and spawning rules for the Strain and you feel like the Vanguard are constantly under pressure. Even with the relatively high strength of weapons the Vanguard have you only ever feel like you’re buying breathing space.

At one point in our play testing, 2 Phase 1 exoforms flanked my team (thanks to a nasty little move the Strain can do with nanos) and tore my trooper to bits. Not only was I forced to react but losing 1 member of a 5 man team forced me into an all or nothing assault. It paid off but only 3 of the team lived to tell the tale.

Although at an early stage, Sedition Wars is already shaping up to be a really good game. The rules are refreshingly simple to get to grips with meaning you spend more time breaking stuff to look tough than rulebook flicking. The weapons are varied and fun – try the grenade launcher and you’ll see what I mean – the factions are diverse and interesting. And the models and map are awesome.

With such strong models and accessible game mechanics, Sedition Wars deserves success, although I’d also be really intrigued to see how many maps will be included in the game and how they’ll be produced. And whether or not Studio McVey will go down the box set route at all.
I’d love to see maps done as tiles to allow for a degree of customisation and additional rules for writing your own Sedition Wars campaign. Whatever the finished article will be like, I can safely say I’m really looking forward to the full release of Sedition Wars.