Tag Archives: Computer game

Mare Nostrvm for the PC

I rarely reblog, but A) I just signed up for the beta for this, and I’m somewhat excited at the prospect; and B) the folks at ROCK, PAPER, SHOTGUN have done a fine job describing this upcoming Matrix Games treatment of a favorite historical subject of mine, galley warfare in the Greek and Roman age. It’s by the people who brought you Qvdriga, the nifty little chariot racing game Matrix put out a few years ago. I agree with the authors; the subject is in safe hands indeed.

Click on the picture to check it out.

click to see article

If I actually get on the Beta team (unlikely, but maybe), I’ll post my own observations and reflections.


The OGRE Video/PC game: not a rumor any more

Remember when the Kickstarter for OGRE Deluxe came out and Steve Jackson Games suddenly had a couple of millions of bucks in pledges over what he required and was thinking fast about what to do with all that boodle?  He gave away the original version of OGRE (the 2.95 pocket game), he promised he’d re-do CAR WARS, he promised he would reinvigorate the OGRE Miniatures line (and he’s coming through on that), and one of the niftier ideas being kicked around was “Hey, if there’s enough interest, we’ll get that OGRE video game done again”.  That .. what?

If you’re blessed with an imperfect memory and enough years, you might remember the old, very old, personal computer game of the basic OGRE III/V scenario.  This was an authorized SJG product produced under license by Origin Systems.  I remember this: I owned a copy.  Back in 1986.  I think it came out for Atari, Commodore 64 and IBM PC.  I have to say, you may be wincing at the graphics but it delivered surprisingly decent game play back in the day:

I think there was an illegal shareware version on early Macintosh computers but SJG lowered the boom on that one.

Not sure of the sales figures here but I’m guessing they were modest. The program never had an GEV material and it was never revisited in all those long years since. Until recently. According to hints here and there and some outright enthusiastic statements on the OGRE boards at SJG, a revisit of the OGRE PC/Video game is most definitely in the works. The production company is AUROCH DIGITAL and they just recently released some very early production visuals.

As SJG is quick to point out, don’t think this is even close to final, so there’s no telling what the final renders will actually look like, but I’m finding this encouraging. The original youtube put out earlier in the year pointed at an OGRE-only scenario:

The stills tell a different story– clearly, GEV and SHOCKWAVE units will be included in the mix. I’m very glad of that– I do like the basic OGRE game and played the living hell out of it in college, but it gets kind of predictable once you perfect what you call the perfect OGRE strategy. I find GEV much more challenging.

I’m not sure of deadlines or what not, but if this gets to kickstarter level, I’m sure the old fanboy in me will probably respond.

What the heck, who am I kidding, they can just shut up and take my money, I know my limitations.

Quadriga by Slitherine: Not your Daddy’s Circvs Maximvs.

SRP: $9.99
Released: Jun 15, 2014
Version: 1.0
Size: 302 MB
Language: English
Seller: Slitherine Software UK Ltd.

I love Chariot Games and have for a long time.  Avalon Hill’s CIRCUS MAXIMUS was a fortuitous purchase early on in my gaming existence; I have played it many times.  I play chariot games at conventions.  I set up a PBeM Site for Circus Maximus and Minimus back in the day.  Dare I say it, I even designed a slightly less than serious chariot game myself, now free in epub.  So I have an opinion or two about what I’m looking for in a chariot racing game.    A chariot racing game should have the players assume the roll of the aurigae, or charioteer.  There should be a defined command set that restricts movements in and out of lane.  Horse endurance HAS to factor in.  Also the durability of the Chariot, the skill of the driver, even the health of the driver.   Plus lots of happy to glad little rules like driving over wrecks, whipping your team, whipping the other driver, ramming chariots, and other situations that a charioteer would realistically find him or herself in in an actual race.  There are some great chariot racing games out there; my favorite is the classic Circvs Maximvs from Avalon Hill, and they all handle simulating the requirements of a decent race game in similar fashions.

Click Quadriga to go to product page

When Matrix/Slitherine announced Quadriga for the PC just a few months ago, I jumped on it and bought the download edition.   I played it a few times; and to be brutally honest, it wasn’t floating my boat.. Maybe it’s the different graphics being offered by the PC Game, or seeing it on my (old) laptop screen that wasn’t blowing me away.   So I wasn’t playing it much.  I may re-install Quadriga on my new laptop and see if it plays better now.    However, when I heard the announcement that Slitherine had done it again, and ported a PC semi-wargame to the Ipad, I jumped on that one too, even at the rather dear price of 9.99.  I took a chance that it might play better on the Ipad and I liked the idea of having a game I could resolve a chariot race with during half a lunch break.   I’m glad I did!   I’m not sure why I’m reacting this way; perhaps the touch control  is more satisfying than the mouse, or maybe it was the crappy processor on my older laptop that made the PC version less satisfying, but I find myself playing the Ipad version much more than the PC.

That’s the interface; the design is very good indeed.

Selecting a faction. Factions in Quadriga follow their real historical precedents, and provide the chariot team with certain benefits in either constitution (heart), skill (star), speed (arrow), size (lightning), endurance (blood drop) and quality (hammer). I think, anyway..

It’s clear the design team had someone that’s cracked open a history book at some point in their lives. The historical elements are rock solid– color factions that provide teams with certain benefits is kind of a must if you’re trying to simulate the historical chariot racing that happened in Rome.  The next step in the game is to customize your team, which seem to be a direct lift from the board game Circvs Maximvs:

An Aurigae gets four points to spend in addition to the benefits from your faction. Here, I spent 1 extra on Rugged chariot, an extra two health and an extra Speed on the team.

After a team is put together, the next step is the race itself.. this is another element of the design that satisfies some of the elements that are a must for a good chariot game– an easy to understand command set that will regulate movement in and out of lanes, whipping, braking and various other driving tasks.

This is the order set for Quadriga, which pretty much encapsulates most of the maneuvers you would expect in a Chariot Game: moving in, moving out, whipping, braking, accelerating, etc. If you’ve played Circvs Maximvs, you recognize this already.

The order menu is a big plus for me; it probably is the reason why I like the Ipad version better than the PC version, even if it’s only a subtle difference at best.  During a race, time is broken into standard small segments.  At the start of the segments, the menu flashes up on top of your chariot.  You choose an option, and it executes.  The AIs select and execute their moves simultaneously, and all chariots move ahead and we see what happens.  It’s the same game engine on the PC and Ipad, but it’s just.. I don’t know, more handy on the Ipad.

An example of the pop up order menu in action, Ipad verison.

As is the case with many of Slitherine’s latest releases, there is no PBeM play capability built into the game. So you’re playing against a pack of AIs that are making a movement decision based on the current conditions and executing it, just like you. That makes it pretty hard for the AI’s to cheat, and actually, not a bad contest. I suspect the AI is making the best choices available to it going into a turn, and as a result, will perhaps be less aggressive in the “crash your chariot into your opponent out of spite” mode. Most games I have played so far, *I* am the reckless and aggressive player, not the AI. I crash more often, make stupider decisions, and often end up being dragged behind a team of horses for my pains. It’s a tough life in the Circus Maximus.

Let’s take a second to look at my gallery of pain.

Yes, that’s MY chariot to the left there. Lesson 1: Corner Strain.

The game handles a lot of elements of chariot racing that are rolled for in boardgames like circus maximus; but just happen “under the hood” in Quadriga. For example Corner Strain, which is a critical design element for a chariot race, just happens.. somehow, in this game, and if your chariot hits the limit, it flips. It’s actually probably more severe a procedure than the boardgame.

Ha ha! Can’t catch me! I can’t help but win now.. unless, of course, I do the stupid and whip going into a turn, right? I mean, who DOES that??

Making another lucky guess with the lane change.

In this game, it’s important to visualize where you end up at the END of your movement as much as where you are now. Collisions are frequent as the AIs are doing what you’re doing, making a guess and hitting the “go” button.

As mentioned, CORNERING is a major source of ass pain in QUADRIGA. This appears to be a threshold feature, rather than a die roll: in Circus Maximus, you roll to “not flip” if your chariot is going over a certain safe limit. In Quadriga, if you are over a threshold, you just crash, that’s the long and short of it.

Win by watching your speed and taking some risks. Your little green menu track will turn RED for almost impossible risks and AMBER for moderate risk in turns. That’s about as much feedback as you get in Quadriga. If you see red going into a curve, you might be screwed unless you can haul back on the reins.

Sooner or later, you’ll be dragged behind a chariot. If you have ENOUGH endurance, you might still win if you have enough of a lead. Chances are, though…

… you’ll end up DEAD!!

So that’s about all I can say about actual gameplay.. it meets my personal threshold of what a Chariot Game ought to be — fast enough, involves a certain amount of plotting, then executing, has an easy set of commands that are even easier with icons, and most importantly allows you to screw over other teams. That’s the Circus Maximus experience in a nutshell.

And it’s fun! Lots of fun!

Summary: There’s some more to go over. Quadriga does have two modes of play, a single race and a campaign module that I haven’t explored in depth. Basically, Quadriga comes out of the box with many different courses. If you race a single race you could run on almost any one of them. During a campaign game you race on many of them sequentially. I can see where this would be a draw and help to personalize the game narrative. I’m having fun playing the single races out of the box right now.

So to sum it all up, it sure ain’t your dad’s Circus Maximus, but it has everything Circus Maximus did plus more besides. I’m shocked, I’ve had nothing but good things to say about Slitherine games for three reviews in a row. I promise to be more curmudgeonly in the near future.

Review of Starship Orion: Feels “Oh, So Retro”


The Good:
Outstanding depth. A robust 4x (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game with all the trimmings—technological development, espionage, military design, diplomacy, conflict, exploration, and planetary development. Ipad homage to THE classic space wargame MASTER OF ORION, and the designers make no bones about it.

The Bad:
Not all elements of a PC game transfer well to an Ipad game, and some of the interface emulates the old familiar look of Masters of Orion, which can have a lot of layers and levels. Starbase Orion can run a little slow and some of the earlier versions have reported multiple crashes, although I only experienced two crashes in every game I ever played. I thought a few tool tips to explain the current game context would be a good thing.

4X means 4X in the old school mode. Starbase Orion is highly evocative of an old niche of standalone computer games from the earlier days of computer wargames, back when there were computer wargames. The obvious comparison is to Master of Orion, but also games like Reach for the Stars, Spaceward, Ho!, Sword of the Stars and Galactic Civilizations. Yes, Starbase resembles all of those but is perhaps a little streamlined in that you have fewer alien races, fewer technology trees to investigate and a smaller map to explore. You should expect that Starbase Orion will concern itself with much more than mere space combat. There’s researching new technologies and following a technology tree, as in Civilization. There’s developing espionage resources and sending out spy missions against your opponents. There’s developing populations and industrial bases on planets. There’s exploring the vast tracts of space and finding NEW planets to explore, expand, exploit and new enemies to exterminate. There’s developing customized space ships to build into fleets to send out to conduct your 4X goals. That’s a lot of stuff going on in one turn. The Ipad interface is visually evocative of its exalted MS DOS predecessor, although it is greatly condensed. 4X is a fairly intricate game model for the Ipad interface, given the vast amount of calculations going on once the “next turn” button is pressed. The menu simplifies the multiple levels of the game and thus makes it easy to figure out where everything is. The Galaxy tab recaps what planets have been discovered so far and who owns them. The Empire tab displays your currently owned planets and their current state of development. The Military tab summarizes where your fleets are and offers the ability to design new ships with better technology. The Foreign tab is your Espionage interface, which allows a Galactic Emperor the opportunity to send spies into enemy systems. The Research tab is the interface to improving your empire’s technology in the key areas of weapon, propulsion, armor and planetary engineering. In addition, the planets have their own interface that enables the player to gain control over production queues and to build fortifications. The interface is scaled just right, in my opinion; the level of information is appropriate for a Galactic Emperor to manage things on a macro level; it doesn’t foster a micromanagement approach, except, maybe in Ship and Fleet management.


Games are played in turns, either versus an AI or versus another player using asynchronous play. Each turn the player cycles through the various game menus to make decisions about his empire as a whole. One might be making a decision about what technology item to research next, or what planet to send a scout spaceship to, or sending a spy to figure out just what exactly is in the system next door, now that we know it’s being held by an opponent. Once you have made all decisions about deployment, production, research, foreign relations and etc you hit the TURN button and see what happens.

Players start out in one small system somewhere; they might be anywhere on the map but they will usually have 2-3 planets at start, one of which usually being more heavily colonized than any of the others. The players will have (usually) a colony ship or two, a few scouts and maybe some other form of military vessel. The player’s immediate task will be to move out from the home system and explore the neighborhood, expanding in the nearest stars with habitable planets. Invariably, the initial colonizing ships will be too limited to go very far; one should always look into technology research choices that foster fast expansion, such as increased propulsion and planetary development technologies. As the game matures, the player will start to encounter other players, either human or AI. At this stage it behooves a smart player to invest in technology choices for warship development, espionage and planetary defenses. Starbase Orion is pretty balanced—one can’t expect to make giant leaps in one technological direction without ignoring something else that is critical. The steady, plodding approach of balanced development in every field will also be a pretty poor choice overall, as your empire will not progress quickly enough in critical technologies.

I played this game on both an Ipod Touch 3rd Generation and an Ipad 2. Of the two I vastly preferred the Ipad to the Ipod Touch or Iphone screen. The fonts WERE readable but it really crams a lot of information into a tiny screen. I prefer a big screen to get a sense of scale, and to accommodate my giant fingers. In the seven games I played in preparation for this article, 6 were AI games that played to conclusion and the seventh is an ongoing multiplayer game versus real humans. Of the two choices, I greatly prefer the latter. The AIs are very competent in terms of expansion; however, I got the sense that there was an unbalancing effect going on somewhere. In every game versus an AI, no matter how HUGE the galaxy might be, somehow there’s aliens showing up on your doorstep within 5 turns. I call that an uncanny coincidence. Human players are much more fun.

Macro View

The challenge of 4X games is that they are doing a ton of tasks simultaneously; it doesn’t pay to be impatient with a game of this magnitude. Expect to put in a lot of time– Starbase Orion will demand a lot of it be seen through to the end. Set your expectations accordingly—at 8 dollars and 106MB on your device, this game represents an investment. If you are looking for a semi-disposable arcade experience, pass this one up. Each turn shapes the gaming experience and to be successful you need to put some serious thought into it—not just into where you are now but where you will be in five turns. If you are thinking gamer that likes a patient, thoughtful and rewarding experience, then Starbase Orion is highly recommended. I am the kind of player that cut his teeth on Civilization, Masters of Magic, Colonization, and yes, Masters of Orion back in the 90s, so I jumped at the chance to get this game. I recommend it highly.