The so-called Strategy group finally came back from its nearly three month hiatus and actually played a game together last Friday night. Well, at least three of us did, but that was still two more than most of our attempts to play since mid-October.
In something of a step back to our roots of nearly a year ago, Loghound, Potshot, and I got out Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings again. It was a nice return back to a good old game that we had not played for many months.
I actually had to install it right then, but even the HD edition isn’t that big, relative to modern titles at least. And then we had to remember how to get a game started. Of course, once in the lobby, everybody seemed to remember the number for the “Start the game already!” taunt. (14)
We set up a game of four random civs, the three of us and a computer opponent. In this case we set the cpu to hard and used what was billed as the “Conquerors AI,” which I guessed was the slightly smarter AI from the expansion. We also set ourselves on different teams and locked that so there would be no alliances, and off we went.
Then we all had our moment of “What do I do?” Fortunately, years of playing the game has at least instilled the first few steps permanently in my brain. I think, on my death bed, if somebody asks me for my Age of Kings build order, my final words in life will be, “queue villages, build house, gather sheep… arrrgh…” followed by the machine making that flat line noise.
Anyway, I started down the path towards an economy of some sort as my scout began poking about. In a classic AoK situation, I didn’t managed to locate all of my own sheep until the very end of the game, but I managed to steal a few of Loghound’s sheep. Must be some of my Scots ancestry showing through. I also managed to kill his scout.
The map, which we had set to full random, turned out to be a good one for us. I think it was the “Rivers” map, where each player ends up on their own island of sorts with rivers dividing up the map and a limited number of crossings for choke points.
The game itself shook out into two parallel battles for a while, with Potshot and Loghound laying into each other while the computer AI, which had drawn the Mongols, came after me.
That turned out to be fortuitous, as I managed to get walls up at the crossings and the AI did not feel like an amphibious assault. So the AI spent a long time going after my walls in its obsessive compulsive way, where it keeps attacking them even after it has a path through, while I was able to build up a small army and some defenses. A strategically placed castle and a host of pikemen and skirmishers proved deadly to the Mongol horse archers.
Once I had slaughtered the attacking forces, it was time to go on the offense myself. I pushed the computer back a ways and took out some of his buildings while breaching his wall, during which time I restored the walls at the crossing between us. However, the cpu was also coming around via the crossing to Loghound’s island. So after my frontier with the Mongols was momentarily secured, I pushed my force across into Loghound’s territory to clear out any buildings the CPU might have established.
While I was there I took a quick detour to kill a bunch of Loghound’s villages, destroy some of his buildings, and generally mess up his economy a bit. Then I turned north to confront the Mongols again.
My foray into Loghound’s empire appeared to take some pressure off of Potshot. As I was rampaging into the Mongols’ base with trebs and rams and a host of pikemen and skirmishers, with a few villages and priests in tow to repair and heal, I actually ran into a force Potshot sent in to attack the Mongols as well. Between us the Mongols withered and ceased to be a force on the map, surrendering soon after.
There I was facing Potshot who had mounted his expedition using what I might generously call “economy of force.” I outnumbered him heavily and started pushing into his lands. Getting a ram up to his gate at the crossing, with my troops crowding the ford, was my most immediate problem, and soon I was into the midst of his economy.
Burning him out there, I returned to Loghound’s lands. He had rebuilt quite a bit and had a force of Samurai, maybe the best melee unit in the game, waiting to oppose me. But my mass of cheap pikemen and skirmishers, fully upgraded by this point, were able to defeat his force with minimal losses. Then it was time for the siege engines to come up and to chase down the villagers. I also caught up with Potshot’s last little outpost as well. So I was the only force in being.
All good fun.
Well, probably more fun for me thanks to a couple of lucky breaks. If the CPU had been set to hardest or if Potshot and Loghound hadn’t decided to go after each other things might have ended up differently. But still, a good set of pitched battles and it was fun to get back together and play again.
But while AoK was fun, and will likely remain so for a couple more sessions, it does have a limited shelf life before it starts to feel repetitive. Patterns will begin to develop and we will start looking for another game.
Recognizing that, we started the “next game” discussion immediately, but have not yet come up with a title. We could always go back to Total War: Rome II, which was where we left off back in October. There is probably a little life left in that, though it was starting to get a bit repetitive itself. I am also concerned that, after the great Thanksgiving power supply blow-out, that my video card might not be up to the task. With my last video card dead, I had to go back to the 2010 vintage backup card, an nVidia GTS 450, to achieve stability. It was a modest but capable card back then, and hasn’t gotten any faster sitting on a shelf for a while.
Though if we really wanted to repeat history, we could go for another epic, multi-week Civilization V conflict while we wait for the expansion that will make Civilization: Beyond Earth worth picking up. My video card could handle that, and my new CPU is a generation or two better than the old one. Maybe we could beat Mattman this time around. He won the previous two games. And I am sure we would have a very different set of views on what options we would select. (Raging barbarians? I think not.)
Anyway, we are sort of where we were last summer, when we were looking for a new game for the group during the Steam Summer Sale. I suppose the options I listed out in that post are still on the table, but has anything new come out since then that might be worth considering?