Category Archives: Other PC Games

I’d Buy That for a Dollar… or Less?

This past week I had logged into Steam. I don’t let it log in automatically when I start up my computer.  Some part of me always wants to limit the number of processes running on my computer at any given time.

Anyway, I haven’t been logging in recently because I haven’t been playing any games that I purchased on Steam.  War Thunder was the last thing on Steam I was playing regularly.  And, of course, we are in the great gulf between the Steam Summer Sale and the Steam Holiday Sale,

Still, that doesn’t mean there are not sales.  I got a note that something on my wishlist was on sale, an item I couldn’t really recall the details of, so I logged in to Steam to window shop. As I logged in… and several games started to update… I ran over the front page to see what else might be on sale.  There was a mention on one part of the page that over 100 games were currently on sale, so I clicked on that to get the full list.

You can sort the list by various criteria and I decided to go with price, lowest to highest, to see just how cheap things can be on Steam.

As it turns out, things can be very cheap.

Steam - Under a Dollar

Steam – Under a Dollar

That is a list of fifteen items UNDER a dollar on Steam, with the lowest checking in at a mere fourteen cents.  More than half of that list is under fifty cents.

This makes me feel dizzy as my brain wonders at what point is something simply priced too cheaply.  At what point does it start to cost more simply to run the credit card transaction.  How much of that fourteen cents does a developer even see.

Apple’s iTunes App Store has a lower limit of 99 cents if you want to charge for an app.  Free is the only cheaper option.

Is there any reason to price something on Steam for less than 99 cents?  I mean sure, fourteen cents gets you a spot at the top of the list, but is that price an enticement or a warning?

And, in answer to the title, I did not buy any of these games.  There is probably a message in that as well.

Further Exploration in Minecraft

After the Father’s Day round of Minecraft my daughter seemed to think we were done with it.  Or that I was done with it.  So she was surprised to find that I launched the server again over the next few days and was interested in further exploration.

Despite the fact that she likes to play on servers with mods, she agreed to come play with me some more, picking up where she left off on building us a what she considered a proper house.

A house on the hill

A house on the hill

My job was to gather sand and melt it into blocks of glass in the furnace so that we would have lots of windows.  It is two stories with a room for each of us.  Each room also featured a skylight… more glass blocks… which was neat when it started to rain.

Rain at the house

Rain at the house

She built the house on a hill not too far from our farm, so the beacon she built to help us navigate the area would still be useful for getting home.

The farm, lit up at night

The farm, lit up at night

I eventually built a raised road between the house and the farm just to make it easier to travel between the two.  That is one thing about Minecraft is that you can sit around and make minor updates and adjustments and additions all you want.  I eventually built that road, expanded the lot around the house, built a wall with several gates to keep the monsters out, and planted a pumpkin patch around back just because.

All of that happened later though, because my daughter was insisting on something of a whirlwind tour of the game, which started out with horses.

She spotted some horses not too far from our home so we headed out there to tame a couple which involves getting on the horse until it gives up and stops knocking you off.

Mounted on horses

Mounted on horses

She had also found a village near by and was able to trade for saddles, which are apparently also part of the whole horse thing.  This went by pretty quickly so I wasn’t sure how she even got the saddles and was mildly surprised that villages of NPCs were actually a thing.  But there they were.

The village

The village

When we got back to the house with the horses it was already night fall, so we boarded them downstairs and went to bed.

Horse in the living room, not recommended

Horse in the living room, not recommended

The next morning we build a stable adjacent to the house for the horses.

Then my daughter wanted to go mining.  We needed iron for some of the things she wanted to do, so it was down and down underground until we picked up enough of that to build a set of armor for each of us.  That probably explains why I haven’t died yet.

We also came across some diamonds as well, so were able to craft some high quality weapons and tools.

Armored up with a diamond shovel

Armored up with a diamond shovel

We needed the diamond tools… or at least the diamond pick… in order to harvest some special materials for her next item on the list, a portal to the nether.

The portal looms

The portal looms

That built, we jumped in and took a quick visit to the nether, though we had to stop for a minute and watch the video Screw the Nether on YouTube which, up to that point, constituted my total knowledge of the nether.

In the nether for a bit

In the nether for a bit

Our trip there was short.  We took a quick look around, harvested something, and then headed back to the portal.  The portal in the nether somehow ended up surrounded in flames and I caught fire and nearly died getting back.  After that she walled up the portal lest anything venture from it.  We still have it close by should we need it.

And that was it for the whirlwind tour.  She went back to other servers and I was left to potter about.

As noted, I spent some time improving the house.  I also delved into the mines below us, harvesting materials, boring out new galleries to work, and occasionally falling into a deep hole which then necessitated digging myself back to the surface again.  The land around our house started to look like it had been set upon by a pack of rather large gophers.  There were holes all over.  So I spent some time marking those, putting up walls and torches to keep myself from falling in.

That lasted for a while, but eventually I got the urge to explore.  I decided to keep it simple and just headed south in a straight line in hopes of not getting lost.  That worked for a while.  There were, of course, things in the way.  I bored out a tunnel at one point and had to pave over yet another hole in the ground to keep the path straight.  And I would drop a cobblestone block and put a torch on top of it every so often in order to mark my way.

Exploring turns out to be pretty neat.  There is definitely a hard limit on how far one can travel in a day and terrain can limit your progress drastically.  I decided to bore through a hill and ended up breaking out at the top of a sheer cliff at one point, so had to go back a stair step my way down.

And then night falls and you have to hole up and make a shelter.  I was smart enough to pack supplies, the key item being a bed.  You dig yourself a shelter, secure it, put down your bed and sleep through the night.  Then, when you wake it is day time again and you can pick up the bed and move on.

I kept on heading south for a few days, then ran into a wide body of water.  It was getting on in the day so I built a more elaborate shelter than normal, lit it up, and even put a door on it.  Then I built something like a dock on the water and called it a night.  The next day I built a boat, my first, and sailed off to explore the lake.

And promptly got lost.

Then started my adventures in the wilderness.  I never got back to my dock or shelter on the boat.  I ended up way off in a jungle area and tried to make my way back in the direction of home.  I remembered to pack some wool, so I could make another bed, but otherwise had to find materials along the way to replace my tools as they wore out.

Eventually, channeled off course by a series of steep valleys, I was way out in the boonies and had no idea which way home might lay.  I had passed through jungles and wooded areas and a high plateau with snow, and eventually down into some more wooded valleys.  That could have been close to home or it could have been further away.  I had no idea.

In going through the recipe list I saw that, among the things you would make, was a map.   So I set up a camp on a river and started farming some sugar can, which can be turned into paper, along with some watermelons for food.  I build a shelter, tended my farm, and then started mining for the necessary additional materials.

Days went by.  I built a spire on top of a nearby mountain and lit it with torches as a marker so I could find my way back as I explored around the area.  I eventually had paper, but was still missing other ingredients.

My daughter came in to see what I was up to and I told her I went exploring and she said, “Alone!?!?!” and told me I should only go exploring in a group.  I was totally lost but had no idea how far from home I was, so she logged in and made some fireworks to set off to see if I could see them

Eventually I gave her admin powers and she summoned me to the spawn point, which she moved near our home.  My first action was to make a compass, as I had the materials in a chest in our house.  That always points to the spawn point so now I at least know what direction home is going forward.

Then I kind of missed the little base I had built up while lost and tried to find it again.  I made it south and found my dock and the stuff I had left behind, but sailing out on a boat again I couldn’t find where I had eventually come ashore.  I am kind of sorry I let her summon me home, as I feel like I left something undone out there.  So I will carry on trying to find my old base, building new ones as I explore.

But I could see this as a potential group game, setting up a base and improving it while exploring and taming the world around it.

Anyway, our home abides and there is more to explore.

Home at sunset

Home at sunset

A Flirtation with The Sims

After about a week of pondering, my daughter came to me and told me which game she wanted to play instead of World of Warcraft.  The choice of a summer game was at hand.

Then she said, “The Sims!” and I went, “Huh?”

Specifically, she had decided on The Sims 4 based on something she read somewhere on the internet.

Just in case you need a picture

Just in case you need a picture

I had to ask if she was doing this because she read something about murdering Sims by trapping them in basements or pools or doors without rooms and, if that was her plan, could I watch.  That did not appear to be her plan at all, but her response made it clear that these were things worth looking into.  A proud parenting moment, where the values of one generation are transmitted to the next.

To my somewhat mild surprise, The Sims 4… and the evil of Origin that is required to play it… were both available for Mac OS.  I didn’t think EA still did anything on Apple products, aside from horrible iOS apps that you have to pay for up front and which then still show you ads.

And, as it turned out, The Sims 4 had been marked down from its original list price to something approximately equal to the three month World of Warcraft subscription, which made the math easy.  I told her she would be giving up WoW for at least three months and using that subscription money to buy The Sims 4.

She was fine with that, so off we went.

First I had to create an Origin account, which proved to be awkward.  EA has apparently somehow come into contact with every single email address I have ever used and had set aside a pre-made account for each.  Seriously, a couple old addresses I hadn’t used in years came up with, “You cannot create a new account with that address because we have already absorbed it into the Origin Collective! One of us! One of us!”

Not creepy at all EA.  I know you’ve tried to meld everything into your evil plan.  I’ve run across these account merges before.  But seriously, I had never before downloaded the Origin software or specifically created an Origin account.  It might be nice to at least make me think this was my idea or something.

Eventually I picked an email address, went through some password reset hoops, downloaded the software to the iMac, and had everything setup short of entering my credit card information.  At that point I asked my daughter one last time if she was sure.

She was sure.

So the deed was done.  The Sims 4 was purchased and downloaded and she began to play.

And play she did.  I have to admit she threw herself into The Sims 4 and played it to death.  She would have taken all her meals at her computer and stayed up all night playing if she had been allowed.  That went on for three days when she suddenly approached me and told me that she absolutely NEEDED to get the Get to Work expansion for the game.

Best expansion name ever

Best expansion name ever

I explained that she had used up the house gaming subsidy for the quarter, which only covers a video game subscription to WoW or other MMO or the cash equivalent.  She understood that and was prepared to spend her own money for this expansion, which ran $30.

I made her hand me the money before I would even get out the credit card.  This made my wife roll her eyes, but I wanted to be very solid on the fact that she was paying for this… plus I am bad at debt collection, so I want cash on the barrel head.

So the cash was forked over and the expansion purchased.

She immediately went to town on that for another day or so.  At one point I came over and found her designing the most efficient eight person sweatshop possible, a veritable North Korean work camp without the political indoctrination, and wondering how long the workers would survive.  A true child of Silicon Valley, where we are all big on fair trade coffee and work/life balance until we’re put in charge and every expense comes out of the bottom line.

The next day I came home from work and she said she had to reboot the iMac for an update and needed me to log back into Origin for her.  I said I would be over in a bit, but she didn’t seem in a hurry.  When I put my stuff down and wandered over to see what she was up to, she was playing Minecraft on some PvP server and didn’t really want to pause.  I came by a couple more times that evening, but something else was always going on, Minecraft or drawing or looking at cat .gifs on Imgur.

Days passed and I kept offering to log her in.  Eventually I checked while she was away and saw that Origin had actually been logged in the whole time. (Don’t remember telling it to do that, but you know, EA.)  So I asked her why she stopped playing.

She said the Get to Work expansion had been a disappointment and did not really open up the game the way she thought it would from the description.  The base game was still okay and she liked some of the creative aspects of it, but the lack of an open world limited the game’s appeal over time.  Having read some follow-up items on the web, she felt that she might have been better off with The Sims 3.

There was clearly some buyer’s remorse, enough that she wasn’t ready to spend her own money to jump into The Sims 3 despite it being only $20 on Origin. (At that point it was even cheaper on Steam, but only the Windows version was available.)  Still, she got quite a few hours out of the game.  If it hadn’t been for the expansion, the cost/hours ratio would have probably put it ahead of what we get out of a lot of gaming purchases.  And I am sure she will revisit it at some point.

But that was sort of how we ended up playing Minecraft on Father’s DayThe Sims were off the menu for a bit, but Minecraft was still there for her and for us.

Jacked Up But Clearly Not Good to Go!

I played a lot of StarCraft back when it was new… which was back in early 1998.  My friends and I played it after work at the office and at home via Battle.net.  As so many have said, it was a very well balanced RTS with three distinctly different factions to learn.  Our interest in it kept going right through the Brood War expansion. (Though when I look at the dates, Brood War came out eight months after the main game, which might be some sort of Blizzard record for shipping an expansion.)

Anyway, I have written a bit about StarCraft before and it has come up now and again for our group as a possible game to go back to.  The primary arguments against it tend to be the fact that it runs at 640×480 resolution and that none of us are really into RTS games much any more.  It was a game from a specific point in my timeline, and that time may have passed.

But I still have strong memories of it.  Even my wife remembers the game.  Back when it was current my then wife-to-be and I shared an office in her condo so when I played video games I either had to put on headphones or share the audio experience with her, and the audio StarCraft left its mark.  To this day she will, every so often, as if I ever play “Jacked up and good to go!” any more, that being one of the more memorable Terran Marine quotes.

Since then StarCraft II has (finally) shown up, but while I have written about it a bit… mostly in the context of Blizzard as a whole… I have never gotten around to buying the game.  I have thought about it, but since I play MMOs now, and since those tend to consume all available gaming time, I am not sure when I would play.  Plus, for me, it was always a group game, so buying it myself would seem… odd.  The campaigns were never the high point, it was always about playing with friends.  (Though with playing at work a thing of the past due to IT policy, I am not sure I would miss LAN play.)

So I was a bit surprise/amused/happy to get a note from Blizzard letting me know I had been given access to the closed beta for the upcoming Legacy of the Void expansion for StarCraft II.

Why thanks!

Why thanks!

Blizzard had some details out about this back at BlizzCon last year, but it seems like things are really in motion if they are already sending invites to random opt-ins like me. They want feedback early according to the details.

For this reason, we decided to start the beta sooner than we normally would have in the past, providing ample time for feedback and iteration.

Though I gather from the Beta FAQ that my purchase of a virtual ticket to BlizzCon 2014 put me on the list.

I mentioned that I got the invite to my wife and she said the line, “Jacked up and good to go!” and told me I had to play… and that I had to have the audio run through my speakers so she could hear what the units were saying.  So it had to be done.

I downloaded the beta, though I first tried to do it through the “Download Now” button in the email, which only succeeded in downloading the StarCraft II starter edition.  Not that that was a bad thing.  I got that going and ran through the tutorial mission just to make sure I still knew the basics.  I slaughtered the CPU guided foe with ease following the tutorial instructions along with some vague memories of how to play from back in the day.

After that I went back to the Battle.net launcher and downloaded the Legacy of the Void beta directly and got that up and running.

That was what I wanted to see

That was what I wanted to see

I got in there and looked at what options I had.  They were limited to 1v1 multiplayer games over Battle.net, which was to be expected given the blurb in the invite.

This phase of the Legacy of the Void closed beta test focuses on the multiplayer aspects of the game, including the new cooperative Archon mode, so ramp up your APM and dive into the battle.

So multiplayer it was the option.  How bad could it be, right?

Actually, the more accurate question was, “How bad could I be?”

I played three games in quick succession… and they were quick because I ended up surrendering after being wrecked much earlier than expected.  I am not just bad at StarCraft II at this point, but I am apparently so much worse than the average player in the beta… who are much more likely to be self-selected individuals who are really into StarCraft II as opposed to happy memory dilettantes like myself… that after the third humiliation I closed down the game and went back to Azeroth to work on my second druid (mentioned last week) healing for random Dungeon Finder groups.  At least there when things are going bad I can at least tell why.

Hitting level 90

Hitting level 90!  Another garrison soon

It just isn’t worth my time simply because I do not care enough about StarCraft II to put in the effort to be more than a very small speed-bump on somebody’s road to victory.  Those days are gone.

And the most disappointing bit in the whole thing… the Terran Marine units don’t even say, “Jacked up and good to go!” any more.  I had to check the list of quotes to be sure, and it isn’t there.

But I will always have memories of 1998.

A Sad Day for Sims

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

A Test Run Beyond Earth

The holidays and the flu and various other real life issues have kept both of my regular gaming groups from getting together to play very much over the last couple of months.  The instance group is just one instance into Warlords of Draenor and the strategy group managed to play a game of Age of Kings while talking about what we should dive into next.

Picking a game is a wide open discussion.  We tend towards strategy games, but more out of habit than a burning desire to remain pure to a given genre.  We could go anywhere, and even if we stuck with strategy the field is wide open.

But even as Potshot was bringing up Crusader Kings II (another on the list of games that have made me feel dumb) Steam stepped up and offered us an out.  There was a special demo/sale weekend a couple weeks back for Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Sid Meier strikes again

Sid Meier strikes again

The download was quick enough and the price was right, so while Loghound and I each gave it a quick try, we both ended up just buying it.  The following weekend it was just him and I online, so we decided to test drive it multiplayer.

That quick game, on a small map with options set pretty conservatively, pretty much all I had heard about the game was born out.

Setting up our game

Setting up our game

The Civilization: Beyond Earth feels more like an expansion to Civilization V than a whole new game, certainly when compared to the way Alpha Centauri felt after Civilization II.  When I first played Alpha Centauri way back when, I immediately wanted some of its new features ported back to Civ II.  I still do.  I still dream of a Civ 2.5.

Beyond Earth though, it pretty much feels like Civ VCiv V in space, as noted elsewhere.  It is like a stand-alone expansion.  And, given that Sid Meier is headed towards Civilization: Starships next, it might be the last hurrah of the Civ V era.

But being tied to Civ V is not necessarily bad I suppose.

Civ V is my second favorite flavor of Civilization, so it is hard to fault them making more of it.  While they have rearranged the UI some, there are no mystery buttons.  Just playing through a quick trial game settled everything for me.  The options for multiplayer pretty much map directly back to Civ V.  And it does look like Civ V… in space… which means it looks pretty darn good, even if it starts taxing all four cores of my processor pretty quickly.

A ways into a game...

A ways into a game…

There are some small differences that spice things up a bit.  There, for example, little “quest like” decision points that determine how resources will be handled or what production or units your cities will favor.  And then there are the alien life forms.  They are sort of barbarians, sort of not. (You cannot turn them off in the settings as in Civ V, as they are somewhat essential to the plot, such that it is.)

The downside for Beyond Earth is that while it did not carry the impact of Alpha Centauri when it launched, it is still saddled with some of the baggage that keeps Alpha Centauri down at the third position on my list of favorite Civilization games.

The game sticks to the conventions of the series, even when they do not make a lot of sense.  The map is blacked out despite the fact that I just landed from space?  I flew in a spaceship, but I need to do research on how to make a space buggy to ride around in… or allow certain agreements to be made with other factions?  And I care about these caricatures of factions and their inflexible philosophies why?

Then there is the tech web itself.

remember, webs are traps!

remember, webs are traps!

I realize that we are in the future for Beyond Earth, so we have to deal with future tech and rather than a tree forming at a single root it is more realistic to have a lot of choices to make.  The problem is that, as choices, they are only mildly interesting.

Part of what makes the historical Civilization games compelling is that journey from spearmen to modern mechanized infantry.  That is an epic journey through time that involves technologies that we know and understand.  High tech space soldier to slightly improved high tech space soldier can never capture that same sense of progress.

I will temper this by saying that, at this point, I have not played a lot of Beyond Earth.  Those are initial impressions.  Since it looks like Beyond Earth will be our next weekly game, we shall see if my opinion changes over that time.

And, if nothing else, it keeps us the hell away from a comical quagmire in Crusader Kings II for a few more weeks.

Starting the New Year in the Age of Kings

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.

AoK450I 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.

Back to sheep again

Back to sheep again

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.

Carnage before the castle

Carnage before the castle

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.

Timeline of the conflict

Timeline of the conflict

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?