My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review of Leviathan: Warships

Some time ago a gaming buddy of mine got into the board game BattleLore (version 1). Because he was in Ohio and I am in Arizona, we would play it online using Vassal, an outstanding tool for playing board games online. We played the heck out of that game, discussing strategy for it endlessly. When the first online tournament for it came about, he and I joined and came in 1 and 2, respectively (I bragged about it here).

Now this guy is a naval nut, so at some point he visited and I bought him a starter pack for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea. He went nuts for that (I reviewed the game here) and got the idea that we should play this on Vassal. After much coding and grinding, he abandoned the project because he could not reliably get images for all of the ships and cards.

Skip forward a year and a half and we come to my discovery of Leviathan: Warships. Now, this is not a new game, by any stretch of the imagination. Also, let me point out right now, for those that do not want to read about such stuff and would like to stop while they are ahead: this is a computer game. That said, it scratches an itch for me about how a computer can sometimes produce a superior wargame.

The backstory is that my buddy wanted to play a naval computer game – something player versus player – and was looking about for something. One of the things that I have noticed of late are games originally written for the PC that not only migrate to the Mac, but also make it to the mobile platforms like iOS and Android tablets. Not just games, but multiplayer online games. That means the ability to play against other people across the internet on the platform of your choice. Some games even let you start games on one platform and finish on another, if you have copies for the platforms. So as I was scrolling through the Steam store looking for cross-platform, multiplayer, online games which support the Mac, I find Leviathan: Warships. Hmmm, let's see: turn-based, fog of war, steampunk, customize ships, build your own fleets, asynchronous gameplay, email notification, saved replays; what's not to like? I then check the App Store and sure enough, there is an iOS version that is fully compatible with the other platforms.

Turn-Based

A lot of games are turn-based, especially in the board game and miniatures arena. In computer games it means much the same thing: the game is broken up into a series of turns, representing some interval of time in which you can do a limited set of actions. In Leviathan: Warships each turn represents 10 seconds. As you move a little counter shows you how many seconds have gone by to get to that point. Weapon systems show you when they are ready, or if they are reloading, how many seconds remain before they can fire again. Critical hits often show how many seconds remain with the effect before it is repaired.

Fog of War

Ships have a certain visual range, within which they will see the enemy. This game gives you a reason to buy scout ships, as they have a longer range for detecting the enemy. Like real life, you need to send your scouts out so you can find and fix the enemy, then start raining steel down on the enemy with your big guns, which are stationed in the rear, out of sight of their ships.

Steampunk

Although the game is ostensibly set in the 1870s to 1930s it also includes some weaponry not found in our time: railguns, rocket batteries, beam guns, energy shields, cloaking devices, and monster guns. Yes, you can call up the Kraken from the dead and have it munch on the enemy's warships. (Or you can have a gentleman's agreement not to include such gear in your games.)

Customize Ships

As shown in the image to the right (you can click to enlarge), a ship is divided into compartments, each of which can contain one or more weapon systems. The colors indicate what types of systems can go there (offensive, defensive, or hybrid), the number of squares indicate the size of the weapon system. A railgun, for example, requires a 3x3 yellow or green grid, while a Kauser automatic cannon only requires a 1x1 yellow or green square.

Ships do have a limit on the total number of systems it can have – in this case the Dreadnought pictured can only carry 12 systems total – so you are not going to fill up all of those boxes.

Each of the ship designs can be saved so you can quickly and easily reuse your custom designs for other battles.

Build Your Own Fleets

Each game tends to be either a 3,000 point, 6,000 point, or 8,000 point battle, with no more than eight ships in each fleet. Using standard built ships, or ones that you have customized yourself, you build fleets to take into battle. It is easy to build a fleet around a theme due to the impressive number of systems available. (Note that there is generally only one variation of each system, but a goodly variety of systems.) Again, these fleets can be saved for easy access when a game is offered, making it quick and easy to start playing.

Asynchronous Gameplay

And now we come to the Holy Grail of gaming: simultaneous turns. Although both players plan out their turns, seeing where their enemies are at the end of the last turn, both players' turns play out simultaneously. So this really is a game of guessing where people are going to end up (in the next 10 seconds) and trying to exploit where you think their position will be.

Games can be customized where each player has 1 minute, 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week to plan out their moves. Once both players "commit" their turn, the computer plays out the turn, judging movement and combat based on their orders. Boy, if only face-to-face simultaneous movement gaming were so easy!

Why the long periods of time to plan out games? For one thing, like a chess game played online, this allows you to play out your turns in leisure, at your own pace, on your own schedule. It makes it much easier to play out a game with someone in another timezone, like my naval nut friend.

This also allows you to play multiple games simultaneously. If you are doing one turn a day, it might be very easy to handle a dozen games at once. (Of course, you have to have a mind for keeping all of that sorted. I don't.)

Note, not all games are drawn out. The 1 minute turn variant is like speed chess. You are not meant to play more than one game at a time if you are on that speed. But, you could.

Email Notification

For those games in which you do not stay in the software waiting for your opponent to make their next move, you can have the game notify via email when the next turn is ready. I have found that even though I might have a game set for daily moves, I might get two or three turns in on a night if my opponent happens to be online when I commit mine. But if not, being notified by email not only reminds me that I can play out a turn, but that I have a time limit coming up.

Saved Replays

Every game you play actually sends a small message to the developer's servers, which then routes the information to your client, letting you know what happened. Given that you may not be in the game client at the time the opponent's move is received, the server automatically stores the move until your client contacts it asking if a move is ready. A side effect of all of this is that the developers store all of the moves to your game until the game is complete. At that point it prompts you as to whether you should save the game on their server or not. If you save it, you can go back and replay the game, watching the action blow-by-blow, long after the game has finished.

At this time the developer has not stated how long they will store saved games. As the games are small, they are currently saving all of the games until they decide on a retention policy. There is no cost to the player to save games.

Best of all, you can give anyone else with a copy of the game the name of the server and the game's ID and they can watch your game replay. Many people have posted replay IDs on the forums of their best games. It is a great way to learn. You can pause the game at any point, look at ship damage, look at weapon system, etc. The only thing it does not show you is the ordered movement path and the fog of war. Otherwise, everything is available.

I have started putting up videos on YouTube of some of my computer gaming (I would do it with board and miniatures gaming if I could think of a good way to do it); here is an Introduction to 1v1 Games, and is the first game between my buddy and I. My cloaked Scout gets the jump on his heavy, allowing my ships with rocket batteries to pound him into the sandbar.

Feel free to subscribe to my channel. I am starting to focus on iOS games, but I also do some Minecraft multiplayer with friends, which are usually funny (to us) because we are so bad at it!

The Bad

Unfortunately, there is always some bad these days. With Leviathan: Warships the bad is that this game is not all that popular anymore. If you are looking for games with strangers (the matchmaking function that is available), you are not going to find many people waiting for games. In fact, you might not find any on weeknights. As I approached this as a means of playing with specific people, like with Vassal, this is not a primary concern; I generally only game with people I know.

The second half of that is that new content is not likely to come along. Also, there may come a time when the money they gained is playing for the servers of a decreasing number of players. No new players means no new sales of the software, equals no reason to keep the servers going. I don't think we are there yet, but who knows. I look upon it as enjoying it while it lasts. Who knows, maybe the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale will help boost new players coming on-board. (The PC and Mac version of the game is normally $10, but is on sale for $2.50. The iOS version of the game is $5.)

I hope you liked this review. Please let me know in the comments whether you care to see any computer wargame reviews (don't worry, I will not deluge the blog with them) or not. Any feedback is appreciated.

Also, if you do try this and you want a game, send a Friend Request (in the game) to "AdmiralBob", my Leviathan: Warships alter ego. See you on the High Seas!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review of Rivet Wars Wave 2

Rivet Wars continues to be one of my favorite miniatures games and it continues to get a lot of play around here. The base game had infantry, cavalry, support weapons, tanks and heroes – basically one of each type – and it was asymmetrical, each side had its own feel rather than being carbon copies of one another. Here is a photo of what you got in the base set.



Now here is a photo of what I have to use to hold the base set and everything I got from Wave 2. (The base set pictured above can be seen on the left, crammed in this 106 quart (3' x 1 1/2') storage bin.)



The amount and variety I received in Wave 2 is just insane. I hesitated playing with any of it because the sheer magnitude of it all simply boggled my mind. Nonetheless, I eventually got over the shock and started using some of the new stuff. That is when the first issue hit.

There is too much!

That is right, there is too much new material and trying to absorb it all is overwhelming. It is like trying to eat one or two pieces of each type of candy on Halloween night; you are going to get sick. So, let's break it all down.

Variations on a Theme = Dilution?

The first thing the expansions did was add variations on a theme. For example, the Blight infantry was good against light armor while the Allied infantry was good against unarmored targets. Wave 2 added Blight infantry that is now good at unarmored targets and Allied infantry that is good against light armor. Wait a minute! The brilliance of the original game was the asymmetry built in between the two sides; an elaborate rock-paper-scissors. Blight infantry brought a response of Allies buying infantry (which are good at killing Blight infantry), so Blight bought cavalry (which are good at killing Allied infantry), which forced the Allies to buy their cavalry (which are good at killing Blight cavalry), but the Allied cavalry is vulnerable to the original Blight infantry ... so the whole cycle starts again. And when the dice go against you and you don't clear the enemy off the field fast enough so that they start to accumulate, the Allies bring out the artillery while the Blight bring out the machine guns. Both side had an answer to any given tactical situation, but it was not the same answer.

The variations do not completely break the "feel" of each faction, but it certainly dilutes it. Take the new Blight Trench Raiders. The original Blight infantry did 1 die against unarmored targets (infantry) and 3 against lightly armored targets (Allied Rocket Cycles). Their opposites, the Allied infantry, did 3 dice and 0, respectively. The new Blight Trench Raiders do 4 dice and 0, respectively. Yes, they have a compensating penalty (a very short range) for their increased dice against unarmored targets, but the point is that the new Blight infantry are not a variation of the old Blight infantry, they are a variation of the old Allied infantry.

However, all is not lost. There is one more factor that severely limits the dilution: the lack of new models. One of the limiters in the base game was how many models you had of each type. With only three Blight cavalry models you could not have four. What Wave 2 did was dramatically increase the number of models that were in the base game while only giving 1-4 models of the new units. So those four new Trench Raiders will only go so far, especially as we wargamers want to put all our models on the table. So we expand the size of the games and those new models get diluted even further. In fact, they start to become a distraction, as they act so differently from the original models. (Note to those that play Rivet Wars: my gaming buddy tends to want to always play Allies, regardless of the game, so I always play Blight / Germans / Confederates / "The Bad Guys". Because I don't switch back and forth between sides, I tend to think in terms of that one side, so anything that plays "like the Allies" is a distraction.)

In our last game, for example, I probably had purchased 20-30 Blight infantry over the course of the game. Only three of those were the new Trench Raiders. They had a specific mission to do and in the end that mission was largely frustrated.

The Air War

The big new addition to the game is adding air units. Air units had always been a part of the game design – the base game had references to the war in the air even though no units could fly – but it wasn't until The Battle of Brighton that the flying machines came out in full force.

The rules for air units are pretty clever. They make excellent use of the game grid and overcome a problem that typically comes up in board games: how to represent units in the air being in the same 2D space as enemy units on the ground. (They have ground units in the grid squares while the air units fly on the grid lines. Watch a YouTube video on the introduction of air units to Rivet Wars to see what I mean.)

Battling in the air is fun, but I think we all came to the same conclusion at once: it is a distraction. Let's face it, in Rivet Wars infantry is the King of the Battlefield. Only infantry can take strategic objectives, the primary means of scoring victory points. Air units cannot score victory points unless you add a scenario special rule that says otherwise. And air units are not really good at dealing with ground units. In fact, the air units on the board cannot replicate the effects of the Strafing action card, which does not require an air unit to play! (That is actually probably a good thing. The Strafing card can be tough.)

The primary issue is that air units typically have to keep moving and/or they have a limited fire arc, both of which work towards their not being able to attack every turn. It takes a lot of effort, and correct anticipation, to get into a position where you can fire more than one turn in a row.
But planes do look great! Here is my (unfinished) Allied ace model, Reme Funck (apologies to René Fonck, who this character is based after). It still needs insignias. I am debating about whether to use the decals that came with the set.



Conclusion

Wow! I don't want this to sound like a bad review, as that is not the intent. I really like all the new models and choices. I guess I am just a little disappointed that the new models are not variations on their own side's base models rather than variations on the enemy's.

I have found some cool combinations, such a Elsa Frost (Precision buff) and Jager Konig (Range buff). Put those two into a grid with infantry or an MG and you really have a surprise for the enemy. (Of course you will draw severe artillery fire for doing it too!) Although Don played the Rocketeer first, and wasn't impressed, I think he might be useful in a few specific missions. (His primary ability is to move three squares, leaping over enemy and obstacles with ease. He has a weak attack, however. And because he is not an infantry hero, he cannot take objectives.) In fact, the one area I really have not touched upon is all the new heroes. That is simply because there are way too many, and I have not played even 1/10th of them.

So, what are we going to do with all of this? Don and I have agreed that the best approach is to discipline ourselves and focus on maybe 2-3 new units or heroes to add to the base units each game. Once we get a feel for them, try something else. Pure and simple, all the new choices lead to Information Overload and Analysis Paralysis. (Never mind having to find the correct miniatures in the growing pile!)

As for air units, I can see allowing them every game, but not really spending as many points on them as I have in the past. They really slow the game down as it divides the combat and movement phases into two sub-phases each and breaks the flow of the game. I can see adding scenario rules that allows a air unit to score victory points by attacking the enemy bunkers – a variation on the factory bombing scenario included with The Battle of Brighton – as it would increase the roles of air units, yet not overpower the basic role of the infantry to win the game.

All in all I am very pleased with my purchase of Wave 2. We have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this game and I can see it being one of the staples of gaming for some time to come. Very easy to teach. Generally very quick games (as long as you don't go crazy with the deployment points and victory conditions).

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").