Saturday, 27 March 2010

From the Chronicles of The Holy Roman Empire

Time for another gaming diary, one that will span multiple updates.

As stated in the last post, my thirst for medieval warfare has been rekindled and so, I now set out to conquer the known world as portrayed in the Medieval 2: Total War-mod “Lands to Conquer”, playing as the Holy Roman Empire (aka. The HRE).

Why the mod?
Most people familiar with the game know that the vanilla AI isn't very bright. Besides improving on this, the mod also rebalances the world, making it a bit more historically accurate and at the same time a bit more challenging. This particular mod stays quite close to the original and doesn't make any changes to the areas of the map, although it does distribute then a bit differently. Most of the work done lies in the rebalancing of the units. For more about the differences please visit this link.

Why the Holy Roman Empire?
In short: Because of the potential for challenging game play as well as drama.
The situation of the HRE at the start of the campaign (beginning in the late 11th century) is quite interesting: The empire covers vast tracts of land located in the heart of Europe and is surrounded on all sides by Christian monarchies. At the time, the Holy Roman Emperor is not highly thought of by the Pope after the Investiture Controversy . This is translated in the game as the Papal state being at war with the HRE along with a minimal rating by the pope. Any aggressive behaviour towards the aforementioned neighbours can be expected to result in an excommunication, effectively limiting expansion on the home front. This home front is, of course, rather large. To guard these borders can be a costly affair as the wide spread nation prohibit the use of a larger centralised defence force. With better part of the realm land locked, trade routes are of lesser value than those of, for example, the regions of the Italian peninsula.

If the mod reflects history well enough there should be some trouble keeping the already existing empire together as well, since in reality it was a hodge-podge of states, territories and free imperial cities. A plethora of revolts and uproars could and should plague the reign of Coin, further adding to the excitement.

The Style
I thought it could be fun to try something new, so this gaming diary will be written in the style of a chronicler at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor. The chronicler will have full access to the Royal archives as well as the meetings of the Council of Lords and should be able to give full account of the proceedings. I'll be using modern language to make things easier on both writer and reader but try to add enough flavour to make it interesting.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Most Exciting Event of the Whole Game!

Wow, the past week has been very busy indeed with a decided lack of gaming as well as posting.
To keep up the flow I'll post a humorous gaming anecdote from the world of Medieval II:Total War.

The Pitch
First time I played the game, which was after all the patches had been released, I decided to play on medium/medium as I had heard that the AI had been improved since Rome: Total War but still received considerable bonuses for the units in combat space. After realising that I didn't really fancy playing any of the factions available at the start I signed up for a Short Campaign as the proud city state of Venice as it's bang in the middle and thus surrounded by states to interact with. Having a small empire to start with would allow me to get to grips with all the new concepts before being severely challenged by internal and external strife; I remember all to well the rebellions that could explode in the face of the Holy Roman Empire in the original Medieval: Total War, or the Western Roman Empire in Barbarian Invasion, the Rome-expansion pack. Besides, it would be very interesting to see if the Creative Assembly had retained the over powered Italian Infantry unit.

As I start playing the game I realise how utterly dreadful the AI actually is. I will not go on a rant about that though, the faults of the game have been listed at great length by others in other places. The interesting bit came after I had invaded Genoa and Florence: Being allied with the Papal State, the Pope and his armies had right of passage in my lands. The Pope used this liberally and sent a large stack of units north and west towards France. However, on the way there his got stuck outside Genoa and turned back towards Rome. On the way to Rome the army got stuck outside Florence and thus turned towards Genoa again. This sequence of events repeated every turn, regular as clockwork: 1 turn, move to Genoa, get stuck, 1 turn, move to Florence, get stuck.

Now, what could be the cause for this constant patrolling? Did the Pope believe the coast between these two great cities to be infested by bandits? Was the general mad? Maybe he lived a double life, with a wife in each city? Unfortunately, the world will never get an answer as the Most Exciting Event of the Campaign happened, after about 60 turns of patrolling.

On the horizon, a ship!
Suddenly, from the great city of Rome, comes a mighty fleet. My spies relay news of this unique occurrence in agitated voices. With ornately crafted and painted hulls gleaming in the sun and the masts transforming the sea into a forest, the grand papal army is loaded aboard in a great hurry.
I send orders to the Genoese fleet to follow the Papal armada closely and not let them out of sight. “Where could they be going?”, I wonder. No crusade has been announced and the Pope doesn't have many enemies.

The fleet steered south, towards the African desert landscape. At the tiny fortress of Tripoli, the army departs the ships and lay siege to, wait for it, the Sicilians. Despite having been the best of friends for a long time the Pope thought it prudent to prune the family tree of the Sicilians a bit and takes a trip to Tripoli to shorten the head of the residing crown prince. In an epic siege which, of course, the player does not get to see (in hindsight I should have put an army of my own next to it in order to participate since I was allied with the pope) the defending Sicilian army is obliderated and swallowed by the desert, never to be seen again.

That's it
And that's the whole story. After decades of patrolling the papal general goes bananas, travels to Tripoli and declares war on Sicily, killing their crown prince in the process. Then he converts the tiny Motte and Baily into a city. The last shows that the Pope had at least some sense in his holy head...

Speaking of mods: In the wake of writing this post I've started a game as the Holy Roman Empire using the mod “Lands to Conquer”. I'll be sure to make a couple of updates on that!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Starcraft in the dark

The other day I played a couple of rounds of Starcraft against my brother with random teams on random maps new to us both.
This is a variant that increases the value of information and the importance of scouting as high as we can push it, which makes for some very interesting games full of deceit and cunning.
Tools such as denial of map information, a form of containment, suddenly becomes viable as the other contestant doesn't know what's out there. If you can dissuade your competitor from exploring a certain area then he or she might miss an excellent expansion or a key defensive point for long enough that you may exploit it first.

For example, on one of the maps we played I discovered very late that I had a semi-hidden third entrance to the base, which I had left completely undefended. Shrouded in shadows the scenery suggested that there was nothing there and so I didn't prioritise the exploration of that area until late in the game. Fortunately for me I had managed to keep my opponent busy through needling attacks on one his expansions, so he didn't have time to capitalise on my mistake. In the end, I had to give up that game for lost as the results of my appalling macro skills reared it's ugly hydra-like head.

The first map we played was a small 2 player map on which there was no easily found natural expansion. I was lucky enough to get protoss as my team and quickly got some zealots over to an easily defended ramp where I also smacked up a shield battery and later on a photon cannon for detection. When my probe encountered purple creep the fact lay clear to the day (or the dusk, as we played in the evening): My brother is a zerg!
I should have realised this from the sounds he made earlier in the day and the size of his fangs, but I guess I've become used to it.

Knowing what I had in front of me I went for some dragoons while reaching for corsairs to harass his overlords. Remember: none of us knew the map we were playing so denying him the scouting from his overlords could be vital.
After having a few skirmishes zergling vs. zealot I gathered a few dragoons to make a push while at the same time annexing that far away "natural" expansion. This turned out to be a good move as I found a budding hatchery in the mirror position, and lightly defended at that. Knowing that this would grab my brothers attention I attempted to cut of his reinforcements with a second team of mixed zealots and dragoons, but they never got to their intended position as my first team desperately needed help. Outnumbered, my brave soldiers managed to dance around enough, through my microing, to ensure the destruction of the horrific zerg outpost whilst the reinforcements strove to join the fun.

At this point I realised that I didn't have any observers. As the thought registered in my brain, spikes started shooting up out of the ground, throwing my ranks into disarray. You can't fight what you can't see.
With none of the infrastructure in place to build the little blighters I quickly set a probe on construction duty and at the same time ordered up another gateway to up production of zealots and dragoons. On the front line my brother tried baiting my brave blue-skins to advance, no doubt to lure them into a trap. Keeping a firm leach on my fervent zealots I dashed in and out with my dragoons instead, managing to take out a few hydralisks and zerglings. When finally I got a reaver and some probes out, queens and a landing party came out of nowhere, destroyed a mining expansion! I quickly rallied what troops I had roaming the country-side and punished this intrusion (or extrusion rather). At this point I had a good containment of the zerg and went in with everything I had. In a reckless assault, where micro got lost along the road of macroing in all the troops, the last zerg base finally fell and victory was mine.

The Aftermath
It was great fun to add an exploration element to the game. As mentioned, scouting and denial of information became very important. Not knowing where the good first expansions were did perplex both me and my brother and things such as not scouting my own base properly could potentially have lost me the game. In games of this variant there is definitely room for tactics beyond what's normally used and a greater possibility for playing mind games.
Although many veterans will find that there aren't many good maps around that they haven't played, it could be worth finding one and trying it "blind" with a friend (or an enemy). There are some great games in store for those brave enough to take a step into the unknown.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Advertising at its best

Well, I've gone ahead and made a horrible little banner to tag onto my account over at xkcd.

It's not much, but it's better than nothing!
I'll make a new one later on when I have more time.

That's all for today!

If any of my fans suddenly feel the urge to try their hand att making a banner I will not be ungrateful =)