January 12, 2007

Axis & Allies Strategy Guides

Our Original Board Game Love: Axis and AlliesWe've fought each other over every inch of the the world of Axis and Allies [Amazon, Funagain] umpteen times over, and our stress levels are at an all time high. We've played so many rounds of W.W.II on GamesByEmail.com that our office has vendettas on top of vendettas, players have plans within in plans, and the parking lot is stained with the blood of numerous cut break lines.

One thing is for sure across all of our gaming sessions - the first turn means just about everything. If it goes wrong for Germany, or Russia, or UK, or Japan, then the war is all but over already. We had a problem: we wanted to make sure that we always do the right thing from the get go, and we kept second guessing ourselves. Through our numerous trials and tribulations of failed world conquest we've found solace in some Axis and Allies strategy guides that we've dug up online. We'd like to take some time on this lazy Friday afternoon to share some of these resources so that you, too, can beat the snot out of your friends. Aren't we so generous?

W.W. II at GamesByEmail.comWe should note that we play with optional the rule "Russia can't attack on the first turn", which is supported by W.W.II on GamesByEmail.com. This rule is so very important because the game is seriously imbalanced otherwise. Also, W.W. II uses the original Axis and Allies rules and board - the Axis and Allies Revised Edition is an entirely different animal so you should probably ingore those guides altogether if you can.

Okay, enough clarification and butt covering. Here are the guides we found most interesting:

  • Axis and Allies is a game of momentum, and it's oh-so-very important to get the game started off on a good note. The website Axis&Allies.org; has a pair of good opening move strategies for Germany (including handling the worst case scenario if you allow Russia to attack first). Similarly, the website has some two great Russian strategies, but Russia's Opening Round is that one that fits the Russia Can't Attack rule option.

  • Steve Winter has posted an official article on the Avalon Hill website about Infantry and You: a look at the often neglected unit type. He describes the probabilities of combined arms attacks with tanks (what's the right mix) and the defense efficiency of infantry given their IPC cost. A must read to improve your overall A&A; game.

  • Fall of Franco: The Spanish Option in the BGG forums does a great job of breaking down the alternative to the D-Day European invasion strategy. The 3 IPCs for violating neutrality and dodging a potentially devastating invasion is a steal.

  • "Strategic Placement of Industrial Complexes" is great read for all factions, and the title pretty much speaks for itself. Where and When is the best time to create production centers in the far stretches of 1940's industrial geography?

  • Here's a great thread about Japan's strategy (including opening moves) for placing industrial complexes on Asian soil, and another about benefits of transport manufacturing to ferry troops to Asia from Japan proper.

  • And although Germany's general strategy is fairly straight forward - attack Russia, attack Russia, then attack Russia again - here's a great article detailing the benefits, pitfalls, and percentages of attacking the UK's fleets with sea and air power. Alternatively waiting for Japanese air power for backup! Wowzers.


Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

August 30, 2006

Coming Soon: "Catan Event Cards"

CatanEventCards.8.29.06.jpgIf you're looking to add a little extra oomph to your Settlers of Catan [Funagain,Amazon] gaming experience, then you'll find a cheap way to do so this fall. Introducing Catan Event Cards [Amazon,Funagain] - the deck adds a new system for determining the resource production of Catan tiles, while also introducing random events for extra oomph and flavor to the straight-forward Settlers turns.

The Company Line: Drop the dice and spice up your Settler's of Catan or Cities and Knights games with this new set of cards. The Catan Event Cards feature thirty-six cards that act as a deck of dice, replacing the need for dice in your Catan game. Special events are triggered by these cards each time they are turned over, adding an exciting new element to your Catan play. Also included are 6 scorekeeping cards, the rules card, and a reshuffle card.

Now, we realize that the company's product description is a rather vague on the "Special events" front, here they are broken down a bit further:

  • Calm Seas: Whomever has the greatest number of sea ports receives a resource card of their choosing.
  • Conflict: Whoever has the largest army strong arms a resource card from each opponent.
  • Earthquake: Every player must damage one of their road segments. That road will be out of commissions until the the owner pays one brick card and one lumber card to repair the damage.
  • Epidemic: For one turn Cities (which normally produce two resources from each adjoining hex) only produce one resource per hex.
  • Good Neighbors: All players choose a resource card from their hand and pass it to their neighbor to their left.
  • Neighborly Assistance: The person who is currently in the lead gives each other player one resource card each.
  • Plentiful Year: Each player draws a resource card of their choice.
  • Robber Flees: The robber retreats back to his desert tile.
  • Tournament: The player with the largest army draws a resource card of his choice.
  • Trade Advantage: The player who currently controls the longest road 'taxes' a resource card from a player of his/her choice.

There are two other card types: one where no special action occurs on the turn (which is the most common draw); and as noted in the company line, one card that triggers a premature reshuffle of the exhausted cards back into the deck. The reshuffling recycles the rare numbers back into the mix in an attempt to conceal the fact that that rare dice numbers (12, 2, etc) cannot be drawn more than once in the 36-card system.

Gaming purest might scream bloody murder over the lack of true randomness - the card system follows the number distribution a bit too closely, and provides no chaos along the dice result distribution curve. Did we just dork out a little too much? - No! It's only after a reshuffle that a rare number will appear again. For instance, if the "12 card" has been drawn early in a game - then the players are certain that a tile with a 12 marker won't produce resources again for a very, very long time, at least until after a reshuffle (30 turns or so), and then who knows how long after that. When Settler's is played with dice, however, there is always a chance that 12 will appear on any roll, so long term forecasting will always be a game of odds.

Those who enjoy the spice of random event card will probably love this expansion. Those who love the chaos and the chance of dice might also want to pick it up anyway, if only to roll the dice for turn-production and then use the cards as a random event scheme. After all, what jerk said you couldn't use both?

Catan Event Cards [Funagain] is set to ship in October.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

August 28, 2006

Xbox Live Eurogame Screenshots

Last week we reported that the Xbox Live service was going to launch three Eurogames for your Xbox 360 gaming pleasure: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Alhambra. At the time we had no media to share with you of the upcoming releases, but some images have been leaked to the net (thanks to Ozymandias) and without further ado, here they are! (click the images to enlarge them.)

Settlers of Catan [Amazon,Funagain]
"The Catan series is one of the best-selling and most widely played game lines ever developed. Over 11 million Catan games have been sold since the brand’s debut in 1995. Millions of people will testify that it is one of the greatest games ever! Then try one, or even combine, its many expansions. Some let you explore new aspects of the game. Others let you add more players.


The “Game of the Year” in Germany, the U.S, and a host of other countries, The Settlers of Catan is a classic, stand-alone game for 3-4 players. You journey to the unsettled wilds of the grand new world known as Catan. It’s an exciting frontier, one rich in opportunity. No place could be more perfect for casual adventure. Compete with your opponents to discover and settle the choicest lands and seaports. Gather resources, trade with friends and foes, and build roads and settlements—all in a quest to be master of Catan.

Catan is a little different every time you visit. You’ll always find it a land full of intrigue and surprise. Careful trade and clever building are your keys to success. Plenty of fast-paced player interaction is guaranteed. Win or lose, adventure always awaits in Catan!" From MayfairGames.com

Carcassonne [Amazon,Funagain]
The southern French city of Carcassonne was founded on an important trade route between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Because of its strategic location, the city was often conquered and has known many rulers. As a result of this varied history, the city is famous for its unique mixture of Roman and Medieval fortifications.

The players develop the area around Carcassonne by placing land tiles. Each turn the area becomes larger as the players expand and add roads, fields, cities, and cloisters. The players may also deploy their followers as thieves, farmers, knights, and monks to control and score points for the roads, farms, cities, and cloisters. As the players have only a few followers, the wise player will plan his moves carefully and deploy followers when and where he can earn the most points.

Carcassonne is a simple, clever tile laying game that brings new challenges with every turn.

Alhambra [Amazon,Funagain]
In Granada, one of the most impressive building projects of the Middle Ages has begun: the construction of Alhambra. A palace, fortress, and a small city -- all-in-one -- Alhambra is made up of the world's most beautiful gardens, pavilions, chambers and towers.

The most prominent builders in all of Europe and Arabia want to demonstrate their skills. Employ the most talented teams of builders to construct your Alhambra. Hire stonemasons from the north and gardeners from the south, who all want a fair wage and insist on being paid with their native currency. With their help, towers can be constructed, gardens designed, pavilions and mezzanines erected, and manors and royal chambers built. Compete against your opponents to build the greatest and most impressive Alhambra.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

August 24, 2006

Eurogames on Xbox Live

XBOX360.8.24.06.jpgWell here's an unexpected great bit of news. Microsoft is going to add the eurogames Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Alhambra to their successful XBox Live Arcade online service. Here's a bit from Gamespot.com:

Fittingly for a conference in Germany, the new games announced for Xbox Live Arcade had a European board-game heritage. Outpost Kaloki X is about to have some genre company on Xbox Live Arcade, as all three titles will call on strategic thinking from the players. The announced games include the civilization-building Settlers of Catan, the tile-based city-building game Carcassonne, and the Arabian-themed stock-market game Alhambra set to be available through the Xbox. - From "Catan tops new Live Arcade trio" on Gamespot

XBox live made a sleeper hit out of the unexpected title of Uno. People went crazy over that title, and continue to do so on a nightly basis. It looks like the Xbox Live team is trying to capitalize on the 'parlor game' genre by adapting some new, hotter titles to their online platform. It'd be interesting to see if the pace of the online Settlers of Catan could keep-up the real life form. Carcassonne will definitely be an interesting experiment as well, but seems more elegant and could be a smoother translation of the medium.

No word yet on when these online variants will be pushed up to the Live Service.

Related Links:

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

August 7, 2006

Checking In with Warhammer Mark of Chaos

MarkOfChaos.8.7.06.jpgA while back we posted some highlights of two Warhammer games coming out for the PC. Warhammer Online is still quite a ways off (probably not until Holiday season 2007), but the Real Time Strategy title Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is slated for a release this September. Black Hole Entertainment recently started a media blitz to publicize the upcoming launch, and we thought we'd keep you posted with a few of the better interviews that we've seen published across the interweb.

First up is a two part interview from "Computer and Video Games". Part one kicks things off with lead Designer Chris Wren about the developer's philosophy on bringing the Warhammer tabletop slug fest over to this Mark of Chaos PC version.

Chris Wren: "We decided to hire an author from Games Workshop's Black Library to craft our story and to give life to our characters and responses within the game, the story has turned out great and the responses you get from units still makes me laugh each time I hear them." From the CVG Interview

The second part continues with Chris Wren, but focuses on the game mechanics such as the terrain's effects on combat, resource production and army customizations. The game sounds complicated and deep, and so they've decided to cull a lot of the other Computer RTS mechanics in order to make way for some cooler warfare / Warhammer moments. Players can utilize roads to quickly transport artillery across the battlefield, buildings can be captured and garrisoned, and farms must be protected to ensure that their resources continue to flow into your army's supply pool.

Gamespot also has a great preview article that covers tons of info about the game without being at all redundant. The story includes information about the game's Champions, their customization, etc, and other gameplay mechanics such as morale, aggro (in an RTS?!), and the shared mana pool. Plus, what would Warhammer be without a lot of gore?

As the battle progresses, the remnants of the mayhem you've caused will remain on the battlefield, making it possible to trace your route via a grim trail of blood and corpses--such details will remain where they are for the duration of the game, rather than disappearing. The team is also working on detachable limbs, which should add to the sense of slaughter. And fun. From the Gamespot Preview

Sweet.. reminiscent of Myth.

MarkOfChaos2.8.7.06.jpgThe game mechanics seem to be shaping up nicely, and the game sounds great on paper, but we've had some recent concerns over footage that we found on Gamespot's media page. The still shots show armor shining in the ambient light bloom haze, and the game's terrain engine is extraordinarily detailed, but the live action movies show some jerkiness and stuttering in the unit animations. We're feeling a lumpy feeling of inevitable disappointment in the back of our throats -- if the developers can't run the game smoothly for demo reels, then how will the game perform for fans with lesser machines?

So far THAT alone has made us a bit weary of this title, despite all the good preview press. We know how the computer gaming mags love to over-hype elements, and gloss over shortfalls and engine issues pre-release. But come now, we shouldn't see these "imperfections" like these at such a late date in the game's development cycle. Maybe the developers will clean up the title before release, but maybe not...

We'll find out for sure in only a month's time. Blackhole Entertainment will ship "Warhammer: Mark of Chaos" for Windows-based PCs in September

Also See:

We know that this site isn't about computer games (a little defensive here), but Mark of Chaos is a port of one of the most popular table top wargaming franchises in history. How could we not cover it?

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

June 28, 2006

Magic: The Gathering Online Coldsnap Beta Signup

Wizards of the Coast has opened up their sign up page for the upcoming Magic Online's Coldsnap beta program. Coldsnap is the next set (due in July) in the Magic: The Gathering release cycle, returning the CCG to the Ice Age block from 1995 / 1996. The cards of Coldsnap should work off the existing cards from the Ice Age Set and Alliances expansion. Although that doesn't really help you with the Online Beta (since participants will probably only play with Coldsnap cards ), it is good news for those who haven't thrown away the box of old Magic cards hiding-out under the hat-pile in their attic.

The beta sign up includes a 10 question quiz which is pretty tough. We recommend using the Magic card database "Gatherer" as a reference for those nitpicky rules the devs throw at ya. Also, the beta asks if you have a 3D card, which probably means that the Coldsnap beta will include the beta test of much-delayed Magic Online Client v3.0. Here's hoping, anyway.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

June 6, 2006

Settlers of Catan Official Scenario Design Contest

CatanDesignContest.6.6.06.jpgMayfair Games has announced a Scenario Design Contest for their hit game Settlers of Catan. Those of you who've tweaked the Settlers' rules to compensate for any perceived holes in gameplay now have a chance to get their creations officially stamped by Mayfair Games' seal of approval, and also published in Games Quarterly Magazine. Not a bad deal.

Contest Details

Final Submission Date—October 31, 2006. We’ll announce the winner on April 30, 2007.

Grand Prize—The winning scenario will be published in Games Quarterly Magazine AND its designer will receive a copy of the special, limited, 10th Anniversary Catan 3D Collector’s Edition, plus a Catan Alumni khaki polo shirt.

1st Prizes (5)—These five scenarios may be published AND each winning designer will receive a Catan Alumni khaki
polo shirt.

2nd Prizes (10)—These ten scenarios may be published AND each winning designer will receive a printed University of Catan shirt.

3rd Prizes (50)—Each winning designer will receive a pin with the Mayfair Games Catan logo.

Some quick math says that come next April we'll all have 65 "good" Catan variants to toss around. That should keep you happy even if you don't win that swank Catan khaki Alumni Polo shirt.

The design contest is only for the original Settlers of Catan 4-player board game [Amazon, Funagain] in its purest form (with none of the expansions). For official entry rules visit the "First Ever Catan Scenario Design Contest" webpage at Mayfair games.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

May 26, 2006

Warhammer Online E3 Interview at Gamespot

WarhammerOnlineOrk.5.26.06.jpgGamespot.com has an absolutely fantastic interview with Warhammer Online Design Manager Paul Barnett. Paul eats Warhammer-Os for breakfast, sweats Warhammer design ideas out his eye sockets, and we're pretty sure he swallowed a vial of No-Doze before the interview, too. Just follow this link and click on "Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning 2006 Stage Show Demonstration" from May 11th, and you'll see what we're talking about.

Now, as a whole we're a bit burnt-out of all the Massively Online Role Playing Game madness, but the ideas in Warhammer sound fan-flipping tastic. Imagine a Goblin pet class where your 'pet' eats you, and you control it from the inside - pulling ligaments and intestines to steer the giant, romping, living siege machine as it smashes through trees and buildings. Awesome.

We'll let the video fill you in the other details, including the Player vs Player gameplay that includes city sieges where you can "blow the living hell out of everything". Sounds Warhammerish. Sounds fantastic.

Paul also has a series of Video Blog entries that he makes in the office with his cellphone camera. These aren't nearly as entertaining as the E3 interview, but if that video interests you then check-out his blog for some more cool tidbits.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

May 4, 2006

Our Review Policy

Zoomed-in white looks gray.We have this crazy notion that most review sites skew their scores towards the positive. Essentially one or two stars out of five are almost unheard of.. and that's not fair. If 2.5 is average, smack in between 'great' and 'crap-awful', then how come just about everything in the world is a 3+? Not to get depressing - but last time we check ed the outside world it wasn't black and white but pretty grey.

So please don't shower us with hatemails when you see a low score for something you love. We'll just reply with a fruit basket containing a simple note with the link to this page saying "We told how it is." If you disagree with our points about what was good, what was bad, and why, well then.. that's different.

Without further adieu, our 5 star 'system':

  • 0 Stars : Fill your gas tank and grab a coffee (to go), because the only satisfaction you'll get from owning this product will occur the moment you abandon it on the side of a distant freeway.

  • 1 Star : The potential of this product is obvious, but it falls short in almost every way. It'll end-up on the bottom of your game stack, sitting dusty and neglected.

  • 2 Stars : This product has a few good things going on, but the bad elements overshadow them. Only for people who are enthusiastic over the subject matter.

  • 3 Stars : A very strong product for the intended audience. A product that 'works' out of the box.

  • 4 Stars : This product is so good that it will interest almost everyone, even folks who normally wouldn't' give 'similar products' their extra umbrella in a rainstorm.

  • 5 Stars: : Lie, loot, cheat, .. sell some blood if you have to, just get this product. We'll still be playing it when we're 80.

The word "product" should be replaced with "game" in almost every case, but we do sometimes review gaming peripherals, so we thought we'd be product-generic to be on the safe side.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 30, 2006

Warhammer Marches on PCs this Fall

Warhammer-3-30.06.gifThe gritty table-top universe of "Warhammer" is slated to get two PC treatments within the next year. Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, a PC real time strategy game from Namco and Black Hole Games, is scheduled for a Q3 2006 release. This should be the closet thing to the Warhammer tabletop experience that the PC has received to date. Players can paint their various unit types using a virtual paintbrush (more like selecting from a color wheel), and provide units with different weapon sets, shield emblems, armor - the works. There should be gobs of options, enough-so that your multiplayer units will have a unique coloring and style and will be easily recognizable on the battlefield

Mark of Chaos will include four Warhammer races from the system's fantasy setting (not the futuristic 40K universe): the human empire complete with rifles and cannons, the fantasy-themed high elves, the rat-men scaven, and the dark human Chaos. The game will sport an overarching strategic battle map that drills-down to the tactical level for the gorgeous real time battles of smoke and blood. Consider miles of rolling terrain in which you position troops to garrison buildings, construct forts, etc, or line-up your forces behind rivers, walls, and hills to ambush your opponent when his army makes that inevitable march into your territory. This isn't a base-building real time strategy title (like Relic's PC Warhammer title Dawn of War), but an army pushing set-piece war. Yes, Mark of Chaos is turning into quite the looker.

Also coming down the pipe is Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, a massive online role playing game (MMORPG) from the folks at Mythic Entertainment (Dark Age of Camelot). Information about this title has been sparse until about a week ago when the first true details were released to the press.


From the official press release: It is a desperate time for the Emperor. A terrible Chaos Plague defiles his lands, ravaging the populace and weakening his armies. Meanwhile, the Dwarf holds in the nearby World's Edge Mountains have come under siege by a massive greenskin horde. Honor-bound by an ancient oath, the ruler of the greatest nation of men in the Old World has dispatched several regiments to assist the embattled Dwarfs, further depleting the Empire's already thin defenses.

In this dark hour, a new threat appears. Under a sky darkened by a crimson eclipse, a great warhost erupts from the wastelands of the north. Bearing the banner of Tzeentch, Changer of the Ways, the army of Chaos marches south for the borders of the Empire, crushing everything in its path.

Mythic also recently released the first trailer for the game, here. It's short, and definitely a good start graphically, but the trailer doesn't serve as a technical demonstration on how the game will play. Will the MMORPG conversion do justice to the massive battlefield of Warhammer's table top standard? This is a major concern for us, but considering Mythic's massively online RPG track record, and Dark Age of Camelot's groundbreaking player versus player war modes, we're content to wait patiently for a little while more.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is slated for a 2007 release. We'll keep you posted as more information is released about the title, probably at the Electronic Entertainment Expo mid-May. For now you can find more information and sign-up for their monthly newsletter on their official website, here.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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