Saturday, April 25, 2009

Halls of Montezuma - Pulling the Plug

I've spent quite a bit of time trying to get Halls of Montezuma into my head. While the ruleset isn't nearly as bad as many people have been making it out to be (other than the zone combat section and some other strange choices), there are a couple of other problems that have dampened my enthusiasm to the point where it's going onto the shelf until they've ironed the problems out. Considering that this is the design team that brought us Thirty Years War, the game that took the shine off of CDGs, I can't say I'm terribly surprised. 

The major problem (aside from the ability of anyone associated with the game to answer simple questions about how zone combat works, despite direct contact with the developer) is very simple. The US can declare war early in the game for no penalty if they simply take the elective extra forces for the +5 PW hit, as by then PW is maxed out and there is, in effect, no penalty for declaring war immediately. Declaring war is a big deal, as it allows the US forces to take replacements, generate more reinforcements every turn, and it adds a ton of extra units to the US regroup pool. Plus all of those good US War deck events, and the US gets to determine who goes first every turn. More on why that's bad below. 

How this could have gotten past the playtesters is beyond me. I suspect that some basic game mechanism got changed just before publication. Clearly, none of these people have ever worked in software or they'd know just how stupid an idea that is. 

There are a couple of other problems, mostly that you can control PW through raiding, but there are only a handful of raid markers (a design limit). If you go first and play a 4 card, you are statistically due about three of the five raid markers, meaning a PW at the very least every turn. Plus that whole zone combat thing that involves interception by the active side which really isn't an interception as it's defined as being something that the non-active player does. 

Add in a CSW header for the game that hasn't been modified to note that the game is released, errata that looks like it was cut and pasted from various forums without thought to organization, and a developer more interested in Easter eggs and too busy grading papers to have the time to respond to my questions, and I think I'll just put this one back on the shelf. 

Hopefully this will be the last of the GMT disasters for a while. I really hope that with a cut-back production schedule that they'll start doing a little more QA of the games they put out. Because this one should never have gone out in this state. I'll admit that Paths of Glory did have that little problem with the MEF able to take Constantinople quickly with the right die rolls in it's early days, but that was fixed quickly by a veteran designer who answered questions. I think I'll just wait for the dust to settle, although to be honest the chances that I'll ever come back to this are pretty slim given how many other games there are to play. What a shame, this had so much promise. 


Anonymous said...

I love your blog, and thank you for your two recent posts on Halls of Montezuma. I seriously considered purchasing this game, since the topic interests me and I've been looking for a good 2-player CDG to play with my fiancee.

Have you ever thought about developing a game yourself? (Or, perhaps, have you already?) You seem to have a good grasp on what is needed to do the job.

Dug said...

Thanks for your nice comments. I think that HoM has a lot of potential, but I simply can't tolerate a support team (developer/designer) who tell me they'll "give it a closer look tonight" then never get back to me. Having done high-end technical support, I understand how it happens but also can see when the team struggles with it regularly. Having a header on CSW that's six months out of date for a game that's been published in the interim is a particularly bad sign. I'll simply have to revisit the design once the rules have been updated in a few months.

One thing I think you'll want to take into consideration is that there's a *lot* of chaos in the game because of using d10s for combat, as well as the way movement is done. If you like a level of chaos equal to that in Combat Commander (where you may or may not be able to do what you want to do on your turn), HoM will work for you once they iron out a few more kinks and start to understand what "supporting a product" means. If you don't like Combat Commander (or Warriors of God, for that matter), then HoM isn't going to be a game you enjoy.

Personally, I think that chaos is just another element to manage in a game, so long as it doesn't consume the entire system. Talisman, for example, is a game consumed by chaos. CC and WofG, while having significant chaos elements, are still manageable and skill will win out over luck *most* of the time. HoM strikes me as being pretty close to the border in terms of management, although you clearly have to understand that it may take you three activations to get a given force to a critical point if they're commanded by a poor general. Really, though, not that much different than For the People if you aren't drawing 3 cards and you're the Union early on.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I certainly enjoy writing it.

I have not done any deve