Sunday, May 30, 2010

Struggle To Stay Awake For The Galactic Empire

I generally stay away from sci-fi themed wargames. After all, a big part of the appeal of a wargame is seeing how a designer takes real world factors into account in their design, at least for me. Still, it's one of my favorite genres for film, television, and books, so I suppose I can be forgiven for buying Struggle For The Galactic Empire, even though it had no tie-in to any sci-fi franchise that I am interested in (and really, is that a good reason?) I suppose I was interested in it because it was a solitaire game, and I'm focusing on solitaire wargames this year, trying to play one per month.

Does it count if I only got through two turns?

Struggle (and what a good name that is for this game) posits sort of a reverse-Star Wars kind of situation - you are the Galactic Overlord and your job is to keep your empire together. Making you earn your paycheck are the forces of "Chaos" which really means anyone who is making you earn your paycheck. None of these forces are organized at any level other than the occasional "independent" empire that pops up. Otherwise, they're all on their own, and your job is to clean them up without letting the "Chaos Level" go to 11. Or, in this case, 100.

And there's a lot of Chaos out there. Usurpers, Aliens, Rebels, and those pesky Independent Empires popping up in several different permutations. Yet all of them look pretty much the same. In fact, their systems (really vast conglomerations of systems) all look just like your systems but with a different background. Same for the ships. And the Chaos markers that you pull from a cup to determine which chaos is coming at you at this particular moment look *exactly* like your forces.

Like most solitaire games, you have relatively few choices. In this game, it's about moving your forces, deciding what to attack, and deciding what to buy (or, if you are cash-strapped, what to keep). And, since the forces of Chaos are, of course, random, there's no telling where they'll appear next or in what form they'll be, so it's hard to plan long term other than to try to keep your military forces and morpogenetic (really, that's the word they use) forces straight. The only difference between the two is that the former kills units and the latter converts them.

Combat is particularly random. Since you're using a single d10 roll to determine outcomes based on combat differentials with some drms tossed in for flavor, it's a flat curve, which means that if you roll a lot of 0's you suck and if you roll a lot of 9's you win. Even if you have a big differential.

I could spend a lot more time going over this game, but really? It's not worth it. The designer spends considerable time in his design notes trying to make it sound like this game is different because the tech is based on nano and bio tech, and that the currency is bodies instead of bucks, but there's no differentiation when you get to the mechanics, even with the (correct) assumptions that these things would be more important on a galactic scale.

The randomization is tedious as well. You have to draw something like 24 (really) chaos chits in the first turn of the first scenario, then read up on how to place every single one of them. When you choose random sectors and there's no system there (really? in a space of thousands of systems, there's *nothing*?), sometimes you move up, sometimes you move down. You have to find the right rule in the right place in the rules every time. And Decision doesn't provide a Living Ruleset for reasons that I actually find to be pretty obvious - this game is terrible.

I got through two turns out of ten, with crappy rolls throughout for my forces and great rolls for the forces of Chaos. I felt like my friend Mike. I understand that most solitaire games rely heavily on randomness to create the illusion of excitement. I understand that you're trying to fix things that come up and see what happens. But there's nothing there to keep me.

There's no sense of story. There's no sense of theme. There's no sense of this being a giant Alien Robot (certainly not from the incredibly lame graphics on the Chaos counters), or the Mutant (really the Mule from the Foundation series), or really anything at all. Invaders from another galaxy? Look pretty much like everything else. Throw randomness for the sake of having something to do on top, and these games are worthy of being burned.

Two turns of hitting my head against the wall of this game was all I needed to convince me that this game was going to be *given* away. I wouldn't charge anyone for it. Perhaps someone less fussy, who likes sci-fi games and who hasn't played a lot of really good wargames might like it.

I'm counting this as my game for May just because I was so insulted by the design. I think the designer did it in high school and pulled it out because there was a hole in Decision's production queue. I really have no idea why else anyone would have considered this worth publishing.

So what did I do after putting this monstrosity back in the box (and taking back my counter tray and good baggies)? I pulled out another solitaire design by the same guy, Coral Sea Solitaire, published in World at War magazine, published by the same company, only to realize that the Dummy counters that are supposed to be used for the IJN units don't have ship silhouettes on the backs. Looking on the 'Geek, apparently they had a *lot* of counters that needed replacing, as well as forgetting to include three or four tables. Decision, to their credit, put out replacement counters and will send them to you, but it turns out that those markers have *different* ship symbols on the back than the ones you mix them with. Among other things. Not to mention several rules holes.

And that, my friends, is it for me for anything from Decision Games. And, for that matter, Joe Miranda, the designer. I was strongly considering resubbing for World At War, but no more. These games make Fields of Fire look like a textbook example of how to develop games. And I think you all know how well I think *that* went.

Utter crap. Avoid both at all costs.

Too bad. Decision looked like they had finally gotten their act together with the repub of RAF and D-Day at Omaha Beach (which *are* good solitaire games). Looks like that was more because of the designer of those games than anything else.

I only hope that I can save some other poor schmuck from spending a few hours of precious gaming time  (not to mention more than a few bucks) only to find that the trees are calling and they want their paper pulp back.


iguanaDitty said...

Miranda's done some good stuff for Victory Point Games, so it's not all bad. I do agree this one is pretty much a stinker. I really wanted it to be interesting, too.

Dug said...

I love Bulge 40 (except the price, although I understand why it is what it is). I'll sure try to try before I buy one of his games in the future, and I'm certainly not going to sub S&T or WaW anytime soon.