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FRAG! June 2011

Charles Rector's Weblog; Jun. 29, 2011; By Charles Rector
Type: News

Issue 117, May 2011"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."   
~ George Bernard Shaw

  1. The June Editorial Introduction
  2. News Direct from the Frontlines of Shrapnel Games
  3. Trivia Time: Atomic Death From Above
  4. Dominions 3: The Awakening Version 3.27 and SALE
  5. The Dice Of War: Conquest of Nerath
  6. Sizzling Sellers and Those Special Offers
  7. Link O' The Month
  8. The Crystal Ball

FRAG! is Edited by Scott Krol

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Man oh man, I hate them fancy lads!

So everyone’s favorite industry joke, Duke Nukem Forever, was finally released. Apparently, unlike say wine or cheese, age did no kindness to it. Not to mention all the years of constantly changing the game itself. And for what? It’s a first person shooter, not the answer to bringing world peace. There was no reason to strive for ultimate perfection when by its very nature it would simply fade away with the next big release.

Imagine now if there had been no drama associated with it. The original Duke comes out, people like it, and 3D Realms announces that they will follow it up. Nothing comes out, people forget about it, and years later it is finally received. Gamers play it, shrug their shoulders, and quickly forget about it. Without all the hype and drama of the past decade it would simply be yet another mediocre title in an ocean of mediocrity.

"Sometimes it’s almost like gamers are a bunch of masochists, wanting to be hurt over and over again as they wait upon that “perfect” game."

The Duke saga happens all the time, but not in such a grandiose fashion. We are constantly bombarded with previews and articles about the next big thing only to be disappointed down the road.

Now why as an industry do we have to do this? While it’s not unusual for other entertainment mediums to discuss upcoming projects, or have a sneak peek, typically it’s an occasional, low-key effort. Not the wall-to-wall, over the top explosiveness of the world of computer games. Sometimes it’s almost like gamers are a bunch of masochists, wanting to be hurt over and over again as they wait upon that “perfect” game.

I suppose part of it is the enthusiast press needs to fill their pages with something. Why bother doing serious journalistic pieces on the industry when you can slap up a bunch of alpha screenshots for the next best thing? After all, what’s going to guarantee more hits? Of course this is also one of the reasons why gaming journalism is often viewed at the same level of your

standard entertainment show/magazine. Check out sometime one of those “inside Hollywood” style shows and notice the level of kissing up, and the absolute lack of anything approaching a critical and honest look. Now check out the average gaming website and see how safe ninety percent of the material on the site is lest they incur the wrath of the PR departments.

As a side note it doesn’t help when PR firms then threaten to withhold games from publications because they don’t like the reviews.

How much coverage is then dedicated to a game after its release? One review. Maybe—maybe—you may also get a strategy article or walkthrough, but nine times out of ten after all these previews and interviews the game is reviewed and then it’s time to move on. All that build up and then it’s all over in a flash.

Again, why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we get so excited to follow the development of a game for years and then play it for a week and move on? Admittedly, how many games end up holding your interest for very long?

Dominions 3: The Awakening pretty much broke everything I stated above. There were not numerous previews on the game. No screenshot galleries. It was not used to get page views by bloggers. When released it did not fade away. It was welcomed, and continues to be welcome years later. Occasionally, there are even articles on it in the foreign gaming press. It is still going strong, this little strategy game developed by a couple of guys from Sweden.

What does that tell you? Do we really need all these previews, all these fluff jobs? Or do we simply need games to be good? Something tells me that it’s the latter. Being good is all that matters, and all that should matter.

Howdy folks, welcome once again to the take-no-prisoners, no holds barred, Shrapnel Games newsletter, Frag!. Please keep your hands inside at all times and enjoy the ride.

It’s summer, which means life begins to slow down. Not so for Illwinter Game Design, as they’ve just released version 3.27 of Dominions 3: The Awakening. Read the complete details later in the newsletter, including news of a very special sale.

Since it’s been fairly quiet in the past month let’s highlight our most recent happenings. First, there was a new patch released for Malfador Machination’s World Supremacy. The patch brings the game up to version 1.09 and includes a number of gameplay enhancements and bug kills. Currently Malfador is evaluating the need for future patches, so be sure to stop by the forum for instructions on contacting Malfador.

The version 1.09 patch (which is all inclusive) can be found at the World Supremacy product page.

World Supremacy is available as a Windows download for only $29.99 and features random maps, up to eight players (AI or human), mod capabilities, and fast and furious beer and pretzels style light strategy gaming in a modern environment.

Bronze continues to be a favorite of the strategy gamer looking for something different. Fast paced, historical, with unique mechanics Bronze is a highly addictive puzzle/strategy title for Windows. Read more about Bronze and download a demo by visiting its product page.

Did you know all ProSIM titles received a permanent price reduction back in February? That’s right, new lower prices on the best real-time modern war simulations you’ll ever encounter.

The new pricing is as follows:

Now $39.95:

Air Assault Task Force
The Falklands War: 1982
Raging Tiger: The Second Korean War
The Star and the Crescent

Now $29.95:

ATF: Armored Task Force

Now $19.95:

BCT Commander

Still $14.95:

Battle Group Commander: Episode One

If you’ve been waiting for a realistic wargame you won’t go wrong with any of the ProSIM titles, and with each one focusing on differing aspects of modern land conflicts, there will be at least one title for any wargamer.

In case you missed the news both winSPWW2 and winSMBT have received upgrades in the recent past. As usual, these are massive upgrades and will extend your gaming pleasure even further.

Download the version 4.5 upgrade for winSPWW2.

Download the version 5.5 upgrade for winSPMBT.

All upgrade patches must be applied in sequential order, so if you’ve missed a previous version you must start there. Patches apply to both the free download version and the Enhanced Editions (CD or download). Some new features only apply to the Enhanced Editions.

Until next month, enjoy your summer and get plenty of gaming in!

Post-World War Two, the Atomic Age was a fascinating one to look back upon. At the time everyone was so in love with the idea of atomic power that plans were drawn up to make everything atomic powered. From atomic trains to atomic zeppelins to atomic toothbrushes, if it was a mechanical device someone had probably thought about putting a reactor to it.

While in some cases atomic power was both feasible and made sense, such as nuclear powered submarines, in most cases the ideas were somewhat head scratching. Take for example two atomic powered aircraft designed by the United States: the NB-36H bomber and Project Pluto.

The NB-36H was a massive strategic bomber that began life in 1946. Using a mixture of prop engines in a pusher configuration and jet engines, the NB-36H boasted a range of 3400 miles and carried a 39 ton payload. It was crewed by fifteen and had a cruising speed of 435 MPH. And it was powered by an onboard nuclear reactor.

Now, having an onboard nuclear reactor on an aircraft created a couple of problems. The radiation tended to interfere with the instruments. And oh, the crew. To solve these issues the engineers simply mounted a four ton lead shield about halfway up the fuselage, along with lining the cockpit with lead. Also, the cockpit glass was a foot thick, and also leaded. Needless to say all the lead added quite a bit of weight to the aircraft, and in turn the reactor was pretty much necessary to deliver enough power to get the plane off the ground. Of course, if there wasn’t a reactor on board all the extra weight wouldn’t be necessary…

Test flights were made with a reactor on board, although it was not operational at the time and provided no power. The flights did show it was feasible, and in 1951 the project got a green light. Interestingly, though approved no aircraft actually flew with a live reactor, and soon the project was cancelled in favor of the easier delivery methods of missiles and submarines. That and the fact that it was discovered that if a NB-36H ever crashed, say accidentally over the United States, the area in which it crashed would be uninhabitable for decades or more.

A few years later after the NB-36H was canceled Project Pluto was conceived. Pluto was a SLAM—Supersonic Low Altitude Missile, powered by a nuclear ramjet. Ramjets work by forcing air into a duct, where it would be heated by (in this case) a reactor and forced out the rear for thrust.

At the time, 1957, Pluto was seen as an exciting project by the engineers and scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which had been chosen by the USAF for the project. New advances in material sciences and metallurgy had to be achieved to make a reactor powerful enough for the job, but small enough to be mounted on the fuselage.

Work began on the reactor, nicknamed the “Tory”. Of interest was the fact that a porcelain company based in Colorado, Coors, participated in creating the Tory by creating the fuel elements used in the Tory. Most folks today though know Coors not for their work in project Pluto, but in their other side gig, making beer.

So what exactly was Pluto meant to do? Well, Pluto was conceived to be an unmanned bomber. Pluto, thanks to its nuclear ramjet, could stay on station for months and reach anyplace on the Earth. It carried a payload of sixteen to twenty-four a-bombs, allowing it to rain death and destruction across multiple locations. It could fly at mach 3, and would do so at tree top height. Even when not dropping bombs it could kill, as the shockwaves from its overflight could kill living things (and at the very least, rupture eardrums). Oh, and the reactor would be unshielded and leak radiation from its exhaust. Just some trivia, Edward Lee’s story, “Grub Girl”, actually uses this as the concept for that stories zombification of the population.

In 1961 the Tory IIA nuclear ramjet, the first and only of its kind, was tested in the southwestern desert on a flatbed. The test was successful. Further refinements would be made to the engine, eventually leading to talk of a ramjet capable of mach 4. But before any of this could be done the plug was pulled on Pluto.

After all the research, after all the planning, after all the construction and money, some folks began to ask some basic questions. Like, if Pluto killed people by just flying over them where could Pluto be launched from within the United States and how could its flight path avoid all signs of civilization? It wouldn’t do well to splatter your own citizens, and those of your allies, when it flew over. Speaking of flying over and frying people, how do you flight test the Pluto when it leaked radiation as it flew overhead?

Along with those basic questions the high cost of each SLAM ($50 million), and the fact that newer missiles could reach their target before Pluto (and without destroying their own lands in the process), caused the Air Force to pull the plug on Pluto in 1964. And thus ended the era of nuclear reactors flying high.

As mentioned earlier Dominions 3: The Awakening has just received a new patch! While not as large as previous patches, version 3.27 is still packed to the brim with added gaming goodness. Modders will especially be pleased with the new changes that make modding even more robust than before.

Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac, version 3.27 includes the following:

General changes:

  • Utterdark did far too many attacks, fixed.
  • Recruitment queues are automatically reset once a fort is under siege.
  • Support for new fullscreen resolutions e.g. 1920*1080.
  • 2 x Crash during turn generation fixed.
  • Fixed bug where AI would cast Vengeance of the Dead on empty provinces.
  • Added Jack sound support for Linux version.
  • Improved Linux pulseaudio support.

Modding changes:

  • Maximum number of mods increased.
  • Maximum number of mod sprites increased 1000 -> 2000.
  • Modding: New monster mod commands: #clearweapons, #cleararmor, #drainimmune, homesick.
  • Modding: #armor accepts numbers too.
  • Modding: #custommagic can be used to created linked random magic.
  • Modding: New site mod commands: #conjcost, #altcost, #evocost, #constcost, #enchcost, #thaucost, #bloodcost.
  • Modding: New site mod commands: #holyfire, #holypower, #heal, #curse, #disease, #horrormark, #lab.

You can grab the patch at the game’s official product page.

We’re not done yet! While the Dominions 3 community has been an unstoppable legion all these years more members can always be added to their ranks. To help facilitate this from now until July 4th the download version of Dominions 3: The Awakening is available for only $39.95! This is the lowest price that we have ever offered it at, and may very well be

the lowest price ever. In other words, if you’ve been on the fence and you’re thinking, “That’s okay, I’ll just grab it next time they have it for this price.”, you’ll regret it.

Dominions 3 SALE

So if you’ve been trying to entice someone you know into joining the fun let them know about the sale. Forty dollars will get them some of the best fantasy turn based gaming they’ve ever encountered, along with the full support of the fan base and the developers. Developers, who are still putting out content rich patches years after the initial release. Someone may wonder why there’s never been an expansion pack for the game but all one has to do is look back at the patches and discover that the equivalent of three expansion packs has already been released. And all for free!

Dominions 3: The Awakening is a rich, fantastic turn based game supporting up to twenty-one players in epic fantasy warfare. With thousands of unique units, hundreds of spells and items, scores of nations, three ages to play in, and a treasure trove of mods available, Dominions 3: The Awakening is a game that will last for years on your hard drive. It will haunt you during your sleep, make you obsess over it during the day, and eventually consume your life. At $39.95, and supporting Windows, Mac, and Linux, there is no reason not to give in.

Remember, the sale only lasts until July 4th!

Conquest of Nerath (Wizards of the Coast)

With the fact that the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons emerged from the world of wargames it has always been a curiosity that fantasy board wargames have been a rare breed. Their peak was in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, but even then when compared to the number of games on Napoleon, the American Civil War, or the Third Reich they paled. Since the ‘80s their numbers have even dwindled further, despite the resurgence of fantasy in popular culture. So it’s nice to see Conquest of Nerath, a grand strategy fantasy wargame, enter the scene.

As a grand strategy game Conquest of Nerath (Conquest) uses the typical mechanics of territorial based economics that then drives your war machine. There are four nations represented, with each nation having the same mixture of ground, air, and naval forces available at the same cost, with the same abilities. What exactly each unit represents in terms of actual force disposition (is a dragon unit a single dragon or many?) is never mentioned. Movement is area based, and while terrain is present on the map it disappointingly does not have any impact in the game. Seems like elven forces would get a bonus in wooded terrain, for example, but probably the designers didn’t want to muddle up the streamlined beer and pretzels style of Conquest with too many special rules.

Although every nation has access to the same units as every other nation (physically the sculpts, with the exceptions of castles, siege engines, and ships, are unique between each nation, so at least everyone looks different) they actually don’t play the same way. This is accomplished by event cards.

The four nations all have their own event decks, and cleverly each event deck is different and represents the abilities and powers of the nation it is associated. So, the Dark Empire has cards that allow them to create liches and rain eldritch fire down from the sky after sacrificing their own units while the elvish faction has more natured based cards.

The event cards really make the game. Besides giving each nation its own particular “feel”, along with unique possible strategies, they add a wonderful unknown factor to each session. The use of a single card at the proper time can radically change how the game unfolds, bringing agony to your enemies and triumph to your allies.

Gameplay itself is pretty standard stuff for a light strategy wargame. In fact, the easiest summation is if you’ve played Axis & Allies then you’ve played Conquest for the most part. A few things have been rearranged, but overall it is very obvious that A&A was used as the baseline. Examples include siege engines gaining a bonus on attack (like artillery), dragons taking two hits to destroy (like battleships), and monsters able to take two territories (blitzing armor).

And much like Axis & Allies after a couple of turns the board begins to look rather empty, as battles turn to slaughterhouses. Every game must have all four nations in play, regardless of how many people are actually playing the game. The way the map is set up each nation tends to be faced with one major front from an opposing nation and then a smaller front from yet another nation. Because of this players will have to fight a two (or three, if playing a free for all) front war, all the while juggling keeping up offensives while

protecting the fatherland. Typically while one front may be going great the other front gets neglected.

With everyone having to deal with multiple fronts, not to mention the randomness of the event decks, the game can take a radically different turn after the opening moves. While experience has shown that since the initial set up is mandatory there will be some obvious opening moves, the rest of the game is up for grabs. So while based on A&A it is actually a much more free flowing game. It also helps that it is a victory point based game, which in turn means that this is not a game of total annihilation. It is entirely possible to bring about a win while your opponents still have a multitude of armies left on the board.

Combat itself can end up being the proverbial bucket of dice, depending on how many units are involved in the battle. Conquest uses a standard hit number of six to score a hit, but there are various dice used by the combatants. Lowly cannon fodder troops roll a single d6, while the almighty dragons roll a d20. Wizards get a first strike ability (going back to the comparison to A&A, just like submarines in that game), otherwise combat is simultaneous.

A review would not be complete without talking about dungeon exploring. Yes, Conquest includes both dragons and dungeons, like any good Dungeons & Dragons game should.

Scattered about the map are several well-known dungeons (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, etc). Each dungeon is guarded by one or more monsters. Heroes—fighters and wizards—can enter the dungeons and battle the guardians. Combat is similar to combat in general, although the monsters all have multiple dice to attack with, and these dice also represent their hit points. Once the monsters are defeated the player controlling the victorious heroes gets to draw a treasure card. These treasures can boost a single unit’s power and/or have a global effect. As a bonus playing a treasure gets that nation victory points, so besides the special abilities treasure brings there is always the victory points to sweeten the deal.

Several subtle aspects of Conquest really impress. For starters, games tend to be pretty close affairs and so no one ever feels like they’ve reached a place where it is impossible to win. The treasure is interesting, with enough cool effects and the victory point bonus, that going dungeoneering is actually worth doing. At the same time it is entirely possible to play the game without visiting a single dungeon, so you are never forced to commit the resources. Then there is the fact that units often receive bonuses for attacking, but nothing for defending, which encourages players to always be on the offensive. Turtling does nothing, so everyone is always pushing forward, and in turn the game is always moving.

There are some minor blemishes. Having all four nations always in play might make the game balanced, but means there is no such thing as a small two player game. Some additional chrome would have been nice, such as the aforementioned terrain bonuses but unique units to each faction would also have been a welcome addition.

Conquest of Nerath is a joy to play and a great addition to the gaming library. While not the end-all, be-all fantasy wargame, it features personality, easy to teach mechanics, and can be played in an afternoon.

Feels like I’ve been here before. Yep, got a healthy dose of grade A déjà vu happening with our top sellers for last month. Yet again Dominions 3: The Awakening has remained king of the hill, crushing all who dare oppose it. Pretty impressive for a five plus year old game. An indie game, at that.

Next up are everyone’s favorite turn-based tactical games, winSPWW2 and winSPMBT. Between the two gamers have hundreds upon hundreds of scenarios, dozens of campaigns, and endless replayability thanks to the random mission creator and scenario editing.

All three are games that you can play for literally years (and in many cases, folks have been playing this since their day one release and continue to do so), showing once again the power of strategy gaming as created with an indie mindset.

Dominions 3: The Awakening, now ever better with patch 3.27.

Everything goes better with armor, taste winSPWW2.

Why stop at 1945, continue the battles with winSPMBT.

The Gamers Front specials of the month can be foundhere.

In June we have two wargames, The Star and the Crescent and the acclaimed War Plan Pacific.

The Star & the Crescent


War Plan Pacific

ProSIM’s The Star and the Crescent, powered by one of the most realistic land based real time simulation engines of modern combat available today, examines the contested lands in and around Israel through a gaming audit of the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the past several decades. Featuring scenarios from 1956, 1967 (the Six-Day War), and early 1973 (pre-Yom Kippur War), the centerpiece of the game though is the Yom Kippur War. Additionally, some hypothetical modern scenarios are included, along with the ability to create your own scenarios.

The Arab-Israeli conflicts were ones that featured the largest tank battles since WWII, and these have been replicated in The Star and the Crescent. The role of the air force also played a huge part in these conflicts, and close air support, along with a brand new modeling of radar systems (from air defense networks to aircraft based), figures strongly in the game.

Some highlights of the chrome to be found in the game include individual buildings and defensive structures, a refined bursting direct fire model from earlier ATF powered games, and refined iron bomb effects. Additionally, everything one would expect from a ProSIM title is present, such as scenario maps based on real world maps, robust multiplayer capabilities, and full compatibility with other ProSIM titles.

The Star and the Crescent is available for Windows as a download. Normally priced at $39.95, in June it’s only $33.95.

War Plan Pacific is an rousing computer wargame for one or two players about the war in the Pacific waged from 1941 to 1945 between the allied nations of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Netherlands against Imperial Japan. Grand strategic in nature, this turn based title focuses on the air and naval battles that shaped the conflict, using a historical order of battle showcasing individual ships of light cruiser size or larger.

War Plan Pacific can be described as a serious beer and pretzels title, with a play time of only about three hours. Balancing playability and accessibility with historical accuracy, War Plan Pacific is easy to play yet true to history.

Besides supporting single player action against the robust AI, War Plan Pacific can be played against an opponent via the Internet. With a play time measured in hours, not days or weeks, it shouldn’t be hard to recreate the glory days of your tabletop wargaming experience, no matter where in the world your gaming buddies are now living. Another choice is PBEM, perfect for raining death and destruction across the Pacific at your leisure.

War Plan Pacific uses XML text files for its scenarios, allowing would-be designers to edit OOB, ship capabilities, base information, sea distances, and victory conditions. Creating new content is as easy as editing the proper files!

War Plan Pacific is available for Windows either as a download or physical product for only $33.95 during June.

Be sure to check out the Savings for Scholars and Soldiers discount program for everyday savings while shopping the Gamers Front!

Just took advantage of the Dominions 3: The Awakening sale and you’re now looking for some multiplayer action? Forum user llamabeast has a very nice MP set up that allows players to participate in Dominions 3 games using his LlamaServer to take all the pain out of running/participating in a large multi-player game. Creating a new game is a snap, and there are always games looking for players. Be sure to check out the multiplayer portion of our Dominions 3 forum. You’ll also find games starting at many other popular gaming forums around the ‘net.

Visit the site at:

http://www.llamaserver.net/

Get it Now!

All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy: 2011

Star Legacy: 2012

Eat Electric Death! (Board game): 2011

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