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FRAG! August 2011

Charles Rector's Weblog; Oct. 3, 2011; By Charles Rector
Type: News

If you have trouble reading this newsletter click here.Issue 120, August 2011"Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it."   
~ Henry David Thoreau

  1. The August Editorial Introduction
  2. News Direct from the Frontlines of Shrapnel Games
  3. Trivia Time: Korea, The War That Never Ends
  4. September Gamers Front Special Preview
  5. The Dice Of War: Plan West
  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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Careful, man, there's a beverage here!1. The August Editorial Introduction

How easy it is to forget the simple joy of gaming, even when immersed in gaming. Whether it’s dealing with poor rules in a board game or bad video drivers in a computer game, gaming is often filled with unmet expectations and disappointments. Then there’s the joy of community, whereupon every other gamer seems to be filled with rage. From insulting the developers to insulting fellow gamers, one can only be exposed to such massive amounts of negativity for so long before the danger of becoming a misanthrope yourself becomes a real possibility.

The past week I’ve been experiencing conversations on gaming that have been bright, hopeful, and opened future doors. Not to mention actually participating in some rather positive sessions. Sessions that were what gaming was all about: the triumph of the player, the joy of discovery, the thrill of good friends and good gaming. When everything clicks in gaming, when you can stop thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner, or did you pay the cable bill this month, or ignore the hyperbole encasing the news of the globe, it’s a magical event. It’s living in the moment.

"Do we push our limits, live by chaos or live by order?"

Sex, self-medication, pain, are all events that serve to place us in The Moment. The Moment is a stoppage of time, where there is no past or future. Everything surrounding us melts away, and as these walls of consciousness drip away into pools of oblivion we can

only concentrate on the here, the now, The Moment.

That’s what good gaming does. It allows us to lose ourselves in a way that is emotionally and physically safe. When we are playing that perfect game there is just us and the game.

Today more than ever gaming is so important in our lives. Thanks to a culture of fear our race’s destruction seems imminent, whether from honeybees to shifting space rocks, and yet we know that’s not true. But it’s hard to ignore the crazy guy on the corner telling us to repent for the end is upon us. Then there’s the personal armageddons we deal with each day: traffic, co-workers, personal success and the illusion of happiness.

Slip into gaming, tighten down the straps, and one can wade through the incoming shells of misery without flinching. Surrounded by blast shields of joy, we game. We live other lives, we rule other lives, and we learn about ourselves. Are we risk takers? Turtlers? Do we push our limits, live by chaos or live by order? And we learn all this at the safety of the computer or dining room table.

Don’t ever forget what brought you into gaming. Don’t ever forget the magic.

2. News Direct from the Frontlines of Shrapnel Games

Greetings fellow gamers to another issue of the official e-newsletter of Shrapnel Games! This 120th edition marks the beginning of the end of summer, which is okay by us. Insane heat, earthquakes, hurricanes, this summer has been an interesting one but for all the wrong reasons. At least it has encouraged folks to avoid the great outdoors, bane of gamers everywhere, and enjoy plenty of gaming inside artificially cooled rooms.

Last month’s newsletter teased about a new direction for Bronze and we’re happy to report that we officially announced what exactly this meant earlier this month. In case you missed it Bronze is becoming a board game from publisher Spiral Galaxy Games of the United Kingdom! Here is an excerpt from our press release to fill you in on the details.

“Bronze, the Windows computer game, is a fast paced tile strategy game of area control set in ancient Mesopotamia. Controlling one of twelve historically accurate civilizations of the era, players attempt to dominate maps using ten construction types in historical campaigns, randomly created games, Hotseat play, custom matches, or the exciting Survival mode. Each civilization has its own strengths and weaknesses, meaning Bronze plays completely different depending on which civilization you play. And with no luck to be found in the game, victory or defeat is entirely dependent on how the civilization is played. It is this that attracted Spiral Games Galaxy to the idea of a cardboard conversion.

Dave Gilham of Spiral Galaxy Games remarks, “Bronze caught my eye on BoardGameGeek and having played the demo, and then the full version, I was intrigued with the game play. It’s enjoyable, it’s fast, there is no luck , you win or lose based entirely on your planning and tactics. The different maps and tribes leads to a great replay ability. All good points for a Euro style game.”

Currently Spiral Games Galaxy has begun sending their play testers initial test kits of Bronze the board game. The core gameplay will be the same, although there may be minor changes here and there due to changing it to a social tabletop Eurogame for two players. Initially six civilizations will be included,

which will play like their computer counterparts except for a few differences. Terrain and buildings will be the same as the computer game, although the Embassy will not be included. The visuals will be reworked to give them greater detail, so expect the cardboard version to look similar but not identical to the digital version.

While very early in the production cycle the current release estimate is release in second or third quarter of 2012. Shrapnel Games will also be carrying it at our Gamers Front.

We are very excited to be working with Spiral Games Galaxy and look forward to seeing Bronze dominating European table tops next year. It’s a charming and highly addictive game. If you haven’t checked it out be sure to stop by its official product page and download the demo.

And now for another tease. Look for upcoming news of an exciting new game system being published by Shrapnel Games designed specifically for smart phones and iPads. And no, we can almost guarantee that your guess as to what type of system this is will be incorrect. This is uncharted territory and will be very exciting.

I suppose one hint won’t hurt.

Polyhedrons. That is all.

Besides our monthly newsletter you can keep up with Shrapnel Games though our website (naturally), along with Facebook. Additionally, by signing up for our Friends and Fans email List you can be the first to know about sales, participate in special offers, and get the latest and greatest news.

To subscribe to the Friends and Fans list please visit its page here.

See you in a month! Happy gaming!

3. Trivia Time: Korea, The War That Never Ends

From 1966 through 1969 North Korea waged a very hot war against the Republic of Korea in the South, and the United States. While there had always been sporadic incidents between the North and South across the DMZ that separated the two countries since the armistice that ended the Korean War, the incidents increased dramatically in the mid-sixties.

In October of 1966 the North's leader, Kim Il Sung gave a speech to the Korean Workers Party in which he called for open aggression towards the United States. Believing that the United States would not allow itself to be drawn into yet another Asian conflict with Vietnam raging North Korea looked at this period as a perfect time to unify Korea by force.

The first major event took place a little over a month later after the speech, when a North Korean force crossed the DMZ and attacked a United Nations patrol. Leaving only one survivor, PFC David Bibee who survived only by playing dead, the attack was quite brutal. After an intense gun battle and hand to hand melee, the North Koreans mutilated their victims, emptying clips into the corpses and slashing them with bayonets. All this occurred while then President Lyndon Johnson was visiting Seoul.

Soon more attacks came, from small scale incursions and firefights to full scale artillery attacks. South Korean trains were attacked, and in one of the boldest attacks a North Korean sapper blew up a US 2nd Division barracks with a satchel charge.

North Korean commandos landed in the South with the hope of creating an insurgency movement amongst the South Korean farmers. Instead, 110 North Korean commandos were killed in battle by South Korean forces.

In Taegu four South Korean police officers were killed in combat with North Korean infiltrators, and in the summer of 1967, facing increasing North Korean guerilla raids, US Special Forces began to operate in the area, fighting off the North Korean insertions.

The attacks grew even bolder, if that was possible. In the "Blue House Raid" thirty-one North Koreans made their way into the South with a mission to decapitate the South Korean president, Park Chung Hee.

The North Koreans actually made it within a few blocks of where the President was, the Blue House, but were discovered. The battle that followed saw

nearly all the raiders killed, with one captured and two missing. The lone prisoner recounted that not only was the South Korean president a target, but also the US embassy.

After that the North captured the USS Pueblo off the coast of North Korea, even though it was in recognized international waters. After that more attempts by the North were made to start an uprising in the South. In 1968 1,245 North Korean saboteurs were arrested in the South. Another commando raid, with 120 Northern troops, ended in disaster with all raiders killed or captured.

Kim Il Sung grew increasingly frustrated with the failure to incite a people's revolution in the south. While hoping to play off US anti-war sentiment, and assuming that the peasants in the South would rise up, neither happened.

In the South most citizens were very much anti-communist, and pro-American. And while the US was definitely consumed by anti-war protests the military was ready to respond in full force if necessary to North Korean threats. Besides beefing up security among the DMZ, extending tours, creating a quick reaction force, and other military aid, the US invested massively in South Korea economically to prove their support.

The incidents began to wind down overall, though the North Koreans still played rough. In '69 a EC-121and a helicopter were both shot down, leading to a quick show of force by the United States Navy. Further hostilities then began to slow down, until life along the DMZ began to grow "normal" again, though normal along the DMZ was a very subjective term.

Both the seizure of the USS Pueblo and the attempted assassination of the South Korean president were made during the Tet offensive in Vietnam, leading many to believe that the North was attempting to work in concert with the NVA, and probably the USSR. Likewise, as Tet wound down so did the North Korean attacks into the South.

During the Second Korean Conflict hundreds of American and South Korean soldiers lost their lives. To this day incidents of cross-border raids, sniper shootings, and the occasional artillery burst are common, although never reaching the level they reached between 1966 and 1969.

4. September Gamers Front Special Preview

Another preview of what to expect when September 1st rolls around at the Gamers Front, our online store. Every month we offer at least two games at discounted prices at our online store. These sale prices are good for that entire month.

In September gamers will be able to save on BCT Commander and Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa.

Finding computer games on WWII is easy. Finding games on modern conflicts is a tad bit more difficult. Throw in as prerequisites that the game must be realistic and also be playable in real time and it becomes even more difficult. Thankfully, developer ProSIM is around.

BCT Commander - More Info

ProSIM is the developer behind BCT Commander (amongst many other titles), one of the finest and highly detailed wargames to grace your screen.

As the name suggests gameplay takes place at the brigade/regimental scale, with maps measuring up to 50 km by 50 km in size. Scenarios take place in everyone’s favorite hot spots around the world such as Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Russia, and the NTC here in the United States. Orders of battle include a wealth of current weapon platforms from American and Russian arsenals.

BCT Commander is a real time game, but it is not a real time game in the sense that it’s Command and Conquer with true military equipment. Rather it is a simulation, with all that word implies, of land warfare that is played out in a continuous time fashion. And for everyone who likes the ability to pause and issue orders in their real time games don’t fret, you can do so in BCT Commander. And with the deadly AI you might need to do it quite a bit to take a breather and reassess your grand plan for victory.

Speaking of the AI when BCT Commander was released Computer Games Online had this to say of it:

“The AI is solid and challenging as well. Every scenario played has included at least three enemy courses of action and all are damn tough to win against. Committing your forces piecemeal, improper positioning, and misuse of artillery are all punished heavily by the game's computer opponent.”

If you fancy playing against other opponents BCT Commander sports probably the widest scope of ways to connect than any other game released today. Sure, you got your standard Internet connection but how about a serial port connection? It features it, along with modem (really!) and IPX connectivity.

Gamespot said of the game that “…it's a rigorous, realistic simulation of what it's like to command a brigade of combined-arms troops in modern warfare.”

Read more about BCT Commander at its official product page.

So you like killing things and taking their stuff. Only problem is that if you do it in real life it’s a felony. Not to mention just, you know, morally wrong. That’s where the time honored tradition of dungeoncrawling comes in.

Began in the 1970s, dungeoncrawling involves sharp swords, deep dungeons, and the utter annihilation of everything that lurks in them. Remember, if you meet something that wants to talk to you it’s really not friendly, it’s just the GM trying to screw you over by seeing if you’ll let your guard down.

On the computer dungeoncrawlers have everything from text gaming in the form of the venerable Nethack to the more modern, like the Diablo series. What they don’t normally have though is an easy way to craft their own dungeoncrawls.

Scallywag - More Info

Enter Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa. At the top level it’s a dungeoncrawl from Chronic Reality in the vein of Rogue-like titles: random level generation, one life, all that good stuff. You can play it as a dungeoncrawl and have lots of fun, especially since Chronic Reality added their own spin to the genre. In most games it’s all about munchkining up, while in Scallywag it’s all about getting the heck out of each level by finding the rope to their next level. You can take it slow and easy, but your light source—a lantern—is dependent on oil, oil that is slowly burning away as you move about.

Go deeper with Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa though and you’ll discover that the game is much more than eating shrooms and whacking bats. The game is fully moddable by anyone. No special coding, no special tools (although if you do code and if you do have special tools, like maybe some fancy schmancy graphic programs, you can always go the extra mile). Change out the visuals, audio, game equipment stats…everything using standard Windows software.

Changes can be something minor, such as how your lantern behaves in the game, to something major like a total conversion. Start off small by tinkering with the existing game structure and then move on to recreating the entire Against The Giants series from AD&D.

If you’ve ever felt the call of becoming the Dungeonmaster but lack the players, Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa is definitely a title you’ll want to check out.

Check out more information here.

Remember, save on these starting September 1st!

5. The Dice Of War: Plan West

Plan West (Three Crowns Games Productions)

The invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Third Reich may have been the opening salvo of the Second World War in Europe but for wargamers it’s practically a forgotten campaign. While there are dozens of titles on the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad, and the Allied liberation of France once can count on one hand the number of Polish campaign games over the years.

The problem has always been the fact that Case White developed somewhat of an urban legend quality to it. Cavalry against tanks, the superiority of the blitzkrieg, all make it sound like there is no point in gaming such a lopsided affair. Yet in recent years it has been shown that many things we thought about the invasion were either completely inaccurate or not as impressive as they were originally made out to be. Stripping away the myths and legends suddenly the invasion of Poland does make an ideal candidate for wargaming.

Plan West by Three Crowns Games Productions tackles the invasion of Poland, specifically the first ten days. Why only the first ten days? Well, historically once you get past the first ten days the Poles are pretty much on the run, and once the Soviets enter the picture it’s pretty much all over. If the Polish defenses could have held in the first week and a half though the outcome could have been much different. So by focusing on the first ten days Plan West essentially showcases the heart of the campaign.

It’s really an easy game to learn, although the original manual—while short—leaves something to be desired for overall clarity. While the rules are in general well written, there are spots that could be clearer but worse are the spots in which information is completely missing. Wargamers won’t have a problem filling in the blanks but novices may be lost. Thankfully an updated manual is available to download, although there are still some minor errors that were overlooked.

Plan West uses a chit pull activation method to activate headquarter units, which in turn then activate subordinate units and independent units within command range. To illustrate the superior command structure of the German forces the German player is given command chits that can activate multiple command groups, even if they’ve been activated by their individual command. This is a big deal, allowing the Germans to create a fast paced tempo of operations. They’ll need this though to keep up with the victory point conditions.

In Plan West each turn the German player has to earn a certain number of victory points (VP). These VP are collected by capturing population centers. Additionally, holding onto Warsaw forces a sudden death victory. By forcing the German forces to constantly move forward it does two things. One, it allows a reasonable approximation of the speed of the campaign by making the player be aggressive and

two, from a gameplay perspective it keeps the game moving.

Movement and combat is straightforward and works just like any other standard wargame. One interesting touch is that even small population centers provide fairly good bonuses for defenders, and this, combined with the natural terrain defenses of Poland, allows the Polish defenders to make a good stand. Combat results are also not unusual, with step reductions and retreats possible.

There is some chrome when it comes to units. The Schleswig-Holstein is present and can assist, and the Polish OOB includes plenty of Pociag Pancerny (Armor Train). The armored trains are actually very useful, allowing Polish support to rapidly be in place across the map as long as the rail lines are clear.

Simulating the blitzkrieg tactics is achieved in two ways. First, air support is present on both sides (technically, since the Polish player does have one air counter). Air support comes in the form of ground attack, which simply acts as a regular combat, and interdiction, which blocks movement in a radius from the aircraft. But air attacks happen in a separate phase from ground combat, meaning that air units cannot combine their attacks with ground forces (but ground forces must be next to the target unit to provide a location). This may sound counterintuitive for a game on the blitzkrieg but research shows that there really wasn’t true combined air/ground successes. In fact, sometimes the Luftwaffe managed to blow up their own troops.

The next way of showcasing the blitzkrieg is in the use of combined arms. Armored formations by themselves suffer penalties in combat, which are mitigated by combining them with infantry formations. Interestingly, armored formations can penetrate further when taking ground than infantry, but because of the combined arms rule this can lead to dangerous situations for the isolated units. Still, sometimes a bold player may want to push forward with his fast moving tanks, risking the danger posed by the combat results table.

Plan West does a good job of showing that while blitzkrieg tactics could have an impact on the battlefield, they were not that supreme game changers like initially thought. Overall there is a lot of subtlety to the design of Plan West, and players will come to appreciate them.

Plan West manages to take a campaign that most people thought of as a cakewalk and turns it into a tense, turn by turn affair that is extremely easy to get into. That’s not to say the Poles should have any delusions of parading down the streets of Berlin in the game, but within the confines of the game’s victory mechanics it is possible for the Germans to fail. A worthy game on a subject rarely gamed on the tabletop.

6. Sizzling Sellers and Those Special Offers

Every month will talk about the top sellers for the previous month. In the wide world of gaming it’s not exactly as significant as the monthly NPD numbers but rather just a piece of trivia, although it is nice to see what types of game trend. Sometimes games that have been around a while will suddenly surge based on some sort of discussion.

Last month the top seller was, to no one’s surprise, Dominions 3: The Awakening. This is an epic turn based game that features enough content that few people will experience everything it has to offer even after years of playing.

Next up was winSPWW2, another title that offers up years and years of enjoyment without repeating itself. Both it and Dominions 3 would make perfect desert island games.

The third top seller was an old favorite, War Plan Pacific. War Plan Pacific does go epic like the previous two titles, but it goes epic in a micro kind of way. What does that mean? Well, the entire war in the Pacific from Allied involvement onwards is modeled, but modeled in a way that the four year conflict is playable in a single session. So yes, four years of warfare involving millions of miles of battlespace and thousands upon thousands of troops but distilled down to a game taking only hours.

The unstoppable Dominions 3: The Awakening!

Blitzing across hard drives around the world it’swinSPWW2.

The sun and eagle battle in War Plan Pacific.

The Gamers Front specials of the month can be foundhere.

For August the specials include Dominions 3: The Awakening and winSPWW2 Enhanced Edition.

War Plan Pacific

The first special, Dominions 3: The Awakening, is possibly the greatest turn-based fantasy strategy game ever seen on a personal computer. While that may sound like the usual marketing hype you’d expect from a publisher selling a product, let’s look at the cold hard facts.

Since its release Illwinter Game Design, the developer of Dominions 3: The Awakening, has continually supported their beloved game, offering up enough free additional content to make up several expansion packs. This is true dedication to the game and to the fans, and one that you rarely see. Come to think of it, most gamers are accustomed to the opposite, where a game is released and never touched again.

Right out of the gate, before any new content is applied or mods, players can experience fantasy warfare in three distinct ages, fifty different unique nations, hundreds of magic items and spells, and well over a thousand units. Dominions 3: The Awakening is playable against the computer or against twenty other

players, and is a perfect game for PBEM. And again, all that it before anything is added to the mix. Everything gets kicked up several notches once you start playing with the new content and mods.

Dominions 3: The Awakening is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Three operating systems means chances are you can play Dominions 3: The Awakening, and since it doesn’t need to be the latest and greatest in the visual department, it can be played on a variety of machines. If you buy the physical version you get all three operating system versions on one CD. The downloadable versions are OS specific.

Normally $54.95, Dominions 3: The Awakening is on sale for $47.95.

winSPWW2

Like Dominions 3: The Awakening, winSPWW2 is a turn based strategy game. Both offer a massive amount of content in their core game, extended through the ongoing patches. Likewise, this is a sign that the creators have made a living game, one that they love as much as the fans that work is continuous on it. Not because it really needs it, but because there is always room for some new cool game mechanic tweak, or awesome new scenario.

winSPWW2 Enhanced Edition, based on the original SSI Steel Panthers series, is a comprehensive study in combined arms warfare from the ‘30s through the Second World War. Featuring hundreds of scenarios, plenty of campaigns, and the ability to generate your own adventures (either through a few quick picks or handcrafting scenarios in the editor), winSPWW2 Enhanced Edition offers up literally years of gameplay.

winSPWW2 Enhanced Edition is truly a wargamer’s wargame. Gameplay is turn based, using a hex map, and is tactical in nature. It’s like your favorite cardboard tabletop action has been transferred into the digital realm, without the need to spend hours sorting counters or looking up rules. Play against the tough AI or against other opponents, PBEM games are easy to come by and folks are always on the prowl for a worthy foe.

Astute observers will note that winSPWW2 is also available as a free download. Indeed, the core of winSPWW2 Enhanced Edition is the same as the free download, but the “Enhanced” part of the Enhanced Edition really makes the upgrade worth paying for. There are several enhancements for the serious player, but the only that probably stands out the most is the ability to play at resolutions up to 1600x1200.

Note that the upgrade patches have added many more scenarios, units, and other content and the game is playable thanks to the upgrades with the latest incarnation of Windows. Normally $39.95 (physical or download), the game is on sale in August for $34.95.

Remember, whether it’s six in the morning or six at night if you need your gaming fix the Gamers Front is here to serve you!

7. Link O' The Month

Who doesn’t like the crunch of a hand axe through a skull or the bellowing cry of, “For Odin!” over a smoky battlefield? Vikings can be a lot of fun, especially the romanticized fantasy version of those Danish sea raiders.

Over the years vikings have been featured in a number of games, although not enough to truly make a sub-genre. Recently a miniatures based AAR (called Dark Ages, mixing a couple of rulesets) has sprung up featuring the wacky adventures of Harlin and Assur, two enslaved raiders as they seek revenge. Revenge in a viking story always means plenty of hand axes crunching skulls, plus an abundance of mead and venison, along with a helping dose of valkyrie eye candy. So far there is a distinct lack of mead, venison, and valkyries, but hopefully that will all change over time.

The AAR is an entertaining read, and the site also features plenty of interesting reads about miniature gaming.

Visit the site at:

http://thecommandtent.blogspot.com/p/dark-ages-campaign.html


Get it Now!8. The Crystal Ball

All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy: 2011

Star Legacy: 2012

Eat Electric Death! (Board game): 2011

Copyright © 2011 - Shrapnel Games, Inc.

 

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