Thursday, September 11, 2008

Game Tips: Official Risk 2210AD Expansions

Risk 2210 AD is a pretty rich game in itself, even though it is dramatically more simple than a game like Axis and Allies. Never the less it is the kind of game that is just begging to be expanded upon, in both story and tactics. Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast realised this and created more than a few expansion packs for the game over the course of a few years but, in a move that can either be called pure genius or utter stupidity, they never released any of them commercially at all. Instead they arranged a tournament circuit called Frontline, and each season organized the tournaments around a new themed expansion. The expansion paraphernalia were produced in very small quantities and the tournament centres were issued just enough to run their tournaments, with the expansion pieces being awarded as prizes.

Season 1: Mars
The familiar Earth map, was ignored this season and the entire campaign took place on the Martian Landscape of 2210AD. As with the Earth map in the box, the Martian map was based on modifed satellite photographs of the landscape which I presume they bartered off of NASA. Mars has been occupied and terraformed and the entire Northern section is one big ocean, with the southern portion consisting of a large land mass divided into colonies, rather than a multitude of separated continents that most risk players would be familiar with. The resulting lack of bottle necks meant that the strategy was dramatically different, requiring a blanket defensive strategy rather than the traditional "strong at the borders, weak in the middle" approach. I personally have never played this variation, but I intend to in the near future if I can get my hands on a map again.

Season 2: Tech Commander
This expansion was dramatically more significant than the Mars one that preceeded it. It consisted of a deck of Tech Command Cards with original art and a Tech Commander for each army. I was a little disappointed to learn that the actual commander piece was a piece of cardboard with a stand, and not an actual plastic figure to match the existing commander pieces, but this news made me less sad about having not been in a position to actually participate in any of the Frontline Tournaments. The Tech Commander is not unlike the Nuke Commander in terms of game mechanics, and uses a d8 for all his attacks and defense rolls, but the Tech Command deck is a true asset and adds a whole lot of new options to old strategies while creating a brand new set of new ones. Most significantly there are now cards that allow you to negate the effects of an opponents card, like a Counterspell in Magic: The Gathering. There are also cards that allow you to move your troops around more efficiently and that bypass the Devastation Marker rules to your strategic advantage. Most significantly there is a most powerful card that allows you to swap turn order with someone else, which can be as much to their detriment as it is to your advantage. You can find a great fan-made recreation of the cards in part of this interesting unofficial expansion.

Season 3: Factions
The Factions expansion consisted of 6 playmats, that had space for cards and energy marked out on them. The mats themselves were pretty inconsequential, but each mat was themed to a different faction with its own advantages and disadvantages. Each faction was dramatically different from the others and required a different style of play to achieve victory. It incorporated the previous season's Tech Commander and really improved the game. I will discuss this one in greater detail in a future post. You can find a great fan-made set of Factions cards in part of this interesting unofficial expansion.

Season 4: Invasion of the Giant Amoebas
This simple expansion was designed to shake up the mechanics by adding in a new level of randomness and a non-player invasion force. It consisted of a pile of glass beads (the amoebas), a deck of Amoeba Event Cards that controlled the Amoeba's attacks and fortification, and 3 additional Diplomat cards. I haven't played this one either, but it's on my list of things to do.

After Season 4 they turned their backs on Risk 2210AD, but there are a lot of unofficial expansions out there. I may explore some of them down the line, and I will definitely be adding some of my own in future.

For more on Risk 2210 AD have a look at this interesting unofficial expansion which includes DIY versions of some of the official expansions described above. If you enjoy board games, you might also enjoy Zombies!!!
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Game Review: Why the Quest for Glory 2 Remake is Awesome!

I've just finished playing through Quest for Glory 2 VGA as a Thief, which is my favourite character class in these games, not for a lack of virtue, just that the thief and his roguish ways are so much more interesting to me. Thought I'd take this opportunity to go through the game and share some thoughts on what I really liked about the new version. There may be some spoilers ahead so if you haven't already played then rather stop reading this right now and go download it at!

The original EGA version of this game had some pretty impressive graphics by EGA standards, and I always loved the character introduction animations. Apart from a repainting with a broader colour pallette, the magic remains in tact in this part. This is just one of the many examples of how this game is a true tribute to the original.

In the VGA Quest for Glory 1 remake and in Quest for Glory 3 the shift from day to night was always a bit of a bugbear for me. They simply darkened the screen and made everything look really dull. The pale blue sky that looked so vibrant during the day remained but was now a pale dull grey and looked silly when you were expecting a black starry sky instead. In the EGA version of Quest for Glory 2 the night scenes were completely redrawn in a pallete of blues and greys with a starry sky, with constellations that though unrealistic, added a fair bit of flavour to the game. I would have liked them to have handled these a tiny bit more realistically but never the less I'm glad that they didn't take the cheap route they did in the other games and instead had separate night time art for each and every cell. They handle the transition by gradually fading the day scene out and replacing it with the appropriate night time image and it looks amazing for it!

Apart from updating the graphics, they added parts that were meant to be in the original but were cut for want of space on the 9 stiffy disks that the game was originally supplied on. They also adjusted certain things to tie the game to it's sequels. So you can ask Rakeesh about his wife now, and about Mordavia (the setting of Quest for Glory 4) for example. They've added in some of the mythology and backstory created by Lori Ann and Corey Cole, the original game's creators in the form of conversations that you can now have with Shema and Shameen after the close up the Katta's Tail Inn for the night. You can hear all about how they went about searching for you and find out how your character came to end up in Spielburg in the first place. To my knowledge this is all canon, but until now has never been released in any official way, and it's a very pleasant addition to the game. They've tied up a lot of continuity issues and cleaned up some logic issues. Aziza now explains that Julanar won't be free until someone who truly loves her shows up (which explains why she's still a tree) and sets up for Salim to rescue her after QFG3. In the original Khaveen's arc didn't get closure in the thief story line, and this has been corrected. The new saurus that you get on day 17 is now red and not identical to the green one that we all know wasn't a saurus at all. There's an neat little explanation for the new clothing you wear in Quest for Glory 3 as well, in the form of a merchant selling an outfit that's perfect for travelling in the savannah, ut it's out of stock for now so it's assumed that you only buy it after the game is done.

A really nice thing about the remake is the room in the inn. It's now interactive like the rooms in QFG3, 4 and 5 and features a chest to store your extra items so that you don't get weighed down. I never actually need to use it though, but i imagine i would have if I'd been stockpiling scorpion tails and ghoul's claws. As a useless bit of flavouring you can buy random items from the merchants to decorate the room. You can't take your money to Tarna with you in QFG3 so it gives you something to spend it on in this game.

The character sheet screen is really nice and is strongly based on the QFG3 one. Unlike QFG3's though, it isn't dull and dark at night. They keep it nice and bright and instead change the image behind the hero depending on the time of day. It looks really good to boot!

There is some true artistry in some of the new graphics and i really appreciate that part, being an artist myself. The famous "I love the smell of victory in the morning" scene was completely redrawn by someone with some real talent. It pays tribute to the original without being identical and i really like that! While I'm on that topic, there's a lot of completely original material in this game added in to keep the game fresh and new for even veteran QFG players. There is a magic game you can play to up your wizard skills, and a third job for the thief to pull off . The combat is possibly the best that the series has had to offer to. The trailer does a good job of illustrating it, but to truly feel it you have to play the game.

I really love what they did with the endgame, and I want to show you this comparison between the original EGA version, and the intro from Quest for Glory 3, and how they merged the two ideas to give us something that flows quite better with the continuity between the 2. The beginning of Quest for Glory 3 always bugged me for its inaccurate telling of events, but the efforts of AGDI have gone a long way to alleviating that. I still think they could have changed the hero's clothing to the newer outfit during the Zayishah scene though.

What could have been better?
I feel a bit like an ungrateful brat writing this section, but all of these complaints are pretty minor and I still feel this game is amazing in spite of what I'm about to say... but a review isn't a review unless it gives the bad along with the good.

Raseir has some really nice stuff in it! I was just a little disappointed that it was so similar to Shapeir. After all the exciting discoveries wandering through the alleys of Shapeir I was kinda excited at the prospect of exploring Raseir . When I got there, it wasn't as new and interesting as I'd hoped and the wear and tear looked a little fake. Would have been nice to have some random encounters and some thing different to idle away the hours while waiting for the obligatory pause between the events in the rigid time system to pass. On the bright side they do let you sleep through it now, which wasn't an option in the original.

Another thing that I found disappointing was that some scenes were virtually identical to the EGA version. To be honest, this is not a bad thing at all cos the as I have said, the EGA artwork was quite impressive for what it was. I know that this was a labour of love and I hold nothing against it, but I do feel that some scenes like the Harem here, and the whole conversation with Signor Ferrari were missed opportunities to take advantage of the game's new found graphics capability, and really take it to town. On the subject of graphics capability, the entire game emulates the pixelation of a 320x200 screen to keep it inline with the QFG1, 3 and 4, inspite being designed to run in 640 x 400 mode which is about the lowest resolution windows allows. This is either really awesome or kinda sad, depending on your point of view. I admire their dedication to continuity, and it's kinda cool in the way that a Black-and-White Schindler's list is cool, but I would have loved to see the beauty of this game given the extra crispness that the higher resolution would have offered.

In points the perspective is a bit of a mess, such as the alleyways with insanely long bricks on the side walls, but this i suspect is a result of the artist copying the original alleyway artwork, rather than redrawing them from scratch. In the intermission scene, they have brigands emerging over the mountains, and they reused a scaled version of the brigand sprite that is way to big given it's distance from the camera, so it looks like a giant standing on the peak rather than a human sized figure. The "arena" where magic users can play Keapon Laffin's game similarly suffers from distorted perspective in it's scenery where a background railing is the same size as a foreground one making it appear much larger and destroying the symmetry of an otherwise beautiful scene. This is probably nitpicking though, and I only notice it because of my trained artist's eyes. The average person playing this probably wouldn't give it a second thought, and in the name of fairness I have to point out that the EGA version had even worse problems with perpective, particularly in the alleyways.

The last complaint is probably a common one, and it's more of a tribute to the guys at AGDI than anything else... Quite simply, the other 4 games in the series are a little bit inferior to this one in terms of easy gameplay and flexibilty and it feels like a step down when you move over to the other games while playing the full series. I recently played through Quest for Glory 1 so that I could import my character and I found it a little frustrating not having all the convenient features that this one has included. I have to confess that I'm secretly hoping they'll decide to do "ultimate" versions of the other 4 that bring them inline with this game's absolute awesomeness!

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