Thursday, June 30, 2011

Weekend Plans

I'm sure that most of you out there in the interwebs have big plans for this coming weekend (well, you do if you live in the USA, anyway).  Th 4th of July weekend is a big one for searing cow flesh on the grill, blowing things up, and getting sunburns.  I, however, am planning on spending a fair chunk of the weekend in my basement.

When I moved into my current home in 2004, it was the first time that I lived anywhere with a basement.  I had all of this space in which to store my junk, and at the time it seemed nice a spacious.  After six-and-a-half years of accumulating even more junk than I had when I moved in, I can now say that it doesn't look all that big anymore.  So, it is time to wade into the piles of boxes (some of which I know are simply sitting there empty) and organize it all.  Or, at least, make a serious dent in it.  I want to try to organize the games properly on the shelves so that it is easier to actually find one when I want to play it, as well as getting some better organization with the boxes of books, CDs, and other stuff sitting down there just waiting for a flood to ruin it all.  I need to at least make better use of my shelving and get that stuff elevated.

Maybe once that gets done it will even be time to start thinking about painting down there.  I can't say that those bare concrete walls are enticing, and the time I was stuck down there while the tornado sirens kept wailing was a bit dull, except for when the water starting coming through that crack in the wall.  Maybe I should seal that while I'm at it...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Federation Commander: Distant Kingdoms

About a year-and-a-half ago I wrote about the game Federation CommanderDistant Kingdoms is another expansion for that game, and is the first one to completely "leave the reservation" of the original Star Fleet license.  Where the original game is based on the ships of the original Star Trek series, this expansion uses ships and intergalactic races made up from whole cloth by the game designers.  This expansion introduces the Lyrans, the Hydrans, and the Wyn Star Cluster.

This expansion is important to me solely because it includes the Lyrans.  Back when I played Star Fleet Battles, I quickly settled on the Lyrans as my race to play.  Is it because the weapons and ship systems fit my standard tactics?  Well, no, not really.  Is it because I really liked them in the original TV show?  Well, no, the game designers made them up.  Is it because their unique weapons system is just so gosh darn cool?  Well, no, it's an energy shield that detonates enemy missiles before they hit you, which isn't too exciting.  So why is it?  I love the twin-hull ship designs.
Isn't that just totally sweet looking?  You bet it is.  Lyran ships are the bestest.

Anyway, as far as the game goes, Lyran ships are very similar to Klingon ships.  Phasers and disruptors are the primary weapons, but instead of drones Lyrans have Expanding Sphere Generators (ESG), which create a semi-physical sphere of energy that surrounds a ship.  You can use it to ram another ship (hardly ever done in practice) or as the best drone defense in the game, as when drones hit an ESG, they just explode harmlessly.  This makes Lyrans the best race to use to fight Kzinti, but not so hot against races that don't use drones (like the Romulans or Gorn).

As mentioned above, Distant Kingdoms also includes the Hydrans, which are interesting primarily because they make significant use of small fighter craft.  I don't like playing against Hydran ships because it can be really hard to keep track of all of those pesky little fighters.  They can't take much damage, but they distract you from the mother ship with its hellbore cannons.  Hydran weapons can take down a shield that is facing away from them, which is completely unfair.  Lastly, the Wyn Star Cluster is really just a bunch of ships from the other races that have been mildly customized to have some different weapons.  I can't think of any real reason to play Wyn ships outside of established scenarios that make use of them.

While the Distant Kingdoms expansion isn't in any way important for a casual Federation Commander player, it has my favorite race so I had to get it.  While the new races make for some different games (as you get to figure out how best to use the new ships and weapons systems), I can't say that it significantly changes the game at all.  Since the base game is so fun, though, just minor tweaks are all that is needed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This time up in my random walk through my game collection we come to a game that I have not played since probably 1993, Steve Jackson's Battlesuit.  This game is set in the overall 'universe' as the game Ogre, but instead of focusing on giant cybernetic tanks, Battlesuit focuses solely on infantry.  Granted, in the game it is 2085 and infantry wear powered armor that lets them fly through the air and shoot tactical nuclear weapons at each other, so it is nothing like modern infantry combat.  Or, at least, on the surface it's nothing like modern combat.  But how does it hold up as a game?

Battlesuit was sold in a plastic "clamshell" box, which Steve Jackson Games used a lot in the 1980s for their games.  Within that box is a one-sided paper map with some generic-looking hills and forests.  The only real thing of interest on the map is whereas Ogre used an industry-standard hex map, Battlesuit's map consists of hundreds of evenly spaced dots.  While these are set up in a hexagonal pattern, the use of dots allows for more careful plotting of line-of-sight than a hex grid would.  In addition to the map, you get ~250 card stock counters that you had to cut out yourself with scissors, and a rulebook.

The basic conceit of the game is that you will have a group of infantry, and will try to kill the other player's infantry.  There are a variety of scenarios in the rulebook, so sometimes you are just trying to get guys off the other end of the map, or you know you're gonna die but you win by holding off your opponent for a certain number of turns.  In the end, though, the game generally comes down to killing the other guy's units.  Each infantry unit has an attack rating, an Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) rating, and a movement rating.  To make an attack, you take your attack rating, subtract the target's ECM rating, and add and subtract other modifiers to arrive at a final attack rating.  You then roll two dice and look up your roll on the combat results table to see what happens.  You can kill a target outright, do varying degrees of damage, or just 'shock' the unit, which limits target's ability to act on their turn while not actually damaging them.

The game is more involved than that, though.  While you move your own units, they can be shot at by your opponent's units, so just running pell mell across the landscape is going to get your guys good and dead in a hurry.  You have to use terrain to your advantage to keep your guys from getting picked of as they move into position.  You can also use one of your units to "target" another unit.  Whereas most units can attack twice on their turn if they don't move, a unit that "targets" another unit only gets one attack, but gives a bonus to every other one of your units that attacks the targeted unit.  Some scenarios also give you robot drones that you can use in various ways; some are scouts, some have guns, and some are just big bombs.  There is really a lot of tactical variety to the game and it can get quite tense.

While this is actually a pretty good game, if I want a tactical infantry game I'm probably going to play another game in my collection, like Combat Commander.  Something about Battlesuit makes it slip to the back of my mind and not get played.  I'm still keeping it in the collection, though, because it is the only sci-fi infantry combat game I have.  And you never know when you are gonna need one of those.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Technology is a Funny Thing

I have had two situations this weekend that led me to ponder the vagaries of modern technology.  First, as some of you may be aware, back in April the PlayStation Network got hacked, and Sony took the whole thing down while they scrambled to figure out exactly what happened and how to keep it from happening again.  The network was down for weeks.  While I hardly play any games on my PS3, and therefore wasn't missing the inability to blow up random strangers in war games online, taking the network down did mean that Netflix was unavailable through my PS3, which was a bit of a bother.  A few weeks ago Sony finally started bringing the network back up, and they promised some freebies as a "mea culpa" for their inability to keep people's account information from getting stolen.

Well, they finally got around to releasing the free games on Friday.  You could download two free PS3 games, as well as two free PSP games if you had a PlayStation Portable to play them on.  I happily grabbed four games and have putzed around with two of them so far.  I can't say they are anything that I would pay full price for (though I have heard good things about inFAMOUS, which I haven't tried yet), but, hey, they're free, so I'm not complaining.  I have put the most time into Wipeout: Fury, which is a futuristic racing game with gravitic sleds instead of cars.  While not as much fun as Demolition Racer is, you can pick up weapons with which to blow up the other grav sleds, so it does scratch the same itch to a degree.  So, in the end, a major technical problem for Sony turned into a minor annoyance for me and four free video games.  So, yeah, I win.

The other technical vagary I dealt with was my new printer.  I got a new computer back a couple weeks ago, and with it I purchased a new printer, with wireless connectivity.  When I first set everything up it worked fine, but when I came back from Florida last week I couldn't connect the computer to it because it couldn't see it on the network.  No matter what I tried (power cycling the printer and the computer, uninstalling and reinstalling the device, downloading driver updates) the stupid thing wouldn't connect.  The printer was on my wireless network with a valid IP address, but my computer refused to notice it was there.  I ended up solving the problem by dropping ~$30 at Best Buy for a USB cable, and now I'm back to printing the old-fashioned, cabled way.  At least it works now.  Ain't technology something.