Bolt Thrower: Conflict of Heroes, Stellaris, Total Warhammer, Silver Tower, Van Helsing

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Bolt Thrower: Conflict of Heroes, Stellaris, Total Warhammer, Silver Tower, Van Helsing
There Will Be Games

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So, here we are again for another volley. This time it's to talk about something I've wanted to do for a long time which is to review Conflict of Heroes on Shut Up & Sit Down. For all its shortcomings as a simulation, CoH is one of my all-time favourite wargames. I love its speed and its combination of mechanical and tactical conundrums. I also love the fact that it has tanks.

After submitting my last two SU&SD pieces I ended up getting excited about something I'd never talk about in public. No, not that: photography. I've always had zero interest in gaming photography, beyond the obvious taking aesthetic pleasure in seeing a nice picture. Truth be told my eye for visual detail is poor, so my own photography tends to be poor. I never took much care in setting up shots for any of my pieces.

Turns out, however, that it's astonishing what you can do with a little bit of prep, a bit of digging into your camera settings, and some image manipulation software. I still know almost nothing about photography, so whether this newfound passion will burn out as quickly as it flared up remains to be seen. But I might share some results sometime.

On the PC recently I've mostly been putting in the review hours for Stellaris and Total War: Warhammer. The former is good, the latter is great, but the most interesting thing about playing the two back to back is how it made me consider the vexed question of complexity in strategy video games.

Now that computers and programmers and game designers have had years to hone their skills, it's common for strategy games to be astonishingly complex under the hood. Players seem to like to have lots of levers to pull to get things done. But in an era where no-one prints manuals anymore, let alone reads them, it leaves an open question as to how you teach people the game.

Stellaris is fortunate in being able to take a piecemeal approach. You start off in one system and expand gradually, so the game has the luxury of being able to teach you concepts as you come across them. Mostly, this works, but it tends to leave you blind to the bigger picture. I restarted several times because I'd failed to appreciate how a new piece of information dovetailed with something I'd learned earlier.

Total Warhammer, by contrast, drops you in at the deep end. Your tutorial battle is a mass siege where you'll command units you won't be able to recruit until later in the campaign. Stuff gets flashed up in on-screen textboxes which is a terrible idea in a real-time game. Mostly, it wants you to stop and watch videos which I absolutely wasn't going to do. So it took me a long time, and a game on the easy difficulty setting, before I started to understand it.

Both, I think, are bumping up against the limit of what a player will accept in terms of learning systems. And although I'm in a small minority in disliking video tutorials, I still think it's a bad way to learn things. Consider: how much do you retain from watching a documentary compared to reading a chapter in a fact book? Either way it feels like the genre is creaking under the strain. It could be a ripe time for a resurgence of simpler XCOM style games and, ahem, board game adaptations.

Speaking of which, the creator of the original XCOM has a new strategy game in the pipe. It's called Phoenix Point, and it looks like equal parts turn based tactics, global strategy, Lovecraft and Stephen King's The Mist. It also looks awesome. 

And speaking of Warhammer, I'm toying with the idea of investing in Silver Tower. I'm attracted by the fantastic looking miniatures and the choose your own adventure aspects. I'm turned off by the assembly time and the fact I've already got a ton of dungeon crawl games. Been playing Road to Legend recently and that's been really fun, plus I'm a big fan of the D&D Adventure System games. I've got Heroquest gathering dust too, so do I really need another? The eternal question.

Finally, I got down and dirty with some old-fashioned monsters this week when I saw Van Helsing for the second time. I don't care if it was a critical bomb, I think it's a fantastic film, full of action, fun and great set pieces. You can really feel the love for the old Universal monster movies seeping through the screen. And while the critics hated it, it made decent money at the box office.  Which makes the lack of a sequel and the delay to an apparent reboot along with The Mummy franchise, as mysterious as darkest Transylvania.

Can't say the same for the Van Helsing PC action RPG. A feeble Diablo clone with none of the latter franchise's variety or polish. Avoid.

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Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.

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Brewmiester's Avatar
Brewmiester replied the topic: #229152 20 Jun 2016 17:44
Thanks Matt! I'm hoping Total War Warhammer makes it to the Steam sale later this week because I've really wanted to pick up a copy. Been a Total War fan for a long time, the previews I've seen look great and and this review just seals the deal for me. I'm also wondering about Man O' War: Corsair. Looks pretty rough so far graphics wise but could be interesting. I also saw a spot for a new Space Hulk port for Android. GW's new shotgun approach to their IP on computer has been interesting so far.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #229153 20 Jun 2016 18:26

Brewmiester wrote: Thanks Matt! I'm hoping Total War Warhammer makes it to the Steam sale later this week because I've really wanted to pick up a copy. Been a Total War fan for a long time, the previews I've seen look great and and this review just seals the deal for me. I'm also wondering about Man O' War: Corsair. Looks pretty rough so far graphics wise but could be interesting. I also saw a spot for a new Space Hulk port for Android. GW's new shotgun approach to their IP on computer has been interesting so far.


Yes, it's a double edged sword. On the one hand it's lead to a diverse range of imaginative adaptations. On the other there's almost zero coherence or quality control over the range.

Man O' War Corsair is a case in point. It's pretty much a mash up of Assassin's Creed 4 and Elite but it's pretty fun and is packed with Warhammer flavour. It was particularly awesome the first time a Megalodon popped up to chow down on my boat. But then again it's not very innovative, the presentation is below par and it has zero relationship with the original Man O' War. It does seem surprising that GW have let someone mess about so much with such a well loved brand.
DukeofChutney's Avatar
DukeofChutney replied the topic: #229186 21 Jun 2016 16:16
good review over at SUSD Matt. I've been playing quite a bit of Total Warhammer and its probably the best time I've had with Totalwar since Rome 1. It is actually simpler and more stripped down at the strategic map level than the past 4 or 5 offerings which I like a lot. Imo they could have stripped it down further, ransoming skeletons and controlling unrest amongst dwarves doesn't sit with me that well and they add so little to the game in terms of meaningful decisions. I've been playing quite a few multiplayer battles with one of my friends in tow. Giants are the way to go.

I've also been playing a lot of Hearts of Iron VI. If you want a poster child for a game that is far far to complex for its intended audience (or any audience other than the Paradox faithful that defend anything they put out) it is this game. The strategic diplomatic game is excellent but the operational war game is way way to complex and also doesn't work. The game has no real documentation and sort of expects you to follow the nerds around on paradox forums to learn how the combat systems really work.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #229187 21 Jun 2016 17:33
I've never played a Total War game. Was always more into turn-based strategy than rts. But now I have a big tv/monitor and a gaming PC so I bet the battles would look cool. Which one of the history based ones is the best looking and simplest to play?
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #229188 21 Jun 2016 17:51

Mad Dog wrote: I've never played a Total War game. Was always more into turn-based strategy than rts. But now I have a big tv/monitor and a gaming PC so I bet the battles would look cool. Which one of the history based ones is the best looking and simplest to play?


I would say Shogun 2.
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #229198 22 Jun 2016 00:58
Silver Tower is only $160 at our local mall game store. The owner followed me into the back room with the board games and pretended to sort things to make sure I didn't shoplift any of those Games Workshop coffins. The funny thing is that we have sort of known each other for about seven years and two different stores. I shaved my head and beard recently, and have lost 20 lbs.

And now back to serious game discussion.
Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #229204 22 Jun 2016 08:50

craniac wrote: Silver Tower is only $160 at our local mall game store. The owner followed me into the back room with the board games and pretended to sort things to make sure I didn't shoplift any of those Games Workshop coffins. The funny thing is that we have sort of known each other for about seven years and two different stores. I shaved my head and beard recently, and have lost 20 lbs.

And now back to serious game discussion.


I thought the MSRP was US$150. CA$180 up here.
metalface13's Avatar
metalface13 replied the topic: #229210 22 Jun 2016 09:56

craniac wrote: Silver Tower is only $160 at our local mall game store. The owner followed me into the back room with the board games and pretended to sort things to make sure I didn't shoplift any of those Games Workshop coffins. The funny thing is that we have sort of known each other for about seven years and two different stores. I shaved my head and beard recently, and have lost 20 lbs.

And now back to serious game discussion.


You're a shifty one. I wouldn't trust you ;)
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #229252 23 Jun 2016 02:57
I like that Stellaris is one of their simpler, more accessible games. The way it starts from one planet also eased you into it. I'm sure once the expansions come in they'll layer systems to make it complex (it would improve the game in a few places) but there's something to be said for the cleanish slate they have now.