A Tip-off for the Tip of the Spear

By Kieron Gillen on July 10th, 2008 at 10:22 am.

Men! Men! Men! Men! We like men!
While we’ll write more about it when it hits a full release, Cryptic Comet has lobbed a beta of the latest Armageddon Empires free mini-expansion online. Tip of Spear is about adding utility to the overlooked footsoldiers of our favourite turn-based post-apocalyptic strategy game of last year. Vic Davis shows off the card art as well as reveals some of the rules – like an optional fuel cost for the big guys, and others to encourage combined arms and… oh, go and read. Thanks to James Williamson for the heads up.

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10 Comments »

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  1. Ian says:

    I’ll have to check this out later.

    Armageddon Empires is a fantastic game, and the first expansion was excellent so hopefully this’ll live up to that.

  2. James Williamson says:

    I gave it a whirl yesterday, and it was pretty fun, massing up large armies infantry to go crush the enemy, but currently its not entirely bug free.

    On the whole “is it as good as the first one” aspect, currently there is less content, but more tactical dimension, since infantry can only be trained in one field of advanced training decisions have to be made, also there are new rules governing how infantry act in combat, which I won’t list them here since they are on the blog, so really the expansion is good but different.

    It was also a nice surprise to go the blog and get what is practically the finished product earlier than I expected.

  3. Okami says:

    Haven’t downloaded the new update yet. But this article reminded me of, how great AE is, so I started a new game (using Cults of the Wasteland) an hour ago, using the Free Mutants. I just conquered the Temple and beat off the attempted recapture.

    My joy about my conquest was shortlived however. Those nasty Xenopods have an outpost right next to it, with one hell of an army inside.

    This war is far from over…

  4. Ian says:

    Have you used the Cults before? If not, try the Kabaagh. Fun times. :D

  5. KingMob says:

    This is great. I used to make infantry-centered armies in order to handicap myself, now they won’t be handicapped anymore, they’ll be just another flavor.
    I love this game and Vic Davis for continuing to add value to it.

  6. Quirk says:

    Armageddon Empires has a great setting and a fun concept. It’s been really badly designed as far as game mechanics go, though, and while I hope the balancing works I’m worried it’ll be too little too late. (I impulsively bought the game after playing the demo. I almost never play it now).

    The core dice mechanic would frankly be much better if it were simply a random number from 0 to N. Flipping N coins introduces a bell curve, and the bell curve spells doom for lower numbers of dice being pitted against higher numbers.

    I just sat down and cranked out some sample math to illustrate the difference between a unit with 4/4 (e.g. the Machine Skeletors Mk I unit) and one with 7/7 (e.g. the Machine Behemoth). If you’re attacking a unit with 7 defence with a unit with 4 attack, what’re the odds of you scoring any form of hit on it? It’s fairly easy if time-consuming to generate the probabilities using Pascal’s Triangle, thanks to the coin-flip method: your chances of at least one die registering a hit come to a mere 48/512, less than 10%. Going the other way and attacking a unit with defence 4 with an attack of 7, your chances of hitting with at least one die are 389/512, a respectable 76%. A unit with a 10% chance of hitting against a unit with a 76% chance seems unfair – but it gets even less fair when you factor in the odds of hitting with multiple dice. By the time you consider that the Skeletor has just 4 hit points and the Behemoth has 10, there’s at least two orders of magnitude between them – the chances of a single Skeletor winning against a Behemoth have got to be well below 1 percent. In fact, you could fill your front row with Skeletors, and the Behemoth would still be favourite to win (especially since it also has Critical Damage).

    Even in a resource poor game, then, infantry stinks. It stinks worse when you consider the extra cost in APs of moving multiple units and that it costs APs to draw new cards. In a relatively resource rich game, where you can feasibly bring more than 3 big units to the front row, there’s been very little place for it.

    Now, the new rules may improve things, but frankly they feel kludgy, an attempt to fix a game that paid too little attention to the maths that it didn’t do much to hide first time around by nailing on a few additions. At this stage it’s probably the easiest thing to do, but if anything for me it serves to highlight the whole balance mess.

    I’m concerned because I also love the premise of Solium Infernum, a game built on diplomacy. I really like attempts at sophisticated diplomacy and negotiation in games. I like the feeling of playing sides off against each other. I’m just afraid that it’ll be plagued by the same problems – appalling imbalances and poor AI – and wind up gathering dust on my hard drive along with AE.

  7. Janto says:

    Quirk: Pish posh and twaddle. There’s already a place for infantry in the game, especially elite units like Emperor’s Chosen or Scourge units, and even low level infantry forces have a role, it’s just one that up till now has mostly consisted of dealing with minor threats like the independents and being garrisons so people can’t stroll in and nick your conquered bases. And taking hits so your big guns can last longer in a fight, or bulking up the front row to protect artillery. Not glamorous tasks, maybe, but pretty much the classic role of footsoldiers as support rather than assault troops.

    I can’t really argue with your math, but the reality of my experience with the game’s crazy randomness makes me say so what? The game would be far poorer if a unit like a Skeletor MK I had anything other than an outside chance of taking down a Behemoth solo, and at the very least, it might be able to survive a round and run away.

    It’s fair to assume that the Behmoth, which is depicted as a tank the size of an ocean ferry with scurrying man-ants around it, if I recall correctly, can comfortably take any amount of weak infantry that get sent into its jaws of death, and I fail to see the problem with that. If this was a WWI game set in the trenches and your entire front line consisted of conscripts or even cavalry and the enemy had a machine gunner sitting in a bunker, it shouldn’t be too surprise if the game is skewed in favour of the gunner, and you need to use special tools to take him out.

    I’m very happy with the general design of AE, although the AI rarely poses much of a challenge, beyond being good at assassinating heroes, and seems to be much slower at expanding than I am.

  8. veerus says:

    Quirk, while I won’t argue with the numbers, I’ll point out that your logic is flawed.

    It’s obvious that the more powerful unit will win in 1v1 combat so your calculations stated the obvious. Perhaps it’s not as obvious that the more powerful unit will win by such a big margin, but that’s not relevant either. In the game, that will almost never happen and, if it does, the player with the lone Machine Skeletor deserves to lose it.

    In a real game, the Skeletor would likely be backed up by several units since it’s not really a scout unit. It’ll also possibly be enhanced, and the player could have tactic cards. All of which would even out the odds a bit.

    Also, on the subject of balancing, all sides have hugely powerful units so end-game fights are more or less even.

  9. Quirk says:

    Veerus: You’re missing my point, I believe.

    In terms of “bang for the buck”, the Skeletor’s relatively useless. Anything with an attack of 4 or below is of relatively limited use unless it has recon or stealth abilities. Chucking a couple of Skeletors into your deck uses up points better spent on something else. That huge margin means that multiple small units, the “back-up” you’re talking about, are going to be paste against one or two large units. For the same initial expenditure of resources as that large unit, for a greater investment in deck points, and a far greater investment in AP in terms of drawing cards and moving armies about, you get an inferior squad which maxes out your general’s capabilities sooner. By the time your enhancements and backups beat out the better unit, you’ve spent more than your opponent on them.

    There are balance issues between factions too, of course, but the imbalance issue I was drawing attention to was that these smaller units were relatively worthless, fit only to include in a game deck if you’re seeking to handicap yourself.

    Janto: Even independents tend to require a bit of firepower to shift, and even a marine or two generally brings that more effectively than a mess of infantry. I’ll agree the Emperor’s Own are a bit of an exception among Imperial infantry – they have twice the hit points of every other infantry unit, and the ability to sacrifice these for +4 attack, so they can act as an appropriate artillery shield. Other Imperial infantry is worth a lot less. Scourge Platoons, as the linked page says, are Elite Infantry, the equivalent of Powered Battle Armour, and as the next tier up weren’t really included in my criticism.

    Garrisoning against strolling recon units does have a small value, but if you’ve invested in enough small units to have a good chance of getting one in your hand early enough in the game that you can use it when you couldn’t afford a larger unit, you’ve probably got too many. I’ve always found it better to max out my recon units allocation, so I get recon early and when I get spare recon later I can use it as garrison. This also provides some protection against stealthed enemies creeping by.

    Thematically, yes, I can see why a Behemoth would crush puny infantry – my problem is that the Behemoth is far too cheap to deploy and manouevre compared to the weak infantry units for those weaker units to be worth using at all.

    I don’t really feel I need to argue this too hard, since the game designer is patching the game with some fairly major alterations designed to make infantry more relevant. When even the designer’s acknowledged the extent of the breakage, claiming it’s not really so bad seems like a lost battle to me.

    There are plenty of other smaller balance issues that could also be addressed; the truly huge variation of usefulness among heroes, for starters; compare, say, Carter Powell to Ulysses Starke. The end result is that decks made chiefly with victory in mind start to bear a remarkable similarity to one another. If we were fighting other, competent players instead of AIs, then we’d all be forced into a narrow band of “best decks”.

    For me, there have been two main issues. Firstly, the game lacked much of the strategic depth it seemed to promise. Victory is mostly attained by big units and cheap shots (e.g. Mata Boyd). Secondly, the AI is largely fairly weak. Because of the first issue, handicapping yourself to deal with the second isn’t a panacea – if you don’t have the means to deal with a mob of big units, survival until successful late-game nukery is largely a matter of luck and whether the AI sends its mob your way, and if you do have the means, you can probably steamroll through the AI as soon as you find out where it lives.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of worse games out there. However, I’m not playing them either.

  10. Hmm-hmm says:

    Huh, I missed out on this game. And I really like turn based strategy games (regardless of how awful I can be at them).

    Bless your indie-lovin’ hearts.