Stupid Computer Things

Sometimes even an old, bald wargamer gets the urge to just sit in front of a computer and blow up stuff for a little while without having to read 24 pages of rules.

I’ve been getting that urge more frequently lately, as my spare time has been compressed by the rigors of 10-year-old-Junior-back-to-school and my evening brainpower has been diminished by basically the same thing. Being the over-aged dad of an under-aged person has been more time and energy consuming that I would have ever imagined.

My mind is pretty much a one-track gadget, or at most a track-and-a-half, so I can typically handle only one computer game at a time. (It takes time to train this old brain on all of the buttons, twitches, and tactics.) For the past year or thereabouts, my go-to game for virtual mayhem has been Borderlands 2 — a combo shooter/RPG with eye-catching cell-shaded artwork, some excellent writing, and a lot of wry humor.

A few weeks back I bought the follow-up game, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, on a Steam sale for cheap. I cleared some disk space on my creaky old computer and installed it a week or so ago, and it’s diverting serious time away from my Borderlands 2 play. As a quick note, I’ve beaten BL2 twice with two different characters — but I still haven’t managed to explore anywhere near all of the game’s content.

Roaming around Elpis in a moon buggy.

Roaming around Elpis in a moon buggy.

As a stand-alone game, in the hands of somebody completely unfamiliar with the Borderlands franchise, The Pre-Sequel (TPS) would still be a worthwhile gaming experience. All of the systems BL2 players love — destruction, loot, humor, more loot — are included in TPS. But TPS has a special sort of ‘insider’ appeal for players of BL2. The playable characters in TPS are, for the most part, characters you encounter as villains in Borderlands 2. Since I haven’t finished the game yet, I can’t comment on the story arc that leads to their ‘conversion’, but it’s an interesting setup for the game.

My first character in TPS is an Enforcer named Wilhelm. He has some mad combat buffs, a few cybernetic implants, and his Action Skill lets him toss out a couple of drones: Saint, which regenerates his health, and Wolf, which attacks bad guys with blasts of shock-y, laser-y looking stuff. In Borderlands 2, players encounter Wilhelm as a completely robot-ified Hyperion ultra-badass who deploys multiple repair and attack drones.

The Gunslinger Nisha is another playable character in TPS. She’s encountered in Borderlands 2 as the boss-level Sheriff of Lynchwood and, purportedly, Handsome Jack’s girlfriend. A third playable is the iconic robot Claptrap, source of much weirdness in BL2. DLC add-ons let you play as a Handsome Jack doppelganger and as The Baroness, sister to BL2′s Sir Hammerlock — a character mash-up of Bear Grylls and Harry Flashman.

Yep. As in Borderlands 2, the scoundrel Handsome Jack sits at the center of the story in The Pre-Sequel. The game is set in a time just before Jack embarks on his dream journey to completely rule Pandora — he hasn’t yet become Hyperion’s president-by-murder — so he’s less of a villain in this one, and more of a… hmmm. Something unique, perhaps. An “anti-protaganist”? He’s the central patron in TPS, but he’s still too much of a self-centered, under-handed, scheming jackass to warrant any kind of positive description. You know at some point he’s going to stab everybody in the back, but still you go along for the ride because it’s fun.

And it’s funny. While the comedic dialog and satire aren’t as in-your-face as they are in BL2, The Pre-Sequel still has plenty of the franchise’s signature humor. After someday finishing the game as Wilhelm, I may try a second trip through as Claptrap just to see if his skill trees are as downright goofy as they appear on the surface.

After logging quite a few hours in BL2, gameplay in TPS seems very familiar. There’s a new class of weapons to keep up with — lasers — but that just means more stuff to shoot with. The biggest mechanical adjustment for me was coping with the new environment, a Pandoran moon named Elpis. It has lighter gravity and no atmosphere (although quite a few locations have artificial atmosphere). So I’m still working on figuring out all of the tricks associated with bigger jumps and the limitations imposed by the personal O2 systems used outside of locations where you can breathe.

At Level 8, through the game’s first few ‘chapters’, Wilhelm has yet to be killed by the badguys — although he has managed to die 4 times. The environment can be positively deadly. He died once when his Moon Buggy didn’t quite get far enough on a ramp jump and splashed into lava. Another death was a mis-timed jump for a mission item that ended in more lava. The third was me not paying attention in combat and backing up over a cliff into… lava. The fourth death was an experiment with the new ‘crash’ attack that landed on a corrosive barrel I didn’t see, which then exploded and reduced poor Wilhelm to a puddle of green goo.

Harsh moon.

Target Lock on My Rebellious Child

As the ongoing hype continues to build toward the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, It’s entertaining to ponder (as much as a very irregular gaming blog can ponder anything) the central Yin and Yang of what has become known as the “Star Wars Universe”. The second trio of Star Wars movies made a total hash out of the whole Force shtick, turning away from earlier hints of mysticsm while simultaneously introducing one of the worst ideas in the history of high-dollar space opera AND presenting a great argument against so-called Romeo and Juliette laws.

A lot of Star Wars fans, I think, have a misguided view of what it takes to turn to the Dark Side of the Force. Presumably, they’re the people who have a warped view of order and authority, but let’s stay focused. On the surface, it’s easy to think that Star Wars bad guys turn into bad guys because they’re basically assholes to begin with. I mean, clearly, The Emperor is an asshole. Anakin somehow manages to turn into an asshole, despite Obi Wan’s best efforts. All of those Sith Lord types (you know, the Darth-whatsit guys) are really assholes.

The Rebels run out of ships. Again.

The Rebels run out of ships. Again.

My own observation is that turning to the Dark Side (or not) has a lot more to do with family than it has to do with any latent (or overt, for that matter) assholery. Continue reading

I Remember My Blog Password

It’s been a while since my last blog-eration (obviously), but that doesn’t mean the Not So Big Anymore Table (NSBAT) here at the swamp bunker hasn’t seen a fair amount of gaming. Heroes of Normandie remained in action for quite a while, although it was sadly back in the closet by the time the Commonwealth Army Box arrived. It’s an entertaining and good-looking game, though, so I’ll probably drag it back out soon enough.

Since HoN went into the closet, the NSBAT has hosted a few ASL scenarios to celebrate the arrival of the system’s re-engineered PTO module, Rising Sun. There was some miniatures building and painting, followed by a couple of large Warhammer 40k games on the (bigger) dining room table while the rest of the family was out of town — a project undertaken to mark the release of 40k’s 7th Edition rules. A few games of X-Wing miniatures, followed by an interlude of (gasp) empty table while I tinkered around with the new 2nd Edition Dark Heresy RPG rules set.

Borderlands 2 - you gotta love a game that gives you Badass Points.

Borderlands 2 – you gotta love a game that gives you Badass Points.

Then — presto — suddenly it was the season for a whole bunch of Kickstarter projects I supported in the wayback to begin arriving at the swamp bunker. Technically, the season … er, kicked off … with the arrival of Heroes of Normandie, but since then there was a bit of a break. All in the space of just a few weeks I received both games in Conquistador’s “War Stories”, Red Storm and Liberty Road; Tiny Epic Kingdoms; and both core game sets from Flying Frog’s “Shadows of Brimstone”, City of the Ancients and Swamp of Death. Also toss in there the new-ish 4th Edition release of GW’s classic Space Hulk, which wasn’t a Kickstarter but arrived in the same time frame. Continue reading

Heroes of Normandie: Observations

Unless I’m writing about a monster game or something similarly complex and time-consuming, it always seems a bad idea to post a gaming AAR based on information gleaned from only a single playing. I thought about this quite a bit since my last blog post, so I’m altering my plan a little bit toward more of an overview approach.

Single scenarios from a ‘system’ game, learning scenarios and other small set-pieces seldom provide all of the experience and understanding I like to have when I sit down to write. Such is the case here with Heroes of Normandie. The focus of my previous written examples was the first offering in the game’s scenario book (which I think was also included in the print-n-play version), but I have played several other scenarios in the box before firing up my keyboard again.

Continue reading

Heroes of Normandie: The Setup

I think the best way to provide an overview of how Heroes of Normandie works is to just dive right into some scenario setup and game play. I’ve never been big on trying to provide Reader’s Digest versions of rules anyway. On top of that, for the really curious, v1.1 of the HoN rules is available for download from the Devil Pig Games website.

For my example, we’re diving into the first scenario in the scenario booklet. The US and German players have evenly matched forces in a sort of modified capture-the-flag setting. There are five possible “objective” locations on the two-board setup; the actual objective — which a friendly unit must reach (ostensibly to recover some valuable documents), then exit the board safely — is selected by die-roll at the beginning of Turn 2.

Setup for the first scenario, "Godsend".

Setup for the first scenario, “Godsend”.

Each side receives the basic units on a standard rifle/panzergrenadier platoon template. No attachments or assets are available in this brief learning game. Note that “platoons” in HoN aren’t really platoons. They’re closer to reinforced squads or, at best, half-platoons. Each template includes a Recon team (three little guys drawn on the counter), a ‘Fire’ team (with five little dudes), an Officer and a sort of ‘heavy’ team. Continue reading

Hedgerow Heroes

About 15 months ago I lost my mind for a while and plunked down a significant chunk of change (in adjusted game budget dollars) as a Kickstarter campaign pledge for a game titled “Heroes of Normandie”. Offered up by Devil Pig Games (essentially a French design and art team), I was impressed by the game’s potential to become a colorful addition to my array of tactical-scale wargames. The game system was based on a game I was already familiar with — “Frontiers”, designed by the same team and published by Asmodee Editions — so I figured the chances of a good result were fairly high.

Heroes of Normandie content

Inside Heroes of Normandie Base Set box.

Thanks to general wargame design craziness and the vagaries of gentlemen in France trying to superintend manufacturers in China, the project neatly spiraled away from its original production schedule (“Estimated Delivery Sep 2013″). That said, the whole oversized Kickstarter package landed at the Swamp Bunker — finally — at the end of May 2014. Continue reading