Jeremy Wasden's Flagship review of "War of the Dark God"This review appeared in the UK play by mail magazine Flagship, issue 87.
War of the Dark GodBy Jeremy Wasden
Enter the Dark GodThe world of Chard has recovered from the Mage Wars of some 300 years ago, The Troll wars 200 years ago and the collapse of the Great Empire 178 years ago. The dark ones have been brooding and stewing, as only dark ones do. Now is the time that they must rise and throw off the shackles of the followers of the old gods and welcome the dark God into the world.
The evildoers have but to capture seven power spots, building a dark obelisk on each, and the dark God will appear, victorious. The good guys have merely to prevent them.
What is WoTDG all about?War of The Dark God (WoTDG) is a computer moderated fantasy war game scenario run from a gaming engine called `Cosmos' and is played via email or paper, my play test was via email.
Each player controls a nation on one of two teams. The two teams of eight consist of those wanting the Dark God and the good guys opposed to them. Each of the sixteen nations is unique enough to be interesting, whilst being reasonably well balanced between them. Battle rages across a colourful hex map, which changes slightly between games. The Dark side have the advantage of knowing where the power spots lie. The Good chaps have to guess where they are, my following the lines they create or use scry spells to help locate these points.
In my game I ran the cowardly Pirates of Pyr, who are based on the west of the game world. To give you a little flavour for the differences between nations, the Pirates could be summarised like this They are one of only two nations, strong on the ocean. They have a small amount of magical ability but are vulnerable in open ground. They start of with a limited amount of wood to build fleets with and are short of land. But the land they have is reasonably well protected and separated from the main blood bath that is the continent.
In contrast, for an example from the good guys, the Pirates nearest rivals are the High Elves, they have a wealthy population who produce a stream of gold and their troops and archers are of good quality. The Elven leaders can also cast spells. On the down side elves are not know for their high reproduction rate, a problem made worse by nasty troll neighbours and their goblin hordes.
Building ArmiesIt would be great to stomp around with enormous hordes, but even us baddies have to pay for our expansion one way or another. Much of the game is about managing limited resources, of which there are many types. Take creating troops for example
Firstly you need the orders to raise the troops, as a Pirate with plenty of leaders having enough orders was never a problem though for some nations, which start off few leaders, this is a major difficulty. The next problem is getting enough gold, men and arms together and then finding enough gold and food to get them to stick around each turn.
Resources such as wood, food and metal come from territory that you own to start off with or capture during play. Population, who provide men and gold, come mostly from the cities.
The most precious of all resources is time. Each game turn is divided into twenty-four phases of activity. Embarking onto ships or moving over a hex might take three or four phases, though moving through mountains might take up to half a turn.
As with all good war games, the other major strategic part to this game is bringing the right forces to bear at the correct time. Oh the tales of woe that an Ol' Sea dog can tell you about taking a few of the lads for a walk around some plains, when there's a Druid lead herd of bulls on the loose.
The types of units that a nation can recruit is limited to what type of leaders that nation has, so the Pirates, Pirate Lords and Hero's that commanded my motley bunch were restricted to the likes of human units like, light, medium and heavy infantry, pikemen, archers, mountain men, bandits and pirates. Whereas if you were the wicked Sorcerer then you could recruit normal human soldiers or you go could go for the various types of Demons on offer.
Using those armiesWhen two opposing armies encounter each other and their tactics show they are `up for it' then battle commences. Okay, so tactics probably are something like `attack', `defend' or `flee', rather than `up for it' but you get the picture.
Combat is a matter of attrition. The opposing sides fight it out phase by phase until one sides units have all fled or been eliminated. A segment of combat between two units (with the unit id codes taken out by me to make it easier to read) might look like
Pyr's Finest (Pirates) attacks (Northern Isles) Archers killing 43 and wounding 32 (Northern Isles) Archers attack Pyr's Finest (Pirates) wounding 8Although very simple, this information builds up to be quite an exciting read. Will or won't my units hold together to see off this vermin? There is a lot more to combat in WoTDG than this simple example, add in factors such as missile rounds, charging by cavalry, hero's getting involved, magic, fear, morale, weapons, storming castles, fighting room, then the many strange creatures that can be recruited to fight and there is plenty to go at.
How was life for the Pirates?Having opted for a quiet life as a keep-your-head-down-and-observe- coolly-from-a-distance back water type Pirate, it soon became clear that life would not be so sleepy or cool or quiet. On one of my starting Islands was a power spot and then if blow me there wasn't another power spot on the neutral Storm Isles between my position and the goodie Northern Islanders.
In the early turns the Pirates made a move for the Storm Isle, as well as making an abortive landing in the Elves territory. Some might say of the early Elvish soirée that the Pirates were chancing their arm wandering over there with no real plan and no hope of capturing anything, then others might say it was a cunning diversion to allow the Troll forces to gather and attack.
After some bumbling around at Storm Isle to allow the Pirate King to secure the services of resident Giant Spiders he managed to gain control of the second power spot. No sign of an attack against me as yet. Meanwhile on the continent the dark allies were locked in a bitter struggle with the forces of light.
The Pirates then split, some going North to attack the Northern Isles whilst they were busy on the continent and then the rest to try to capture some Elvish territory. It was about this time that those pirates went wandering around those Druid plains where they had no right to be.
The Pirates then assisted, in a small way, the Trolls and Sorcerers efforts to take control of the High Elf lands. Though my main fun came up North. My allies were putting pressure on for me to put my force back together and finish one enemy at a time namely the High Elves. A very sensible move, facing only one enemy at a time. But I was having a small amount of success having captured a Northern Isles city and like a child with a new toy was loathed to give it up. Then one of my scouts found that the Northerners were building a large army nearby. "Can't leave that wandering round can we", yet again I became a diversion to tie up this force.
The Northerners massed together and attacked to recapture their territory. After a long fight they were victorious. Their army had been reduced considerably, having stormed a castle. The thousand troops that attacked being reduced to sixty by three hundred pirate defenders, who perished in their brave defence. The Northerners moved out into the city to regain control and a group of my pirates who had been out controlling land elsewhere returned to retake the castle that was left undefended. The Northerners then wandered back into the (now defended) castle, and were slaughtered for the loss of one pirate. I enjoyed this battle, but I could easily have lost the island as I was rewarded for being greedy grabbing land.
As the game drew to a close the Pirates were busy continuing to assist the mopping up of the remnants of High Elf left in the Troll King's aftermath.
The Team GameThis was my first ever team game, sure I have played as a team in plenty of games, although never on a set side before. Being totally honest and open, took a few turns getting used to. As a newbies I was well looked after by a band of good war gamers.
Utmost in everyone's mind is playing for control of the power spots. However, in the result of a draw and to get rankings within the team Victory Points (VP's) are used. They are gained for killing enemies, taking cities, grabbing power spots and achieving national objectives, the pirates being short of land gained extra VP's for control of terrain. For me, this kind of extra depth turns a good wargame into a great one. Ah, the blood that has been shed in the name of the ubiquitous Victory Point.
Although I finished the game in a respectable position in the rankings, this was due to my team's efforts and the part that I needed to play in the team, such as the local power spot I need to grab, rather than my solo performance.
QuestingOne side of the game that I did not explore was quests. Yes as well as all the fighting, you can send your leaders off on quests for objects and artefacts that will earn you both victory points and special powers. The quests looked tough and draining on national resources although lucrative if successful. They revolve around solving puzzles and riddles. Our team's Beastman seemed to have a lot of fun chasing round cat women round the jungle, but maybe this was nothing to do with questing.
Play By EmailAnother first for me was playing a game solely by email. Sure I was nervous not receiving an envelope and submitting orders to a computer, so I followed the instructions and got along fine. Orders were submitted by email, computer checked and a confirmation email generated on receipt of my orders with a note of any errors. I normally had to wait for a about five minutes before getting this confirmation. When processed, turns were computer generated and all emailed in my file type and layout of choice. Super smooth. I have worked for and dealt with companies with multi million pound turnovers with IT that pale compared to this for speed and ease of use.
Communication between players was managed with the good old-fashioned email group account. At times I could have done with being able to talk to someone, but given that my fellow players were globally distributed this wasn't feasible. I learned that I had to plan ahead and be ready for the deadlines rather sooner than I normally am.
A complex game?The biggest criticism of the game is that it is complicated. One of the most complex parts of the game is writing orders which are written like most computer moderated games in lines of instruction that the machine can understand.
To give you an example of a set of orders I thought that I would
explain how to raise some Pirates. The comments after the ` are
my own and are not for the computer. The orders might look something
The Bottom lineThis is a big war game that I would recommend to any big wargamers. There are sixteen different positions to get stuck into, with an infinite variety of strategic choices to make in a game. After a single game I have an awful lot more to learn.
As a reviewer it is a pleasure to play games that you think are going to be a hit so I am quite pleased to have landed this one. People are going to like it!
That said, what are the downsides? Well two I guess. Firstly it can take a while to get up to speed with running your position, during which time you are heavily reliant on your fellow team members to check your orders and suggest much more sensible choices. It is only fair that you also cast your eye over their orders as well!
Not resting on his laurels, the game designer/programmer recognises that getting into the game will be tough and so is working on revising the rulebook to include more examples of orders in play, and working on a cheap (if not free) solo introductory version of the game to teach the basics to players, so that players have a good grounding before joining a team game. This complexity brings benefits in the shape of an advanced game, with magic, quests, excitement, pressure and fun.
The second possible problem is the fact that this is a team game. With the team only being as strong as it's weakest link. I am not going to explore this argument, as it is a team not WoTDG related, but introductory games should help create strong teams.
The single tip I have for this game is communicate. Our eight players, over nineteen turns generated over eleven hundred emails. I think that this was the single biggest factor in our victory.
Finally I would like to say thank you to my team, Lee, Arnoud, Ben, Conny, Oscar, Ron, and Vincent, for holding my hand and putting up with me and thanks to the good guys for a good fight!