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CGM reviews update and a word on obscurity

March 19th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

Just updated my list of CGM reviews on the right hand side. Three in this month’s – well, two and a half. Gates of Troy only got a few words. The other two were for Hearts of Iron 2 (on which I have already spoken here) and Dragoon, a new Horse & Muskets game from Boku and Shrapnel.

Dragoon is one of the few new wargames that can get away with being ugly. Ugly interface, ugly graphics, ugly documentation, ugly everything. It helps that it continues to use the intitiative system that Boku used in the first Horse & Musket games – a system similar to the one you will find in the Great Battles series that ate so much of my time a few years back.

But I wonder how much of my love of the game is wrapped up in the obscure subject matter. Dragoon is about Frederick the Great, certainly an important king and general, but he’s no Napoleon. I’m a sucker for novelty in a game, and the insistence of Boku to address wars that no one else has is endearing.

This love of the obscure could also account for why I think Europa Universalis is one of the finest games ever made and Hearts of Iron does nothing for me. One is about the long history between Columbus and Napoleon- the stuff we never see in games – and the other is about Nazis and GIs – the stuff we always see in games.

I doubt that I am alone in this. A lot of reviewers seem to put a premium on novelty in setting and subject matter. If someone could make a good game about WWI or an update to the old Koei Asian empire games, I would probably rave about them too.

The problem with this, of course, is that most gamers want to play in familiar settings, preferably settings where they already know what the objectives are. So it is clearly unfair to penalize games for giving people what they want. And I don’t. I do think I reward originality in subject matter though, and this may be deceptive for readers who expect that games will give them all the background information they need to appreciate what is going on.

Think of the aforementioned Great Battles series. Each one had excellent documentation – and the Collector’s Edition had most of it in-game. So it was very easy for the player to get a feel for ancient battles, and, more importantly, understand what was at stake in each of the historical moments captured. I think that designers can do more to help players out of the “give me what I want and nothing else” cycle, and hopefully this would mean greater variety in battlefields for me to play on.


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