Sunday, February 19, 2023

Warlords II: Summary and Rating

Warlords II
Strategic Studies Group (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1994 for Macintosh
Date Started: 4 February 2023
Date Ended: 14 February 2023
Total Hours: 16 (2 campaigns won, 2 abandoned, 2 lost)
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 390/508 (77%)
As I wrote last time, I noticed something about my approach to strategy games while playing Warlords II: I wasn't willing to work for it the way I'm willing to work for most RPGs. I had won a couple of times on moderate difficulty levels, but in the process making lots of mistakes, developing my armies inefficiently, and using the equivalent of blunt force to defeat most opponents. What if I tried harder? What if I analyzed all the variables? What if I were forced to do these things to compete?
I thus decided to try the Isladia Campaign on maximum difficulty. The game features eight factions: Cloud Knights, Light Elves, Stone Giants, Mercanians, Dark Dwarves, Thanoi, Blood Ogres, and Zhoraghians. (I noticed for the first time that you can rename the factions.) By random roll, I played the Mercanians. I set all other factions to "Warlord" difficulty. I set the overall difficulty to "Advanced," made neutral cities "Active," turned on the hidden map (enabling the "fog of war"), turned off the ability to view enemies and their production, turned off the military advisor, and--this was the hardest--turned on "random turns." The setup screen made it seem that turning quests off would make the game more difficult, but I think it's an important part of what makes the game a quasi-RPG, so I decided to keep it.
Setting a punishing difficulty level.
I thought with "View Enemies" turned off, it would make the rounds go faster, but alas you still have to wait while the AI churns through its options. Still, since there was nothing to see anyway, I had no compunction about warping the emulator when it was someone else's turn, at least until we got later in the game.
A new game with "fog of war" turned on.
I really did try, during the first few rounds, to consider all the statistics carefully and maximize the efficient and effective conquering of the map. I resisted the urge to park units on my already-conquered cities, since all factions start the game at peace and they don't usually start declaring war until most of the neutral cities are conquered. I did well for a while, with single units of pikemen defeating many neutral cities, until they started producing more units (when you set neutral cities to "active," they increase their forces as the game goes on). But after about half a dozen rounds, I started settling into old habits. Once you have a bunch of cities in your kingdom, you reach a point of diminishing returns when it comes to micromanaging production. I just don't have the patience to consider optimal army makeup and best terrain for my attack, even though I know they're important variables.
Still, I felt I was doing well. Early reports showed my faction winning. I invested in production of bats in one city and sent half a dozen of them out to scout the land. I set sensible vectoring locations near major roads and ports and started to build my armies for greater conquest.
Early reports made me unreasonably confident.
Some things I didn't notice or cover last time:
  • My first quest in this campaign was to conquer a specific city. I thought this would be almost impossible with "fog of war" active, but the quest report tells you the location of the city releative to the hero. I don't think the game ever gives you a quest to conquer a city held by a friendly faction, but that doesn't mean the city won't have changed hands by the time you reach it. I'm not going to start a war to solve a quest.
The directions continually update based on your position.
  • While the quest rewards are very good--often three or four powerful allies--I'm not sure the time spent pursuing them wouldn't be better spent having the hero acting as a general at the head of his armies. The need for the hero to move all over the map to conquests and ruins precludes sending a large number of units with him, which in turn limits the impact of his leadership abilities.
  • Although each unit has a standard set of statistics, they vary considerably based on the city producing them. You learn to look for "bargains," like the city that will produce a unit of giants in just one turn or heavy cavalry in only two turns, or whose archers mysteriously get 4 strength instead of only 2. Pikemen usually have a movement of 8, but in my starting city, Goldport, they had a movement of 12. Since you never know where you're going to have to send your armies, I suspect the best optimization is in taking advantage of these city-based bonuses.
A 5-strength, 16-movement unit in 1 turn?! Hell, yeah!
  • I don't quite understand the purpose of heavy infantry. They take as long to produce as cavalry but have less strength and movement. In some cities, their statistics are no better than light infantry at double the production time and a third less movement. I didn't have a single city in which they seemed like the best choice.
  • The game has a fun description for each city in the hand-designed campaigns. I never really looked at these before.
The descriptions give the game a little extra character.
  • If you resign, you have the choice to resign "graciously" or "ungraciously." Either way, the game's version of "resigning" is that you raze your own cities. 
The game does not accept a "gracious" surrender.
  • Turn order randomization is horrible. I'll never do it again. The times that you get two turns in a row (because you go late in one turn and early the next) are not worth the times that you have to sit there for two full turns and watch enemies destroy your kingdom. It was hard not to ragequit.
  • Nothing is more unnerving than when armies from "friendly" factions come poking around your cities.
What are y'all up to?
  • The game really does play fair. Enemies in "fog of war" maps don't have any more information than you do. Just like you, they have to send scouts all over the map to reveal it. I was trying to figure out, conceptually, how you would program an AI that doesn't know to consider certain variables because it hadn't uncovered them yet.
  • For the player, killing the occasional enemy scout was fun, but I decided the bats had a kind of mutual understanding and left each other alone. 
We're all friends here, right?
  • The best exploration pattern for scouts is probably to either a) explore in an expanding circle around the origin point of your empire, or b) explore along main roads. I did not always explore in optimal ways.
  • A city can receive vectored units from a maximum of four other cities. I believe in Warlords III, there's no such limit. The limit does require you to engage in more tactics, but it also makes it difficult to build any serious strength in key cities. If each city "sending" units takes 3 turns to produce them, plus 3 turns to produce a unit in the "receiving" city, it takes 6 turns to get a full army of 8 units ready to leave the city.
Like I say, I felt that I started strong, but the "fog of war" made me overconfident. I had no idea what the other factions were doing in the blackness. The Mercanians unfortunately began this particular campaign in the center, which essentially put them in conflict with everybody else as they expanded outward. The Thanoi declared war on me in Turn 7 by attacking one of my cities. I laughed as my single unit of pikemen killed their hero.
I was no longer laughing in Turn 25, by which time six of the nine factions had declared war on me and were harrying me on all fronts. I felt particularly betrayed when the Cloud Knights attacked from the southeast. The faction with the white cross crest is the default human player, and I had come to think of them as the good guys. They penetrated deep into my territory and conquered several of my central cities with large armies that proved nearly impossible to oust. I wondered how they managed to produce such large armies until my bats uncovered the full extent of their territory; they had an astonishing number of cities. 
Things start to turn. The Cloud Knights took this city and garrisoned it so well that I could essentially never retake it.
The situation was hardly irrecoverable, though, particularly since I had three hero units by now, and I'd given up doing quests and exploring ruins and was bringing them to bear on the front lines. Then I made a stupid mistake. To avoid tempting myself to reload, I had been playing without saving. I took a break to balance my bank account, and when I opened Quicken, it wanted to update, which made it do that thing in Windows 11 where it takes over the entire screen to get administrative privileges to do the update. DOSBox never recovers from this, the same way it never recovers from closing the laptop lid or going to the lock screen or plugging an external monitor into the HDMI port. Does anyone know why, and what I can do to fix this?
In any event, I lost my game, which I probably was going to lose anyway. It was a bit of a godsend, frankly. It was already 01:00 in the morning, on a school night, and I doubt I would have gone to bed until the game was finished.
The next day, I started a new campaign. Same settings, this time playing the Dark Dwarves so I'd have a better geographic position (far northeast corner). I got to Turn 10 before I realized it wasn't a good use of my time to play multiple sessions of a strategy game on an RPG blog, particularly given how busy I am this week. I resigned, decided to write this GIMLET, and be done with it.
The next day, I started a new campaign.
I shouldn't have named the hero after Irene.
This last one, I well and truly lost. I played the Hadesha campaign, all of the difficult settings again, this time playing the default Dream Knights. I was happy to see that the starting city was nestled on the north edge of the map, in between a couple of mountains, with clear roads heading south. I was even more pleased to see that my hero started with a pegasus. I sent them south to the first city, and the pegasus died conquering it. Neutral cities set to "active" aren't to be trifled with. Then my starting hero died trying to conquer the second city. So with only two cities to my name, I had to try to build enough units to have a shot at the rest of the neutral cities in the area. I felt that the cities were less generous with their production options in this campaign than in previous ones, and production focused almost exclusively on light infantry.
I had just about gotten there when the Lord of Fire declared war on me in Round 7. I have no idea why. I guess I must have looked like an easy target. But two rounds after that, the Nightmare faction declared war on the Lord of Fire and by Round 12, all of his cities had been conquered and he was off the map. From Round 12 to Round 32, no faction was hostile to me, so I made slow progress conquering neutral cities. I bought the ability to produce bats and started scouting the map. 
This grid is what I like to see: each lord at war with someone, but none at war with me.
I finally got a new hero in Round 28, but by then all the ruins in my area had been explored. I loaded him up with some armies and sent him a-conquering. He was on the road when Nightmare decided to end the detente and attacked him. Nightmare had one hero and one griffon, but they managed to wipe out my hero and all his armies. By this point, the game was over. I had only eight cities, and almost all of them were close to Nightmare territory. My bats had uncovered enough of the map to show that Nightmare had a score of cities.

I fought bitterly until the end. My last city to fall was in the far northwest, and for a while, Nightmare seemed content to leave it alone. I kept producing enough armies to go and re-conquer the city just to the east, but Nightmare kept taking it back again before I could really establish a foothold. Finally, in Turn 59, they put me out of my misery. Lesson learned: I am not good enough to play Warlords II on the highest difficulty settings. 
I suppose there's something poetic about the Dream Knights being conquered by Nightmare.
The game lets you watch the computer duke it out after all the human players are dead, and the interesting thing is that once you're no longer active, you can see each turn from the other factions' perspectives, including what parts of the maps they've scouted. I was actually surprised at the patterns they used. I encountered so many bats on the edges and in the corners that I figured they must scout from the outside in, but that's not what the revealed maps showed. 
At least Nightmare won. I was defeated, but I was defeated by the best.
So it was a dissatisfying way to end the game, but I resisted the urge to start a new campaign on a lower difficulty setting just to end on a high note. A good strategy game should be challenging, but I'll never get over how much of a waste of time it feels to play for four hours and lose. I never got inoculated to that by playing competitive games as a kid, and 50 is too old to be building character.
A GIMLET doesn't make a lot of sense for a title like this, but I'll offer one anyway:
  • 3 points for the game worlds. The backstory is somewhat silly, but I like that every campaign has its own histories, and the descriptions attached to each city are fun.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. It's a basic leveling system, but you have several choices in how you obtain experience.
  • 1 point for NPC interaction, only for a couple of NPCs that you can find and enlist at ruins. If I gave half points, this would be a half-point.
I have never dreamed of any of those places.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are varied, but since you can't really target individual creatures in combat, they feel more like physical manifestations of numbers than in classic RPGs. The non-combat encounters are fun but not worth a lot.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. No magic, and combat isn't really "tactical," but for a game like this, I'm willing to give the points I would normally give to tactics to strategy instead. 
The RPG addict in me wishes there were more to do on this screen.
  • 5 points for the economy. There are several ways to earn money and a couple to spend it. The ability to buy new production is a nice addition. If you get too rich, you get more offers from heroes, so money never becomes superfluous.
  • 2 points for equipment, for the statistics-boosting items you can find at ruins and pass between heroes.
  • 4 points for quests, including a main quest given by the scenario, side quests given by temples, and a couple of options in between (such as whether to accept enemy offers of surrender).
This was a pretty good reward.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The original version has minimal sound effects, but the graphics are functional enough and the interface works well, with redundant keyboard commands, menu commands, and buttons.
  • 8 points for gameplay. You have relative nonlinearity in how you explore each map, completely customizable difficulty levels, and a lot of replayability. The default campaigns could stand to be a smidge shorter, but only a smidge.
That gives us a final score of 36, eight points higher than I rated Warlords. Of course, this is a strategy game with RPG elements being ranked on an RPG scale. The hybrid approach exemplified in SSI's Sword of Aragon (1989) makes for a better RPG experience, but Warlords II is arguably a better game overall. RPG or not, it's enormously addictive, and I look forward to the next installment--just on a slightly easier difficulty setting.


  1. I was surprised about you mentioning there were no ports and ships in the game in your last post, as I distinctly remembered them. I checked and GOG has the deluxe version of Warlords II, it seems they were added there.

    1. I should have said there are no port CITIES. Technically, every bridge is a port and there are port symbols on the map indicating you can embark and disembark from there. But you can't build them, and the transfer from land to sea is automatic.

    2. In Warlords, ships were units you could build and load land units onto. Sink the ship (with another ship or flying unit) and all the land units are eliminated. In Warlords 2, every land unit becomes a ship when it leaves a port. All with the same strength, so the naval powers will have fleets of 8 light infantry sailing around.

    3. Ah, thanks for the clarification. I looked up a list of changes and it seems the Deluxe version mostly adds network play and the scenario editor, plus lots of mostly fan-made scenarios. The naval strength seems to be one of the few things they changed, with naval units having a strength of four or the unit strength, whichever is lower.

  2. Shouldn't it say it's from Australia? Pretty sure lead anything Warlords related developer Steve Fawkner is based in Melbourne to this day.

    1. Yes, of course. Thank you. I get so used to U.S. games that sometimes I type it without thinking.

  3. So this game casts the player by default as a petulant sore loser and doesn't let you be anything but one?

    1. Just so I know for the future: If I played the game on a challenging difficulty, lost a couple of times, and described the experience without coming across as a "petulant sore loser," how would that blog entry look different from mine?

    2. I'm not the original poster, but I don't think he meant that as a critique to you – Andrew's comment seems to refer to the "resign" screen where the game forces the player to burn all their cities out of spite, even if they wanted to be gracious.

    3. That's how I understood it too. "I'm going to burn the cities anyway"... Well, thanks but no thanks for offering me a choice.

      Maybe Andrew can confirm if this is what he was talking about.

    4. Strangely, even the manual comments on the fact that the "resign graciously" option is a fakeout, suggesting that instead you can use the settings menu to transfer the player to computer control.

      If I had to guess, I'd suggest they found out that "gracious" resignations were too unbalancing in multi-human games. Why they didn't just outright remove the option is another question.

    5. I guess you're right. Sorry I misunderstood, Andrew.

    6. I would never do that to you, Chet. When I read your description of the "surrender graciously" option I was laughing because the game was either taking the piss out of you or letting you take the piss out of it.

      I was actually trying to word that comment in a way so that you wouldn't think it was a personal slight, but I apparently failed. My apologies.

    7. There's definitely an Australian attitude about Warlords II, in any case. And sadly, that's pretty much how scorched earth works in real life.

    8. If you wanted to resign graciously, instead of using the option the game provides you could just disband all your armies and leave your cities open.

      Of course, this would likely wreck the game for the other players, which is why they pulled the funny little fake-out. Razing all your cities probably messes up the game for everyone else, too.

      As usual, the answer to questions about the game is found in the manual. One of the things I like the most about our host is that he actually RTFM unlike so many other game commentators. Nothing worse than watching someone struggle through a game he clearly does not know how to play, and either give up or say the game is crap and go on to the next one. There was this man who did Intellivision games, which I thought was cool but he played game after game not knowing what was going on or what to do, and I had to unsubscribe from his channel. He was unrepentant when I left a comment explaining why.

  4. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 19, 2023 at 2:47 PM

    I'm excited to see Ambermoon moving quickly on up the list. I imagine "Serpent Isle" is pretty long, so it will depend on the length of Antepenult. If it's short, you may find yourself going through two fairly long games at the same time. Fortunately (?) they each have a fairly different feel.

    Since it has never been mentioned in the blog, I presume you don't follow the weekly "Prince Valiant" comic. That may be just as well, given the utterly surprising (to me) reveal at the end of today's strip:
    Not exactly a canonical treatment of the myth...!

    1. Ha! "Retired." I'm sure the canonical King Arthur would love that thought.

    2. Fun coincidence, Chet started his Amberstar coverage almost 3 years ago, while he was still playing Ultima VII P1 in parallel.

    3. 'Antepenult' and 'Les Chevaliers de l'An Mil' both seem to be clones of early Ultimas, though each a bit different - the former apparently only has a single character (which should speed things up - unless combat thus becomes very challenging / grindy), the latter a somewhat atypical premise.

      I'd assume it's indeed better for Chet (and us) if SI and Ambermoon don't feel too similar.

      Re Arthurian lore: I recently stumbled across this channel and wondered if it's any good?

    4. Calling Arthur "retired" reminds me of an article I read yonks ago about a woman who considered herself married to the Berlin Wall. She described her relationship thus: "My husband guarded the border between east and west Germany from 1961 to 1989. He is currently retired."

    5. By coincidence, I just started posting about Excalibur, another Arthurian game [strategy, 1983] game.

  5. "DOSBox never recovers from this, the same way it never recovers from closing the laptop lid or going to the lock screen or plugging an external monitor into the HDMI port. Does anyone know why, and what I can do to fix this?"

    Just a hunch, but are you running DOSBox full screen? If so, try running it in windowed mode and see if it acts the same way you describe with these different events.

    1. No, I never play it full screen.

    2. Dosbox has always been remarkably stable for me, especially when windowed.

      What is exactly the behavior you are seeing? Does it crash completely, does it hang or you are unable to switch to the game window?

      The manual has a troubleshooting section with some reasonable suggestions (I would at least try to change the output mode).

    3. It hangs does that "not responding" thing that Windows applications sometimes do, then often quits completely if I try to force it.

      Based on these comments, I finally sat down and spent some time trying to analyze it. It seems to have something to do with a combination of the "machine," "output," and "scalar" settings. I've found a few configurations that do not crash (including the defaults), but sometimes I need a particular configuration for a particular game, so we'll see how well it holds.

    4. It's stable but DOSBOX feels sometimes like it was built fifteen years ago and never modernized since. Its fullscreen mode is way too easy to softlock your PC with and all those graphics settings shouldn't be buried in an obscure txt file. Just let me resize the window with a mouse cursor!

    5. I pity Windows users, as I've never had any issues neither with unwanted updates interrupting my workflow nor with minimizing/suspending dosbox when I need to. (I use vanilla, as I think Dosbox-X is only good for very specific games which have issues with the timer).

  6. It's interesting, I'm often more willing to put in the work with strategy games than with RPGs. If the enemy keeps throwing armies at you and the game turns into a grind, you know you can stop it by destroying or conquering the enemy unit production centers or resource nodes.

    Of course, that only works if the AI doesn't cheat. I hate strategy games with cheating AIs, which is why I never play Civilization on difficulties higher than normal.

  7. I don't quite understand the purpose of heavy infantry. They take as long to produce as cavalry but have less strength and movement.

    They're garrison units. You can build cavalry instead but they cost much more to build and in maintenance every turn. This will hurt you late in the game when all the ruins have been looted, a bunch of cities razed and you're running out of money. If you ever wondered why there would possibly be a "disband unit" command in a game like this, that's why. Garrisons of high-strength exotic units get expensive quickly.

    Turn order randomization is horrible. I'll never do it again.

    Yeah. It's one of those "why the hell not throw it in, maybe someone will like it" options that games sometimes have. If they didn't do it, someone somewhere would have complained about the ease of adding it. So sure, why the heck not add it?

    DOSBox never recovers from this

    Use Dosbox-X instead. It's DOSBox, but better. Menus, easier configuration, etc. You know when people use software for a while and are like, "I wish it didn't do that, or it would be better if it did this" then that's Dosbox-X.

    Glad you gave Warlords 2 a good try! It's quite good at what it does, the whole 4x wargame thing. It's got all the bells and whistles you could ask for. It's got a lot of variance, good pre-programmed content and of course the map editor. They did this one right. It's not an RPG, but it's that type of hybrid game that keeps popping up, a wargame with RPG elements. The two genres work pretty well together.

    I kept producing enough armies to go and re-conquer the city just to the east, but Nightmare kept taking it back again before I could really establish a foothold. Finally, in Turn 59, they put me out of my misery.

    Yeah, Warlords has that problem. It's pretty difficult to actually lose. You can keep teetering off the cliff for hours and hours, retaking cities and trying to rescue your situation before the computer finally brings its hero stack around to finish you off.

    At that point either resign or if you insist on finishing the map, assign your side to a computer player and take over one of the other sides.

    I actually liked the Warlords 1 game style better, with the whole map visible and all players movements public. It made the game more like a boardgame and less annoying with bats everywhere. After a while it's just dull to move them around and station them as lookouts, constantly attacking enemy bats to deny them spying on your territory, etc. Best just to be done with it all and play the dang game.

    1. When not on the losing side, I guess a strategy would be to capture enemy cities and immediately raze them?
      Replaying Warlords II, I notice what I like in strategy games like these are clear frontlines.

    2. You never get real front lines without ZOC (zone of control) mechanics. That's one thing I never liked about Warlords and similar games (Civ, HOMM, etc.): being able to skip past enemy units and attack the cities behind them with no consequences. No lines of supply, no surrounding stacks unless you literally fill in every space around them. It's just too easy to send a strong stack into enemy territory and burn down everything you take. In fact, this is how you want to play the game when it's time to win as garrisoning every new city is a logistical pain in the ass.

      I forget if Warlords 2 has the surrender mechanic where you win by conquering more than half the cities on the map.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousFebruary 20, 2023 at 10:33 AM

      Minor quibble: Civilization games did implement Zones of Control (or at least they did in Civ 1, the version I played most). Whenever you tried to move in a way that violates the ZOC, the game would make this little "boo-boong" sound -- I can hear it now!

    4. Ah yeah. Civ 1 did indeed implement ZOC. To the frustration of players all over who didn't understand how it worked and wouldn't read the manual to find out. It's been too long since I replayed that one. I remember a few years ago during a long holiday I pulled it out and played again, and it was great. The chunky VGA graphics, the unit upgrades, fortifying a spearman on a mountain square to anchor your defensive line. I remember choosing Mao of the Chinese and being surprised that all the default city names were Wade-Giles romanization instead of Pinyin: Tsingtao instead of Qingdao, Hangchow instead of Hangzhou, etc. The world has changed!

    5. I've dabbled a little with DOSBox-X, Harland, and I can definitely see the appeal. Menus! Amazing! Prospective users should know, however, that it doesn't support all the games that DOSBox does. I'm not sure how widespread the problem is, but I can personally attest that it doesn't work with Tie Fighter at all. That said, it's free and, frankly, much easier to set up than DOSBox, so a prospective user doesn't have much to lose from trying it out.

    6. I thought it had greater compatibility, not less. For example. DOSBox explicitly says it's a games console while Dosbox-X says you can run any kind of application including WordPerfect, Lotus, Peachtree, ancient machinery controlling software, and so on.

      I mean, it's a fork of DOSBox so it should do everything DOSBox does and more. It can run Windows ME, for example, try that with DOSBox. Or it can emulate the NEC PC-98. It can even run demos, which usually don't work because they rely on hardware timing tricks. It even has save states. I love the default Roland MT-32 more tooty Soundblaster music! It's so nice to select that when running INSTALL.EXE. Dosbox-X even boots up with a BIOS screen, which you can hit DEL to enter if for some reason you should wish to. Oh, and it supports tab completion. Oh man, I've been missing that. So dang convenient. I used to run NDOS for that feature only.

    7. I'm not knocking DOSBox-X. It's neat. But for whatever reason it doesn't work with the one game DOS game I care about the most and from what I'm told never has.

  8. > I'll never get over how much of a waste of time it feels to play for four hours and lose

    Hm, maybe try pretending you are playing a roguelike with permadeath? I don't know how much time an average Nethack game takes, but I'd guess it's in this ballpark?

    1. To be fair, I think my days of playing roguelikes with permadeath are over, too.

  9. My first playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics, I got up to the end of Chapter 3, which has a battle that pits Ramza in a one-on-one battle with Wiegraf, who has magic knight skills that do far more damage than anything Ramza can do. Not only did I go into the battle with a build that guaranteed that I would lose, I also committed the mortal sin of overwriting my one and only save file going into the battle. Once you start that chain of battles, you can't back out until you win all of them. I ended up having to start over from the beginning, and I think I'd put eight hours into the game at that point.

    1. That fight is almost impossible to win going in blind, and almost impossibly easy when you know how to cheese it

    2. Or if your real world birthday happens to coincide VERY nicely for being a good zodiac symbol against Wiegraf.

    3. Even that helps only so much - Wiegraf's skillset is one of the outright brokenly overpowered ones. I don't recall ever getting out of that fight without exploiting a bug or abusing auto-potion and Yell.

    4. I have yet to get past that battle. I'll make another attempt once this supposed remaster is released.

  10. "I'll never get over how much of a waste of time it feels to play for four hours and lose."
    This from someone who has ascended in Nethack?

    1. You learn something from every player death in Nethack, and sometimes it can be quite memorable and even funny. This happens in Warlords 2 too, but not nearly to the same extent.

      Strategy games have that RPG-ish "tell a story" feeling too, but it's much weaker than story generators like Nethack.

    2. I agree that it's a funny thing to say. I guess the difference is that in a game like NetHack, you might lose, but you don't spend a lot of time "losing." When death comes, it usually comes suddenly. So perhaps I shouldn't have focused so much on the total time ("four hours") and instead focused on how much of that time is spent in despair, trying to avoid a fate that's becoming increasingly certain.

    3. That's a solid point. Strategy games usually end in either a victory lap (you can no longer lose unless you do something really stupid, but have to grind everything out anyway), or a death spiral (you can no longer win absent absurd luck or a very stupid opponent). And it isn't uncommon to fail to realize you're in either state for a couple of hours after it starts.

    4. Actually I understand the feeling from attempting to play chess now and then and usually losing. Against a human there's a small chance your opponent will do something even dumber than you. Against the computer you know it will not make an obvious mistake, might as well resign.

  11. To me it barely passes muster as even a bit rpg

  12. Are you considering playing Master of Magic? I know it's not on your list but I think it's RPG mechanics for heroes are much stronger than Warlords' and frankly I think you might enjoy it more than Warlords.

    1. Another excellent game that is a hybrid of Civilization and Magic: the Gathering with RPG elements thrown in. A winner for sure.

    2. I would love to see Chet play Master of Magic and compare it to the Warlords franchise. I'd be curious to see if he would enjoy it more at least thematically and how well the tactical battles play out. The tactical battles give me more of that Gold Box feel in a "civ" like game.

    3. Of course, I didn't realize there was an entry on this blog for an older game called "The" Master of Magic released in 1985, and I assume everyone here is talking about the Microprose/Simtex version published in 1994. Basically, fantasy civilization done quite well and recently remade by Slitherine Software at the end of 2022. The original was done by the makers of the classic Master of Orion in between MOO1 and MOO2 (Simtex) releases.

    4. Yes, I was talking about the strategy game, not the very old RPG :)

    5. The fun parts of Master of Magic are the wizard selections, city building, research, the hero questing.

      The contest against the other civs however is pretty bad, and largely dictated by how early in the game they find you.

      The balance is awful, case in point: you can win the game simply by casting funqbj qrzbaf ASAP.

      Games which scratched a similar itch to MoM's include Thea and Eador: MotBW. Both have enough randomness that the growth phase feels varied from game to game, and both have an enjoyable feeling of unit/hero progression. But like MoM, they are flawed gems.

    6. >Games which scratched a similar itch to MoM's include Thea and Eador: MotBW. Both have enough randomness that the growth phase feels varied from game to game, and both have an enjoyable feeling of unit/hero progression. But like MoM, they are flawed gems.

      It is ironic that MuHa, the makers of Thea: The Awakening, are responsible of the last attempt at a remake. Having the rights to use the name "Master of Magic" didn't help much.

    7. I find the Community Patch to be excellent, it really allows you to customize your experience. Almost all of the serious bugs in the game favored the player, so fixing them makes the game a bit more difficult, but I don't find that a real negative especially with the setup options the game now gives you.

  13. Fantastic legendary strategy game. I love it in deluxe version. And Master of Magic is even better :-)

  14. I think it was a great read. I feel a key-difference between cRPG and strategy games is that usually want to "finish" a cRPG to be totally satisfied, else something will lacking. On the other hand, you can lose a strategy game and it can still be a great journey ; similarly sometimes you win a strategy game and you are still disappointed because you won thanks to chance more than to skill.

    As you say, the winner of too many strategy games is decided long before the game is effectively over. SSG was pretty good at avoiding this, with Reach for the Stars which allows to catch back until the very end of the game and with Warlords where opposition will surrender without you having to track their last soldiers all over the map. Unfortunately, this is too rare - and an issue cRPG rarely have, given the opposition scales up as you get more powerful, rather than the other way around.

    1. That particular problem with dead-man-walking scenario does not really occur for me. While I absolutely adore cRPG as a genre, I'm primarily a strategy gamer. With enough experience it is quite easy to determine that a game is basicly over one way or another, and personally I tend to lose interest in the matchup at that point.
      Admittedly few games do this element right design-wise. Warlords 1 and MoO1 are great examples on how to avoid late game grind (conquer over 50% of cities and win over 2/3 of votes respectively, sadly not a universally adopted solution) and the problem is irrelevant in games, where skirmish lasts around 15 to 20 minutes on average rather than 8 hours or so. I have witnessed epic comebacks in Blizzard RTS games that I'm referring to here, so a game is never over until it is over. Grand strategy games made by Paradox completely sidestep the issue by lacking any arbitrary win conditions.
      Interestingly enough Warlords 2 subtly changes the end game trigger in that once you approach the critical mass, AI opponents tend to drop everything they are doing, and jump for your throat all at once, which means high difficulty matchups ramp up *signifficantly* in the difficulty department at the very end. For that very reason alone I prefer W1 over W2 (majority of gamers may not share my sentiment).

  15. You're probably going to skip Warlords 2 Deluxe, and it's going to be a while until you reach 3. For Warlords 3, Steve Fawkner basically rebooted the setting, but there still are a few interesting lore tidbits in the city and ruin descriptions in the Deluxe remake of the original Illuria map, and the Selentine Civil War scenario has a few more.


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