Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 22, 2008
 
Fantasy Wars Review

We recently discussed how re-installing old games is often a disappointment, and that the better idea is often to play a modern remake of an old classic. One of these classic games I used to play is Fantasy General from 1996, which has been remade last year under the name of Fantasy Wars. Being a bit burned out on MMORPGs, I recently downloaded Fantasy Wars from GamersGate, and am now somewhere in the middle of the first campaign.

Fantasy Wars is a classic turn-based strategy game on a hex-map, playing in a fantasy world. Thus besides classic units like infantry, cavalry, or archers, there are also units like tamed eagles, or spell-casting mages and other heroes. And the orc side has various sorts of goblins, orcs, and trolls. The number of units per side is limited, typically to something between 10 and 20 in the early maps of a campaign, not sure if that will get more later. Every unit has stats describing attack value, defense value, movement points, and various special abilities. Units also have a level from 0 to 5, heroes up to 10, and with each level their stats go up, and you get to choose one of three so-called perks. That can be a general bonus to one stat, or something terrain-specific, so you could have units fighting especially good in forests. This makes choosing perks an interesting element of gameplay, because you must decide whether you want units to have lesser bonuses which work everywhere, or whether you want to specialize in certain terrain bonuses, which are higher.

Every battle begins with you deploying your units on the map in designated areas, and proceeds turn-wise from there. Most units can only move once per turn, even if they didn't use up all their movement points, with the exception of skirmish troops, which can move several times. Units can only attack once per turn, so skirmishers can move next to the enemy, attack, and move away again. The outcome of every combat is determined mostly by the stats, with a small random factor, and is influenced only by terrain. Facing, or being surrounded by enemies, doesn't affect combat. Thus the combat system is pretty simple, but nevertheless fun. If you have a line of troops and the enemy attacks you from one flank, he doesn't win because of some artificial flanking bonus. He wins because he can send his faster troops to kill your archers in the second rank, and because your troops on the other end of the line are too far away to counterattack next turn. The only advanced combat rule is that archers can "cover" a friendly unit that is attacked next to them. Terrain plays a huge role in Fantasy Wars. If your unit stands on a hex with some combat bonus, and fights somebody standing in a river or bridge hex with a combat malus, the result can be pretty devastating. And of course rivers cost lots of movement points to cross, so most units will have to spend one round on the river hex to cross, making them extremely vulnerable. Every unit consists of several men, while heroes have a number of hitpoints. Men in units can become dead or wounded. You can heal wounded units by skipping a turn. You can replace dead men by recruitment during battle, but that costs money and lowers the units level, so often it is better to wait for the end of the battle, where all units refill to maximum at no cost.

You win each battle by fulfilling certain victory conditions, called quests. They usually include that your main hero must stay alive, and that you must capture certain towns or castles on the map. Often there are also optional quests, which grant you additional money, troops, or artifacts when you complete them. Capturing a village, town, castle, or ruin outside of quests will also reward you with money, troops, or artifacts. So you might be tempted to go slowly and clear out all the map. But your level of victory is determined by how many turns it takes you to win, with gold, silver, or bronze victory giving you less and less final rewards for beating the map the longer you take.

Between maps you reorganize your troops. With the campaign progressing, better troop types become available, so you can upgrade for example your peasants to militia, then swordsmen, then foot knights. By upgrading surviving troops you keep their level and perks; if you lost troops in battle you can buy the better troop types right away, but starting at level 0. Buying new troops or upgrading old ones costs gold, of which most often you don't have enough. You can also redistribute artifacts, of which heroes can carry three, and normal troops just one. Artifacts can give all sorts of bonuses, for example an ice orb that freezes river and lets your unit cross them faster, or a banner that raises the stats of all adjacent troops. Simpler artifacts just give some stat bonuses. Once your army is reorganized, you fight the next battle of the campaign, which appears to be strictly linear. But there are three campaigns in the game, the human campaign, the orc campaign, and the alliance campaign, the latter only becoming available after having finished the two former. If you aren't in the mood for a campaign, you can also fight a random map. Fantasy Wars also has multiplayer capability, but I didn't test that.

The old Fantasy General had a very similar gameplay, with fantasy units fighting battles on hex maps, leveling up over the course of a campaign. The major improvement of Fantasy Wars is that everything is now in colorful 3D, and nicely animated. Fortunately not every single combat is shown in full animation, because that would take far too long, but apparently some combats are randomly chosen to be animated. Very well done, without distracting too much from the strategic aspects.

As you know, I don't give ratings for games on this blog. I like Fantasy Wars a lot, and would recommend it. But some people would never dream of playing a turn-based strategy game, and so Fantasy Wars is clearly not for everyone. If you never played turn-based strategy games before, Fantasy Wars might actually be a good place to start, because it is a lot easier to learn and get into than some of the hex map strategy games replaying historical wars. There are some truly scary games with hundreds of units and miniscule detail out there, which are more for the hardcore fans. Fantasy Wars is as casual as hex map strategy games get. Recommended.
Comments:
I am a total turn-based strategy buff. This is the genre i grew up with in the homecomputer era.

This is something i still hope for: with the recent trend for PC gaming to create games around a business model (see EA's BattleForge) there must be a chance to bring those Warhammer tabletop games online. Let it be browser-based. Let me buy those overpriced virtual miniatures. Bringing those games online has huge potential. The ruleset is already there, the games are finished, they only need an interface and a 3D engine. A true Warhammer online (e.g. no MMORPG) would solve the most obvious flaw of those tabletops: finding other players. I wonder why we don't see something like this already. You don't need 10 million players for this to work. Those Warhammer players have deep pockets, deep enough for virtual goods too. Just imagine a browser- and turn-based strategy game, with a deep ruleset and high production values.
 
If you like that genre you should really take a look at http://www.armageddonempires.com/ . It's a great "indy" game which is a mix of turn based strategy and trading card game sort of. There's a demo to be downloaded and should you want to buy the full game it doesn't cost much.
 
I tried Armaggeddon Empires. It is *much* more complicated than Fantasy Wars, and not very intuitive or well explained. I heard it is good, but I'd need a good amount of time to really get into the game.
 
You and the folks here should try out Age of Wonders 1 and maybe 2 if you like the first one though I enjoyed the first one more. (If you liked this kind of game) Also fantasy empires :P
 
I used to play Warlords II Deluxe with friends in college in '94-'95. We would take turns playing while playing cards or watching TV in one of the dorm rooms.

It's a hot seat turn based game strategy war game.

The game you described above reminds me of it.

I found Warlords II Deluxe available online a couple years ago and since have been playing it (on and off) with my 2 sons (7 & 9) using DOSBox.

I also designed a map (and army units and heros) based on the Avatar Nation cartoon. It's a blast!
 
sorry to post off topic but I just read this great article and wanted to post the link

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_150/4916-Play-Like-a-3-Year-Old
 
I was a big fan of SSI games back in the day. Played Panzer General 1 & 2 and Fantasy General as well. (Allied General and the space version of aGeneral weren't very good, however).

It's nice to see that they've managed to port them over to Win XP finally. (are they abandonware?) I remember trying to play it from a DOS window a few years ago with no luck.

With the emphasis nowadays being more Pewpew, you'd think there'd be a least a small market for games where you could sit & ponder (more like chess or Go) rather than a today's modern clickfest.
 
Tobold - after clicking to go to the GamersGate website, I clicked their link to Download Demo. There must be an error in their URL, as I keep getting a 404. Do you have the same problem? Any ideas on how to get their demo?

Thanks.
 
I stil have one of those crazy detailed table top turn based games you mention sitting on my shelf. It's called "Home Before the Leaves Fall" and is a World War I strategy game. It is so detailed that it has markers for bicycle couriers and the Paris taxi cabs (for the early days of the war when the French Army used taxi cabs along with anything else they could get their hands on to quickly move troops to intercept the rapidly advancing Germans.)

I have never actually played it, but I think if it were on a PC, with a computer to deal with all the complex die rolls and the thousands of little markers, I would certainly give it a thorough play.


If I could find someone nearby crazy enough to sit down and figure out the board game, we could have a year long game, as I am thinking that is how long it would take. Huzzah for the insane detail of a turn based strategy game!
 
Heroes of Might and Magic III will never be replaced in my heart. I still play it every now and then to this day. It's that good of a game.
 
SSG made some great turn-based games back in the day. Reach for the Stars, Carriers at War, Rommel, Gold of the Americas, and then the Warlords series. All of them were well played and well loved. After those I was stuck on Civ and its successors for a while, but ditched them in the end for SSI's Panzer General and all its variations, including Fantasy General and People's General. Fantasy General was so much fun it still gets a dust-off and a few hours play under a DOS simulator every now and then.

I'll definitely be checking out this new version. It sounds like they added the awesome perk system from People's General to it, which will make it even more dynamic. Thanks Tobold.
 
If the demo on the GamersGate site isn't working, maybe you can visit the official Fantasy Wars website and get the demo from there. Or you could download the demo from FilePlanet
 
I loved the music of Fantasy General :)

I enjoy turned base games too, played all those mentioned here heh

Lunedust
 
I'm an old-school fan of turn-based games; grew up on the SSI and Avalon Hill wargames. Brings to mind the old Empire computer wargame.

But one of the better computer games of that type that I ran across was called Space Empires 3, which is a turn-based space game with good depth, configurability, and a rather decent computer opponent, and lots of options that allow you even to put multiple computer opponents allied against you. I had a lot of fun with that one.
 
Here's a real gem of a re-make I found, based on the old x-com or UFO games: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Afterlight
 
I've been a fan of the genre ever since getting my hands on the Shining Force series on the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis, as it was known in the US)and played all kinds of turn-based strategy titles. Be sure to check out War Song (also SMD, official english version from the japanese series "Der Langrisser"), any title of the "Fire Emblem" series or even the remake of Shining Force for the GBA.
This weekend, I started playing Jeanne D'Arc on the PSP, and I can only recommend it, it's a gem of a game. Not as complex as Final Fantasy Tactics, thus much more accessible, but with some nice ideas (sticking together gives defensive boosts...) and superb graphics. Recommended :-)
 
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