Sunday, 11 May 2014

Duel of Ages II

Plays: 2Px2 (learning scenarios).

The Game

Duel of Ages II is about combat in a virtual world, where characters and weapons from many different time periods, even futuristic ones, can come together to create very crazy scenarios. The battles are a futuristic sporting event, where contestants are transported into a virtual world and can be transformed into any character. The game is scenario-based. The simplest scenarios are just about "killing" all members of the opposing team. There are scenarios where you need to score points, e.g. by killing enemies, capturing enemies, damaging the enemy base, contributing treasures to some god and completing encounters. Regardless of the scenario objectives, you will need to fight. This is a squad level combat game where you control individuals.

The things you can do are very much what you can imagine you'd need to do in real-life combat. You move about. You shoot (but only if you have a ranged weapon). You melee-attack. You exchange weapons with your teammates. You salvage guns from a dead opponent. You perform opportunity fire at enemies who move within your line of sight. Every character is defined by a long list of abilities, each for a different purpose. Your Melee value determines whether you successfully attack an opponent in melee combat. You Damage value determines how much you hurt your opponent in a successful attack. Your Power value determines whether you inflict more (or less) damage to your opponent. There are three different shooting-related skills - Aim, Point and Throw. They are used for different types of ranged weapons. You also have stats to determine whether you are physically strong enough to carry a weapon, and whether you are intelligent enough to use it.

There is no dice in combat. You draw cards instead. Depending on the skill difference, e.g. attacker's Meles vs defender's React when you are melee-attacking an enemy, the card will tell you whether you are successful. If you are successful, you'll draw another card to tell you whether you need to apply any modifier to the amount of damage to inflict. Naturally, your chance of success is higher when there is a positive skill difference, but due to the variety in the cards there is no 100% guarantee.

This is a challenge card. The third column (sword icon) tells you whether your attack is successful, depending on the skill difference between you and your opponent. The fourth column (starburst icon) tells you whether you inflict additional or less damage if your attack is successful.

Facedown encounter tokens are placed all over the board at the start of every game. You send your characters to challenge these, and if you pass the challenge, your character gains one or more pieces of equipment. To pass a challenge, your character needs to have a specific skill (e.g. Intellect Level 6). The first attempt is always a little iffy, since the encounter challenge is initially facedown. However once revealed, if you have failed in the first attempt, you can always try to get another character with the required skill to pass the encounter.

The Play

Allen and I played two learning scenarios. The first one was all about melee combat. Ranged weapons were not in play. It was a straightforward kill-all-enemies scenario. The match started with everyone rushing for the encounters to pick up weapons, but very soon Allen sent one of his characters after one of mine, and the fighting started. This was a brute force contest. The pre-determined characters on the teams were more-or-less equal, so to gain an advantage Allen and I had to rely on the weapons we picked up, and also on trying to gang up on opponent characters. He picked up some wild animals (they are a type of weapon), and set them loose on me! Fighting was generally short and sweet. Characters have around 5 life points, and usually 2 or 3 successful attacks will get one killed. It's not usually easy to injure an opponent though, because even if you successfully hit him, sometimes you do not cause any damage. So weapons are important.

My four characters in the first game. Notice the long list of statistics along the right edge of each card.

That character at the top left, William Wallace, is on my team - the white team. There are two white bands on the sides of the character token. Allen has just set a dog on him! The other two characters, the sergeant and the gladiator, are both on Allen's team - the black team. They are ganging up on Wallace.

The redhead on the left is one of my team members. That stack on the right is a melee in progress. It has one of my team members, one of Allen's, and also Allen's panther. The yellow token in the foreground is an encounter token. We should not have placed it there during the scenario setup, because that's deep water and our characters can't get into that hex.

The second learning scenario was all about ranged weapons - melee weapons were out of scope. The victory conditions were a little different. My team had six characters, and in order to win I must kill off Allen's team of four within 9 rounds. For him to win he just needed to have at least one survivor. Things didn't quite work out as expected. I had lousy luck with the encounters, and kept getting non-melee weapons which were also not ranged weapons. I kept getting armour or transportation tools. But I needed guns! I not only didn't get the right weapons, I also tended to get equipment which my characters were too stupid to know how to use or not skilled enough to use effectively. Allen's characters got guns early, and he came after me instead! By the time I managed to get some decent ranged weapons and also swapped weapons around so that my characters could use their weapons effectively, I was already down by a few members. Things were not looking good. The supposed hunters had become the hunted. It would be impossible for me to win if Allen decided to just run and take pot shots, but he stayed put and we duked it out just for the heck of it. In the end I took more losses and lost quite miserably.

This is the 2nd scenario. My football player and WWII soldier have climbed up the hills (white patches). They look like they are trying to get into favourable shooting positions, but the football player actually only has a grenade which has an attack range of 2, and the soldier only went uphill to get to an encounter token (from which he didn't get anything useful).

The orange marker on the top left is a machine sentinel, and it's currently shooting at my blond girl team member. The other four characters are all armed with ranged weapons now, so they are carefully inching towards each other. Hiding inside buildings gives some cover and makes it harder for your opponent to hit you, but doesn't completely prevent it.

The Thoughts

I think I have to admit to myself now that squad level combat games are probably not my type. I was reluctant to tell myself so after I tried Conflict of Heroes. I could appreciate the clever design and how immersive it was, but I wasn't sure whether I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the stories that unfolded when playing Earth Reborn and how action-packed the game was, but till now I have not revisited it. I think whether you like Duel of Ages II will depend on whether you like this genre of games.

The crazy combinations of characters and weapons is a little disturbing to me, because it is implausible. However I think it is precisely this which will draw many players to the game. It makes the game very colourful. Once you get past this, the gameplay actually feels quite realistic. You need to worry about line of sight, terrain effects, capacity to carry equipment, and making the most of your characters' abilities. You can imagine yourself standing in the middle of the play area, thinking about what to do next. There can be a fair bit of randomness in the encounters. Even if you pass, you may not draw the appropriate weapons for the scenario. The randomness in combat feels about right - your chances are better if you have the right skills and weapons, but you can never be 100% sure.

Modern day guy in the centre uses bow and arrow, while colonial age guy on the right uses a neutron pulse rifle. This is very normal in this game.

No comments: