Oops All Tactics Games 2022 - Turn 2: Based on Battles From Actual History*

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ArbitraryWater

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Edited By ArbitraryWater

Oh Hi, it's me again. Did you miss me? No? Well, too bad. When I'm not playing terrible fucking Sonic games on stream or entertaining a particularly anxious 4-year-old Goldendoodle while his owners are visiting the in-laws, I like to tactics. Here are two more high quality (this isn't me doing a sarcastic bit, I think both of these games are fantastic) video games worth your time if you like hexes and/or squares and enjoy doing murders in a turn-based fashion.

PLAYER PHASE

Expeditions Rome

 SPQR stands for Some Pretty Questionable Romans
SPQR stands for Some Pretty Questionable Romans

Expeditions Rome is the third game in Logic Artists’ Expeditions series of historical tourism tile-em-ups; one of those series you’re vaguely aware of but probably aren’t thinking of very often. You may recall the Denmark-based studio was working on the canceled Divinity tactics spin-off, or that they announced they were pivoting to NFT games right after Rome’s release. I’m here to tell you that it's not only unfortunate timing, but also an absolute shame. Expeditions Rome is one of my favorite games of the year, and in a lot of ways checks the boxes I want from both a CRPG and a tacticstravaganza.

To give an indication of exactly when this game grabbed me, it was one or two hours in. At the start of the game, your character (a noble son or daughter of Rome on the run from troubles at home) becomes acquainted with a young Gaius Julius Caesar. He’s friendly, if a bit shady and perhaps a little too ambitious for his own good, but you think “oh, I see, I’m going to watch Ceasar’s rise to power from the sidelines.” An hour later, he gets merc’d right in front of you and you take control of a Roman legion. This happens at the beginning of the game. My friends, Expeditions Rome is a tactical RPG about your created character doing a Julius Caesar. Or not. This is not a game concerned with minuscule historical accuracy about legionary tactics, it’s not coming in with a weird nationalist agenda about “accurate historical depictions of Medieval Bohemia.” This is the funhouse TV show version of Roman history, hovering somewhere between a classic sword and sandals film and a premium cable series like HBO’s Rome or Showtime’s Spartacus, with just a sprinkling of classic BioWare in there for good measure.

Like prior Expeditions titles, this is a hybrid between a couple different kinds of game. The tactical battles, featuring hexes, bespoke objectives, and different classes, are the main appeal. Most of the encounters in the game have a bespoke, hand-crafted affinity to them, which makes each fight feel more meaningful than some of the other tactics games of 2022. For the most part, you’re going to be doing *something* else besides just taking your Roman guys and gals, slashing and bashing every enemy you run into. You can tell they learned some stuff from that canned Divinity game, because the amount of environmental interaction is noteworthy. Highly recommend throwing oil pots when you aren’t just throwing a shield guy to shield your guys while your shield guy does shielding.

There’s also the army management angle, which… to be perfectly, completely, totally honest I don’t think is all that exciting or good? There's cards? And numbers? And it's never really well explained if what you're doing is meaningful. It feels a little too limited to be a truly great strategic layer, and for the most part I found it to be on the forgettable side of pointless. Thankfully, it's not a huge part of the game. Still probably better than the naval combat in Pillars of Eternity 2 though.

I refuse to give context
I refuse to give context

The actual thing which surprised me was the quality of the CRPG-ish walk-and-talk sequences. The writing and voice acting in Expeditions Rome is… good? As mentioned, it’s a game that aims for being fun and having verisimilitude over being hampered by real historical minutiae. This extends to your supporting cast, who are probably more fun and diverse than actual Roman legionaries would’ve been. Since there are only 5, and you’re more-or-less rolling with the full crew as soon as you get all of them, that also means they’re more than willing to react to your decisions and give you shit or question your choices. It’s all fully voiced, and for the most part I will continue to say putting full voice acting in your dense RPG (and having said voice acting be good) adds a lot to the experience for me.

This is one I need to get back to, if only to see the inevitable part where you can choose to cross the literal Rubicon or not with your legions. Still, unless the game collapses in its last third I think it's fair to say I recommend it unambiguously.

King Arthur: Knight’s Tale

La Morte D'Arthur 2: He's Back and Very Pissed
La Morte D'Arthur 2: He's Back and Very Pissed

We’ve finally reached the first honest-to-goodness Eurojank contender for this year. Neocore Games, based in Budapest, is one of those developers who’ve been silently cranking out decently successful video games for the last decade. You know, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing? Warhammer 40K Inquisitor Martyr? More importantly, like a decade ago they made an RTS/RPG hybrid called “King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame.” While I’ve never played it myself (despite owning it on steam for something like a decade?), it was apparently successful enough to warrant a sequel, and here we have what appears to be a successor to that. Kinda? Maybe? Apparently King Arthur II: The Roleplaying Wargame is “not very good” if steam reviews are to be believed. Anyway, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the one which came out this year. It’s an Arthurian tactical RPG with a copious amount of edge. It’s very good!

Arthurian myth has been reinterpreted and re-framed by different authors with different ideas for literally more than a thousand years. It’s a malleable story, so Knight’s Tale featuring a revived Mordred recreating his own Camelot and Round Table to fight against an undead Arthur doesn’t feel particularly out of the realm of possibility. There’s a respectable amount of intent in trying to create a vaguely grimdark, decidedly grungy take on those stories; they clearly did their homework. What seems less intentional is how sometimes the game’s dark fantasy aesthetics and writing lean into accidental camp. Lines that would otherwise seem grim, weighty, or potentially badass are instead enhanced by “high quality” voice acting to become something a little sillier. I don’t think it’s quite “Full 40K” as far as being in on the joke, but in some ways that also makes it more pure with the stupid metal album energy going on. I mean, heck, Knight’s Tale even has its own moral compass based on the decisions you make along the way. Forget Lawful Evil, my boy Mordred is Tyrant/Old Faith.

Sir Dagonet appears to frequent r/atheism (or at least r/oldfaith)
Sir Dagonet appears to frequent r/atheism (or at least r/oldfaith)

As far as tactical turn-based combat goes, it’s not doing anything especially unique, but what it is doing is executed well. I’ve been playing on Hard, and the name of the game there is “damage mitigation.” Sure, you might say that’s the name of the game for ALL of these, but no, let me be clear. Your characters have two layers of health. The first layer (HP) can be replenished during missions and acts as a buffer for your vitality (which, once it hits 0, your character gets perma-death’d.) Furthermore, taking damage into vitality has a chance of giving your character debuffs in the form of injuries. Both injuries and vitality need to be restored at Camelot between levels, which requires time and/or money. While that might seem overly punitive, it highly encourages the player to think about each encounter from a very defensive perspective. Enemies will almost always outnumber you and some of them are quite tanky, so you can’t crowd control or out-damage your way through everything. Everyone can overwatch for a reason. This is maybe the first tactics video game, perhaps in the history of me playing tactics video games, where I’ve found traps to be astoundingly useful instead of a pointless boondoggle.

fuck your sad dad games with your ambiguous moralities, I want more alignment compasses like this.
fuck your sad dad games with your ambiguous moralities, I want more alignment compasses like this.

The other thing this injury system encourages is having a deep bench of knights to go upon knightly quests (i.e. murdering a bunch of undead, picts, bandits, human soldiers, or fae.) There are about thirty recruitable characters in all, but your round table can only hold a dozen once fully upgraded, including Mordred. That can lead to some fun, tough choices in regards to who you bring along through the game and who you kick to the curb, especially once loyalty bonuses and penalties from alignment start factoring more heavily. There are six classes, and each character tends to have a few unique abilities or passives to make them stand out. There’s a lot of wiggle room to build characters in specific ways, and thankfully this is one of those games where each spent skill point actually feels meaningful instead of incremental.

Honestly, the fact that I’m as impressed as I am with the character building aspects of this Grimdark-ass eurojank King Arthur RPG should be proof of my enthusiasm towards it. It can be a tad slow and isn’t as flashy as some of the other stuff on this Tactical Travelogue, but it’s got moxie and sheer “meat and potatoes” competence. Honestly, if not for the fact I’ve already declared like five other games to be the sleeper hit of 2022, this would probably be the sleeper hit of 2022. The developers have been pretty consistent about adding new updates, and there’s even some sort of competitive multiplayer skirmish thing? Sure? Looking forward to seeing what else comes out of Neocore in the future.

ENEMY PHASE

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Manburger

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Ave, another great write-up! Critical hit!

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ValorianEndymion

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Great blog!

Expedition Rome is a game for years I have it on my wishlist (maybe along with their some of their other expeditions games) and every sale I think about buying it, but never do...but maybe one day…

So, on the King Arthur game, I have played the King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame, so some stuff which you see on Knight Tale likely came from there, such as the grimdark aesthetic, moral compass... I recommend one day checking that game, it is not good... but think as a Total War: Warhammer I, before that game, but with more jank. Also it was a game from a short period where there was some Total War clones... well I say some, but more likely two, this one and XIII Century...

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majormitch

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It really was a crazy year for tactics games. I played at least 4-5 myself, all of them good, and can think of another 4-5 that came out and I didn't play but are probably also good! This is a great idea for a blog series, looking forward to what you cover next!

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dreamkin

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Hi... This is Fasih, the Narrative Director of Expeditions: Rome. Thank you for all these nice words about our little game. And no we did not shut down. Nor did we go into the NFT business.
For some actual information about this complicated and unfortunate situation:

https://campfirecabal.com/frequently-asked-questions/