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Subject: Quick opinion on cry Havoc rss

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There are a bunch of reviews around, both text and video for Cry Havoc already, but with games with so much hype behind them, there is inevitable backlash against the hype divided opinion and a tough time for buyers to make up their mind and work out who's opinion might best predict their own. So, with that in mind i offer my quick, sequential opinion on the game after 5 plays.

UNBOXING and GAME 1:
My friend/roommate/mortal-enemy-in-the-race-for-gems bought the game. I was excited, having heard Tom Vassel's rave review where he was almost visibly frothing at the mouth. opening the box, everything looked great. The board is double sided (one side for a 2 player game and one side for a 3-4 player game), thick cardboard and the miniatures looked really cool and added some more immersion into the theme. I'm not usually a big miniatures guy, for some bizarre reason thinking that they are more geeky (though I know it's completely irrational), but i really appreciated the miniatures, even though they are all the same within each faction (except for one human who was slanted and looked like he was stumbling around drunkenly, haha).

So, unboxing = impressed, more excited.

We played the first game. My friend had read the rules, forums, strategies etc extensively before starting, so that helped a lot. I cannot comment on the rulebook as I haven't so much as glanced at it. I am writing from the perspective of someone who was taught this game. I have heard, from my friend and from forums, that the rulebook is vague,silent, confusing or ambiguous in places. Various examples of this popped up in our first game which required notes to be taken for further clarification on the interwebs later.

Regardless of hiccups with minor rules queries, we both really enjoyed the first game. 2 players. Machines vs. Pilgrims. Pilgrims came out with a tight win. Miniatures, gems, Trogs popping up on the board made for a fun atmosphere. The tightness of play forced on you by having a limited hand of cards across your 3 actions per round, as well as having to choose one series of actions only from all the possibilities on each card is frustrating, but in that good, tense decision making way.
The battle system, of having area control within area control was interesting and made the battles tighter and tenser than they might appear on the board.

First game = fun, with a few minor hiccups.

GAME 2
We had stumbled through our first game and enjoyed it. We had only included the starting, simplified default skill cards...but actually hadn't even used those, because we were busy trying to work out the rest of the game.
So in Game 2 we used exactly the same factions each (Machines vs. Pilgrims) and actually used our skills a little. This time we had also looked a little at strategy guides. I tried to get the Pilgrim's "point generation gem machine" strategy going...and to some small extent succeeded, but it only just started to whir up by the end of the game, by which point it was too late, Pilgrims had already won, doubling the points of the Machines.

It was a fun game again. Even though not as tight as the first game, we both got to explore more of the strategy of each faction and the tactics of the cards and terrain combos. We could both clearly see that the game was accessible instantly (we immediately enjoyed our first and second games) and that there was further depth to strategy and tactics that we were only scratching the surface of (we still hadn't even looked at the extra skill cards as options to play with).

So, game 2 = fun and with further glimpses into the depth and options on offer.

GAMEs 3 and 4 - THINGS FALL APART

We played our 3rd game. 2 players again. This time my friend played as the humans. I played as the machines. Cool. We each get to try a new faction. Awesome. What could possibly go wrong?

I got smashed. Absolutely destroyed. By the end of the first round (of 4, because the game ended a round early) I could already see his score token moving away. By the end of the second round his score token had streaked so far away, with accelerating speed, that the game was clearly over for me. I was slightly glad for the expedited ending that occurs in these cases (the game can shorten from 5 rounds to 4 if there is a big enough score happening), but even then, I spent the majority of the game knowing I had already lost and feeling that there was nothing I could do about it, just playing through.

Even my friend's potential gem orgy crushing victory celebration was muted by my glum stoney eyed glazed stare at the board.

We had read about balance issues in the game. Various people had complained about the machines being far too weak and hard to use. Various people had complained about the humans being far too strong and overpowered. To be honest though I had thought that people were just whining and simply didn't know how to play each faction properly yet. So we sat there and talked it through together, assuming that there must have been a strategy that I (the machines) could have employed to, if not win, then at least tighten the gap. We couldn't come up with anything. The human ability to keep pumping out airfields and cashing in on points for spreading region control, while also getting essentially free defence from trog tokens seemed unassailable to us.

So, with the memory of how good the first two games had been and despite our frustration (or perhaps because of it) we immediately jumped in to a 4th game. My friend offered me the humans. I stubbornly said that I wanted to beat the humans this time, I was determined. So he stuck with the humans and I geared up as the Pilgrims. I was determined to solve this problem.

I got smashed again. Not completely annihilated by the end of round 1.5 like the first time against the humans....rather, completely annihilated by the end of round 2. It was a little tighter using the Pilgrims, but still...we were both left frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned and all round deflated as we stared at the board at the end of Game 4.

What had I done wrong? What could I have done better? We discussed it at length, going over possibilities. We weren't willing to accept that the game is actually unbalanced...after all, it is a professionally designed game from a reputable company with years of development behind it and rave reviews and hype. So we assumed that i had been doing something wrong. Maybe I had, we still aren't really sure. We heard apocryphal stories from the head designer about smashing the humans using the machines on a forum. But we couldn't see how. Perhaps if we delved into using the skill cards beyond the default only card there would be more options to play with. (Although from what I've heard, when you delve into certain combos with the human skill cards, they become even more powerful).

Wait. What had my friend done wrong? We started questioning some of the tactics he had been using with the humans. Perhaps he had made some mistakes, some rule violations in the way he had played them. Surely you can't just airfield, drop ship human dudes into a trog occupied territory, score points for it and build there and continue to spread without having to wake the trogs, but having them as free defence for you..? Surely that is too powerful and doesn't make thematic sense, right?
So we asked questions on forums, hoping we had played it the wrong way. Unfortunately the answers to each question came back - yep, everything he had done was legit. Humans seem to genuinely just be that strong.

I was deflated. My friend was disillusioned. He was ready to sell it and move on.

GAME 5 - 3 PLAYER REDEMPTION?
We had our first chance to play it 3 player. I was a little worried, because I had read on a forum someone complaining that humans were way too powerful in a 3 player game. so we gave the human faction to the newbie. I played the machines and the game owner played the Pilgrims.

Instantly the game was different with 3 players. There was more table talk. More negotiating ("No, don't smash me! look! Look at what he's doing over there!") and more options and baord space to work with and interesting multi-player dynamics.
The newbie implemented some of the winning human strategy well, but as a newcomer to the game missed some opportunities to really capitalise and to also thwart the Pilgrims.
The Pilgrims sat in their corner of the board and implemented their gem/point generation strategy to perfection. I had tried this in a 2 player game but had found the board too tight to be able to successfully do this. In the 3 player game it seemed it was easier to do this. With a little bad luck+good capitalisation on my bad luck with Trogs, the Pilgrim player was able to make a wall of Trogs between me (the Machines) and him.

The human player could have come across and smashed him and tried to shut down his increasingly productive gem/point scoring machine, but, as a new player, was oblivious and focussed on the giant robots with dual gattling gun arms on his borders...despite them promising him "Look, yes...technically our objective is to kill all lifeforms...but look at how many points he's getting. I promise I won't attack you if you go take care of him..."

Deaf ears. Haha. No problem. That was all part of the fun. In the end, the pilgrims ran away with the game with a very nice implementation of the strategy offered in the official strategy guide. The humans were not too far behind, which was a good effort for a first time player. This indicated to me that the humans are perhaps designed for the new player to be able to instantly be competitive. Unfortunately...it makes for s frustrating game with two evenly matched, more experienced players.
I trailed far beyond with the machines, but i didn't mind. I enjoyed the game and could at least see what I could have done better and how the other player could have quashed the pilgrims and thus opened the game up for me too.

So...the 3 player game didn't solve any of the problems we had experienced in the 3rd and 4th 2 player games with Humans in play. But it did somewhat allay my doubts and disappointment.

We are still early in the game, only 5 plays in, with 4 2-player games and 1 3-player game under our belts, but here is the opinion it has left me with;

1- The rulebook and the rules in general need work. They don't sound horrible or unworkable, but a cursory glance through the forums will reveal that there are issues. As mentioned, there are a few instances where the theme doesn't really connect with the rules and so make it harder to intuitively follow, but for the most part the theme and rules align.

2- The theme, components and the "feel" and "story" of the factions are great. I love the mini stories foreach faction and the different feel you get when playing with them.

3- The overall game mechanics are great. There are some interesting new things, like the battle resoluton system that are really fun and tactical to play through. The combination of strategy for each faction along with the tactics and the possible combinations with different factions vs factions using different skill cards vs different skill cards could make for a lot of exploartion of the strategic and tactical depth of the game.

4- Unfortunately...all of this hinges on the players actually getting o that point in the game. Me and my friend were very, very close to giving up and selling the game off after those 2 player games with the humans. the 3 player game alleviated these issues of balance between factions somewhat. I feel confident that the 4 player would do this even more-so (as the Trogs would actually be controlled by a player, thus taking away their use as protective pawns). BUT...we had heard that one of the strengths of this game was how well it played with 2 players (compared to Blood Rage, Kemet etc). But we found that potentially this is the player count where it suffers from faction imbalances the most.


FINAL (yet far from conclusive) THOUGHTS
So far I'm giving this game the benefit of the doubt.
My first inclination is often to find fault and bash a game that gets a lot of hype. But I don't want to do this with Cry Havoc. i really want to like it. I was excited for it before it came out, and I'm still excited for it now. I'm excited for it because of all the potential it promises for fun, strategy and tactics in a well produced, fairly tight and relatively quick (for this type of game) playing game.
I am also entirely open to the possibility that the humans are NOT in fact overpowered and that the machines are NOT in fact underpowered and that we simply need to spend time working out how to play them better.

BUT...this is still an issue and cannot be swept under the rug with throw-away comments like "The game is perfectly balanced. You just need to learn how to play it better."
That line of thinking may be all well and good, but if the players get so frustrated in the process that they never feel like playing anymore...then its a moot point.

It's a fine balance between offering a game that requires the players to put in time and continued plays to work it out and get the true experience from it and offering them everything up-front in a simple, instant gratification package.

For me, so far, Cry Havoc is teetering precariously on this tightrope of "player work/time invested in game" vs "instant fun/understanding/gratification". Time will tell whether it successfully manages to deliver on its promise of actually being well balanced (despite initial appearances) or whether I and countless others fall off.

So, for those teetering on their own fence of whether to buy this or not, I cannot make a recommendation either way. All I can offer is this...it CAN be fun and tactical instantly...given the right conditions and combinations, player counts etc. But it CAN be , disappointing and infuriating (potential imbalances between factions) and frustrating (struggling through rules ambiguities).
Though it seems that the human faction was designed for ease of use with new players, I would personally not recommend using them for new players in a 2 player game. If you have bought the game already, try different combinations, that will give you glimpses of how fun the game can be.

If you are looking for a game that you can smoothly jump into and start digging into with minimal issues - this is not for you.

If you have been excited about this game and are willing to put in time and effort to battle through rule questions and working out how to play each faction really, really well - this could be for you.

Like I said, I'm still not sure whether the factions are genuinely balanced or not. Time will tell. But for me, this game has enough fun, theme, strategy and tactics that for now I am keen to keep pushing through and trying to squeeze more from it, despite some frustration.
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Dariusz Michnowski
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Very good review. I like its balanced tone and detailed examples of plays.
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Maybe a newer edition will be more polished/fleshed out/balanced just like it happens with most of Portal games ?
For better or for worse
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Cheers. First review I've put any thought into, haha.
Was trying to think about what I would want to know if I were on the fence about buying this game or not.
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Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking, especially in light of the new edition of Robinson Crusoe coming out, with all the rule book updates, errors on cards fixed etc.

It's good they do it and put the effort into it and admit the fault.....but frustrating that that sort of thing is not done in the first place.

Was a little confused to see that the lead designer was not involved in the final balance play testing of the factions for Cry Havoc...
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Grant Rodiek
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Yaban Jin wrote:
Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking, especially in light of the new edition of Robinson Crusoe coming out, with all the rule book updates, errors on cards fixed etc.

It's good they do it and put the effort into it and admit the fault.....but frustrating that that sort of thing is not done in the first place.

Was a little confused to see that the lead designer was not involved in the final balance play testing of the factions for Cry Havoc...


Hi -- that is NOT true. I unfortunately made a statement that was taken out of context. The Portal team did most of the heavy lifting on final balance, but I was absolutely involved. I posted a blog on this on BGG titled "There is no I in global development team."
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Ah okay, thanks for clearing that up for us. Don't think I misrepresented anything you said. But thanks for clearing up what you meant in that post.

Like I said, I have some question marks over the game at this stage, but at the same time really enjoy it and think it brings a lot of cool new stuff.

Looking forward to the humans strategy guide so I can work out how to beat them in a 2 player game. Thanks for your involvement on forums etc too. All too rare, but great to see!
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chris thatcher
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One of the most fun games I've played but it is unbalanced. The machines are WAY underpowered. I'm not quite sure how this was not caught during play testing as it is so obvious. Regardless tho I really like the game but I can understand someone's reluctance to play if them losing is a foregone conclusion.
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Grant Rodiek
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Yaban Jin wrote:
Ah okay, thanks for clearing that up for us. Don't think I misrepresented anything you said. But thanks for clearing up what you meant in that post.

Like I said, I have some question marks over the game at this stage, but at the same time really enjoy it and think it brings a lot of cool new stuff.

Looking forward to the humans strategy guide so I can work out how to beat them in a 2 player game. Thanks for your involvement on forums etc too. All too rare, but great to see!


I beat them with the Machines a few weeks ago using Transformation and Moving city. In Machines vs Humans 2p, Machines need to be hyper aggressive. By the end of the game I had the Humans back in their HQ and they scored 0 VP in final scoring.

A key is to not take it slow like you might in 3p and 4p. Pick a front, smash.

People love to say Machines are weak, yet they've won several of my recent games by me or friends. The Machines require planning and do not forgive wasted moves. If you aren't winning...alter your strategy. The bane of the asymmetric designer is the constant accusation we didn't test. I promise you we tested.

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Yep. I really enjoyed it..apart from those couple of games at 2 player against humans....

Like I said, I'm giving the game the benefit of the doubt and hoping that it is not ultimately unbalanced, but just requires lots of play and working out......but it seems that it may actually just be unbalanced. Don't know though..we'll wait and see...
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Tony Mastrangeli
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Tariff wrote:
One of the most fun games I've played but it is unbalanced. The machines are WAY underpowered. I'm not quite sure how this was not caught during play testing as it is so obvious. Regardless tho I really like the game but I can understand someone's reluctance to play if them losing is a foregone conclusion.


As someone who's 3-1 with the machines, I definitely don't think that statement is even remotely true.
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Cool, Grant.
Cheers for the reply (and others around the forums).

I love asymmetrical games. And I'm sure it's hard to design for. Games like neuroshima hex have different play styles but do not feel immediately unbalanced.

When I played machines vs humans, I (as the machines) came out aggressively, bit couldn't pull it off. Mind you, we were using just the default skill cards...

Like I said, I really like the different stories and feels of the different factions and will have to wait and see for myself if I can work it out.

Maybe the best way I can describe it ( at my first impression stage now anyway), is like this:
Humans- instantly powerful for a new player, beginner mode

Pilgrims- a little harder, medium mode

Machines- feel way underpowered (whether they actually are or not), expert mode

This is fine. Having an expert faction where you feel proud and rewarded for being able to pull off a win against humans with them is great.....

....but when there are only 3 factions to choose from (unless you play 4 players), then you are left without the option of playing an "easy/beginner" faction vs. another, different but still "easy/beginner" faction.

If there are plans for expansion with extra factions this would be great to give more matched, yet assymetrical combination options.

Id love to see expansion factions and would be keen to buy it.
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chris thatcher
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Quote:
As someone who's 3-1 with the machines, I definitely don't think that statement is even remotely true


Well, there is a heck of a lot of people having the same issue with the machines.
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Curious about the context of your machine wins. Player count? Which factions were you against?
Our first game of machines vs pilgrims was a little closer.
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Tony Mastrangeli
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Yaban Jin wrote:
Curious about the context of your machine wins. Player count? Which factions were you against?
Our first game of machines vs pilgrims was a little closer.


2 at 2 player, one at 3 player. The two player games were both against humans. I actually posted a session report of one of the 2p games in some other thread here. Too lazy to dig it up. But the strategy guide is a really good guide for the machines. If you are not being aggressive with them, you are going to have a bad time. They are the worst race to turtle up with.
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Cool, cheers for the info.
Like I said, I played aggressively with the machines (that's actually the only way I know how to play games, haha), but didn't do well at all against the humans (they effectively had free trog defence lines for me to wade through, via use of their control vie airfields).

Perhaps machines get a boost from certain skill card combos? I've only played with default skill cards so far..
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Nick Henning
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Ive only played once, but my take on humans is that they are the strongest unless you check them. In two player I think you forego building your empire and just rush to murder their faces as machines. Humans have a hard time recruiting and moving, but once they are established they are dominant.
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nickismyname wrote:
Ive only played once, but my take on humans is that they are the strongest unless you check them. In two player I think you forego building your empire and just rush to murder their faces as machines. Humans have a hard time recruiting and moving, but once they are established they are dominant.


That was one of the ways I won with the machines. I kept murdering the humans and they had a super hard time keeping any troops on the board. Between my snipers and shredder drones, they had to recruit at least twice a round. By the end of the 5th round, they had something like 2 whole troops on the map.
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Grant Rodiek
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A generally good strategy is to not let your opponent do their thing. All four factions have a thing. In two player, the aggression ratchets way up and you need to focus more on zero sum.
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Yaban Jin wrote:
but if the players get so frustrated in the process that they never feel like playing anymore...then its a moot point.


I wish more reviewers took this to heart. There is only so much time to learn and play games. I'd rather not have to play 4-5 times before the game is fun. There are many games that are fun on the first play.
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Ryan Amos
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Has anyone messed around with giving the Machines an extra skill at the start of the game (in 4 player)? I think it is something we may try next time this gets played. Just seeing if anyone else has tried this and what skill they used if they did?
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Machines need 5 rounds, always play 5 rounds. This will be an official rule in the expansion.
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Thanks Tim.
Yeah, it is an issue. One problem is that for many reviewers, games are their life. For the designer, games are their life. Both groups have the time, resources and hordes of willing bodies to join them in a game and hurl their lives into hours of gaming. That's awesome and I wish I could do that. But the reality for me is that my roommate is willing and available to play games regularly, but my game group is small, irregular and meets maybe twice a month. Even then we have a slew of games that people want to play with people of all different tastes coming together.

So, even if there is an enjoyable game there, and even IF me and my roommate can eventually push through and work out the kinks in the rules and work out how to play each faction well enough that we can genuinely go into a game against each other on an even footing no matter which faction we've chosen...even if that happens...we are fighting a big uphill battle to get it to the table with our group who have played it only once or twice over a month.

You would get this;
Relatively new (Cry Havoc)player; "I played humans on my first game 2 weeks ago. So this time...hhmmm..I want to play as the machines."

Me: "Ummmm, okay. Nah, really, you don't wanna play as the machines. I'll play as the machines to be fair, I've got them worked out. You should play as the humans, they're easier."

Relatively new player; "But I want to play as someone different."

Me: "Me too. But if I don't play the machines then you are going to lose...badly. if we play this a few more times you will get the hang of it and be able to play any faction without knowing for sure halfway through the game that you've already lost...it is a really good game actually..."

New player: "Nah. Let's play hungry hungry hippos. Chomp chomp, weeeee!"


So I think even if people's taste runs toward this kind of game, people's situations with play opportunities and levels of tolerance for pushing through frustration and getting to enjoy the depths of the game are going to limit the audience for this, which is unfortunate...
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Hi Ryan. Not yet. But it is something my mate and I have discussed. We may try it and let you know.

The lead designer is pretty active on these forums and may have some good tips at which skill card combos work well with say Machines vs Humeys to give Machines a leg up for those of us struggling a little.
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Barry Miller
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Yaban Jin wrote:
BUT...this is still an issue and cannot be swept under the rug with throw-away comments like "The game is perfectly balanced. You just need to learn how to play it better."
That line of thinking may be all well and good, but if the players get so frustrated in the process that they never feel like playing anymore...then its a moot point.

As soon as I read this in the OP, I intended to comment but Tim beat me to it! So I'll just pile-on, instead.

I absolutely and whole-heartedly agree with the above excerpt. It's spot-on! Unfortunately for game developers, this isn't 20 years ago where gamers had only a few good games on their shelf and so played each one over and over till their strategies were perfected. Hell, I remember the days when strategy articles were published in magazines (remember those?) for the same game, year after year! Each year, the strategy would evolve and mature, but the game remained the same.

But those days are gone. Now we're bombarded with one good game after another! Today, there are simply too many good games to play, and so little time to play them, which prevents a lot of us from exploring any strategy that's deeper than a forum post.

I've commented about this phenomena in the Blood Rage and Scythe forums, two recent games that are afflicted with the exact same problem. That is, that they (and Cry Havoc) ask for a greater investment in time in order to reach that point where the game begins to shine, and thereby eradicating any buyer's remorse.

But by then it's too late for a lot of buyers as many decide to sell their game - an act that was very eloquently entertained in the OP - before reaching that point. And that's too bad as the game otherwise - and deservedly so - would've earned a permanent spot on the shelf.

I'm in the same boat with Blood Rage. I was KS backer and have all the bells & whistles components, but I'm still in the process of playing those games that get me to the point where it will shine. And quite frankly I'm finding these "interim training games" simply "blah" ... enough that I hardly ever pull the game out. Compared to other strategy games that excite me on the first play, the fact that Blood Rage isn't there yet means it sits on the shelf, usually.

So why do I keep it? And why do I expect to keep Cry Havoc? Because of all the comments here in these threads. It was like in my early days of military training... "just hold on and it WILL get better!", they said. And they were right. So that's why I hold onto Blood Rage, and will likely hold onto Cry Havoc .. because everyone says they will get better. Unfortunately, a lot of gamers don't have the same faith.

So I hope future game developers think about this. And it's not lost on me that it will be a challenge. But that's how evolution in game design works! So this is a good thing, after all. I remember how blown-away I was by the 100% asymmetry in Washington's War, and how well it worked. Now, asymmetry is all over the place. But it's not perfected yet. I have faith we'll get there!




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