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Subject: AI War - a small publisher video game for board gamers rss

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David Jackman
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Well, until the rumors of a videogamegeek become a reality, i wanted to give a shout out to great game that should have significant draw to the strategy or coop boardgamers out there.

For indie games enthusiasts, this should have significant pull as well, as this started as a single man project, and is now into its first expansion, as well as recieving critical acclaim all over the place, including being the #40 best PC Game of 2009 on Metacritic.


AI WAR: FLEET COMMAND

As described by arcengames dot com:

"AI War is an entirely unique large-scale RTS with aspects of TBS, tower defense, and grand strategy. It features single or cooperative play with as many as 8 humans against a pair of powerful, intelligent AIs. "

COMPONENTS

Its a small package ( around 100mb, if i remember correctly) so component whores might be a little upset. Everything is functionally perfect once you get the box open. Though, for a game that will use 30,000 to 90,000 individual ship pieces in a single campaign, the package is VERY functional and streamlined.

RULES

The tutorial is helpful and gets the job done. Frankly, this might be my one point of contention with much of the review work out there - I didnt like it. It tought the game well enough, but gave no inkling to the true scope and feeling of playing a real campaign in this game (where you start with 5 ships of about 20,000 on the board, and 1 planet of 80).

The tutorial didnt sell me in the least. When i started scouting out my first campaign, i was hooked.

GAMEPLAY

Hoo, Boy. It might be easier, in some respects, to explain ASL. Fortunately, due to the strange and mysterious technological forces in the computer-box at my feet, it takes care of most of the complexities by itself. I am NOT joking - these pieces literally move themselves!

THEME

Its a whole lotta years in the future. The computers won. Humanity as been all but extinguished and enslaved. You are a single solitary cell of human resistance, trying to push the native AI out of the surrounding systems, with the end goal of raiding and destroying both AI homeworlds. Very much a David-and-Goliath vibe.

Chris Park - the designer of AI War - has indicated that he envisions himself as Ender from the Enders' Game series, and i could definately see that.

Largely, for a video game, the theme is rather a blank slate. You are never given any specific missions, you dont have NPCs ranting gibber-jabber, and you'll likely have too many forces for any of them to have much true identity (exception - the single Mark IV scout drone you can build, which i lovingly have dubbed 'Stuart'). Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is up to the player.

YOUR ENEMY

AI War was started as a project to make a game where a truly devious AI would flourish. the AI is designed to be emergent. For those of you not too familiar with the concept, it is how complex systems evolve in nature from simple agents - ants, termites and bees are classic examples.

This is one of the main reasons that the unit count in AI War is so high - without a high sample set, the decisions made by AI ships on an individual level wouldn't have sufficient agents to truly show emergent decisions on the macro level.

From an RTS AI perspective, its like this: Most of you who have played an RTS know the old trick of creating chokepoints for your base, so that enemy units will always attempt to go through the narrow and (inevitably well-defended) 'hole' in your defenses. If a bit of chaos was thrown in there, so that the AI didnt always choose this 'best' decision (IE getting to your base without having to break through a wall), that paradigm no longer functions.

ive seen AI fly past well defended planets to strike deep in my territory and then flee after it had taken all of my resources. Ive seen it strike the bottleneck with a very large force so that a few solitary ships could slide through and wreak havoc. Ive even seen them send in engine-disabling ships to incapacitate my main fleet as i get hammered at another system.

AT START

The game takes the ideas from many 4x games (Like civilisation) for campaign setups. The amount of customization availabile is one of the games' undeniable strength. A few examples of the optional customisations:

d10-1 Difficulty - anywhere from 1 to 10. 7 seems to be the sweet spot, but masochists can definately take it higher.

d10-2 Campaign map

The map is point-to-point movement a la Paths of Glory, with anywhere from 10 to 120 planets (80 is 'normal', i personally like 60-70), and there are numerous different setups that you can choose.
Realistic, for a truly random selection of connections, Snake, which is basically just a long line of connections, Grid, which makes a uniform and very difficult map, etc.

The map is randomly generated, and i can speak from personal experience as to how much the shape of the map changes the game. A lot of added replay value here.

d10-3 Starting planet - You can choose one of ten starting planets, or keep it random. Each starting planet will also decide the bonus ship you have available at the start.

d10-4 Ships available - You can choose the unit mix to be more simple or more complex (including hundreds of different types of ships if you so choose), and disable certain features of the game you do not find enjoyable (like turrets or anything with cloaking).

d10-5 AI Personality - You will play against a pair of AI opponents and they will have a set(or random) personality, which drastically affects the AIs style of play. It could be something like the Sledgehammer, which constantly batters you with waves of attackers right from the start, or the Starfleet Commander, which makes liberal and intense use of the capital ships in the game, starships.

d10-6 Neutral Factions - if you get the 10 dollar expansion, The Zenith Remnant (and, if you do decide to pick up the base game after playing the trial, i HIGHLY recommend it), there are many different kinds of neutral factions that you can include:

- Golems: These could be large, damaged, ancient vessels that you can repair and hurl at the enemy, or traders which allow you to buy extremely expensive and powerful upgrades, or the Devourer Golem, which wanders from system to system, destroying AI and human alike.

- Human Factions: Space pirates that will randomly raid systems, Human resistance colonies, which will need to be rescued, or random waves of resistance ships that will come to your aid occasionally, and more.

INTO THE BREACH



Im going to gloss over the specifics(because there are too many of them), and talk about, in a macro sense, how the game works.

The number that will be always at the top of your mind is called AI Progress. This number represents how much of its resources the AI is currently contributing to squash your puny meathead rebellion. It will start at 10. Every time you take a planet, this will go up by 20. Every time it goes up, the AI will use more defenses, have stronger attacks, and recieve more ship reinforcements. After taking 5 planets you will quickly realise that trying to take over the whole map is a VERY bad idea (if not impossible). The most i have taken in a session was 30 planets (half of a 60 planet map) and the AI homeworlds were so reinforced by that point my end goal seemed impossible.

Okay, so you cant take over all the planets (or even half of them) but you somehow have to get to two seperate corners of the map to take out those pesky homeworlds. What does an ambitious an entrepenuering former bio-battery do? Well, Guerilla warfare is the name of the game here. If you take a planet, it better be worth it.

And this leads to the most important question in the game: What makes a planet worth the 20 AI Progress you will get for taking it?

d10-1- Resources - This is, at its core, an RTS. More minerals and more crystal are crucial.

d10-2 Key strategic points - Adjacent to many different other good planets, but not a good planet in itself? Take it and it will be an excellent launching pad for raids and invasions.

d10-3 Advanced Research stations - There are generally around 5 of these bad boys scattered about the map. Capturing one will net you a new random ship type (to add to the five basic ship types you start the game with). Get most or all of these.

d10-4 Advanced factories - These allow you to unlock the highest tier( Mark IV) of any ship that you have. You probably cant win without at least one of these.

d10-5 Miscellaneous awesomeness - Want to take the system so you can repair that supermassive cursed golem? Want to capture fabricators for advanced technologies so you can use ships normally only given to the AI? Want to try capturing a Super-Processer to lower the AI Progress level at the cost of AI ships constantly pouring out of the processor? Go for it!

There are also many reasons to raid (or 'neuter') a planet that you dont intend to take. The AI will occassionally launch raids against one of your planets through a hostile wormhole (IE a point-to-point connection between a hostile planet and your own). If you raid the planet and destroy their warp gate, they will no longer launch raids from that location, but you still get 5 AI Progress (as opposed to 20 for taking the system for your own).

There are many other reasons you might want to be involved on a planet that you might not want to take - you can destroy data centers to reduce AI Progress, steal AI Distribution Nodes to steal resources, destroy guard posts to lower the max unit count allowed in the area or even blow up reserves to get a bunch of free ships.

SHIPS

On any given map, you'll start with 5 ship types:

d10-1 Scouts - probably the single most important. Cloaked ship that allows you formulate long-term strategies.

d10-2 Fighters - quick, short ranged, cheap. Effective against bombers.

d10-3 Bombers - Quick, long ranged, bonus versus heavy defenses. Effective against frigates.

d10-4 Frigates - Slow, Very very long range and good damage. Effective against fighters.

d10-5 - d10-9 Bonus ship(s) - One random bonus ship from dozens of different ship types. Also, each advanced factory captured will give you an additional type of ship.

UPGRADES

You can use the technology resource to unlock higher levels of ships (Mark II fighters, for example). Each mark level of each ship has a population cap. For example, you can build 170 Mark I Fighters. If you research Mark II fighters, you can ALSO build 170 Mark II fighters.

Upgrading the Mark level not only gives you access to 'better' versions of the same ship, but also increases your population cap. You will be forced to use crappy fighters in addition to your good ones, throwing yet another agonizingly difficult choice at you.

OTHER STUFF

This is by no means all you can do. There are around 15 different types of turrets you can use and unlock, 12 or so different defensive structures, like cloaking detectors, fortressess, and Force Field generators, 7 kinds of starships to use, etc etc, so on and so forth.

COOP

The game was designed with Coop in mind. It makes sense - Usually, in a game, the AI is just a stand-in for a human player, so not much effort is put forth for something that is going to always be a second rate opponent. AI war is assymetrical - the AI doesnt play by the same rules you do, and it only serves to enhance the gameplay. Ive only had the chance to play this coop once, and it definately is a blast. That said, the game is absolutely fine single iplayer.

OVERVIEW

I wanted to bring this game to the light of the BGG community for a few reasons.

First, It scratches that deep strategy itch. Ive never had so much fun with a video game when it was paused, just mulling over my options.

Second, It definately has a board-gamey feel to it. The rules that the AI plays by (which i didnt really get into in detail, as this is already far too long) are rather assymetrical to yours, and remind me of games like pandemic, or ghost stories, especially when coop.

Finally, i feel obligated to put out a good word to any sort of small-publisher gems that i come along that are deserving of it. Cheers for the little guy! Damn the Man! and so on and so forth.

They have a free trial which allows you to play the tutorial and up to 3 hours into a campaign if you feel inticed to try it out.

 
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Link? Is it freeware or how much do I have to pay?

You talk about multiplayer, is there a large internetgroup or do I have to bring in some friends?
 
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Jesper Johansson
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Usually_Insane wrote:
Link?

http://www.arcengames.com/aiwar_features.php
http://www.arcengames.com/aiwar_buy.php

Usually_Insane wrote:
Is it freeware or how much do I have to pay?

It costs $20 / €14 but can sometimes be had for less. Steam had it for half price a few weeks ago, and I expect that Steam/Impulse/etc will have a special on it again in the future.
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David Jackman
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Usually_Insane wrote:


You talk about multiplayer, is there a large internetgroup or do I have to bring in some friends?


Due to the nature of the game (a single campaign being 7-15 hours) internet matchmaking for games isnt really viable, but it doesnt seem too terribly hard to find someone to play with on the arcen forums.
 
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Max
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So what you're saying is that they've finally come out with an AI for the game of War (and added some theme). Now THAT is worth knowing about! ninja
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David Jackman
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maxmaven wrote:
So what you're saying is that they've finally come out with an AI for the game of War (and added some theme). Now THAT is worth knowing about! :ninja:


Finally!

Oh, how far we've come.
 
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