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Slitherine Space, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Games: What to Look For

By on May 21st, 2014 1:12 pm

I was in the Castle of Pavone Canavese (Northern Italy) on the 14th of May for Slitherine’s annual press conference, where the wargame and strategy publisher, along with Matrix Games and AGEod, showcased their latest developments and game announcements for the near future. Among those were titles like Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager, Warhammer 40K: Armageddon, Legions of Steel, Sovereignty: Crown of Kings and Distant Worlds: Universe, sci-fi and fantasy strategy titles I think may be of interest to you, our lovely audience. I had the opportunity to talk with the developers of these games and see their latest developments and hopes. Here’s what we can expect from each of these games in a bit more detail.

Warhammer 40K: Armageddon

Warhammer 40K is a well established sci-fi/fantasy franchise of tabletop games, video games, and books which sprouted from a very successful tabletop miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop with the same name. I’m not familiarized with this universe, as I only played Warhammer: Dark Omen, a real-time tactical wargame from the 90′s which from what I understand doesn’t come exactly from the same setting as Warhammer 40K. But anyway, we’ve been following Warhammer 40K: Armageddon, a turn-based science-fantasy strategy game for a while now and I had the opportunity to ask the devs some questions about it during the event.

Questioned about how big of a role the theme of Warhammer 40K is going to have in the game, Lordz Games Studio said that the game is “very faithful to the theme and lore” and that they have a license to portray the wars around Armageddon, which is an Imperial Hive planet. They’ll start with the second war for the initial release with campaigns for the Humans and Orks. “The first war is very specific. So, that’s why we started with the second war because it’s a Human planet, defended by the Imperial Guard, also known as the Astra Militarum, and the Orks invade and you have some help from three very important and popular Space Marine Chapters”, explained the devs.

Warhammer 40K: Armageddon | Turn-based science-fantasy strategy game

The third war comes after the initial release as an expansion pack. “The third war is much more complex because the Orks land on several places on the planet and on different terrain. So, they land in ash waste, in the boiling seas, in the arctic and then they start to invade from all sides on the Armageddon planet’s ground”. Regarding how does the game plays out, how many competing sides there are, there will be two sides fighting, but different factions may be in the game at a given time. “Of course you play with Orks against Humans and the Space Marines, or the other way around. Some missions will be Orks attacking certain Imperial Guard units, and then you get a pop up saying that your Blood Angels are coming from the north and that they will arrive as reinforcements, and then you can use them to fight the Orks, but you play it from one side or the other”. A separate add-on/DLC should follow focusing on the Titan battles.

Warhammer 40K: Armageddon builds on top of the Panzer Corps engine. Asked about what makes this game more than just a WWII war game reskin, the devs say that it’s “not a reskin” but “an improvement”, built around the Warhammer 40K lore as much as possible. They add, “Of course the Panzer Corps engine was perfect for the game. But, this isn’t a reskin of Panzer Corps with a Warhammer 40K theme. It’s still hex-based but you can switch that off. Then there’s the very nice new army customization feature, the multiplayer, and it’s a big improvement as the game was molded around the lore and not the other way around”.

Warhammer 40K: Armageddon | Turn-based science-fantasy strategy game

Questioned about the 300 different units, and what have they done to make them feel unique, the devs say that “there isn’t any unit that is the best. Every unit will have something specific. Like the Salamanders. They are from the planet Vulkan, which is a violent volcanic planet. So, they’re much more adapted to heat. Their weapons are like big flamers. Then there’s the White Scars, a race that is very good in fighting on Ice worlds. So, they have a bonus fighting Orks when they are in ice lands. So, it’s not just Ultra Marines and Blood Angels, but the Blood Angels can also get a rage because they drink blood and go berserk. We haven’t decided everything yet but we try to add as much flavor to the game as possible, of course”. As for the game’s complexity, and since they plan to release for mobile devices as well, they don’t seem to be worried. “As long as it plays smooth and easy. That’s our mission. Someone who is twelve can play it. Perhaps they will not play it as well. But, if you really want to get into the complex stuff, it’s also possible”.

The current release date for Warhammer 40K: Armageddon is Autumn/Fall 2014. The game will be released for PC and iOS and possibly for Mac and Android as well. Of course, we’ll keep an eye on this one.

Legions of Steel

In October of last year we mentioned a Kickstarter for a Legions of Steel video game adaptation for mobile devices to the miniatures tactical board game from the 90′s with the same name. The Kickstarter was not successful. But, Romain Soulie, from Studio Nyx, reported that “many good things happened during the campaign, so we’ll try to find a way”. Well, they found a way alright as they were presenting their turn-based sci-fi tactical game at the Home of Wargamers event under a publishing deal with Slitherine.

Legions of Steel | Turn-based sci-fi tactical game by Studio Nyx

In Legions of Stell, the player will be able to play two factions, which are the Humans and the Machines, and the devs hope to implement new alien factions via updates, which were also part of the original board game but came only with expansions.

At the surface this seems like a very simple game, where each unit can only move and fire once per turn. But, there’s four movement points per unit and one fire action which can be used in different ways. You can walk, stay static (unit doesn’t move but gets more accuracy) or run (doubles movement points at cost of accuracy). If you didn’t move yet you get a yellow icon next to your soldier. A red icon means the unit hasn’t fired yet, as you can see in the image above.

So, pretty basic stuff. There’s the default firing action but also several additional firing options, like “fire twice”, “covering fire” (when a character doesn’t spend its firing action during the turn it will be able to fire during the opponents’ turn), “suppression”. You can also pick the unit you want to fire at. A special ability allows moving units during the opponent’s turn. There’s grenades (one in particular can create a solid object to block an area).

The game is turn-based but it also has an initiative system that may dictate that a player may play twice in a row. So, there’s a lot more happening than you’d first suppose alright. Any action is critical, so the game allows you to undo an action. There’s solo play that you play through several scenarios but also asynchronous multiplayer. The maps are not randomly generated but “only tested and properly balanced maps are available”, said the devs.

Studio Nyx hopes to release Legions of Steel in September 2014 for the iPad and Android. This is one of those games that looks very simple at first look but that after a while, and as you see the available options, it kind of grows on you. I’m not into mobile games myself but I have to say that I was very surprised in a good way about this game. So, if you’re into mobile, and like to go tactical, this could be a sci-fi title worth checking out.

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings

We had our eye on Sovereignty for a while now, a turn-based fantasy strategy game for the PC being developed by The Lordz Games Studio, Illustrious and Gothic Labs. But, we knew very little about it. Well, apart from a long series of delays in production that is. The game combines a strategic layer and a tactical layer and on their webpage, the devs mention different races to play with, heroes, resources, trade routes, a spell tree, diplomacy and turn-based hex based tactical combat.

Looking at the features alone one could think that Sovereignty could be a 4X game. But, it really isn’t. The map is fixed (no randomly generated maps, only different campaigns). There’s no real exploration and only light-research where you progress through a not so big spell tree, which gives you some unique spells per race.

But, what exactly can you do in Sovereignty? To know more about it I asked Lordz Games Studio a few questions about the gameplay. Regarding what the player will be doing in the game when not doing battle, Lordz said that “you move your units around or decide to invest in the spell tree, look at your diplomacy, change your trade routes and send ambassadors”, which are used to smooth relations with a particular nation. But they say that the game is really about war. “It’s like in a grand strategy game, the main purpose of it is to build your armies, build up your economy and go conquer with your units”.

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings | Turn-based fantasy strategy game by Lordz Games Studio

So, there’s these different campaigns all played in the same map, which is fixed. However, some particular aspects of the map change from play to play and Lordz is convinced that there will be a lot of diversity between play sessions which hopefully should provide a high replay value. “The only thing that changes between campaigns is the amount of allies that you have, the composition, position and size of your armies. And, of course you have 35 different realms (between Humans, Elves, Dwarfs, Undead, Orcs and many variations of these) all with different kinds of play styles with all different kinds of special abilities and unique spell trees. But, sometimes your neighbors will grow very powerful very soon and other times they will be more passive. What we wanted to do was to create a world that is never the same”.

Asked if it’s possible to win the game via other means besides warfare, Lordz said there’s the “classic conquer-all campaign” but in other campaigns “you have objectives”, where “you need to be in the economic top list, conquer more provinces, have more money or sometimes you have to have the biggest navy”.

Concerning combat, Lordz explained that battles are fought in turns split between three phases. The first being a deployment phase, followed by the range and melee phases. Heroes seem to play a big role in battles. “You can hire heroes and only heroes can lead armies into battle that you can play”. The non-hero battles are all automated. These armies “can still invade”, but “their battles are always auto-resolved”. Heroes can also be used as battle cards, which can grant you bonuses for each particular battle. For example, “a druid hero gives you 50 nature damage in forest area. Then all the units will be affected”.

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings | Turn-based fantasy strategy game by Lordz Games Studio

Regarding the units themselves, Lordz explained that there’s “infantry, cavalry, artillery and archer type units”. There’s also “naval units” but “some races don’t have it”. Then there’s special units like “unicorns and dragons which can defeat an invading army almost on their own”. Units and heroes level up and gain experience. “When you level up it’s not that you get more stats, you get some special abilities that you can choose from, and they are unique. Long-bow for example grants 5 range, so it’s like artillery. Or, units have better defense, or you can run faster from cavalry for example”, clarified the devs.

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings is still in Alpha with an expected release date set to Q3 2014. My impression is that the game looks quite complex and interesting but it still requires a lot of polishing work before it can be released. And, judging from the consecutive delays it’s hard to tell if they’ll make it this time. But, if you’re a fan of fantasy strategy and if you’re fond of Tolkien’s high-fantasy style, then it probably justifies the waiting for you. Of course, we’ll be following this title and let you know as soon as there are major developments.

Distant Worlds: Universe

I pretty much described all that I could muster at the event about Distant Worlds: Universe release (planned for next Friday) in this post. But, long story short, Distant Worlds: Universe is the 4th expansion pack released for Distant Worlds, Matrix Games’ real-time space 4X game, since the series inception in 2010. Universe will be a standalone package, meaning that it will contain all of the game’s content released so far in one single package.

As for new content over the last expansion, Universe is almost all about modding. The in-game editor and the overall modding support has been overhauled which means that almost everything in the game can be modded with this new release. Aside from the extra modding support, Universe will also bring a new campaign/scenario built with the expansion’s modding capabilities. There’s also access to a few new techs locked until now, like planet destroyers and the Xaraktor virus.

Distant Worlds: Universe | 4th expansion pack to the real-time space 4X game Distant Worlds

It’s unclear if Distant Worlds will yet see another expansion before the devs call it complete. In a past two-part interview on Distant Worlds that we did with Matrix Games, and in many occasions since that, Matrix have mentioned that work on Distant Worlds 2 could start at any time after this 4th expansion is out and it has received its post-support. But when exactly that will happen, or if there will be a 5th expansion in between, it’s still uncertain.

So, for now, if you’re interested to know more about Distant Worlds: Universe pricing, planned discounts and where you can get the game, have a look at this post. We expect to have more on this after the game releases on May 23rd.

Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager

If you played Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space, a turn-based strategy / space program simulator released for the MS-DOS in the 90′s, then you’ll probably be happy to know that Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager is kind of its spiritual successor, and in many ways a proposal to expand on the old game. Now, and as before, Buzz Aldrin himself is involved in the game’s production, acting as a consultant, this time in cooperation with Polar Motion, a young development studio led by Ignacio Liverotti, and Slitherine, acting as publisher. Slitherine has released SPM under its own Early Access program end of last year.

Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager - NASA Space Complex

Chris Salt is our expert in space program simulators. He played a lot of BARIS, and he is now following SPM. Chris has played SPM’s early access build when it was first launched end of last year and has produced a preview and some first impressions, which I invite you to read if you’re interest in knowing more about the game. In Chris’ opinion “the game has a bright future” but he also mentioned the lack of challenge, the absence of multiplayer and the missing campaigns as being major issues with the game at early access launch. So, in order to clarify these points I had a chat with Ignacio to better understand what they plan to do to tackle these issues. And Chris, I think you will be very glad to know that the multiplayer will probably be in because of your complaint! “I think that we got the idea of doing the multiplayer because of your review”, said Ignacio.

Asked about the difficulty level, about the game being too easy in the first early access build, Ignacio explained that the experience back then was “a bit on rails” because the game “forced you to follow on a very fixed path”. So, everything was a bit too linear. You started “with the X-15 and then moved on to Mercury and then Gemini and then Apollo”. He says that they did major changes which started with “a very big update about two months ago” where you can now “start the game and you can open on Apollo right from the very beginning”. Not without a cost though. If you decide to go straight to Apollo “then it will take you ages to develop your spacecraft to an acceptable reliability level. But, once you get there, maybe you have a better change to beat the other guy to the Moon”. So, Ignacio talks about having more strategic options now by allowing you to achieve “generic goals” (e.g. put a man in space or perform a space walk) and you can decide to accomplish those via the Gemini project, or you can go straight to Apollo. This will probably help spice things up a bit with respect to challenge.

Regarding the lack of multiplayer at early access launch, Ignacio confirmed that “we’ll never say that the game is finished unless the multiplayer and the Race to the Moon campaign is done”. Ignacio says that the plan is to keep going with Slitherine’s Early Access “until the game is finished”, which means “the race to the moon campaigns need to be finished in single player, the PBEM needs to be working, and all the little things on the UI need to be fixed”. After that, the plan is to make a proper release. This for the game’s first part anyway, or the first episode, which is the Race to the Moon. Part 2 should be about the International Space Station and part 3 completes the experience with a Trip to Mars. The idea for now is that “part 2 and 3 will be expansions to part 1 but we’re still flirting with the idea of doing a standalone package” for each episode.

Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager | Mission configuration selection

Still on multiplayer, the idea is for players to pick a campaign and then each pick a different agency: Soviet space program or NASA. “We’ll start with the Soviets vs NASA campaign but maybe it makes sense to do a GSA vs GSA campaign? Maybe it could provide some interesting challenges”, added Ignacio. GSA stands for Global Space Agency. The multiplayer will be PBEM (each player plays turns asynchronously). In more detail, “if a player plays with NASA, then the other side will know your movements but that’s how it works in real life, they broadcasted everything in public television. But if you play with the Soviets, then the other side will only know about the successes and not the failures. But, NASA can invest in the public affairs office / intelligence office and basically they can gather information on your movements”. To clarify the different agencies’ gameplay, Ignacio reinforced that “it’s not going to be the same game with a different skin”. Ignacio also said that the Soviet and NASA campaigns should be in only “after the multiplayer is done”.

As for the single player, Ignacio said that they have “campaigns for the three space agencies planned (Soviet, NASA and GSA)”. The campaign for the GSA “is already in for the last few months”. As for the Soviet and NASA campaigns, apparently the plan is to finish those after the multiplayer is done. ” We’ll never declare the game finished unless we have the 3 campaigns in, but we’ll work on multiplayer first and then on the campaigns”.

About the differences between the campaign and the sandbox mode, the other way you can play in single player, Ignacio clarified that “in the sandbox mode there are no objectives. You can try things and then perhaps go to the game’s forums and say: Hey guys, look at what I did!It’s really just for fun”. Then there’s the campaigns. You have a long-term objective, which is “to land a man in the Moon before 1972 or 1973″. But you also have short-term objectives, like you have to accomplish a certain task in a specific time frame. If you complete those, “you get more prestige and more funds”. But, you may or not choose to accomplish them. “The thing is that the short-term objectives are randomly generated. So, one of these objectives might be for example: Make this rocket achieve a reliability of 80%. But, then what happens if you’re not planning to use that rocket? So then you have a short-term objective and that’s where you need to think about your strategies. For the long-term, you need to achieve that no matter what. Because you need to put a man in the moon”.

Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager is currently under Slitherine’s Early Access program with a release date set for October 2014. That is for the game’s part 1, the Race to the Moon. The game will be release for the PC, Mac and iPad.

The Slitherine Group is composed by Slitherine LtdMatrix Games and AGEod. Slitherine Ltd and Matrix Games merged back in 2010. In December of 2012, the group acquired AGEod, a French company founded by Philippe Thibaut (designer of the board game Europa Universalis). The Slitherine Group specializes in publishing and developing wargames and strategy games. Recently, they’ve been expanding on their science fiction and fantasy strategy collection, so we’ve been keeping an eye on what they’re doing and what to expect from them in the near future.

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14 Comments


  1. Zero says:

    Hardcore 40k game based on Panzer General sounds great.

    • Mark says:

      It does sound interesting. I wish the subject material was a little less wacky though. Warhammer is about as hardcore as Samurai Space Bears.

      • Boris says:

        Hmmm, from your comment I can surmise:

        a) you’re very young, and therefore have been completely insulated from Games Workshop all your life
        b) you are older, but you had a deprived childhood, never being exposed to Games Workshop, and so thus arrive late to the party
        c) you’re not British, as most males born from the 80′s onward in the UK would have some rudimentary knowledge of Games Workshop
        d) you’ve never played Dawn of War… only one of the best sci-fi RTS on the pc… which means any of a) b) and c) may also apply
        e) you are a female, named Mark, who played more with My Little Pony than GW products
        f) you’re a heretic, in which case The Inquisition will be with you soon, but taking into account all of the above that probably means nothing and thus Exterminatus for your planet may be necessary

        That is all.

        • Mark says:

          Not bad Sherlock but I think category f) applies the best. I can stomach pure space fantasy – like Warhammer – in small doses but I definitely prefer hard SF or contemporary settings. Guess I’ll be preparing myself for the inquisition’s imminent arrival.

        • Boris says:

          @Mark

          Oh, as you’re being so nice about it why don’t you have a nice cup of tea and dunk some malted milk biscuits whilst you wait. Won’t be long.

          P.S. don’t dunk those MM for too long, there is a saturation point for peak-MM flavour and once you pass it the experience is not quite the same.

    • Rick says:

      I take it you missed out on playing 40k Rites of War in the 90′s…

      • Grofaz says:

        BTW…Warhammer (Medieval Fantasy) and Warhammer 40,000 (aka Warhammer 40K Futuristic Military SciFi) are two different universe’.

        Samurai Space Bears? jaja, funny…not…

        The Emperor is not pleased.

        • Mark says:

          Different settings but one is medieval fantasy, the other is space fantasy. The key-word here is fantasy, not hardcore SF or war simulation.

  2. Gary says:

    I’m looking forward to Distant Worlds: Universe in two days :)

  3. Keith Turner says:

    Thanks for getting those questions answered at the conference.

    My familiarity with the Warhammer 40k lore and setting comes from the Dawn of War series, the Space Marine third person game, and Space Hulk, though I’ve read some of the wiki history as well.

    I like the fact that they are planning to have units with special abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. I was a bit worried the units would feel too similar to one another and it sounds like they are taking steps to avoid that. I also like the idea of army customization, though I’ll have to see how that works before I can judge. I’m not sure the game itself will have the depth I’m hoping for, but if it is fun and thematic I can see myself enjoying it.

    Regarding Sovereignty, while it is somewhat disappointing to hear about the fixed maps, it’s not a deal breaker. I’ve played my fair share of fixed map scenario games before, and it is quite possible for every game to still play out very differently. Good historical strategy games often play out this way. It sounds like they are keeping replay value and diversity in mind based on their comments. I’m not sure what to make of their combat system yet. I’ll have to just see how it plays out.

    I’m intrigued by both and feel like I want to see them in action.

  4. Clark Browning says:

    I am one of the original designers of Legions of Steel. Thanks for sharing information about the upcoming release of the computerized version of the game. Romain and his crew at Nyx have worked tirelessly to faithfully reproduce the board game for a tablet platform.

    The game has a particular flavour to it as I was a sergeant with the Canadian Military Engineers. In fact, many of the hardcore fans who still play the game 20 years after its initial release are either active or retired soldiers.

    Sincerely,

    Clark Browning

  5. Karry says:

    >Questioned about how big of a role the theme of Warhammer 40K is going to have in the game, Lordz Games Studio said that the game is “very faithful to the theme and lore”

    Well, that is unfortunate. I always dread getting into titles which universes have extremely hardcore fanboys, like Warhammer or Battletech. What this means in practice is that many things will be really obscure because tradition, and for asking a question on a forum about it i will inevitably get several replies like “NO, you retarded noob, those are LRM-Beta267a, and they do 7.1 points of damage when it’s raining on tuesdays, not 7 !!” It’s really not worth the time to try and catch on with decades worth of lore from scratch.

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