Category Archives: gaming

How Good is Dr. Amen’s BrainFitLife?

Introduction

I’m a fan of Dr. Daniel Amen. I’ve read several of his books and think his ideas about SPECT scans fascinating – if controversial. I appreciate the way he tries to determine exactly what is causing specific mental conditions to refine treatment methods and also his use of non-medicinal and alternative medicine options for treatment.

In a recent email newsletter there was something about his Brain Life Fit program – I wish I had kept the email. It sounded like a new and revolutionary program for brain health – and I wanted to try it (of course).

I’m already a paying Lumosity customer – but I respect Dr. Amen’s work and it sounded like a much more comprehensive program than what Dr. Amen offered. Here are my observations on Brain Fit Life, especially in comparison to Lumosity.

BrainFitLife compares itself to Lumosity, CogniFit, and FitBrains - thinks it is the best. Is it?
BrainFitLife compares itself to Lumosity, CogniFit, and FitBrains – thinks it is the best. Is it?

Complicated Sign Up

The process started off easily enjoy, I clicked Join Now on the BrainFitLife site, but was soon transferred over to the MindWorks store on the Amen Clinics site. If I didn’t already have an account with MindWorks (I did) I would have had to create one. I had to order BrainFitLife through the MindWorks store.

Once I completed the purchase I received an email with a link to setup my BrainFitLife account. This account uses a separate username and password from the MindWorks account – so for anyone who is totally new to Amen Clinics, you have to setup two accounts just to get started.

Inferior Design

I really wanted to like BrainFitLife, but I’m afraid there is more bad news. During the signup process there are several places where one is invited to click on a link but no link exists. Further there are a number of grammatical and spelling errors – this does not represent the level of professionalism I expect from an organization as prestigious as the Amen Clinics.

The Dashboard

BrainFitLife’s Dashboard is called (confusingly) “My Homepage Journal.” It is somewhat aesthetically pleasing (the My Anchor Images ruins it for me) but is overwhelming with the number of icons. On the left-hand side one can choose from different sections of the site – and to the right are icons for tracking various aspects of your health. All of these icons are designed using the same basic pattern and colors – this makes it confusing whether the icons on the left are for different functions than the icons on the right (they are).

Assess My Brain

That is okay though – if the content is really good I can plod through a complicated sign up process, inferior design, and a confusing dashboard. Let’s try Assessing My Brain. This is where the site stands out a little – it allows you to take an assessment which then tells you what sort of brain it thinks you have – based on Dr. Amen’s methodology (see his books to understand more about this methodology). I have a “Impulsive, Compulsive, Sad, Anxious” brain – boy, doesn’t that sound cheerful and optimistic?

The Assessment also looks at brain health (e.g. memory, focus, impulse control) and then generates a customized plan based on your specific brain type, strengths, and weaknesses.

It gives you a list of recommended brain training games, recommended exercises, and recommended supplements. That is pretty nifty. In comparison, Lumosity doesn’t offer an analysis of your brain type – they are focused solely on strengths/weaknesses of your brain – not mental illness. Lumosity also doesn’t offer recommendations of exercises or supplements.

Design Issue:

  • If you click on a recommended game it takes you to the games page – a list of games – but not to the specific game you clicked on.

Know My Motivation

In the Know My Motivation section I can add “anchor images” – visual reminders of what matters to me. These are the images that show up on the dashboard I mentioned previously. Its a nifty idea – though the implementation on the dashboard is sub-optimal. Images can be much more powerful than words.

Then there are a number of forms to fill out, “5 Results from Being Healthy,” “5 Results from Being Unhealthy,” “5 People or Places that Support Being Healthy,” “5 People or Places that Support an Unhealthy Life,” and “Future of My Life.” This is a good process to work through – what matters, why it matters, what helps/hurts, and what we want out of life – but the presentation is quite simplistic and not much of a value-add. You can find pen and paper worksheets that provide similar processes and Simpleology offers a better implementation of the goals concept.

There is another “tab” called “One Page Miracle” – sounds pretty awesome…but it is basically another pen and paper form that talks about different life areas – children, grandchildren, significant other, other family members, brain, physical, spirituality, interest, work, finances, and friends. Hope you read the instructions at some earlier point – b/c there aren’t any now! Gahh! Once again, very simple functionality. I’d like to see Simpleology implement something similar.

Know My Numbers

In this section Dr. Amen suggests that you should know a number of values regarding your body and have them regularly updated – this is something he talks about in his books as well. I think it is a great idea – but he doesn’t say how to accomplish this. I would recommend WellnessFX and think a partnership with them would make great sense for Dr. Amen.

They make it simple and affordable to get your blood drawn and tested almost anywhere in the United States. They provide results and analysis via a web-based interface and also can provide personalized, live coaching regarding your results and recommended changes in your regimen.

They also track almost all of these “numbers” automatically – so why waste time reentering them?

I’d love to see Lumosity integrate with WellnessFX as well and provide charting of how these numbers correlate with brain performance.

Train My Brain

Ack! This page hurts my eyes! I recommend the designers go take a look at Lumosity’s site, it is so much more aesthetically pleasing…but I can overcome aesthetic issues if the product is good enough, how are the train my brain games?

Hmmm…Inferior. Well, at least they feel inferior. They are not as refined as Lumosity’s games, there isn’t as much explanation as to how the game helps your brain, and honestly, I have high doubts about the effectiveness of some of the games. With Lumosity you can feel your brain stretching – with some of these games (e.g. shooting a target with an arrow and adjusting for wind issues) I have a hard time believing it is doing anything for my brain health.

Another example is one of the thoughts for training your mind to think more positively. It shows up bubbles with words in them – some words are positive, others are negative – you are supposed to click on the positive ones and let the negative ones fall…I really can’t see this beign a big help.

They do have “games” in several areas that Lumosity does not – and these are interesting, though their functionality can be reproduced by other web applications and processes – many freely available. For example they have games whereby one can engage in relaxation techniques, but you could also use the free Calm.com service.

Grammatical Issues:

  • “the more the use it”
  • “selected for just for you and play one now”

Design Issues:

  • Once a game has completed your only option is to play again – there should be an exit option.

  • The names of the games are extremely uncreative, “e-Think Focus” or “e-Motion Faces.” Yes, everything is electronic – I am running this on a computer – which is electronic. I mean, e-Motion faces is a little cute, but all the games I looked at are practically name in this same exact manner – and most don’t have the cute factor – e.g. e-Think Focus – nothing cute or really informative there.

  • There are images associated with each game – they are clickable, but clicking on them does nothing. You have to click a separate button underneath the game to play it or learn more about it.

Train My Body

But there is more! Maybe the Train My Body section will set Lumosity in it’s place? I mean, Lumosity doesn’t have anything for physical training. Unfortunately, no.

This section has a few links to PDF articles with basic exercise instructions and a few blog articles. I wasn’t impressed.

Then there is the “Workout Log/Plan” – which really seems to be a workout log, not a workout plan. As far as I can tell you can set up a “plan” for a single day – but have to recreate the plan every following day – and can’t set up future days in advance.

The workout log is fairly basic. I’d recommend Noom as a free alternative that runs on your smartphone or, if you want to invest a few bucks, get a Fitbit – its workout tracking is pretty sweet.

Change My Thoughts

A basic method of reprogramming one’s brain to be more optimistic/positive is recognizing and countering Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). This portion of the site provides a very basic, simple workflow that takes you through the process of identifying your ANT, choosing a response to the ANT, etc. Again, can be replicated very easily with pen and paper. If I’m trying to help someone get the most bang for their buck, I’d much rather that they bought David Burn’s Feeling Good which provides a self-help manual of sorts based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with lots of helpful worksheets.

Design Issue:

  • The tool returns results like, “Guilt is generally not a helpful emotion. It often backfires and can be counterproductive to your goals. The problem is that when we feel pushed or guilted into doing things our natural tendency is to push back. It?s better to replace ?guilt beating? with phrases like ?I want to do this,? or, ?It fits with my goals to do that. ?” This occurs when one uses an unsupported font and is a rookie design mistake. If the correct font is used these question marks should appear as single or double quotation marks.

Take My Supplements

I like that Dr. Amen recommends supplements for me. I can figure out what supplements I should be taking using his book – but that is a bit complex and time consuming. The web application does it all for me.

Let’s see what Dr. Amen recommends for me:

Supplement

Price for One Month Supply

Components

Everyday Stress Relief

$50.95

Magnesium 30 mg, Relora 750 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, Holy Basil Extract 600 mg[1]

Focus and Energy Optimizer

$39.95

Green Tea 600 mg, Ashwagandha 250 mg, Rhodiola Rosea Extract 200 mg, Panax Ginseng Extract 200 mg, Choline 55 mg[2]

Omega 3 Power

$24.95

Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids 1600 mg, EPA 850 mg, DHA 575 mg, Other 175 mg

NeuroVite Plus

$49.95

Vitamin A 5000 IU, C 200 mg, D-3 2000 IU, E 70 IU, K-2 45 mcg, B1 15 mg, B2 17 mg, B3 50 mg, B5 50 mg, B6 20 mg, Folic Acid 400 mcg, B12 500 mcg, Calcium 50 mg, Iodine 75 mcg, Magnesium 50 mg, Zinc 7.5 mg, Selenium 200 mcg, Copper 1 mg, Manganese 5 mg, Chromium 200 mcg, Molybdenum 50 mcg, Biotin 300 mcg, Choline 55 mg, Vanadium 25 mcg, Lycopene 3 mg, Lutein 3 mg, Quercetin 30 mg, Choline Bitartrate 55 mg, Broccoli Sprout Powder 50 mg, Hesperidin Complex 20 mg, Trans-Resveratrol 10 mg, Pterostilbene 20 mcg, Proprietary Fruit and Vegetable Blend 140 mg, Proprietary Brain Boosting Blend 575 mg, Full Spectrum Digestive Enzyme Blend 30 mg.

Vitamin D

$9.95[3]

Vitamin D-3 1000 IU.

SAMe Mood & Movement

$34.95

S-Adenosylmethionine 200 mg.

Serotonin Mood Support

$44.95

Vitamin B6 20 mg, Inositol 1000 mg, Saffron Extract 176.5 mg, 5-Hydroxytryptophan 100 mg.

Total Cost:

$255.65

$217.03 (after 15% BrainFitLife member discount)

 

Ouch! That is a lot of money! Over $200/mo. on vitamins? Well, you can’t put a price on health – right? What if the health you get is way more expensive than similar health someone else gets? Hmmm…I don’t like that. It seems to me there is a pretty huge markup on these vitamins.

Lets take a look at just one example – the Omega-3 supplement. It costs $24.95/mo. through MindWorks. I use Coromega, which is a tasty, yogurt-like ketchup-sized packet and pay $25.09 for a three month supply (wow, three months for the same price as one of Dr. Amen’s Omega-3?!).

But what about the ingredients? Here is a comparison:

Ingredient:

Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids

EPA

DHA

Other

Dr. Amen:

1600 mg

850 mg

575 mg

175 mg

Coromega:

2000 mg

350 mg

230 mg

650 mg

So, Dr. Amen’s are more potent – but if I take two Coromega per day, I still end up getting 1.5 months supply to every 1 months supply of Dr. Amen’s – and personally, I think Coromega’s form has better absorption than pills and doesn’t cause fish burps (and actually tastes good!).

I appreciate the breakdown of recommended supplements – but I can’t see myself buying them through MindWorks.

Eat Right to Think Right

Once again, not very impressed. Some blog articles and videos. All the blog articles and videos appear to be freely available via the BrainFitLife – so a subscription isn’t needed.

But there is a Meal Planner – errr, make that a meal logger? I don’t really see how it helps me plan meals (at least not more than a day in advance). It also has an incredibly small “library” or foods. I’d recommend Noom or Fitbit over this Meal Logger any day.

They do have a number of healthy recipes – and that is cool – and they include nutritional values – which is even cooler – but they are also freely available via the blog. The formatting of the recipes is nice – includes instructions, nutritional values, ingredients, and an appetizing photo of said food.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to hide steps you’ve completed – for example, there is a “Meet Tana Your Nutrition Coach” which once clicked leads you to a blog article. Great – now I know Tana – but I really don’t need to see a link to getting to know her every time I visit Eat to Think Right.

One other annoyance is that the blog posts reference all sorts of studies but then don’t provide any citation information. I don’t doubt that what Dr. Amen and Tana Amen are saying is true – but I’d like to know what the original studies/sources are so I can read up on the topic further!

Grammatical and Spelling Issues:

Design Issues:

Soothe My Stress

The Soothe My Stress section includes a few games – for example ones that help you practice relaxation techniques. This is one of the more unique and impressive areas of BrainFitLife – but not nearly enough to convince me to pay up. It also contains a number of meditative/hypnotic audio videos – but you can find similar videos across the web for free (see, e.g. Calm.com).

Break My Barriers, Cravings and Addictions

Ooh, I want to see what this section contains! I have an addictive personality – I’ve struggled all my life with sugar consumption, sometimes binge on TV, etc. There are three short videos – less than 20 minutes combined – and that is it. Bummer.

Get Better Together

There is a community aspect to the site – but I’m not sure what software they are using to power it, but it seems pretty basic. It allows for status updates, forums, live chats, and calendaring – but I don’t see notification options or other essential features.

On the positive side, there are live coaches who monitor the site and perform regular live coaching sessions…I’ve never been too big on them though.

Trackers

Trackers are cool. They let you track all sorts of things – mood, sleep, focus, energy, anxiety, cravings, memory, motivation, and so on. The implementation on BrainFitLife is fairly basic. If you have a Fitbit, it includes much more robust tracking…or you can try a free service like Trackthisfor.me. MedHelp also had fairly robust tracking tools for free. I do like the idea behind the “gratitude” tracker – which is a little different in that one doesn’t just keep track of numeric values but actual items one is thankful for.

Other Observations

  • There are a number of videos featuring Dr. Amen throughout, these are neat and informative and short (which I like) but the videos are poor quality (the way they were resized causes rough edges on whatever is on the screen – e.g. Dr. Amen). Dr. Amen is very expressive in the videos (lots of hand motions) – a little more expressive than I’d suggest, but to each his own.

  • There is a very simple but helpful help overlay when you first login…unfortunately if you click on Get Help later you get that same basic overlay – at least if you click on it on the Dashboard page. On some other pages (e.g. Change My Thoughts), clicking on it does nothing but reload the page.

  • It is neat that they have an option to receive SMS (text message) reminders at specific times to remind you to do certain tasks (e.g. update trackers, take supplements).

  • The “Manage My Account” link takes you out of BrainFitLife and back to MindWorks which is annoying.

  • In some places under Quick Links there are two “My Brain Type” links – they lead to separate places but share the same name – quite confusing.

Pricing

BrainFitLife is too expensive ($8.25/mo.) for what it offers. It claims this is a reduced rate from the normal $29.95/mo. – which is either a price they never plan to charge (but makes it look like a must-get-now value) or it is an outrageous charge.

Conclusion

BrainFitLife is a great idea, but a poor implementation. Lumosity is a definite keeper.

I don’t know why this happens but I notice that oftentimes as an organization/personality grows bigger the quality of the product decreases. I’ve felt similarly about some of John Maxwell’s materials. I’m not sure if it is the need to turn out a constant line of new products/services to keep income flowing, too little time, too wide spread of a focus, or what – but I hate to see it. One ends up with a lot of half-baked products/services from someone folks trust to provide them only with the best. This is a real bummer – I’d encourage folks to do less better.

I hope Dr. Amen will take this as constructive criticism and ramp up his endeavors with BrainFitLife. It has real potential – but it isn’t there yet. I’d suggest expanding the development and design teams and acquiring some other businesses or at least partnering with them to integrate their functionality. I mentioned some great places to start – e.g. WellnessFX, Noom, Fitbit, Simpleology, Trackthisfor.me, and even Lumosity!

  1. [1]Now Foods True Calm Amino Relaxer has Niacin 45 mg, Vitamin B-6 8 mg, Magnesium 13 mg, GABA 200 mg, Glycine 200 mg, Taurine 200 mg, Inositol 100 mg, Valerian 25 mg. It includes three months supply and costs $8.04 on Amazon. Now Foods offers a Holy Basil Extract product with three months supply at 500 mg for $12.07 on Amazon. A four month supply of Relora from Now Foods on Amazon is $18.90 with each capsule containing 300 mg. Finally, a two month supply of L-Theanine from the same on Amazon is $16.46 and has 200 mg per capsule. I’m not going to spend the time doing the math – but it should be pretty evident that this supplement seems exorbitantly more expensive than a similar mix from retail.
  2. [2]NOW Foods has Green Tea Extract, 250 pills, for $12.99; Ashwagandha, 90 pills, with 450 mg, for $11.46; Rhodiola, 60 pills, 500 mg, for $9.99; Panax Ginseng, 250 pills, 500 mg, for $18.02. You get the idea.
  3. [3]This is for 100 tablets.

How’s That Brain Working? (Lumosity)

Last year, on November 29th I wrote a review of Lumosity, a brain training/exercise web-based program that uses games to increase brain power. Its been around two months and I figured it was time to give everyone an update on how Lumosity is going…

Score For Nov. 23rd Nov. 29th Jan. 28th Percentile
Brain Performance Index (BPI) 744 889 1177 69.2 (75)
Speed 368 861 1151 52.3 (60.7)
Memory 621 787 1202 58.2 (69.3)
Attention 782 776 1199 68.5 (75.7)
Flexibility 847 1181 1362 87.2 (89.9)
Problem Solving 1026 844 971 59.9 (61.5)

The first column explains what score this is – e.g. BPI is overall brain power, which each of the remaining items is a specific type of brain power. The dates represent when the brain power numbers are pulled from. The BPI reflects my percentile compared to all other users of Lumosity in my age bracket – so, for instance, my over brain performance index is higher than 69.2% of Lumosity’s users within my age bracket.

This is a screen capture of my Lumosity training History (Summary View) from Jan. 28th. It shows which days I've been using Lumosity, how many games I've been playing, in what areas I've been playing the games, and so on.
This is a screen capture of my Lumosity training History (Summary View) from Jan. 28th. It shows which days I’ve been using Lumosity, how many games I’ve been playing, in what areas I’ve been playing the games, and so on.

I’ve actually moved into a new age bracket (30-34), but I’ve included the percentiles from 25-29 first since this was what I was using when I created the last post. The numbers within parentheses are the percentiles for my current age bracket.

I should note that I’ve been a bit of a slacker recently. I missed an entire week of Lumosity, only did four days last week and have done three thus far this week – I’m trying to be more regular with it. I don’t remember what was going on in my life, but it seems like something which drew me away from Lumosity. Ohh well. The biggest takeaway is that my scores would probably be higher if I had been using Lumosity daily.

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with Lumosity. I hate a few of the games (though I love most of them), though I’ve found if I’m willing to stick with them, after repeatedly beating my head against the monitor I eventually develop competency in them – though usually not until after I’m convinced I’ll never improve in them.

For example, with the Penguin game (which still drives me nuts) I could originally only make it through 5-6 levels, now I can make it through 13…and the pinball game I could originally only do 3-4 levels and today I reached 11. Mainly the games that have to do with memory frustrate me – I enjoy the attention, speed, etc. games.

I think its worth the cash outlay and hope you’ll join me in using Lumosity – then we can compare scores! 😉

Next-Gen Gaming Comparisons: Wii U, Xbox One or PS4?

Guest Post: This post was authority by Sharon Martin, a tech maven who spends half the year in Japan working on mobile technology. When she is not changing the tech world, she spends her time freelancing.

Introduction

As major players in the gaming industry release next-generation systems, avid gamers may find themselves struggling with where their loyalty lies. Nintendo has already released the Wii U, while the PS4 and Xbox One are both on the horizon. Innovative features continue to define each console as better than the other. And the concern over accessing and sharing games because of next-gen console restrictions has gamers possibly shifting their brand and console loyalty. How do Wii U, Xbox One and PS4 measure up against one another?

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org.
Photo: commons.wikimedia.org.

Wii U

The Wii U was released in November 2012 and it’s backwards compatible with its predecessor, Nintendo Wii. The system offers two ways to access games — from the Wii Virtual Console or using traditional Wii disks. Wii U is synonymous for timeless, popular Nintendo-exclusive games, such as “Mario,” “Animal Crossing” and “Legend of Zelda.” Many dedicated gamers are concerned that fewer games for more mature audiences will be released for this system.

Xbox One

Xbox one follows in the footsteps of Xbox 360 by Microsoft. The highly anticipated and most expensive gaming system for Microsoft is scheduled for release in November 2013, just in time for the holidays. While there is excitement about the console, game accessibility is a major concern for customers. Initial reports show that games would be saved to a single console, essentially killing the market for game rentals and game sharing. The company has announced that many popular titles will be available, including “Skylanders,” “Final Fantasy XV,” and “Call of Duty: Ghosts” — the next entry in the popular Call of Duty franchise by Bobby Kotick, founder of the non-profit organization The Call of Duty Endowment.

PS4

Sony has always prided its’ Playstation game systems for superior graphics and an extensive, exclusive lineup of games. The Playstation 4 is expected to be a worthy successor to the popular Playstation 3 system. Titles rumored to be available include “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” “Lego Marvel Super Heroes,” “Just Dance 2014,” and “DC Heroes Online.”

Game Comparison / Review: Commander: The Great War and Strategic Command World War I.

Men at the recruiting office at the Town Hall
Men at the recruiting office at the Town Hall, Melbourne, to enlist for service in World War I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the distinct pleasure of being a beta tester for Slitherine and The Lordz Games Studio for Commander: The Great War.[1]

I thought it would be a worthwhile undertaking to not only offer up a review of Commander: The Great War but also a comparison and contrast with Fury Software’s and Battlefront‘s Strategic Command: World War I. Let me begin by noting that both games are high quality and provide a lot of hours of entertaining gaming. If you can afford both – I recommend both…but if you can’t, or if you prefer a certain type of game, I hope this article will help you make an informed purchasing decision.

A High-Level Overview

Both Commander: The Great War and Strategic Command: World War I are historical, turn-based strategic simulations of World War I. As such, this usually means less graphical dazzle and more substantive gameplay – and neither disappoints on this front…in fact, the graphics in both games are beautifully rendered.

Commander: The Great War has a bit of “beer and pretzels”[2] feel to it. I do not mean “beer and pretzels” as an insult but rather to simply note the type of game. I personally prefer games which have a bit of “beer and pretzels” feel to them – so I don’t spend my entire life attempting to complete one game!

Replayability

Commander: The Great War Screenshot

Commander: The Great War includes several scenarios which allow you to start at various points during the war – but they are all on the same map and essentially the same game from different points in time. In contrast, Strategic Command offers several different scenarios which in addition to allowing one to play through the war at various points also allow one to play different scenarios which occur on different maps – sometimes at the operational level, etc. instead of strategic. Because of this SC has a much greater amount of replayability than Commander: The Great War. Still, one should derive many hours of gaming from Commander.

Depth

Commander: The Great War’s gameplay is fairly straightforward and without a lot of nuances. You’ll recruit units, research technologies, declare war, fight naval battles, and so on. Strategic Command has much greater depth. Throughout the game one is prompted to make decisions about various scenarios (e.g. send a unit to the Baltic or the Adriatic? support an uprising in Ireland?) and the diplomatic abilities are greater – going beyond just declaring war.

I own Fury / Battlefront’s Strategic Command WWI (and Breakthrough), so how does Commander: The Great War stack up? I’d say Fury’s game is a bit deeper and more challenging, but that Commander: The Great War is more satisfactory as a beers and pretzels wargame Fury’s game also has more replay-ability – the scenarios available are truly different, whereas The Great War’s are all on the same map just beginning in different years.

Historical Depth

I play historical wargames in large part as an educational experience. The games teach me geography, historical events, the names and types of units, who leaders of various units where and so on. On this front Commander is somewhat disappointing with minimal historical events and generic names for units. Strategic Command is much more satisfying.

Gameplay

Commander excels in its speed. SC kills me with how long it takes the AI to execute its turn, each and every turn. By comparison, Commander is straightforward and quick. I haven’t played the games enough to compare the AI capabilities, but Commander is much more enjoyable if you want a fast-paced game.

In addition, Commander’s user interface has some small but beautiful enhancements over SC’s interface. For example, one can go into “repair mode” and repair multiple units with a simple click – no right clicking and selecting max and okay for each and every unit!

Commander also features an event summary at the end of each turn – something which I’ve been asking for since Strategic Command 2 initially came out and which, sadly, SC still lacks!

So Which Game?

It may seem a straightforward choice: Strategic Command wins on most fronts. But, it really depends on the sort of game you are looking for. If you want something fast-paced, go with Commander – if you are looking for more depth and historical events – go with Strategic Command. If you are a new gamer, go with Commander – if you are an experienced gamer choose Strategic Command.

Whichever game you purchase, I doubt you’ll regret it!

A Suggestion to the Developers / Distributors

Ohh, and on another note which I will perhaps write about more fully at some point in the future…I’d like to suggest to companies like Matrix Games and Slitherine that they consider pricing their games differently. Sure, $40 for a game ensures that fewer copies will generate a larger profit, but I’m pretty sure that if you took the games down to say $10/ea. or even $20/ea. the sales would increase exponentially – resulting in greater profitability in the long run. Think Minecraft!

  1. [1]This isn’t my first gig beta testing…nor is it my first tour with Slitherine, I’ve previously beta tested Legion: Arena for Slitherine and was also a beta tester for People’s Tactics. If you want me to beta test a game you are working on, I’m always looking for opportunities.
  2. [2]Personally, I don’t drink beer…I think it tastes like urine. I’m using the colloquial term I hope gamers in this segment are familiar with.

FitBall is Pretty Awesome.

I’m not a big fan of Windows 8 (though I’m writing this post on it) and I’m not a big fan of exercise apps (e.g. Wii Fit), I find them too boring. But today in one of those select moments when I felt energetic b/c my auto-immune issues weren’t weighing me down I downloaded this game from the Windows Store called FitBall – and it is pretty awesome.

Now it doesn’t need to run on Windows 8. It looks like they built it for Windows 8 Metro, so maybe that is all it runs on, but it could be made to run on older Windows versions if the developers wanted to.

Essentially balls appear on the screen and you attempt to blow them up before they disappear – using your body. This uses your laptop’s webcam and then maps your movements against the locations of the balls. I almost broke a sweat playing through twice. Below you can see a photo of the augmented reality it creates – I’m real and the exploding balls are not…not vice versa (I know some people might get a little confused).

Where this is really exciting is in the potential for games that can be first person shooters and so on. It was always so frustrating when you got shot b/c your guy didn’t duck right, “Awww, I totally wouldn’t ducked before that.” Well, using this method one could…

Newsweek Writes Sensational Stories to Sell Magazines?

Battles in Medieval: Total War
Battles in Medieval: Total War can have thousands of men on a single battlefield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charity sent in a donation to NPR, which we both enjoy, and as a thank you gift they gave us a subscription to Newsweek. We had unsubscribed from Newsweek some time ago due to the rapidly decreasing quality of the content…but I figured I’d take another browse. The new magazine is certainly lighter and the articles are shorter…I’m wondering other than the fact that it finds its way into my mailbox why I’d want to read anything in it more than the high-quality articles found across the blogosphere.

Fast forward to June 18th, 2012 issue and the article “Zombie Apocalypse” by Tony Dokoupil. The sub-title, “Could the Internet bring on a face-eating epidemic?” If you would, allow me to dissect this article and its horrible atrocity against good reporting. Mr. Dokoupil, I trust you are able to write articles of much higher quality than this, and I am saddened that I need even write a response to such an article.

The Internet Makes Us Psychotic

Using reports from Susan Greenfield and Will Self the article suggests that psychosis is fostered by internet use. A brief statement at the end of the paragraph pushes us back to reality, “Does the Internet cause insanity? No. But for some vulnerable souls, it may excite their already destructive states of mind.” But the entire paragraph pushes us towards the conclusion that if internet use in itself doesn’t foster psychosis, it at least increases the risk of violent behavior by individuals with psychotic symptoms.

I would suggest a more balanced paragraph might have explained that researched is currently being done to explore how the internet affects the brain. There is some consensus that it does affect our brains – but there is little consensus at this juncture on whether these effects are positive or negative.

For example, individuals no longer need to remember as much content – b/c content can be easily discovered using Google and similar services. This is similar to the decrease in content requirements which would have occurred with the availability of books, where previously entire books were memorized on occasion to retain the content.

One could say the lack of content knowledge is a detriment – but perhaps (and I think it is) being counter-balanced by increases in critical and analytical thinking skills – e.g. intuitive problem solving abilities.

Rocco Magnotta – Social-Media “Whore”

The article continues on, drawing connections between Rocco Magnotta’s cannibalism and his extreme social media usage. I would suggest his extreme social media usage was likely caused by extreme feelings of isolation, depression, low self-esteem, or so on. That is, the social media extremism (over-utilization) was a result of his issues rather than the cause of the issues. He may have found himself unable to secure the attention he desired through regular interactions on social media (as he had already found himself unable to achieve via “real life interactions”) and thus saw the need to escalate to increasingly violent actions in order to secure attention and increase his self-perception of being unique and valuable.

One could argue that the social media use may have delayed his violent actions. When he was no longer able to secure the necessary boost to self-esteem in real life he shifted to virtual life – and this worked for a while…but since the issue in these cases is essentially the individual’s own self-perception rather than external individual’s provision of appropriate affirmation, he would and did encounter a time when social media was not adequate for boosting his self-perception, and thus the movement to cannibalism.

Anders Behring Breivik – World of Warcraft

Then there is the instance of Anders, the now infamous Norwegian who killed seventy-seven people. Dokoupil writes that he performed “…daily training on the shooting game World of Warcraft…” I don’t play World of Warcraft (WoW), but I do know that it is not a “shooting game” in the sense most people conceptualize shooting games. It is a MMORPG (massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game)…as such it focuses on challenges, adventures, roles, interactions, plot development, and yes – combat. But the combat is not primarily “shooting” and certainly not in the modern sense one intuits (guns). A true shooting game would be Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, Halo, and so on.

I don’t know whether Anders virtual and real lives fused – though I suppose this is possible. I once had a childhood friend who could not distinguish between realities…but he didn’t kill anyone over it. That said, if he did fuse realities, I would have expected Anders to have dressed up in medieval outfits and used a more primeval weapon to murder…which in this case would have been advantageous, since he certainly wouldn’t have been able to kill seventy-seven people with a low-tech weapon like he did with a GUN.

Violence in Video Games

I don’t play a lot of video games. When I do play video games they are almost always turn-based war games simulating historical time-periods. I enjoy recreating historical experiences and consider the games a learning experience as well as relaxing and entertaining. Ask me how I know more about the geography of the world than your average joe and I’ll report it was due to an old game called Empires. Ask me how I know about the geography of Europe, the Middle East, the United States – I’d say various World War II games, Medieval: Total War, and various Civil War games. Ask me how I know the names of commanders, of ancient weapons, about when clocks where invented or how horrible the devastation of the black plague was and I’ll reply in the same manner. Of course, I’ve also ready a LOT, but games help me “memorize” locations, situations, and so on in ways that a text alone can’t.

Sorry, ran off on a bit of a rabbit trail there – back to violence in video games. I’m not a fan of violent portrayals in video games. I find it disturbing that some games are created to allow individuals to play as the “bad guys” – and I don’t mean an anti-hero, but real “bad guys” doing really bad actions – raping, torturing, and graphically murdering. I don’t think there needs to be nearly the level of violence in video games in general as there is…imho, the attraction to video games is the challenge rather than the graphics (ala Minecraft’s success).

But, I’d also suggest that we don’t have a firm cause-effect link between what people play (in video games) and how they act in real life. I’d suggest that there are probably stronger corollaries between parental attention to children and their life actions. Sure, kids may play extremely violent video games, but I have to ask, where are the parents in the first place? Why is the child sitting inside playing video games all day anyways?

Conclusion

This article lacks merit and spreads FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt)….something we definitely don’t need. I’d suggest that publishers and reporters need to take a deep look inside themselves and ponder, “Am what I’m publishing and writing going to cause a zombie apocalypse?” Yeah, I don’t think it will either…but perhaps it is more likely than the internet or video games!

P.S.

I do support ESRB ratings on video games and offering similar penalties as for selling cigarettes to individuals who sell underage individuals high-maturity ESRB rated games.

I am open to other ways in which we can curb the use or overuse of the internet and violent video games by children and teenagers while maintaining individual freedom and constitutional rights.

Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day (Android Phone Games)

Angry Birds? Who cares. Tetris? Blahh. Minesweeper? Please. Solitaire? Okay. I’m pretty specific in my gaming tastes. I like historical computer wargames. No, not that RTS-stuff “who-can-click” faster genre, but the real stuff that emphasizes mind over eye-finger response time. While there are some exceptions (e.g. the Total War series), I’m generally a fan of turn-based strategical or tactical war games.

There is a fair plethora of these games available for the PC – though still a lack in comparison to the games available in most other genres…but when it comes to mobile games for use on one’s phone…well, until recently you were out of luck. But then came along Joni Nuutinen with two games in quick succession which have single-handedly turned the corner for Android strategy gaming: Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day.

While these games are World War II (a historical period I find to be heavily over-simulated), a wargamer can’t be picky when there is nothing else available in the field. Nuutinen has created an intuitive yet challenging series of games on what appears to be a similar engine and this gives me great hope that over time there will be additional releases in the series and perhaps even in other historical eras.

In Operation Barbarossa one takes command of German forces as they launch the initial invasion into Soviet Russia during World War II. One is able to command a variety of units including reconnaissance groups (able to extend line-of-sight), air fleets (able to bombard enemy units), infantry, special forces (e.g. Waffen-SS), tanks, and mobile units.

Over time units earn experience, suffer fatigue, and gain specific abilities (e.g. better resistance to mud when traveling, or an ability to stand firm after losing a battle rather than retreating from the field). Supply plays a key role in the game and new units and special abilities are doled out based on one’s holdings. At key points in the game one is able to trade Victory Points (VPs) for reinforcements.

The D-Day game is very similar, except one is command Allied forces in this case instead of German forces. The number of units has increased – there are now minesweepers, paratroopers, and so on. The variety of abilities one can secure has expanded (e.g. air support), but overall it is a very similar game with a different scenario.

Both games are challenging, yet intuitive. If you read the instructions you’ll fully understand how to play within a few minutes – or if you are like me, you’ll play first and read later. In either case, it isn’t hard to understand the game – though there are a few nuances you may not pick up on immediately if you don’t read the instructions, for example:

  • Resting one’s units is key. Unlike in many other games, new units are somewhat rare, so protecting and replenishing beat down units is extremely important.
  • Some resources (like special orders) are applied to a unit but only applicable for that turn, the next turn the unit will be back to normal.
  • Partisans will appear and interfere with your supply lines.

The Operation Barbarossa game is available in a lite version.. This is the same as the full version except it provides only a limited number of turns – but more than enough to get a thorough feel for the game. While the games are of significant depth and quality, their price is exceptional and I’d encourage any wargamer to go buy them right now – even if you don’t intend to play them. Supporting Joni and folks like him will ensure that similar games are designed in the future. The price is $2.99 per game! Try and find a quality turn-based strategic/tactical wargame for anywhere near that price!

Here are a few small items I’d like to see Joni work on as he continues to develop these applications:

  • The ability to create multiple save games. The games save, but they maintain only one save file at a time. So, you can’t play multiple games simultaneously and even more important, you have to start the game over if you really botch things up.
  • The ability to play as either side. Currently it is only possible to play as the Axis in Operation Barbarossa and only as the Allies in D-Day.
  • The creation of additional games in other eras – such as the Napoleonic Wars, Civil War, World War I, Vietnam, and Korea.
  • The ability to play multiplayer.
  • In D-Day when one wins a victory it says that the Germans won, this is small typographical error.
  • The ability to undo a move if it does not involve combat. Occasionally I accidentally move a unit and there doesn’t seem to be a way to undo the move.
  • The ability to merge combat units rather than resting them.

For those who are interested, here are links to the applications within Android Market:

The Mega Sales from PC Game Digital Download Providers.

Strategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg
Image via Wikipedia

Updated! 12/25/10 – 11:36 P.M.

Around Christmas time several of the major digital download providers offer mega-sales on their games library and various individual developers offer sharp discounts on various games. I’m not a huge gamer – but I do love wargames.

Now, when I speak of wargames I’m using my own definition so let me clarify. By wargames I do not mean:

  • First Person Shooters (FPS) – e.g. Combat Arms, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Wolfenstein, Halo.
  • Real Time Strategy (RTS) – e.g. Company of Heroes, Age of Empires, Warhammer.

I do mean:

  • Games that are generally based around historical time periods and the realistic depiction of combat situations during that period.
  • Games that emphasize brainpower over finger-clicking power.

These genres can sometimes cross over – for example, Mosby’s Confederacy and Medieval II: Total War both include FPS elements but using a pausable engine that allows for significant strategizing (and also emphasizes unit movement rather than character).

Additionally, even within this narrowed genre I still eschew many games. I’m what is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a “beer & pretzels” (though I don’t like or drink beer) gamer. That is, I’m not a big fan of games that will consume my life in order to play them. I avoid games with maps that are too large or that require me to micromanage every aspect of combat and production – or even be aware of every aspect.

In any case, I’ve created a list of some of the pretty cool wargames that are currently available at steep discounts (and I mean really steep!). Spend $20 and you can have enough games to keep you busy for at least a year (no, I’m not getting paid to say this :P).

  • Games I own have an asterisk.
  • Games I’ve thoroughly enjoyed are bolded.
  • Games highest on my “want” list have a plus.
  • Steam:
    • X-Com – I know I said historical, but I’m making an exception for X-Com. These games are based on an alien invasion and mankind’s unified response. They offer both strategic and tactical elements and are genre-defining as far as gameplay. They began many years ago and still continue to be one of the most innovative and fascinating series available. $1.69/ea.
    • *Take Command: Second Manassas – Simulates the American Civil War battle of Second Manasses, also known as Second Bull Run. Offers a 3D pausable RTS interface similar to that found in Sid Meier’s Gettysburg or any of the Total War tactical engines. $2.49.
    • *Ironclads: High Seas – Naval combat in 3D. Naval games are a rarity, games simulating 19th century conflict even more so. $2.49.
    • *Ironclads: American Civil War – Created by the same folks as created above. Focuses on Civil War era naval combat. $2.49.
    • *9th Company: Roots of Terror – A real-time strategy game that covers the Russian 9th companies’ fight in Afghanistan back in the day (1970’s). This may be more of a straight-up RTS, but the storyline is so fascinating (and applicable to the current War on Terror) that I had to add it. $2.49.
    • *Mosby’s Confederacy – A fun, replayable, strategic/tactical simulation of Mosby, a famed and feared Confederate commander, raids and battles during the Civil War. $2.49.
    • *Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms – A great expansion pack for Medieval II: Total War. Adds the New World to the game. Requires Medieval II: Total War to play. $3.74.
    • *Rome: Total War Alexander – An expansion pack adding the Greek conquests of Alexander to the Rome: Total War game. Requires Rome: Total War. $3.74.
    • *Birth of America – A beautiful strategic simulation of the Revolutionary War by AGEOD. I find the map to be too large, beautiful, and detailed for my tastes, but sure to be loved by many. $3.99.
    • *Medieval II: Total War – If you only purchase one game – make it this one. It provides beautiful strategic and tactical simulations, rich cinematic cut-scenes, detailed historical information, and while an amazing game is also an educational experience. – $7.49.
    • *Rome: Total War – Gold – Strategic and tactical simulation of the Roman Empire. $7.49.
    • Rise of Prussia – This game is by AGEOD and probably has too large and beautiful of a map for my likes, but I might have to get it anyways, it sounds so fascinating. $7.49.
  • GamersGate
    • *Two Thrones. $0.50.
    • *Crown of the North. $1.48.
    • *Take Command – 2nd Manassas. $2.48.
    • *Rome Total War: Gold Edition. $2.99.
    • *Imperial Glory. $3.48.
    • Entente: WWI Battlefields. RTS. $3.74.
    • *East India Company. $3.74.
    • Combat Mission: Shock Force. $4.98.
    • Crusader Kings. $4.98.
    • Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come. $4.98.
    • World War 2 Time of Wrath. $5.95.
    • Lords of the Realm 3. $5.99.
    • Civilization IV: Complete. $6.24.
    • Commander: Conquest of the Americas. $7.49.
    • *Medieval II: Total War Gold Edition. $7.46.
    • Squad Assault. $9.98.
    • AGEOD’s American Civil War. $9.99.
    • AGEOD’s Napoleon’s Campaigns. $9.99.
    • AGEOD’s Birth of America II – Wars in America. $9.99.
    • World War One (Paradox). $9.99.
    • +Lionheart King’s Crusade. $14.98.
    • Victoria 2 (Paradox). $19.98.
  • Slitherine
    • *Field of Glory – Click on the title of the game and enter the code ‘fog2010’ to receive 50% off!
  • Matrix Games
    • Advanced Tactics: World War II (33%) – $26.99.
    • American Civil War – The Blue and The Gray (30%) – $13.99.
    • Battle of Britain II – Wings of Victory (30%) – $13.99.
    • Battlefront (33%) – $33.99.
    • Battles in Italy (32%) – $33.99.
    • Battles in Normandy (32%) – $33.99.[1]
    • +Campaigns on the Danube 1805 & 1809 (30%) – $13.99.[2]
    • Carriers at War (32%) – $33.99.
    • Close Combat: Cross of Iron (33%) – $26.99.
    • Close Combat: Modern Tactics (32%) – $20.99.
    • Close Combat: The Longest Day (33%) – $26.99.
    • Close Combat: Wacht am Rhein (33%) – $26.99.
    • Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge (25%) – $59.99.
    • Commander: Europe at War Gold (40%) – $29.99.
    • *Commander: Napoleon at War (40%) – $29.99.
    • Crown of Glory: Emperor’s Edition (32%) – $33.99.
    • Empires in Arms (32%) – $40.99.[3]
    • Flashpoint Germany (32%) – $23.99.
    • +For Liberty (31%) – $23.99.
    • +Forge of Freedom (32%) – $33.99.
    • Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing of the Reich (32%) – $33.99.
    • +Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States (32%) – $33.99.
    • +Gary Grigsby’s World at War: A World Divided (33%) – $26.99.
    • AGEOD’s Great Invasions (30%) – $13.99.
    • +Guns of August 1914-1918 (31%) – $23.99.[4]
    • Highway to the Reich (32%) – $33.99.[5]
    • Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge (30%) – $20.99.
    • Horse and Musket: Volume 1 (30%) – $20.99.[6]
    • +John Tillers Battleground Civil War (30%) – $20.99.[7]
    • +John Tillers Battleground Napoleonic Wars (30%) – $20.99.[8]
    • +John Tillers Campaign Series (31%) – $23.99.[9]
    • Kharkov: Disaster on the Donets (32%) – $33.99.
    • Korsun Pocket (30%) – $20.99.
    • *Legion Arena: Gold (33%) – $26.99.
    • Napoleon in Italy (33%) – $26.99.[10]
    • +Norm Koger’s The Operational Art of War III (33%) – $26.99.
    • Officers – The Matrix Edition (30%) – $20.99.
    • Operation Barbarossa – The Struggle for Russia (31%) – $23.99.
    • Panzer Command: Kharkov (33%) – $26.99.
    • Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm (33%) – $26.99.
    • Steel Panthers: World at War – Generals Edition (33%) – $46.99.
    • Storm Over the Pacific (32%) – $33.99.
    • Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great (30%) – $20.99.[11]
    • Tin Soldiers: Julius Caesar (30%) – $20.99.
    • Uncommon Valor (30%) – $20.99.[12]
    • War in the Pacific (32%) – $40.99.[13]
    • War in the Pacific – Admirals Edition (33%) – $53.99.
    • War Plan Orange: Dreadnoughts in the Pacific 1922-1930 (31%) – $30.99.[14]
    • World War II: General Commander (33%) – $26.99.
    • AGEOD’s World War One Gold (33%) – $26.99.
    • WW2: Time of Wrath (30%) – $20.99.[15]
  • Strategy First
    • I just received an email from Strategy First with a coupon for 60% off all games using the coupon code “STRATEGYFAN” – it doesn’t say anywhere I can’t share it, so I’m sharing it…A lot of these games are available elsewhere, but I think a few might be unique to Strategy First…(be sure to look under both Strategy and Simulation).
    • +Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin
    • +Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord
    • G.I. Combat
    • Jagged Alliance 2
    • Stalingrad
    • World War I
    • World War II: Frontline Command
    • Great Invasions
    • *Strategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg
    • 1914 Shells of Fury
    • +Ironclads Anglo Russian War 1865
    • +Ironclads Chincha Islands War 1866
    • +Ironclads Schleswig War 1864
    • Rise of Flight: Iron Cross Edition
    • Steel Fury: Kharkov 1942
  • Impulse Driven
    • Crusaders – Thy Kingdom Come – $4.99.
    • World War 2 – Time of Wrath – $4.99.
    • Crusader Kings – $4.99.
    • The Entente – World War I Battlefields – $5.99.
  • GOG
    • *Imperial Glory – $2.99.
    • Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord – $4.99.
  • Direct2Drive
    • Nothing to see over here…pretty disappointing. 66 titles across all genres on sale.

Did I miss any really good games? I’m going to state, off the bat, that I’m usually not a fan of Paradox, AGEOD games b/c they are too hard-core grognard for me, and of 1C games b/c they are usually too RTS for me…but if you have exceptions that I missed, let me know.

Finally, I’d love to see some of the smaller independent vendors throw up some great deals. For example, Matrix Games doesn’t seem to have anything too exciting going on, nor does Battlefront. Suppose I should surf over to Jeff Lapkoff games and see what he is up to…

{Update: Matrix has some pretty decent deals, Battlefront is still disappointing, Lapkoff’s games are always reasonably priced, but no sales…}

P.S. There is a lot of overlap between Steam and GamersGate, check both before making a purchase – you never know which is going to offer the better price, and oftentimes there is a significant price difference (don’t ask me why – I’m just telling ya the way it is, not why…since they are selling the same game!).

  1. [1]WWII, from SSG.
  2. [2]Adanac Command Studies.
  3. [3]Australian Design Group, 2007
  4. [4]Adanac Command Studies.
  5. [5]From Panther Games, released 2003.
  6. [6]Boku Strategy Games, 2009.
  7. [7]Repackaged from the old Talonsoft titles.
  8. [8]Repackaged from the old Talonsoft titles.
  9. [9]Includes repackaged WWII Talonsoft titles includes East Front, West Front, and Rising Sun scenarios.
  10. [10]Hussar Games, 2007.
  11. [11]Koios Works, 2004.
  12. [12]This is a Gary Grigsby game originally released in 2002. It covers the Pacific theater at an operational level.
  13. [13]Gary Grigsby game, 2004.
  14. [14]Gary Grigsby game.
  15. [15]Available for $5 through Impulse Driven.

Tilted Mill’s Mosby’s Confederacy.

Over Christmas Break Steam (hey, guys, what about an affiliate program?  i should get paid for this promotion ;)) had some absolutely amazing sales on games – including some strategy war games (I mean like 80-90% off). I purchased four for around $25 total – Rome Total War, Rome Total War: Alexander, Take Command – 2nd Manassas, and Mosby’s Confederacy. I’ve tried the first two and last one – haven’t had a chance to try 2nd Manassas yet, though I heard great things about it when it came out originally. I really enjoyed playing Tilted Mill‘s Mosby’s Confederacy so I’ve spent most of my available gaming time on that game (I just completed it).

Tilted Mill’s Mosby’s Confederacy is a combination strategic/tactical wargame (my favorite kind – thus my enjoyment of the Total War series). This game, however, is fairly simplistic compared to epics like Total War – it reminds me of the great classics by W.R. Hutsell (e.g. VGA Civil War Strategy). The game map covers only a relatively small area consisting of several towns and the surrounding areas in which Mosby actually traveled/fought/raided. At the strategic level one each turn gets to “develop” ones character (John Singleton Mosby) in a somewhat RPG element. Depending on the attribute you choose to enhance will effect how your character performs and what options for character development will be available on the next turn. At the town level you can upgrade a number of facets by using the reputation you earn in each battle. This can be utilized to increase support by the locals (increasing the radius in which they will fight for you), increase the size of stables, weapons cache storage, or hospitals, drill the soldiers in that town, upgrade your hospital, or upgrade the weaponry of your soldiers.

Each turn several missions are available. These missions revolve around several themes: destruction of enemy troops or capture of enemy munitions, horses, or officers – sometimes a combination of these. There are also special “star” missions which indicate a historically important endeavor Mosby undertook.

When one chooses a mission one can choose from the soldiers within reach of that location to participate in the battle. Each soldier receives experience as he enters into and successfully survives combat. Soldiers also develop characteristics – but this occurs automatically, rather than selectively as in the case of Mosby. Soldiers find a variety of specialties including sharpshooter, ranger, cavalry, and scout. You can provide the soldiers with horses if you have them available and must have enough munitions for your men (the more experienced men consume more ammunition).

Finally you are ready for battle. This is a real-time environment similar to that found in Sid Meier‘s Gettysburg or many standard RTS games (e.g. the popular Commando series) – though it is on a small-scale compared to say Gettysburg. At the most you will have twenty men under your command. The battle ensues at a somewhat slow pace, one attempts to capture the various objectives and receives reputation points based on a number of factors (in addition to any munitions or horses captured in battle) – how many enemy troops were killed, how many surrendered, what objectives were accomplished, how many men died from your troop, etc. You are taken back to the main screen and can then use these reputation points, assign a new skill to Mosby, choose a new mission and so on.

Overall – the game is very enjoyable. I do have a few small complaints:

  • You cannot save your game while in tactical battles. This is probably purposed to increase the difficulty of the game (no saving a certain point in the battle and trying over and over to obtain better results) but is annoying if you need to stop the game and work on something else for a while in the midst of a battle (you have to start the battle all over).
  • I have a fairly powerful computer that runs games well – but I experienced a slow decrease in performance during tactical battles the longer I played Mosby’s Confederacy. I suspect some sort of memory leak. I found that this seemed to occur most frequently if I increased the time speed in tactical battles. At regular speed it did fine, but speeding the time progression caused the units to move faster at first but eventually (after 10-45 mins.) the graphics would become choppy, the interface non-responsive, and even playing at the slower speed could be painful.
  • The documentation for the game consists of perhaps four or five pages – this is very disappointing. There is little information on the various attributes of soldiers, whether terrain/cover affects combat (I would hope so), and what the effects of putting a sharpshooter on a mount is or what having a cavalryman walk on foot is. Additionally I did not see any documentation on how to wisely utilize swords or bayonets – though both are available.
  • For most gamers outside of war strategy games this game probably has tons of playability – but for individuals who are used to the weeks and weeks (or months) to beat strategy games – Mosby’s Confederacy is so short, nor does it offer significant incentive for repeating the game again after completion (and fairly abruptly ends with a statement of your stats but little indication of how you did compared to the absolutely best possible).

This said, I’m more than satisfied with my purchase (I think it was $2.50 or $5) – I probably wouldn’t spend $13 on it (but I’m a cheapskate, I usually wait a year or two after a game comes out before purchasing it – except for Battlefront/Fury Software’s Strategic Command 2). If you have a hankering for Civil War combat – its a worthwhile purchase…I’m hoping that Tilted Mill will take the opportunity to make similar games using the same engine. It seems that with refinement this engine could even be used to create a grand strategy of the civil war – but I’d be especially interested in seeing more games similar to Mosby – perhaps focusing on the war west of the Mississippi (Arkansas, Kansas, California) or Stonewall Jackson‘s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley.

Medieval II: Total War.

Video Gaming has become a major part of our culture. Today, whether played individually or in groups (whether locally or via the internet) gaming has become as much a part of our culture as professional sports or television. Mario and Halo among other games have established themselves as bona fide cultural icons.

I’m a picky gamer. My personal preferred genre is turn-based, historical strategy/tactical wargames. A mouthful, huh? Why do I like these games so much?

Medieval: Total War 2
Medieval: Total War 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • They offer an educational experience with (generally) highly detailed maps and historically accurate units and commanders.
  • They offer a intellectually stimulating experience require the use of significant analytical skills to determine the best methods to victory.
  • They offer significantly more hours of gameplay than most other genres of games, especially simple-one path games like most first person shooters (FPS).

Within this genre one game that stands out as an excellent example and worthwhile purchase as an entertaining and educational resource is Creative Assembly’s Medieval II: Total War. This game is part of a old (in gaming years) and venerable line of “Total War” games beginning with Shogun: Total War and most recently culminating in Empire: Total War. While the graphics and artificial intelligence have improved with the years, the basic gameplay has stayed remarkably the same.

Each Total War game represents a distinct historical period – in the instance of Medieval the period is somewhat obvious – it covers the medieval time period (e.g. crusades, early discovery of the new world). One takes command of any of a variety of historical nations and oversees one’s countries progress – first at a strategic level that includes town management, technology development, political negotiations, and military recruitment. Then when combat occurs one has the choice to enter into the tactical arena and to command one’s troops in beautifully rendered 3D worlds through a pausable real-time interface (bringing the best of cinematic historical combat with the intellectual challenge of turn-based combat).

I’ve never exhausted the bounds of a Total War game. Playing as each nation is a unique experience. Each nation has its own unique historical advantages and disadvantages (e.g. England must rely upon naval power while nations in Eastern Europe face continuous threats to varied influxing enemies) and playing through a single nation’s history in a single game can be a process of scores – if not hundreds of hours. Medieval II: Total War is not a game one sits down and plays in a day or a week or even a month – its meant to last month after month (for the casual, moderate gamer) and then one has only finished the game as that nation!

Medieval II: Total War also have a worthwhile expansion pack called Kingdoms which retrofits some features in Medieval II: Total War along with adding several additional campaigns (each of which could be a game in and of itself) including the Crusades, Americas (early conquistadors, inter-tribal warfare), Teutonic, and Britannia.

MII:TW is now available at bargain prices…as are older titles in the same series. So go to Amazon and grab both titles for less than $20 (the cost of two movie tickets, or four dvd rentals): Medieval II Gold Pack (Total War, Total War Kingdoms). Yes, of course, I get a referral fee – but seriously – these games are awesome. 🙂