HM has always wished to get into strategy games, liking the idea that he might be a strategy connoisseur in disguise. Especially as his motor skills are in decline; old age is so unkind.
Armageddon Empires is an involving, complicated turn-based single-player strategy. It squats upon an awful conundrum: playing the game is only possible if the player learns the rules first, yet the rules are so complicated, that it is better to learn through play. There is a helpful 60-page manual with enticing passages such as
If the army in the hex had a unit with the ability Recce S6, R1 … then it would get an additional observation check of 6 dice in the same hex and the surrounding hexes would get observation checks of 6 minus the defensive terrain modifier minus the range of the hex from the unit’s hex
Fortunately, others have been down this path before and Bill Harris took it upon himself to write a fantastic tutorial in six separate bowel movements. This makes things easier for time-impoverished individuals like HM.
The gameplay is difficult to nutshell, but HM wants to try. The player has a base. At the player’s disposal is a deck of cards, each card representing a physical unit, ranging from a war machine of death to a stealthed-up assassin. The player deploys these onto the map and uses them to defeat the AI opponents by destroying or overrunning their bases. But doing anything costs resources. Putting a card into play. Moving a unit. Creating an army. Attempting research. Building installations.
It is the incredible scarcity of resources that maintains a sense of desperation and paranoia from start to apocalyptic end. A player cannot afford to waste resources and you will constantly worry whether the AIs are making progress faster than you. It is this magic trick combined with the bristling self-confidence of the game’s complex rule set that proves to be a winner.
However, the GUI is flawed which means this complexity has a painful price. It is bizarrely easy to make serious mistakes. However, HM was a fast learner and rarely made the same mistake twice. While HM lost his first three games in colourful displays of buffoonery, he won virtually every game after that. This includes many dire, seemingly unwinnable situations, where HM had barely any resources to fight his two AI opponents.
AE is a wonderful game that makes HM feel smart. Once the rules come together, AE is a beautiful thing, lasting about one or two hours per game (although HM sidesteps building a deck of cards, HM is not so interested in spending a weekend doing this before actual play).
HM feels so smart that he has been frightened to try the included Cults of the Wastelands expansion, which offers a strong independent opponent from the get-go. Maybe he will try next week. Or the week after.
Post-game buzz: Frustrating initially, but addictive after that; high replay value