The internet is fun. Two days ago I aimlessly reminisced about Ogre and today I got to play the beta. This version has the basic single player scenario that I remember from the original game. One player starts on the right edge of a hex map with just a single unit to deploy – the Ogre; a super advanced tank armed with a variety of weapons. The Ogre’s goal is to destroy the other player’s command post which is deployed on the left edge of the map. To prevent him the second player deploys a variety of conventional G.E.V. forces – tanks, infantry, missile platforms and so forth.
Ogre is a faithful recreation of a venerable board game. Like Bloodbowl, the skill in these games comes down to your ability to manage RNG. I know there is a debate about whether RNG waters down the “skill” level of games. I think it’s a silly debate and thoroughly love the general mechanic. It makes for constant, interesting decision making which is largely the point of games for me. At every moment you decide your tolerance for risk vs. reward. And a string of good luck can turn the tide which adds suspense even to late stages of the game when more predictable systems grow dull. Sure it sucks when you’re on the receiving end of an RNG steamroll but such is the price of engagement.
The turn structure is also board-game familiar. The Ogre first moves, then fires followed by the G.E.V. doing the same with an additional extra few moves after their fire phase (allowing a couple of vulnerable units to dart in, shoot and get back out of range). Strategically the Ogre can either blitz straight for the other edge of the map or try to destroy the G.E.V. force first. Tactically the player allocates their firepower to the various targets available (as well as judicious ramming). Because the Ogre can only fire after moving, blitzing generally means you output far less damage (the Ogre gets more damaging within 2 hexes and racing ahead usually leaves only the main gun firing). The Ogre can reliably destroy a few units per turn when fully armed and so the game revolves around maneuvering around the edges of the G.E.V. formation, close enough to whittle down the force but far enough to take minimal return fire.
The G.E.V. can target sections of the Ogre. I don’t remember the specific mechanics and the beta version only allowed play from the Ogre’s perspective. What I do remember is that you can combine fire to either target the weapons or the treads. Destroying weapons makes the Ogre less dangerous and shooting at the durable treads slows it down and eventually stops it. Initially speedy, once the Ogre is slowed the G.E.V. player can take longer to maneuver and swarm.
It’s a nice, balanced overall design. Blitz or destroy for the Ogre, neuter or paralyze for the G.E.V. Guess wrong and the Ogre can sail by, largely unmolested, leaving much of the G.E.V. force behind while he destroys the command center. Get bogged down as the Ogre and your speedy death tank becomes stationary target practice far from the goal.
Presentation & UI
The game looks good. It’s slick, especially for a turn-based hexagonal affair. The explosions are nice, the music is good with an appropriately NEO-scavenger like soundtrack. The only two dissonant components for me were the way the pieces sat on the board. They felt like game pieces but nothing else about the style is going for that “board game” feel. There are too many special effects for that. The other is the choice of red and blue colors for the respective teams. It’s clear and easy on the eyes but it detracts from the somber post-apocalyptic vibe. These are quibbles. The original looked like ass (even accounting for age) and I played it to death. This looks nice.
The UI is fine. At first I was slightly annoyed at the amount of clicking involved in common decisions. I wanted tooltips to work on hover instead of selection, there are a handful of such complaints. But the truth is that by my 3rd game I didn’t notice and I never actually struggled with the interface or felt it slowed me down. It’s sort of counter-intuitive but arranged intelligently so it works.
The animations got tedious by my second playthrough but it all zipped along once I turned them off. I feel bad for graphic people working on turn based strategy games – they put in all sorts of hard work and we play on max zoom with everything turned off. If they give us a strategic view with just icons then we use that. Philistines.
Rest of the Game
Since it’s a beta I’m not sure what the rest of the game will look like. The developer indicated a single player campaign (with Steve Jackson Games involved), multiple scenarios (for both multi and single) and a map editor. They also hinted at a lot of original content. There is a huge community of fans of the boardgame who have created custom rules, new Ogres and reams of options for the game to steal from. It’s nice that the developers are adding to the knowledge and not just leeching.
There is also very obvious and exciting meta just begging to be implemented for the multiplayer. I can practically see a sleek glass canon of an Ogre in my mind’s eye. Or an annoying, stifling, rage-quit inducing, infantry based G.E.V. defense. I’d be happy playing the core game against other humans for a while but dearly hope they give us ways to upgrade and customize our forces so the game holds my interest longer.
Matches are much quicker than I remember but there’s nothing missing so that’s probably a good thing. I’m not sure at this time how things like turn length limits, matchmaking and other multiplayer considerations are handled. I’m also not sure about the balance since I only played as the Ogre. It does seem a bit easy – I won all 3 matches (the first by barely rolling over the command post without a single operating weapon) but I didn’t get to choose difficulty level and the AI might be tweaked. Regardless, if you liked the original or just fancy some turn based, asymetric combat then this will satisfy the itch. It’s addictive enough that I was done playing and started writing this report and ended up playing another match when I just popped in for some screen-shots.