I was chatting with a friend while playing Ogre, complaining then countering myself with excuses. I was frustrated but didn’t want him to think badly of the game. Writing this review is similar. There’s a real treat of a game under the issues and it’s easy to see why a 40-year old game has been continuously refined instead of abandoned.
Should You Buy It?
I wrote this paragraph with a carefully worded recommendation to buy the game for the multiplayer component. Despite the many issues below it’s still a faithful implementation of an excellent game. Then I wrote the multiplayer section. I’m not sure how to recommend a game based on the single match I had. I wish the game didn’t ship out with so many bugs and such a frustrating interface causing an eager player-base to dissolve. This should have been a happier review but I must review the game in front of me, not the one I imagine it will be in a month.
For what it’s worth I think the multiplayer is solid despite the interface issues and if there’s a spike in player population it could be worth your while.
Ogre is an RNG filled, turn based hex battle between futuristic conventional forces (tanks, infantry, howitzers) and the titular Ogre – a massive cybernetic super-tank bristling with weapons. As games have become more balanced this anachronistic design feels fresh and interesting. I can’t think of a game with more asynchronous opposing forces.
Ogre started 40-years ago as a board game and the PC version is a relatively exact implementation of the sixth-edition rules. Each side moves then fires. Damage is handled through a very simple, elegant system that compares attack and defense strengths and resolves on a single die roll. Conventional vehicles can be destroyed or disabled while the Ogre can take damage to a variety of weapons or treads. I talk about the mechanics at greater length in my preview of the game.
While the core mechanics are simple there are situational rules and subtlety. Like many complex games of that era, the “correct” way to play is often unintuitive or at least unnatural to most players. This is not a bad thing, it’s what separates the skilled from the unskilled in what misleadingly appears to be a heavily RNG influenced game. But it does mean the game can be frustrating and feel unfair to new players.
Magnifying this relatively steep competence curve is the unwieldy interface. There are bugs (being squashed at a brisk pace) and poor feedback on results. But what really turns an already leisurely game into a slog is the sheer number of clicks. Forty units is not a huge conventional force. The baffling interface means it could require 3 clicks to move each one. More if you want to do something like split up your infantry or get them to catch a ride on your tanks. Firing requires another 4 clicks at a minimum. Multiply all that and you can get to well over 100 clicks per conventional turn, all while the Ogre player watches and waits.
Specific battlefield conditions can exacerbate this already click-crazy affair. Infantry is grouped into units of 3. Attacking the Ogre in close quarters breaks them down into individual infantry which you must manually recombine at 4 clicks per. I know players rarely appreciate the difficulty in implementing “simple” solutions to games, but I don’t understand how this was released without the ability to select and move multiple units and without basic functionality we expect from any windows program.
All this clicking will affect your tactics, especially in multiplayer. For example, as the conventional forces it is often statistically advantageous to fire individually with each unit instead of combining fire. I felt badly doing this when the slight advantage forced my opponent to watch me click dozens and dozens of times. I completely stopped giving my infantry rides or breaking them down into smaller units. You’ll even stop being particularly attentive to your regular moves as you click click click just to get through your turn.
And I’ve only mention a few of the more glaring problems. There’s a host of minor ones. No auto-save, the log not autoscrolling, not showing the enemies fire range visually so you have to count out 8 hexes manually over and over. There’s intelligence behind the design but it’s as if they weren’t present for the last 15 years worth of basic UI refinement.
I almost feel guilty for saying the interface was unintuitive but competent in my preview of the game but in my defense the beta only let me play as the Ogre where this problem was hidden by the limited number of actions the single unit can perform. It would have been less glowing if I had experienced life as the conventional side.
Three potentially mission-ending bugs occurred during single play. The first two have already been squashed by one of the frequent post-release patches. The last (complete game lockup) happened just as I won the 9th mission after failing several times. I was already beyond frustrated at the interface and decided to not finish the campaign despite always making a strong effort to when reviewing. The only reason I did finish is because there are only 10 missions and I forced myself to plough through to the end.
What’s vexing is that this game was funded well beyond it’s original kickstarter target and has blown by it’s original release date of 2014. These bugs (and interface issues) are not obscure or difficult to find. And as the campaign neared its end I found smaller bugs of the sort you should really only see in early alpha’s. Missing text files where mission objectives should be, having to close the reinforcement screen every turn despite not having any reinforcements to deploy, etc.
What made me keep defending the game to my friend, despite me being the one who was attacking it, was that the scenarios were quite compelling. I don’t know if they’re fresh or from the board game but I thoroughly enjoyed them. Despite the basic premise being the same (multi unit conventional force vs. giant Ogres) there was enough variety in mission objectives and force compositions that I was engaged and never on auto-pilot.
They’re difficult too. I had to restart several of them with new tactics until I won. With the exception of one mission it never veered into puzzle territory although some of the losses came from poor information in-game.
While the individual missions are great there’s absolutely nothing tying them together. Units don’t carry over or get upgraded, there’s no overland map or any meta or strategic elements. Even the story (told in one-panel text screens) is disjointed with barely any explanation of the larger conflict. I’m sure there’s tons of interesting lore, Steve Jackson games always have interesting settings and the game was made with full co-operation. This feels like a cut & paste from well written but disjointed scenario descriptions of the board game.
Despite the bugs and interface issues this is still largely a faithful implementation of Ogre the board game. In multiplayer the strengths shine brighter and the faults are easier to overlook. Once the Ogre comes into range every decision by both players is significant and interesting. You’re not shooting at an abstract quantity of HP’s – you’re trying to knock out specific weapons or subsystems. Get too greedy and you’ll waste an entire turn watching your scattered shots bounce off armor. Play too conservative and the Ogre will decimate your forces on its counter-attacks.
The one match I had was thrilling and came down to the final two shots on the final turn. If I rolled a 5 or higher on either shot I would have won. Alas I did not and my foe, seeking maximum points, took an extra turn to destroy every unit before finishing the game in victory.
I would have loved to try more but was unable to find a match in any of my subsequent attempts. Even as I type this the matchmaking clock is counting up past the 15-minute mark which is simply unreasonable for a 1v1 game. There are 18 people playing online at 7PM on a Thursday and some are undoubtedly playing solo. I’m running out of ways of saying “no but the core game is great” to my friend who’s now laughing at my matchmaking woes.
The Score – 68
This was going to be the first game in which I broke out separate scores for the multi and single player experiences. I would have happily had a dozen matches and scored the multiplayer portion something approaching 80 even with the interface issues. But I can’t score based on 1 match and I can’t wait for the inevitable fixes to make the single player game approachable and rewarding. Usually a game loses points for being boring. I was rarely bored playing Ogre but I was often frustrated.
I don’t think I’m alone in my dissapointment. A glance at the Steam achievements show only 0.2% of players finished the 10-hour campaign a week after release. So a very reluctant 68 for a game I love and hope they patch up to 80-something soon.