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Mapp vs Gaming Waffle: Heroes of the Storm

It seems like most of my gaming time has been spent on MOBAs recently, with the semi-popular third-person god-'em-up Smite seeing my stare, dumbfounded at my screen every other evening. Then there's Dota 2, which has been tugging on my shirt recently with big, tear-filled puppy eyes, plaintively asking when I'm coming back to it. I think World of Tanks probably counts too, although it's a bit of a stretch with no skills, no level mechanics, no towers and no lanes. In fact, I mostly count it as a MOBA because there are fifteen players per side, so for all the things it lacks in the MOBA department, it can make up for with three times as much abusive language and trolling per game.

Now it's time for Blizzard to throw their hat casually into the MOBA ring, with Heroes of the Storm, confident in the knowledge that there are enough Blizzard fans to support the kind of community required to make a MOBA feel like a MOBA (in other words: angry people). I was all set not to like it; phrases like "casual" and "baby's first MOBA" started getting thrown around. No item purchasing? Different maps? Shared team experience for levels? "This," I confidently thought to myself, "is going to be terrible."

The troubling thing is that it's not. There's already been a lot of ground covered in the genre, lots of experimentation, lots of things done right, lots of things done wrong. Anyone planning to make a wizard-'em-up have a lot of other games to look at, so some of the more painful lessons about what does work and what doesn't work can be learned the easy way. Blizzard have successfully stripped back a lot of the things that I came to see as defining features of the genre, mashed up what was left a little and then held aloft the remains to the cheering cries of "It's a MOBA! It's a MOBA! from armchair commentators such as myself. Heck, they've even managed to address my second biggest problem with Dota 2; it was too easy for players to play a static game. Now there's a reason to leave lanes, contest camps, fight evil plants, crush spooky skeletons and reminisce about how amazing the Obelisk of Light was from the original Command and Conquer. I feel like the mechanics of the game work, that they feel right, and that this is generally one of the things that Blizzard have a good track record for getting right. That and Murlocs.

So what's the problem? Well, I want to hug the people responsible for the game design and mechanics, who evidently have a deep understanding of the genre and a good eye for working out what you can do to make the genre more accessible, but I want to start slapping whoever was responsible for the monetisation (my spelling correction whatchamacallit suggests that it's not correct, and suggests "molestation" instead, which isn't far off) decisions. It costs a lot of in-game currency to unlock characters, and a rather silly amount of real world money if you want to avoid that grind. Smite comes off as positively generous, with five free characters and another five rotating around. Heroes of the Storm comes off as, well, a bit greedy. I suppose it makes sense, because there are plenty of people defending the pricing scheme, so perhaps the community can support it. Yet it strikes me as a strange move - you make a game that does such a wonderful job of making the genre accessible and approachable, then you scare them off with high prices.

At least the game itself is fun, which helps to alleviate that horrible feeling that you've got to grind away game after game in order to unlock a character. And I'll play the game, because it's bright, it's colourful and it tweaks the genre in ways I like, but Blizzard won't be getting any money from me.

Mapp vs Waffle: Why I Don't Want To Vote

"What we maintain is that universal suffrage, considered in itself and applied in a society based on economic and social inequality, will be nothing but a swindle and snare for the people"
- Mikhail Bakunin

The prospect of waking up in May to living in a country where there are multiple elected MPs belonging to UKIP scares me a little. The idea of waking up to a country where there's a Labour government, or a Conservative government, or a Liberal Democrat government, is also quite scary. I'll be honest, waking up is generally a bit scary at the best of times, but somehow we all muscle on and just about get by. The point is that I don't really belong to a political tribe and, while I could probably draw up a list of political parties and order them from "most odious" to "least odious", it's staggeringly difficult to muster up much enthusiasm about casting a vote for the party I find least distasteful in the hope that it might magically prevent a more distasteful party getting into power. I can't express my desire for the "Party That Wants To Shit In Your Mouth" not to get into power by voting, unless I vote for the "Party That Wants You To Drink A Pint Of Warm Urine Every Morning".

I - probably very naively - believe that governors govern the governed by consent, and that consent-stroke-mandate is given by, well, voting. As there doesn't appear to be a party that is standing on the platform of "tear the electoral system apart and start again", I don't really have anyone to vote for, and I can't vote against somebody without voting for someone else. I don't fancy eating poop, or drinking urine, or lynching foreigners, and I rather resent the existence of a system that says if I don't want one of these things, well, I must say I want the other. To add insult to injury, the very fact that I've said "I like drinking urine more than I like eating poop" gives some legitimacy to the Urine Drinking Party*, who can honestly state that some percentage of the electorate support their bold, piss based vision for the future of the country.

The system gives you no way to participate and say "no", and it's supposed to be a way of working out who people give their consent to representing them in politics. How about this: I don't wish to support a system about consent that doesn't give people the option of not giving consent, and I think it's madness to paint everyone that doesn't want to give consent to it as being "too lazy to vote". It's a convenient - and lazy! - way of writing off the disaffected.

*That they share the same acronym as the old Ulster Democractic Party is neither here nor there, just so we're clear.

Mapp vs Gaming Wafffle: Fate Core

We're probably around two thirds of the way through character creation for our Fate Core game: we may have managed to get a little bit further through it today if it wasn't for the timely intervention of fish and chips. Mmmm, fish and chips. This is the first time we've tried this particular roleplaying game but, after a brief flirt with Eclipse Phase, I wanted to try something that still scratched that science fiction itch, but without quite so many mechanics and the required reading.

Cut!Collapse )

We still need to do a few more things - skills need picking, stunts need debating - but we're almost there. Hopefully the game can start proper next weekend.

Mapp vs Gaming Waffle: Warhamster Fantasy

We're taking a bit of a break from Relic Knights, my brother and I, presumably because we're both thinking that we really shoulddo some painting and that we've got each other sussed out. I've not done a huge amount of painting as of late, what with good amounts of natural light being harder to come by and my deep, thoroughly entrenched loathing of painting faces. Man, sod faces. So we opted for something new: my brother dusted off his copy of the staggeringly big Warhammer Fantasy rulebook so we could roll buckets of dice. Space remains something of a problem for gaming at the moment - one of the reasons I'm so happy with Relic Knights is that it provides a good game on a small playing area - so out came the pieces of paper and scissors to make a scaled down version of the game. Our two thousand point game snugly fit on the three foot by two foot space on the breakfast bar and, honestly, the game feels a-okay at "budget 15mm scale". Makes me wonder why there's not a miniature fantasy game at smaller model scales, simply so you could have really bigmonsters.

Speaking of monsters, they were the main event for my list - a horde of goblins, backed up with two huge spiders and one unhinged Mangler Squig. Paul opted to field Lizardmen, including an obligatory dinosaur, some little lizardfolks with javelins and some hard-as-nails bigger ones that chewed up a lot of goblins. Plus a Slann, which is some kind of giant magic-flinging toad-creature. Our random scenario was The Watchtower (I think that's what it's called...), which started off under the control of a bunch of angry little lizards with poison javelins. While my first turn was spent ineffectually firing arrows into the building to try and clear out the lizards inside, Paul used some horrible wizardy magical gubbins to detonate half of one of my goblin units, which promptly turned and ran, causing another unit nearby to turn and run as well. While both of these units did eventually rally and turn around, my intimidating, bristling wall of pokey death got sent scattering. I couldn't complain much about seeing the little green fellows running as, on the other side of the board, the Mangler Squig bounced it's way straight over his dinosaur - killing it.

So the game played out that way throughout; my left flank suffered ignoble defeat after defeat, yet my right flank - backed up with the spiders - chewed their way through dinosaurs and cavalry with ease. Each of us began to turn our attention to the middle of the table at the same time, as the two Arachnarok spiders crashed into the building and mashed up the skinks inside, while Paul's Saurus warriors swung in to clear out some of my own goblins-with-bows (who were, it should be noted, very bad at their jobs). After forcing the lizards inside the building to flee, the game was over - the victory points difference was fairly negligible, just shy of two hundred points, but it was in Paul's favour. I'd lost a lot of units compared to him, but goblin lives are cheap in the grand scheme of things, so it was closer than I thought. It was probably for the best that the game ended where it did for me, as the giant-wizard-toad just turned into a giant-fire-breathing-dragon on his final turn, and my general-slash-head-wizard suffered a magical brain-fart and lost most of his magical know-how.

Even though I lost, it was fun, and a welcome break from playing skirmish style games. I'm a big fan of smaller games with lower model counts but, sometimes, you need an excuse to roll buckets of dice.

Mapp vs MOBA Madness: Smite & Dota 2

According to information helpfully collected by Steam, I have spent a lot of time playing Dota 2, though I take some solace in the fact that it doesn't differentiate between time spent playing the game and time spent watching games via the client or those afternoons I forget I left it running while doing something else. Even if I were to be generous and say that half of my logged time was due to these things, that's still quite a bit of time spent playing Dota 2. For the longest time, it was my go-to-game - I played with a group calling themselves "the casual dota chums", I played in a team, I played alone, I watch games that other people played and I tried to glean information about how my own game could be improved based on how professional players click their way around the lanes.

Yet over the past few months, I've found myself wanting to play less and less. Team games became exercises in frustration, organised play becoming anything but. I tried playing an Ability Draft game this lunchtime with a friend and, even though we won, I found that I just wasn't enjoying myself. I had tasted the sweet support life that Smite - another game in the rather nebulous MOBA genre - and going back to the poverty stricken world of playing a support in Dota 2 felt like a step backwards. In a game of Dota 2, by the time the carry players deign to get involved have enough farm to feel confident about fighting, it's my experience that supports are left fairly helpless in the face of high hit point pools on enemy heroes and Black King Bars. We'll have given up most of our towers before the team comes together to fight as, well, a team.

I've yet to have this same experience in Smite; quite the opposite in fact. While this might be down to the crowd of people I play Smite with (themselves mostly made up of people who've turned their backs on Dota and, I note, mostly people who played support in that game too), some of it can be put down to how damage, items and roles in the game are handled. The game is faster, more aggressive, and I feel that - as now a sometimes support player - I can remain relevant throughout the game. I've never had to beg people to take objectives, or just be aggressive, or try to make something happen. Smite feels fast and aggressive; Dota 2 feels like everyone is paralysed with fear.

In the game of Dota 2 I mentioned earlier, we had a line-up capable of ganking people comfortably. As a support, I warded the enemy jungle so that we could pick off their junglers, because quite often one or two of them weren't in lane getting experience. The enemies pop up on the mini-map in their jungle, illuminated and exposed by ward coverage that meant we'd see where their reinforcements are, if any. But nobody did anything about it. The chat log was more or less filled with our carry players telling everyone to get back.

I got sick of playing game after game where the pace was dictated by either (a) players who were so cautious they never fight or, worse, (b) the enemy team. I miss those early games of Dota 2 where people would play aggressively - where you would try to make things happen, and yes, you might fail, but that's fine. The culture of the game has made people afraid to take risks and, by waiting until the game is almost lost before, you get put in the position where any single mistake costs you the game.

Am I still going to play Dota 2, when I could be playing Smite? At this point, the answer is: probably not. I'll probably still play it, every now and then when the mood takes me, and I enjoy watching it far more than I enjoy watching Smite, but Smite is a game where support play feels far more valued.

The Lesser Spotted Sprog came over to visit this afternoon, armed with a handful of models and a burning desire to push them around a table while muttering "yarr" to himself. We're still kind of feeling our way through Relic Knights, which is an anime-inspired sort of skirmish game involving toy soldiers, and this is only the second time we've tried these two factions. Paul's Corsairs were led by Calico Kate, the Relic Knight for the faction, fighting alongside the Iron Chef, two units of Corsairs and a Broadside cannon. I opted to take Malya, for some crazy Relic Knight vs Relic Knight action, along with a Royal Wrecker, some Pit Crew to keep it intact, Rin Farrah for some ranged support and a unit of Hells Belles. Sadly, I've already managed to forget what all the objectives were; I think I had to destroy the two secondary objectives or the primary one, and sabotage at least five objectives. Paul - I think! - had to kill three units and... do something else.

My plan to keep the Royal Wrecker alive failed miserably, as it was subjected to volleys of fire from both the Broadsides and the Corsairs, backed up with a bit of help from Skully the Cypher. This sent me into a bit of a panic, as the Wrecker was rather central to my initial plan of tearing apart the enemy objectives quickly. With the Wrecker taken apart quickly, my Pit Crew were somewhat wasted, and I struggled to come up with a plan to keep the Cerci Speed Circuit in the game. While Malya comfortably ran rings around everyone (hitting her six esper bonus, meaning she could cover two thirds of the board in one turn comfortably), I spent too long being indecisive - I didn't fully commit to the objectives, nor did I fully commit to taking down Paul's units, so eventually I found myself playing to stop Paul achieving his goals, rather than playing to achieve my own. Eventually Malya was pinned down between Calico Kate, a lone Corsair and the Iron Chef and beaten to death, netting my brother enough victory points to win the game.

Compared to my experiences with the Black Diamond, the Speed Circuit seem a lot trickier to play. Their speed gives them a real advantage when it comes to some of the scenarios, but I think you've got to come up with a plan on how to deal with the scenario and start going straight for it from the very first turn. Black Diamond, on the other hand, feels like they're capable of fighting for a while before going for the objectives. I'll probably drop the Wrecker and Pit Crew for the next game, replacing them with some more Hells Belles; going all-out to start claiming victory points via scenario conditions within the first few activations, then worrying about the enemy models after I've got some victory points under my belt. Units in the game seem to have some of the best cost-to-damage ratios, so hopefully a pair of units - if they don't get taken apart straight away - can clean up once an objective is complete.

Malya is... good, I think. She's fast, and that's a lot of fun, but Suicide Queen's cadre ability Speed Trap is very valuable with the fast units in the faction. Rin is a good shootin' sort of model, who uses Law primarily, which makes for fewer wasted cards in the deck, but I find it hard to justify her eleven point price tag during the game. Perhaps it's because she's a Law Initiate? Her AoE debuff used early on in the game looks useful as an area denial tool, but the amount of damage is a bit lacking. I'll reserve judgement until I've used her some more, but units really seem to be where it's at right now.

After a losing streak that went on and on, it was sort of inevitable that our team wasn't going to work. While I'm certain that everyone involved has their own explanation for what wrong, and that the truth is probably somewhere between all of our views, I'll say this - it's made me think about team play a fair bit in the game. I believe that the cause of our failure was a lack of strategy; we approached each game with no plan, there was an unwillingness both to give and receive orders and, on the occasions that we did win games, it was due to the other team making costly mistakes. This isn't to say that, as individuals, we played badly - everyone on the team was competent at their role. There just wasn't somebody steering the ship, so to speak, nobody was able to settle on goals and get people to work towards them.

Personally, part of the problem is that I enjoy playing the support role, which means that I only get a satisfying feeling about a game when we play as a team. There's no passive farming role to fall back on, you've got to be aware of what the team is doing and then trying your hardest to make that work. If the team plan is nonexistent, then you're pretty stuffed. If there are no expectations about what the exact role you're playing should be doing, every decision is wrong - you roam, your carry complains that he's vulnerable. You babysit the carry, the other lanes complain about a lack of help. You ward aggressively because you want to go into the jungle to stop the other team farming it, but the team won't go in. You ward up your own jungle to protect it, and they go to farm the lanes. This is why the two people calling for more planning and coordination were the two support players.

I also ran into the issue of "fun".  In a team game, playing as a team is the thing I find fun. I love playing games where we are aggressive, where we take the initiative, where we force the other team to react to what we're doing. I would rather play an active game than a passive one, even if we lose. Considering that the passive sort of play leads us to lose tower after tower, giving up map control until finally the other team wins, the strategy of "no plan" was an odd one to cling on to. It's difficult, because when you start playing this game, you can rely on costly mistakes occurring. You don't need to have a plan to win, you just had to focus on your own game so you didn't fail. Victory would fall into your lap. Now we're all out of the newbie pool, now we're wanting to play as an actual team, we struggled to get anywhere in our games. I know that people are going to find the idea of one person being a captain, making calls and having a strategy to win not compatible with their idea of fun, and that's fine - but it's what team games require.

I'm relieved and sad in almost equal measure that the team's finished. Every game we played left me feeling frustrated, even when we won, because of that lack of planning - and the strange amount of resistance to the idea that we should be planning in the first place. I know that I said some things in the final post-game discussion that annoyed people tonight, and I'll have to spend some time mending bridges there. I'm hoping that I can, at some point, try putting together a team of like-minded people and have a proper try at team games.

Mapp vs Relic Knights: Gotta Go Fast

Another weekend, another couple of games of Relic Knights - our games went a little more smoothly this time around as, with a couple of games under our belts already and some time spent devouring the rulebook. Our games today were thirty five points a side, with Cerci Speed Circuit (me) squaring off against the Noh Empire (Sprog). We weren't using proxy models this time, so we both got to appreciate the size difference between the regular Noh Empire troops, who are bloody huge, compared to the slim humans making up the Cerci side.

Our first game was a quick reminder of how important positioning in the game is and the dangers of tunnel vision - Sprog focused heavily on dispatching my Royal Wrecker, which was busy trying to trek across the board to fulfil my secondary objective. While he didn't have the damage to easily take it out, he moved units around to try and push the mecha away from the table edge and back the way it came. With almost everything focused on this task, I spent a few activations moving units into position to place secure tokens on the enemy objectives, which was my primary goal. While the objectives you have to achieve in each game to score points are randomised, each faction has it's own flavourful bonus objective - Cerci Speed Circuit's faction objective it to complete one of the other objectives before you use up your deck of cards. Basically, whatever the primary or secondary objective is, you've got to do it quickly. Sprog, I think, felt that he had to try and slow me down, which isn't too hard to do - every time my units are attacked, they draw cards, which are then spent or discarded, bringing me close to running out of cards in my deck. With the primary objective being worth five victory points, the faction bonus (Lap Time) being worth an additional two, I was only one victory point shy of achieving the eight points required to win. Cerci seem heavily focused on achieving objectives rather than trying to win a straight-up fight, as their stuff feels a little bit pillow-fisted, especially compared to the Noh Empire units.

The second game was won by Cerci again, although this was probably the jankiest (is that even a word? Nope.) victory so far. Sprog was plagued by poor hands of cards and, with the fighting taking place in a fairly confined space, it was difficult to ensure good lines of sight from the knight to the cypher, so poor hands couldn't be mitigated with large reserves of esper. I ran my Knight - Suicide Queen - hard and aggressively at the start, drawing a lot of attention. I almost lost her, where it not for the timely intervention of a Pacer, who gave the Knight most of her lost health back. With a lot of attention going the way of Suicide Queen - so much, in fact, that I despaired after a few turns that she was in serious trouble - my other units were given the space they needed to chase up the objectives and win the game on the sly. I'll admit that I was incredibly lucky with some of my flips and, crucially, Sprog had very few turns where his Knight could really work at full effectiveness.

I'm going to try assembling my Black Diamond force this week, so we've got something different to try next weekend. I'm very glad that I picked up Cerci, as their inability to perform well (or at least, reliably) in a straight-up slugfest pushes me into playing an objective based game where I feel I can take the initiative. I think that Sprog had a good counter strategy for the second game, as he realised I needed to get to his primary objective and went out of his way to make it difficult for me to rush in straight away. I thinkthe counter to Cerci's objective running will be a combination of bunkering down, blocking with bodies and using ranged attacks to whittle down the deck as quickly as possible. Certain scenarios are going to force the Cerci to move to certain places, where they can be caught out. I've certainly learnt to be afraid of the Noh Berserkers, and the Renderers mean that I've got to be careful regarding the positions of every model I've got on the table. Suicide Queen is a lot more powerful than I think I initially gave her credit for; her initiate abilities make her quite tricky to take down, her high speed lets her get where she needs to be early and her cadre ability turns the cadre into an effective tar pit. Also, speed. Did I mention speed? She can cover eighteen inches in a single activation; that's half of the standard 3' x 3' board! That is crazy mobile.

Mapp vs Gaming Waffle: Relic Knights

So our Relic Knights pledge arrived this week - my brother and I are winners of the prestigious "Last Backer Award: EU Division", which came with some Ninja Division throwing stars, some headbands and a copy of the rulebook signed by the game designers. Neat. I'm sad that it took over two years from the Kickstarter funding to the stuff arriving on my doorstep, but now it has, the loot has been divided up and all's well with the world. Sprog and I busted open the starter boxes, took out the cards and got together some proxy models to give the rules a try. We'd both read through the quick start rules that were available online, so we weren't going in completely blind, but we both thought it'd be a good idea to just dive straight in with some small scale games. There's a pleasing amount of stuff in the box; cards, rulebook, more cards, models and - best of all! - delicious tokens. The tokens are reassuringly thick and chunky, and you get plenty of them.

I've not yet had a really good look at the models, as we weren't wanting to start assembling them this evening, we just used some stand-in models. I've heard online that some of the faces on the miniatures are a bit... lacking in detail, so that'll be something (possibly) to deal with once I've got to the painting stage.

My brother opted to pick up the Star Nebula Corsairs and the Noh Empire as his two preferred factions. The Corsairs are pirates in space, which is an idea I can get behind, especially after watching BodaciousSpace Pirates(I think that's what it's called...), while the Noh seem to be a faction made up almost entirely out of big, scary, hard-hitting red monsters. I picked Cerci Speed Circuit, which puts me in mind of Redline, and the Black Diamond, which are a rather shady mercenary operation. Our first game was Cerci versus Corsairs.

There were some changes made to the starter set for Cerci Speed Circuit, so I found myself receiving not only the models that made up the old set, but also the new starter set as well. Thank you, Soda Pop Miniatures! The new starter set is rather less about speed - although Marie-Claude has a rather nifty speed bosting support action - and more about wrecking all kinds of face with the rather correctly named "Royal Wrecker". I came out of the gates pretty strong, with the Wrecker activating first and charging straight into a rather threatening cannon. The Wrecker was, without a doubt, the most effective thing I had on the table - it's mobile, it knocks people around and it can tow models away, which resulted in some ridiculous combos involving AOE effects that stop people moving around. However, for all the problems I was causing on one side of the table, Marie-Claude (who'd ran off to interact with an objective) got cornered by Captain Harker. Captain Harker is mean and, despite the best attempts of my own Knight (and the Royal Wrecker), he managed to take down Marie-Claude.

The second game was Noh Empire squaring off against Black Diamond. In the true spirit of proxy-gaming, a large whiteboard served as our playing surface, with terrain rather crudely drawn on. While this makes for a rather one dimensional gaming board, I figured that the visual spectacle of the game was already pretty compromised (proxy models!), so what the hell. Armed with dry-erase markers, we set to work drawing up a ruined church or, at least, something that sort of looked like a ruined church. While it's  never going to replace lovely, three dimensional terrain made with care and love, the ability to simply draw out the terrain gave us the opportunity to incorporate different kinds of terrain into the game, and create an environment for the game to take place that wasn't constrained by our (fairly small) terrain collection.

With a slightly firmer understanding of the rules now under our belts, buckled firmly by our little bit of experience, the game went rather differently - an early gamble by Paul didn't pay off (he'd hoped to flatten my Black Diamond mercs with a well placed shot on the first turn) and it allowed me to go on the offensive, driving my plucky tank up into the fray and pouring damage into everything. The blast rules proved to be quite hilarious, and I realised that I could focus on shooting his Knight, which would force her to redirect the attack on to somebody else. With Magnus threatening to do horrible things if the enemy knight held on to esper (a magical resource which makes performing an action successfully a lot easier), I could force Paul to burn through cards (it's a no dice sort of game). Paul couldn't gain a foothold in the church, and he conceded the game when both of our stomachs began to rumble loudly. Final score was five to nothing and, while it wasn't exactly a proper, decisive victory (unlike what Paul achieved in the first game), I like to think I was in a position to deliver a final blow in the next few rounds.

So my impressions of the game mechanics, after two small introductory games, are generally positive - I appreciate that it's a game which tries to do something different and doesn't just follow in the manner of other games. I especially appreciate the deployment rules, which eliminates the "that's my side of the table and that's yours" found in other games and the slow posturing that happens in the first turn or two of other games. With infinite range on ranged attacks, melee troops capable of achieving long charges, you can get stuck in very early on. Scenarios haven't come into play too much yet, but I believe that's a function of the small sized games we're playing - for instance, one of my secondary objectives in the first game was "destroy three enemy units" - which would be the entirety of the enemy force at that particular scale! I know that there have been some people who aren't happy with the game mechanics, and I think a lot of these issues boil down to it being quite unlike other games; the success of Games Workshop must mean people like games in that style, and this is not a game in that style. Will it take off and become popular? I hope so. I doubt that it will ever unseat Games Workshop, nor would it keep the Privateer Press folks up at night worrying about market share, but it's a game that deserves to do well.

Hopefully Paul and I will have some more games over the coming weeks. Fingers crossed.

Mapp vs Gaming Waffle: Crusader Kings 2

Usual Disclaimer: Brain meats suck, computer games are awesome, why not focus on the latter?

I finally went back to Crusader Kings 2 yesterday, picking up my alternate history adventures with the island of Socotra. I'd tweaked the game a little to let me turn the island into it's own trade republic, as there's plenty of room for expansion down there (from the Red Sea all the way around the coastline to India) and I had decided to take a bit of land for myself in the general Oman region. This wasn't a sensible move, compounding the general religious conflicts with holding some land that the squabbling mainlanders were interested in.

As powers rise and fell along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, each of them waged war on me to take back my slice of Oman. War after war after war started to drain the funds of the Republic considerably, as hired mercenaries arrived on the island of Socotra and would then have to be shipped across to the mainland. When it became obvious that there wasn't any hope for me keeping the land and, even if I could hold it for a few more years, I wouldn't make any money out of it, I did the unthinkable. I surrendered.

The ensuing peace let me do two things: tend to the needs of my own House, and cause trouble elsewhere. Early in this bizarro-alternate-history, the island converted wholesale to the Messalian heresy. Part of this was because it'd allow for marriages between close relations, which would help get around the complete isolation the Republic faced. The other reason, which is likely the reason why anyone does anything in this game, was because it was an entertaining choice and an island of rich, inbred merchants was an appealing, challenging narrative. This decision was coming back to bite me, as smallpox ravaged the courts of Socotra, claiming the lives of many of the inbred, sickly children. I began looking to the outside world to arrange marriages, opting to bring people to the island that possessed good breeding traits and who were willing to convert to the heretical Messalian faith. It's a safe bet that this sort of thing is going to happen repeatedly in the history of the island, with generation after generation getting repeatedly more inbred until some new blood is brought in every seventy five years or so.

The money was rolling in once more, trade flourishing as the mainland remained peaceful and rulers there turned their attention towards making their holdings more profitable. The Republic faced no pressing outside threats, beyond the general religious differences, and a new generation of House members was coming of age. Expansion was on the cards once more, with trade posts being built all along the coast of the Red Sea. Patriarchs died, elections were held, and it was time for the newest Grand Mayor to make his mark on the world. I wanted to stir things up a bit, this time with another attempt at a land grab, and I saw that I was in a position to claim something on the coast which would cause a lot of trouble.

Mecca became the newest holding of the Republic of Socotra. I decided to take a break after this, as a rather large war was declared which saw almost everyone south of Spain and west of India promising to get involved.