22nd Jan 2008 | 11:24
Vladimir Kost, my ablest general, was assassinated 12 turns ago. Since his death, Kost's Kommandos, the ragtag collection of men and mecha that single-handedly saw off the Xenopod menace, has suffered defeat after defeat. Now they wait for the Mutant assault that will finish them.
Things look hopeless; I shouldn't be smiling, yet I am. I'm smiling because this is one of the best strategy games I've played in ages.
Oh, I'm also smiling because Valentine, my favourite saboteur, has just sneaked a briefcase nuke into the Mutant capital.
Welcome to Armageddon Empires, a rich, riveting post-apocalyptic mix of Civ-style TBS and collectable card games.
Newcomers Cryptic Comet might not know much about interface design (embarrassingly clumsy) or tutorial provision (see snipurl.com/1v0fp for a decent primer), but the way they've blended warfare, economics, base-building, logistics, heroes, espionage and exploration borders on brilliant.
Every game begins the same way. You place a base on the edge of a randomly generated hex map, and pore over a hand of beautifully illustrated cards. With luck they'll be some recon units there, speedy spider bots, dinos, buggies or bat-things perfect for probing the surrounding wilderness. A few turns further on and you'll probably have some hero cards.
These named bigwigs, each with their own specialisms, lead armies, conduct research and oversee the erection of the resource-harvesting buildings that fund all unit actions, and hand replenishment.
Often the best sources of manpower and materials are already occupied. Those deceptively drab landscapes in the screenshots are littered with exotic tribes, critters and structures.
One turn your troops could be skirmishing with cultists in a canyon temple, the next they might be salvaging a nuke from a beached sub.
When factions meet, the fun really begins. AI recon forces usually show up first, then maybe there's an air-raid or two, or a visit from a sab or an assassin. Eventually, large armies arrive and you find yourself wishing you'd created more tactics cards (used to modify combat dice rolls) and built that lab to enable weapons upgrades.
Then again maybe you get lucky. Maybe the CPU powers rip each other to shreds before they find you.
The turn of the cards, the plethora of unit types, and the colourful encounter system ensure a different experience every time. Only adventure and absorption are guaranteed.