Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ex Illis Demo Thoughts

Yep. I'm back. And hopefully I won't be taking as long a break as this last one...And I know I keep saying that.

So this past Saturday I was treated to an appearance of Eric Harlaux (formerly of the Asmodee game company) who I have interviewed a few times from Dreamation and Dexcon and who had been sorely missed at those conventions over the last year (for those who saw the Opening Ceremonies video at Dexcon (which we will have posted sometime soonish as my PC decided to kill itself and I have not had the opportunity to get it repaired) he had quite an entertaining impact on the shows). Eric stopped by The Only Game In Town in Somerville NJ to show off Ex Illis, a game that Bastion Studio is developing.

Ex Illis is a miniatures game with a twist. It uses a computer (or Ipod Touch) to replace the dice rolling that is common in war games. I was skeptical of this approach, especially since many minis players have their own superstitions when it comes to dice rolling, and you can actually see the outcome of the actions you are taking. I was given the opportunity to demo the game with the kit they brought with them.

My first impressions of the game: I like the plastic tiles that come with the Deluxe starter (I forget what they call it) because it gives a little depth to the playing field. I also appreciated the fact that the packaging that came with the Deluxe Starter was built to hold the plastic tiles, and they include little clips to prevent the tiles from sitting on each other and scratching the paint job that would take time to complete.

The miniatures themselves look pretty cool. Well at least the human models. The demon imps and the huge construct looking things were a little awkward, but what can you do. There is a wide variety of different units in the game and a few of the look fun to paint. The minis do come on a sprue and you would have to assemble and paint them, but for myself and other miniature players that is half (or even more) of the fun.

Now for the demo. The demo was set up for a 3x3 grid as our playing field. My opponent and I each had control of 3 units a piece. The program asked us for terrain pieces which allowed us to place a forest and some fencing in some of the grids. On the application it was as easy as dragging the forest to the square that it was going to be on, and then taking a forest that the store had and putting it in that same square on the real board. We then placed our units in our starting areas and pressed play and we were off.

The program we were using was being hosted on an Ipod touch (or Iphone as I don't really know the difference) and we were playing in Hot Seat mode, which meant we were both playing with the same device running the program. There is the option for both players to have their own devices which would prevent you from passing the device or standing up to allow the other player to be in front of the computer. The program tells you which unit has the initiative to go first, and unlike any minis game I have ever played, you aren't moving and shooting and doing other actions for all of your units all at once. It may switch back and forth as it did with my opponent, where I had the first unit that could do something and then he had 2 units that did actions, then one for me then one for him and back to me for my last unit and then my first unit again. Most minis games have one player do everything he is going to do and then have the other player do everything. I feel this gives the game a little more strategy and realism as you can react differently and assess threats better.

The program shows you what actions the unit can take, and there is a help toggle that lets you click on an action button and it will tell you what the action does, and the amount of stamina the action takes. You then toggle off the help and select what action you want your unit to take, from moving, to charging to ranged attacks, to a defensive stance. Let's say I have a unit charge into another square with my opponent's unit in it. The program will show an animation while it is calculating the hits, misses, and armor saves that happen in the game, and then tell you to remove how ever many models may have been killed. As the player you should have moved the unit into the square with your enemy. It was pretty simple and easy. The most complex thing that I had to figure out was what each of the actions did since I was unfamiliar with the icons that were displayed, but aside from that it was straight forward.

Now in the demo the point was to destroy all of the opposing units. I believe that is also the goal of the regular game. All in all it took my opponent and I about 15 minutes to play our our demo. Part of that was trash talking since we are buddies, but the game was fast paced.

I saw the paper map that the regular start comes with, and after comparing it to the plastic tiles the tiles are a lot better. They can be configured in different ways, they have depth and texture. The paper map was ok, it was glossy and colored, but nothing compared to the tiles.

I spoke with Giancarlo and Eric after the demo and gave them the good ol' Diabolik hard hitting, no punches pulled reaction to the game. I threw questions at them, such as whether there would be a way to play without the computer, which is a no since there are so many calculations that come into play. One of the pitch statements they used was that I wouldn't have to carry around my rulebook and codex to reference things. My retort was that I had to bring a laptop with my minis to play the game. They retorted with I could use an Ipod Touch, which I pointed out I did not own, nor did I have an intention of owning one. I also pointed out, and mainly because they seemed to be dismissing my opinion, that there could be times that I would not have a place to plug in a laptop where it would be a safe solution, in particular the room I was in doing the demo, especially if it was crowded. Aside from them dismissing that argument they were very excited about the game and they wanted us to ask questions.

Now the way I understand it is that the starter sets are supposed to be entirely fielded against each other. All 54 models (which to be honest is not a lot of models if you are used to minis games...) against another 54 models. The idea here is that your models earn experience points and they can level up and get better skills or spells or what have you. this is something that you never see with traditional minis games, aside from the smaller scale things like Mordheim. And I loved Mordheim because I was able to level up my guys and they could get injured or killed. From there they will be releasing more units about every month they say (I kind of hope it's like every 2 months to allow things a better pace).

All in all I will be getting into this game and I look forward to playing it. Plus sides are cool models, cool maps (with the deluxe one), earning experience, and quickness of the game. Downsides are needing the computer or Ipod, lack of opponents to gain experience when I have the free time, according to Giancarlo the fact that I would have to choose to split my models into 2 armies to play someone else or as one army which means I can't loan someone my models to teach them how to play. The software end of things seems to limit my ability to get people into the game where I would have to decide to split my models or use the whole thing. I suggested him looking into the ability to switch between the two, or have a demo mode set up in the software to allow me to switch and show someone using my models and then switch back and play someone with my full forces.

I look forward to this game coming out. To the point where I might be tempted to buy an Ipod Touch just so I can play the game without needing to move my laptop every time I want to play.

Check out the Ex Illis Website for more information.

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