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Troy Goodfellow
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What is on your holiday reading list? Also, what is your standard reading location? Couch? Coffee shop? Hanging from the ceiling?

My holiday reading list is a mess. I have soooo many books I've barely touched. Want to get through this book on the South American wars of Liberation and the Byzantine navy.

Since I work at home in a 1 bedroom, I find it very hard to relax and read at home, so I prefer coffee shops or libraries or pubs.

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When was the last time you played Shadow President?

Oh dear. Years and years ago. Can't quite remember. Late 90s maybe?

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I've watched a PBS piece on Hamilton as well as listened to the cast recording. It isn't resonating with me. What am I missing? (Music theater is one of my loves so it isn't just a general thing).

Wayne Arthurton

Dunno. No accounting for taste. I loved Miranda's first show, "In the Heights", so maybe check that out and see if you just have issues with him as a composer.

On a musical level, I love how Hamilton plays with the forms of music. You have a lot of the history of black music in the show (it's called a 'rap' musical but it really isn't - equal parts jazz, soul, some Dixieland, etc) and musical styles are evoked for character purposes and themes.

On a dramatic level, it's about one of my favorite historical figures (though it elides a lot about him, moves dates around), and casts him as a man undone by both his own passion and his own death wish. It is a show that brings tears to my eyes if I'm in the right/wrong mood.

But not everyone will like it. There have been a few backlash cycles (political critiques, thoughts it's overhyped, people saying it's the new Rent - no one will take it seriously in five years time), but I vote with the majority here. I think it's a really great musical.

I do think "In the Heights" is more fun, though.

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I'm going to be in Toronto next week and I've got some time to kill. Can you recommend any good museums, sights, or absolute must-sees? War, nerd, or grognard related is a plus.

Casey Calouette

I guess it depends on where you'll be and how long you have. The Royal Ontario Museum has some great collections. If you like art galleries, I just renewed my love affair with the Art Gallery of Ontario. It looks like we'll have a beautiful autumn, so even just walking across the University of Toronto campus with its mishmash of Georgian, faux Gothic, and Brutalist architecture is a treat if you've never seen it.

Not much for grognards, I'm afraid, since our forts are were further to the south to keep out the riff-raff. If you have many hours free, the Snakes and Lattes board game cafes have a great ambience, but always better if you have someone with you.

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What do you think about Mary Beard's conclusion to her recent TV series 'Empire without Limit' that the Roman Empire didn't really fall but transformed into an 'Empire of the Mind' in the form of the Catholic Church?

Sam Spackman

I love Mary Beard so so much. But, alas, no BBC or even a TV. So I can't speak to it.

But once I find a clean way to binge I will.

Generally speaking though, institutions are more likely to transform than fall. I admit that my knowledge of 5th century Church power in the West is weaker than I would like, and Dr Beard has me bested easily.

Still, I think we can go too far in imagining that such breaches didn't happen - I would need to do some deep research on when people pointed to 476 as the fall, even as Constantinople and the Papacy continued.

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I've tried playing strategy games like Ultimate General and Unity of Command but I always feel like they're assuming I have some tactical knowledge that's never taught in the game. Do you know of any good resources or games to learn some tactics basics?

There is some assumed knowledge in Ultimate General - always better to fire on an enemy in the flank (side) than head on, charge when you see the enemy about to break, protect your cannon, if you find a hole you should push through it but don't get cut off, use your cavalry for scouting and harassing and not serious fighting, use cannister fire when infantry are close to your cannon, etc.

A lot of these are such basic military maxims that I can't think of a single good Dummies Guide to 19th Century Warfare. Reading a bit about the era always helps.

FWIW, Sid Meier's Gettysburg was very clear with the numbers, so you knew what was working and why.

As for Unity of Command, it's really a different beast. It has very very little to do with tactics, since the primary objective is to cut off the enemy supply and encircling units. The only real tactical concern is whether to use armor or infantry and wear. Because UoC is a game with a thesis about Eastern Front warfare, the rules are crucial here, and will often not be transferrable to another game on the same topic, unlike UGG, where the basic outline of Civil War battles is clear.

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Not exactly strategy related but if money is no object, what is your adult beverage of choice and why?

Single malt scotch. Ideally McAllan's. It's a drink of leisure.

But, a good friend has introduced me to ridiculously good sake, so that's climbing the list.

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It seems today strategy games with no irreversibly wrong moves and Tamagochi-style pacing (Clash of Clans, DomiNations etc). Do you think anything like this is possible as less primitive system?

I'm not sure if Clash of Clans is a strategy game except at the highest levels when alliances get involved. I mean, it is a strategy game because it fits the basic definition of spending limited resources to enable further actions or facilitate future planning. But beyond that...

I do think that the easy cash of these times of micropayment alliance games (the basic format of which existed in browser form for a decade before mobile, e.g. Travian) is taking away from the potential development of the mobile/tablet space for serious, fun strategy games.

But people game on their mobile devices differently than they do consoles or computers. They are more machines you pick up and putter with when you are bored or busy or commuting than really serious gaming machines. They proven to be an excellent platform for boardgames and similar designs since you aren't required to be there all the time - just like with Clash of Clans real-time resource collection and building.

My favorite moblle strategy games that aren't boardgames, stuff like the Autumn Dynasty series, are things you can put away, but then you forget where you are or what you are doing. Still, there are good games out there - you will need to buy them though, in an app world where freemium still reigns supreme.

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I am currently having a blast with Age of Empires 3. Skirmish mode with progresstion! It's fun. What do you think went wrong with this game? Why did it kill the franchise? People still obviously care about AoE2 so AoE3 must have done something very wrong to prevent a sequel.

Age of Empires 3 is a great skirmish game, especially when you can choose how you progress your favorite nation, unlocking new attributes to match your style, saving decks based on maps or opponents. I am a huge huge fan.

I don't think it was successful enough commercially, though. It came at the very tail end of the base-building RTS as a major genre and was very expensive. When AoE2 came out, it was an historical RTS you could play online very quickly in the heyday of RTS gaming, plus it was very simple.

For all the innovations in AoE3, it is also an order more complex and I wonder if the subtle fun of deck building and maybe being a specialist at one or two nations (so you could progress further) was less fun for people than just saying "Today I will be the Franks"

When Ensemble closed down, I did a long studio post-mortem, interviewing the major players there. I should dig that out.

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What game would be the best to decide the 2016 Presidential election?

Wayne Arthurton

You mean as a simulation? No idea - I'm far behind on how good election sims are.

You mean as a competition to decide who the president should be? Anything Trump would be awful at, so I guess a game that requires an attention span. Not golf, though I hear he cheats at that anyway.

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Do you think addictive videogames can be used as an escapism in a good way? Like fighting other types of addiction.

In general, I'm not a big fan of substituting one addiction with another - even a comparatively harmless one like gaming. I do know some very well-ordered people that can get obsessive about games to the point of distraction, so it's not entirely harmless for everyone, of course.

I'm not a psychologist or neurologist, though. I really can't speak cleanly and clearly on issues of addiction with any authority whatsoever.

I do think that, for some people, escapism can be a problem and moderation is, I believe, something that most people struggle with at one point or another. (I often joke that Civilization II added a year to my doctorate. It's not all a joke.)

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Have you played any Alea Jacta Est? Thoughts?

Only dabbled, even though it's about an era near and dear to me. I probably have more bad ancient history games than good WW2 games.

It is very much an AGEod game, with all that entails. Turn length (as in what a turn represents, not the computer processing of turns) is in a netherworld of me wishing the phases were shorter or they just moved to real time. The command and control system for leaders is still very good, as are some of the limitations on army formations.
It falls down when it tries anything remotely outside the movement of armies (politics, resistance, economics) but I really appreciate the effort to cover the Mithridatic Wars, probably the original "never fight a land war in Asia" and the Revolt of Spartacus.

But, as I said, I've only dabbled. Once it's 10 years old I may write or record something on it. Right now, trying to make sense of Thirty Year's War.

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Have you read any books by Peter Hart and have you read any WWI nonfiction lately you would recommend?


Peter Hart, no. And most of my interest in WWI is why it happened - not the war itself.

On that end, Clark's "Sleepwalkers" has been the most challenging. It's the best counter to Fischer in the last 50 years, but I'm still weighing critiques.

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Do you enjoy the MLB trade deadline or dread it?

I love it. Like all trade deadlines, you get to see stupidity in action. And, this year, my Nats and Jays are not selling, so all good.

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RE: Sid Meier's pirates. Could one explanation for the trade and merchant side of the game be that it benefits the players immersion to have a means of income to ignore? Thus letting the player feel even more like they're bucking the system.

That's actually a very interesting jiu-jitsu look at game design. This is my new head canon.

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Are there any historical games that make you feel you're there?

I think the Scourge of War games are excellent at this. The huge scale and meandering pace of these battle games do a great job of letting you soak in all of the flavour and scenery. I think these games are best played at a lower-than-high-command position, which helps you focus on the tasks your brigade or division has to manage.

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I've been playing Total War : Warhammer (never played the earlier ones) and am looking to learn more on Roman Military formations to help me not suck so bad. Got any recommended books on that period that are a good read?

You can the basics on Roman military structure online in a host of places. For books, if all you want are the formations, tactics and intro level stuff with great art, I recommend the Osprey military history books.

For a more conventional popular monograph, Adrian Goldsworthy's work on the Punic Wars is good.

Because there are two things to consider:

1) Roman tactics and formations varies widely over 600 years of empire. Not all fit the tools you will be given in a game.

2) TW Warhammer is best understood not as a historical tactical sim but an animated fantasy miniature game with superhero units that will wreck your shit.

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Scenario: Stuck in a cabin with only a PC running Windows 98SE/DOS. You have enough bandwidth to download one game from GOG. Due to snow you will not be able to leave for 6 months. Assume you are safe, have food, etc. Nothing to read but US magazine. Question: What game to you play to pass the time?

Wayne Arthurton

Brian Reynolds's Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Not even a close debate.

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Where do you see grog game design going? How can the industry takes titles like Tillers, Tiger on the Hunt, or even the Grigsbys monsters and put them into a better place? So many of those games seem rooted in the 1994 Visual Basic School of Design.

Casey Calouette

I really don't understand the commitment so many wargame designers have to ugly games with primitive interfaces. (yeah, yeah, physician heal thyself and all that). But the aesthetic battle is one that I think wargame companies have to win on if they hope to ever expand their audience - which might be a debatable proposition; relying on a well-off baby boomer veteran audience that will buy whatever you make might be easier than alienating them with new methods.

I'm more interested in where design qua design is going. I think that Unity of Command or Flashpoint Campaigns point in a direction of a strong thematic game that emphasizes one or two major attributes of an engagement (supply and CinC respectively) as opposed to monster games that try to BE the war.

I think Rules the Waves is the most exciting strategy/wargame idea to come along in a while, with a strong spreadsheet emphasis in the strategy/econ end and a decent naval wargame as well, though it is done a great disservice by looking like a tax program.

The failed Shenandoah experiment really bugs me. I guess we could have seen it coming - it was a very large studio for a wargame company - but they made wonderful and original products.

But the big problem, as you hint in your question, is that too many wargame makers are happy just doing what they always have done because change is a risk. Whether it be the Tiller/HPS model of Win95 menus or the AgeOD "we have a system and we'll keep it no matter what" or the Hunted Cow iOS games that are really not very different from each other no matter what period they are covering.

I am not saying that these games are bad - I like a lot of the Squad Battle games a lot, the AgeOD system works really well for parts of history - but there isn't a great deal of moving the needle in interesting ways.

But that's true in a lot of the strategy space - or games space even. if you've got a system that works really well, you can improve on it, even if you stumble along the way. (I think Battlefront has righted itself after the Shock Force mess by sticking with that path and just getting better. Same with the Scourge of War guy(s).)

I am really bad at industry prognostication. And Bruce would answer this much better than I did.

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Thoughts on perfect comfort food strategy game? ...Or maybe I'd better send it to 3MA Q&A?

This is a good Q&A since it will be different for everyone, but for me, strategy comfort food is about familiarity. So Civ wins here - it's a series I know well, that I can play for hours and then put down because, after thousands of hours, I don't need to play the game to its conclusion to get my satisfaction. Start it, play till the industrial age or until Montezuma stabs me in the back for the eighth time and then stop.

I have gone through phases where an RTS like Age of Mythology was comfort food, but since my skills have atrophied too far, it's not especially relaxing any more.

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Oh man, there's a game I haven't thought about in a while.

There a bunch of these sorts of games. Port Royale series, Rise of Venice. I am not sure if Guild 2 holds up after all these years, though I remember it quite fondly. But trading empire games all tend to blur together unless they have something really unique to raise them about the "make money, become more powerful" arc.

Someone should probably write a comparison of these games.

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What holds you from Whatsapp-ing a guy you like?

This is a very odd question.

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What was your gaming nick "back in the day?"

I never had many nicks. But I went by Porcius when I was very active on a few forums in the late 90s.

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Which history books really engaged you lately?

Casey Calouette

Been so busy that my reading has fallen behind, unfortunately.

But I've been re-reading bits of C.V. Wedgwood's "Thirty Years War", and it's not a new book by any means but it is just a freaking masterpiece. A war that makes little sense is made abundantly clear but still makes no sense in the highest sense of the term.

Wedgwood has little patience for the heroism of war or abstract ideals of glory. Real human heroism? Sure. All of her portraits are human - Tilly's failure to stop the sack of Magdeburg is wrenching and pathetic in her hands.

I need to get the rest of her English Civil War histories because she is competing with Erich Gruen as my favorite historian.

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About Age of Mythology: oh, they call it Extended Edition instead of remake. Weren't those "Age of" games one of the latest AAA-RTS giving you full experience even if you don't care about multiplayer? Is this why they're getting expansions 15 years after release?

"Extended edition" really doesn't mean much of anything. It's the original game plus the Titans expansion and now there is a Chinese expansion.

I think AoM is a great single player game - excellent story based campaign, very distinctive factions. I've only dabbled with the Chinese, so I can't really comment on well that side works with the other ones. (I didn't like the Titans at all).

And hey, an expansion 15 years later (we got one for the even older Age of Empires II, as well, recently) works for me.

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About Troy Goodfellow:

Writer, PR hack, podcaster

Toronto, Canada