Dale's Wargames

My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review of Leviathan: Warships

Some time ago a gaming buddy of mine got into the board game BattleLore (version 1). Because he was in Ohio and I am in Arizona, we would play it online using Vassal, an outstanding tool for playing board games online. We played the heck out of that game, discussing strategy for it endlessly. When the first online tournament for it came about, he and I joined and came in 1 and 2, respectively (I bragged about it here).

Now this guy is a naval nut, so at some point he visited and I bought him a starter pack for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea. He went nuts for that (I reviewed the game here) and got the idea that we should play this on Vassal. After much coding and grinding, he abandoned the project because he could not reliably get images for all of the ships and cards.

Skip forward a year and a half and we come to my discovery of Leviathan: Warships. Now, this is not a new game, by any stretch of the imagination. Also, let me point out right now, for those that do not want to read about such stuff and would like to stop while they are ahead: this is a computer game. That said, it scratches an itch for me about how a computer can sometimes produce a superior wargame.

The backstory is that my buddy wanted to play a naval computer game – something player versus player – and was looking about for something. One of the things that I have noticed of late are games originally written for the PC that not only migrate to the Mac, but also make it to the mobile platforms like iOS and Android tablets. Not just games, but multiplayer online games. That means the ability to play against other people across the internet on the platform of your choice. Some games even let you start games on one platform and finish on another, if you have copies for the platforms. So as I was scrolling through the Steam store looking for cross-platform, multiplayer, online games which support the Mac, I find Leviathan: Warships. Hmmm, let's see: turn-based, fog of war, steampunk, customize ships, build your own fleets, asynchronous gameplay, email notification, saved replays; what's not to like? I then check the App Store and sure enough, there is an iOS version that is fully compatible with the other platforms.

Turn-Based

A lot of games are turn-based, especially in the board game and miniatures arena. In computer games it means much the same thing: the game is broken up into a series of turns, representing some interval of time in which you can do a limited set of actions. In Leviathan: Warships each turn represents 10 seconds. As you move a little counter shows you how many seconds have gone by to get to that point. Weapon systems show you when they are ready, or if they are reloading, how many seconds remain before they can fire again. Critical hits often show how many seconds remain with the effect before it is repaired.

Fog of War

Ships have a certain visual range, within which they will see the enemy. This game gives you a reason to buy scout ships, as they have a longer range for detecting the enemy. Like real life, you need to send your scouts out so you can find and fix the enemy, then start raining steel down on the enemy with your big guns, which are stationed in the rear, out of sight of their ships.

Steampunk

Although the game is ostensibly set in the 1870s to 1930s it also includes some weaponry not found in our time: railguns, rocket batteries, beam guns, energy shields, cloaking devices, and monster guns. Yes, you can call up the Kraken from the dead and have it munch on the enemy's warships. (Or you can have a gentleman's agreement not to include such gear in your games.)

Customize Ships

As shown in the image to the right (you can click to enlarge), a ship is divided into compartments, each of which can contain one or more weapon systems. The colors indicate what types of systems can go there (offensive, defensive, or hybrid), the number of squares indicate the size of the weapon system. A railgun, for example, requires a 3x3 yellow or green grid, while a Kauser automatic cannon only requires a 1x1 yellow or green square.

Ships do have a limit on the total number of systems it can have – in this case the Dreadnought pictured can only carry 12 systems total – so you are not going to fill up all of those boxes.

Each of the ship designs can be saved so you can quickly and easily reuse your custom designs for other battles.

Build Your Own Fleets

Each game tends to be either a 3,000 point, 6,000 point, or 8,000 point battle, with no more than eight ships in each fleet. Using standard built ships, or ones that you have customized yourself, you build fleets to take into battle. It is easy to build a fleet around a theme due to the impressive number of systems available. (Note that there is generally only one variation of each system, but a goodly variety of systems.) Again, these fleets can be saved for easy access when a game is offered, making it quick and easy to start playing.

Asynchronous Gameplay

And now we come to the Holy Grail of gaming: simultaneous turns. Although both players plan out their turns, seeing where their enemies are at the end of the last turn, both players' turns play out simultaneously. So this really is a game of guessing where people are going to end up (in the next 10 seconds) and trying to exploit where you think their position will be.

Games can be customized where each player has 1 minute, 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week to plan out their moves. Once both players "commit" their turn, the computer plays out the turn, judging movement and combat based on their orders. Boy, if only face-to-face simultaneous movement gaming were so easy!

Why the long periods of time to plan out games? For one thing, like a chess game played online, this allows you to play out your turns in leisure, at your own pace, on your own schedule. It makes it much easier to play out a game with someone in another timezone, like my naval nut friend.

This also allows you to play multiple games simultaneously. If you are doing one turn a day, it might be very easy to handle a dozen games at once. (Of course, you have to have a mind for keeping all of that sorted. I don't.)

Note, not all games are drawn out. The 1 minute turn variant is like speed chess. You are not meant to play more than one game at a time if you are on that speed. But, you could.

Email Notification

For those games in which you do not stay in the software waiting for your opponent to make their next move, you can have the game notify via email when the next turn is ready. I have found that even though I might have a game set for daily moves, I might get two or three turns in on a night if my opponent happens to be online when I commit mine. But if not, being notified by email not only reminds me that I can play out a turn, but that I have a time limit coming up.

Saved Replays

Every game you play actually sends a small message to the developer's servers, which then routes the information to your client, letting you know what happened. Given that you may not be in the game client at the time the opponent's move is received, the server automatically stores the move until your client contacts it asking if a move is ready. A side effect of all of this is that the developers store all of the moves to your game until the game is complete. At that point it prompts you as to whether you should save the game on their server or not. If you save it, you can go back and replay the game, watching the action blow-by-blow, long after the game has finished.

At this time the developer has not stated how long they will store saved games. As the games are small, they are currently saving all of the games until they decide on a retention policy. There is no cost to the player to save games.

Best of all, you can give anyone else with a copy of the game the name of the server and the game's ID and they can watch your game replay. Many people have posted replay IDs on the forums of their best games. It is a great way to learn. You can pause the game at any point, look at ship damage, look at weapon system, etc. The only thing it does not show you is the ordered movement path and the fog of war. Otherwise, everything is available.

I have started putting up videos on YouTube of some of my computer gaming (I would do it with board and miniatures gaming if I could think of a good way to do it); here is an Introduction to 1v1 Games, and is the first game between my buddy and I. My cloaked Scout gets the jump on his heavy, allowing my ships with rocket batteries to pound him into the sandbar.

Feel free to subscribe to my channel. I am starting to focus on iOS games, but I also do some Minecraft multiplayer with friends, which are usually funny (to us) because we are so bad at it!

The Bad

Unfortunately, there is always some bad these days. With Leviathan: Warships the bad is that this game is not all that popular anymore. If you are looking for games with strangers (the matchmaking function that is available), you are not going to find many people waiting for games. In fact, you might not find any on weeknights. As I approached this as a means of playing with specific people, like with Vassal, this is not a primary concern; I generally only game with people I know.

The second half of that is that new content is not likely to come along. Also, there may come a time when the money they gained is playing for the servers of a decreasing number of players. No new players means no new sales of the software, equals no reason to keep the servers going. I don't think we are there yet, but who knows. I look upon it as enjoying it while it lasts. Who knows, maybe the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale will help boost new players coming on-board. (The PC and Mac version of the game is normally $10, but is on sale for $2.50. The iOS version of the game is $5.)

I hope you liked this review. Please let me know in the comments whether you care to see any computer wargame reviews (don't worry, I will not deluge the blog with them) or not. Any feedback is appreciated.

Also, if you do try this and you want a game, send a Friend Request (in the game) to "AdmiralBob", my Leviathan: Warships alter ego. See you on the High Seas!

Blog and Forum Pages

Popular Posts

Followers

About Me

My Photo
Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").