Early Access Preview: Longsword – Tabletop Tactics11 Sep 2017 0
Not many projects survive a failed Kickstarter campaign – heck, some don't manage to live out successful ones. But where there's a will (or a whip), there's a way. And when there's the will to make a game that's also a tabletop miniature platform, then there's Longsword – Tabletop Tactics.
The game is born from a man's dream to allow people constrained by adult and family life experience the best part of miniature gaming. Normally, to get into the miniature racket, you need to spend a ton of money on toy soldiers (unless you play 6mm - God's Own Scale), have a lot of time to paint them, and then spend more time and resources to build terrain that you may or may not have time to store. Finding an opponents seems like an afterthought at that point.
So Longsword sets out to be your digital miniature gaming platform. The idea isn't exactly super new. VASSAL is there for people who don't mind wrestling with a user interface that has all the grace and intuitiveness of circa 1997 designs. Table Top Simulator is a modern offering that provides you with the means to simulate the act of moving 3D miniatures around on the table. However, those are very bare bones games/services, as they can't and won't handle any game mechanics related stuff outside of dice rolls. So a closer comparison would be Wartile, a hex game that very much looks like a miniature game, but with computer handling all of the boring battle calculations.
Longsword is similar to Wartile, but the idea here is to make a Trading Card Game-inspired platform that would handle all the measuring and rolling stuff. The game is free to play on purpose: if you test it out and like it, you'll only need to pay for thematic expansions. You will then be able to build your armies from decks of unit cards and take them to the field of battle to fight other players, do some compstomp or try out narrative campaigns. You will also be able to build the field of battle yourself. The game works with hexes, and terrain editor is built on that, too. It's quite easy to use! And the hex map idea isn't foreign to actual miniature games, either – Tiny Tanks blog has even made a version of the venerable A Fistfull of TOWs ruleset that uses hexes instead of regular measurements.
The gameplay is quite simplistic. When a battle starts, you get some mana, a random hand of unit cards and a deployment area. You use the mana – the resource replenishes at set rate and is also collected after killing the enemy - to deploy your units. Each unit gets Actions Points as determined by their stats. Those points can then be used for actions, attacks and movement, with terrain type and height impacting the price of moves. The interesting thing is that some AP can be banked, so if you don't drain your soldier completely in one turn, he might be able to attack twice in the next one!
As it stands, Longsword is a pretty vicious skirmish level miniature game, where death comes hard and fast. Of course, there's nothing to say that the unit stats can't be tweaked in future releases to make your miniatures harder (or easier) to harm. There's also the possibility that the individual miniatures may one day be exchanged for squads of infantry or Napoleonic regiments. It would work well for games that don't care much for individual casualty tracking or miniature placement (so no Warhammer).
Miniatures (called Champions in game) are also modified by their abilities while equipment cards might add-on on top of that. You can have potentially have some interesting interactions that are only limited by the developer's will and skill in coding. Who is to say that a new pack of Champions can't be given an ability that reflects W40K's all-or-nothing armor save mechanic? There's really no reason why the game would stay unmodified with the relatively simple system of “attack strenght – defence strength = damage to HP.” Of course, this might give rise to deck compatibility issues, but these are problems for a later time.
The ease of use is definitely the greatest benefit of Longsword over stuff like TTS. You don't have subscribe to mods that feature models ripped from Dawn of War. You don't need to write down stats and equipment for your models to have on hand. You don't need to pack the models you need into digital bags to be brought into game. You don't need to measure distances or remember convoluted combat resolution mechanics. And map making requires zero knowledge of 3D modelling.
Longsword takes the fun parts of miniature games – mainly, collecting and customising miniatures, as well as fighting with them – and does the video game thing of handling the mechanics for you. A lot more people are willing to put 60 hours into Hearts of Iron over World in Flames since they don't need to calculate attacks and movement in HoI (a HoI campaign can hardly be ruined by cats or errant gusts of wind), or spend hours physically setting up.
Visually, the game is serviceable. In fact, a canny map designer can pull off some atmospheric maps, all via the smart use of in-game assets. And considering that the same mechanics are used to build both campaign and battle maps, you can get some amazing results with minimal effort, at least in comparison to building a physical map for a miniatures game.
I have only two major complaints: the mana bubbles that pop out when a unit is killed look a little silly, especially in the campaign game, where you don't have to collect mana for summoning. The other has to do with unit design: you can see the wizard in the screenshot that I'm adding to demonstrate the level of customization (repainting) available to miniatures. That's not a very well designed wizard! Hopefully, future deck releases will improve and we'll get some nice plate armored knights for those who want to play Chevauchee or Lion Rampant, but can't be arsed to paint metal miniatures.
Longsword – Tabletop Tactics still has a way to go. The big question for the players will be whether they value accessibility or freedom. TTS has all the freedom you need, but at the price of putting a lot of effort into making it work. Meanwhile, Longsword will provide the fun parts of miniature gaming without the time consuming aspects of the real deal. Will the developers ameliorate that via paid releases? Only time will tell.
Longsword entered Steam's Early Access program on July 20th, 2017. At the time of writing, the current plan is to remain in EA for six months, however this time-span will be altered as needed.