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OnLine of Departure Support Wargames by Jim Werbaneth




Supplements and Player's Aids



Originally Published May 29, 2002

By Jim Werbaneth

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (Microsoft) is my favorite real time strategy game.  The adaptation of its engine by Lucas Arts to the Star Wars universe, in the form of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, was a development that I welcomed, as a fan of the movies from the very beginning as well as of the game system.  The result is a good game, one that incorporates the most important refinements of The Conquerors expansion to The Age of Kings, as well as the ambience of Star Wars.

Coinciding with the release this month of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, LucasArts has also released an expansion to Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds titled, appropriately enough, Clone Campaigns.  It does not represent a really major development of the existing system, as The Conquerors did for The Age of Kings, though it does add units and capabilities to the game; its main purpose is to add two new sides drawn from the new movie, the Galactic Republic and the separatist Confederacy.

Of course too, there is the merchandising element to the picture, and the neither Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds nor the new expansion exists in an economic vacuum.  The right hand sells movie tickets, and the left hand sells games, and the synergy to build a better profit meets somewhere in the middle.  But what can I saw?  I’m a fan.

Not that I am about to indict anyone for that, as I saw Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones the first weekend it was out, and actually bought Clone Campaigns the day before.  I was a most eager consumer of both film and game.

For the veteran of Galactic Battlegrounds, Clone Campaigns is extremely accessible, with no major mechanical changes.  There is one change that has less of an impact than one might expect, and that is raising the maximum limit on units in play from 200 to 250.  In general, I believe, the limit only matters if the player sets it at 175 or less, and that the lower the limit, the tighter the constraints on strategy.  However, at 200 or above, the limit becomes, from most perspectives, infinity.  I find it unlikely that, at least when playing against computer opponents, a player will find it necessary to eliminate units to make room for those with a higher-priority purpose, such as getting rid of carbon collectors in favor of combat units.  In a sense, the larger force allowances in Clone Campaigns simply reinforces a principle already fully in evidence in the core game.

There are a lot of additions to the technologies that players can research, including giving previously rather passive buildings a new research role.  For example, defensive shield generators can become more robust and resilient, and even power cores, previously used solely to increase the efficiencies of activities around them and permit shield generators to function, can be enhanced when the owner reaches the higher levels of technology.  It is even possible for a power core to produce a power droid, which performs an identical role, though at lower strength and range, with the benefit of some mobility.

There is also an entirely new class of combat unit, the cruiser, produced at fortresses at the Tech 4 level.  Cruisers are a kind of aerial unit, frustratingly slow both in terms of movement and the rate of fire of the main batteries.  But when they get to the target and actually fire upon it, the potential for damage is massive.  Cruisers also have a habit of wrecking the area around the target as well, which means that a player should be very careful when employing them in concert with short-ranged ground units that might get caught in the blast area.

Clone Campaigns introduces one completely new class of combatant, aggressive animals.  The Confederacy can breed them at their animal nurseries, Nexu specializing in attacking workers, Acklay for opposing enemy troopers, and the Reek, suited for demolishing buildings.

The Confederacy and Republic both have unique aerial units, produced at fortresses.  The Confederacy’s are the winged, insectoid Geonosian warriors, capable of engaging other air units, but really potent against ground troopers.  On the Republican side, fortresses produce Jedi starfighters, functional fighter bombers that shoot slowly, but fire a homing missile, and can benefit from research and upgrades geared toward Jedi knights and masters in general.

Veteran enthusiasts of the system should be aware from the beginning that Clone Campaigns is not to Galactic Battlegrounds what The Conquerors is to The Age of Kings.  That supplement introduces five new civilizations, one very important new rule-----for reseeding farms-----and numerous new capabilities and units for the original nations, in all a highly important package of refinements.

Clone Campaigns cannot aim for the same level of improvement, to start with because most of the truly vital enhancements were incorporated into Galactic Battlegrounds in the first place.  Additionally, the Star Wars supplement adds just two new nations.  Then again, the real world offers plenty of opportunity for new civilizations even after The Conquerors; I would love to see the medieval Russians, Incans and perhaps an African empire, such as Ghana or the Ashanti, added to the mix.  On the other hand, for all the multi-species glory of the Star Wars galaxy, the five movies so far have produced relatively few additional candidates for its game.  Some fans might want to see the Ewoks, but I doubt there is a groundswell for the Jawas.

Even with these limitations in mind, Clone Campaigns is a good addition to Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.  It does serve the movie by expanding the game environment to include the settings and sides of the two most recent movies, and from the purely gaming perspective, it is a enhancement, albeit a relatively modest one.