War for the Oaks

As we all know, movies follow this sequence: excellent foreign film, not-as-good American remake, completely unwatchable franchise that rakes in the cash. I wasn’t seeing quite this with UFDR books. I think the ’70’s “Interview with the Vampire” led us to “hey! Supernatural erotica can sell”. Urban Fantasy developed on its own. But then I read 1987’s “War for the Oaks”. It’s the Excellent Foreign Film of urban female detective romance.

One of the first things you notice is how gradually, through actions, we find out who’s who. It takes a few chapters to figure out which bandmate is her best friend. In fact, it takes those chapters for them to realize it themselves. We’re not quite sure about her loser boyfriend, then he becomes a bad-guy, then we realize we had the clues all along to know why, and that he wasn’t really the bad guy. That’s 1000% of the character development you get in the dumbed-down successors.

The secret world is the Fairie court and nothing else — good elves vs. evil fairies for the fate of Minneapolis. We get short scenes where the 2 queens size her up — this is what later authors realized they could stretch into long, predictable hissing contests. But most of the book deals with forming a new band, writing songs, getting naked with the new cute lead guitarist, and practicing. I’ve heard the author, Emma Bull, play “Girl needs a knife” with her one-night-only partly reformed real-life band. It’s quite good. She’s writing what she knows.

It turns out the main character leading a band is the actual point. A faction of fairies is ready for a new way and they picked a human as a cat’s paw. At least one fairy joins her band since he’s curious what life is like not as a knight in fairy court.

Her eventual love interest is the cruel fairy who scouted her as a semi-disposable symbol. He trusts her with secrets, but only as part of his plan. But then he comes to admire her more and more as a unique person, while she begins to understand the personal risks he’s taken to find a “new elf way”. An even cuter but less complicated fairy knight is starting to see her as a legitimate leader before he bravely dies. Several extended sex scenes ensue.

It ends in a set-piece — a battle of the bands between good and evil. Seems silly but it only happens because she proved her resolve to the Queen, knew enough to manipulate the evil queen into accepting, gained the trust of the “good” elves in her band, figured out a winner-takes-all challenge could be done at all, and gained the courage to actually do it.

All of the parts to exploit are there: romance and courtship with two guys, being thrust into the secret world, and solving problems by making friends. Any potential author who reads it would think two perfect halves of a thought: I can’t write that well; but people probably want more action, more critters, and more flirty banter, which I can do.

[Game]Billion Lords

First, let me write that I’m sure talented hard-working people worked on Billion Lords. They did a nice job adding all the modern clash-like stuff. It’s such a shame that it’s impossible to attack in this game, making it boring and pointless. It’s far too easy to set up unbeatable defenses. All can you do is sit and safely farm to buy upgrades. Once you do, you can get better troops, which are also impossible to beat anyone with. Your only entertainment is occasionally watching replays of a massively expensive army being wiped out by your defenses.

The game works like the Dungeon Keeper clash-like: you dig out your base with the requirement to connect all buildings and entrances. Those entrances are at the 8 compass directions on the edges. In Dungeon Keeper you can attempt the obvious thing — funnel everyone through a single gauntlet — but the attacker has tricks to avoid that. Not in this game.

Billion Lords has no attacking tricks. Worse, the defender has lots of room. A base can easily have a path circling the entire base several times past every mortar and zapper before hitting the freeze trap (to gather them all) them massive bomb traps, then the -25% weakness trap just in front of where your leader comes out to finish them off. “But what about the 8 entrances?” you may ask. That’s easy — add a giant path in a ring touching them all and give that your one path into the labyrinth. You have plenty of room to do that.

That seems hard to figure out, but it’s a clash-like. After attacking and seeing other people who did it, you’ll figure it out.

There aren’t any flying troops to bypass this maze of death, but there are wall-destroyers. They take about a month to unlock and the description makes it sound as if they’ll borrow straight through. Nope. They’re the usual self-destructing wall bombers. Even that would work if not for for the broken AI. Wall bombers will never walk into a space that started off as a wall. You send in one and it blows open a small space. The next avoids that space, blowing up somewhere off to the side. Useless.

Hilariously, one attacking strategy works. The “wizard” leader, buyable with 1,000 gems, has a special ability that strikes several random buildings, anywhere on the map. Attack with only him. By the time he has circled the base several times he will have used his ability several times, hopefully hitting resource buildings for cash. Then press abort and repeat.

But let’s say you try. You save up and attack people much weaker where you have a chance of winning. It costs Gold to recruit your army. When you attack you might win some of that gold back, but mostly you’re trading Gold for Stone. You don’t need Stone — you already have extra sitting around. What you need is Gold. Attacking people in this game doesn’t even help you.

[Game]All-Star Troopers

All-Star Troopers is the first true childrens’ clash-like. The creators have a nice article explaining how it started as something completely different, which makes it even more impressive. All-Star Troopers looks exactly as if someone decided to make a simplified Royal Revolt, with some Clash Royale thrown in.

First off, everyone advances at about the same rate. There’s a limit of 3 loot chests a day, which is where you get most of your progress. You need to win them in battles, but you can keep trying. Eventually you get 3 anyone anyone can win. You don’t get much else past that, and don’t lose much if you have terrible defenses and get beat a lot. Anyone can make the same steady progress in this game. Which is nice for kids.

Bases are pre-made paths to the HQ with pre-set waves of defenders, and 1 big wall midway. In an older game, Royal Revolt, you can create the path and set each wave of defenders from a dozen troop types. In this game — you can move the wall. You also get to place guns and cannons and traps, but it’s simplified. There’s no need to actually build cannons. You always have all you need and can change defenses at any time, using a point system. Upgrades are on a whole class of items at a time, such as “upgrade cannons to level 2”. It’s quick and worry-free.

As with Royal Revolt, you control your leader while supporting troops run in to help. In RR you pre-select which troops you want, and call them in as needed. In this game it’s simply timed generic waves of good guys.

The result is less busywork, and almost no need to plan. Which is fine. The action part is fun enough, vaguely. Your hero is fully controllable and the waves of attacking and defending enemies make it interesting. Even though you use 1 hero at a time, you can instantly switch back-and-forth between 3, giving you 3 special attacks to choose from. There aren’t even that many different heroes to collect.

One feature that really sticks out — whenever you level up enough, you’re moved to a new area. The path is a little longer, the various obstacles move around, and obviously, your guns are gone and need to be placed again. This is their way of giving you longer and longer paths, without you needing you to do any work making them. Defenses are easy enough to place, and don’t really matter, so having to redo them occasionally isn’t a problem.

Finally there’s the theme. Your base is a spaceship floating over the planet (with your defense base on the planet. We’re never told why). The attack/defense minions are bipedal pigs, while the heroes are various human/animal mixes. Kids like that stuff, right?