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Review: Ogre (Steam)

A genre I haven’t written a lot about, is tabletop gaming. Board games are a subgenre and an even more specific one, would be that of a war game. Ogre fits this definition like a glove and even if I wasn’t acquainted with Steve Jackson’s 1977 tabletop classic, I’m a fast learner and enjoyed both playing the game and finding as much information as I could about this particular title. I’m no stranger to digital versions of war games, yet few can claim a legacy of four decades and still fly under the radar. Pun intended. There are no flying units in Ogre, but armored warfare is excellently simulated. The game couldn’t really fail since it’s been developed by veterans of the tabletop-to-video-games genre, Auroch Digital. They’ve been on Steam for several years already and you might be familiar with their Games Workshop-licensed, Chainsaw Warrior series. Ogre is Auroch’s 4th Steam project.

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The Ogre Rulebook has went through six iterations and upgrades over the years, with its most recent dating back to a successful Kickstarter funding from 2012. There are some minor changes from the board game, in this digital version but as far as I’ve read in those 24 pages of the rule book, the gameplay itself has been streamlined just enough to speed things up. The game does offer all the links and reading materials you may desire, if you wish to accommodate to the limits and specific details relating to Ogre. What exactly are these ogres and what do they have to do with 21st century armored warfare?

Well, consider the Ogres as the ultimate mix between a Transformer and Skynet’s hive mind. The last line of defense or offense, given the circumstances. Massive, mobile gun platforms which dwarf even the heaviest human-operated tanks. While the story itself doesn’t explain how the world became deadlocked in a constant war between two factions, their motivations are meaningless when compared to the threat posed by rogue Ogres. Unshackled Artificial Intelligence may not be a groundbreaking topic nowadays, but the original board game from 1977 precedes the Terminator series for certain. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was only scratching the surface and its iconic HAL 9000 could never be considered a killing machine in the vein of a T-800 android.

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Steve Jackson’s Ogres would simply crush Skynet’s self-replicating factories under their huge tracks. It’s unclear which game faction (North American Combine or Paneuropean Federation) designed the first Ogres, yet both sides use them against each other, until the imminent disaster which forces these superpowers to leave their world domination plans behind and focus on the cybernetic demons they unleashed and could no longer command. Ogre’s first single player campaign is aptly named “Nightfall”. Similar to the Long Night which looms over Westeros, the Combine and the Federation will have to stand side by side or succumb to a foe that knows no pain, fear or logic other than its hardwired violence and newly acquired notions of self-determination. An ironic scenario with an outcome that has yet to take shape.

The board game was indeed a product of its time. Cold War was in full effect and folks were right to fear that it could “warm up” at any moment, if some machinery would malfunction. From the silos hosting nuclear missiles, to the primitive computers which despite being prone to errors, were used to calculate missile trajectories and provided an “early warning system”. World War III almost started on the 26th of September 1983, if it wasn’t for the composure of a Soviet Air Defense officer that didn’t mistook a false positive warning for an actual US nuclear attack launched against the USSR. Would an AI have taken any risks and not retaliate at once? Would it even take sides if it becomes self-aware all of a sudden?

I never saw any in-game signs for it, but moddb.com lists Ogre as being powered by the Unity Engine. Indeed, it was a smooth rendering which scaled perfectly to 4K resolution and never featured a single case of frame rate drop, so I’m inclined to believe them. The Unreal Engine would never be so generous with me. The unit animations are of decent quality but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’ve seen clips with the physical board game and Auroch Digital really did their best in creating 3D models and adapting them for a wargame that used paper and plastic for its units and structures.

Sadly, the sounds were disappointing. Not that I was expecting voice acting, but the OST itself seemed more like an endless loop of two or three short songs. While the sound effects for shooting or the screams of destroyed units were off-putting. This is an area in which the dev team needs to focus more in the future. Solid gameplay and pleasant visuals will never carry a title that it’s either as silent as the grave or using a small and annoying selection of audio assets.

Yes, the gameplay remains Ogre’s strongest point. A turn based tactical approach that showcases maps in hexagonal patterns and makes good use of the board game’s proprietary dice, instead of relying on a far too common “rock-paper-scissors” combat strategy. Ogres defy that classification based on strengths and weaknesses since some campaign missions focus on entire armies trying to stop a single one of these mechanized monsters from leaving the map. In truth, even when battling between themselves, Ogres are very tough nuts to crack and some strategies revolve around disabling them by destroying their many tank treads instead of attacking their equally numerous gun ports and turrets.

There are several other fighting vehicles in the game and they range from lightly armored G.E.Vs (Ground Effect Vehicles) to tank types such as howitzers or heavier units with multiple turrets of their own. None of the human operated units can single-handedly take down or even disable an Ogre. Firepower differences aside, simulated weight and height are also causes for concern. Ramming instances between tanks, aren’t an issue in reality but in the Ogre’s game world, they can prove either a last-ditch effort for the humans, or no effort at all for the Artificial Intelligence operating the Ogres. It’s worth losing a few treads just to smash some “tin cans” standing between you and your mission objective.

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The battles follow a conventional formula of troop deployment before the actual combat begins. Players must maneuver the units during the Movement Phase and logically, have them ready to attack the enemy during the subsequent Fire Phase. Automatic dice rolls decide the sheer effectiveness of each artillery shell or missile while also having an impact on the damage chance in the case of the designated targets. Sometimes, no damage is being registered despite beyond shot at from multiple sides. Luck does play a larger role than it might appear at first glance. You’ll notice that far more in skirmishes or multiplayer matches against equally capable human players.

It won’t be an easy game but its rules are fair, well explained and the tutorial missions provide an excellent alternative to simply reading the rule book. For a Steam version, Ogre features all the auxiliaries desired by collectors and it’s a stable gameplay experience that never had any technical issues during the time I’ve spent with it. I’m certain that this title can be enjoyed even on less powerful systems and laptops, so strategy fans have no reason to avoid Ogre and its distinct war game scenarios and titular units.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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