Thursday, January 3, 2008


Some of you are aware of my obsession with games. As a child, my mother used to play lots of boardgames and word-games with me, like Sorry!, Parcheesi, Clue, Boggle, Spill-and-Spell, and Scrabble. When I got a little older, I toyed with some of the advanced wargames my brother collected but mostly got side-tracked by D&D. DP and I used to regularly play a great fantasy boardgame, Talisman - which recently received a nice facelift from Games Workshop:

Meanwhile, there was a video game (VG) revolution going on. Some of my friends got Atari systems, I was lucky enough to get an Intellivision one Christmas, and eventually a Commodore 64. The games were great, I was hooked, and except for a relatively brief hiatus during college, I've played VG's ever since. Nowadays, it almost seems like people define gaming by VGing. Obviously, VG's possess many advantages: immediacy of gameplay, impressive sensory impact (that improves with each generation), complex rules that run "underneath the hood", etc. But for me, the biggest advantage to VG's is the capacity to play solitaire. If I could get a bunch of friends together on a weekly basis to play tabletop wargames, trust me I would. You just can't beat the social interaction and more importantly, challenge of playing other humans. And I still love the feel of a boardgame: the often campy artwork,
the haptic sensation of actual physical components, and especially, the visceral pleasure of rolling dice.

One of my favorite boardgames from back in the day was an Avalon Hill classic called Titan. MM and I played this in graduate school a couple times and we both had a blast. At first glance, it's typical fantasy fare with ogres and trolls, unicorns and wyverns battling for control of an abstract wasteland. But the gameplay mechanics are elegant (especially how it handles unit recruitment), and many (like the movement rules) present unique strategic and tactical problems. But of course, you can't play it alone and the best games involve 3-4 players. Enter, Colossus.

Colossus is a java-based, complete computer instantiation of Titan. You can play against up to 5 computer (AI) opponents and they put up a damn good fight. Best of all, it's absolutely free and you could get it now and be playing in a couple minutes (just click the link). Make sure you have Java installed on your computer (most do), click on the Colossus icon, and you'll be up and running. You probably should read the rules at some point but you'll quickly discover that Titan is very easy to learn. I have a pdf file of the rules so post a comment or email me if you want it. Here are the basic premises:

Explore & recruit. Here's a screenshot from the early-game:

You start with a single army, can split it into multiple stacks, and move those stacks around the gameboard. Note that the units in your stacks are kept facedown and hidden; therefore, your opponents (mostly) don't know what's in any particular army. Depending on what's in your stack, you may or may not be able to recruit another unit from the hex you land in. For example, if you have a Gargoyle in your stack, you'll be able to recruit another Gargoyle if you land in a Jungle hex. If you already have 2 Gargoyles in your army, you'll be able to recruit a Cyclops. Once you get 3 Cyclops, you'll be able to recruit a Behemoth. And so on. Each time you recruit a unit, you get that dopamine-kick that makes you want to keep playing. The nice thing about this version is that the recruitment rules are built in, so you don't have to look up anything as you play (in the classic boardgame, the recruitment lines were printed on the side of the board - pretty nifty). Now here's the thing: when you recruit a new unit, you have to reveal your stack to your opponent. That information is no longer hidden. But after revealing, you flip the units facedown again and continue play. Therefore, a key aspect of playing Titan successfully is remembering which enemy units are where. In this sense, it's reminiscent of the childhood game, Concentration.

Attack & conquer. When two armies from opposing players end up on the same hex, a battle results. At this point, you switch to a tactical "battle-board" that allows you to maneuver your individual units:

Each unit has a movement rating, defense and attack rating, and sometimes a special ability. You maneuver your units, attack your opponent by rolling (virtual) dice and dealing damage, and try to use terrain to your advantage. Again, the rules are simple but surprisingly deep. I suspect Titan was one of the first games to utilize this strategic map/tactical map dichotomy that now seems commonplace to most gamers (for example, the Total War series of PC games depends on this innovation for its combo TBS/RTS gameplay). Note that in this screenshot, each player has a "Titan" unit in play. These are unique (you only have one) and you lose the game if your Titan ever dies. This defines the victory condition of the game: kill all opposing Titans. This can be very challenging, as Titans are tough SOB's (and get tougher as the game goes on) and are usually guarded by other powerful units.

I wanted my first game blog to be something I could literally share with my friends, if they had the inclination and more importantly, time. You can finish a game of Colossus in under an hour, although some of the more epic matches will take a few. You can save and quit when you want. Because it's a turn-based game, you don't have to worry about making fast-twitch decisions, you can play it at your own pace, and walk away from your computer whenever you need to (I often have some football playing on TV while I'm entrenched in a game).

Drop me a comment if you want to know more about how the game works or where to seek out more info.


  1. Nice post and thanks for introducing Colossus. I want to know if Aili and you have favorite head-to-head games. As you say, the best games require 3-4 people. It is difficult to find deep and fun 2 player games.

  2. Yeah, i'll try and post an entry soon about good 2-player games. Aili isn't a huge gamer, so I also have to worry about picking things that are easily learned and not *too* nerdy. So far, we both really enjoy playing the Settlers of Catan Card Game and Carcassone: the Castle. I haven't yet introduced her to Starship Catan, although I also think it's great fun.

  3. Haz, this is great, just a response to your poll, I missed the premier as I was sucked into world war hulk comics series, but come on! Its the gladiators! They battle with giant q-tips! One more platform for the Hulkster. Here is to the average joe who goes up against the roided monsters like "Nitro" of years ago. Without seeing it, I give the gladiators a resounding yay.

  4. Dane - Sadly, I watched a good solid hour of the premier and couldn't even get into the camp value. What reality TV really needs (and i've been saying this for years) is a human vs. animal fighting show. Bring back the gladiators, but now it's the 21st century - imagine 2 chimpanzees versus 3 ninjas, or the Hulkster vs. a gila monster. Now that would be bad-ass.