The release by Firaxis Games of "Xcom, Enemy Unknown" of course!
For those of you who don't know (and I'm disappointed in you if you don't ;-) ), this is a remake of the hugely popular 1990's turn based strategy game. I wasted many an hour with my Uni buddy James repelling the Alien invasion back then and, when they announced a remake, was a mix of excited and nervous. Would they trash my fond memories?
Luckily, no. What they've come up with is a game that brilliantly updates the original. They've kept the 'feel' of the original game nicely, evolving the designs and look of the game well for the capabilities of modern graphics without losing its sense of fun, but it remains as brutal as the original, with operatives biting the dust on a regular basis (new squaddies may as well arrive dressed in a red shirt...).
In some ways its a game of two parts: the strategy side of managing your resources (cash, facilities, research, manufacturing and troops), of which you will never have enough to do everything you want; and the turn based combat when you have to deal with an alien incursion or investigate a downed UFO.
"do you think we've found them?"
It wasn't long before I realised I was basically playing a tabletop skirmish game, but with sprites instead of minis. And what an elegantly simple system it would make! Each soldier basically has two actions to take (later promotions and skills amend this a bit, but not by much): move/move, fire, move/fire, action, move/action. Yet it doesn't feel repetitive or too basic. Range and cover alter the percentage chance of hitting, and damage is set by weapon, to which critical hits are added with more damage. It wouldn't take much effort at all to turn this into a basic set of pretty familiar seeming tabletop rules.
One aspect that has given me pause for thought though is the approach to morale. One thing it isn't in this game is predictable. Each soldier has a 'Will' score, which defines how likely they are to panic generally, but it's pretty tough to predict when it will actually happen, or how it will affect them. Some will run, some will hunker down behind cover and whimper (literally!), they might also fire wildly; bad news if there are friendlies nearby but, as on one memorable mission, they might also fire back on the enemy, winning you the mission! I found myself contrasting this to most tabletop rulesets I know and realising how predictable morale often is in them. Most will set some clear break point at which morale must be tested (usually something like 50% casualties), and the result is nearly always one of two: run away, or the unit ceases to exist. Hardly uncontrollable, unpredictable panic, is it? There's something to be learned here, I'm just not sure what it is yet. I'll keep you posted...
Now, I must leave you again for a moment. There are aliens abducting people in New Mexico, and I'm needed elsewhere. Just put on this red shirt rookie, and don't worry, you'll be fine...