After a year of playing Diablo II, and some disappointment with its Expansion pack, I decided it was time to step away from simplistic and shallow real time tactics and get back to playing some turn-based strategy. I've always loved chess, its pace, its depth, its subtlety. There is a depth of strategy involved when your moves are either not pressured by time, or at least not immediately pressured. In competitive chess, there is the clock to manage, but even there you enjoy the luxury of pausing to reflect on a particularly challenging move, or to reconsider your strategy if something has gone wrong. You certainly have the opportunity to examine your situation each move.
The original Jagged Alliance game was revolutionary. It followed the tradition of the classic X-Com games: turn-based tactical squad combat. Unlike even older games, the Avalon Hill and SSI turn-based fantasy RPGs like Wizardry and the Pools of Radiance line of D&D games, back in the 80's, X-Com was about firearm warfare, specifically between Earth and invading alien forces. Thus, with guns, you had to deal with a more threatening enemy who could paste your forces at range, and who often had not only superior numbers and firepower, but special attacks and other threats that you had to overcome and capture before you could research into them. Also unlike those fantasy RPGs and medieval combat simulations, in Xcom you had to worry about finances. You had to pay your troops, maintain your bases and equipment, etc. You had to loot the enemy forces and sell off surplus gains to pay for your operation. Jagged Alliance incorporated all of these elements and more, in a contemporary mercernary game.
In Jagged Alliance, your mission was to liberate a small tropical island nation, Metavira, from the hands of a brutal criminal. The island produced a medicine unavailable anywhere else in the world, and this criminal had taken control. You had to recruit and pay for mercenaries. They had a daily salary, and you only had a modest amount of starting capital. You had to obtain an income through your gameplay, and this was accomplished through the acquisition and processing of sap from special trees. The sap was refined into medicine and sold, and the proceeds would bring in money. There were four refineries on the island, and you started with control of one of them, but almost every sector of land had at least a couple of trees, and some had many. Worse, the trees didn't always flow sap, so your supply might vary from day to day. So your force not only had to fight the enemy, to attack enemy-occupied ground and take over, but also to defend that ground against counterattack. Thus you had to recruit local guards, and that cost more money. Any sector the enemy reclaimed, you would have to reconquer. And recovering from wounds vs fighting while ounded was a difficult balancing act at times. Since you needed almost every tree you could get, the game virtually demanded a full-clear approach. You were ill-advised to skip sectors, because each sector may have caches of extra weapons and supplies you might need, or clues, and it was never a good idea to leave your flanks open. You needed to clear out every sector so that you could stack your local guards in the front line areas and leave rear positions lightly guarded -- and so you had to secure your flanks.
As the threats got worse and worse, your income would rise, allowing you to replace casualties or low-quality personnel with stronger mercs. Everything relied on your success in tactical combat, but there were many other things to manage besides just the combat itself. There was a story, and though the threats were the same each game, and the locations of items and supply caches the same every game, you could vary the difficulty level itself, and play "variants" of a sort by selecting non-optimal personnel. And there were so many mercs to choose from! Each had their own quirks, specialties, weaknesses and personality. Certain mercs were friends and would work well together. Others were rivals or even enemies, and some had problems like forgetting orders or refusing to obey orders in certain situations. Some were slower, or were skilled at vital things besides just firing guns: medicine (can't live without it!), explosives, mechanics (everything from repair of items -- oh yes, guns would jam on you, or suffer from use, and demand to be repaired, or you would acquire items in ill repair that had to be repaired before you could rely on them -- to lockpicking and A-Team style concoctions of improvised gear from bits and pieces). You also to manage supplies, especially ammunition and medical supplies, but also your explosives and repair kits. Run out of a key supply and you're in bad shape, yet there were no "stores" around from which to purchase unlimited or even limited supplies. So you had to win your way to more supplies, in most cases.
Every merc had a detailed portrait, unique lines of dialog (specific to their character and personality) to cover routine combat chatter (spotting an enemy, being shot at, being hit, scoring a hit, finding items, losing morale, commenting on the success or failure of other team members, and many more). You also had to pay attention to who could or could not swim, and other such considerations. So while you were not "in character" playing these roles, but were instead moving the mercs around as chess pieces, in effect, each piece had a face, a voice, traits, and such, and it made for a very detailed and interesting game. Role playing chess? Perhaps. In Xcom, every soldier had a name and unique stats, and some were better at certain combat functions than others, but mostly they were interchangable and disposable. You could even afford to get a few killed in each engagement, and hire more recruits to replace losses. In Jagged Alliance, the morale of your force would decline if you suffered too many losses. Some mercs might even desert you if it got bad. I learned the hard way that employing mercs who didn't like each other was a bad bad idea. I mean, I thought they might argue, but to have one turn up dead one morning, murdered? Yikes. Thus, I resolved that I would not suffer through pairing up enemies any more. It was too costly. So if you hire certain mercs, it means you can't hire certain others, and in a few cases you may not find out who hates whom until you are in the midst of your game and have already committed to one of them, not realizing who else you won't be able to hire. If you push ahead anyway, be cafeful. If you do get warning that certain mercs' hatred for one another is particularly virulent, you ought to heed it before things get really ugly.
One other vital difference between Xcom and JA: weapon range. In Xcom, there was no range limit, and no accuracy penalty for firing at longer range. So one of the best tactics was to send out a point man (an expendable rookie, usually) to brave the spotting duty, while you "covered" him with the rest of the unit. Once an enemy was located, you could shoot at him with your back line troops, from outside of his line of sight range, with complete impunity. The aliens would only fire back when they could see the attacking soldier (assuming they had unspent action points remaining that turn). In Jagged Alliance, you can forget that strategy. Particularly early in the game, when you have mercs with questionable aim and weapons with short range and unreliable properties, you have to get in pretty close. And there was a rough zone between the time when the enemy started using grenedes (OUCHIE) and when long range rifles and the mercs to use them finally became available. Yet as the enemy's own weapons and aim improved, as you neared his power centers or attacked the other refineries, the ability to launch a frontal assault successfully waned away. I found myself having to use stealth more and more, and to set up ambushes of my own and lure the enemy to them. Even the slightest noise could alert the enemy to your presence, so even when trying to be stealthy, it was easy to be discovered. Thus, certain mercs talented in stealth operations became the mainstays of my force -- once I could afford them.
So we come to Jagged Alliance 2. This sequel came out in 1999, several years after the original. In fact, they might be well on to finishing JA3 by now, for all that I know. There are a ton of improvements over the original, while retaining the same essence: just what you look for in a sequel. The mercs are back (many of the same characters, although most of the originals have been retired from the game, one way or another). The heart of the combat system, the sector by sector gameplay, the need for financing, for local guards/militia to defend your areas, all the best elements of the original game are in here. And that is some great news! This game is engrossing, challenging, difficult, and loads of fun to play.
Being already familiar with the game -- how to use items, manage movement points, decide how much extra time to spend on aiming before pulling the trigger (usually as much as can be allowed, with a few exceptions), with an understanding of the need for noncombat skills and specialists, as well as managing my funds, I skipped the manual and jumped right in.
The first thing I ended up doing, was sitting and reading through the "where are they now" blurbs for all the retired, dismissed or slain mercs from the previous game. Most of the names and faces, voices and characters that I came to know are gone now. I was fascinated to read about them (Sir-Tech took time to write reasonable bios for each of them, giving me a sense of their passion not only for details, but for their fans, characters and story lines -- a STARK contrast to the raping of the story line from Diablo, in the making of Diablo II, for example). By the time I finished that, I was starting to get pumped up to play. There was still a lot of prep work left to do, though. I read through most of the bios for the active mercs, and eyed the relative costs, forming up tenative plans for who I might want to hire. One of the biggest changes from JA1 to JA2 is the new payment method. Before, mercs were paid by the day, up front for each day, with an open-ended contract. Thus, it was easier to endure losses. In JA2, there's a daily rate, also, but there's a weekly rate, and a biweekly rate, and all payment must be made up front. You can't afford to pay for two weeks and get a merc killed on the first day. Yet it's so tempting to pay for a week or two in advance, to cut costs and improve team morale and security. Every time you offer a contract extention to a merc, he has the chance to refuse. If such an extension comes due when the merc's morale is low, he might bail on you. That's not a pleasant thought. Also, it now costs money to train and equip the local militia, instead of paying them a daily salary. And who does the training? Your mercs! You have to stop and train your forces to acquire them. This takes mercs away from other duties, costs money, and more. Just one more thing to manage.
My three favorite characters from the original game were Ice, Snake, and Grunty. These were my bread and butter warriors, my low-cost-but-highly-effective troops, whom I hired and retained for the entire duration of JA1, from the first day to the final sector. I had learned through experience that Ice and Snake could do the work of two men each, and that it was more effective to hire them and go with a smaller initial team than to deck myself out with a higher number of cheaper and less experienced mercs. The first of my Steadfast Three was Grunty (formerly a "promising" level one merc, now a seasoned veteran). He's a German mercenary, complete with German accent, discipline, and a few bits of German sprinkled through his speech. I HAD TO HAVE HIM ON MY TEAM!
Note the Night Ops specialty. I'll be referring to that again in future reports. His marksmanship is solid, but not stellar. He is at least competent enough to bandage people in a pinch, and he comes with a decent weapon (compared to the sad pistols most mercs start with). Also, being of higher experience level (the cheapest available higher level merc, at that) affects his performance in many ways. Almost every skill check in the game is dramatically affected by a merc's experience level. Grunty appears as solid as ever, if not more so.
Next was the Snake man. He was certainly the most-loved character in the original game, with some of the most colorful lines -- loved not just by me, but the game's fans as a whole. His voice actor had moved on, though -- Snake had had a new, and lower quality voice, in the JA:DG scenerio game (sort of like JA 1.5), and I held out little hope that he would be back in JA2. Sadly, my fear proved correct. Here's the fond but rather ignominious end they wrote up for him:
You should note a few of the other faces on that Alumni bio page. Hurl and Hector were two of the better choices for starting mercs, although Hurl was the merc who turned up murdered in my first game of JA1. His bio in JA2... well, if you own or acquire this game, you can read it for yourself. Kaboom was the best of the explosives experts affordable at the start of JA1. That's not saying much -- those guys were, as a group, a most sad lot. But at least Kaboom's only problems were general stupidity and a tendency to forget his orders every third or fourth move. Some of those other crackpots were far worse. Rusty was the only, and I mean only, truly sane and competent explosives expert in JA1, but he wouldn't sign on with you until you had proven yourself (read: finished half the game). Leech was an ass; enough said. Mike... Mike was the top dog of JA1: the costliest, the best, completely enigmatic. I wasn't able to hire him (or afford him) until the last couple of missions, but he WAS worth it. Man was he good. His bio here is a total hoot. You've got to read it if you played JA1!
That leaves the Ice man. He was the best of the best in terms of who would agree to sign on with you at the start of JA1. Here in JA2, these guys are not as picky. If you have the dough, they are mostly willing to join your employ. In JA1, two thirds of the mercs or more wouldn't work for you until you had shown you could run an outfit competently. Ice was the best available soldier who would sign on with and work for an unknown employer. He was... indispensible. Sadly, in JA2, he's also risen to become extremely pricey, and I won't be able to afford him for some time to come.
So it was time to form my team. First up, creating my custom merc -- myself. This process is pleasantly customizable. You can't make yourself out to be good at everything, or too good at any one thing, but you sure do have freedom to choose your specialites and what your role will be on the team. This whole process involves tradeoffs, but considering how vital it is to be able to shoot at and kill enemies, some focus on marksmanship is all but a must-do, unless you are both into the roleplay aspect and wanting to take on a serious handicap.
Then the rest of the team. Now see, each game, there are a few variables thrown in. Mercs who are on assignment (unavailable) being the biggest stumbling block. I drew two such among the cheapest mercs on my first game. The low cost doctor and one of the soldier types, both on assignment. I thus had to hire a more costly medic (Fox), and pick and choose from what else was available. I ended up with Bull, Igor, Barry, Grunty, and Fox. I never liked Fox in JA1, she was too stuck up, but she has mellowed a bit since then.
I didn't take any screenshots as I first played, but I went in and took some with a new game, to illustrate the sort of things that go on in the gameplay.
Your custom merc (your own character) can be male or female, with several portraits and a few voices to choose from. Each of the voice choices has different lines to say for almost every situation. Here you see the personnel manager screen, complete with a custom merc I made up for this brief illustration run:
It's also possible to recruit some of the locals to your cause, perhaps even at no cost. (They are, after all, interested in freeing their country from, you guessed it, yet another ruthless dictator/criminal). Here's a shot of the Association of International Merceneries personnel page on their website. (You can access them from your laptop to hire more help at almost any time -- if you have the cash).
As you can see, I hired a slightly different team for this illustration. Hired mercs (including my old pal from JA1, Hitman Hennesy) are marked, as are ones on assignment, and any that have been Killed In Action on other assignments.
So what is the combat like? Well, you start the game arriving on the island nation of Arulco by helicopter. You've been hired by the former ruler of the nation, to go in and, well, kill his wife, who now controls the country and thinks her husband is dead. She is... nasty, brutal, evil. Everything you want in a villain. There's a small rebel force on the island, and you are landing near their hideout, but you have to find them first, and right off the bat, you find yourself in enemy-occupied territory.
The first thing to do is clear this sector. There aren't many enemies, they aren't expecting resistance, they aren't aware of how much threat you pose, and they play it both stupid and aggressive in this first combat. This one is almost a gimme. There's tons of cover and it's easy to take down these goons, especially if you have played JA1 and are familiar with the game. Here you see the targetting of an enemy soldier by my character, Sorcie. She has a submachine gun with moderate range, better than anything else on the team.
Sorcie can fire off a shot at a cost of seven Action Points, out of 23 available to her. Some of those seven points are required to assume a firing stance. Subsequent shots would cost unless, unless I move Sorcie, which would require her to assume a firing stance all over again. There is also some cost benefit for continuing to target the same enemy. It takes a split second longer to switch back and forth between targets. Each gun has its own range and time costs. Automatic or semi-automatic weapons can be fired single-shot or burst. Bursts tend to be less accurate, but can devastate even multiple enemies if you have the right situation and good enough aim. Lack of ammo is the biggest problem with burst fire.
Sorcie could also spend a brief amount of effort to aim more carefully. You can spend up to four extra Action Points on aiming any single shot. So that seven point cost (showing the wide circle) could be increased as high as eleven, boosting odds of hitting. Increased time spent aiming is almost invariably desirable, unless the range is point blank or there is some other vital need to spend time on, like ducking into a crouch or around a corner after firing.
The mercs' facial expressions are animated. I caught Sorcie in mid-blink in that first screenshot. Jagged Alliance is by far the most in-depth series of games ever made for fleshing out and bringing to life the characters in a squadron type of game.
One thing about Jagged Alliance that makes it infinitely more playable than many old-time turn-based games is that the turn-based action happens only during direct combat, when forces on one side or the other have a direct line-of-sight to the enemy. If line of sight between ALL the members of each side is broken, there will be one or two more turns, and then the game reverts to real-time mode. That's right, real-time mode. When not in combat, or when in a combat situation but not directly engaged, the game proceeds in real time. And I mean REAL time, not sped-up exagerated time. It takes a real world minute for a game minute to pass in real time. Having to manage your force in real time when the enemy is nearby can be stressful. Especially when they know you are there and are closing in on you, or setting up their own forms of ambush. Yep, that's right. Their own forms of ambush. These are intelligent opponents. Some will aggressively attack you, but others display enormous patience in setting up defensive postures and hunkering down in fortified or covered positions, and daring you to come at them. Patience and tactics are key. Concepts like crossfire, flanking, morale, covering fire, reloading your guns, managing limited ammunition, combine with factors like stealth, line of sight, weapon range, and more. The number of factors to manage comes up way short of tedious, but there is an enormous amount of skill (or a lot of do-overs) required to work your way through some of these problems. Patience in sitting still for minutes on end can be the difference between a crushing success or coming home with everyone bandaged and limping.
Jagged Alliance 2 is not a particularly lethal game. Oh, one shot kills are possible, especially head shots at close range, or with certain weapons. But your mercs AND THE ENEMY ALIKE can generally take a good beating before they expire. You have to plan on scoring multiple hits for most kills, and yet you only have time to fire off one or two aimed shots per turn, per merc. It's quite engaging. You have to find ways to improve your odds, to turn the math in your favor. You have to use cover, and use the various types of movement wisely: running, walking, crouched, and crawling, and any of these can be done in normal mode, or in stealth mode where your merc tries to move silently. Yet even a single footstep or branch breaking or other noise can alert the enemy, so it's not as simple as turning stealth on and being instantly silent. Far from that. You almost need stealth specialists to sneak up on some enemy positions. It's actually easier to sneak up behind an enemy, on his flank, who is engaged with other members of your team, than it is to sneak up on a totally unsuspecting enemy.
The moment that line of sight is re-established, on either end, the game immediately springs back into turn-based mode, and your merc who has spotted the enemy or been targetted by the enemy will alert you with a line of dialog.
The voice acting isn't academy award material, but it's good. More to the point, the writing, the lines, they don't grate on you like fingernails on a chalkboard. Some of the characters are colorful, even comical, but they aren't stupid and moronic unless that is specifically be design -- and that's a whole lot more than a lot of games can say.
After springing into turn-based mode here, the enemy was too far away to engage openly. I would spend a lot of ammo on misses, and risk a low odds hit on my troops. So I sent everyone sprawling for cover. I sent some into the house or around the other side, while the rest waited at that alley, behind the corners, out of sight. The game sprang back into real time mode and on we went.
With Hitman Hennesy crouched on the near side of the house, and Bull and Doc inside, with the rest still covering the alley, I waited, hoping to lure the enemy closer. When in turn-based mode, there is what is called an Interrupt, whereby your activity may be interrupted by an enemy if you move in such a way as to present him a choice opening. One of the keys of the game is reserving action points for some or all mercs (depending on the situation, of course) to be able to interrupt the enemy when they close on you or take other action.
With Bull inside the house, he got an interrupt type action against that enemy as the soldier tried to creep toward the alley in crouched mode. Bull has a slow-firing gun, so there was only enough time for one shot, with enough action points left to take cover if he missed or if the enemy was not incapacitated or slain. At such close range, it is often tempting to go for a head shot. Leg shots can cause an enemy to collapse. Torso shots are the easiest to hit. Head shots are the hardest to hit, yet inflict the most damage. I went for the head shot in this instance.
WOW! Fifty-four points is a ton of damage! In fact, that's almost the most I've yet seen. That was a very tough enemy to survive the hit, but he is badly messed up. In fact, he's doomed, as the enemy does not seem to have any medics in their ranks (or at least not in the early game). The soldier topples over and is lying on the ground now, moaning quietly. His health condition when I hover the cursor over him is no longer listed as "Healthy" but now as "Dying". He's got one to three hit points left and will be bleeding those away at one or two per turn. When your own mercs get hit that badly, they need IMMEDIATE bandaging or they are toast. Most hits do a lot less damage than that, though. In fact, it's possible to take a flesh wound that barely nicks you for one or two damage -- usually in situations where you are under cover and/or crouched or lying prone, presenting the enemy with a very low-odds shot.
Also note that it's occassionally possible for a critical hit to inflict permanent harm, as in the above photo. (I mean permanent yet short of death). This is usually not of import to the enemy, but it can be a big deal to your force if someone takes an injury that inflicts some kind of unrepairable damage, at least up to a point. This is NOT overdone, I must emphasize. Most hits, especially from longer range, are less lethal. In some cases, a merc might even survive half a dozen bullets, or something dire like a grenede. Still, you can't afford many of those type of blunders.
Now that you have a sense for the game, let's talk about my actual gaming experience.
My merc was named, of course, Sirian. I used my real name for his real name, too. Now I'm personally not a soldier, nor would I hire myself out as a merc even in support of a good cause. So there are limits on "portraying myself" in this game. Still, I did stick to some general themese, such as good marksmanship (at least in terms of games, I can aim quite well, always have), strong leadership, modest physical strength, and so on. For my initial team, I hired Grunty, Bull, Barry, Igor, and Fox. Time to get busy.
My team arrived in the sector, and this being my first experience in JA2, I ended up splitting my team into two halves to explore. Grunty, Barry, and Fox went toward the houses, while the rest went the other way, eastward. As you may now know from my illustrations, the enemies are posted near those houses, so those three mercs ended up doing all the fighting by themselves. Grunty got the first kill. Barry got an assist. Then I ended up luring the rest of the enemy up that alley, where Grunty and Barry each got a kill via the step out, shoot, then duck back behind the corner method. The last enemy proved a little craftier, but I got his attention with the men while Fox flanked him and blew him away from the side. Four enemies slain, sector secured.
I then had to go about locating the rebel base, to join up with them. I won't spoil that part. If you've played JA2, you know already. If you haven't, you'll have to figure that out for yourself.
The first order of business is securing more supplies for the rebels. The rebels ask you and your force to secure a path to the nearest town and to make contact with someone there who would be sympathetic and arrange for the needed supplies. The town is a good four sectors away, and I'm thinking "Good grief!" But as it turned out, not all of those sectors were guarded. In fact, the guards that are out there no longer sit in one sector, as they did in JA1. Now there are bona fide enemy patrols, both roaming and with assigned routes or areas. Few people live between towns, and it's impossible to set up local militia outside of the towns. So some of these sectors may never be secured, or... I may have to eliminate all the enemy patrols in these regions. Either way, it's not going to be as simple as JA1 was, strategically.
Nobody got wounded in my first battle. I was feeling rather confident, actually. The next enemy presence I met was at the northern end of the town itself, a sector comprising one of two airports on the island. There's a functional plane there, and also a helicopter, which my force may someday be able to make use of. What has to be done to use the helicopter? I don't even know yet. And what I do know, I'm not telling. :)
There was only one enemy guarding the plane and chopper, but there was NO cover anywhere out there, so I retreated my six mercs away from that nastiness. I worked around the buildings, not knowing where the enemy might be, and hoping that that lone gunman would pursue us. He did not. Arrgh. Well, deal with him later (and watch my back, just in case). The airport was surrounded by a barbwire fence, which my men could not or would not scale. (Guess I need some tools to cut through the fence?) There was a gatehouse at the south, and a building nearby that turned out to be a small barracks. Whoa! A whole pile and a half of enemies down there. I took cover behind a few trees, and to my dismay, the enemy refused to close on my force. We ended up trading tons of low-odds shots, and three of my mercs got hit: Grunty, Igor, and Fox. Oh geeze, this is not good. And still more enemies coming. I finally took them down, but that was not a smart fight on my part. I used cover, I used crouching positions, but so did they, up to a point. It was only after killing some of the dumber ones who stood out in the open that I was able to sneak Sirian up to the guardhouse and use the peekaboo method to ambush enemy soldiers. All in all, not a disaster, but not a good fight, either.
Still had to deal with that last enemy near the plane, and as it turned out, he actually got away. My troops were too wounded and/or tired to catch him before he could reach the edge of the map. Rather than pursue him, I pressed on into the rest of the town.
In the second of three sectors of this town, I ended up in a standing six on six firefight, in which Fox and Igor both took bad hits, and Barry got wounded, all in the initial charge by the enemy! OH MY GOODNESS HERE THEY COME! It felt like we were going to be completely overrun. There were some trees, but they were under enemy crossfire such that they could not offer solid cover. I had no choice but to fall back back back, giving ground. Igor got hit again and now he was in fairly bad shape, below half health. I managed to take cover finally behind yet more trees, with Barry on point (not the best man to have at point, with his modest aim, and also not the most expendable, being the only cheaply available explosives expert, but so it goes). Grunty was next in line but he had a GOOD cover spot. Sirian and Bull had questionable cover but were back a little, while Igor and Fox were stuck lying prone out in the middle of a road, but at least they were farther away than the rest of the troops, and Fox was able to bandage Igor, then herself, while he fired off single rounds each turn.
Barry had pretty good cover but was exposed to one enemy shooter on his flank, and he was getting hit every other turn. Things were so desperate, I turned Sirian's burst mode on for his automatic and sprayed bullets for turns on end. Used almost a whole clip (30 bullets, yet I only had three clips total, and the lack of ammo would bite me later). Yet at least this managed to kill one enemy and wound three others, disrupting the bullrush attack they had going. Then it settled into an exchange of fire. Barry got hit five total times and was in bad shape, but my force managed to win. That was ugly ugly ugly, and I learned several lessons the hard way about JA2. For one thing, the enemy is smart. They are smarter now than ever, and will quite gleefully take cover or assume crouched and prone positions to make targetting them more difficult. They can be agonizingly patient, sometimes. Manipulating them is no easy task. It can be done, but not too well unless you employ sophistication in your tactics. The good news? Found the contact and delivered the message, securing a promise of delivery of needed supplies.
Where trees and refineries were the financing in JA1, here it's precious metals. Gold and silver ore, mined from the island. There are six mines, five of them active. One of the mines is in this town, in the last of its three sectors, just to my south. So although my force was wounded, I knew I needed to secure that mine, if possible, NOW, on the first day, to get the cash flowing immediately. Barry was in no shape to fight, and he was too wounded (and too important) to risk, even in a cover or spotter capacity. I sent him, alone, back toward the rebel hideout (after bandaging him, of course). With five mercs left, and just two of them still healthy, I pressed on for one more fight.
This last sector has tons of buildings, mostly houses. Well, I suppose "tons" is a relative term. There isn't enough room for a fully realistic town. In real life, my home town is just a village, with a single tiny grocery store, a bar/hunting club, a tiny hotel/bar, two churches, a hair stylist, a rental storage facility and dozens of houses. There's no way for a game to portray all of that and still be small-scale enough to be fun to play. So of course "tons" of buildings is still a misnomer, but relatively speaking, it's true. This sector was all buildings and roads and lawns/grassy areas between the buildings.
I spread out my force as the first encounter came. Sirian flanked around the east, Grunty to the west, and the other three in the middle. We encountered a pair of enemies. One was shot at range. The other, Sirian surprised and wounded, but he still managed to fire back and score a hit. Arrgh. While still dusting him off, another pair of enemies were shooting at Grunty from the street to the west. He had partial cover and was dug in so I left him there. I positioned Igor on the other side of the same building, and had Fox flank around to the west, while Bull and Sirian flanked south. I thought I was being clever, but Igor took yet another hit, almost pushing him into the critical range. He was now all but effectively out of this fight. I had him bandage himself (Ugh. Mercs with low medical skill use up a lot of supplies in bandaging themselves, but there was little choice). I then left him mostly out of the fight from then on. Didn't want to get him killed, and with him that wounded, he was slow and his aim would be affected, too.
I expected the enemy to charge as I pulled back under cover, but they didn't move an inch. Four of them dug in together in the middle of the street, covering one another and lying prone or crouched, extremely hard to hit from long range. Grunty scored one hit, but that was all. Fox got off some shots but couldn't hit anybody. Then I got Sirian around to their flank. I fired off three bursts and missed with all fifteen bullets. ARRGH. Can't afford that kind of move, as I would learn later. Ended up having to leave Sirian and Bull under cover while I pulled Grunty back, then flanked Fox, Igor and him around the back of the buildings on the left. I put them on stealth mode so they could try to sneak up, then position Igor to cover the alley between buildings while Fox and Grunty pressed on to try to flank these yahoos in earnest. I also decided to send Bull south, around the east side. Apparently I underestimated the line of sight and range of this enemy, as one of them spotted Bull and fired off a shot, and did an incredible 40-something damage on a head hit from almost a whole screen away. What a dreadful stroke of bad luck. Now Bull, who had been my last remaining fully healthy merc, was now half-wounded, bleeding, and in no shape to continue his solo flanking effort. I had to retreat him out of range, then bring him back up to Sirian's position and have Sirian bandage him. Gah, worst move I've yet made.
Grunty and Fox finally flanked the dug-in bastards and Grunty started pumping them full of lead. Sadly, he took three more hits in the process -- already wounded, he lacked the Action Points necessary to pull off the peekaboo tactic -- and Fox was mostly missing her shots. (Those medics aren't useless in combat by any stretch, but they sure aren't the next incarnation of Snake Edwards!)
Killed two, then one tried to run, and ran straight into Interrupt land for Igor, who dusted that sucker off for his first registered kill (finally!)
With just one left, and him wounded, he too tried to run. I had Sirian (my last remaining mostly-unwounded soldier) chase him across a third of the town before finally catching him and doing him in. Can't let him get away. Already screwed up and let that happen once, back at the airport.
Secured the mine and some income, and then it was time to head back to base. Turns out I needn't have done that -- probably should not have, in fact -- but I was saddled with the old JA1 mindset, in which night action didn't take place and come sunset, your troops headed back to camp no matter what else was happening.
Yet it took hours for my troops to backtrack across sectors. Turns out Barry was less than an hour ahead of the other mercs. I would have been better off not to have sent him off alone, but so it goes. My badly wounded party ran afoul of a patrol on the way back. In the middle of the night in absolute darkness, I made my way through a forest area and didn't spot the enemy until I was nearly on top of them. My five wounded mercs against seven healthy enemies. I didn't know it at the time, but I was damn lucky it was night. Grunty's Night Ops ability allowed him to see farther, to spot enemies while they still could not see my force. This fight was brutal, and being up close, any misses often meant an enemy still standing, who could shoot back and at such close range, likely hit.
Fox got hit from the side and downed. I panicked as I thought she was dead, but it turns out she was still alive, with about two hit points left, and "Dying". I had to bandage her, but I also had to fight off the enemy. Arrgh! Sirian took another hit, and my only hope was to drop all my forces to prone positions to try, to TRY, to keep them alive. There was no cover, and I couldn't see a bloody thing anyway. (Night Ops in JA2 means DARK, OK? Really really dark). Then Igor took another hit and he passed out. I've now got two "Dying" mercs, and Sirian is the only one who can bandage anybody. Bull took a hit, then another. I thought he might pass out. I'm down to Bull and Grunty firing off one shot each per turn, and Sirian takes another hit and flops over. He's still conscious, but in shock, maybe, or at least dazed. He's not responding. Oh geeze. Oh man. This ain't good.
Finally Grunty and Bull manage to kill the rest of the enemy. Every troop I now have is badly wounded or worse. Barry is actually the healthiest of the lot, but he wasn't there for this last fight. My troops limped into the rebel town and were unable to find the hideout in the dark. They ended up sleeping in the middle of a street, as it turns out.
And that was Day One. After this, it only gets harder.
I had no choice but to hole up in the hideout and doctor my mercs back to health. Luckily that's a matter of days, maybe up to a week, rather than months. Probably not the most realistic, but certainly more so (and more grueling) than recovery in most other combat/rpg/simulation games. It's a miracle none of my troops got killed in that last fight. I could not have won that one in the daytime. Desperate situation there.
I then made a mistake. I waited for three whole days before I realized I needed a second doctor here, especially considering that the one I had was herself in bad shape. Finally hired Spider and got her in there at the end of Day Four. It was another three days before my force was fully recovered.
I also made another fatal mistake here: failure to train any town militia on the quick. You've got to make hay while the sun shines. I did have the idea to train militia, but I didn't realize yet how different that would be from JA1. I didn't understand the mechanics of this new game feature yet. I returned to the town with my mercs, intending to leave one of them on militia duty and press on with the rest. The enemy retailiation came without warning. At least I had my troops there, but Sirian and Fox weren't among them. I had a new recruit, plus Spider (you can have as many mercs in a sector as you want, but you can only have six per squad, so you either have to operate them along side one another, with a lot of overhead in terms of squad switching, or operate with six or less at a time). I also didn't know that there was a limit of two trainers per sector. I just happened to have all six at the mine when the attack came.
Ten enemy invaders! TEN! Against my six? With my best marksman (Sirian) away from the area, and out of ammo for all my best guns, instead relying only now on the lowest two categories of pistols. Oh geeze. Ten was a lot. A LOT! I had to seek a defensive position. I decided to hole up inside the church (not only was it large, openish, and secure, but also a good place to pray).
My new recruit turned out to be positioned badly. I didn't realize how much they would be able to see through the windows. He got wounded, and they killed him before he could crawl his way to cover. OH THIS AIN'T GOOD! I managed to shoot out the windows and cover the door, but they were smart, too. They had sharpshooters lying prone at a distance while others aggressively charged or covered the windows. My peekaboo method of sitting up to shoot, then lying prone behind the windows for cover, worked well at first, but then they tagged Grunty, killed him through the window, and wounded Igor, too. Bull and Barry also got shot, but I managed to "win" the fight. Not good, not good.
I decided to save that game and try my hand at replaying the fight. This time I started my people out in better covered locations, but it was still brutal. My new recruit still got killed. They had so many numbers and were so stubborn... I also got Barry killed when I left the church to attack the last stubborn sharpshooters.
I was learning my lessons. On the third attempt, I put my new recruit in another building altogether, both to spot and create some crossfire, and I positioned Bull behind the church instead of inside it, for more flanking and crossfire action. This worked out much better: no fatalities on my team, and fewer injuries, but it was still a costly costly battle.
I then split up my wounded team and immediately bent all resources to the training of town militia, but it was too late. It had been too late for some time. The next enemy attack pinned down Grunty and Spider in the heart of town, and ten enemies overran them despite a sound defensive position. That must have been what it felt like at the Alamo, I tell you. Brutal brutal stuff when you are that badly outnumbered, five to one. The town was now split in two and so was my mercenary force, yet I finally got some militia trained and I realized how that worked. This situation was rather dire, and yet this was so early in the game. I knew I'd have to have a stronger opening if I was going to carry through to the end.
In JA1, I had also had to play an "initial" game, to figure out what I was doing well enough to play competently. It was time to start over, from scratch. I had to waste less ammo, take fewer wounds, consume less medical supplies, and train militia first thing, before the enemy could organize retaliation. I would also stay in the town once I had liberated it, at least until there was enough militia to defend it. Returning to the rebel base so quickly had been my biggest downfall. First blood had been drawn, and I learned much from it. I had a blast, and I'm looking forward to my next go-round. I have a few ideas for how to redo my own character, as well.
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