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Battles of Norghan Review

by forgottenlor, 2017-12-21

Its my first match against the Battle Dwarves. They share the lead of the 6th division with my team, the Manticores. My team consists of my star player, Torm, an aging Barbarian nearing retirement, who pretty much carried me through the 7th and 8th divisions; Otto, a young dwarf, one of the future core members of my team; Steel, an aging witch I picked up for a couple of games, but who I've decided to offer a full contract to. Her spell poison bolt is nice as it totally ignores armour, and the damage she does has decided many close matches; and lastly there's Genor, my elf. He's handy with a bow, and can cast lots of spells, but he's a new addition and at this point, the only one I've paid for hinm to learn is heal. On the other side are three dwarves. Two wear heavy armour and carry a shield. The other one has light armour and carries a two handed weapon. The lightly armored dwarf falls to my elf's bow before he can even reach my lines. I smile overconfidently. After all, my witch's poison has almost killed a second dwarf. The two remaining dwarves reach my lines. The poisoned one gets a critical head shot on Torm who dies before being able to strike a blow. Otto then drops Torm's killer with his two handed axe, but within two turns he falls to the remaining Battle Dwarf. My elf keeps hitting the last Battle Dwarf with his arrows, but can just barely puncture his armour. My witch fires one last poison bolt before running out of mana. Even though I just advanced to the first division, I still fondly remember the details of this match. At its best, Battles of Norghan is a thrilling mixture of sports manager, turn based tactical battle game, and rpg character development. Unfortunately, though, not all matches are as memorable as the one I described above.

The Devil's Might is a succesful first division team. The team consists of three wizards, a witch, two rogues, an archer, a black knight, an imp and a giant. Battles at this level are pretty interesting.

 

Sports Manager

You can be the best tactical genius in the world, and still have no chance in hell of winning a match in Battles of Norghan. You might not even get the chance of fighting a match if you're team goes bankrupt. Perhaps the most important part of Battles of Norghan is managing your team. This means hiring players, either long or short term, buying them equipment and spells and training them. All of this requires money, and cleverly managing and investing your money is the key to long term success.

The world of Norghan's main sport is gladitorial combat. 48 teams are divided into 8 divisions. The winner of each division advances to the next highest division at the end of the season. The worst team descends to the next lowest division. Bankrupt teams cease to exist and are replaced. Clearly this is loosely based on how many sports, like soccer, are organized in Europe. You start out the game as a promising owner of a new team about to enter the 8th division, and luckily you've found a noble sponsor willing to shovel you some startup cash.

The Mercenary Camp offers a massive number of mercenaries. This is the top end of a huge list of possible recruitable gladiators.

The game offers some barebones tutorial advice in text windows, but when you first enter the mercenary camp, its overwhelming. There are hundreds of randomly generated mercenaries waiting to be hired. They each have a class, attributes, a variety of skills, an age (which is by no means unimportant in this game), a salary, and a type. You can also hire them for a match, 2, 5, a whole year, or for the duration of their career. The type shows you their general focus. There are fast and slow fighters (melee specialists), rangers (generally good archers with decent weapon skills), rogues (like rangers with better miscellaneous skills and often worse combat skills), mages, and hybrids of all of the above. Just to show the complexity here I'll discuss the human mages below. Let's not get into elves, drakes, imps, aragons, and other non-human or hybrid mage classes. Humans tend to be specialists and human spellcasters are no exception. Priests specialize in healing and buff spells. Witches are best at damage over time (often quite nasty) and curses. Wizards master damage spells (which unlike weapons, ignore armour), Druids are summoners, with a minor focus in buffs. You can also have it all with a Mysteriarch. These archmages are good at all spell types and have double the mana to boot, but they want to be paid three times more than their less talented colleagues.

I'll be honest. The Manticores are my third team. In my first team I hired two mercenaries and was very happy until I realized they came naked, and I had no funds left to equip them (equipment is expensive!) The second time I decided I'd just hire a young player to build my francise around and then hire a little short term help to get him going. Unfortunately the best way to execute my plan seemed to be to hire a young goblin, since I couldn't afford a young player of another class and hire a second player and buy equipment. Unfortunately my goblin just sucked. The old black knight I hired pretty much carried the team, and I couldn't afford his salary in the long term.

In Battles of Norghan you make a profit by winning games. In most cases losing games will only pay for a part of your players' salaries, and on top of that you have to pay resurrection fees for all your dead players. So you need to win games to be able to continue to gain money to improve your team. On the other hand, the more players you have the more you have to pay in wages and equipment, and the less profit you have left to invest in future improvements. Investing in better equipment is also a matter of timing. With worse equipment you'll soon be outmatched, but you can only sell old equipment at half the buying price, meaning you lose money every time you upgrade. Finding the balance (which changes as you advance through the divisions) is one of the key challenges of the game.

If one of your players gets chosen as match MVP, the team's fans pay their wages for the match. That's a nice bonus especially for higher paid gladiators.

In addition to fighting matches in your division, there is the cup. The 4 worst teams of the 6th, as well as all the teams of the 7th and 8th division compete in the small cup. All others compete in the champion's cup. Not only is the cup a chance to earn some extra winnings, but inevitably its a chance to get devastated by a much better team. This is actually quite educational as it makes your team's weaknesses glaringly apparent, and helps you see what sort of improvements you'll need to make to succeed in higher divisions.

 

Tactical Battles

A battle in full swing. You can get a good overview of the opponents skills and equipments by clicking on them.

The other part of Battles of Norghan are the matches, which consist of short turn-based battles. And I mean short. In the 8th division most teams have 1-2 members, and you don't start seeing 3 man teams to you get to the 6th division. Especially in the lower divisions, most battles rarely last 5 minutes. Even later they rarely last 10 minutes. One of the reason for this is that most battles are pretty lopsided. There are two reasons for this. One is that a team with significantly worse equipment and less skilled players rarely has a chance against a better team. The other is that many of the computer's teams are very thematic and specialized. While this means they will shine in some areas, it also means they will be terrible in other areas. Depending on how you match up, you may have no chance to win, or may be able to exploit the weaknesses to such a degree that the computer doesn't have a chance. When two teams are comparable in strength, though, the battles can be very thrilling, especially when your opponent is fielding 3 or more players.

You have a lot of combat options in Battles of Norghan. You can cast spells, move, fire a missle weapon, switch weapons, charge, or do nothing. Opponents start outside of missile (and most of the spell) range, so there is usually one or two rounds to prepare, and you'll need a number of rounds to engage in melee. There is a random chance to hit in combat. With physical skills it involves the attacker's weapon skill and the defender's block and dodge skill. Magical skills depend simply on the spell caster's skill. Still magical skills are well balanced. Most start relatively low, and are limited by mana, and believe me I've often considered whether its worth losing a few rounds trying to get off a stone skin, when I could instead be firing of a bow at an opponent every round. There is a huge variety of spells, armour and weapons. Two handed weapons and polearms profit from additional range, but shields significantly increase survival chances.

While the visuals may not be pretty, you can get a good overview of what's going on. My minotaur and dwarf have the combat eye spell, giving them +25% chance to hit. In addition my minotaur is poisoned. The enemy barbarian in the upper left is hasted and is under my witch's sorrow spell (-25% damage). My drake is flying.

There are a few different battlefields in Norghan, and while some look cosmetically different from others, in practical terms they can be divided into ones that have few and ones that have many obstacles. The latter benefit range oriented teams, the former more melee oriented teams.

Matches can get repetitive. I rarely played more than three battles in a sitting (probably about 30-45 minutes of game time with the management in between) and often would end my gaming day with a single battle. For me this made Battles of Norghan a very nice game for in between or when I wanted a change of pace.


Role Playing Development

So what RPG elements does Battles of Noghan have? Well, for one putting together a team doesn't differ all that much from making a RPG party for a dungeon crawler. You'll have a ton of options and you'll want a variety of different skills, but can't have them all. I've already mentioned above the huge variety of different player types you can add to your team. Also each player has a variety of different skill possibilities dependent on their class. You have to decide how to equip your characters and what spells to buy for them. While each character starts with base skills, each time you succesfully use a skill it improves a little bit. This includes not only weapon skills, but also spells, dual wielding, blocking, magic resistance, and dodging. The game's four attributes (strength, intelligence, health, and mana) do not go up with use. All non magical skills and all attributes can be raised by training. However, you can only train once in each game week and training the whole team for the same thing is cheaper than individual training. While training is too expensive to be useful in the lower divisions, once you enter the higher leagues it becomes a way to form your team. For example, through excessive training I changed my dwarf Otto from a pure fighter into a capable archer. Sure it took a number of seasons, but dwarves are very long lived, and he's part of my team for the next 100 seasons or so.

In the stores you can buy a variety of weapons, armour and spells. Here we see the buffs and curses, with their purchase and mana costs and how effective your spellcaster will be able to initially cast the spell.

I also became very attached to my team in a way I haven't in many RPGs. My barbarian Torm was my mvp for 4 seasons, and it was a bittersweet feeling when he went into retirement and had to be replaced. The same goes for my witch Steel who has fought for me 8 seasons, and is now in her last. Initially she was a hired help, but I promised myself if I won the small cup, I'd use the payout to offer her a career contract. She pretty much mastered two spells, poison bolt and the debuff sorrow. Neither of these could win a game on their own. Still she rounded out my team as a nice cheap support unit, and I'll miss her when she finally leaves. And selecting the replacements for retired and retiring players also isn't an easy choice. After a match I often visit the mercenary camp and look at the various candidates, balancing their strengths and weaknesses, and wondering who I really wanted to commit to.


Presentation

Look at the screen shots. I mean if you want a game with beautiful graphics you're going to buy something else, aren't you? The Battles of Norghan's animations, graphics, and sounds are all very servicable and don't hinder the gameplay in any way. Still they make Baldur's Gate's graphics look pretty modern and beautiful.

 

Summary

Battles of Norghan has some glaring weaknesses. It can get repetitive. The battles in the lowest two divisions feel overly simple and not particularly tactical. Many of the battles are lopsided, but at least they are short. Its not for anyone who hates simple economics. The start of the game can be frustrating until you understand the game's basic systems. Its an indie game in terms of presentation, and it looks like it came out of the 90s. And yet, despite all of that I found that this game held its place on my hard drive week after week (and still does) and I'd come back to it again and again. I've completed 9 seasons so far (25 hours of game time). I think this has a lot to do with the Battles of Norghan's unique gameplay. Also the game has a nice flow. Battles are short and sweet. The mechanical depth of the game also fascinated me. I could have built a vastly different team and still won games. Obviously due to its unusual gameplay and style, Battles of Norghan is not a game I'd recommend to everyone. Still I enjoyed it quite a bit, and think its a game searching for the right players. And maybe you're one of them.

The Forest Guardians are a typical computer team consisting of barbarians, druids, a knight, and aragonians. They are a frightening opponent in melee combat, but their total lack of range attacks and damage spells is open to exploitation.

Box Art

Information about

Battles of Norghan

Developer: Mitorah Games

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: Unlimited
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2005-01-08
· Publisher: Mitorah Games

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Unique concept
  • Good game flow
  • Deep Mechanics
  • Close battles very exciting

Cons

  • Old and not particularly attractive visuals
  • Early battles too simple
  • Battles often lopsided
  • Can get repetitive

Rating: Good

A good game with some smaller issues or weaknesses, but still very recommended.

Review version

Steam

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