Gamebook: NanoStar Siege

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action.

NanoStar Siege is a strategy game in which an army of attackers attempts to breach the castle of an army of defenders. While the gameplay is very simple, the overall strategy and tactics set it a class above the competition and give it a unique flavour.

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A simple (free) NanoStar Siege game goes as follows. First you select which opponent you wish to battle. The game gives you a selection of someone below your level, 2 people at the same level and one person stronger than you. If you attack the stronger enemy, you’re likely to lose but if you’re a Sun Tzu-style military mastermind (or your opponent is stupid) then you’ll get greater rewards. Once you’ve chosen your opponent you will see the battlefield. From here you choose how many troops you want to commit to the battle, and how you will compose your attacking force depending on the enemy’s defence (more on that later).

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The opposing forces meet in a wall of death

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There are 3 core troop types and 3 special ones. The swordsman has high health but causes low damage, use him to protect your weaker troops. The bowman has small health but a powerful ranged attack. As you can probably work out, a basic tactic involves placing your bowmen behind your swordsmen. In addition there is the berserker, which is the fastest and strongest unit… but also weak. You want to place your berserkers on the wings, to avoid fire from bowmen.

Once you’ve composed your force, you select your Heroes. Heroes are what make NanoStar Siege a great Facebook game. Using the NanoStar cards (which also work in NanoStar Castles), you have a number of abilities that you can cast to influence the battle. Without heroes, the 2 armies mindlessly wander towards each other. With heroes, you can choose which enemies to remove, which special units to summon and buff/weaken troops.

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Creating a solid defence

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Hero examples include ‘Hellhound’ which casts a medium power attack across an entire row. Use Hellhound if your enemy has placed all his weak bowmen in a single row. Master Archer lets you convert one of your troops into a powerful archer, who can attack outside his column and can shoot from much further range. Paralysis lets you target a group of enemy units and prevent them from moving and attacking. There are 151 heroes so there is a lot I haven’t seen (since the majority you have to pay for with real cash). This gives a lot of flexibility for how you’ll attack and defend, although I doubt many people have access to the full collection.

The final nuance of battle is reinforcement. Throughout time you can send more troops to the frontlines (although they’ll take a while to reach the ‘kill zone’). The longer you wait, the more troops you’ll get. However sometimes you just need to send troops to catch those sneaky enemies who managed to pass your army unscathed. If you wait long enough, you can recharge all your hero abilities which often spells game over for the enemy if your troops have managed to survive that long.

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Using the 'Draft' ability to summon double reinforcements

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What makes NanoStar Siege such an interesting game is that it feels like two games in one. On one side you attack, using your hero abilities as effectively as possible and trying to get through to the enemy castle. On the other hand, you also need to mount a defence. Despite the fact that you attack other players, you are not in fact attacking a real-time foe. Your enemy has chosen his defence before the battle, which you also get to do. This is actually surprisingly fun. You have to predict what your enemies are likely to do, then place your troops accordingly. The Hellhound ability is a great example. If you place all your archers in one row, then the enemy will just use Hellhound to wipe out most of your offensive power. If you place all your troops in one area then you can create a meatgrinder (using a few swordsmen to protect masses of bowmen), but if the enemy goes round the side you will be defenceless. In addition to troop placement, you can select heroes. Since it’s not real-time, you choose areas where the heroes should be activated. At the start of the battle, when the enemy is far away, you’ll want to cause damage with your heroes. Once the enemy is in the middle-ground, you’ll want to buff your troops or weaken theirs… so that your army can attack them without being attacked back. When they’re at your gates you’ll want to summon new troops or paralyze the enemy, to give your towers more time to kill them.

A well thought-out defence is surprisingly hard to crack and it’s lots of fun imagining what enemies will do. One feature which has been grossly ignored is a test mode. You cannot test your defence. You cannot see how effective it is, unless you’re playing someone at work and looking at his/her screen. It’s a big oversight because it’s quite complicated to imagine all the effects. A few people don’t bother with a defence, probably because it’s quite confusing.

NanoStar Siege also has a campaign. It’s called the ‘Frozen North’ (an obvious Warcraft III reference!) and it’s similar to the PvP single player game. However the enemy armies are designed by the developers, so you get to see a range of cool heroes that you’ll never see yourself. It’s fun to see these spells in action, which gives much more variety and longevity to the game. There are times I’ve been tempted to purchase some cards just to get some cool new abilities!

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Battling in the Frozen North

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Whether you can class NanoStar Siege as a real game or not is up for debate. While it’s most definitely very tactical and requires a lot of strategy (in a similar vein as RTS games), it also would be quite lacking for a real gaming experience on a console or as a standalone PC title. But perhaps that’s just the budget and technology, the game itself is very similar to the Fort Condor mini-game in Final Fantasy VII.

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Fort Condor in Final Fantasy VII

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If the game was fleshed out with more campaigns, a better selection of cards (for cheapskates like me) and a feature to test your defence… then maybe there would be a unanimous decision that “Yes, NanoStar Siege is a real game on Facebook”.

Right now it feels like a casual/flash game on Facebook, which isn’t to say it’s bad. However it’s definitely not up there in the ranks of true gaming experiences like Brave Arms.

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Sam

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