Desktop Armada


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Rating: 4.6/5 (36 votes)
| Comments (23) | Views (50)

PsychotronicDesktop ArmadaPaul and Dave have a dream. Their dream involves nothing less than producing "a new era in online casual gaming," and with powerhouse showpieces like Desktop Tower Defense and Flash Element Tower Defense to their credit, they just might achieve their goal. Under the name Novel Concepts, they recently launched The Casual Collective, a social center for multiplayer gaming based around Paul and Dave's game designs. Play there for free, or spend a few dollars to upgrade your membership and enjoy special privileges, like additional game modes and loftier social status. An upgraded membership is only $5 (or $1 if a member signs you up), but if you register a free account, you can still enjoy most of what the site has to offer. The Casual Collective comes with a full set of networking options, including leader boards, chat rooms, and member groups. Be sure to join the jayisgames group, so you can easily find other JIGsters!

If you're just there for the games, though, I suggest you check out Desktop Armada, a tour de force of action strategy that successfully combines the grand sweep of naval warfare with the joy of pushing around a plastic tugboat going "TOOT TOOT". Take command of your very own fleet of model ships and send them across a forbidding wooden ocean to destroy the enemy base, while the opposing commodore tries to do the same to you.

First you'll probably want to play through a few of the single-player missions, which can be found on the Games Menu behind the blue button marked "Desktop Armada Missions". Six training challenges will walk you through the various ship types and options. Once you're feeling confident, you can either head over to the multi-player room (the purple "Desktop Armada" button) or tackle the "Medium" missions, which will trounce you soundly and make you feel bad about yourself. In the future, perhaps we can look forward to "Hard" missions that actually reach through the screen and throttle you, but for now, Paul and Dave are going easy on us.

Desktop ArmadaThe game itself is compact and accessible. Four ships are at your disposal: the speedy Patrol Boat, the well-armored Destroyer, the long-range Missile Boat, and the giant Battleship. To launch an attack, simply choose one of your six ports, click on the "build" button for the appropriate unit, and watch your new warship sail into battle.

You have no control over your ships once they launch, which makes Desktop Armada a game of planning rather than reflexes. You are free to concentrate on overall strategy as your tiny fleet rushes to its destiny.

Each port has four preset paths assigned to it, indicated by the thick blue line drawn across the screen, and which you can cycle through either with the [A] and [D] keys or by clicking on the origin of the path. When you build a new ship, it will follow whichever waypoint schedule you have selected. Clever use of attack routes can send ships on flanking maneuvers or join several units together in a powerful formation.

When two opposing ships meet, they fight. Certain ships have a natural advantage over others, so it will pay off to learn, for example, that an hulking battleship can be taken down by a handful of nimble patrol boats. If you favor a particular type of unit, you have the option to upgrade it. Tougher ships are more expensive, but if you plan to win on the backs of destroyers, you'll want to have the best destroyers around.

If you want to, you can control every aspect of the game by mouse, but there are plenty of useful keyboard shortcuts. I ended up using my left hand on the keyboard to switch between ports and choose attack routes, while my right hand on the mouse built and upgraded ships, but you may find another layout more convenient.

Analysis: Desktop Armada's artwork follows in the footsteps of Desktop TD: clean and handsome, with an emphasis on conveying information effectively. Simple shadow effects and pleasant wood textures effectively illustrate the concept that this is a tabletop game come to life.

Desktop ArmadaSliding bars let you adjust the sound effects and the mournful background music, but these are probably the weakest part of the package. The only sounds are miniature explosions and the pew-pews of cannon fire, leaving the player's direct interaction with the game completely silent. There should be a sound when you click a button to build a ship, another sound when the ship launches, a sound when you switch between ports, etc. Without those audio cues, it can be easy to lose track of what you're doing in the heat of battle.

In every other regard, Desktop Armada could serve as the blueprint for casual strategy games — it's fun, accessible, and dynamic. The philosophy behind every aspect of the game is to provide limited options with unlimited possibilities. You will quickly develop cunning strategies, only to discard them when you encounter an opponent with better ideas. Your upgraded patrol boat swarm may dominate one game, but be decimated by a pack of missile boats the next. Some approaches are stronger than others, but there is no single attack plan that cannot be thwarted. The action is constant, due to a clever income system that discourages stalemates by rewarding you for keeping boats in the field. And with a typical game lasting around 5 minutes, even after a total rout you never have to wait long to dust yourself off and try again.

Gameplay runs smoothly, even when your opponent has a weak internet connection, thanks to sophisticated programming that continually makes adjustments to the frame rate and graphics quality. The Casual Collective is still young, so it's not always possible to find a game at odd hours, and much of the competition is made up of seasoned beta testers, but the only solution to these issues is to spread the word and get your friends playing.

So I'm doing my part with this review. Desktop Armada is an elegant game of remarkable depth; an excellent pastime for casual gamers and real-time strategy nuts alike; and a sign of great things to come. Paul and Dave may take over the world yet.

Play Desktop Armada

23 Comments

Count Bubba December 19, 2007 10:13 PM

Maybe I don't understand the gameplay, but I found that to be terrible.

Were my ships supposed to be able to reach their base somehow? They got most of the way... and then stopped. Yay!

And as for their changing the route they took across the field? So what if I can change the waypoints?

Awful.

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Count Bubba: You don't understand the gameplay. The point is to send your ships across the ocean to destroy your opponent's base before he does the same to yours. The different paths you can send your ships on are choices you can make to try to intercept your opponent's ships. When yours meet theirs, the ships battle.

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Psychotronic December 19, 2007 10:51 PM

Some of the training missions are defensive missions, intended to teach you how to protect yourself, without having to worry about destroying the other base. In those missions, your own ships will stop before the end of the field.

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This game is incredibly addicting - i am budgeting sleep. I simply can't get enough of it - I wish there were upgrade trees, but the experience is satisfying as it is. I also wish ships could be re-directed on different paths for more micromanaging players like myself :)

Overall, thumbs up!

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I was just looking through the site some more - "The Casual Collective." I see a lot of potential; like a casual XBox Live of sorts. It is more comprehensive (if that makes any sense?) than Kongregate, and I'm feeling the groove ^.^ Might have to become a member, but I must sleep now.

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I really like the whole interface, nicely done.

No sleep, it's 3 o'clock and all 8 people are playing TD not ships :(

FETD 2 looks like it will be nice.

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I've been a member since the beta days and I have to say that it is the best incarnation of involving games and social activity that I've seen.

The extremely detailed statistics and leaderboards are great for competition among friends and the wide variety of game choices enhances replayability by a lot - try hard minimize holepunch on MPDTD, or see how your strategy changes with superbuggles instead of normal buggles.

In Desktop Armada, the ability to choose Admirals is a really game-changing option - choosing between (iirc) Normal, Cheap, Strong, and Speedy changes the way you play. For example, it's not wise to spam patrol boats if you're playing as a Strong Admiral, but you should be on the lookout for guerilla tactics involving different waypoints if you're playing against a Speedy.

No Reinforcements further changes things up - in normal games, the two destroyers and missile cruiser be there to be a last ditch defensive force or a supplemental offensive force. Without them, you can't count on the extra ships to make work of the force that's headed toward your base; instead, you have to spend your own resources defending it instead of attacking.

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David Scott December 20, 2007 11:15 AM

Thanks for the very well written review, I have put a link at the top of our site and created a group for all the people joining as a result of this article!

http://www.casualcollective.com/groups/Jayisgames

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It's kinda hard for me to get even started - no matter how easy and straightforward it might be. All i see in the very first training scenario is that a ship starts to move on a straight course that i haven't sent it on, and when i try to change the course by clicking on its turnpoint it seemingly randomly changes into a new one that doesn't seem to be a logical path at all - plus a course that has not been set by me again.

Is that what i'm supposed to do? Clicking on towers to make them the source of the course and click on the courses' turning points to make them change seemingly randomly? I doubt. But then what? I haven't figured that out. Luckily the same page opffers me Buggle which seems eons more entertaining - and meaningful to me :D

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David Scott December 20, 2007 12:34 PM

Click on the "port" on the left to select it, you will then see the path any ship you build will follow. You can click the path to change it between some presets, whatever it is on when you build will be the path the ship takes.

I use the keyboard. W + S to scroll through ports and A + D to change paths.. Then keys 1, 2, 3, 4 to build the different ships.

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You set the course the ship takes FIRST, then build the ship. That ship will then take that course and your interaction with the ship is basically done. By sending ships on certain courses you can get a group of them to do certain things, sneak around the top and try to go in the back way, power right though the middle to his base, go forward and then flank towards the middle.

I agree though, Buggle is by far the most interesting game on CC.

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Psychotronic December 20, 2007 1:12 PM

I like Buggle a lot, too. Expect to see it featured here before too long. ;)

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David,
thanx for the info!

It made me see that I wasn't much mistaken. I'm given some preset routes which fact is not mentioned as far as i could see - nor is the reason mentioned why the preset routes are what they are. Am i right?

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It's a very addictive game, but perhaps a bit too hard. The upgrade feature is very annoying, since besides upgrades costing a lot of money, the ships become much more expensive. Upgrading is a bad idea most of the time, especially since income doesn't increase over time, but depends on the situation.
The harder levels easily turn into a guessing game of which ships to buy in which order and at what time.

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The more I play this game, the more I respect the depth in it. I retract my wish for the ships to be more controllable, though I wouldn't mine one or two more strategic options, and a better way of changing the course the ships take: perhaps a legend at the top of the screen. More upgrades would be nice, as well, as well as something making patrol boats more viable. Most of the time, patrol boats really serve no purpose. They do not increase income enough to merit making them simply to be destroyed either.

As an aside, I do wish there were more people playing on CC, but enough people play that it was worth spending 5$ to become a member.

Hopefully this is my last comment - I am already responsible for 1/5th of the comments here! Give it a try, people, it's a load of fun :)

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I am stuck on patrol boat rush. Definitely not a medium level that it claims. Any strategic tips?

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Ace,
I just got lucky with that one, sending destroyers to meet the other destroyers, and when the enemy gets close enough, spamming patrol boats just to keep their fire off from my base.

One tip: send patrol boats to the edges periodically, so they make it to the other side and boost your money intake.

Has anyone beat the last level without maxing battleships? Seems too cheap of a way to win.

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I had to register so I could correct Flakey, who said "income doesn't increase over time".

That may be the case in some single player missions, but in multi-player, income can increase a LOT. Upgrading is definitely worthwhile, just not immediately. You need to learn how to controlthe game with standard ships in a way that allows you to build up enough income to upgrade your ships.

Seasoned Beta tester on the CC,

Carl.

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reminded me of http://www.trackwars.com/ a 2002 (!!) flash multiplayer game

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Ok, now I've beat all of the training missions, I want to play a human opponent. Good game In my opinion : )

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mtheminja Author Profile Page January 9, 2008 5:59 PM

ships, I found Full Frontal could be beatten more strategically with just 4 unupgraded battleships screening a wave of 2 star missile boats. Of course, you don't get as many points that way, but at least you're not a spammer...

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It gets repetitive after a while, but at first I liked it.

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