The Puzzling Strategy of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes

Clash of Heroes mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements.

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes

I love strategy games on my Nintendo DS. They're pretty much all I play on the thing, except maybe a little Tetris or Meteos from time to time. But for me, turn-based strategy games like Age of Empires, Advanced Wars: Dual Strike, and yes, oh yes, oh yes, Civilization: Revolutions are why I bought a new DS the day my old one broke. The purer the strategy, the better as far as I'm concerned, and random elements in these games just drive me nuts. Any time the digital dice contravene the odds, I'm a little peeved. I love to plan many moves ahead, make the right moves, and see my strategies give birth to victories. I guess I'm mostly just looking for really complicated versions of chess. With tanks.

So I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game that mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements. Battles are very abstract, sort of like playing versus Bejeweled, but with dragons and vampires and demons. The two armies line up and each round you have three moves to maneuver troops so that three units of the same color line up to form either a wall or an attack formation. Bigger units like knights or those dragons requite multiple units of the same color stacked up behind them to activate. It's a simple game with layers of interesting strategy and complications that make it a lot of fun. I recommend it, despite the trite, overwrought (but thankfully irrelevant) story.

Most of the battles play out as one vs. one duels, but the game's campaign also offers numerous unique challenges against bosses, and puzzle-like levels that require unique strategies. With the major end boss fights in particular, executing the right strategy requires more than just planning right, it requires a lot of luck as well. As someone with low tolerance for frustration in games, I found it astonishing that I didn't get angry playing some of these fights over and over and over again until I got just the right mix of units at the right time to win. If this had been one of my other games, ones where resource management and careful planning are everything, re-doing a fight again and again like that would have driven me to distraction. Here it just seemed to be how things worked, and I was fine with it. The game wisely enforces no penalty for losing these fights, and it's easy to jump right back in for another go.

The random element in Clash of Heroes becomes weirdly liberating. In a way it's like gambling at poker. It's perfectly possible to play the best moves and still not win because the pieces just aren't there. Losing is no longer entirely my fault, and I have an easier time accepting fickle fate than I do my own incompetence. But I don't think I could accept such a heavy role for chance in a game less abstract than this one. Because the battles are so abstract -- color-coded units arranged at random in neat rows and columns -- I have no expectation of how things are supposed to work. The more a game moves towards simulation, the less more deterministic I want everything to be.

Of course the ultimate in realism would entail a lot of randomness. There are plenty of examples out there of tiny, seemingly random events swaying the outcome of much greater imbroglios. But I think I'd have a hard time liking a game where I could lose the kingdom for want of a nail. Each game must find it's own balance-point for fun based on the expectations it sets. I'm reminded of Demon's Souls, a game I didn't like at all, but which never quite got me angry because the insane difficulty level was baked in from the start. As a counter example, when the relatively easy Assassin's Creed 2 (a game I love) stymied me with a single jump puzzle I couldn't figure out, I ended up hurling my controller and breaking my TV.

Revolutions happen not when peoples are oppressed, but when their expectations change. Clash of Heroes fends off frustration by relying on the same luck principles that make games like Tetris or Bejeweled so addictive: the constant anticipation of what will come next -- just the right piece or absolutely the wrong one. Sure there's a lot more mid and long term strategy here, which is what makes this game excellent, but the core of it, moment to moment, is the exciting dread about what random thing comes next. It's the same kind of dread one gets from a good drama or even a sporting event, and it's something random-free games like Chess can't ever achieve. I don't want it all the time, but I definitely like it here.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.