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Best of Show for GTS 2009: Exillis

April 20, 2009 | | Comments 17

GTS 2009 had many exciting games, but there is only one that deserves the title, “Best of Show.” Best of show is not necessarily the biggest release or the one with the best marketing budget. The “Best of Show” title is reserved for a release that is both unusual in design, fun to play or in some way distinguishes itself from the crowd. “Exillis” is all of the above.

Exillis GTS 2009 Banner

Exillis GTS 2009 Banner

In many ways Exillis from Bastion Studio is just another miniature combat game, in the vein of “Warhammer” or a dozen other tabletop wargames. Exillis miniatures are all plastic and come disassembled.  You buy kits from the company and assemble and paint the models yourself. Here is a shot of the sample distributed at the show.

Exillis Miniature Kit

Exillis Miniature Kit

Here is a shot of the assembled models facing off on a game table.

Exillis Tabletop Setup

Exillis Tabletop Setup

Here is a shot of the world map and some of the characters of Exillis.

Exillis Character Types and World Map

Exillis Character Types and World Map

At this point, you are probably wondering what makes this game so unusual. Look closely at the shot above, see if you can spot any dice, rulebooks or rulers. No matter how hard you look you will never see them on an Exillis table. Rather than this old technology, Bastion Studios is going for a more modern approach.

The Iphone.

Ipod Touch (Thanks to the Exillis team for this correction)

Here is how it works. When you buy a pack of Exillis miniatures, you enter a code into the Exillis website and those units are now assigned to your account. When you want to play, you use an Iphone, PC or Mac  to login to the server. Exillis requires internet access. In the application you setup your opposing arming and choose the terrain configuration for the battle. Each side sets up their “real-world”(RW) miniatures. The battle begins.

Each player submits actions to the server and it resolves combat transparently. The application also tracks casualties, movement, effects and damage for the RW miniatures. Each round takes only a few seconds to resolve. During the resolution process, animations of the appropriate miniatures appear on the screen and do battle in the digital world. The developer worked on “Assassin’s Creed” and the experience shows in the nice graphics.

The demo I saw used only a single Iphone that passed back and forth between the players, but multiple computers are also an option. A combination of Iphone and a PC/Mac also works fine. I asked about totally online play, but Bastion said that was not planned. They want to focus totally on people using RW miniatures in person.

Exillis has an interesting back-story as well. Fantastic creatures and powers exist because of the “Lapis Exillis.” The Holy Grail to the rest of us. Magic and creatures of fantasy abound, as well as human forces with technology and force of will to do battle in this Dark Age. I believe the world is set in the 13th century, but my memory fails me right now.

My reason for giving Exillis the “Best of Show” award is the integration of modern technology into an ancient game. While many miniature games use computers as aids, such as army building applications, most miniature wargames are still using 19th century paradigms. Dice, rulers and dense rulebooks are still the order of the day. Exillis will not use these archaic methods and leverages existing, widely available technology.

I also think Bastion Studios demonstrates real courage in developing Exillis. They could have just gone with a standard “publish new books and release new miniatures model” so common in the miniatures industry. Instead, they embraced technology and a new business model. I anticipate a backlash from “traditionalist” miniature wargamers against this digital interloper. I would not be surprised at all if the same pointless flame wars ignite between older and younger gamers that we saw after 4th Edition D&D came out.

When I spoke with some of the development team at Bastion they impressed me with both their technical skill and gaming mindset. They actually “get” gaming and gamers. Small details like their plans to allow transfers of miniatures show forethought and understanding of the secondary market.

I am not saying Exillis is industry-shaking. Parts of it already exist in various forms. CCG games have long had online versions of RW cards and online play as well. The business model of selling miniatures for new armies is well established. My feeling is that this particular configuration of gaming and technology, put together by the people I met at GTS was the most interesting game I saw at the show.

There is no release date for Exillis yet except for “sometime in the Fall.” The tentative plan is for the basic set to have enough miniatures for two players to do battle immediately. Pricing is still not determined. Even though it is very early in the software development cycle, I asked to participate in any beta testing that Bastion might undertake before the release.

There is no official website for Exillis yet, just the one for Bastion Studios and it is just a placeholder. I will keep you updated with any Exillis news as it becomes available.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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About the Author: Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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