Must Play SF&F Pulp Retro-Gaming: Jagged Alliance

  • by Gitabushi

jagged-alliance-ss1

The Review, and some Thoughts:

Jagged Alliance is a turn-based, squad-based, top-down, tactical combat and resource management game.  It is clearly inspired by and based on the original X-Com game, but really runs with the concept, to the point of being a unique game.  Jagged Alliance has been called “X-Com with Personality” and I think that fits.

You are a mercenary, and you are hired to fight a traitorous former employee of a scientist and his daughter.  They had discovered how to make a regenerative serum from the sap of some trees that had been exposed to a nuclear explosion.  The trees were sterile, and the daughter was on the brink of being able to make them reproduce, ushering in an era when no one would have to suffer from disease, and when people at the brink of death can be brought back to health with just an injection.

(That’s the SF&F aspect).

You are fighting the bad guys to help protect a beautiful woman and her father from a true villain.

(That’s the Pulp part)

If you’ve ever played the original X-Com, it is a hard game.  You equip your troops and go out and fight aliens.  You explore a map, trying to find hidden aliens, and then kill them. They often see you first, and can kill your soldiers with one shot.  The main challenge in X-Com is to minimize your deaths so you don’t have to waste money hiring new soldiers. You come to care about your soldiers when they develop skills and levels and become good fighters, and when you personalize their names.

Jagged Alliance is hard, too.  Every battlefield is covered with trees, and the occasional building. You have to explore the sector, looking for the enemy.  They sometimes see you first.  The AI is very good, as the enemy will try to outflank you, will make good use of cover, etc. You have to move closer to the enemy to get a good shot, but you have to preserve action points so you can get a reaction shot…which usually has much higher chance of hitting; maybe because your character spots the enemy soldier moving in the open?

In Jagged Alliance, the difficulty is in keeping your players uninjured, because you have to keep them back in camp (and not helping on missions) for a full day to heal them up. That costs money, and wastes their useful time.  I haven’t yet tried firing injured characters, because, well, they take it personally.

And that is the beauty of Jagged Alliance. Every character has personality. They talk back to you if they don’t like their orders, and sometimes ignore you.  They don’t like each other, and will quit (or refuse to be hired), if you have someone on the team they don’t like.  They will tattle on each other.  If they pick up some money on the battlefield, it might not all make it back to fund future operations as it should, depending on the character of the person who picked it up.  The better mercenaries won’t work for you if you don’t have any experience, if too many of your mercenaries die, or if you won’t pay for a funeral for them.

So like X-Com, it is very, very difficult to avoid taking damage.  Like X-Com, you want to be extremely careful to manage the damage for the purpose of preserving future resources, and because you come to like your soldiers. Unlike X-Com, your soldiers don’t die with one shot, and the soldiers are likable just for their inherent personality.

It is a great game. Still fun to play now, decades after it was first made.  It is no wonder it became a cult classic and still spoken of with respect.

It is just too bad that the companies making it never had a bona fide hit on their hands to preserve their existence and ensure a successful and ongoing series.  Jagged Alliance is great. Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games is a much lighter, easier add-on.  Now that I’ve played the original, Deadly Games doesn’t seem like a full game of its own, but merely supplementary material.  Still fun, it adds several innovations (like snow, where your players can fall down as they rush toward the enemy).  And Jagged Alliance 2 is perhaps the best game in the history of computer gaming.  But after that, it gets kind of sketchy.  Several companies have attempted sequels with varying success.  I’ll provide reviews for those in the future when/if I get around to playing them.

The long, rambling background story of my experience with Jagged Alliance:

A long time ago, I found Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games in the bargain bin of a computer game store.  I played it, and it was fun.  It might have been replayable, but I never did.  A friend borrowed it, and by the time he gave it back, I moved on to other games.  And only a year or so later, I found Jagged Alliance 2 in a bargain bin, and purchased that.

And I’ve been replaying it ever since.

But I never played the original Jagged Alliance.  I always wanted to finish JA2 first, but I was always starting the game over…sometimes because I wanted to try to develop a different set of mercenaries, or try a different overall strategy, but most of the time because I missed the stress and enjoyment of the early game, when your mercs are weak and armed with weak weapons, and stumbling across a good rifle is a source of excitement.

But I digress.

Along came Windows 10, and it made it impossible to play Jagged Alliance 2.  I finally found a work-around (delete the Intro file), but it played extremely laggy.

This Christmas, my son was talking excitedly about the original X-Com.  Since Jagged Alliance was born as an X-Com copy, that made me think about the old games.  This was a perfect time to see if the old Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games and original Deadly Games might work in DosBox on Windows 10.

Spoiler: They didn’t.

So I went on a quest to resolve that problem. I was able to resolve the issue with a download from Great Old Games for Deadly Games first. I played the tutorial and the first mission, but decided that it was imperative I play the original game.

I finally succeeded…by buying a compilation off of eBay that had four games in the series: Jagged Alliance, Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, Jagged Alliance 2, and Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business.  All on one CD.

And sure enough, they all worked fine. Even Jagged Alliance 2 (after, again, deleting the intro file that crashes the startup on Windows 10).  JA2 wasn’t even laggy.

So I started Jagged Alliance.

Let me back up.

Jagged Alliance 2 has a high learning curve. One reason I enjoyed the early game so much is that it was easy to learn some new tactic or technique that, had you known it from the beginning, would make the game more fun and more successful. So it was easy to start over. And start over again.  And again.

In fact, even after playing it for 10 years (although off and on in the last 3 years of that decade), I was still learning some new tactics and wrinkles of the game (Hey, if you stop punching the cows before they die, they’ll heal up for more punching the next time you pass through the sector!).

Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games also had a pretty high learning curve.  One thing I didn’t know until after I finished the whole series of scenarios is you can keep mercs back to rest, heal, etc.  That saves money.  What I did was hire some more expensive mercs, run out of money, have to backtrack to weaker mercs, and then have to play them injured with only 30% remaining health (or less). I thought everyone had to go on the mission every time.  Now I know better.

Knowing that now, and going back to play the original game, you’d think it would be easy.

Discussion of Gameplay and Strategy of the original Jagged Alliance:

Nope. This is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.

It’s possible I don’t know some effective tactics.  I did choose the harder difficulty of not being able to save at all during combat.  Which means if you take unacceptable losses in a battle, you have to start over.

jagged-alliance_16

 

You hire up to 8 mercenaries to do the fighting (in Jagged Alliance and Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, you don’t actually have a character who fights).  Unfortunately, you are a newbie, so few of the skilled mercenaries will help you.

Also, you have limited timeframe (I think just 65 days), and you need to conquer sectors to re-capture trees to harvest, so you have the money to continue to pay your mercenaries.  That pushes you to attack more sectors per turn. I’ve seen some people say you need to conquer 3 territories on average, per day.

But you have to avoid having your mercs get hurt.

I started with 6 mercs, conquered 3 territories. 3 people were injured. So I hired a doctor to heal the two significant injuries, then kept the mechanic back to repair some better quality guns that were in poor condition (so jammed easily).

I can see where you need to have a doctor who never goes on missions and just heals up your people, and a mechanic that just keeps your stuff in good repair.  That means you have just 6 people who can fight, and less if you hold them back to get healed.

Now, a minor wound (10 points or less) will heal up on its own in what seems like 2 days.

But since the accuracy is difficult to figure (you can miss when someone is standing right in front of you), you need to mass your mercs on any opponent to ensure you kill them before they shoot at you.  Trees are great cover…but there are times where the angle means the bad guys can shoot right past it, whereas your merc’s shot gets caught in the branches.

Now, I’m sure much of that is because you start with low level mercs with poor marksmanship.  But that’s where you start.

So, anyway, just getting through that first day took me 3 real days (playing an hour or two in the evening). Then I was getting chewed up on day 2 with just 4 mercs available to fight.  And I also realized that I probably had had enough time to take a fourth sector.

So…you guessed it!  I restarted.

It took me another three days to finish all 4 attacks on the first day with few enough injuries to be able to have 6 fighters for the next round.

Metavira

Whew!

I would almost clear a sector, and then a bad guy would come around the corner and get a head shot, knocking my guy down to 20% health.  Or I would keep my distance, keep everyone under cover, and then a bad guy would throw a grenade and take 3 of my fighters to below 50% health, plus a permanent dexterity loss.

Well, I finally did it, and I’m ready to start Day 2 now.  I have to hire more guards to protect my sectors, and more tappers to harvest the trees. I need to have the mechanic repair the 4-5 weapons I found, but I think I can let my 5 different wounded mercs heal up on their own. Only one is badly injured enough to slow him down significantly, but I’ve been dealing with him so far, so I’ll just keep him back out of danger, move him to be an extra shooter when necessary. Oh, and the Mechanic is hurt, too, but again: he can heal while he stays behind and fixes equipment.

Fun game. If you want to try it, let me know and I’ll help you find a version that works.

Here’s probably the best place to start.  This webpage also includes a fairly in-depth review of the game, in case I didn’t make it sound enticing enough.

I’d give the game a solid 8/10.  Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games gets an 8/10. Jagged Alliance 2 gets 10/10.

UPDATE: This is the game (eBay link) that will play all 4 on your Windows 10 computer with minimal modification.

Once that link expires (as it will when the game is no longer for sale), what you want to look for is “Jagged Alliance Compilation”, which has 4 games all on one disk. Disc.  Whatever.

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15 thoughts on “Must Play SF&F Pulp Retro-Gaming: Jagged Alliance

  1. Personally, I liked X:Com: Terror from the Deep better than the original. Your guys could get injured in that one and not just die.

    Have you tried the new Xcom reboots that work on new computers? I was severely tempted but I don’t play computer games enough to warrant even a $35 pricetag for the game, its sequel and all the expansions. But I was mighty tempted!

    So I’m glad you found a way to play all your games without the issues. I do remember trying to load up my original Xcom2 and it ran about 100 times faster than it was supposed to because it couldn’t handle the faster cpu speeds. Even on the slowest time frame a month passed by in about 1 minute :-D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s tough to get older games to work. You can do stuff like use Windows “compatability settings” or install DosBox…Or sometimes find a place that has the old games as browser games.

      I’m probably going to go through the X-Com series in a few years, after I finally go through the entire Jagged Alliance series, through “Back in Action”. I had Wildfire and it isn’t fun, I’ve seen nothing that indicates Jagged Alliance Online is worth my time.
      …and now, while trying to find the name of a Jagged Alliance-like game that I purchased, I found out there is a Jagged Alliance: Flashback that I’m probably going to have to try. Supposedly recaptures the feel of the original.

      …and at the same time, I found out Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is probably going to disappoint me…”Plan and go” combat instead of turn-based, action point-based of the previous games. :(

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Plan and go. Ugh.
        Xcom3 (whatever it was called) lost me because they went real time instead of straight turn based. Ruined it for me.

        And it sounds like you have a huge amount of time ahead of you with JA. Personally, I think you should give it up and start reading books of poetry and writing posts about the depths of black anguish in your soul ;-)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m going to give plan and go a chance. You’ll hear about how I feel about it in future posts.
        I do have a crapton of hobby stuff on my plate.
        I have this whole game series. I just picked up drumming. I purchased about 300 classic SFF stories in kindle format. And I want to write. I should probably add in “my wife to kill, and Gilder to blame for it” but I don’t want anyone calling SWAT on me.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. [Pushes up glasses from nose]

      Actually guys, soldiers don’t automatically just die in X-Com when they’re hit. It’s RNG, so it depends how much damage they take and whether they are bleeding. Also armor can significantly mitigate damage taken.

      The new X-Com games aren’t bad, but they’re more casual.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I know, they don’t *automatically* die. But when you’re starting out and have no armor, that’s what happens to the one guy you really wanted to develop.

        Like

      2. Yeah. Bookman – I was talking about UFO Defense, the first X-Com. I have never played any other other old ones!

        Gita – That’s true. That’s why scum like me save-scum.

        Liked by 2 people

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