The Siege of Caffa is Bassi's winning entry to the 2018 Defend the Spot Competition.
Bassi’s entry to the 2018 DtS contest casts the player in the role of the Italian defenders of the town of Caffa in the Crimea, which is threatened by the Mongol and Tatar forces of the Golden Horde. However, the gameplay is by no means limited to holing up behind fortifications; a healthy balance exists between manning the walls, maintaining an economy, and devoting attention to the sea. While enemy hordes hurl themselves upon Caffa’s walls, the player must organize a fleet and clear the blockade set by the enemy navy so that a relief force can arrive and parry the final wave of elite enemy forces. One considerable strength of the gameplay was that it was crafted in a manner to showcase the strengths of the Italian civilization, from unique units to naval prowess, fortifications, and gunpowder units. Another was its pacing, which was nothing short of excellent.
The only point of the scenario that left a little to be desired, the balance score suffered from the struggles that AI armies attacking by land face against mass ships--a viable tactic, of course, but nevertheless far and away the best option available. The player can fully defend all but one route to the city with a large fleet, thinning out enemy armies before they reach the walls. However, this by no means renders the scenario a cakewalk, as the scarcity of wood and the presence of enemy siege engines and naval forces mean that the player cannot afford to squander or mismanage their ships, and will always be fighting on multiple fronts. Additionally, the starting situation assures that considerable playing experience is required to reach that point where the player’s fleet is powerful enough to contribute to the defense of the city while simultaneously clearing the blockade. The pacing remained sound and the gameplay enjoyable despite this caveat, although in a future update the designer may want to address it somehow.
A major strength of this defense mission was manner in which sallies and counterattacks were interwoven and presented as options and, in some cases, imperatives. While the player must clear the naval blockade to advance the mission, they can also attack the Tatar camp and destroy their lumber facilities to hamstring the enemy production of siege engines. Additional creativity was showcased in the map design, to be further discussed.
Map Design: 5
Definitely the standout effort of the contest, the author’s prowess in map design once again came to the forefront here. The player’s city, the enemy siege camps, the sea, and the countryside--comprising mountainous, forested, and open regions--all exhibited the author’s characteristic balance between fundamentally solid map work, design tricks, and an environment that is thoroughly enjoyable to play. The map design is so beautiful that the player feels legitimate sorrow as they deforest the landscape and level enemy camps--or watch their own city deteriorate and fall.
The author is clearly at home with topics regarding the hordes of the Eurasian and Central Asian steppes, and the zeal of the storyline was matched only by the clarity and simple (but palatable) nature of the instructions and the high level of creativity. The scenario is introduced with a short initial cutscene and punctuated by a set of sound effects, but wastes no time in thrusting the player into an enjoyable gameplay experience that is straightforward but gripping.
An incredible effort with a couple of minor flaws, this entry was a worthy winner of the contest in which it was entered. My hat goes off in thorough congratulation to the author on a fine piece of work that was worth every second of the reviewer's playing (and reviewing) time.