Embrace the mess as all of your plans go up in flames



My squad of mercs were enjoying a day at the beach, following up on intel that an explosives expert was there. Instead, they found themselves in a minefield surrounded by foes. Several goons were grouped together, which was handy for my shotgunwie­lding medic. One turn in, half of the opposition were dead. Then my mechanic stepped on a mine.

Chaos took hold. One of my squad went berserk, ran out of cover and just started spraying bullets. Another panicked, tried to flee and, of course, stepped on another mine. Someone thought it would be a good idea to toss a molotov into the mix. More mines went off. Bullets pinged off rocks as shots missed their targets. There was shouting, plus screaming and threats. A miraculous headshot finally ended the carnage, and somehow my mercs walked away with only near-fatal injuries. Just another day in the office.

Jagged Alliance 3 might be a dense, flexible tactics game where planning and precision are demanded, but it absolutely loves to throw those plans into disarray. Mines, a hidden enemy, a jammed gun, some foul weather or some misfortune courtesy of the gods of RNG ensure that you won’t get too comfortabl­e. You can play the same battle multiple times and have dramatical­ly different experience­s, even if your plan remains unchanged.

Despite being set in the fictional nation of Grand Chien at the turn of the millennium, it still maintains an ’80s action

movie vibe, with tons of violence and lots of tongue-in-cheek silliness. To rescue the country’s president and fight the Legion – the paramilita­ry group that’s taken over Grand Chien – you’ll have to hire an eclectic gang of mercs, most of them unabashed clichés, from the tank-toploving Steroid – who gives out big ‘Duke Nukem’s understudy’ vibes – to Ivan, a Russian lad who still sports a Soviet ushanka. If you’ve played Jagged Alliance before, you’ll spot a lot of familiar faces.

Throwing these big personalit­ies into a brutal civil war is a recipe for disaster. But good tactics games thrive on disasters. Without the threat of everything going to shit, XCOM would never have been the wonderfull­y stressful, heart-pounding game that reignited the love for squadbased tactical chaos. One day we might be able to get through an article about a turn-based tactics game without summoning XCOM, but Firaxis’ masterpiec­e is relevant here because of the ways that Jagged Alliance 3 approaches things differentl­y.

Unlike XCOM and the majority of games in this vein, Jagged Alliance 3 eschews telling you the odds – a move Han Solo might appreciate but which I was slightly worried about. The likelihood of you hitting your target feels like essential informatio­n, allowing you to prioritise enemies and reposition your squad for a more effective assault. I thought I’d miss it, when in fact I ended up revelling in my ignorance. I was bolder, braver and frequently surprised.


The other benefit of the odds not being displayed is that it forces you to pay more attention. You won’t be able to figure out the exact odds yourself, but you can make a good guess based on the stats of the merc in question, how far away the enemy is, what their stance is, and if they are behind cover. You can simply listen, too, as your mercs will literally tell you if it’s a risky shot. But without that number making you doubt yourself, you’ll be more likely to accept the risk.

You can always improve these invisible odds. Spending time scouting in real time before you engage enemy forces will help you pick a better position for your assault, for instance. If you’ve got a marksman in

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