Game reviews

, | Game reviews
Ironcast_review

I’m at the farmer’s market on a date with Kyanna, a busty single mother with creepily childlike features. She’s most interested in talent and least interested in romance. That means I want to focus on matching blue gems instead of orange gems. And because I’ve put a point of skill into my sexuality and flirtation, I get extra affection when I match red gems and green gems. I have a teddy bear I can give her to turn all the purple gems into pink gems, which build passion that makes my matches more efficient. But until I match enough green gems, I won’t have the sentiment to use the teddy bear.

After the jump, what does this have to do with Ironcast’s steampunk mechs? Continue reading →

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Tiny_Epic_Kingdoms_review_02

Tiny Epic Kingdoms occupies an all-too-small niche of games that are short, but not dumb, not utterly random, or not thinly themed. It’s modest and ultimately lite, a palate-cleanser ideal before the main game of the evening, while you’re waiting for that guy who’s always late, or after the main game of the evening, to unwind after a brain burner. It’s portable enough and modest enough for lunch hour gaming that doesn’t sprawl across too much of the table or too much of the lunch hour. Calling it tiny is a slightly precious exaggeration, but it’s certainly small.

After the jump, how small is it? Continue reading →

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Hand_of_Fate_review

A card exists. It cannot be denied. It will flip up by the time you’ve gone through the deck and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s a matter of when, not if.

This is different from a die roll. A die roll, which is always an if, doesn’t exist until it happens. It is only a possibility. A six is no more inevitable than a lottery win or a lucky guess. You could theoretically roll a six-sided die all day and never conjure a six into existence.

Computer games, conjured forth from the stored possibilities of 1s and 0s, are usually die rolls. The very 1s and 0s are coin flips, which is really just a two-sided die. So when a videogame like Hand of Fate comes along and really gets the point of cards, I can’t help but notice.

After the jump, no card sleeves allowed. Continue reading →

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Battlelore_review

Battlelore, the charming Days of Wonder fantasy take on Memoir ’44 that was transferred to Fantasy Flight and reissued as a second edition, is now digital. And boy does it look great. Lively graphics and animation, smooth execution of the boardgame rules, and a breezy but thorough interface. It’s even got multiplayer support. This looks like exactly what you’d want in a boardgame port!

After the jump, not so fast. Continue reading →

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Etherium_review_01

The really frustrating games are the ones like Etherium that show promise and then squander that promise. If Etherium was simply bad, I couldn’t care less about its foibles. But because it’s a smart take on real time strategy games, the problems that undermine it are all the more frustrating. This could have been a contender. This should have been a contender! Instead, it’s a tantaziling glimpse at a good game we could have played.

After the jump, when is an AI too good? Continue reading →

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Deus_review

In a typical tableau game, each player builds up a tableau at his end of the table. These games are often dismissively called “multiplayer solitaire”, which conveniently ignores that there’s usually some sort of interaction going on, even if it’s just competing for limited resources or racing to hit a score threshold. But one of the best ways to force interaction — in any kind of game — is to throw players together on a map. This is the approach Deus takes, where you build a tableau at your end of the table, but you also represent each card in the tableau with a little building on a map. Eventually, like it or not, you’ll rub elbows with the other players.

After the jump, this land is your land, this land is my land. Continue reading →

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Vietnam_65_review

Bruce: So this game seems fascinating. Completely ahistorical in every way, yet an interesting gaming problem to solve and arguably a practical solution to an almost intractable problem of simulating the nonmilitary tactical aspects of counterinsurgency. I both love and hate the concept. I wonder if the gameplay will make me feel the same way?

Tom: What do you hate about the concept? And I’d like to hear more about why you call it “completely ahistorical in every way”? Other than the fact that helicopters in this game can’t land in rice paddies.

After the jump, roll over, Westmoreland! Continue reading →

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Cities_Skylines_review

For the most part, Cities: Skyline is a familiar — almost too familiar — take on the citybuilder genre. It’s generically contemporary, without any meaningful structure outside the sandbox, and it wears its debt of gratitude to Maxis’ games proudly. It plays out like a piping hot bowl of gameplay comfort food for those of us hip to RCI indicators.

It’s taken a while to realize what sets it apart. At a population of 10,000 or so, you’ll realize the root of many of your problems is buses tangling with trucks and cars and bottlenecked offramps and clustered intersections. As your city grows to the point that these become issues, to the point that you’ll want public transportation to take some pressure off the streets, to the point that adding more garbage trucks might not make it easier to reach the accumulating garbage and, in fact, will just clogs the streets with even more traffic, you’ll appreciate that it all comes down to your road network. Traffic is the foundation for your city. The roads are veins and arteries, the vehicles are its lifeblood.

This is hardly a surprise given that Cities: Skylines was developed by Colossal Order, the folks who made Cities in Motion, a game that looked like a citybuilder but was actually a traffic management sim. Now Colossal Order’s traffic management is spun out into a full game, built from the road network up. Everything in Cities: Skylines comes down to traffic, much like the Impressions citybuilders were premised on walkers roaming a city to deliver goods and services.

After the jump, the three rules of real estate are roads, roads, roads. Continue reading →

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A_Druid's_Duel_review

With only four playing pieces, how good can a game be? But developer Thoughtshelter, which is basically a fellow in Minneapolis named Kris Szafranski with a keen sense for how to balance intricacy and simplicity, has crafted a shrewd interplay of mobility, defense, and dirty tricks. These four pieces are dramatically different from each other, and since they’re druids who shapeshift into animals, they’re each technically two pieces.

After the jump, two times four is still only eight. So how good can it be? Continue reading →

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Onward_to_Venus_review

The Martin Wallace games I know are intricate affairs, challenging to learn and teach, often with some distinct or even controversial twist. Brass, A Study in Emerald, Mythotopia, A Few Acres of Snow. You wouldn’t whip them out for a casual group. No one would ever mistake them for party games or palate cleansers. They are the main event of a gaming night, or perhaps better a gaming afternoon when everyone is sharp and alert. But Onward to Venus bucks the trend of the Martin Wallace games I know. Here is a joyous, snappy, whimsical, and gloriously colorful science fiction side dish, suitable for a wide range of players and distinct enough to ensure a unique place at the table for a long time to come.

After the jump, remember when the space pirates of Titan attacked Great Britain’s factories on Ganymede? Continue reading →

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Iron_and_Steel_review

Wild West Rampage, one of the two tables in the Iron & Steel Pack for Zen Pinball 2, is Zen’s first non-licensed table in a long time. And it’s about time, too. I enjoy Star Wars and Marvel superheroes as much as the next guy, but Zen has been drinking from those wells for a very long time now. It’s nice to see them going back to reliable tables that stand on their own.

After the jump, not a lightsaber or cape in sight! Continue reading →

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majoras mask 3d moon

As much as I love the Legend of Zelda games, Majora’s Mask never clicked with me. Between the game’s central premise of repeating the same three days over and over again and the ever-present timer counting down my doom, it presented such a change from Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker that I never gave it a chance to make an impression. Thank goodness Nintendo has worked so hard to bring their back catalog of older games to the 3DS, because without the release of Majora’s Mask 3D, I would have missed out on one of the creepiest, most interesting, and most humane of the Zelda games.

After the break, time is a flat circle. Continue reading →

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Sunless_Sea_review

Imagine the biggest single thing on earth. I bet you imagined a mountain. But a sea can swallow a mountain. In fact, it already has; a sea contains many mountains. There is nothing on earth vaster than a sea. The defining characteristic of the sea is its size. We’ve known this from the very first moments we’ve seen seas. Among the earliest folly and greatest ambition of humanity is the act of setting out for the horizon of a sea, the hubris of thinking you can get to the other side of something so vast. This is the legacy of the Phoenicians, the Vikings, the Portuguese, the Spanish. For every Magellan, there were thousands of doomed mad men who we remember in enduring myths like the book of Jonah, The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and Jaws, stories that remind us that seas are hungry and ultimately far worse than malevolent: they are indifferent.

In science fiction, space stands in for what seas once were. We intuitively understand space, not because we can understand space, which is far too vast for us to understand. Instead, we understand space because we know the sea and we remember what it meant before we conquered it with ships and submarines and transcontinental flights.

After the jump, how can we know the sea in videogames? Continue reading →

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Imperial_Stars_II_review

Imperial Stars II is kind of a joke name. The first Imperial Stars isn’t a published game, but a prototype that Chris Taylor made some time ago. No, not that Chris Taylor. The other Chris Taylor. The one who made the first Fallout and, more recently, the superlative solitaire boardgame Nemo’s War. Taylor updated the Imperial Stars prototype enough that it was a whole new game deserving of a whole new title, at which point Victory Point Games published it. Imperial Stars II was born.

After the jump, when spreadsheets collide. Continue reading →

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EH_MOM_review

No one can kill a game like Fantasy Flight in their scramble for another buck. Witness Arkham Horror, an already clunky game bloated to maddening proportions of awkwardness with Fantasy Flight’s successive add-ons. If ever a game was worthy of Lovecraftian adjectives like nonEuclidean or Cyclopean, it’s Arkham Horror with all the add-ons. Trying to play will surely drive you mad.

But unlike many of Fantasy Flight’s bloated franchises, a wonderful thing happened with Arkham Horror. It got a reboot with Eldritch Horror, which shaved off the cruft, refocused the gameplay, and restored to cooperative (or solitaire!) gaming a sense of design. It felt like a company trying to make a good game rather than a company trying to make a buck milking a franchise. It felt like redemption. Ah, Eldritch Horror.

You can’t help but wonder how long it will take Fantasy Flight to destroy it.

After the jump, it begins. Continue reading →

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