Game diaries

Game diaries are not AARs (after action reports). AARs are boring and often tedious, because they're just about what happened in the game. You know, like when some dude is telling you about his D&D campaign. Instead, a game diary is about our ongoing experience with a game. They were Let's Plays before Let's Plays were even a thing! They're arguably just as much about us as whatever game we're writing about. If you're interested in contributing a game diary to this site, we'd love to work with you! Please send an email to [email protected]

Latest Game diaries

Old World: So you’re in a hurry?

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It can take a long time for your cities in Old World to finish whatever they’re doing.  Whether you’re producing a worker, a scout, a military unit, walls, a treasury, or a gardener for your lavender grove, it can take literally years.  Sometimes as many as a dozen!  Who has time for that?  Which is where hurrying comes in.  It’s a tradition in strategy games like this.  If you want that settler now, you can have it.  So long as you pay extra.  

But like many elements of Old World, it doesn’t work like you might expect, and it’s not very well documented.  You can puzzle over the tooltips, but the overall concept isn’t explained very well.  Here’s what Old World has to say about itself: “Hurrying can be unlocked with Laws, Archetypes, or Family Classes.”  Not terribly helpful.  So let me explain hurrying in the kind of detail you need to actually take advantage of it.

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Old World: Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.

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Families aren’t a discrete system in Old World.  They’re also not something you can easily relate to other games you’ve played.  They’re not like combat, or income, or technology, or culture, or religion.  Instead, they’re all of those things and more.  They’re Old World’s middle layer, interacting with the smaller scale of individual characters and the larger scale of strategic gameplay, influencing and influenced on both sides.  Think of them as the glue that holds the Civilization IV to the Crusader Kings.  

Part of Old World’s brilliance as a design is how it combines its three distinct scales: personal, social, and geopolitical.  Imagine a wargame that you play at a tactical, operational, and strategic level.  You assign resources to train troops, then you arrange those troops into armies and move them around a map, and then you control individual soldiers as they fight a battle. Crazy, right?  It can’t be done!  Now imagine you play all three levels simultaneously.  Even crazier!

As videogamers, we’re used to designs like Creative Assembly’s Total War series or the X-com model, in which a tactical layer is wrapped in a strategic shell.  And we’re even used to games like Civilization V trying to combine a strategy game with a tactical layer of moving units around terrain, shooting arrows over lakes, and taking cover in hills.  But Old World combines three separate scales, all woven into the gameplay at the same time, all affecting and affected by each other constantly.  Nearly every moment of everything you do in Old World will percolate through its personal, social, and geopolitical gameplay.  Families are the social level and today I’d like to break down how they affect the larger scale of developing your cities.

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Bringing new eyes to Old World

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Mohawk Games’ Old World is finally out of early access today. And if you’re like me and you’ve been waiting for the full release, I should warn you that it might be a bumpy ride. Brace yourself. Is that godawful clattering sound everything falling apart, or is it the rollercoaster being pulled to the top of an impending thrill ride?

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Planetfall: the death of trust

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After forty turns of searching for the Psi-Fish I’m supposed to defeat, and whose dwellings are supposed to be abundant, and with whom I’m supposed to be at war, I have found no Psi-Fish.  I have explored enough of the map to discover three NPC factions and their dwellings.  A map this size should have three NPC factions, and I’ve found Therians, Forgotten, and Paragon.  If there are Psi-Fish here, they’re a fourth faction tucked into tiny pockets of unexplored territory.  It seems unlikely.  

But just to verify that something is broken, I looked up how to unfog the map using a cheat code.  The situation is that dire.  I have resorted to cheat codes!  Sure enough, there are no Psi-Fish on this map.  It is Psi-Fish-less.  My mission to capture two Psi-Fish dwellings is literally impossible.

Cue the Lalo Schifrin!

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Planetfall: going fishing, losing touch with reality, and watching sports

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Psi-Fish owned sectors are Abundant!  Psi-Fish make more Demands! Psi-Fish start at War with you!

So said the intel briefing for Angelus, a planet supposedly lousy with psionic extradimensional fish.  These fish have breached our dimension, bringing with them Void storms and deposits of cosmite.  Our empire’s Penumbra faction wants us to wipe out two Psi-Fish dwellings.  At which point, I’ve confirmed that we can declare “mission accomplished” and pack it in.  This isn’t going to be like the hopperhound fiasco on Virginia, where I ended up having to burn the whole planet because I misinterpreted my orders.  Which happens.  You can’t make an empire without burning a few planets.  But now we’re here to do a job and then call it a day, which will secure the Void Lure for our empire, which will let us recruit Psi-Fish during later missions.  “Capable Pets,” the Psynumbra told us when they named the mission.

So where are all the Psi-Fish at?

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Planetfall: Suppose they gave a doomsday and nobody came?

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By order of the Wasila Combine — heck, let’s go ahead and make this a religious thing as well — and by the will of the Promethean god, we’re going to uncork our PyrX refineries (pictured) to flood the atmosphere with toxic gas.  Actually, I’m not sure if there’s a Promethean god.  It seems like there would be a Promethean god.  Or at least an ancient civilization that worshipped some god.  Whatever the theology or lack thereof, we’re erasing all life on the planet from within the safety of our own territory.  This will require a lot less micromanagement than doing it with armies.

500 energy and 50 operational points later — Planetary Purification ain’t cheap — it’s a doomsday party and everyone is invited!

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Planetfall: we need to talk about the M-word

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I’m occasionally surprised to hear people who play sci-fi strategy games complain that they don’t want to build their own ships.  Since Master of Orion, this has been a fundamental part of the genre.  It was the cornerstone of warfare in Brian Reynold’s Alpha Centauri.  But it’s especially important in a strategy game that emphasizes tactical combat.  And being an Age of Wonders game, Planetfall emphasizes tactical combat.  In fact, I’d argue it’s a shell for tactical combat.  If you just want to scooch armies around a map and plop buildings into your cities, there are other games better suited to your preferences.  Planetfall, like developer Triumph Studios’ previous games, is for people who want to play detailed tactical battles set in the larger context of a 4X.  Some designers rightly understand that tactical combat can interfere with the flow of a grand strategy game.  But those designers didn’t make Planetfall.  People who love tactical combat made Planetfall.

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Planetfall: Jewal Gruvich and the Virginia Cull

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In the years since Civilization VI was released by Firaxis, you could say it’s gotten a ton of post-release support.  If you consider “support” adding stuff rather than fixing things that don’t work.  The process has been fascinating.  Rather than adjust the design or the AI to make a game that actually works, Firaxis has instead piled up increasingly absurd ways to play, with no regard for balance, tuning, or even the principles of good game design.  Civilization VI has become a ridiculous, slapdash, and profoundly idiotic sandbox.  One of the folks on this site’s forum called it “Goat Simulator for 4X games.”  

And given that every Civilization since IV appeals to people who don’t care whether the AI can play the design, it’s a pitch-perfect approach.  I suspect it’s done very well for Firaxis.  They’ve correctly identified their target audience and they’ve given them what they want.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing another 4X with pitch-perfect post-release support that includes perhaps the most dramatic change I’ve seen applied to a strategy game, short of a total conversion mod.  Age of Wonders: Planetfall was given a free update last November that introduced Galactic Empire mode.  It’s nothing short of revolutionary and as a result, Planetfall is now the definitive expression of Dune.  

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Project Cars 3: forget it, Jake

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The current weekly event in rivals mode encapsulates everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with Project Cars 3.  It is Slightly Mad Studio’s genius and failing played out in a single lap.  It is simultaneously why I play Project Cars 3 and why I shake my head sadly so often as I’m playing it.

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Project Cars 3: new or used?

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The career progression in most racing games is linear.  You start out with pokey road cars and gradually unlock events for increasingly powerful cars.  One day, you’ll get to hypercars and supercars and formula racers and various other Batmobile iterations.  But Project Cars 3 wants you to freely sample its wares.  So its career progression is a tree instead of a power curve.  A veritable jungle gym.

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Project Cars 3: hey, did you happen to see the most hideous car in the world?

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Today’s rivals event is a breakout layout on Monza, using a lime green doorstop with a bunch of random stickers slapped on it.  I am amazed at how gaudy actual races look, with stickers all over the cars, with signs and banners scattered around the track, crowding to get into every shot to peddle motor oil and beer.  It’s just so unsightly.  Races are literally littered with advertising.  I can hardly blame today’s poor car for trying to stand out by being painted lime green.

But I’ve come up with my own solution.  If you can’t beat them, join them.

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Project Cars 3: it was a dark and stormy night on Cougar Ridge

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Today’s rivals event puts you behind the wheel of an unremarkable Toyota Supra.  But then it adds the dramatic stuff.  There’s a rainstorm.  It’s night.  You’re on a track with plenty of twists and turns and elevation changes.  In other words, lots of rear-wheel drive slippin’ and slidin’, in poor visibility, with a car just sluggish enough to let you enjoy it.

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