Game reviews

A new dawn rises in State of Decay 2

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Night of the Living Dead invented zombies. So what if the word zombie comes from Haitian mythology? So what if the concept was inspired by the “vampires” in Richard Matheson’s Last Man on Earth? So what if the theme is a variation on the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers? When George Romero gathered some buddies to make a no-budget amateur movie in Pittsburgh, thousands of miles from Hollywood, he invented a new mythology. But it wouldn’t be fully realized until Dawn of the Dead. Years later, with a budget for better production values, with a larger crew on a more conventional shoot, with better actors, better effects, better cinematography, a better set, better distribution, and better marketing, he realized a fuller expression of what he created in his first movie. They’re both classics. But Dawn of the Dead is a timeless work of genre filmmaking and mythology.

State of Decay 2 is to State of Decay what Dawn of the Dead is to Night of the Living Dead. Continue reading →

The absurd intricate Pax Renaissance recalls how money saved the world

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If you play enough boardgames, you’ll pick up the shorthand to communicate the basics of any particular game. This one is worker placement with territory control, that one is a deck-builder with drafting, and the stuff in the back of the closet is a bunch of dudes-on-a-board Ameritrash nonsense. Of course, you need to mention the theme. Set collection in a medieval village, push-your-luck with elfs and dragons, screw-your-neighbor with spaceships, or points salad in ancient Rome.

You can’t do this with a Phil Eklund game. You just say “it’s a Phil Eklund game”. Continue reading →

Metal Gear Survive set to expire in 23 days

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While I’m waiting for State of Decay 2 — checking my calendar, I see it’s 23 interminable days to go — I’ve got another zombie survival game to indulge my resource scavenging, survivor nurturing, and base-building needs. It even acknowledges the Metal Gear Solid V shaped hole in my heart. It doesn’t fill it, but it’s clearly trying to kick in a little dirt. I suppose I should appreciate the effort. Anything to make the next three weeks seem a little shorter.

Wait, what game are we talking about? Continue reading →

Far Cry 5 is more effective — and relevant — than it knows

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I don’t hate the cultists in Far Cry 5 because they’ve brainwashed their followers, stockpiled firearms, bought up all the property, co-opted law enforcement agencies, dumped toxic waste into clean rivers, and installed a right-wing theocracy. Whatever. Cultists gonna cult. I hate them because they’re interrupting Ubisoft’s best open world since Far Cry 2.

I’ve come here to shoot, fish, drive around, blow shit up, and pet a mountain lion. I’m delighted with these parts of Far Cry 5. What a fantastic place to pursue happiness and bear arms, among this rogue’s gallery of people doing the same thing. But then I’m drugged and dragged into a mandatory cutscene.

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Hexplore It’s unique mix of dragons, dry erase markers, math, and maps that matter

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All right, let’s get this out of the way. The name “Hexplore It”, or “HEXplore It” if you want to get technical. Why would someone call this game that? Maybe it’s a warning that the map has hexes, but who’s still scared of hexes these days? I’m more scared of square tiles. Can I move diagonally? Does it cost extra? Why not? There’s less to remember with hexes. The Hexplore It developers went further, though. One of the faces on each die is marked with a HEX logo. Replacing the 6 on the d6 makes sense, since a hexagon has six sides, a six-sided die, fair enough. But how do they explain the 1 on the d10 being replaced by a HEX logo? And more importantly, why would a crunchy, in-depth, detailed, hardcore fantasy saga get a name that sounds like something inflicted on third graders forced to learn geometry? Fortunately, the folks who made this game gave it the subtitle “Valley of the Dead King”, which is a much more sensible name for a hardcore fantasy saga. They’re currently Kickstartering a sequel subtitled “The Forests of Adrimon”. Think of Hexplore It as an unfortunate prefix.

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Space Tyrant’s draconian grip on both space and time

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It takes an hour and five minutes to cook a frozen Marie Callender chicken pot pie. One of the curious properties of Space Tyrant, a sci-fi micro-grand strategy game, is how it reduces that time to about 20 minutes. Because there’s no way I put that chicken pot pie in the oven, sat down to play Space Tyrant, and have been at it for an hour and five minutes. That’s just not how time works.

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In Deep Sixed, no one can hear you scream at things that break at the worst time

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Dark Star was John Carpenter’s 1974 riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Imagine 2001 without Kubrick’s visionary serenity, where the astronauts are the hippies, stoners, and surfers a USC film school student would have known in 1974. That’s screenwriter Dan O’Bannon in the foreground as Pinback. To release a planet-busting bomb, he twists his arms inward to grasp two dials or levers. It doesn’t look very comfortable. He holds it for the countdown from 10, and then for the release, he sharply rotates his hands outward. It’s the gesture a magician would do to reveal which hand the quarter is in.

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The Thunderbirds boardgame to the rescue in a post-Pandemic world!

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The boardgame renaissance began about ten years ago when humankind finally invented good boardgame design. It had taken centuries. Previously, we had a bunch of roll-and-move junk, nerdyman wargames no one cared about, and old chestnuts like chess, Monopoly, and Settlers of Catan. Things like worker placement, deck building, and traitor mechanics hadn’t been invented yet. It was a dark time.

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That darn princess! It’s tough to be a Unicornus Knight.

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One of my favorite things about Spirit Island, my current favorite solitaire/co-op game, is how R. Eric Reuss’ design isn’t the usual solitaire/co-op paradigm. You know the paradigm from Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Flash Point, Zombicide, Dawn of the Zeds, Nemo’s War, and so on. Four bad things spawn, but you only have three actions to take bad things off the board. Now survive until the game clock runs out. It’s a rote exercise in plugging leaks that arbitrarily ends at some point and you either made it and won or didn’t and lost. The other alternative is punching something with a lot of hit points until you win. Sure, there are some exciting variations in the punching, such as the superhero decks in Sentinels of the Multiverse or the economic engines spooling up to cycle cards in a deck-builder called Aeon’s End. But it still comes down to punching a big bag of hit points.

Enter Unicornus Knights, a refreshingly unique solitaire/co-op game with its own paradigm. Want to play a cool game where secret destinies unite allies and enemies, interesting characters navigate a randomized map, and love conquers all? First, allow me to introduce Princess Cornelia, who is going to screw it all up.

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Charterstone makes its distinctive mark on legacy boardgaming

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The Charterstone box is a nearly perfect expression of the experience of playing. It’s mostly blank. An empty sky. There’s nothing there. It’s unpainted. A canvas. Or rather, it doesn’t even exist yet. Not a void that has swallowed stuff, but an immaculate space waiting for your contribution. Oh, look, there’s a little patch of artwork on one side. A tiny zeppelin hovers over some crates. There are two quaint and assuming buildings behind it. This is how your game of Charterstone will begin. Twelve games later… Well, I’ll get to that in a sec.

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Twin-stick shooter developer 10tons’ Tesla vs Lovecraft sets the genre back 15 years

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10tons Ltd., an indie developer in Finland, has been making twin-stick shooters since 2003, when they released Crimsonland. Since then, they’ve done various workaday projects — anyone for a round of Sparkle 2 on the iPad? — but their heart is clearly in the the top-down wholesale slaughter of innumerable dumb enemies. With Tesla vs Lovecraft, they’ve gone back to their first love.

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I don’t play fishing games, but if I did, I’d play Atom Fishing II

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In real life, my experience with fishing began and pretty much ended when I was a kid young enough to be scared by a fish. Which is a perfectly healthy thing to be scared of. When you impale fish on a hook and drag them out of the water, where they frantically thrash and flop their slimy wet bodies and prickly fins, eyes and mouths agape, it’s a horror show. As a kid, I wasn’t sure whether the fish was dying or attacking, but whichever the case, I wanted no part of it. Fish belong in water. “Fish out of water” is an idiom for a reason.

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A Hat in Time is so good I’m gonna die

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Everyone knows the scene in Despicable Me when Agnes sees the stuffed unicorn at the carnival booth. “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die,” she states simply. So the Steve Carell mad scientist character has to win it for her by blowing up the booth. As they walk away from the smoking ruin, Agnes clutches her newly won unicorn and snarls, “It’s so fluffy!” Her voice has dropped several registers. It is ragged with mad glee at the fluffiness of the unicorn, now locked in her fingers. It is so fluffy.

That’s how I feel about A Hat in Time. Not the precious cuteness of “it’s so fluffy I’m gonna die”. But the ragged mad glee once she gets her hands on it.

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