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It’s Dark Souls 2 Week

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Thank God. I am reborn.

Occult Chronicles Review

Occult Chronicles Review

Cryptic Comet’s latest turn based video/boardgame hybrid, Occult Chronicles, is a game I should love. Basically it’s a mash up of Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, and “Roguelikes”.

But I can’t stand it.

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Gone Home Review

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You arrive at the doorstep of a mansion. Your parents recently moved there with your kid sister but you are seeing it for the first time because you have just arrived from your backpack trip across Europe. It’s dark, stormy, and the place looks like it’s been ripped out of a King novel (one of the good ones). No one is home. The lights flicker. The TV is on but it’s just white noise. You enter the house looking for signs of your family.

It’s difficult to talk about Gone Home without venturing into spoiler territory. The game, if you insist on calling it that, is all about the story. There are no controls to speak of, no inventory to rifle through, no health meters, no reflexes are required, your amazing hand eye coordination is meaningless, and there is nary a weapon in sight.

Ah, so it’s an adventure game!

No, it isn’t.

There is no “adventure” here, either; at least not in the typical way we tend to view adventure games. There are no “puzzles” to solve, no riddles to think your way through and no dialogue options from which to choose. If you thought a game like The Waking Dead was devoid of actual game mechanics then Gone Home will feel like a school project.

But that’s part of what makes the “game” work. In Gone Home you are merely along for the ride; a passenger on a ghost train that only reveals itself as you muddle your way through a seemingly abandoned mansion one room at a time.

Is that enough? Is sitting down in front of your PC for two hours (literally) and piecing together an interesting story worth your $20? We like to debate the merits of “value” of a game when discussing its critique and while I still strongly believe that price has no place in the evaluation process of a game, (then again neither do stars, ratings, or any other ridiculous measuring stick) but in this specific case you need to at least know what you are getting into.

Gone Home is short – two hours short, but that’s somewhat irrelevant. More than that, the writers know you are playing a videogame where you are wandering alone inside in a spooky abandoned mansion that looks like it should be a terrifying place to wander around alone – it plays on that emotion at every possible turn. And this is where it’s difficult to really talk about Gone Home without giving anything away, and I do think you should play the game, which is really all a “used to be game critic” can offer, right? I’m glad I played it, but I’m not nearly as happy that I spent $20 to do so.

That said, the writers and designers of this game deserve great praise for their ability to tell an engaging story via spoken dialogue (journal entries), sound effects and music, Post-It notes, and by strategically placing mundane objects around the house that help you slowly piece together what happened to the family that lives there. It’s an amazing achievement that the writers can tell such an emotional story via post cards, letters, and travel brochures. As far as pure storytelling is concerned Gone Home is equal to and in most cases is far superior to anything you see in today’s so-called blockbuster videogames. Of course since the game is all about the narrative – it better be damn good or it simply won’t work.

But I can’t help but feel a little manipulated by Gone Home. Not because of its length or its lack of any real gameplay, but because it knows…the game knows I play videogames and it knows it IS a videogame and it takes that fact that uses it against me; when you strip that away you are left with a sad, emotional and ultimately wonderfully told story trapped inside a mediocre game.

1775: Rebellion – A Video Documentary

I’m a big fan of Academy Games’ Birth of America series. 1812: The Invasion of Canada started the series off last year and now 1775: Rebellion has finally been released.

The PLAN was to debut this new video series near the 4th of July — an American revolution themed game, etc. The problems were:

  • I needed to learn the software to the point that I could make one of these nifty videos.
  • Editing a video like this takes an incredible amount of time — at least for me.  
  • It’s been a busy summer of basketball camps, looking into post-bachelor college options, job changes, etc..

So the video was put on hold but now it’s ready and I hope you like it. I’d like to do more of these, time permitting. They’re fun to do and I have discovered that I like doing the video editing work.

A HUGE thanks to Todd for doing the narration. Without it the video just doesn’t work.

Gencon ’13: I Am Tired

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This year was my first year attending Gencon. Last year I was there for a day, wandered around the Convention Center, realized it was way too crowded, bought a few games and then went to Todd’s place to actually enjoy myself.

The homeless guy you see in the above image is me on day four of the show. I arrived at Gencon cleanly shaven and ready to sell some games. By Sunday I was ragged, unkempt, tired and nearly voiceless. I also resorted to sitting down while I demoed games. The pic makes me look like Tyrion Lannister’s cousin, but I am in fact not three feet tall.

Tomorrow demoed extremely well at the show and had I been able to sell it to the masses rather than be available to specific Kickstarter backers, it would have sold a slew of copies. As is, we took a lot of pre-orders as the game nears its late September release date. I’m excited about its launch.

The New Science was also a hit at the show as I nearly sold out of my stock. We shared space with Academy Games and APE Games and I honestly felt like we had one of the more interesting booths at . With Academy’s lineup of 1812, 1775 and the new Freedom: The Underground Railroad, APE selling Order of the Stick merchandise like it was free (it was not) and our booth selling a game about 17th century scientists and a game about massive global depopulation — we had a lot of angles covered that other booths didn’t. So I was really happy with how it went.

I was running the booth solo most of the time, although my buddy Dave Fitzgerald was there to help a little on a couple of days which was a huge relief. Still, running four tables at Gencon by yourself – I do not advise that.

Here are some show high and lowlights:

*Fantasy Flight Games’ Damon Stone telling me how slick Tomorrow looked when displayed and offering to trade me a copy of it for the Cthulhu card game with one of the expansions after it ships. “Done.”
*Demoing The New Science to a half naked woman in a Cleopatra costume and getting into a discussion about the life and times of Marie Curie.
*Demoing Tomorrow to a grown man in a Riddler costume (complete with question mark cane) and carrying on an adult conversation about population growth. Surreal, indeed.
*Meeting Richard Borg at a bar and telling him how much I loved the Commands & Colors: Ancients series.
*Inadvertently getting in the way of people getting their picture taken with a dude dressed up in a Jawa costume. People seemed miffed at me as I was walking to my booth. I did not care.

Overall, a good time. A busy, busy show and I played absolutely zero games in my four days.

Oh, and I had sushi with Todd and his fiancé. That was ok, too.

Why Metro Last Light Disappoints

Metro

First off, hey, remember me? I used to write here a lot! Good to see you too.

So…first BioShock Infinite and now this.

Metro 2033 was one of the smartest, original and most challenging shooters to appear on the scene in quite some time when THQ and 4A Games released it back in 2010. Flawed? Yeah, but its uncompromising design made for one of the best gaming experiences of the year.

Now, with Metro Last Light we get a drop dead gorgeous sequel set in the same bleak, worn out world but this time it seems…different. Milder. Safer. “Streamlined” and Corporate.

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Eclipse is (Nearly) Ready!

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Eclipse is a wonderful boardgame from designer Touko Tahkokallio. Basically, it’s a Eurofied version of Master of Orion and it won a slew of awards after its release in 2011; it’s generally considered one of the better games of the past few years.

I like Eclipse. But it’s a beast of a game, takes up a lot of room and is one that you need to play several times in order to get a feel for how it works — Eclipse takes practice in order to learn how to play well. And when it comes to boardgames, that can be a slight problem. For some, playing a 4 hour game as a “learning” experience is frustrating because gamers, whether they be inclined to video or cardboard, are not a terribly patient lot.

This is precisely why I can’t wait to play the iOS app of Eclipse, which is ready to go and awaiting approval from Apple ($6.99).  Now, you can play the game, test some strategies, generally learn what the hell you are doing and THEN take that experience to the table. This is also from Big Daddy Creations, who know how to port a boardgame to the app store — Neuroshima Hex, anyone?

I’ll keep you posted when it’s ready for your money. Until then, screenshots!

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Introducing War Stories

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If you have been listening to the podcast you know that we have another game on Kickstarter called War Stories: Red Storm. Actually we have both Red Storm (east front) and War Stories: Liberty Road (western theater) both on Kickstarter simultaneously sold either separately or in one large package.

This is a World War II block game which can also be played as a miniatures game. We have the rights to the World of Tanks Museum minis as well as sculpts from 21st Century Toys for the Liberty Road minis. So basically we have a lot of cool pre-painted tanks, anti tanks, and trucks which may be used in the game. You don’t need the minis to play as it works great as a block only game. But the minis just look damn cool.

The idea behind War Stories is to take what is normally a fairly complex genre (World War II tactical games) and break it down into a very easy to learn and play game with all of the detail and charts and minutiae boiled down into cards.

Check out the Kickstarter videos. I made the videos so if they look cheap — that’s all me baby! It’s already funded but we’d like to keep it rolling.

In other news, I have been knee deep in the development of Tomorrow. It’s winding down and I am really happy with how it’s turned out. We have added stuff like espionage, new objectives, discovery cards, reworked how diplomacy and cyber warfare functions — a lot of new stuff. I submitted the first draft of the “final” manual and when that’s done I will post a link so people can download it.

I can’t wait to show if off this summer.

Space Hulk!

Seeing that I am out of the videogaming news loop these days, I have no idea how much play this is getting elsewhere but for me — and Barnes and Matt — this is a big deal. Space Hulk is coming to PC and iOS. I know nothing of the developer , Full Control, but Space Hulk is coming to PC and iOS!

Feature set:

Based on the best-selling board game and set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Space Hulk is a 3D digital turn based strategy game that recreates the classic claustrophobic board game experience for single player and multiplayer cross-platform play between PC, Mac and on iOS.

Space Hulk is set in the isolated corridors and tomb-like chambers of an ancient vessel lost in the graveyard of space. Players lead a small army of fearless Space Marine Terminators to battle in a ferocious fight for survival against hordes of predatory alien Genestealers.

The main features are:

Blood Angel terminator squad
Fearsome Genestealers with challenging AI (sorry, still no free rides)
Thematic 3d environment
Single player campaign based on the “Sin of Damnation” hulk
New coop multiplayer levels against the Genestealer AI
Multiplayer head-to-head recreating the board game experience against a friend
Cross platform multiplayer between PC, Mac and iOS
Level editor with ability to share creations
Game expansions in the future as DLC

In. Oh, so in.

Time to Kickstart Tomorrow

Our third project is now online at Kickstarter.

This is the project that I have most likely had the most direct input in its development. I urged Dirk to do the game — it was a project he had on the shelf for a while and a few months ago when we were discussing the project schedule for Conquistador, I inquired about a game that was at the time called The Next Superpower.  When Dirk started to describe the idea behind the game I was immediately interested in doing it. It’s really unlike anything I have played before.

I strongly pushed for us to make this game and wanted to help develop it.  It’s right in my wheelhouse. It has a lot of tough decisions to make and almost demands that the players at the table talk to one another. I really don’t know how you could play Tomorrow quietly. It’s a game of, “You’re hitting me with Maelificum’s Whisper Flu? OK, here ‘s a nuke.”

You can try to play the game in the shadows, trying to appease everyone but sooner or later the players will look at your country and at your population and decide that it’s time some of your people need to die. And the thing is — they are probably right. That’s when the negotiation, the pleading, the deal making, and the backstabbing kicks in.

Anyway, I posted the first run of the rules on BGG. Give them a look.I’m really excited about it.

I’d also like to once again thank Jason McMaster for doing the video editing work!

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