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Cracked LCD- Terra Mystica in Review

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Terra Mystica, the new Z-Man title wherein players representing terraforming fantasy races attempt to change terrain hexes to suit their tastes and build structures on them, isn’t really about building civilizations. There is magic, but this is hardly an enchanting, mystical game. The subject matter is little more than a construct to codify its graphic design and nomenclatures. It’s a game more prone to victory point churning than charming you with its fiction with complex mechanics carrying the day over rich theming or a sense of setting. Terra Mystica is ultimately a game more about mitigating and overcoming restrictions or limitations and incrementally acquiring +1 bonuses that affect standard game procedures. This is a fairly common, high level design principle and it’s not particularly a fault of the designers to utilize it but since this is a mechanics-first game it’s immediately obvious and potentially off-putting. Continue Reading…

Star Command in Review

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Star Command, the twice Kickstarted combination of Star Trek and Game Dev Story is finally here. Is this the game what was originally promised those that backed it? Not really, although there’s nothing keeping it from getting there. Is it still worth playing? That’s another matter entirely, and unfortunately, the things that hold the game back feel entrenched. In other words, the stuff that bugs me probably isn’t going anywhere.

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Power Up Slave I


As if the sheer, overwhelming power of my writing wasn’t enough to leave you punch-drunk, staggering across the page with confusion, this week I’m going to serve up short reviews of two totally unrelated expansions. First is Power Up for the acclaimed family game of giant monster ultraviolence, King of Tokyo. Second is the Slave I ship for the acclaimed geek’s game of small fighter ultraviolence, X-Wing. So if you own one and not the other, please do skip accordingly.

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Cracked LCD- A Brief History of the “Dudes on a Map” Genre


You might call them “Risk-style” or “take over the world” games. You may even call them “garbage”. But myself and a lot of other folks writing and thinking about board games have taken to referring to those in which you control and conquer spatially arranged territories on a map with on-board pawns and engage in conflict resolution to determine placement or removal  of pieces with other players as “Dudes on a Map” or DoaM games. I’ve been thinking a lot about the genre lately since it is one of what is really a very small number of distinguishable macro-genres among board game classifications, and also because there have been so many damn good, damn innovative games in this genre over the past ten years.

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Etrian Odyssey IV is a game about maps.

It may look like a game about dungeons and monsters and airships, but it’s really about maps. Sometimes games look like they’re about one thing but they’re really about another. The World Ends With You looked like it was about Japanese teens fighting shadow monsters but it wasn’t. It was about pins. Pins and fashion. It was about equipping pins and leveling up pins and not equipping pins to level up your pins and switching out your pins and admiring your pins. All your pins. So many pins. It was also about wearing unpopular clothes and taking the attack hit for your unorthodox fashion sense, only to see your dress code skyrocket up to popularity. The World Ends With You was into wool caps before you were into wool caps. Now that you’re into wool caps, it is so over wool caps.

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Columbia Falls: Why Bioshock Infinite Sucks

BioShock Infinite

Last night, I was playing the much-ballyhooed Bioshock Infinite. I had rescued Elizabeth, a dead-on cross between a Disney princess and one of the kids from Akira voiced by someone that sounds straight out of drama school, from her towering monument. We wound up on a beach. Sunbathers relaxed in the warm, Maxfield Parrish-like glow that blankets virtually every visual in the game. It was a peaceful scene after a hectic action sequence. As I’ve done in System Shock 2, Bioshock, and Bioshock 2, I dutifully looted everything in sight. Right there on the beach, in a picnic basket, I found some machine gun bullets. Suddenly the world of the sky city Columbia- which is really described mostly through advertising posters and cute graphic design- fell apart and I was just playing another idiotic shooter with tedious looting, ho-hum gunplay, and pointless bloodshed that does nothing for the story but provide the player with something to do in between the movie parts. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- The Loneliness of the IOS Talisman Player

talismanLast night, like any iDevice-owning Talismaniac could be expected to do, I dutifully downloaded the long-awaited Talisman: Prologue IOS game just minutes after the download went live in the App Store. Five dollars and a few minutes later, I was finally playing a quite polished, complete and specially tailored edition of Talisman on my iPad. For years a digital version has been in the works under the auspices of many different publishers and developers including an XBLA project with Capcom at one point. But here it was in the flesh, the quest for the Crown of Command in the palm of my hand.

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Papers, Please

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24.11.82 – Today was my first day working as an immigration official at the newly opened border checkpoint in Grestin. I am thankful for the opportunity to help our glorious Arstotzka and monitor the tide of immigrants into our land. It is tedious work, punctuated by brief moments of anxiety as the printer in my station spits out a report of my latest error. Luckily these moments were few and far between and I was able to process enough people to pay for food, heat and rent in our new lodgings. I even had enough left over to save up for the sweets that Piotr loves so much. I am hoping that once he is better, he will be able to appreciate them. Living near the smelting plant for so long may have damaged his lungs beyond repair, but I am hopeful that this position will mark a new start for all of us.

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Good is the new Average


I don’t like rating games, video or board. A good review should manage to encapsulate how you feel about a game without stamping a score at the bottom. Numeric ratings attract attention away from the writing, and have neither the subtlety or nuance to express wider ideas about the value of the game beyond its play, or the reviewer’s tilt.

But I don’t always have the pleasure of writing just as I’d like to, and many of the editors I’ve worked for want scores. Out of five, ten or, worst of all, a hundred. So I dutifully assign a number and try to move on. But I remain haunted by past scores. Is game X really two stars better than game Y? Was I really right to give game Z that score out of a sense of quality, even though I, personally, disliked it?

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Where Lost Islands Lost Me

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The game I spend the most time with on my iPad is Lost Islands, the free to play Skylanders game from Activision. I don’t usually play free to play games, in fact, with the exception of Jetpack Joyride, I actively avoid them. Lost Islands was another story though, a story with Skylanders in it. Skylanders has three iOS games and a PC game to tie in to the console games, all of which use the figures used in the console games. Cloud Patrol is a shooting gallery game, Battlegrounds is a hex-based, real time action-RPG and Lost Islands is a free to play, kingdom builder. The fact that you can use your figures across all three games made it all the easier to buy more figures for the main game, not that I needed a reason. I mean, come on, this is me. I don’t need reasons to buy toys, but as reasons go, increased utility is a pretty good one.

As I got more figures, my kingdom grew and grew in the usual free to play way. Characters use energy to go on missions, missions that reward them with gold and experience. Gold buys crops which in turn grow more energy. Gold also buys houses which attract Mabu citizens. The more Mabu you have living on your island, the more public buildings you can have. Public buildings and houses grant your kingdom experience. As your kingdom levels up, you can get better houses and better public buildings. As your characters level up, they can go on longer missions that give bigger rewards. Grafted on to all of this is a quest system that rewards you in money, experience and gems, a multi-purpose currency used to buy special buildings, buy new Skylanders and speed up missions and building construction. Finally, there’s a pretty nice “element of the day” mechanic in which Skylanders that match the element of the day get reward bonuses when completing missions and planted crops that match the day’s elements give additional energy.

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