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Knock-Knock Review

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Knock-Knock is the latest game from Russian developer Ice Pick Lodge. That may mean nothing to you: it meant nothing to me when I first downloaded the game. Some of their previous titles did chime a little as names I’d heard now and again – Pathologic or The Void. However I soon came to understand that for those more familiar with this studio and its titles, the name presages a unique combination of inventive gameplay and jarring oddness.

Almost everything you need to know about Knock-Knock can be gleaned from one brief anecdote. About halfway through the game I spent one level wandering aimlessly around a darkened house, turning on lights and began to grow pretty bored. Then I opened a door, walked through and found myself in a dank corridor which I had to wander up and down through a series of more doors before discovering I was back at the start of the tedious level again. Infuriated, I wanted to stop. But I kept on playing.

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Cracked LCD- Why Waterdeep?

Lords of Waterdeep board in play

I was going to write up a review of Scoundrels of Skullport, the recent expansion for last year’s surprise hit Lords of Waterdeep, but at the risk of miffing the press handlers at Wizards of the Coast that sent me a review copy, I’m not going to do that. There are lots of reviews out there already.  The thing about it is, if you like Waterdeep, you probably already own this outstanding add-on. If you didn’t like Waterdeep, the addition of some new gameplay areas and new oh-so-tempting corruption mechanic that greases wheels and makes some quests easier to complete isn’t going to change your mind. For my part, I’ve found both elements of the expansion to be very welcome and I’d rather not play without them- especially since the game now supports a sixth player and still stays under two hours.

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Brakketology Thinks Horizontally

Grimrock 2 Skill Tree

This week’s Brakketology (admit it, like a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome, you’re starting to like the name) checks in on the Grimrock 2 team and comes out forever changed. Sorta. Also Stardock teases, the Arkham games get a much-needed Steam update, 2k wants you to give them a fiver, Sega just won’t quit Aliens, and Sid Meier learns an important lesson about why the free-to-play model is teh suxorz.

Grimrock 2 Gets It. One of my big bug-a-boos in RPGs is the degree to which the entire genre has marginalized leveling up characters. There was a time, and this is going way back, when gaining a level in an RPG was exciting. More hit points! A new skill! Maybe even an attribute bump! These are all things you still get, of course, but somewhere along the way the excitement got lost. I attribute this to the fact that designers decided leveling was so awesome for gamers that they should be hearing the little ding every 23.589 seconds. A funny thing happens, though, when you make a special occurrence a routine one — it stops being exciting. I blame Diablo for starting the trend, but regardless, once you realize there’s little in the way of rewards that mean anything it becomes a long slow exercise in diminishing returns. Hey, look, another skill I’m not going to use! Alright! I now get a 23% bonus to fire damage instead of a 22%! Woo?

Enter the recent dev diary from the Legend of Grimrock 2 team:

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Runewars Review

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Fantasy wargames have a sad history of being far too much wargame and not enough fantasy, tired repetitions of stacking limits and zones of control but with dragons in place of Panzers. Adventure board games, in a similar vein, have always struggled with the inherent problems of making a genre that celebrates individual achievement and massive power differentials into an interactive, strategic form. Runewars seems like Fantasy Flight’s attempt to solve both these problems at one stroke.

Players pick a side, build a board and launch into a fast-paced cycle of season-based turns in an attempt to conquer as many dragon runes as possible. There are various routes for doing so. The time honoured method of annexing territory from your neighbours is one, and that’s your fantasy wargame. Slipping hero figures silently through the massed hordes of your opponents to fulfil quests in different territories is another, and there is your adventure game. Finally there are various events and auctions that can occasionally be manipulated to gain a rune and that’s pure Fantasy Flight, an uneasy but often brilliant mish-mash of old-time game theme with modern-style mechanics.

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Cracked LCD- Risk Battlefield Rogue in Review

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My friend frowned at the game on the table and said “you know, I really wish there were a better game just like this.”

I don’t know if I could better sum up my rather complicated thoughts on Rob Daviau’s final game with Hasbro, Risk: Battlefield Rogue, a game that as of right now is only available in the US through Target stores. It’s a strangely undernourished and possibly underdeveloped product, bearing of course a huge EA video game license on the eve of said license’s next generation debut. But it’s also- at least on the package- a Risk game, so it should have some appeal there as well. Most compellingly, it’s the only significant board game in recent years to seriously try to tackle the highly fetishized modern military subject matter popularized by first-person shooters.

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Brakketology Embraces the Terror

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First up, there’s no JtS this week. Here’s your obligatory kitten. Bill and I agreed that an hour of listening to him sniffle and hack up a lung, combined with us talking about all the games we’re not playing, was probably not the way to go. On the bright side, we’re  all picking up The Wolf Among Us and will be discussing it next week.

As for this week’s Brakketology, I have found a new game to drool in anticipation over, which we all know I rarely do anymore; Steam shows us what it’s upcoming SteamBox controller can do, and it’s rather impressive; there’s a new faction hanging around in XCOM: Enemy Within; and two new game trailers, one that shows you something that should be cool, but decidedly isn’t, and something that should be passe, but looks fantastic. Also, I finally saw Gravity (in 3D) this weekend and the critics are right; it’s, like, whoa.

Who is it that loves you? It’s me and you’ll sleep better at night knowing this.

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Circus Train Review

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Roll up! Roll up for the greatest show on earth! Who doesn’t love a circus? Well, now you get the chance to run your own in Circus Train. Not in the modern day, of course, with its annoying animal welfare laws and societal distaste for freak-show exhibits, but in depression-era America.

This is the second edition of this game. Both it and the original were published by the delightfully cheapskate yet innovative Victory Point Games. Except you wouldn’t know it if this was your first VPG title. In place of the flimsy counters and paper map of the original you’ve now got a mounted jigsaw board and chunky counters. They’re laser cut, so be prepared to wipe a lot of soot off your fingers for the first few games, but they’re worth it for the bargain basement price.

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Cracked LCD- There will be Games HD part 3- I Built My Dreams Around You

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Here it is- the long-delayed third part of the There Will Be Games HD remaster project. Yes, it is in fact an indicator that I was lazy this week and didn’t feel like writing anything. But there have been a couple of requests to continue on with this rerun series, so somebody out there will be happy to see it.

Close up on a drawing of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The camera pulls back slowly, revealing it to be an illustration on a dusty, shrink-wrapped copy of Steve Jackson Games’ DINO HUNT. Zoom out to show the game lying in a pile of rubble—broken pieces of wooden slat wall and the detritus swept from under shelving units now long sold away. The zoom continues back to reveal the heap of debris against a field of blue-gray industrial carpet lining the floor of an interior space. Slow dolly as we back through an empty room, out a floor-to-ceiling glass windows and into the parking lot of a small strip shopping center. Slight tilt up to a back-lit blue sign, giant letters that spell out “Games” with a hex and gear motif. It’s a cold day in Atlanta as we stand at 551 10th Street, sometime in February 2008.

It’s now 2004. The storefront, which will be empty once again four years later, is then an abandoned Laundromat and three people in front of it are talking to a realtor about leasing the space that would become Atlanta Game Factory. The rent is maybe a little too high and the entire place will have to be gutted, but it seems like the perfect location- it is on the Georgia Tech campus and has easy access from the northern suburbs and I-75, the major highway running straight through Atlanta. A three year lease is signed and construction begins.

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Brakketology Plays Catch Up

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Brakketology is back this week. After a full week spent moving to a new home I only got my PC hooked up for the first time last night. Consequently, I’m way, way out of the loop, so I’m just throwing out there a few things that have caught me eye the last coulpe days. Before that, though, some things I’ve learned from the move: Moving with two kids is, to use Brandon’s words, exponentially more difficult that moving just an adult or two. Cleaning up after the prior residents left the place a federal disaster zone is a wee bit frustrating. Having Comcast television service is way worse than having just their Internet. The bill is cheaper, but holy cats is the UI bad on their boxes. We’re talking Gameshark.com levels of design awfulness. Do these people not have anyone working on this stuff? Also, when loading and unloading a Uhaul, do not, do not, do not, walking into the trailer hitch. Ow.

In items that may or may not be more relevant to you, Soren Johnson penned a cool retrospective on Spore, there’s some new Kickstarter projects worth checking out, and you Sony controller fans (both of you) will be able to use your maddening little gamepads on the PC. It’s all after the break. Woo!

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Cracked LCD- Duel of Ages II in Review

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When Brett Murrell’s Duel of Ages appeared back in 2003, it was sort of a strange entity. Its marketing materials and website conveyed an ambitious- and seemingly venture capital backed- line of products that were very much not in step with the current design trends at the time. Puerto Rico was still considered one of the top games in the hobby and the first “hybrid” American games with Eurogame influences such as Christian Petersen’s A Game of Thrones and Glenn Drover’s Age of Mythology were starting to appear. Heroscape and War of the Ring were right around the corner.

With this context in mind, I have to admit that when I first played Duel of Ages ten years ago I didn’t like it very much. It felt old fashioned and not in a good way. I wasn’t really sold on the concept of bringing together characters from four different eras and kitting them out with mismatched gear. It was a highly idiosyncratic game, with unusual sawblade-shaped modular map tiles (“platters”) that were notorious for warping. I felt like the game was clunky, clumsy, and retrogressive. Yet it persevered, becoming something of a cult classic among its fans that just couldn’t get enough of putting William Wallace on a bicycle, armed with a plasma rifle and with a grenade-hurling wizard and an angry bear in hot pursuit. Continue Reading…