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Gone Home Review

gonehome_familyportrait

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.

Cracked LCD- Trains in Review

 

trains

Hisashi Hayashi’s Trains, just released in the US by AEG, is a very good game that unfortunately has an indelible issue of identity. You simply can’t discuss this title, which is effectively a deckbuilder that drives rail game inspired board play, without Dominion. Even if I did not mention it, every single aspect of this game’s fundamental design would still say it out loud.  Trains is probably even closer to the cornerstone Dominion design than Ascension, Thunderstone, or any of the other deckbuilders we’ve seen over the past few years. But then again, continually referencing Dominion, even if the design’s goal is to “fix” an aspect of that game like its notorious lack of meaningful theme, is the pandemic problem with the entire genre. It all goes back to Dominion, and the big question mark hovering over all of these designs is to what degree any of them could actually be considered “great” or “significant” when ultimately all are iterative designs typically with a couple of modifications or twists to distinguish them from their forbears. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game in Review

pathfinder

My first game of Paizo’s new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game didn’t impress me much. Designed by veteran game maker Mike Selinker, the game is a co-op adventure that at first blush feels like another Talisman-descended flip a card, roll a die at it exercises. The key differentiator seemed to be the character cards packed with as many stats and powers as you’d use in the pen-and-paper RPG on which the game is based. It felt simplistic, too easy, and nowhere near as detailed or complex as the Lord of the Rings LCG or Mage Knight. I had one of those “this can’t be all there is to it” feelings about it as my two characters, a Dwarven scout and a human wizard, tracked down and made quick work of a villain and his bandit henchmen stirring up trouble in the town of Sandpoint. Continue Reading…

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.

Augustus Review

augustus-1

You might pick up a game clearly emblazoned with the legend “Rise of Augustus” expecting a wargame about the final wars of the Roman Republic. But you’ll have been cruelly fooled: the game is actually just called Augustus and is a light family Eurogame that casts you as assistants to the first emperor, controlling provinces and senators through the distribution of resources. Quite how the “Rise of” got tacked on to the English edition is beyond me.

You might also expect a game that comes in a box the size of the original Arkham Horror to be packed with a similar amount of heady cardboard goodness. And in a sense, there is, in the form of a truly colossal box insert to stop the few components rattling around. That’s a little unfair since the game is hardly expensive, but it’s annoying to have something taking up so much shelf space unnecessarily, just to store two sheets of tokens, a deck of cards, a few wooden meeples and a score pad. And it has to be said that the stylised art is wonderful.

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Cracked LCD- Titanium Wars/Mythic Battles in Review

iello

French publisher Iello (say “yellow) stomped into the hobby game world a couple of years ago with King of Tokyo, one of the best light games ever published. Although that game was a Richard Garfield design, many of Iello’s titles are coming from new or unheard of designers and I find that very exciting. I picked out a couple of their most recent titles to review that looked the most interesting to me- a sci-fi card game and a light skirmish wargame. Both games are from French designers and both have what Bruno Faidutti would call a sense of the “baroque”- there’s definitely big theme and big action as well as some cool mechanics. Let’s have a look at Titanium Wars and Mythic Battles. Continue Reading…

Puzzle Games Saved my Basement

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That right there is a riser, a riser I built as part of finishing my basement. It is in my movie room so that those banished to the back row of seats can see over the heads of their betters, namely those important enough to be allowed to sit in the front row. It is roughly eight feet by eleven feet, a super fortified combination of plywood, two-by-sixes, two-by-fours, sweat, blood and gumption. It is very big. It is very heavy. It is not fun to move, something I can now attest to personally.

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Cracked LCD- Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island in Review

 

crusoe 

When we talk about hybrids in terms of game design, what we tend to mean are American-style, narrative-focused and explicitly themed games that have accrued certain mechanical and design elements of the “Eurogames”  sensibility.  Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, designed by Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek and published in the US by Z-Man Games, approaches the concept of hybridization backwards. Despite how it may appear on the surface, this title is really a “hardcore”, complex Eurogame. Paradoxically, it is also one of the very best adventure games that I’ve ever played. Its idiosyncrasy means that the design references Agricola more than Talisman, its genius is that it manages to create a tremendously malleable, modular survival story rife with life-or-death decisions, branching narrative paths, and a more complete sense of setting than many other adventure games are able to manage with reams of flavor text or illustrations.

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The Shadowrun Brain Dump

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Based on the campaign length I’ve seen bandied about in reviews, I’m assuming I’m about halfway through Shadowrun Returns. It’s too short for a finished review and too long for an initial impressions post so instead I’m just going to dump all of this info here and let you sort through it. I’m sure there’s a Shadowrun term for it to make it sound all cool and cyber-brainy but I’m just going to stick with brain dump. Come to think of it, Shadowrun would probably call it that too.

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Pandemic Review

pandemic box

Pandemic was the co-operative game that launched a thousand flabby imitators. The genre became fashionable and designers and publishers started churning out identikit games to satisfy the kind of uncritical, rabid demand that only glaze-eyed, obsessed nerds can muster. Most were awful, and the few co-op games that really satisfied did so by breaking the mold and doing something different. And in the morass, Pandemic went out of print and kind of sank out of sight.

But now its back in a spanking new edition. New art furnishes the board and cards, and the wooden disease cubes have been replaced by transparent plastic in suitably lurid colours. The gameplay, aside from a couple of new role cards, has hardly changed. And we’re here to see if we can remember just  why playing Pandemic made the co-operative model so appealing in the first place.

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