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Warage Review

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You’ll realise, no doubt, that Warage is a clever play on words. Making a compound of “war” and “age” cunningly creates the word “rage”, conjuring the white heat of fantasy melees, the ancient and primal fury felt my elf for orc and vice versa. It’s a smart title.

The game underlying it is not smart. It’s a dumb game, but it’s dumb in a good way, the sort of way that an overly playful rottweiler puppy is dumb, full of teeth and fluff and eagerness. It’s a game where you slap down cards, gloat and chug back beer.

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Cracked LCD- Yedo in Review

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More than few people online and out in the real world complained that last year’s smash hit Lords of Waterdeep was lacking. Lacking depth, lacking substance, lacking narrative, lacking theme, whatever. Frankly, I think these folks are lacking good taste but boy howdy do I have a game on the table for them. If you’re one of these people that liked the core worker placement gameplay- driven by quest cards and featuring more direct interaction and interference than typical of the genre- then Pandasaurus’ Yedo ought to be on your Christmas list this year. The game plays very much like a meatier, richer, and more complicated version of Waterdeep in Feudal Japanese drag but it wouldn’t quite be fair to call it an extrapolation or extension of that game’s concept because it very much marks its own territory in the worker placement genre. I’m not even sure if the designers of Yedo had ever played Waterdeep before working through Yedo’s development, but some notable parallels are definitely there. Continue Reading…

Brakketology Faces the Inquisition

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Here there be dragons. We’re jumping right in this week. There’s a 30-minute gameplay video of Dragon Age: Inquisition that has, so far, managed to survive YouTube scrutiny. It’s from Bioware presentation given to attendees at Digiexpo (whatever that is) and, for fans of the series, it’s worth taking the time to watch. Some highlights:

  • Right from the get go, they’re quick to point out that the area they’re traveling in is bigger than all of Dragon Age 2. Me thinks Bioware still feels a wee bit stung by criticism of DA2 being too small. The thing is, size and scale were never Dragon Age 2′s problem.
  • Combat does look like a meld of both of the DA games. At about 18 minutes in they show off the tactical camera, which is available in the console versions this time around. That said, it still looks a bit arcadey, though it’s impossible to say when you’re watching someone else control the action. There is also a section that shows off group tactics that feels very DA2. I’m hopeful, but this is the kind of thing you have to be hands-on to get a feel for.
  • Combat difficulty does not scale based on your character level. This is a good thing, so long as the world is designed properly.
  • Lots of emphasis on decision-making in this video. In this case, do you defend a town from vile beasties or do you stock up the nearby keep to prevent it from being lost. This element overarches the entire 30 minute demo and is very promising as your choice does appear to affect both the world at large and the members of your party. Yes, yes, appearances can be deceiving and they often are. If you skip ahead, however, to the 24-minute mark, you get a good (narrated) summary of how this particular decision can effect the world at large.
  • Speaking of the world, the 14-minute mark has a world map view that is cool for series fans as it actually shows elements of the DA-verse that we’ve only heard of so far, but not seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a map that showed more than Ferelden (and Kirkwall) and getting to see where some of the nations are in relation to each other was worth geeking out over.

I’ve embedded the video after the break, along with your usual dish of Brakketology-style musings…

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Jumping the Shark Episode #195

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week’s Jumping the Shark brings you a smorgasbord of topical goodness as Brandon cracks the seals on his new Playstation 4 and uses it to play more with his Vita. Bill joins us to talk basketball foibles and a little TV. And I drop more XCOM: Enemy Within truth bombs than you can shake a stick at. Along the way Brandon and I also get into the excellent new movie, About Time, and talk about what makes Thor: The Dark World a worthy entry into the Marvel movie canon.

Enjoy!

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Musical interlude, “Gentle Autumn Breeze,” by Garret Dwyer.

Trains and Stations Review

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I’ve always loved interaction in games. I’d bet that most gamers do, really, it’s just that those who’ve chosen to embrace the bloodless, over-balanced mechanical model that runs screaming as far from zero-sum games as it possibly can think that logic is more important than interaction. But there is, thankfully, an alternative. Instead of having players taking chunks out of each other, you can instead encourage them to co-operate for mutual gain.

My suspicion is that this what Trains and Stations sets out to do for the light family gaming crowd. Clearly influenced by age-old classic Poker Dice, the game sees you roll a handful of beautifully marbled custom dice, picking what they want to keep and rolling the others again. Except that, in a nod to modern sensibilities of choice and strategy you can actually keep certain dice from turn to turn if you find you didn’t roll the combination you were looking for and you have to pay for each re-roll.

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Brakketology Confronts the Dragon… Despairs

Excalibur Merlin

Look upon the eyes of the dragon and despair. Merlin was, of course, talking to Morgana when he said that, but he could easily have been speaking of game designer and “monetization design consultant” Ethan Levy, who wrote a piece on F2P success at Games Industry Biz. It is insightful, based on sound data, and wholly abhorrent to anyone who actually cares about games. A snippet, cherry-picked to set you against him:

When I compare Arkham Origins to Gods Among Us [ed: the F2P releases, not the "real" games], my sense as a player and a game designer is that NetherRealms has made an undoubtedly better game, but a worse free-to-play product. They have made fundamental changes that will earn them brownie points with gamers wary of free-to-play, but have a negative impact on P&L. Even more damaging is the effect of diverting resources from a top grossing, live game to build a new product. I know from firsthand experience how difficult hiring talented team members can be in a competitive space like mobile game development. But by shifting resources instead of growing the overall mobile team to support multiple games (which I assume is the case solely based on the credits) Warner Bros. has not only delivered a lower performing product, they have missed months’ worth of opportunity to add new features to Injustice that would grow player base and profitability.

I bang my anti-F2P drum on, very nearly, a weekly basis. This kind of stuff is why. These games aren’t games. Games are creative expressions and therefor are art forms. They may often be very low art, but they are creative endeavors and while there is money to be made (nor can they be made without it), you are not making great games if your primary design axiom is built on how you get players to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and fork over more money, and then do so again a session or two later (and again, and again). And that, of course, is F2P’s problem. When games are designed and built to get you coming back to the feeder bar as much as possible without getting too pissed off to abandon the title outright then they are no longer games of any substance or worth. If you eat, sleep, and breathe that business, then you’re not Satan exactly, but you are the guy who goes into the corner store to buy Satan a pack of cigarettes. (Points for you if you know where I’ve stolen that line from.)

Make us a good game, rather than a nickel and dime delivery system, and we’ll pay you for it. Speaking of real games…

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Hornet Leader & Cthulhu Conflict Review

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When my children were small and I didn’t get out much I played a lot of solitaire board games, and I decided that I didn’t like solitaire board games all that much. It’s hard to see what they give you that a strategy video game doesn’t, except lots of annoying overhead. There was, however, one exception: Vietnam air-war game Phantom Leader.

It’s part of a whole series of related air combat games from Dan Verssen Games. Hornet Leader is one of the more recent and critically lauded entries, and after my experiences with Phantom Leader I was pretty excited to try it out.

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Cracked LCD- A Conversation with Brett Murrell, Duel of Ages II Designer (Part 1)

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I made it abundantly clear, I hope, that I absolutely love Duel of Ages II in my recent review. I think DOAII is a brilliant game that manages to get at some very elemental concepts of play that reach all the way back to schoolyard games like cops and robbers while also creating a vast, “anything can happen” framework for players to create narrative. The designer, Brett Murrell, has been working on Duel of Ages for over a decade at this point, first releasing the game and a series of expansions back in 2003. The new edition arrives at a very different time in the boardgaming hobby, and at a time when I think it may just be the game that we need to cut through the crap and get back to old fashioned fun.

Mr. Murrell was kind enough to offer his thoughts up about DOAII and design in an interview, so over the course of the next two Cracked LCDs I’ll be presenting the results of this conversation that we held over email . I think Mr. Murrell has some interesting things to say and I hope you’ll enjoy his insights. Continue Reading…

Brakketology Waxes Nostalgic

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I was innocently strolling through my Feedly feeds a couple days ago, window shopping for things that looked interesting –things that would justify my desire to not have to, you know, be productive– when I ran across a reference to Vale having taken the wraps off their internally-developed Steam box. And then another. And then another. These are, of course, signs that an embargo just lifted.

I can name the number of times I’ve been invited to go behind the scenes to get an early look at something and then write free PR about it. It was always a fun experience just because you got to actually see stuff that only a small group is privileged to see and you got to meet people in the business (almost universally great people) that you would never ever get to meet in any other situation. Getting to sit down and have a casual conversation with someone like Fred Wester (Paradox Sofware) or a Mike Laidlaw (Bioware)? That’s awesome. Getting home and realizing you now have to try and write something unique about an experience that was exactly the same for a dozen other people who saw the same thing and are also about to write about it? Blech. Waking up and seeing them all online at the same time and then coming across the one or two utterly brilliant iterations that aren’t yours and make you feel bad about yourself as a writer? Vomit.

This is all to say that while I miss getting to have some of those experiences, I absolutely do not miss the sheer pointlessness of the work involved. It’s much better to look from afar and call attention to the stuff worthy of  your attention. Which I’ll do right now…

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Cracked LCD- Warmachine/Hordes High Command in Review

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There’s a lot to like about Privateer Press’ High Command card game, available in Warmachine and Hordes flavors (or Warmachine-Hordes swirl if you own both). The production design is outstanding, with great illustrations. As a lapsed Warmachine player, I’m happy  to see Privateer Press leveraging its fertile, proprietary settings to create games outside of their usual tabletop miniatures domain. And overall, it is a good card game with a couple of impressive ideas, despite some fairly routine gameplay processes. It’s billed as a deckbuilder and that may illicit some groans from the audience since that particular genre is quickly becoming as exploitative and cash-grabby as themed versions of Monopoly are, but it really isn’t anything like other games in its class. It’s more of a Battle Line-descended contested location card game with an interesting way of gradually increasing a player’s options over the course of a game by drafting cards into a play deck from a personal reserve. Continue Reading…