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Papers, Please

Papers Please shot 1

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

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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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Tuesday Celebrat’n – The I Got Engaged Edition

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I’ll talk about the usual gaming stuff in a minute. I feel a bit of a heel for titling a post as a celebration after what happened in Boston yesterday. This is gaming blog and that’s a tragedy that I’ll only speak of to say that what terrorists –those born within our borders or those without– want is to create fear. You want to beat these people? Keep living your life the way it works for you. Don’t let them make you afraid to walk down the street or board a plane. They are few. We are many. Also, this.

Anyway, the celebrating part is a personal note because I’m happy and excited and that only happens like once or twice a year. (No, not really.) If you’ve been listening to JtS for the past year, you’ve probably heard me drop Michelle’s name here and there. For awhile it’s felt much too small to call her my girlfriend. It was a situation in need of rectification. I had a ring and a plan and it all almost came apart when, after a nice one-year anniversary dinner, we were attacked by a flock of (two) wild geese. I was afraid for my life, but I had a job to do and my bravery must have impressed because now I’ve got myself a fiancee. I’m a happy, lucky man and there’s no question I’ll be marrying above my level.

So… wooooo!  Now, let’s talk games. (Thank you for indulging me.)

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Dungeon Command: Blood of Gruumsh & Series Overview

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Inconveniently Wizards of the Coast decided to release five sets for their modular miniatures game Dungeon Command, and I covered the first four in batches of two. So now we’re left with an odd one. However, the good people at WotC informed me this is the last release currently planned, so it seemed a good idea to cap the whole thing off with a series overview.

But first, the new set. It’s called Blood of Gruumsh which, for anyone passingly familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse in which the games belong, will signal orcs. For some reason the orcs in this box are a peculiar shade of blue-gray rather than the green which is universally assumed in other fantasy settings. But aside from that oddity they’re the best figures in any of the Dungeon Command sets: solid, detailed sculpts with pretty reasonable paint jobs.

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Cracked LCD- Clash of Cultures in Review

Clash-of-Cultures-game-in-playBack in 2010, Christian Marcussen essentially issued a stop work order to anybody developing a pirate-themed board game. Merchants and Marauders was and still is the best pirate game ever published, a stunningly complete expression of the concept that was dynamically open-world, filled with narrative adventure, and rich with both traditional economic game elements and exciting naval conflict. Late last year, Mr. Marcussen showed up on the “Civilization lite” scene and again pretty showed anyone working on such a game the door. Z-Man Games’ Clash of Cultures is a masterpiece of judicious design, careful abstraction, and economy- it is the new standard by which all games descended from the works of Frances Tresham and Sid Meier should be judged. There’s never been such a fighting fit, slim and ready-to-rock game of civ-building. Continue Reading…

Always On, Except for When It Ain’t

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As you all here know, I recently moved. I used to live not very close to Atlanta, now I live even less close. There’s Inside-the-Perimeter, there’s Outside-the-Perimeter and then there’s me. The county I live in isn’t totally rural but at the same time, the guy who trained my dog used to work for the sheriff’s department in this county and the most excitement he ever had while on duty was lassoing a bull with an extension cord. If I want to get to Atlanta, I can be there in about 40 minutes, provided it’s not rush hour or a day with a Brave’s game, a Falcon’s game, a Tech game or a day with any of the various festivals and summer going-ons that happen in the city. I know it sounds like I’m out in the boonies, but trust me, it ain’t all like that. My buddy Hodge lives even further out than I do, like cow-country far out.

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Tuesday Mourning – The Downer Edition

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Michigan lost. I’m in mourning. Except not really, because it was an amazing, wonderful season and that team did the school and its fans proud. Also, subs. Craziness. You know the drill. Mostly I’m just hungover. Off of three beers. I’m not sure how that happens. I’m a lightweight. Anyway. This week’s ramblings consist of a large bag of half empty as Disney realizes what we all already knew, EA demonstrates itself to be as tone deaf as ever, and an MS employee gets in trouble for being honest about the wrong things. But first, something wholly awesome.

X-COM versus XCOM. Adam Sessler of Rev3Games did a sit down with the co-creator of the original X-COM, Julian Gollop, and XCOM lead designer Jake Solomon. As a fan of both games, it’s just neat to see two of the principles behind them congratulate each other on being so awesome. And I’m not even being sarcastic. They are awesome for doing this:

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X-Wing Wave 2 Review

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If an evil genius were to invent a machine to suck money directly from the bank accounts of gamers, it’d look a lot like the X-Wing miniatures game. If he were to go back and tinker with it, seeking to make to terrifyingly irresistible, and add the power to suck in non-gaming Star Wars fans too, it’d look a lot like the wave 2 miniature releases.

There are four new ships to add to your collections. The Empire gets Boba Fett’s Slave-1 and the four-cannon TIE interceptor while the Rebels resist them with the A-Wing fighter and, of course, the one we’ve all been waiting for: the Millenium Falcon.

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Gimme Danger

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The recent Tomb Raider reboot, mistakenly cited by Tom Chick as one of the best games of this generation, is bullshit AAA games-making at its worst for a number of reasons. But the moment where I decided to check out  of it was when I was tasked with guiding Lara Croft across a girder spanning a chasm. The camera tilted forward to show me the danger of the fall. Lara’s arms went out to balance, and I assumed that I would need to carefully nudge the stick, moving her slowly so as to maintain footing and overcome the perilous obstacle. I stopped halfway and I watched her, fidgeting and nervous, feeling that strange fear of ersatz death that video games can sometimes create for us. And then I just started jamming on the stick to see what would happen. Continue Reading…