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Forgotten Pleasures

bloodborne

One of the unexpected effects of regularly reviewing games is how jaded I’ve become. It takes an enormous amount to impress me nowadays. And even for titles that make the grade, it’s rare that they grip me for a long time. Readers demand novelty, so the old makes way for the new.

Sometimes a game still gets its claws in me and demands play time in the face of all competition. The last video game to achieve that was Hearthstone, early last year. The last board games were Wiz-War and X-Wing back in 2012.

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Star Wars X-Wing Scum and Villainy Review

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Recently, I started playing X-Wing against someone who really knew their Star Wars. They knew that Howlrunner was a female pilot, and where the YT-2400 freighter originated from in the expanded universe. They also told me something interesting: that the Hutts and their criminal networks were a faction equal in power to the Rebels of the Empire. What looked like a footnote in the films was actually a major player in the galaxy.

At that moment, I decided I needed Scum and Villainy.

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Cosmic Encounter and expansions review

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Cosmic Encounter was one of the first hobby board games I owned, back when I was a teenager. It was the Games Workshop edition. I can still remember being baffled by the rules. It looked and smelled like a conquest game: there were battles and alliances and units died. But what the hell kind of conquest game made you draw and card to determine your target instead of you picking on the weakest player? Where was the fun in that?

Oh sure, you could still make alliances. The encounter each turn with your random opponent allowed each side to invite people to help out. Sure, there was still excitement, with combat determined by the number of ships on each side plus the play of a numeric card. And the draw of a different alien power for each player was a fascinating idea. But where was the sense of narrative, of slowly building friendships and enmities?

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Claustrophobia & expansions Review

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Back in the days before Space Hulk was common as muck, gamers spent a lot of time and energy discussing possible replacements. Claustrophobia was a game that got mentioned a lot in those conversations, and I never understood why. Not because it was a bad title, but because it shares almost nothing with Space Hulk other than asymmetry, a collection of finely sculpted figures and some six-sided dice.

Instead of a pre-set grid, Claustrophobia has a randomly drawn series of dungeon tiles on which the precise positioning of your forces is meaningless. It’s virtually all melee, with ranged combat restricted to the occasional “blunderbuss” card that has a range of precisely one tile. Cards feature heavily in Claustrophobia and not at all in Space Hulk. I could go on.

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Why Dragon Age: Inquisition Fails

Dragon Age Inquisition Dragon Fight

Dragon Age: Inquisition is not a game that feels like a failure. It’s got a world’s worth of stunning environments to explore. Its characters are universally layered with compelling and cliché-defying personal story arcs. The combat can get tedious, sure, but it’s a soundly designed system with some bonkers dragon fights. And certainly it has sold. Yet the game still fails and it does so for the very same reason Mass Effect 3 failed — it doesn’t stick the landing.

Lest I give the impression that I’m picking nits over nonsensical cut scenes and weird star children, my problem with Mass 3′s ending was largely quite different from everybody else’s. I’m not talking about denouement. I’m talking about climax and how it relates to the rest of the game. Star child was incomprehensible, sure, but he’s not what made Mass 3′s climax bad. Likewise, the lackluster final confrontation with Corypheus isn’t what tanks Inquisition either.

The key to a memorable and satisfying ending isn’t the implication of what happens after the camera fades to black or even whatever tedious boss battle kicks it into gear. It’s the question of whether or not it fulfills the promise set up by the rest of the game. Like Mass Effect 3, Inquisition is a game that beats you over the head, telling you over and over that it’s about team and coalition building. You face a threat that requires uniting disparate factions and disparate people to face a common foe. You dare not face it alone or you’ll be too weak. So you spend a good 100+ hours working your way through the world and sending lackeys on assignments in the name of building a better, stronger Inquisition.

Cool. Cool cool. Shouldn’t it follow, however, that when you reach the final stage of events that the strength of your Inquisition should, oh I don’t know, matter? At least a little?

Let’s dive deeper (minor spoilers ahead)…

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This War of Mine Review

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They say that civilization is only three meals away from barbarism, but I managed six. After two days without food, I stabbed an elderly priest in a fight over carrot and then fled in terror from his avenging friends. As if I didn’t feel bad enough after that, This War of Mine informed me that the carrot did nothing to assuage my gnawing hunger.

It’s very much that kind of game, where you’re damned whatever you do. It loses no opportunity to ram home the bleakness of its setting, the trials of three civilians trying to survive in a war-torn city. Sometimes, its solemnity tips over the edge into parody. But mostly it traps you in a vice between compelling gameplay and the tragic consequences of your decisions.

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual Review

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I’ve always been amused by the way player and dungeon master materials swapped size between the 1st and 2nd editions of D&D. With first edition, it seemed obvious the DMG should be bigger than the PHB. With second, it seemed equally obvious that the opposite should be true since everyone ought to know most of the rules.

That pattern has persisted with 5th edition. The new Dungeon Master’s Guide is a chunky enough tome to make it appear worthy of the asking price, but slimmer than the Player’s Handbook. What have they put inside?

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Dead of Winter Review

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Hidden traitors are an under-used and under-explored game mechanic. This may be because the formula was near-perfected by Battlestar Galactica back in 2008. A slight clumsiness around traitor selection, complex rules and a 3-hour play time were the only significant downsides.

Dead of Winter is a very obvious love letter to BSG, which attempts to fix its shortcomings. Taking on such an acclaimed game and trying to improve on its formula is a tough proposition. Dead of Winter succeeds … most of the time.

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Thrower’s Tallies: Games of the Year 2014

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Another year, another end of year wrap piece. Time to reflect on the past 365 days as you force down another sweetmeat and another glass of cheap sherry and then to wonder what the future holds.

This has not been the best gaming year for me, personally. Not just in terms of titles released but in terms of finding opportunities to play. For one reason and another, I just haven’t spent the time at the gaming table I’d have liked.

That makes me sad. Real life is important, of course, but you only get one shot at it, a thing I’ve become increasingly aware of as the years slip past. Since gaming is one of my favourite things to do, I ought to be able to find more space for it. Other things just always seem to intervene.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

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I’ve never been to rural Wisconsin. But now I feel like I have, thanks to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

I’ve walked through gently shaded autumnal woods, watching rags of mist gathering on distant peaks. Wandered across a dam, marvelling at the sun reflected on the lake beneath and pools of recent rainwater on the pavement. Climbed a hill amongst ancient, mossy boulders with grass waving around me, just to see the view at the top.

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