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Hell’s Gate Review

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If you’re in the habit of picking through lists of board and video games about World War 2, you’ll see a lot of names you recognise from deeply-buried folk memories and history classes. Normandy and the Bulge, El Alamein and Monte Cassino, Stalingrad and Kursk. But there’s one battle which seems to attract considerably more interest from game designers than it does the general public: the Korsun Pocket. And that’s what Hell’s Gate is all about.

It has an interesting pedigree, this game. Originally designed by an university lecturer as a means of demonstrating the dynamics of encirclement operations in-class, it found its way into the academic literature and from there to Victory Point Games who’ve produced this lovely print. The soot-besmirched counters that result from their laser cutting process might bother some people, but there’s no doubting the durability of the thick card or the evocatively polar board art. You can almost hear the icy winds sweeping across the steppe as you play.

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Calendar Man – Week of 9/16

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This will be a good week if you’re looking forward to playing GTA V (PS3, 360) as it drops on Tuesday but it will be a bad week if you’re into intelligent discussion about GTA V as I’m sure it will be near impossible to find, drowned out in a sea of complaints that scores are too high, scores are too low, this person got paid, it’s not on PC and so on and so forth. I like Rockstar games, warts and all, so I’m happy to get back into the swing of things, even if not being able to rocket through the streets and leap tall buildings will make getting around more difficult and less fun.

In other news, Nintendo continues to show a complete and utter lack of respect of the Tuesday release date by dropping The Wonderful 101 on Sunday. MechWarrior Online goes “live” on Tuesday despite having been around for a year so strap in and unleash all your hellfire missiles in celebration. Infinity Blade III also releases this week but after having played the first two, I think I’ve swiped and dodged as many enemies as I can. The Infinity Blade games are very good looking but the repetitive nature just doesn’t do it for me. I wish they hadn’t canceled the ARPG they were building as that would have held my interest. I’m sure they’ll do just fine without my purchase.

Last week I forgot to mention that Card Hunter released. That was my bad. You should play it. It’s rad.

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Dear Esther: Down in the Deep

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Last week I found myself in a twitter conversation about Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs which lead on to the previous game from its developers, Dear Esther. I offered two statements about Dear Esther, first that it was full of faux-intellectualism and second that it wasn’t particularly “deep”, both of which my conversant challenged. I couldn’t really answer properly in 140 character bites, but I think there are some interesting enough questions around this to merit wider discussion.

First, let’s talk about Dear Esther. If you haven’t played it, it’s a first-person experience in which you wander around a small island, triggering a selection of different voice snippets that hang together into a maddeningly incomplete narrative. There’s no enemies, no puzzles and you’re largely on rails, although there are occasional opportunities for exploration. So that narrative, which draws from a very large selection of passages and is different on each play through, makes up much the game’s value.

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Descent: Labyrinth of Ruin Review

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The original Descent was probably as famous for its seemingly endless expansions as its astronomical play time. Some gamers made almost an entire hobby out of trying to collect them all. Arguably, the new edition with its focus on campaign play is even more suited to expansionism that its predecessor. So, after small box addition Lair of the Wyrm we now have the first big box expansion, Labyrinth of Ruin.

And it is a big box, with more of everything. And I mean everything. Pretty much every deck in the base game now has some extra cards, there are new rules (though nothing terribly demanding), new heroes, monsters, tiles and archetypes and, of course, a brand new campaign. There’s so much it’s hard to know where to start.

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Card Hunter First Impressions

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I don’t like grinding. Okay, so when it’s combined with epic detail and rich narrative, like in Skyrim, or with ball-breaking skill, like in Dark Souls, it can add a fantastically fun and addictive element to a game. What I hate are games based around grinding for it’s own sake, the endless repetition of kill monster, upgrade gear, kill tougher monster in the service of nothing more than pressing psychological buttons. The Diablo series is probably the worst offender, but so are endless cheap and free-to-play role playing games.

Card Hunter falls into that category. A free-to-play browser based flash game, with inevitable in-app purchases, it challenges you to assemble a team of three characters from the classic warrior, wizard, cleric archetype and send them into various brief encounters with enemies in search of loot. So I should hate it. I want to hate it. But I can’t. In fact it’s one of the most horribly addictive games I’ve played in ages.

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Calendar Man – Week of 9/9

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A few interesting releases this week before the GTA V juggernaut comes crashing on gaming’s shores, invalidating any need for a shiny, new console. First up is Puppeteer on the PS3. I’m looking forward to playing this one, if only for the visual style. Platformers aren’t my thing, but if something looks interesting enough, I’ll try it. Also coming out on Sony hardware this week is Killzone Mercenary. I have a theory that the Killzone games are not meant to be the action heavy shooters they are, but a grand farce centering on the most incompetent military squad in the galaxy. I don’t see Mercenary topping the genocidal incompetence of Killzone 3, but I’m all in regardless. Rounding out the console releases are Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix for the PS3 and NHL ’14 (360, PS3).

On the PC side, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs releases this week. Our own Matt Thrower reviewed it, so by all means, read his scintillating words. For eighty bucks you can get every Elder Scrolls game ever made in the The Elder Scrolls Anthology. If military sandboxes are your thing, ARMA 3 has got you covered. Cyanide drops Aarklash Legacy, and Robot Loves Kitty releases Legend of Dungeon. Looks like that last one is already out, so have at it.

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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review

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The first Amnesia title, The Dark Descent, was acclaimed by many as the scariest game ever made, an assessment with which I concur. Its success was down to getting simple things right: atmosphere, cunning set-pieces and depriving the player of the ability to fight back, making every monster encounter a wellspring of terror.

That immediately creates two problems for this sequel. First, the bar is already set incredibly high: to outdo the most horrifying game ever created. Second, to make it interesting and new without adding too much and spoiling the stripped down formula responsible for the original’s success.

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Calendar Man – Week of 9/2

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It’s a short work week here in the states, something I used to my advantage to sit on my butt and play Saints Row IV and Diablo III. Not a bad way to spend Labor Day.

Speaking of Diablo III (PS3, 360), it’s out on consoles this week. Tom and I are playing it over at Quarter To Three so take a gander to find out what happens when a grizzled PC veteran and a plucky, young console upstart fight the demons of Hell together. If demons aren’t your thing, Total War: Rome 2 brings all of the fun that only men in skirts and sandals can bring. If platforming is your thing, Rayman Legends (Wii U, Vita, PS3, 360) drops today. I liked Origins enough, but the platforming got too complicated for me so I ended up not finishing it, as is my way with all platformers. If being scared is your thing, Outlast may have you covered. I say may because horror is like comedy. What scares one person does nothing for another. Finally, A Tale of Two Brothers hits PC and PS3, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate hits PS3 and 360 and Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse hits PC, PS3 and 360.

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Calendar Man – Week of 8/26

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If it’s the last week of August, it must be time for Madden (360, PS3). Actually, I have no idea when Madden usually releases, I just needed something to open this week’s new releases. Having gave up on Madden years ago, this is a non-event for me but it means that football season is soon upon us so that makes me happy. In other “sequels I don’t have an interest in” news, Final Fantasy XIV Online (PC, PS3) releases as does Lost Planet 3 (360, PS3). Rounding out the releases we have SUDA51′s latest in Killer is Dead (PS3, 360), a new TMNT game for the 360 and Painkiller: Hell and Damnation for the 360. There’s also Shelter, for those looking to spend less time killing and more time saving badgers. Yeah, badgers.

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Gencon ’13: I Am Tired

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This year was my first year attending Gencon. Last year I was there for a day, wandered around the Convention Center, realized it was way too crowded, bought a few games and then went to Todd’s place to actually enjoy myself.

The homeless guy you see in the above image is me on day four of the show. I arrived at Gencon cleanly shaven and ready to sell some games. By Sunday I was ragged, unkempt, tired and nearly voiceless. I also resorted to sitting down while I demoed games. The pic makes me look like Tyrion Lannister’s cousin, but I am in fact not three feet tall.

Tomorrow demoed extremely well at the show and had I been able to sell it to the masses rather than be available to specific Kickstarter backers, it would have sold a slew of copies. As is, we took a lot of pre-orders as the game nears its late September release date. I’m excited about its launch.

The New Science was also a hit at the show as I nearly sold out of my stock. We shared space with Academy Games and APE Games and I honestly felt like we had one of the more interesting booths at . With Academy’s lineup of 1812, 1775 and the new Freedom: The Underground Railroad, APE selling Order of the Stick merchandise like it was free (it was not) and our booth selling a game about 17th century scientists and a game about massive global depopulation — we had a lot of angles covered that other booths didn’t. So I was really happy with how it went.

I was running the booth solo most of the time, although my buddy Dave Fitzgerald was there to help a little on a couple of days which was a huge relief. Still, running four tables at Gencon by yourself – I do not advise that.

Here are some show high and lowlights:

*Fantasy Flight Games’ Damon Stone telling me how slick Tomorrow looked when displayed and offering to trade me a copy of it for the Cthulhu card game with one of the expansions after it ships. “Done.”
*Demoing The New Science to a half naked woman in a Cleopatra costume and getting into a discussion about the life and times of Marie Curie.
*Demoing Tomorrow to a grown man in a Riddler costume (complete with question mark cane) and carrying on an adult conversation about population growth. Surreal, indeed.
*Meeting Richard Borg at a bar and telling him how much I loved the Commands & Colors: Ancients series.
*Inadvertently getting in the way of people getting their picture taken with a dude dressed up in a Jawa costume. People seemed miffed at me as I was walking to my booth. I did not care.

Overall, a good time. A busy, busy show and I played absolutely zero games in my four days.

Oh, and I had sushi with Todd and his fiancé. That was ok, too.

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