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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Cracked LCD- Eldritch Horror in (very late) Review

 

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When Fantasy Flight Games announced Eldritch Horror, a new game in its Arkham Horror line that appeared to be a simpler version of what had become a bloated shoggoth of a game after nearly a decade’s worth of expansions (including an expansion for all of the expansions), I was one of those people that scoffed at it. Who needs or wants a redevelopment of a redevelopment? Aside from that, at that point I was pretty much over anything to do with HP Lovecraft and the whole Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve been reading that stuff and playing games either based on or inspired by all of it for practically my entire life. In fact, one of the earliest stories I remember from Kindergarten was a book-on-record adaptation of “The Outsider”. Lovecraft fatigue aside, I’ve been burned out on FFG’s house style of flavor text-as-theme and endless piles of cards with overwrought illustrations on them for a couple of years now. If ever there were a game that I didn’t feel had a place in my collection, it was Eldritch Horror. Continue Reading…

Why Dragon Age: Inquisition Fails

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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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Jumping the Shark Podcast #224

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week Holly brings us through her 100+ hour Far Cry 4 journey, Todd and Brandon continue to dissect Dragon Age: Inquisition, including why Todd thinks it ultimately failed. Brandon talks cheating in Gems of War of all places. Plus, football, football, football! And somebody, we don’t want to say who, has a girl scout cookie mishap.

Thanks for listening! (You can contact Brandon at Brandon@NoHighScores.com/@misterbinky, Todd at Todd@NoHighScores.com/@ubrakto and Holly at @winnersusedrugs.)

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Direct Download #224
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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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Cracked LCD- Return to Heroscape

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I’ve had an unusual relationship with Heroscape, the Hasbro-produced miniatures battle game with modular, plastic terrain that landed on mass-market shelves way back in 2003. I remember distinctly driving around to Target stores across Atlanta that summer once word was out online that it was available. I never, ever under any circumstance shop at Wal-Mart but I had a moment of weakness after coming up empty at so many stories, and of course that was where I found the last copy in town. I opened it in the car and was kind of blown away by what all you got for $40- remember, this was before pre-painted miniatures were a thing and at this time, $50 at a hobby shop would get you a nice big game, but one that was all cardboard and maybe some wood. Flipping through the rules, I was surprised at how the advanced rules had some tried-and-true hobby gaming concepts- line of sight, special abilities, zones of control and elevation.

 

I played it with a couple of friends, whose opinions ranged from “I’m buying five sets of this tomorrow” to “meh, would rather play 40k”. For my part, I thought the game was revolutionary- a thoroughly accessible miniatures game that deftly absolved the genre of its traditional barriers to entry (modeling/painting, terrain, complexity, financial commitment) while offering a truly innovative, almost proto-Minecraft system for custom playfield construction. It felt like the kind of game that makes kids game players, the kind of game that had that X factor, the kind of game that had the potential to be another Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering. I wrote a review of the game and posted it to Boardgamegeek.com, and it landed me my first job at a magazine. Continue Reading…

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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Cracked LCD- Imperial Assault in Review

 

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Uh oh. It’s the angry mob picture. That means that I’m about to issue forth with an unpopular opinion. Continue Reading…

Jumping the Shark Podcast Roundup: #220-223

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been negligent in re-posting JtS episodes here. (You’re all subscribers anyway, right? Right?!?!) It’s been nutty. So, with all due apologies, here’s a giant wrap-up post for the last four episodes of the show, with the most recent, 223, embedded at the end.

Episode 220:
This week Brandon goes full on hate for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and starts on the high scenes of the Northern Atlantic in Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, Todd takes Dragon Age 2 for another spin and Holly looks into the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Direct Download #220

Episode 221:
The gang took full advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to put in some serious lap time on some new and old games. Brandon rides the elephants in FarCry 4 and proclaims himself the Elephant King. Todd gets his Inquisition on in the the latest Dragon Age opus. And Holly hate plays a whole lot of Dead Rising 3 for PC. Along the way there’s also Turkey baking mastery, Shadow of Mordor wrap-up, and much indy dabbling.

Direct Download #221

Episode 222:
The last JTS of 2014 has Holly walking the Forest, Todd asking for Papers, Please and Brandon navigating the snowy peaks of Far Cry 4. How exciting!

Direct Download #222

Episode 223:
The first JTS of 2015 features a lot of looking back at 2014. Find out how Brandon, Todd, and Holly marked the passage of time with their most memorable gaming experiences of the year. Plus, much ballyhoo about Fry Scores, Holly’s much-awaited cookbook, which is a real live product now. The phrase “food porn” was invented for association with this stunning piece of work!

Direct Download #223

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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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