The Genius of Eclipse IOS

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Big Daddy Creations hit IOS board game paydirt a couple of years back with Neuroshima Hex, a title that remains one of the best examples of crossing the table-to-tablet divide. Their long-awaited implementation of Eclipse (a Cracked LCD Game of the Year shortlister back in 2011) has finally arrived and it’s a grand slam. It may, in fact, be the new benchmark of how to do board game apps. It level of polish is AAA-impeccable. The interface brilliantly conveys every piece of information you need at any given time and after a mild breaking in period it makes the rich complexity of the game feel like second nature. It looks great, the AI can be quite ruthless, and although the multiplayer is hampered by Big Daddy Creations going with a proprietary service rather than Game Center, the async is rock solid.

But above all, what makes Eclipse the new standard for board game conversions is, ironically, that it doesn’t seem much like a board game at all on the iPad. It looks, sounds, and plays like a very streamlined, very focused Master of Orion-descended 4x game. There are points at which its board game parentage peeps through- like a wonderful combat resolution screen that shows you the die rolls but not some silly animation of clattering dice- but you could tell someone that this was a totally new design with no cardboard analog and they’d probably believe you.

Unlike Talisman, Eclipse’s more careful, measured pacing and combination of a strong economic game with conflict and exploration make it a great fit for IOS gaming. Thankfully, unlike Ascension, there’s a chat function so you can get in some trash talk before your dreadnaughts unload plasma missiles on your opponents. I’ve had plenty of fun with the single player game against a variety of AI opponents and I’ve never had an easy win out of it. If you’re new to it all, there’s a decent tutorial and the full rulebook. The latter should be absolutely standard on any tablet board game.

For six bucks- less than 10% of what the boxed game costs- you can buy one of the best 4x space strategy games on the market today. You might ask “why don’t I just play Starbase Orion, Sins of Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations et. al.”  and to that my response would be that aside from a game taking an hour or less to play through first exploration to final victory, none of those games are as concise or as editorial. It’s funny that a board game cuts right down to the heart of the genre, and in an implementation that’s better than some computer-bound examples. It’s a masterstroke of design sense that they just went ahead and made this a full-fledged digital strategy game that is able to compete with its forbears head-on.

Jumping the Shark Podcast #172

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a Cackowski-Schnell and Brakke Hour of Power for Jumping the Shark’s 172nd episode. Bill misses the proceedings to go lost dog hunting and I’m not even making that up. (All pups were eventually secured.) So, along with getting caught up with the latest happenings in Game of Thrones, Brandon continues his exploits with Far Cry and I give Out of the Park Baseball 14 my own version of spring training.

Enjoy the show!

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Power Up Slave I

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As if the sheer, overwhelming power of my writing wasn’t enough to leave you punch-drunk, staggering across the page with confusion, this week I’m going to serve up short reviews of two totally unrelated expansions. First is Power Up for the acclaimed family game of giant monster ultraviolence, King of Tokyo. Second is the Slave I ship for the acclaimed geek’s game of small fighter ultraviolence, X-Wing. So if you own one and not the other, please do skip accordingly.

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Cracked LCD- A Brief History of the “Dudes on a Map” Genre

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You might call them “Risk-style” or “take over the world” games. You may even call them “garbage”. But myself and a lot of other folks writing and thinking about board games have taken to referring to those in which you control and conquer spatially arranged territories on a map with on-board pawns and engage in conflict resolution to determine placement or removal  of pieces with other players as “Dudes on a Map” or DoaM games. I’ve been thinking a lot about the genre lately since it is one of what is really a very small number of distinguishable macro-genres among board game classifications, and also because there have been so many damn good, damn innovative games in this genre over the past ten years.

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Maps

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Etrian Odyssey IV is a game about maps.

It may look like a game about dungeons and monsters and airships, but it’s really about maps. Sometimes games look like they’re about one thing but they’re really about another. The World Ends With You looked like it was about Japanese teens fighting shadow monsters but it wasn’t. It was about pins. Pins and fashion. It was about equipping pins and leveling up pins and not equipping pins to level up your pins and switching out your pins and admiring your pins. All your pins. So many pins. It was also about wearing unpopular clothes and taking the attack hit for your unorthodox fashion sense, only to see your dress code skyrocket up to popularity. The World Ends With You was into wool caps before you were into wool caps. Now that you’re into wool caps, it is so over wool caps.

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #171

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jumping the Shark is back this week with our 171st episode. This week Bill shocks us all with his new gaming addiction. Yes, the man who has more than once proclaimed himself completely over the MMO genre, has himself hooked on an MMO. I’ll admit it. I don’t get it. Meanwhile, Brandon holds the keys to the gates and if you want to enter he would kindly like for you to show him your Papers, Please. He’s also got some more time with Far Cry 3 and Etrian Odyssey IV. I have about 20 minutes in Knights of the Old Republic II (with Content Restoration Mod). You can ignore me this week.

Enjoy the show!

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Calendar Man – Week of 4/29

I would have liked to play Soul Sacrifice, the Vita’s new action-RPG thingy, but alas, I don’t see many releases on the horizon for the handheld and I wanted to make some cash while there was cash to be made. Sorry Soul Sacrifice, I hope people like you.

Far Cry 3 continues to impress, mostly for all of the brainless mayhem but occasionally for being able to take out an entire outpost by letting a tiger out of a cage and having it do all of the hard work for me. Funny story: I warped to a completed outpost, heard a tiger growl, went outside and promptly got mauled to death. The tiger giveth and the tiger taketh away. That being said, I’m all in for Blood Dragon so yeah, Ubisoft, go on with your bad self.

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #170 (SuperMegaSpoilery Edition!)

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, Michael’s Bioshock: Infinite post stirred something in me. A little tingle in the back of my head that maybe, somewhere along the line this week, I forgot to do something. And then it hit me. The garage door was open. Dammit! Also, I never put up the podcast post. Idiot! That one’s on me. But, hey, you all subscribe to the iTunes feed or RSS or something, right? Of course you do.

But, just in case, here is the triumphant reunion of the holy trinity. That’s right, Bill, Brandon and I are all in the house for the first time in weeks. And we’ve all not only played the same game, but finished it too. This leads to a wildy spoilerific discussion of every nook and cranny of Bioshock: Infinite, the ending in particular. If you don’t want to be spoiled… who are you kidding? Of course you do. Join us!

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Hotline Miami Review

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The first time you fire up Hotline Miami, you’ll swear your PC has gone wrong. It’ll likely hang for what seems like an age, and then take you to a title screen burnished with blocky text in Russian against an eye-straining dayglow backdrop. It’s the 80’s. It’s Acid House all over again.

What happens next most assuredly isn’t. An ugly, bearded man will swear at you repeatedly as he teaches you the basic concepts of the game. Sneak up on people by using the building topology to keep out of sight, then eviscerate them or shoot them, or just punch them to the floor and then brain them by smashing their heads repeatedly against a door frame.

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Columbia Falls: Why Bioshock Infinite Sucks

BioShock Infinite

Last night, I was playing the much-ballyhooed Bioshock Infinite. I had rescued Elizabeth, a dead-on cross between a Disney princess and one of the kids from Akira voiced by someone that sounds straight out of drama school, from her towering monument. We wound up on a beach. Sunbathers relaxed in the warm, Maxfield Parrish-like glow that blankets virtually every visual in the game. It was a peaceful scene after a hectic action sequence. As I’ve done in System Shock 2, Bioshock, and Bioshock 2, I dutifully looted everything in sight. Right there on the beach, in a picnic basket, I found some machine gun bullets. Suddenly the world of the sky city Columbia- which is really described mostly through advertising posters and cute graphic design- fell apart and I was just playing another idiotic shooter with tedious looting, ho-hum gunplay, and pointless bloodshed that does nothing for the story but provide the player with something to do in between the movie parts. Continue Reading…