Jumping the Shark Podcast #173

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Painters and roofers and estimates from hell – oh my! That’s not this week’s Jumping the Shark, that’s my excuse for posting this on Wednesday.  But yes, you people who don’t use iTunes or another subscriptions service (for shame!), we did a show. It featured Bill, Brandon, and Me and, like a fine wine, it was frigg’n awesome and stuffs. This week Bill talks Conquistador happenings and their latest reach out to people ideas, including a kick-ass proposal for doing a video boardgame show. Very cool. Brandon and I talk Star Command and why he saved me hours of frustration looking for diamonds in what is an entirely lump of coal experience. Then we team-up against Bill and the rest of the world to explain why Prometheus is a better movie than you think it is. We’re right. You’re wrong. That’s just something you’ll have to live with.

Oh yeah, and enjoy the show!

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Eclipse and the Art of Losing

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By now, I’ve become something of a master at losing against the AI in Eclipse. I’d go so far to say that no one loses in such spectacular fashion as I do. Truly, I have elevated it to an art form.

Come with me on my journey of life, loss and obscene, alien faced excess.

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Calendar Man – Week of 5/13

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This week sees the release of the first THQ property of the post-THQ era. Metro: Last Light (360, PC, PS3) must have been pretty much done by the time THQ closed its doors, so hopefully the restructuring will have minimal impact. It is winging its way to me as we speak, and I would imagine Barnes and Bill are also going to play it, so it should be a Metro-palooza ’round these parts.

In other releases, Dust 514 does the free to play thing on the PS3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance gets the Blade Wolf DLC and Anomaly 2 does the tower offense / RTS thing.

Me, I started Deadly Premonition last night. It’s very weird. I’m also enjoying the hell out of Nolan North’s performance in Spec Ops: The Line, even if the combat is somewhat generic and the Heart of Darkness allusions are a bit thick. Etrian Odyssey IV has been shown the back burner in favor of Eclipse and Transformer: Legends with the latter occupying more and more of my time. Card management is hell!

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Cracked LCD- Terra Mystica in Review

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Terra Mystica, the new Z-Man title wherein players representing terraforming fantasy races attempt to change terrain hexes to suit their tastes and build structures on them, isn’t really about building civilizations. There is magic, but this is hardly an enchanting, mystical game. The subject matter is little more than a construct to codify its graphic design and nomenclatures. It’s a game more prone to victory point churning than charming you with its fiction with complex mechanics carrying the day over rich theming or a sense of setting. Terra Mystica is ultimately a game more about mitigating and overcoming restrictions or limitations and incrementally acquiring +1 bonuses that affect standard game procedures. This is a fairly common, high level design principle and it’s not particularly a fault of the designers to utilize it but since this is a mechanics-first game it’s immediately obvious and potentially off-putting. Continue Reading…

Star Command in Review

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Star Command, the twice Kickstarted combination of Star Trek and Game Dev Story is finally here. Is this the game what was originally promised those that backed it? Not really, although there’s nothing keeping it from getting there. Is it still worth playing? That’s another matter entirely, and unfortunately, the things that hold the game back feel entrenched. In other words, the stuff that bugs me probably isn’t going anywhere.

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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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