Good is the new Average

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I don’t like rating games, video or board. A good review should manage to encapsulate how you feel about a game without stamping a score at the bottom. Numeric ratings attract attention away from the writing, and have neither the subtlety or nuance to express wider ideas about the value of the game beyond its play, or the reviewer’s tilt.

But I don’t always have the pleasure of writing just as I’d like to, and many of the editors I’ve worked for want scores. Out of five, ten or, worst of all, a hundred. So I dutifully assign a number and try to move on. But I remain haunted by past scores. Is game X really two stars better than game Y? Was I really right to give game Z that score out of a sense of quality, even though I, personally, disliked it?

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Cracked LCD- Relic in Review

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The answer to your first question about Fantasy Flight’s  Relic is “yes, this game is pretty much a mildly redeveloped Talisman with Warhammer 40k illustrations and text”. The answer to your second is “Yes, in some ways it’s actually better than Talisman but not quite as expansive so both are worth having on your shelf.” Thirdly, “No, it’s not any shorter so expect to spend at least three or four hours flipping cards, rolling dice at them, groaning, and laughing.” Continue Reading…

Where Lost Islands Lost Me

skylanders lost islands shot 1

The game I spend the most time with on my iPad is Lost Islands, the free to play Skylanders game from Activision. I don’t usually play free to play games, in fact, with the exception of Jetpack Joyride, I actively avoid them. Lost Islands was another story though, a story with Skylanders in it. Skylanders has three iOS games and a PC game to tie in to the console games, all of which use the figures used in the console games. Cloud Patrol is a shooting gallery game, Battlegrounds is a hex-based, real time action-RPG and Lost Islands is a free to play, kingdom builder. The fact that you can use your figures across all three games made it all the easier to buy more figures for the main game, not that I needed a reason. I mean, come on, this is me. I don’t need reasons to buy toys, but as reasons go, increased utility is a pretty good one.

As I got more figures, my kingdom grew and grew in the usual free to play way. Characters use energy to go on missions, missions that reward them with gold and experience. Gold buys crops which in turn grow more energy. Gold also buys houses which attract Mabu citizens. The more Mabu you have living on your island, the more public buildings you can have. Public buildings and houses grant your kingdom experience. As your kingdom levels up, you can get better houses and better public buildings. As your characters level up, they can go on longer missions that give bigger rewards. Grafted on to all of this is a quest system that rewards you in money, experience and gems, a multi-purpose currency used to buy special buildings, buy new Skylanders and speed up missions and building construction. Finally, there’s a pretty nice “element of the day” mechanic in which Skylanders that match the element of the day get reward bonuses when completing missions and planted crops that match the day’s elements give additional energy.

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Tuesday Celebrat’n – The I Got Engaged Edition

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I’ll talk about the usual gaming stuff in a minute. I feel a bit of a heel for titling a post as a celebration after what happened in Boston yesterday. This is gaming blog and that’s a tragedy that I’ll only speak of to say that what terrorists –those born within our borders or those without– want is to create fear. You want to beat these people? Keep living your life the way it works for you. Don’t let them make you afraid to walk down the street or board a plane. They are few. We are many. Also, this.

Anyway, the celebrating part is a personal note because I’m happy and excited and that only happens like once or twice a year. (No, not really.) If you’ve been listening to JtS for the past year, you’ve probably heard me drop Michelle’s name here and there. For awhile it’s felt much too small to call her my girlfriend. It was a situation in need of rectification. I had a ring and a plan and it all almost came apart when, after a nice one-year anniversary dinner, we were attacked by a flock of (two) wild geese. I was afraid for my life, but I had a job to do and my bravery must have impressed because now I’ve got myself a fiancee. I’m a happy, lucky man and there’s no question I’ll be marrying above my level.

So… wooooo!  Now, let’s talk games. (Thank you for indulging me.)

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #169

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jumping the Shark features a Cackowski-Schnell/Brakke Hour of Power as Bill missed this week to play host to a VIP of the international sort. (Curse you, Mace!) So, Brandon brings his Bioshock A-game and we talk more about its shootery bits and overall direction. It’s all set up for next week’s show when the three of us are sure to dig down spoilery-deep into the game’s conclusion. This week, however, we veer off to talk about Microsoft PR-catastrophes and racist ghosts. It’s fun for the whole family!

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Calendar Man – Week of 4/15

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Hey, you know what’s not much fun? Running cable, that’s what. Thankfully my basement is still unfinished so that I could run network and phone cables to various rooms on the first floor. Plus, I got to learn how to terminate cat-5 cable which will help me out, well, never but I saved about five hundred bucks by doing this myself rather than hiring an electrician, so there’s that.

Oh, right, games. Another superhero fighting game comes out as does a “new” Shin Megami Tensei game for the 3DS. Seeing how I’m about a battle or two away from completing Fire Emblem, I may have to play that one. Then again, Etrian Odyssey IV is first in line, so it may get the nod. As for couch time, I’m in the middle of Gears of War: Judgement. People Can Fly have made some interesting choices with this game, including a nice selection of new weaponry and a scoring system that allows you to take on mission modifiers that makes things more difficult so that you can obtain stars more quickly. Stars unlock things I don’t normally care about, except for an additional campaign mission, but the modifiers are usually interesting enough to be worth it. Plus, People Can Fly know that colors other than brown and grey exist, so they use a more vibrant color palette. Still, in the end, it’s a Gears of War game, with all of the baggage that comes with it. I’m enjoying it, but I’ve certainly played this game before. It’s not a total waste though, as it makes me want to keep seeing work from People May Fly and I’m always down for having developers to keep an eye on.

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Dungeon Command: Blood of Gruumsh & Series Overview

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Inconveniently Wizards of the Coast decided to release five sets for their modular miniatures game Dungeon Command, and I covered the first four in batches of two. So now we’re left with an odd one. However, the good people at WotC informed me this is the last release currently planned, so it seemed a good idea to cap the whole thing off with a series overview.

But first, the new set. It’s called Blood of Gruumsh which, for anyone passingly familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse in which the games belong, will signal orcs. For some reason the orcs in this box are a peculiar shade of blue-gray rather than the green which is universally assumed in other fantasy settings. But aside from that oddity they’re the best figures in any of the Dungeon Command sets: solid, detailed sculpts with pretty reasonable paint jobs.

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Cracked LCD- Clash of Cultures in Review

Clash-of-Cultures-game-in-playBack in 2010, Christian Marcussen essentially issued a stop work order to anybody developing a pirate-themed board game. Merchants and Marauders was and still is the best pirate game ever published, a stunningly complete expression of the concept that was dynamically open-world, filled with narrative adventure, and rich with both traditional economic game elements and exciting naval conflict. Late last year, Mr. Marcussen showed up on the “Civilization lite” scene and again pretty showed anyone working on such a game the door. Z-Man Games’ Clash of Cultures is a masterpiece of judicious design, careful abstraction, and economy- it is the new standard by which all games descended from the works of Frances Tresham and Sid Meier should be judged. There’s never been such a fighting fit, slim and ready-to-rock game of civ-building. Continue Reading…

Always On, Except for When It Ain’t

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As you all here know, I recently moved. I used to live not very close to Atlanta, now I live even less close. There’s Inside-the-Perimeter, there’s Outside-the-Perimeter and then there’s me. The county I live in isn’t totally rural but at the same time, the guy who trained my dog used to work for the sheriff’s department in this county and the most excitement he ever had while on duty was lassoing a bull with an extension cord. If I want to get to Atlanta, I can be there in about 40 minutes, provided it’s not rush hour or a day with a Brave’s game, a Falcon’s game, a Tech game or a day with any of the various festivals and summer going-ons that happen in the city. I know it sounds like I’m out in the boonies, but trust me, it ain’t all like that. My buddy Hodge lives even further out than I do, like cow-country far out.

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Tuesday Mourning – The Downer Edition

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Michigan lost. I’m in mourning. Except not really, because it was an amazing, wonderful season and that team did the school and its fans proud. Also, subs. Craziness. You know the drill. Mostly I’m just hungover. Off of three beers. I’m not sure how that happens. I’m a lightweight. Anyway. This week’s ramblings consist of a large bag of half empty as Disney realizes what we all already knew, EA demonstrates itself to be as tone deaf as ever, and an MS employee gets in trouble for being honest about the wrong things. But first, something wholly awesome.

X-COM versus XCOM. Adam Sessler of Rev3Games did a sit down with the co-creator of the original X-COM, Julian Gollop, and XCOM lead designer Jake Solomon. As a fan of both games, it’s just neat to see two of the principles behind them congratulate each other on being so awesome. And I’m not even being sarcastic. They are awesome for doing this:

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