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Cracked LCD- Hearthstone in Review (again)

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OK, so for most folks this is a way, way late review since Hearthstone has been out now for over a year, not including time in Beta. It’s also a review that might stir up an obnoxious debate as to whether the digital CCG should be regarded as a video game instead of a tabletop game. And almost certainly, lamentations about it being free-to-play and supported by IAPs – let alone that it is a collectible card game that requires that you actually pay for it if you want to be competitive- will certainly follow. And this is also the second time I’ve reviewed Hearthstone. Last time was just over a year ago here on No High Scores.

But here’s the deal. Hearthstone recently released its long-awaited iPhone-friendly update and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since. I had played the IOS edition briefly when it first came out as an iPad-only release, but because that device is almost always covered in the sticky remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and clogged up with countless Lego, Disney and Angry Birds apps for the kids I didn’t really dig in for the long haul. Now that it’s in my pocket, I can play it all day long. So now it’s time for me to issue forth (again) on what I think is one of the most significant games to date that has married the strands of tabletop and video game design.

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Cracked LCD- Hearthstone (IOS) in Review

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After a lengthy public beta, a general release on PC and Mac and then an agonizingly long one week delay following a “soft launch”, Blizzard’s much-ballyhooed Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has finally hit the platform that could potentially make this free-to-play collectible card game a phenomenon. Hearthstone on iPad is a masterful implementation of a masterfully designed game rich with the kind of polish, refinement and attention to detail that has qualified Blizzard’s best work reaching back to the very first Warcraft. Bar none, Hearthstone is the best card game available on IOS and it may just be one of the most significant examples of video games finally repaying all of that debt they’ve had to tabletop games for all of these years. (more…)

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The Great Flappy Bird Flap of 2014 (A Memorial)

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My son River (four) has this thing that he does where he will sneak into our bedroom in the morning and steal my iPhone. Usually he’ll play Lego Star Wars or one of the awesome Rayman runners I keep on it- he has good taste in games. Last week, I woke up and I heard him in his room laughing and his sister, Scarlett (two) was in there giggling as well. I had no idea what was going on. So I crept down the hall to spy on them and they were both watching the phone, River tapping it furiously. Then I heard a familiar punching sound and I knew what was up.

They were playing Flappy Bird.

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Brakketology Plays Waterdeep, Muses About Theme

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I’ve bee playing a bit of Playdek’s Lords of Waterdeep on iOS ($7). This wholly competent boardgame adaptation should be right up my alley. It’s D&D-themed, which I like. It’s a worker-placement game, which tends to be the sort of thing I appreciate and excel at. And yet it’s ultimately rather hollow. Not bad, mind you, the core game mechanics are very good and faithfully translated. Playdek, from whom I received a free code to download this game (full-disclosure and all), could not have done a better job of translating this for iOS. The problem is that the D&D aspects of it don’t add anything to the game. At all. And yet, as an iOS port of a game that doesn’t have many Apps Store counterparts, I can’t help but recommend it for fans of worker-placement games. It’s good enough to be worth your time.

More on Waterdeep, as well as thoughts on the PAR closure and some new Elder Scrolls Online trailers, after the break…

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The Forest of Doom Review

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It’s one of the great ironies of modern gaming that the venerable format of paper gamebooks has made such a huge comeback on mobile devices. And riding the crest of this coolingly nostalgic wave is Tin Man Games. Authors may come and go, designers may build peculiar experimental magic systems into their apps, but the steady Tin Hand ensures a pleasing experience no matter what the content.

Their gamebook adventures engine improves with every release, making combat faster and the interface smoother. And I’ve always loved the eye for detail that goes in to their wonderful collections of achievements and book art, always with knowing winks to consumers of nerd minutiae hidden amongst the titles and the pictures.

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Ascension: Immortal Heroes iOS Released

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I still play Ascension every night. I am constantly in a game (getting my butt kicked) with momongi, inthenetsc, buckeyefitzy and rainynight65. When I say always, I mean always. I look at the results screen, shed a tear of disappointment over losing and hit the rematch button.  When you consider that I have played this game every day since I purchased it for my iPad back when it came out, that’s one hell of a nod to the folks at Playdek and Gary Games.

I just found out that the latest expansion, Immortal Heroes, has been released for iOS and now I wish I were home to download it. It looks like you’ll now need a Playdek account to play online once you download the expansion, and you are downloading the expansion, right?  Playdek is suggesting that you download the the free update to Ascension, start Ascension and log in with the same GameCenter id as usual, create your Playdek account if you haven’t already for Agricola, check to see that all your player stats carry over and then do the in-app purchase for Immortal Heroes. The expansion will run you $2.99 which is a small price to pay to beat me at Ascension well into next year.

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Cracked LCD- Warhammer Quest IOS in Review

Warhammer Quest shot 1I’m not the one to ask if Rodeo Games’ Warhammer Quest adequately simulates or replicates the out-of-print and outrageously expensive board game upon which the app is based. Confessional, I never got a chance to play it. By the time I had caught up with wanting to play the widely beloved and venerated dungeoncrawl- regarded by many to be the best of the genre- it was already priced out of my willing-to-spend range and most of my owning friends had moved on to other games. But I also wouldn’t be able to tell you because Rodeo Games willfully back-ended all of the board gamey stuff and turned out a video game based on a board game, most definitely not a “port”. Thankfully, that means there are no silly animations of clattering dice or digital card decks flippity-flapping around. But that also means that the game is often maddeningly opaque and mechanically obscure. (more…)

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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.

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