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Cracked LCD- Champions of Midgard in Review

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Champions of Midgard is a really good game. It’s new from Grey Fox Games and designer Ole Steiness (Police Precinct). It’s also one of the best looking games released this year, all done up in a heavy metal Viking motif with rockin’ fonts and illustrations that will make you want to throw up horns and lick the blood off a battleaxe as you ride a flaming longship into Valhalla. There is dice rolling, monster fighting and a brilliant mechanic that allows you to shame your peers that have proven too cowardly to do battle with the local trolls. It’s easy to get folks interested in it, it’s easy to teach and it’s easy to play. And it’s a single purchase title, not a product line with 25 expansions available out of the gate.

There is a lot going for this game, to be sure. In fact, going down my list of desirables, it checks off almost everything from its pricepoint to its play length. But it’s not exactly a strong differentiator that Champions of Midgard is another worker placement game, and that design schematic has become increasingly stale over the past year or so. It’s certainly no fault of Mr. Steiness, who acquits himself quite nicely by bringing dice-rolling combat and a cool setting into a low-complexity example of the genre closer to Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep than the more elaborate Feldian or Rosenbergian iterations. Before we get deeper into it, I’ll go ahead and state that anyone that likes either of those two games but wishes there was a little more rock n’ roll in them (so to speak) are probably going to love this game.

Each player represents an upstart Jarl, vying for Jarlship (Jarlhood? Jarldom?) of the village. But said village has monster trouble. Trolls and Draugr are bothering the fine folks, and there are also monsters a boatride away that need to be dealt with for fame, glory, the favor of the gods and monetary bounties. Each Jarl has a special ability and starts with four disappointingly generic Meeples with which to select actions on the non-geographic board. The process is fairly routine, and anyone who has played any worker placement game released since Carcassonne will have a handle on what to do without instruction.

So the bulk of competition, as to be expected, comes from placing a worker down on a desirable spot before someone else does. There are a couple of economic conversion functions available, with the resources including favor, gold, wood and food. There are four spaces that are modular and change every turn, reminding me somewhat of the buildings in Waterdeep although they are fixed for the entire game. A merchant ship comes into port each turn and offers a variable conversion rate. There are also a couple of card draw spots, one is for Runes that you must have to carve into a piece of wood since that’s what it costs and these give you a special action as well as points for the end of the game. The other cards are Destinies that are kept secret and function as individual objectives.

But where it gets more interesting is in hiring warriors. There are three types of warriors- swordsmen, spearmen, and axemen. Each are represented by a different color of D6 with differing odds to hit, block, miss or do double damage. If you want to go fight the monsters, you’re going to have to grab some warriors and some monster cards forbid some types of warriors. Other bonuses and abilities affect specific classes. And anyone that you don’t send out to stab Draugrs can also be dispatched to hunt for food.

Fighting the local monsters is as simple as putting your worker down in front of the Troll card or one of the two Draugrs available each turn. After all workers are placed, the warriors do their thing. You roll up whoever you have committed to fighting a creature looking to exceed their armor value with hit results. The monsters also return the favor, and you have to eliminate warriors back to the general pool (Valhalla!) unless you roll shields or have other effects to save them. Any favor tokens you’ve bought or earned can be used to re-roll. Monsters give you points and sometimes bonus resources- they are actually the principle way that to make money in the game.

So you’re going to want to fight early and often. More significantly, somebody has to fight and defeat the troll card for the round or everyone receives a Shame marker, which counts against your score at the end of the game. But it is a one-person-only spot, so whoever does it has to win or their failure impacts everyone. If they beat it, they also get to give one player a Shame marker. I love this. It’s fun and it adds a sometimes hilarious psychological element to the game. And it is also the only aggressive-aggressive point of conflict in an otherwise passive-aggressive design.

Battling monsters in distant lands is a little more complicated but also more rewarding. You’ve got to either rent a publically available longship or build a private one with wood and gold. You can then load your vessel up to capacity with any combination of warrior dice and food that you like- with the provision being that the journey to the closer monster cards requires that you have one food for every two warriors and to get to the more distant ones you have to pack one food for every die. And then there is a journey card that is flipped to see what happens on the way- which may include battling a Kraken. I really enjoy the logistics and risk-taking present in this element of the game. This portion of the game reminds me quite a lot of the Ragnar Brothers’ classic Fire & Axe.

There are eight rounds of play but it almost feels like two too many because it can feel somewhat repetitious. The monster decks are random so there is no sense of ramping up the difficulty or an escalation pushing players to keep up with a power curve. The overall tension in the design is very low, despite some do-or-die dice rolling. This is a game where the worst thing that can happen to you is that you lose all of your warriors. And then on the next turn you might wind up with more than you had last round.

The ups and downs of sending out warriors sounds exciting and it is, but those three spaces are in the center of the board for a reason. Claiming those spaces and sending the warriors out is the most important element of the game and everything orbits around those functions. The result seems to be that the development curve- considering that this is most definitely not any kind of “engine building” game or “efficiency exercise”- seems to be fairly flat across the entire game. Other than players maybe building their own boat or gradually having more Destiny cards to pursue (goals such as “have the most red monster cards at the end of the game” or “have the most wood the end of the game”), it doesn’t feel like turn seven is fundamentally different than turn two aside from a player’s current resource holdings, and I think this is the biggest weakness of the entire package. There is an extra worker that players can unlock and that increases options, but there have been more than a few points where the choices have felt too restrictive. Particularly in the late game.

Reflecting on Champions of Midgard, I’m inclined to argue that worker placement burnout is one reason that I’m not just completely over the moon about it but I think more significantly that the repetition and relatively flat development curve are more culpable. I keep thinking about Lords of Xidit or Waterdeep where there is a buildup to larger battles that takes time, requiring you to make several profitable choices before you can work up to bigger rewards. But in this design, the strongest monsters in the game might hit on the first four turns and go down easy to a player with a strong warrior pool and lots of favor tokens. But hey, that’s fun too. And this game is fun, no doubt. There’s a lot to be said for a game that offers a great meat-and-potatoes gaming experience with broad appeal and an exciting setting and Mr. Steiness has given us exactly that.

Cracked LCD- Psycho Raiders in Review

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I love it when games have moments- those points where the narrative, the structure, the rules and the interaction all come together to equal something more than a group of people rolling dice and pushing counters around with a context mostly held together with pictures and nomenclature. Nate Hayden, one of the best game designers working today, blew me away last year with The Mushroom Eaters. A game full of moments. I named it my Game of the Year last year because that’s what you do as a critic when something has a profound effect on the way you think about whatever medium it is that you are criticizing.

Psycho Raiders, which Mr. Hayden and his gang released last year as a “Halloween Horrorgame Magazine”, had a moment. Fleeing from the titular murderers that had already immolated their friend, three young campers on Halloween night in 1978 made it to the outskirts of a small, rural town. They managed to scream loud enough to alert a mechanic in the gas station. He grabbed a hammer and ran outside, seeing these kids running from a black van and a couple of gas masked psychopaths on foot. The mechanic threw the keys to a fixer-upper parked under a streetlight to Randy, who had been injured when the Psycho Raiders attacked his pickup with a flamethrower. Ginger had run alongside Randy, while their friend Dawn made a run for the woods.

All three made it to the car. The mechanic stalled one of the raiders, attacking him with the hammer. The van sped along the road while the kids got the car going. Randy floored it. And flipped it on the first turn out of the gas station.

All three crawled out. Randy told the girls to run for it. He picked up a tire iron, badly hurt by this point but determined to fight back. Torch, the raider with the flamethrower, blasted him again but it wasn’t enough to kill him. But it still set him on fire. He was about to die from burning on the next turn.

And then it started raining. The friend I was playing with uttered “bullshit.” We cracked up, because what else are you gonna do but laugh at that?

With the fire out, Randy lunged and smacked Torch with the tire iron. But Beau, one of the other Psycho Raiders stood by and laughed, jabbing their victim with a rusty old saber. Randy just wouldn’t die. He took a swing at Beau, but he dropped the tire iron. Beau stabbed him through the eye.

It was such a strangely sad, grim moment. Randy was at the end of the line and he knew it. But he grasped at every chance he could take. It felt like he deserved a better end, and when it rained on him it almost felt like there was a shot at survival. But when he dropped his makeshift weapon- bloody, burned but still fighting- it was like this nihilistic collapse of goodness, courage and hope punctuated by a bloody red KILL card.

This is the root of what makes Psycho Raiders great. It’s brutal, violent and it has that same sense of grand guignol seediness that permeates the kinds of gritty horror films that the game is clearly referencing. It’s a game that is not fair. It does not seek to empower its players. It does not serve to make anyone feel smart or clever. When playing as the campers, it captures a sense of being hunted down and slaughtered by amoral, remorseless human monsters. When playing as the Psycho Raiders, it puts the player in the role of soulless, evil gods of death deciding not if people are going to die, but how mercilessly they are going to die. It is the perfect horror game that accomplishes a level of psychological terror that I, for one, previously thought was not possible in game design.

Needless to say, this is not a game for everybody. It’s rated X and it means it. This is savage, questionable entertainment rife with the very blackest of humor and heavily influenced by 1970s exploitation films. It’s the tabletop equivalent of a video nasty. Yet it is a game that should be played by anyone that thinks they understand what atmosphere, theme and narrative mean in the context of a gaming hobby currently bogged down in a morass of bloated production values, redundant structures, a despairing lack of risk-taking and a complacent fear on the part of designers to challenge players to expect more.

Ironically, this is a game that could have been published in 1980. The very specific, simulation-oriented rules call to mind classic SPI or Avalon Hill adventure games, not Fantasy Flight or Z-Man ones. Most of the game is very simple and familiar in terms of movement and combat, it’s all classic hobby gaming structure. The map is paper and printed right there on it are all the tables you need to roll on for results. Be prepared to bring your own dice, cut the cards out yourself and supply players with pencil and paper. If all of that sounds barbaric to you, maybe give Psycho Raiders a pass and go play Last Night on Earth instead.

It’s old fashioned and out of fashion, but there are two masterstrokes that modern designers should be paying attention to. One is the hiding mechanic, which lets players place and move multiple on-board tokens to obscure where they actually are. The other is the best use of the tired, hackneyed “traitor” mechanic I have seen to date. There are a couple of townsfolk that can enter play like the mechanic mentioned above. The Raider player can secretly designate a die roll’s worth of the townsfolk to be sinister and on their side. What’s more, the Raider player can actually let the campers use the townfolk and decide at an opportune moment for them to show their true color, which is of course always black.

There are also many details such as rules for screaming, unsafe driving, for using a telephone, for weather, for spreading fires and for tear gas. There are rules for if Joey shows up in his Camaro as a kind of white trash Deus ex Machina as well as other events that could happen. You may never see any of these things happen because the gameplay is wide open- how the story of these campers on the run from the Psycho Raiders is entirely up to you. Situations like the moment described above may occur once but never again. This is truly emergent gameplay enabled by relatively loose rules and a masterful design-level grasp on balancing playability, simulation and narrative.

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The old timey packaging is absolutely brilliant- it is an old fashioned magazine game. The components are a paper map, a few counters and some cards that you have to cut out yourself. The illustrations are willfully crude, unrefined and raw. If you expect every game to be stuffed full of possibly toxic made-in-China plastic and kitschy-ass fantasy artwork, you might mistake this game for ugly or cheap. But the slightly sleazy, off-putting visual design is absolutely part of the package.

You even get a gas mask-wearing underwear model in the centerfold, standing in front of a wood panel wall with a cheap Halloween decoration on it. It’s the kind of slightly upsetting thing that makes you feel like something is wrong either with the people who made it or with you for buying and owning it. Flipping through the magazine, which contains the rules, there are several weird cartoons that range from surreal to disgusting. There’s an upsetting piece of short fiction. This stuff is as transgressive as board games get. This stuff is as immersive as board games get.

But most significantly, the magazine also includes a comic that serves as a direct prelude to what occurs in the game. Turn one literally picks up right from the last panel, with the campers’ pickup barreling down the road with the Raiders’ van right behind it. From there, the players finish the story. This is how background story or fluff text should be done from here on out.

Psycho Raiders actually came out last year but for various reasons it was one of those games I never got around to. At this point, it’s clear that I was wasting my time looking for transcendent moments in other games. This is the real deal, this is the mythical, Utopian game I’m always on about that is innovative, progressive, playable, narrative, thematic and compelling. It’s every bit as good as The Mushroom Eaters, and as such I’m appending my 2014 Game of the Year award to include both games released last year that have Nate Hayden’s name on them.

This is an incredibly renegade, daring piece of game design and packaging that makes me want to buy a copy for every single person who has ever used the asinine turn of phrase “dripping with theme” and one for every person who thinks that anything coming out of the morass that is Kickstarter is anything approaching “innovative” or “progressive”. It would be an object lesson in what a truly maverick game product should look and play like in 2015, even if it is defiantly and gruesomely atavistic.

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Cracked LCD- Secrets of the Lost Tomb in Review

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Everything Epic’s maiden release, Secret of the Lost Tombs, is a hybrid of the dungeoncrawl and narrative-oriented adventure genres, a combination that isn’t as common as you might think given how overpopulated both types of games are these days. It features a setting in which it totally makes sense that Teddy Roosevelt would lead an expedition into a subterranean Masonic lodge to decipher a code left by Ben Franklin that can be used to awaken and control a giant monster that helped the Colonies to win the Revolutionary War- one that is spoiling for a rematch with the giant monster that fought on Britain’s side. Oh, and you might meet Dracula and Blackbeard along the way. In a Mongolian tomb.

It’s all gonzo pulp, all the time, that wears its influences on its sleeves. And on the back of its jacket. And its pants. All over its socks and shoes as well. References to Indiana Jones and Alan Quatermain are checked off, and the merchant from Resident Evil 4 makes a guest appearance (the “whaddaya buyin’?” dude). The monster-busting secret society/tomb raiding organization that the characters belong to is an lot like the BPRD from Hellboy. But more specifically, this game borrows liberally and almost uncomfortably from Fantasy Flight’s line of Lovecraftian horror games as well as Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

If you’ve played Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and/or Mansions of Madness you have played at least 90% of this game’s design, even though it refocuses the gameplay to a dungeoncrawl format- which is actually pretty cool despite the uncomfortable similarities. Fives and sixes are successes, you roll X dice where X is the stat being checked. There are condition cards that often have knock-on effects later in the game. Monster-fighting involves both actual combat and a psychological element. You get companions/allies. Adventure and Misadventure cards play out almost exactly as they do in the above games and are written in a very similar style. There’s a doom tracker. As for its resemblance to Betrayal at the House on the Hill, the way the dungeon is laid out with multiple floors is almost identical, with some rooms only occurring at certain levels. There’s even the “underground lake” weirdness that players of Betrayal’s first edition will recognize where some features shouldn’t logically be on some floors, like watchtower one floor below the first. And there are also certain conditions and story effects that cause players to switch sides, which was that game’s hallmark.

I have no doubt that designer Chris Batarlis has played and loves all of these games, and I can’t fault the guy for trying to come up with his own, spirited version of these kinds of designs- and with a fairly unique high level concept to boot. There are some qualities about it that it does exceptionally well. I really like how there is no levelling up, instead your character unlocks abilities or actually loses them based on their Courage. It’s a neat way to do the psychological element and tie it to a character’s abilities. There are lots of fun traps and it definitely generates a sense of exploration. The scenario design is quite good and steers well clear of the usual repetitive monster-bashing of many dungeoncrawlers. The included scenario book includes some very novel situations like aforementioned bit with Ben Franklin and some challenging, detailed adventures with several fun surprises.

But this game- which comes packed in a ten pound box packed to the gills with tokens (eight punchboards’ worth), cards and novelty components like these awful stat trackers that are lain over the characters cards- sorely, desperately needs a sense of focus. It’s a sprawling mess. Mechanically, it’s mostly sound and it all works despite some truly WTF design level decisions like using double-faced D12s instead of D6s and a couple of needlessly bothersome elements like this terrible searching thing where you have to turn this token every time you search because it “gets more dangerous” or something. The mess comes in mostly in the content, and specifically the content tied to the setting and storylines.

This means that elements in these scenarios come across as a jumble sale of locations, mythologies and notable characters with random HP Lovecraft stuff thrown in to boot. What could have- and I think should have- been a game more in line with Indiana Jones, Alan Quatermain or Lara Croft turns into this weird mish-mash of moving from battling mummies in one room to fighting Olmecs in another. In Davy Jones’ locker. Where you might encounter a Mi-Go. I guess the secret of these tombs is that they connect all of these disparate things into one distasteful slurry of pulp adventure and historical references that doesn’t hang together at all.

Playing the game, I keep thinking that I would like the game so much more if Mr. Batarlis had picked a time period, a mythology, a location or some other unifier to give the written and visual content consistency. Like if this release, for example, where all about Egyptian sites and stories about how they connect to the larger story he’s trying to tell. And then maybe the next set in product line has all the pirate stuff and the scenarios build on to the larger story. But instead, it feels like everything Japanese, Greek, South American and, uh, pirate got dumped in together. It undermines the otherwise strong sense of story. It’s a kitchen sink approach.

There are other issues with the content as well. Characters are wildly imbalanced, equipment and artifacts become redundant over the course of the game. The stack of room tiles is huge- over 50- which means if you need to find a certain room that isn’t laid out specifically at the outset, it can have a variable effect on the game’s length, which has an effect on its difficulty over time. The one-a-round event cards have just a title and then some plain instructions for monster spawns and so forth, but offer no reason for why they have titles- again, undermining the narrative.

I’m also completely not in any kind of love with the combat. It’s one of those games where you roll a ton of dice and compare successes to various numbers on a monster card. It’s boring and tedious, made even more boring and tedious by those completely unnecessary D12s, of which you need about three times as many as are included. Toss them out into your “random dice” Crown Royal bag and replace them with some regular D6s. There are PVP options that are actually required if someone turns bad due to a condition or story event, and they are just as boring and tedious.

What it comes down to is that the game is simply trying to do too much. It stretches itself thin, and when it could be showing its strengths it instead shows either its influences or its seams far too much. Do we really need the “Soul Merchant” (the RE4 guy) in there? Or is that just a distraction in what should be a game about surviving an expedition into an ancient trap and monster laden tomb? Do we really need all of the companion cards, when what is really essential is that these characters are interesting and fun to play? The game just loses its way and even though it has moments where you can see what Mr. Batarlis was getting close to what I believe he wanted us to experience, too often it collapses in scattershot directions.

I also get that Everything Epic wanted this to be a big, stunning production like the Fantasy Flight games of ten years past. I appreciate that, but here again you can feel the game straining. Material quality is fine, but it is an amateurishly produced game rife with typographical errors, misspellings, outright misprints (including a rulebook misprinted with the wrong cover) and plain old bad grammar. I’m a professional writer and I understand that any large volume of text is going to have errors, but there is no excuse for a finished, gone-to-press consumer product to be so poorly proofread or copyedited. It also doesn’t help that the visual execution is crude at best- it looks like something that fell out of a 1995 Angelfire Web site. The fonts are almost hilariously inconsistent (there are like six different typefaces on the box top alone), character portraits look terrible and the overall graphic design is poor. I don’t expect an indie production to be on par with Games Workshop, but I do expect that a lack of budget is made up for with style or visual panache.

Writing this review has been tough because I do not like to do bad reviews. I don’t think there’s much joy in dismantling something that someone has labored long and hard over and put a lot of love into. Secret of the Lost Tombs is one that I can tell has been labored over and loved, but it also feels inexperienced and na?ve. There’s something almost charming about it that has kept me coming back to it more than I expected after the first couple of outings with it, something almost like seeing an unexpectedly good and enthusiastic covers band at a bar. I can’t tell you that I haven’t had some fun with the game and I can’t tell you that I haven’t waffled back and forth over just how much I do or do not like it, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t come clean with the fact that this is one of those games that is lacking in a number of important areas. It’s not one that most groups would reach for over its more polished, focused and refined antecedents.

Cracked LCD- Xia: Legends of a Drift System in Review

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At first glance, Xia: Legends of a Drift System sort of looks like another entry in the 4x space empires sweepstakes. But it’s really closer to something like Merchant of Venus or Gale Force 9’s Firefly game. Like those titles, it’s a pick-up-and-deliver game with both mercantile and adventure gaming elements It features a strong “open world”-style emphasis on allowing the player to chart their own course through options that include good honest work as well as criminal enterprise, exploration as well as material advancement. The goal of the game is to set out in a starter spacecraft and earn the most fame points by the end of the game. And how you get them is really up to you.

Far Off Games and designer Cody Miller have already earned a couple of these fame points because Xia is a very nicely produced game with some fun components. The game ships with 21 fully painted (hooray) spaceship miniatures, each one a unique sculpt. They look great on their stands and add a nice touch of character to the game. The money in the game is custom, triangular coins made of metal in two colors. They are certainly a luxury-class addition that has absolutely zero impact on gameplay, but it’s a nice touch. It’s a somewhat expensive title but the quality overall is high, especially for a Kickstarter title.

And she does got it where it counts, because the game is exciting, fun and much more accessible than I expected after reading through the rules. At first I thought it was going to be quite complex, but the reality of it is that the design is pitched at the lower end of rules weight despite the level of detail. There are three tiers of upgradable ships with upgradable components. Concerns include cargo portage, energy management, asteroid/debris fields, nebulas, planetary shields, resource mining opportunities, blind space jumps, multiple types of goods, warp gates and bounties for lawbreakers. There are NPC ships including a pirate, a cop and a travelling merchant. To top it off, there is also plenty of PVP. There’s a lot going on in Xia, and it creates a sense of world-building as the game plays out and the narrative develops through player choices and a few random turns of event.

But it’s a simple, focused design that actually has an admirable degree of restraint despite the open-ended, sandbox approach. It’s definitely not one of those dreadful kitchen sink designs that plague Kickstarter these days. It’s all about piloting a unique ship through this developing environment and looking for opportunity while improving your ability to complete tasks. Each ship, in addition to a couple of special abilities and some variance in capabilities, has a grid depicting its available space. When you buy components, you fit them in Tetris-like. Each component- including engines- corresponds to a polyhedral die. The lowest grade engines let you roll a D6 to move and the upgraded ones a D8 but at the cost of requiring more space. This system runs through all of the ship components- the combat suite of guns, missiles and shields included.

Everything runs on an energy management system. Your ship has a couple of energy cylinders that must be “armed” and then placed on components to activate them. So to make those D6-powered engines go or those low-power peashooter lasers, you have to have the energy to do so. And if you run out of power, you might find yourself running on backup impulse power, limping back to a planet to refuel.

Expect to tool around the modular, hex-based map tiles looking for planets at which you can pick up or drop off cargo (provided you have room) while also taking your chances to navigate hazardous areas or mine them for resources to sell at a profit. If you go to a sort of “quest dispenser” spot on most of the tiles, you can draw from a job deck to take on a task that will yield fame points or credits. You might also find exploration tokens that give a little fame or financial bonus. Maybe you’ll run afoul of that NPC pirate ship that pops out to shoot at you and then runs away. Or maybe you will BE the pirate, taking on a job to steal from another player, and you wind up on the run from the authorities after sacking the merchant ship, looking for somewhere to ditch stolen goods. If another player doesn’t hunt you down first to claim the bounty on your ship!

Most significant actions in the game yield fame points, including destroying or upgrading ships and delivering cargo. I especially like that a player can get a point for “rescuing” an out-of-energy ship by going out to the stranded player and giving some energy. I accepted this charity from a fellow spacefarer in my second game, only to find that he had a job to rob me. Once a player moves his marker up to certain break points on the fame track, Title cards are drawn from a deck and these are achievement-like objectives that anyone can claim when eligible. So the game doles out additional opportunities as it plays out, and it’s up to you to determine if they are worth pursuing.

The game plays out to a sort of customizable length, which is good because if you play to higher fame point values it can drag out beyond its welcome. It, like some of its predecessors, plays best with three and worst with five. There is a sense of repetitiveness that starts to creep in after the 90 minute mark that I’ve found makes a good case for an expansion adding content by way of the job deck, ship components and the available space tiles. It isn’t that the game feels limited; it’s that it feels like it could take on more variety and a broader scope without suffering from bloat.

But even at two hours, I really like Xia a lot and I think among the games in its class, it’s actually more fun to play. Some of this, inevitably, is because it’s just so easy to set up, play and enjoy. It has a very unique sense of featuring a lot of specificity but hewing closer, mechanically, to lighter, more family oriented fare despite its length. I don’t have a fancy, brainy reason for liking this game so much- I don’t think it changes the way we play games and it doesn’t offer a sweeping case for games-as-art, nothing like that. It’s just plain fun to set out in a junky little ship and work out ways both fair and foul to get famous, get rich and get into better craft.

Euclidean Review

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Falling is the primordial nightmare. Plunging into the abyss, then wakening with a jolt just before the impact is a fear we’re all familiar with. Yet Euclidean is the first horror game I’ve played which taps that shared terror. Then amplifies it with deliberately clumsy controls and freakish environments beneath your sinking feet.

Its in the design of these other worlds that Euclidean reaches its apogee. Lovecraft’s old saw about impossible geometries is, obviously, impossible to visualise. Yet Euclidean does a fine job of putting you into some truly bizarre places.

It’s unclear if you’re under water or in outer space, or possibly both. Strange patterns and bits of Escher-esque scenery flash in and out of view through the murk. One level sees you descending an enormous spiral staircase. Another is almost completely obscured in blood-red mist. The visual design is fantastic and disorientating in equal measure.

The confusing environments are very much part of the play. Touching anything as you fall will kill you, instantly. So will missing one of the soft blue portals you’re aiming for and ending up on the level floor. The are monsters wriggling round the levels too, and they’re equally deadly and harder to avoid.

Your defences against absolutely everything are some sluggish WASD controls. Plus the ability to phase out which makes you briefly invulnerable to monsters but lasts for less time and takes longer to recharge on each use. You fall at a steady rate, and use the controls to avoid bumping in to things. That’s it. Euclidean might qualify as the world’s first falling simulator.

The limitations on what you can do in-game are at once both essential to its atmosphere and its biggest issue. The scenery and the monsters move in predictable ways but the sheer oddness of the environments and the unresponsive controls makes them hard to avoid. You don’t have much agency in the game, and many of the very many deaths you’ll suffer won’t really be your fault.

Euclidean is not a great game. It might take you a couple of hours to complete. Then, if you’re not fed up of the limitations and fancy a bit of maschoism you can try the permadeath mode. But it is a very imaginative, unique and fairly cheap game. That might be enough to make it worth dipping your toe into whatever otherwordly goo fills Euclidean’s levels.