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Playdek on sale this weekend

Playdek interview part one playdek logo

You’ve probably noticed that we here at NoHighScores are big fans of PlayDek’s card and board game to iOS conversions. Well, if you’ve yet to purchase some of their smooth, usable and generally excellent games or are short of a few in-app purchases keep an eye on the app store this weekend when everything PlayDek will be priced at 69p ($0.99 in barbarous foreign currencies). Summoner Wars is particularly good if you’ve yet to take it for a spin, with deck-builders Ascension and Penny Arcade following close behind.

The Layman’s Nightfall Review

I loved Ascension. Many of you loved Ascension. A very large subset of those of you that loved Ascension, loved beating me at Ascension. There was a lot of love going on there for Ascension, although a little less on my side, what with all of the beatings. When Playdek announced that they were bringing an iOS version of Nightfall to the App Store, it was only natural to assume that my love would jump from Ascension to Nightfall like influenza jumps from the restroom door handle to your unsuspecting palm.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the single player and a similar amount of time in the multiplayer, I’m not quite ready to say that I love the game. We’re getting there, I just need more time to figure out what’s going on.

One of the best things about Ascension was how easy it was to pick up. For folks that are used to more hardcore board gaming fare, I can see the simplicity of the game being a turn off, or at least something that limits your time with the game. For me, someone who has very little board gaming experience, it was perfect. Within a few games I felt confident playing other people and I knew that it wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Sure, I’d probably lose, but at least I could learn things for the next match. Ascension made it easy to tell what was going on and what your next move was going to be and also easy enough to tell when you were well and truly screwed. My son watched me play a couple of games and learned enough from watching me play and from my explanation of the rules that he came up with his own version of the game, albeit one played through the lens of Calvinball.

There will be no Calvinball version of Nightfall as the rules of this game are a lot more complex and a lot harder to pick up from watching games play out than with Ascension. At least to me it is. Maybe more grizzled board gaming vets would scoff at that statement, but all I have is my own gaming baggage and for me, this game can be incredibly confusing.

There’s a tutorial, as with Ascension, and it tries very, very hard to show you all about the game and get you into one as quickly as possible, but it feels a bit too quick. Imagine that you’re going to house-sit for someone and to prepare, you come over to the house so that they can give you the rundown. They then proceed to walk very quickly through the house, pointing everything out and occasionally allowing you to punch some buttons. Here’s how you set the alarm. Here’s how you watch TV. Here are the plants you need to water. So long, I’m out. Then, two days into your visit, you don’t know how to get ice from the fridge’s dispenser. Or, worse, you get ice but then the next morning the kitchen is flooded and the cat is trapped on the cabinets and you didn’t even know that there was a cat. I think that for people who have played the physical version of Nightfall, the iOS version would be great, but for new players, not having a physical representation of the rules to look at while playing is a big detriment.

It’s hard to weigh how much something like this should come into play when reviewing the game. The game isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s following the rules of the physical game and pretty well from what I can tell, having read the physical game’s rule book. It’s not the game’s fault if I can’t understand what’s going on due to a lack of familiarity with the game. The problem is that my lack of understanding makes me not want to play the game. Is that the game’s fault for not being clear enough, or is it my fault for being dense? I like playing against other people but I don’t feel like I have a good enough understanding to be competitive, which is why I haven’t been as proactive in finding games as I was with Ascension. Sure, the game could be clearer in the tutorial but I think that a certain amount of the problems exist between chair and iPad.

The thing that keeps me playing, though is that I really want to learn how to play this game because I think there’s a very good game here, one that’s just beyond my reach. As much as I loved the artwork of Ascension, I never really understood why I was warring against someone who was working towards the same goal that I was, namely the banishment of The Fallen. Seems silly for us to be beating the tar out of each other when demons roamed the world.

The world of Nightfall is much easier to understand and get behind conceptually. The world has gone to hell, vampires, werewolves and ghouls now rule and it’s up to you to defeat your opponent with your supernatural army. I get that. Of course vampires would fight werewolves. Their enmity towards each other is legendary. Also, there’s no third party enemy mucking things up. It’s just me and the opponents across the playing surface.

The game’s mechanics, a combination of chaining cards for effects, spending cards to get new, better cards, and using played cards to attack and defend against attacks is well managed and the card text and artwork all work well towards setting up the various conflicts. I know enough about the game’s ebb and flow to know that I like what I’m seeing, I just don’t always understand why some stuff happens when it does, or doesn’t when I think that it should. Playing multiplayer doesn’t help much in this regard as the game does an admirable job of splitting up the actions, but there are still times when chains are resolving with no action on my part, or the game stops for what seems like no reason. Again, I know that there is a reason but I don’t have anyone watching the game with me to explain what’s going on.

What I need to do, and I just haven’t taken the time to do so, is to play a game against the AI with a set of the official rules at my side. That way, I can better understand what’s happening and why it’s happening. It won’t answer all of my questions, but it certainly can’t hurt.

I don’t want this review to sound like I don’t enjoy the game, because that’s not the case. There’s a really slick, atmospheric game here, I’m just struggling with how to play it. Hopefully one of my more learned compatriots can chime in with a review of their own and give their perspective. I think that if Ascension is the extent of your deck building (and I hate to classify either game as such) experience, Nightfall may be a bit of a shock. I’m sure veterans will be able to jump right in and start rending and tearing with the best of them.

What I do know is that I am extremely impressed with the effort Playdek is putting into these games and I can’t wait to try out Summoner Wars when it hits. I’ll probably be in the same boat when it comes to understanding as with Nightfall, but if Playdek keeps putting out these quality adaptations, I’m willing to give them a shot.

For those of you looking for a game, you know where to find me. Might as well score some wins before I figure out what I’m doing. Get in while the getting’s good.

The Digital Transcendence of Deckbuilding

Holy smokes, you know what I forgot to do? Post last week’s Cracked LCD link. Sorry ma, I was Witchering!

Anyway, I’ve not done an editorial in a while because there’s been too much on the docket that I wanted to review. But things are slowing down, and I’ll probably start rotating the reviews with smarty pants articles, trolling lists, and ranting. Last week, I wrote about deckbuilding and how I no longer have any desire to play physical games in that genre. But boy, I do love them on the iPad.

It’s a genre that has come of age along with the maturation of tablet and smartphone gaming. And it’s a perfect fit. The funny thing is that a lot of the liabilites and negatives around deckbuilding games fall away when the logistics, calculation, and process is automated. What’s that you say? “But Barnes…face to face gaming with friends and family!” To that I say “that’s what Cosmic Encounter is for, not Dominion”.

It’s a somewhat unpopular opinion, but I would be more than happy to see a lot of physical games just go straight to a tablet/smartphone format. There are games that specifically need human, face-to-face interaction. But there are many that do not. And I’d much rather spend my limited time gaming at the table with friends with the former than wasting time with the latter. There’s also the issue that digital board games are much cheaper, more eco-friendly, and you can play them any damn time you want without having to negotiate with the wife, get four other friends to schedule time (and negotiate with their SOs) and have everybody drive somewhere to meet. It’s the future of board gaming, like it or not.

Nightfall Trailers

YouTube video

Playdek sent over a fresh batch of Nightfall trailers this afternoon, leading me to believe that the release of this one is tantalizingly close. Man, I hope it doesn’t come out when I’m at Disney. That would be…awkward.

The first trailer is a gameplay trailer, and while I’m sure that those familiar with the game know what’s going on, I sure as heck don’t. That’s to be expected, though. When my wife watches me play Ascension, she doesn’t believe me when I say how easy it is to pick up.

The second trailer shows some of the options available for the game, including the ability to view cards outside of the game and the ability to change the music and the game speed. Nothing too out of the ordinary if you’ve spent any time poking around the options in Ascension.

YouTube video

Board Game Overload

Agricola board game on iPad tablet and iPhone mobile

The effect that the iPad has had on the board gaming community is amazing. The potential of the device as a board game platform was immediately apparent and since release designers and developers have been choosing a wide variety of titles to port across based on various criteria such ease of conversion, suitability for AI play and popularity. Some, such as Ascension have been spectacular successes, others like Bohnanza have been very questionable choices but the stream has been constant and steady and most of the products well worth checking for their extremely reasonable app store prices.

But it seems to me that suddenly, we’ve reached a tipping point. That stream has very suddenly become a veritable flood, at least if you include all the titles for which conversions are promised as being in the pipeline. Amongst the excellent games that I’ve read will be sent to the iPad in the near future are Commands & Colors: Ancients, Survive: Escape from Atlantis, Nightfall, Summoner Wars, Eclipse and Twilight Struggle. Others, such as Imperial and Cyclades are poised to receive important updates. There are more I can’t mention because I’ve forgotten them, or because the bases games aren’t interesting enough to be on my radar.

I don’t doubt that this sudden rush to market has something to do with the fact that Days of Wonder publicly observed that sales of their Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Pocket apps were driving sales of the physical game and vice-versa. And as a hobby gamer it’s a pretty exciting time – that link between physical and digital sales that Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont observed holds up the possibility that this may be the watershed moment we’ve all been longing for when certain more accessible hobby games penetrate the wider conciousness meaning that we have more people to play against and further dispelling of the pejorative perception that games are just things for kids. It’s a good time to be a gamer.

But there’s a part of me that’s worried. It’s probably the same part that would niggle me with doubts about future happiness if I were to win a multi-million lottery prize in this case certainly driven by annoyance over how I’m going to afford all these things and find time to play them. What worries me is that in the rush to put everything on a tablet, some people, especially nascent board gamers attracted by the new titles but without wide experience of the hobby, will forget why board games have attractions over video games in the first place, to whit human interaction. I mean, the fact that someone thought Bohnanza would make a great experience without a cut-throat table full of people to bargain and haggle with doesn’t bode well in this regard, nor does the absence of messaging facilities in more appropriate games and nor does the downward march of the European game design paradigm that seems determined to squeeze every last ounce of direct player interaction out of the game experience. Casual gamers may come to modern board games through mobile devices, but if they continue to find them as dry and soulless as many of them are now, they certainly won’t stay.