Posts by: Kelsey Rinella

Review: Empire Building: SettleForge


My love for hexagons is warring with my distaste for ambiguous iconography. Which of these is “undo”?

SettleForge inverts the fashionable trend of taking an existing, complex game and refining a single subsystem into a polished, clear, but flavorless pursuit. At its core, it resembles a single-player Suburbia: you lay hexagonal tiles which represent pieces of a settlement, with each new game offering specific goals which can improve your score. But, where Suburbia adopts that modern aesthetic of clean simplicity and has been scrubbed until it is almost entirely free of the contamination of theme, Settleforge crams in narrative everywhere it can, and adds some mechanisms to complicate decision-making. The presentation is so old-school in its opposition to that antiseptic ideal that I find myself imagining an ashtray next to the iPad.

I confess, most stories I encounter in video games hold little interest for me, and I rarely give them much attention in my reviews. In this case, though, I find the set-up cleverer than most. You’ve been chosen to lead your war-torn country back to prosperity; nothing very exciting there. But the advisor who selected you pretended you had a magic power which plays much the role of the divine right of kings in uniting the people. So part of the challenge is that you have to rule wisely enough not to make people suspect they’ve been had (and they’ll periodically check via special objectives). There’s no need to present an interesting moral problem which echoes Plato’s noble lie in order to explain the motivation for building your towns, but developers Andreas Mank and Jochen Balzer did, briefly enough and well enough to enhance the game rather than waste the player’s time. That level of craftsmanship and inspiration is difficult to maintain throughout a project, though.

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Review: Coup

The five people you meet in dystopian future heaven.

Some early bugs, like this poorly positioned window which obscured 2/5 of the data, have been quickly addressed by the developers. Banana & Co., I tip my monocle to you.

Very briefly, Coup is free-to-play Diplomacy in a bottle. Banana & Co have adapted the highly successful tabletop card game into a beautiful app with some fetching (and all-new) art, and have responded to user feedback very quickly, but “free-to-play” is to “game” as “venomous” is to “puppy” around here. A dash of “pay-to-win” before the dreaded “free-to-play” makes that venom lethal. Contrariwise, when you’re indulging in paranoia, scheming, and (simulated) assassination, you’re basically role-playing a fictional villain anyway, and lethally venomous puppies mix adorable and badass in an endearingly batty way.

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Review: Kingsport Festival

Phase 3: Concession

This Excel theme is called “Spreadsheet of DOOM!”

iNigma’s Kingsport Festival advertises itself with the tagline, “Why choose the lesser evil?”, which nicely reflects the game. You play as an eschatological cult leader in a Lovecraftian universe, attempting to summon an Elder One to rule the planet with a distinct lack of benevolence. So yes, pretty darn evil. It’s also an appropriation of an old joke which doesn’t work all that well in this context. The game translates a board game of the same name which itself borrowed very heavily from Kingsburg, a well-regarded Euro. Like the joke, there’s very little about the result which is original, and the new expectations created by the digital format create requirements it fails to satisfy.

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Review: Ento

The guess-making screen

Kevin Spacey turns in a surprisingly chilling performance as the voice of a grasshopper who runs a protection racket.

In 2001, Zendo turned science into a boardgame, but wrapped it in a mystical Buddhist theme. Ento, first entry into the iOS space from Omino Games, eschews the competitive element for a pure puzzle, and returns the theme to the more natural fit of science. It takes the form of a rather stilted correspondence between Charles and Alfred. Poor Alfred has to try and deduce whatever rule of taxonomy Charles has in mind by sending him collections of insects and getting back a simple thumbs up or down on whether they follow the rule. Naturally, this requires sending lots of insects, so, basically, it’s a postal worker’s misery simulator.

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WUHRhammer: Arcane Magic coming soon

Nanoo nanoo?

Nanoo nanoo?

Games Workshop must have the hardest-working licensing department outside of Disney. A new iOS game from Turbo Tape, the developers of UHR Warlords, will have you slinging spell cards as famous wizards in tactical combat in the Warhammer universe “soon” (synonymous with “this year” in marketing cant). If you read that sentence and took away cards, Warhammer, and tactical, I know where you’re coming from, but the Turbo Tape bit is also worth noting. UHR Warlords was so metal it kind of lampooned itself, but the tactical elements were balanced and engaging. In retrospect, the grimdark aesthetic appears to have found an appreciative audience in the original grim darkness of the far future folks. After the break you’ll see a trailer, and several tasty screenshots.

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Review: Honeycomb Hotel ULTRA


The middle of three levels of difficulty. I was unwilling to insult Pocket Tactics readers by showing you the easiest.


It turns out there’s a niche into which I fit perfectly but never knew existed: fans of Everett Kaser‘s games. My love of logic puzzles as a child grew into eager anticipation of each new Analytical Reasoning (that is, logic games) section of the LSAT back when I taught LSAT prep, and has now matured into almost compulsive Honeycomb Hotel play. It has the usual sorts of clues, A and B are in the same row, C is farther left than D, and so forth, but it does it all on a hexagonal board and adds a path which enters and exists each hex exactly once. The hexagon thing is probably the less significant gameplay innovation, but as the official polygon of Pocket Tactics, it gets top billing.

There’s also no avoiding the fact that the graphics hail from the era in which we chiseled our computers out of granite and Lite Brite was advanced display technology. You can choose from several tile sets, but they’re all basically eye broccoli. Like Dream Quest, the aesthetic sends a message; in this case, it reinforces the nature of the game as an exercise in pure logic. It’s a valuable way of filtering players; I expect many users will see a screenshot and instantly move on to something else. Those who don’t are likely open to a sterile presentation of the purest form of puzzle.

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Review: Corto Maltese Secrets of Venice

The artist who drew this gets my respect--the window, the light--just lovely.

In Venice, drugstore stockrooms apparently have golems. Theft of prescription medications was getting out of hand, I guess.

Corto Maltese Secrets of Venice (a title which appears to have undergone a colectomy) brings legendary comic book character Corto Maltese to iDevices everywhere! At least, they tell me he’s legendary–I’d never heard of him before, but he seems to visit exotic locations and delve into ancient secrets while being at least moderately competent, so I’m basically thinking of him as a sort of Mediterranean Tintin or Indiana Jones. The game seems to aim at the familiar adventure genre, with lovely hidden object scenes and a variety of basic puzzles interspersed with some largely linear plot, but comes at it from a perspective which leaves the whole affair feeling not entirely comfortably foreign.

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Review: Pentaction Medieval


Everything you need to know, nicely presented on a single page. Well, everything except how you got yourself into this horrible position.

“Pentaction” is an awkward mouthful of a title. Descriptive, though: the relations between the five mobile units are the heart of this game that plays like a twist on Stratego. Your opponent’s pawns on the other side of the board are unknown to you — until you attack one or it attacks you, revealing its strength. Reveal your opponent’s helpless king piece and you win.

It plays fast and bloody–three minutes is usually enough to reduce both sides to a few units and one to a captured king. These boardgame-style units are lovingly rendered as wooden pieces with identities stamped on with primitive printing technology, which helps to sell the medieval theme if you can get past the fact that you’re interacting with their high-resolution images on the most technologically advanced device you’ve ever owned. Pentaction represents a departure for Hunted Cow, a simple boardgame reminiscent of Stratego rather than any sort of conflict simulation.

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