Posts by: Kelsey Rinella

Review: Reiner Knizia’s Dice Monsters

The Beatrice twins are great fun at wampa parties on Hoth.

The Beatrice twins are great fun at wampa parties on Hoth.

This review of Reiner Knizia’s Dice Monsters will largely focus on the criticism that the game feels random. That’s not very insightful. After all, the title of the game has the word “dice” right in it. But that visceral negative reaction, that a game “feels random”, is actually sort of puzzling. Most of the games I enjoy have substantial randomness to manage, and games which give players lots of choices can still evoke that reaction. Fortunately, I was trained as a philosopher [you don’t say? Read on… -ed.], so I’m always attracted to an opportunity to gaze deeply into my navel and extract a clearer meaning for something my gut has told me on several occasions is naturally fuzzy. Perhaps this will help: if you read on, we’ll mostly be talking about responsibility, that beloved topic of mom speeches and after-school specials. 

If that doesn’t get you to jump past the break, I’m not sure what else I can do.

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Review: PataNoir

I ain’t as bluntly violent as a Frank Miller gig, but a silhouette’s noir both figuratively and literally.

I ain’t as bluntly violent as a Frank Miller gig, but a silhouette’s noir both figuratively and literally.

Taken together, the loose intellectual property regime applied to game mechanics and the caution which results from high development costs mean that originality is precious to reviewers, and often to players. Simon Christiansen’s delightfully batty interactive fiction work dives off the beaten path and into the surreal with PataNoir, a game which takes the metaphors of the famously colorful noir genre seriously. Seriously enough that you can interact with them, even–your trusty Smith & Wesson revolver accompanies you like a dedicated and worldly servant, and in PataNoir, that means you can talk to it. That turns out to be crucial, because you won’t go into the game with the habits of mind appropriate to your powers over metaphor. If you find yourself facing someone with a head of hair like a bountiful crop of golden wheat, you can harvest that figurative grain, and she’ll now have a buzz cut like a freshly-mown field. Also, you’ll have some figurative wheat in your inventory, which might come in handy if you find yourself, say, having to visit a casino as bereft of luck as a fallow field. Cut hair to win at cards isn’t the sort of causal chain which pops readily to mind.

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Review: SPL-T

There's no reason for this image to make you question your presumptions, except this caption.

There’s no reason for this image to make you question your presumptions, except this caption.

You’ve probably never wondered how to evoke existential dread with a peppy, humble abstract puzzle game. Now you never need to–adding “by Simogo” after the name turns out to be perfect. Just as M. Night Shyamalan can no longer make a movie without a twist ending (because even a perfectly conventional plot would be so out of character for him that it would surprise the audience), Simogo are famous for bending players’ minds. So if it looks like they just found a surprisingly enjoyable, very simple sort of puzzle and released it as SPL-T, players familiar with their reputation can’t help but suspect there’s something more buried in there. So it’s a puzzle within a puzzle, made all the more vexing because there might be nothing to find.

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Review: The Guides

Your clue is "mellon".

If a clue is more obscure than the puzzle spoiled, that’s okay, right?

When reviewing a game which consists of a series of obscure clues and simple cryptography challenges which gradually reveal a still-sketchy story, I owe my readers a confession: I’ve never played a Simogo game. I know! I deserve the tomatoes, but remember, it’s your own screen. So, while I love puzzle games, I don’t have the most obvious context by which to judge The Guides. I’m also not as smart as I’d like to be, so I used brute force tap-everywhere tactics on a few puzzles. In the large majority of cases, though, careful attention and informed guesswork is your path to quite satisfying solutions to The Guides’ fifty puzzles.

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Review: Lara Croft GO

Tomb Raider is actually the tragic tale of a woman’s vain search for an exotic pet which won’t try to kill her.

He’s so cute! I think I’ll name him Jörmungandr.

Lara Croft GO adapts the puzzle structure of Pocket Tactics darling Hitman GO to the Tomb Raider setting. Replacing the delightfully unexpected boardgame aesthetic of the earlier game are far more varied, visually appealing backgrounds and artful animations.

It’s a step away from what might have seemed like a defining trait of this new franchise, and at first might seem like a poor fit for the discrete, turn-based actions in the game, but it also allows for more cinematic moments without which the “Lara Croft” moniker might feel superfluous. The puzzles are generally well-designed and satisfying, if not extremely difficult, but there are surprisingly few of them. “Always leave them wanting more” may be good advice, it’s entirely possible to take that advice too far.

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A Song for Galactic Keep

"Schematic" means "utterly devoid of artistic merit". In case that wasn't clear.

My maps for D&D were rather more… schematic.

I always preferred folders in school. Three-ring binders seemed needlessly baroque, loud, and treacherous (I must have been pinched by one once, and have ever after been prejudiced against the entire race, like my grandfather who would never buy a Japanese car after being wounded on Guadalcanal). But there was one product I was ashamed to find utterly alluring: the Trapper Keeper.

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Review: Loot & Legends

Man refused to wear socks with his leather shoes. How do you not understand the causal relationship there?

I had a roommate in college who played this card constantly.

When Card Hunter debuted on PC to rave reviews, I deployed the wisdom of experience and waited to get into it until the likely iPad release. I can’t claim to have been burned by a gem as radiant as FTL, but the iPad app is dramatically preferable to me. With a game as respectful of pen-and-paper RPGs as Card Hunter, I feared the abandonment of my characters and their hard-earned +1 Swords of Microtransacting. The name of its iPad counterpart, “Loot & Legends”, only helps reinforce that decision, with the game’s distinctive take on loot sitting right up front, like a big-haired nuisance at a theater. Only, in this case, the loot mechanic is so welcome one has to imagine that one has been forced to attend the opera to make the metaphor work. Also that the big hair blocks sound completely and somehow manages to play For a Few Dollars More on the back of it.

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Review: Kindo

Well do I remember playing ‘one more game’ of magic in college. We often went out for breakfast by the end.

Kindo offers alternate color schemes. This one could be called the “Don’t keep your spouse awake with bright lights as you play ‘one more game’ until 1am.”

Sometimes I see someone execute a solution so perfectly that I am gulled into thinking it simple, like Pelé scoring with a bicycle kick. Only after a few painful falls onto my head or back do I come to realize how much skill went into that shot, and how many ways it could have gone wrong. Other times, I see a solution and consider ways to improve upon it, and realizing why each of those would fail makes the original solution seem ever more impressive. Kindo is a strategy game as at home on the iPhone as the iPad, and executes that so well that it illuminates how hard it is.

It’s easy to think about the limitations of a small screen, but consider also that people don’t want to pay much for games, which largely rules out a substantial art budget. A minimalist aesthetic helps address both issues, keeping the interface from feeling crowded with detail. Phones (or perhaps their users) also aren’t well-suited to long rules explanations, so the rules must be as simple as possible–chess would never have made it as an iPhone game. Finally, the game has to suit distracted players in play sessions of highly variable duration, often very brief ones indeed. There are several elements of Kindo which suit it extremely well to this situation, but the one which tells us most about the game is this: positive feedback.

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