Posts by: Kelsey Rinella

Review: Yomi

I'm not proud of liking Argagarg. He's the sort of annoying character who always blocks, except exactly when you try to throw him.

In my head, K.O. always occurs in the voice of the announcer from Tekken, which is badly synced to Bruce Lee’s lips.

Yomi is a mobile game which simulates a card game which simulates a (non-existent) fighting game from designer Dave Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike universe. With the dexterity element stripped away, fighting games generally come down to snap predictions about the choices your opponent will make; it’s always possible to counter their choices if you guess correctly (which is why they’re often compared to rock-paper-scissors). Sirlin has popularized the term “yomi” among English-speaking audiences as a way of describing the reading of the opponent necessary to play such games well. This same skill is at the heart of games with simultaneous action selection, recently seen in Frozen Synapse, so the card game involves choosing your card at the same time as your opponent. There’s a fair amount of bookkeeping involved in the many ways the game embroiders this simple mechanic, though, and having the computer take care of all of that is one of the two great blessings of this version, the other being the availability of opponents, even on other platforms.

Sirlin is a polarizing designer. Like Keith Burgun, he has unusually strong and well-articulated views about the qualities of games he enjoys. Some regard his games as borrowing overly heavily from others, while others see him as possessing an ability to fix the serious problems with existing games and produce a far more refined, more rigorously playtested experience with a dramatically different character. While not dismissing any of these as irrelevant, our focus here will remain Yomi.

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Review: Da Vinci’s Art of War

Rolling a cross means losing a unit during its own attack and, frequently, taking in vain the name of He whose symbol it is.

Rolling a cross means losing a unit during its own attack and, frequently, taking in vain the name of He whose symbol it is.

As foretold by the sage, Slitherine have released the Mixel-developed, rebalanced conversion of the board game Magnifico under the new title Da Vinci’s Art of War (henceforth DVAoW). It’s a simple wargame, not terribly dissimilar to Risk, but with some Eurogame elements blended in–auctions, victory points, peaceful paths to victory–which dramatically affect the flow. Also, in a whimsical touch first introduced to me by the sadly underrated Hudson Hawk, Leonardo Da Vinci’s speculative sketches are converted into working prototypes, so you can pursue your renaissance war the way a true renaissance man should: with tanks, planes, and robots backing up the dudes with pole arms.

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Review: Card Wars – Adventure Time

Watchu wanna do? I wanna floop.

When playing against a human heart, you’d think “volcano” would be a trump suit.

When searching for evocative ways to describe Card Wars: Adventure Time, I found myself reaching for metaphors to cancer, locusts, Magic: the Gathering, and venereal disease. I only have personal experience with one of these things, though [liar. --ed] , so I’ll just say that there’s a decent game with some amusing Adventure-Timey bits which has been terribly burdened by the least appealing elements of both collectible card games and the freemium plague.

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Review: UHR Warlords

Rainbows and unicorns are apparently not metal.

Giants are really good at swinging a mighty hammer, and not much else.

UHR Warlords addresses the question of what happens when you take a pretty good tactical battle game for two players and add heavy metal. The metal comes in the form of artistic input and music from Demonaz, a Norwegian musician of some renown, and a brilliant fit for the dark fantasy setting. Turns out, the answer to that question is: a pretty good tactical battle game.

I’ve always been sort of baffled by metal. It’s like the Hell Pavilion at Epcot Center; so defined by contrast with the comforting embrace of bourgeois conformity that it takes an oddly similar shape in reverse. However, it doesn’t detract from the game, even for a player with as superficial an understanding of metal as my own.

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Review: Enigmo: Explore

I blame the incipient water damage in my house on the poor training I've now received.

Bounce the drops off some floating springs, then slide them down a metal plate, then maybe call a plumber?

Enigmo: Explore is the third in a series of physics-based puzzlers (a genre for which we need a better name, and don’t suggest PBPs, I already thought of that and it’s so clunky even I won’t use it), though it’s my first in the series. The central element of the game is a dripping faucet — the bane of insomniacs. Redirecting the flow of those drips into a bottle, using only the tools provided and within the time allowed, delivers the sort of neurotransmitter payload which leaves you starting a new level before you’ve even consciously entertained the possibility of stopping.

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Review: Qwirkle

That may just be the disappointment of my parents bouncing around in my head.

The game nicely highlights all of the legal places you can put a tile. If you approach one of the worse moves, it sighs.

Perhaps you’ve never thought about it like this, but Scrabble is partly a trivia game. If, for example, you happen to know that “qi” is an alternate spelling of “chi” (which the Scrabble Dictionary recognises), then valuable moves open up for you, and the game takes on a different tactical bent.

The fundamental insight behind Susan McKinley Ross’s Qwirkle is that Scrabble actually has a pretty interesting game underneath the linguistic knowledge and anagram-crunching ability. In setting that game free, the design becomes approachable by a far wider array of groups of players. This accessibility has paid off, with a Spiel des Jahres (think boardgaming Oscar) win and rapid mass market adoption, and now a handsome iOS translation.

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Review: Kahuna

Apparently a portmanteau of "Medicine" and "ricin". I'm guessing he doesn't do so well on ratemydoctor.com.

If you’re going to paste a theme onto your game, you could do worse than a tropical Pacific archipelago.

Kahuna was a well-received 1998 Günter Cornett board game with about the loveliest, gentlest theme available: building bridges between tropical islands. You could almost get a tan just from playing the game, and the rules are simple enough for a child to grasp.

Of course, after a couple of games you discover that it’s a ruthless exercise in luring your opponent into a position from which you can destroy her bridges and steal control of her islands. There’s trouble in this paradise, and that’s good.

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Review: Death off the Cuff

The parallels to Austin Powers are plentiful.

The parallels to Austin Powers are plentiful.

Death Off the Cuff has a delightful setting: the climactic scene from so many mysteries, with the suspects gathered around the triumphant detective, but with the brilliant inspector clueless about the case. The interface is fundamentally similar to old text adventures like Zork: you can enter a noun to examine or talk about it, or a simple command like “Melt wizard”.

While I never played those old text adventures, I hold a Masters of Science in Philosophy, so I regard myself as something of an expert on hokum. Heck, some of you probably believe I’ve played the games I’ve reviewed! So it is with some authority that I claim that the ability to raise seemingly irrelevant issues is vital to surprising one’s listeners and circumventing their critical faculties. As a result, the programming challenge of developing an artificial interpreter able to handle a plausible player-driven flimflam story is fascinating. Unfortunately, the game’s interpreter is not nearly as clever as its charming text.

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