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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The district solved their problem by privatizing school transportation: now all the complaints from irate parents go to someone else.
Suburbia is exactly the sort of board game that I dream of having converted to iOS: it’s very well-regarded among frequent boardgamers and employs several mechanics which particularly interest me, but involves rather a lot of tedious calculation which the app can take off my hands.
Bézier Games have kindly donned their shining armor and jumped astride their white charger to ride to our service. The starkly-styled borough-building game that arrives on our iPads mostly lives up to my dreams — albeit with one or two serious problems. To say the daring knight’s faithful steed threw a shoe would probably involve caring more about metaphors than is seemly in a man of my puny poetic talents.
Cold man’s shivers move sword, which cuts string, which drops mallet, which hits button, which turns on heating pad, which ISN’T UNDER COLD MAN.
Rube Goldberg attained fame for his ludicrously unnecessarily complicated mechanisms which he illustrated in his cartoons. Rube Works is another of Unity’s own games, like the recently-released Archangel, and contrasts nicely with that title to show the versatility of the engine. It’s a physics-based puzzler in which you build one of Rube’s famous devices, with the unusual property that efficiency is to be avoided.
Even that, however counterintuitive, isn’t what most sets Rube Works apart from other physics games. Rather, it’s the sense of the man and his time which pervades the app. I sometimes wonder what powerful selective pressure was introduced in the first half of the twentieth century which so rapidly reduced the frequency of bulbous noses (I can’t imagine it’s all down to rhinoplasty)–you don’t see a lot of Karl Malden faces these days. They’re everywhere in the Goldberg cartoons which served as the inspiration for these puzzles, though, along with World War II slang and the earnest, callous innocence of the period. While the game is flawed and short, it’s a surprisingly insightful cultural artifact. Continue reading…
TSC Celebes is named for the source of its famously delicious coffee.
Tactical Space Command is all about substance. You are the commander of a sci-fi space flotilla, sitting in the war room and directing the efforts of your ships from afar. Like all military hardware your console has built by the lowest bidder (it might have been ripped out of the WOPR) but the simple presentation masks a complex turn-based tactical simulation, the dynamics that arise from the handful of ship types reflect the universal laws of warfare. We at Pocket Tactics tend to pay attention to games the ideal companion to which is one of our leather-bound first editions of Sun Tzu.* Developer Lensflare Games is also a neat story, as it’s just a husband-and-wife team, and the mere existence of such developers warms the very cockles of my heart.
Unfortunately, two people will rarely have every skill needed to perfectly refine their game. We’ve had TSC for months, and only now has it become clear why the review has taken so long, with play proceeding in fits and starts, and it can be summed up in a single word: affordances.