Here’s something I never thought I would type: I played Brass this morning on my phone. Even with the rash of board games being ported to our touchscreens, Brass was one of those games that I always thought was too complicated and unforgiving to make a decent splash in a place like the App Store, yet here it is.
I first played Brass about five years ago and since then it’s become a staple with my game group. If we have four players, there’s a better than 50% chance someone will suggest we play Brass (or another Wallace gem, Tinner’s Trail). It’s a nearly perfect eurogame that doesn’t feel like a eurogame, but I’m not sure why. It has Victory Points, limited actions per turn, and a solitary dude on the cover (although, he’s not as dour as most). Those all go out the window when you’re in the middle of a game, however, and the theme–the cotton industry of northern England in the 1700’s, seriously–really comes to life. Despite the Victory Points and gaminess of the card play, this is an economic sim and you end up feeling like a tycoon or, more likely, a pauper by the end. It’s wonderful, and now it’s on my phone.
Reviews like this are difficult. Obviously, I’ve made my opinion clear on the game of Brass. Therefore, the big question comes down to, does this app let me play Brass unhindered? Do I get the same feeling on my phone that I do around the table? Is it Brass? Yes, yes, and yes.
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.
What do you mean you can’t read all the cards from here? Sigh.
If you’ve spent five minutes perusing Pocket Tactics you are likely aware of two things: I’m really into boardgames and I’m also a huge dork. Every now and then these two qualities will combine and I try my hand at creating another VASSAL module.
For those who aren’t aware, VASSAL is a toolkit that lets you create digital boardgames for online or solo play. So, when the urge hits, I will start to scan cards and chits from a board game, import them, and then program the thing up so that I can solo my way through a game for which a professional app doesn’t exist. The problem is, I’m neither an artist or a graphic designer. I have no experience with creating a usable and friendly user interface. In short, all my VASSAL modules are ugly as sin and so convoluted that I’m the only one who can figure out how to actually play the game in question.
The couple were holed up in the church. Tough, to survive this long with zed everywhere, and potentially useful people. But they had kids, three of ‘em. Three more, useless, hungry mouths to feed and look after, when we need every scrap of spare food to keep the Rifts and their guns sweet. Better to leave them here. Wisest option all around.
But no. We’ll take them in and feed them just the same. ‘Cause if you can’t stand for something, what’s the difference between us and zed?
One of the earliest reviews I penned for PT was the bluntly-titled Strategy: Rome in Flames. Strategy was indeed present, and Rome was well and truly in proverbial cinders. It was a wargame about mobility, with focus on fast skirmishing up and around the Adriatic to claim the boot for the Huns. Rexopax Software have returned with a follow-up in BattleRex: Genghis Khan, and that same emphasis on fast conquest fits well, but rides too lightly on theme and strategic layering to make a lasting mark.
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.
This is what’s known in the extermination biz as “going HAM.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, while playing Sproggiwood, there’s this refrain: I’m here to help, I’m here to help, I’m definitely, most positively, here to help. It’s strongest when I’m staring, befuddled, at the idyllic town which serves as the game’s market/quest hub/low-rent Sims analogue–a saccharine settlement which grows as the player completes levels with different characters, unlocking new villagers, decorations, and buildings (the last of which, in turn, house new playable character classes).
This refrain is weakest when I’m plowing through Sproggiwood proper, which is to say when I’m actually playing the thing, cleaving through hordes (families?) of asexually reproducing jellies with the stout Warrior, or stabbing back and forth between vampiric will o’ wisps with the Thief. I’m chaining powers into other powers, unlocking more abilities (or stronger iterations of the same) as the experience points roll in until, finally, I bring down this boss or that and see the end-stage rewards screen, which details my gold winnings and what new villager I’ve unlocked.
The villagers, as it happens, all look like one of the handful of mobs I’ve been clearing out of the surrounding wilderness and ruins. I mean, exactly. They’re not even wearing hats. So stay with me when I say that Sproggiwood is really about low-fantasy gentrification.
I’m not exactly sure how to write this review. Splendor is a card game which I’ve owned and played since it was released back in 2014. My kids love the game, as do many of the guys in my game group. I, however, do not love Splendor. In fact, I barely tolerate it. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, it just doesn’t push any of my buttons.
The app, however, is nearly perfect. Other than the lack of online play, it rivals every other digital board game out there, even what many would consider the grandfather of digital board games, Carcassonne.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been this conflicted. The previously mentioned Carcassonne is a game I’d prefer to never play again, but the app is one I would easily recommend to gamers looking for a digital fix. Splendor isn’t even the first Days of Wonder app where I’ve had this feeling. I loathe Small World with white-hot passion, and yet I cannot deny the app is a marvel. Of course, I didn’t have to write a review for either of those.
So, how to rank Splendor? Come follow along as I talk my way to the stars at the bottom of the page. I can’t promise it will make any sense, but if you’ve been reading my stuff for this long, that shouldn’t be a surprise.