The current vogue for turn-based high-seas naval combat games (see Pacific Fleet, Atlantic Fleet, and Naval Tactics) is a curious phenomenon that I suspect is a symptom of our collective unease with drone warfare, but I’ll save that for the day when War is Boring gives me a chance to write a column. It also might just be that battleships with 16″ diameter guns are terrifyingly cool. I’ll buy that, too.
As a rule, I prefer turn-based games with a vehement, old-timey prejudice. But I also accept that doing naval combat in neat, pre-ordered turns distorts the simulation a bit. A gruesome struggle of life and death becomes a badminton match played with high explosive shuttlecocks. The successful naval combat sim, then, is one that re-injects drama and excitement back into the proceedings.
Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let’s talk spice rates!
Star Traders 4X rounds all the requisite space-strategy bases for a game of its nomenclature; you find new systems, colonize them, strip them of natural resources and, in turn, funnel those resources into a burgeoning military-industrial complex. But, when it comes to mining the human drama which rests on the success or failure of this empire-building, the Trese Brothers’ latest isn’t as sure-footed.
Star Traders is a game where the fate of an entire system can rest on cooperation between three–often petty–groups of intergalactic merchants stranded in a remote stretch of the universe. These factions can either be an economic triumvirate fueling your conquest of the galaxy, or a perpetually warring band of toddlers who can’t be bothered to call off their trade embargoes, assassins’ contracts, and solar wars when a xenos fleet is steamrolling their holdings. To these traders, such grudges are just part of their (shockingly short-sighted) business, and to you–the overlord meant to keep all things balanced–they’re just another semi-obscured mechanic or cryptic maths modification among many, many others.
My charioteer enters a turn at ludicrous speed. The absence of a “soil oneself” button among the available orders seems like a failure of verisimilitude.
Have you ever wanted to race chariots in the Roman Empire? No? Excellent–your prudent approach to risk would do the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank proud. Owning some chariots, though, and having some other schmucks race them for you (following your input during each turn-based race), sounds a lot more exciting than farming or trading grain for pots, while still leaving your Health Savings Account intact. I find management sims of interesting pursuits highly appealing (indeed, Owen first piqued my interest in Pocket Tactics by describing Phantom Leader as “Football Manager for fighter squadrons”), and Slitherine chose a marvelously under-used setting for Qvadriga, now ported to tablets from its desktop debut.
Cool theme aside, Qvadriga (Latin for a chariot drawn by a four-horse team) offers a moderately robust management sim complemented by an innovative blend of real-time and turn-based interaction with the actual races. You can move your enterprise to various cities around the Roman Empire, racing on tracks with different levels of competition in cities which specialize in various race-relevant arts. Your chosen faction provides certain global bonuses, but purchasing better horses or chariots can also improve your resistance to damage, top speed, and so forth. The charioteers themselves also have skills which they gain through experience on the track (though they may have some when hired), but all of this complexity is limited by your current city, which offers relatively few options for new purchases. Continue reading…
I have no idea why this game is themed around bulls.
6 Takes! (also known on the tabletop as 6 Nimmt! or Category 5) sits at roughly the halfway point between Uno and Go. It’s a popular family card game which is quite easy to learn, but manages to use a single mechanic to produce recognizable maneuvers and finely-balanced decisions. Players simultaneously select numbered cards from their hand, which are then allocated, lowest first, to the row which ends in the highest lower number. Play the sixth card in a row or a lower number than any which ends an existing row, and you collect a row’s worth of cards to score. That’s all you need to define the gameplay–just score the fewest bull icons, and you win.
For those of us who live in castles and sip Glensillynameich neat, that’s not the greatest pitch in the world [hmm, quite. --ed.]. But from my vantage point, deep in the bowels of Playroom Rinella, there’s a clear attraction to games my children can easily learn but which give me enough to think about to remain completely engaging. It’s quite stimulating to be constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to fill the fifth slot in a row with the number one higher than the last card, or to replace a row so as to force some opponents’ cards onto a row with less space. It’s similarly mortifying how frequently I forget about the existence of a full row while concentrating on the other three, and toss out a card guaranteed to gain me points.
“Is this it?” Solarmax 2 doesn’t make a great first impression. It seems like a singleplayer RTS streamlined so aggressively that the game was sanded right off.
You’ll ferry pretty little colored lights (your spaceships) from planet to planet in a small solar system. If your pretty little lights stay on an unoccupied planet long enough it becomes yours, and continuously generates more pretty little lights to play with. If your pretty little lights encounter pretty little lights of another color they’ll fight, popping and flashing until one side either retreats or is obliterated.
That description may be too condescending. Let’s try again. Solarmax 2 truly is a nice-looking game. The ambient music, subtle sound effects and understated visuals make galactic war appear downright lovely. Still, it all seems awfully trite — at first. Until, eventually, you find yourself having fun in spite of yourself. There’s a nuance here that isn’t evident right away.
White enemies are high priority targets, mostly because of their offensive hairstyles.
Groundling Games are about as indie as it gets: they advertise that they met in college playing D&D, an endearing background that any nerd can respect. Together they’ve made a tabletop-replicating experience for iOS and Android called Fallen Lords. It’s a natively digital co-operative board game for 1-4 players, heavily inspired by the highly-regarded Ghost Stories. The numerous mechanical differences, including tile-laying dungeon exploration (replacing the defense of a town) and more varied opposition, give Fallen Lords a distinct identity.
While Groundling deserve credit for innovation, especially with respect to the monster abilities which often provide important tactical considerations to balance, Fallen Lords plays very much like the first game of a studio with limited resources.
The ultimate MacGyvering: Mac in the game has a copy of the game.
MacGyver makes for a solid role-model. I say this as someone who a) has never watched an episode of the series, or even a clip of the undoubtedly explosion-filled introduction, b) probably never will, and yet, c) can still describe the setup for several different installments of a one-joke serial SNL sketch that exclusively lampoons the Richard Dean Anderson vehicle (a vehicle which had aired its last episode roughly fifteen years earlier).
But I get it. Science background, thrifty, aversion to guns, calm under pressure, etc. More like that, please, and maybe a little less prime time murder-porn. MacGyver: Deadly Descent is a fittingly bloodless outing which tasks Mac with rescuing a team of researchers trapped by their own security system in an increasingly air-starved laboratory. Which is to say they’re trapped by an odd collection of somewhat familiar puzzle games. Guess you should have played more Pipe Mania, nerds! HA! Heh. Oh hell they’re turning blue…
Elementary, my dear W-wait a minute, not another ?#!!@ tile rotation!
Many years ago, prior to having played Twilight Struggle, Mr. Jack was the greatest 2-player game I’d ever played. It had everything: hidden roles, deduction, different character powers and a 30-minute play time. To top it off, it did all this with a mish-mosh of fictional and historical characters circling around that most infamous of slayers, Jack the Ripper.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jack hasn’t been released as an app, and I doubt it ever will be. Instead, released last year for Android and just recently for iOS, we get Mr. Jack’s little cousin, Mr. Jack Pocket. Mr. Jack Pocket? What is that, some watered down variant of the masterpiece that is Mr. Jack? Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Fortunately, while watered down, Mr. Jack Pocket still manages to be a fantastic hidden-role/deduction game that stands, proudly, on its own. It is, quite simply, a fantastic 2-player game.