Android Reviews

Review: Caverns of the Snow Witch

You're as cold as ice, willing to sacrifice... full stop.

You’re as cold as ice, willing to sacrifice… full stop.

Many gamebooks and interactive fictions encourage guesswork. In the best of the former, that guesswork feels more like sleuthing, with the narrative jumping in like a good improv partner to back up whatever arbitrary choices you make—a shrug and a click on your part might become “you recall that bane of ivy-wort has restorative properties, you clever so-and-so.” In the best of the latter a guess—even a wrong guess—has rewards outside the dubious pleasures of winning the fiction, especially if the story’s been designed to weather mistakes on the player’s part and has “game over” scenes written with the same care as the rest of the work.

Caverns of the Snow Witch is tricky, then. This latest digital adaptation from Tin Man Games is a game of chance primarily, like most of the Fighting Fantasy line, and yet it’s also a story of chance, one where coincidence and the time-tested tactic of “grab everything that’s not nailed down” take center stage.

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Review: Battle Worlds: Kronos

Gary Grigsby’s Battle of Endor

Gary Grigsby’s Battle of Endor

Given that the original PC edition of Battle Isle successor, Battle Worlds: Kronos, hit shelves almost exactly a year ago, there’s all sorts of wry witticisms to make about the notion of time. Instead of plucking the singular overripe fruit, let us celebrate another decent strategy game hitting tablets, albeit one that throws a tread here and there.

I’m a sucker for the Battle Isle series. Blue Byte’s brand of clean and clear warmongering always sat well on the palate, proffering succinct strategy that erred more towards an Intelligent Systems date than a fiery SSI tryst. KING Art Games heeded the call in a post-Andosian War clime by successfully kickstarting Battle Worlds: Kronos in early 2013 and releasing it the following November to decent critical reception. Battle Isle isn’t a strategy franchise that sets the planet ablaze, but Nectaris children were pleased to have a tidy little sci-fi hex-based reboot to muck about in. And now, the love has spread.

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Review: Nexionode

Sometimes, the lack of haptic feedback is a blessing.

It’s like playing Cat’s Cradle with electricity.

Some apocalypses leave the surface of the earth in desperate straits, with humanity struggling to survive. Mad Max, Fallout, A Canticle for Liebowitz–there are lots of post-apocalyptic settings in which interesting things can still happen on Earth. Heck, Marvel apparently already has post-Ragnarok plans. Nexionode is set at the end of the other kind of apocalypse; the kind that puts one in mind of the classic exploration of how to utterly destroy the earth. When something’s coming which won’t even leave the cradle of humanity a plausible place to recolonize, the tragically unforgiving allure of space becomes irresistible. Unfortunately, you’ve departed on your extrasolar Oregon Trail in quite the hurry, without the equivalent of a spare wheel or axle. Your job now is to Macguyver your way around the complications of flying humanity’s last hope before it’s entirely finished being built.

Darkly humorous setting aside, what we’re really talking about here is a simple puzzle game; in some of the loosest theming this side of the Tetris movie, there’s nothing an interstellar handyman can face which isn’t fixed by drawing lines between dots. These are the titular acid reflux-suffering nodes, each of which sports a number of hashes equal to the number of links it must have. Fortunately, simple concepts can work well for puzzle games, and Nexionode gradually adds obstacles, severe time limits, and motion, all of which add difficulty without additional rules overhead. Continue reading…

Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Tempest having a good day

Tempest having a good day

Prior to 2011 there were almost no games in the hobby market with a superhero theme. The only two I can remember were 2007’s Heroscape Marvel and 2006’s Marvel Heroes. While successful at the time, Hasbro eventually killed Heroscape and Marvel Heroes was never reprinted. After 2011, however, superheroes are nearly as ubiquitous in board games as they are on TV or at the cinema. Games like Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (that’s an actual title), the DC Comics Deck-Building Game (seriously, guys?), and the fashionable latecomer, Marvel Dice Masters (it has dice!). So, what happened in 2011 to ignite this boom? Sentinels of the Multiverse happened.

The problem with trying to create a superhero-themed board game starts with superheroes doing the impossible. The impossible is a hard fit for a board game’s strict ruleset. It works in superhero RPGs because a game master can adjudicate and find ways to keep the story moving forward regardless of what a PC hero (or villain) can dish out. A board game is tighter and lacks that flexibility. Sentinels overcomes this by putting the hero powers on cards and giving each hero and villain their own deck, thus making everybody play by their own set of rules. You can now have heroes with super speed or flight both work in the same game universe. Super strength or a tech-based hero? Yep, both work. It didn’t hurt that they made the game cooperative, too, so when the draws aren’t going your way and you feel a bit nerfed, at least everyone wins or loses together in the end.

Sentinels of the Multiverse was the first superhero game to become a phenomenon, spawning (to date) 4 full expansions and too many promo and alternate cards to count. Now, Sentinels has made its way to our tablets and has turned a good tabletop game into a great digital one.

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Review: Russian Front

"If you're the owner of a grey Kubelwagen parked in Lot B -- you left your lights on."

“If you’re the owner of a grey Kubelwagen parked in Lot B — you left your lights on.”

From the distant vista of the casual fan, WWII wargames might all look more or less the same: you push around some tanks, you compel some infantrymen to butt helmeted heads; somebody wins and writes the history books, someone loses and then reloads a save.

And to be sure, there’s some truth to that. Much like basketball and baseball might look fundamentally similar to uncontacted Amazonian tribesmen made to watch SportsCenter, a lot of the differences between super high-level operational wargames like Drive on Moscow and intimate tactical affairs like Battle Academy can be cosmetic and presentational. But as Michael Jordan reminded us in 1994, you can be pretty damn good at one kind of ballgame and rubbish at another. Those little differences might be important.

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Review: Anomaly Defenders

The only good human is a dead human, that's what I always say. Wait...

The only good human is a dead human, that’s what I always say. Wait…

Previous installments in the Anomaly series reversed typical tower defense conventions by casting players as the attacking troops, commanding the units that crawl down tower-guarded paths. Anomaly Defenders makes an unexpected decision to shed what made the series unique, and returns to the genre’s roots by putting you back in charge of the towers.

It’s unusual for a game franchise to invert it’s most unique feature. Imagine Gran Turismo turning into a track design game, or Tiger Woods Golf becoming a pro shop simulator. Actually, those both sound a lot more intriguing than what Anomaly has become, which is a bog standard tower defense game — albeit a very pretty and competently designed one.

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Review: Strategy Rome in Flames

Rome, Rome on the Range.

Rome, Rome on the Range.

Rexopax Software might not win any awards for flashiness with this awkwardly-titled turn-based barbarian simulator, but like a similarly subtle Legion of the Damned, Strategy Rome In Flames has it where it counts. Marching straight past the easy option of making it a game of Roman conquest, players can choose to lead either the Visigoths or the Anglo-saxons in their own discrete campaigns. Sacking villas, routing and slaying the retracting fringes of an expiring giant, Strategy Rome in Flames has a proud and unashamed cologne of beer and pretzels, never placing undue complication over quick, snappy combat.

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Review: Star Realms

The final frontier

The final frontier

Deckbuilding has long been the one board game mechanic that never quite lived up to its promise. It was born from the out-of-game experience every Magic player had of building a killer deck but, in practice, never really felt like that. Instead, games like Dominion and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer use deckbuilding as a means to create a euro-style victory-point generating engine. Compare the feeling you get when your newly crafted Paladin deck in Hearthstone wipes out some poor hunter in ranked play versus the lack of a rush you get as you use a newly crafted Dominion deck to purchase another province. Somehow deckbuilding, an activity closely associated with the most Ameritrashy of genres, had been turned into a euro-styled efficiency engine.

Star Realms changes that. Here is a deckbuilder that actually feels like you’re building a weapon to smash someone in the face with. It feels like Hearthstone, only the deckbuilding takes place while you’re playing instead of outside the game. It’s incredibly simple, and yet layered enough that you can build satisfying combos that are guaranteed to make you grin as you put them together in your hand.

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