Android Reviews

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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Review: The Manhattan Project

I think I can hack together a workable prototype using the coffee roaster building from Puerto Rico.

I understand why plutonium and uranium are crucial fuels for a nuclear weapons program, but shouldn’t there be a third column for coffee?

The Manhattan Project bought tickets to the prom before asking anyone, got rejected, then went stag. That is, development on the digital adaptation of the highly-regarded tabletop game was already quite advanced by the time the Kickstarter campaign to fund it launched. Said campaign came up quite short, which left developer Domowicz Creative Group with strong feedback that polishing the app to their satisfaction was unlikely to pay off. In the face of that disappointing reality, they’ve taken pity on those fans of the game who saw the functional prototype in the pitch videos and have tidied up their existing work enough to make it available to the public, albeit in a less ambitious state than they had hoped.

If you’re familiar with Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep, you’ve seen the worker placement mechanic at the core of this game. It’s been a hot mechanic in modern boardgame design for a few years, in part because forcing players to compete for jobs produces subtle but constant player interaction while allowing conflict-averse players to focus on building their own engines of points.

The Manhattan Project innovates on this model substantially. This isn’t the bucolic live-and-let-live world of Agricola; as befits the theme of a high-stakes race to build nuclear weapons, you can deliver your opponents’ nuclear programs a fiery setback with bomber airstrikes, or steal their secrets with spies. You also have a level of control over the allocation of your workers which would make Oppenheimer (or Sammereza Sulphontis) envious. What you don’t have, sadly, is a polished app.

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Review: Blood Bowl

Of course, given the breadth of sexual euphemism, it would be hard to rule out anything.

“Touchdown” sounds a bit like a sexual euphemism, which explains the sporran. Also, the New York Jets.

It is widely agreed that the 1980s were a very strange decade. Neon legwarmers, obviously, but also Games Workshop and its hobby games casting a shadow greater than any other between TSR and Wizards of the Coast.

Their games were often forbidding investments of time and money, but offered both strategic depth and incomparable (if deeply silly) aesthetics once your hand-painted miniatures graced a well-laid table. Blood Bowl is the silliest of the lot: not only does it incorporate the exaggerated character design and overwrought world of Warhammer, it’s fantasy football the way many readers of Pocket Tactics will have imagined it when they heard the phrase. Sure, daytime sporting events between vampires and halflings don’t make any sense, but if you’re worried about plausibility in your Games Workshop games, I invite you to figure out Chainsaw Warrior.

The sport Blood Bowl simulates is actually quite light on rules–there are no downs or field goals or eligible receivers, and all manner of ultra-violence is perfectly legal so long as you don’t stomp on a prone opponent in a deliberate attempt to put them out of the game. Even then, officials aren’t that attentive and possess a FIFA-like open-mindedness about bribery.

Blood Bowl’s rules are poorly presented and have a few too many complex embellishments with too little return. In addition, there are roughly a hundred different skills with special rules and additional rules governing campaigns and skill development. While it’s wonderful to have the enforcement of these rules taken off your hands so you can focus on the intriguing strategic game underneath, Cyanide Studio’s iOS version is an awful tutor and you end up forced to do a great deal of tedious record-keeping, anyway.

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Review: Battle Fleet 2

Fernando hears the guns.

Fernando hears the guns.

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.

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