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.
Perhaps not the naval architecture sim you were expecting.
10000000 is notable around here for almost certainly being the fastest-paced game ever reviewed in these pages. 10000000 took elements from RPGs, match-3 puzzlers, and infinite runners and ground them up in a mortar, and then fidgetingly insisted that you snort the product through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. 10000000 was frenetic, but it was simultaneously cerebral and demanded careful planning, like a psychotic German bureaucrat.
Remarkably, You Must Build A Boat doesn’t just replicate that delicate balance of gameplay elements, it refines it all into an even more potent blend. So potent, in fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t handle a second sequel.
We generally think of grinding in an RPG as the boring part and yet, Blizzard has made billions creating games in which running around and fighting is really the only thing to do. Both World of Warcraft and Diablo center around grinding in order to become a more powerful character, usually by finding more powerful loot.
Knights of Pen and Paper 2 follows suit, although I’m not sure the developers really get what makes those other games so successful. There, grinding is a means to an end, and we put up with it because that end is mighty shiny and also bonks monsters really well. Knights of Pen and Paper 2 ditches all that fancy loot and interesting character development which leaves us with just the grinding. This shouldn’t be a secret, but grinding without a carrot dangling somewhere in front of me just isn’t very much fun.
It’s been nearly 18 months since we last traveled with the sorcerer from Analand on their quest for the stolen Crown of Kings. Back then, inkle Studios seemed to be content simply creating incredible digital gamebooks. Since then, however, they released 80 Days and what we would consider a “gamebook” became something entirely different. Gone were the linear paths, the feeling that you’re locked into a story that has a definite beginning, middle, and end. Instead, here was interactive fiction that opened up an entire world and asked you where you wanted to go.
Sorcery 3 is like that.
In fact, Sorcery 3 takes everything we thought we knew about gamebooks—including the original text that it’s based on—and turns it on its head. It’s a staggering work of interactive fiction and, combined with the original Sorcery! and Sorcery! 2, becomes an epic tale unlike anything I’ve ever played.
Isn’t this where they found Frankie Carbone in Goodfellas?
Call any particular cast of characters “interchangeable” and, for most games, you’d be speaking in the pejorative. But for Swap Heroes 2, the second action-puzzler of its name from developer Chris Savory, rolling with a foursome of interchangeable fantasy archetypes is the whole point. As the name suggests, the idea isn’t that your squad is comprised of bland nobodies who wouldn’t stand out at your average weekend LARP (let alone a week-long camp where everyone’s armored to the nines), but rather that your team adheres to one specific, rigid tactical formation, a formation which only allows for two characters to change places at any one time.
Long ago, before Sorcery! showed up, the undisputed king of digital gamebooks was Australian developer, Tin Man Games. Sure, since then companies like inkle Studios have turned digital gamebooks on their head, but Tin Man hasn’t let that get to them. They’re still routinely cranking out quality gamebooks, albeit ones that look and feel like those little paperbacks you used to read back in the 80’s.
If you’ve been paying attention, however, you’ve already realized that Tin Man doesn’t have their head in the sand. They proved they can move away from their standard format last year with Appointment with F.E.A.R., which replaced the sepia tones of their other books for a comic book look and feel. Their most drastic departure, and the one that shows that Tin Man is still a major force to be reckoned with, was just released last week: Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be. Yes, it’s Shakespeare and yes, it’s easily my favorite gamebook that Tin Man has ever done.
If you’re the kind of sophisticated lady or gentleman who peruses Pocket Tactics [I’m revising this in my bathrobe whilst watching COPS –ed.],there are two probable reasons why you recognise the name of Auro. Firstly, it springs from the mind of idiosyncratic designer Keith Burgun, maker of Empire and 100 Rogues. Secondly, it’s “that-game-with-the-thirty-stage-tutorial” [this is not a joke –ed.] where it is possible, nay–likely–that you will lose. A substantial tutorial has come to be seen, within the environment of mobile gaming, as somewhat uncouth, like showing up at a party with a lengthy list of dietary demands. A sophisticated game, the sages say, should usher the player into the game with a minimum of fuss. Thirty levels of tutorials? You might as well use the Ludovico technique, surely.
But look at Auro. Look at those gorgeous, Toriyama-esque character designs and chunky sprites. That’s not an unfriendly game is it? Auro’s tutorials are indeed, though brief, rather thorough. But it only does it because it cares, reader. Auro wants you to understand. It wants you to have a good time. It wants you to see how clever it is, and to show you how clever you are.
At first glance, XCOM: The Board Game looks like your typical high-spec Fantasy Flight board game. It’s got loads of detailed plastic tokens, a forest worth of heavy stock cardboard chits, and enough ambiguity in the rulebook to turn the forums at Board Game Geek into a particularly rowdy episode of Jerry Springer.
It’s that rulebook that makes this into something quite different from your usual Fantasy Flight Game. XCOM: TBG doesn’t actually ship with a rule book, which is why I’m talking about a cardboard game on Pocket Tactics: there’s an app.