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.
One of the more famous episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation was called “The Inner Light” and told the story of Captain Picard living an entire life—family, kids, career—inside his head in the span of about 20 minutes.
Choice of Robots is kind of like that. You, probably, won’t end up sobbing and knowing how to play a Ressikan flute [worked for me –ed.] but you will feel as though you’ve experienced something a little greater than a 30-minute gamebook. Starting as a young graduate student and carrying well into your old age, if you live that long, Choice of Robots has a scope unlike any other gamebook I’ve ever read.
The Witcher Adventure Game is a strange mix of really bad and the really average. None of its positives will blow you away, but its negatives? Woof.
The Witcher Adventure Game is based on a board game that was released simultaneously with the digital version and, as a board game, it’s okay. It’s from designer Ignacy Trzewiczek, who’s done some brilliant designs like Imperial Settlers and Robinson Crusoe and is known for making strongly thematic, story-driven games. That’s not the case here, but the game itself isn’t terrible. It’s just a tad dull.
The app that brings the board game to us in digital format, however, is a problem. Actually, it’s littered with problems ranging from bugs, poor AI, and some inexplicable choices regarding game saves. Continue reading…
Chester’s Minelab Excalibur II blipped a corker charm bracelet.
A slog. Hard-fought, with not a single soul pencilling ‘enjoyable’ in their Moleskines. Fingers raw and clawed, eyes red and patience tested. This is one digital D-Day veteran’s account of Frontline: The Longest Day, fresh fare served up from the Slitherine kitchen. 88MM Games’ Normandy-focused turn-based strategy wargame is not a rough or broken piece of work, but given the competition in bringing World War II to the fireside for a spot of evening tabletry, does it have the juice to take Caen?
I’m starting to feel a bit spoiled. Seriously, what was the last major board game release that ended up a dud? It sure as hell isn’t BattleLore: Command, the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games, which, despite a major omission, is still a strong contender for digital board game of the year.
If you’re a fan of board games or just strategy games in general, BattleLore: Command is going to trip all your triggers.
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.