While much of my high school experience is clouded in a chemically and emotionally induced fog, there are a few school-related gems still accessible on my internal hard drive. I remember a philosophy presentation that consisted of me playing Pink Floyd’s Money on a boom box while incomprehensible gibberish from a transparency was projected over my head. It was deep, man. Another project comes to mind as well, mainly because of ROCK. It began with choosing an epic poem to dissect in order to spit out an interpretation whose only purpose, I’m sure, was as a source of comedy in the English department’s lounge. There was only one poem that I wanted to study, and that was Coleridge’s TheRime of the Ancient Mariner, not because I have a sea fetish, but because it had been covered by the greatest rock band that ever rocked, Iron Maiden. As usual, I blew off the assignment until the day it was due and, having never read the actual poem, wrote my interpretation based entirely on the Maiden track. Lucky for me, the song was close enough to the real deal that I pulled a B and no one was the wiser, including myself.
That lengthy and wandering introduction brings us to the puzzle game Magic Flute. If, by some stretch of reality, you need to write a paper about Mozart’s opera of the same name, I wouldn’t use this app as your only source of info. That is, unless the opera is about sliding floor tiles and a general feeling of ennui. If so, you’re looking at an A+.
Well it’s just been ages since we reviewed a game populated by awful racist stereotypes.
Pocket God is an iOS game released in 2009 — which makes it old news for a video game and downright methuselan by iOS gaming standards. A kind of Fisher-Price version of Populous, it was one of the app store’s first mega hits, but in spite of regular updates and spin-offs it is largely overshadowed by bigger-budget fare these days. After this long quiet period it has reappeared, in a cross-over with obscure strategy title Desert Ashes.
Pocket God vs. Desert Ashes is taking it’s cues from a game far older and more revered than either of its two licensees, and that game is Advance Wars. Game Boy classic Advance Wars is a series exclusively spoken of in wistful sighs and nostalgia-fuelled ramblings. For gamers of A Certain Age, it was their introduction to the wonderful world of moving tanks and men around a map while muttering numbers to themselves with great intensity. It mixed charm and accessibility with a solid strategic core — so naturally Nintendo has let the series lie fallow for many years. Like Kate Bush’s acolytes, this absence has seen the series fandom morph into mania, and the internet is spotted with games trying to re-create the old warhorse — Desert Ashes and its predecessor, Mecho Wars, among them. The elegant simplicity of Advance Wars has made it a hard act to follow, and the copycats always seem to lack the progenitor’s charm and craftsmanship. So is this iteration an imitation that flatters or humiliates?
What do you mean you can’t read all the cards from here? Sigh.
If you’ve spent five minutes perusing Pocket Tactics you are likely aware of two things: I’m really into boardgames and I’m also a huge dork. Every now and then these two qualities will combine and I try my hand at creating another VASSAL module.
For those who aren’t aware, VASSAL is a toolkit that lets you create digital boardgames for online or solo play. So, when the urge hits, I will start to scan cards and chits from a board game, import them, and then program the thing up so that I can solo my way through a game for which a professional app doesn’t exist. The problem is, I’m neither an artist or a graphic designer. I have no experience with creating a usable and friendly user interface. In short, all my VASSAL modules are ugly as sin and so convoluted that I’m the only one who can figure out how to actually play the game in question.
Warhammer: Arcane Magic does something that I wish more Games Workshop titles would do: get out of the 40K universe. The grim/dark future where there is only war is just dandy, but if I had my preference, I’d take spells and swords over boltguns and power fists. Unfortunately, up to this point, the only notable game in the Warhammer Fantasy realm has been Warhammer Quest which is already well past its second birthday.
Not only does Arcane Magic set itself in Games Workshop’s under-used (how often do you hear that?) Warhammer Fantasy lore, it’s also a digital board game. At first glance, it would appear that UHR Warlords makers Turbo Tape Games know how to push all my buttons, and I certainly went into the game expecting something just this side of wonderful. Initially, I wasn’t disappointed. The game is lavishly produced (by mobile standards) and combines deck-building and dice with XCOM-style squad combat. It didn’t take long, however, to determine that the combat was a repetitive slog that lacked any of the tactical or strategic choices that you’d expect to find in a board game or squad-level combat game of this ilk.
The couple were holed up in the church. Tough, to survive this long with zed everywhere, and potentially useful people. But they had kids, three of ‘em. Three more, useless, hungry mouths to feed and look after, when we need every scrap of spare food to keep the Rifts and their guns sweet. Better to leave them here. Wisest option all around.
But no. We’ll take them in and feed them just the same. ‘Cause if you can’t stand for something, what’s the difference between us and zed?
If a clue is more obscure than the puzzle spoiled, that’s okay, right?
When reviewing a game which consists of a series of obscure clues and simple cryptography challenges which gradually reveal a still-sketchy story, I owe my readers a confession: I’ve never played a Simogo game. I know! I deserve the tomatoes, but remember, it’s your own screen. So, while I love puzzle games, I don’t have the most obvious context by which to judge The Guides. I’m also not as smart as I’d like to be, so I used brute force tap-everywhere tactics on a few puzzles. In the large majority of cases, though, careful attention and informed guesswork is your path to quite satisfying solutions to The Guides’ fifty puzzles.
One of the earliest reviews I penned for PT was the bluntly-titled Strategy: Rome in Flames. Strategy was indeed present, and Rome was well and truly in proverbial cinders. It was a wargame about mobility, with focus on fast skirmishing up and around the Adriatic to claim the boot for the Huns. Rexopax Software have returned with a follow-up in BattleRex: Genghis Khan, and that same emphasis on fast conquest fits well, but rides too lightly on theme and strategic layering to make a lasting mark.
Lara Croft GO adapts the puzzle structure of Pocket Tactics darling Hitman GO to the Tomb Raider setting. Replacing the delightfully unexpected boardgame aesthetic of the earlier game are far more varied, visually appealing backgrounds and artful animations.
It’s a step away from what might have seemed like a defining trait of this new franchise, and at first might seem like a poor fit for the discrete, turn-based actions in the game, but it also allows for more cinematic moments without which the “Lara Croft” moniker might feel superfluous. The puzzles are generally well-designed and satisfying, if not extremely difficult, but there are surprisingly few of them. “Always leave them wanting more” may be good advice, it’s entirely possible to take that advice too far.