Kavitha, your Skype connection is breaking up a little bit.
It’s an odd feeling, not enjoying a Sid Meier game. A rational person’s first response to disliking a Woody Allen movie or a Krispy Kreme donut or an André 3000 verse is to check himself. Games made by the man who brought us Civilization and Pirates! and Silent Service can’t be dismissed lightly either.
So lest you think I haven’t taken my own advice, I’ve run several self-diagnostics on my game evaluation sub-systems and talked to Sigmund Freud on the holodeck before writing this: Sid Meier’s Starships doesn’t quite work.
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.
Kevin Spacey turns in a surprisingly chilling performance as the voice of a grasshopper who runs a protection racket.
In 2001, Zendo turned science into a boardgame, but wrapped it in a mystical Buddhist theme. Ento, first entry into the iOS space from Omino Games, eschews the competitive element for a pure puzzle, and returns the theme to the more natural fit of science. It takes the form of a rather stilted correspondence between Charles and Alfred. Poor Alfred has to try and deduce whatever rule of taxonomy Charles has in mind by sending him collections of insects and getting back a simple thumbs up or down on whether they follow the rule. Naturally, this requires sending lots of insects, so, basically, it’s a postal worker’s misery simulator.
They’re sending me to Viet-nam. It’s this whole other country.
The Vietnam War is a unique beast. The most unpopular of wars, made immortal through popular culture. Veteran PT readers need no further preamble from this still-FNG to illustrate how Vietnam was as much as a battle of political and ideological PR as it was bush patrols and F-4 sorties against a liquid, unknowable enemy. My digital experience with the theater has been limited to the most facile of shooters, which either made me the perfect or the worst candidate for reviewing Vietnam ’65.
The average wargamer will arrive in Vietnam ’65 as a veteran of countless WWII sims and possibly the occasional Napoleonic sortie. But across the Ia Drang valley, against the buffer country of the Cambodian border, the player must wage a new kind of war. This is a fascinating tale of Kalashnikov phantoms and the military giant sent to exorcise it from the jungles of Indochina. I would be inclined to call this the new Unity of Command; being a game unafraid to welcome new and seasoned alike, with a distinct core that isn’t merely the sum of factory standard parts. Unity of Command was a game that taught imperatives of supply. Vietnam 65 is a lesson in political motivation as a resource, as well as illustrating the confounding operational logistics of the conflict. It’s not the deepest game, but I wish more wargames were this bloody daring.
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.
Just so we understand where this is going, let’s start by listing all the things that Card Crawl is not:
Deep or heavy
If you’re looking for a game that is those things, turn away. While Card Crawl puts on an RPG mask and presents itself as a dungeon-in-a-deck, it’s nothing of the sort. You’re character is merely a nameless card. You never level up. The challenges you face remain the same from game to game. What Card Crawl is, however, is a simple solitaire card game that is short, addictive, and has become my favorite new time waster.
I am waiting At the counter For the man To pour the coffee
Mad machinimist David Cage is a divisive figure. Some love his dedication to blending a decidedly ’90s television aesthetic with games, striving for fast-tracked cultural legitimacy in telling quote-unquote serious and emotional stories. Others see his efforts as mawkish, awkward attempts at story-telling profundity that bottom out in the kiddie end of the pool. But I cut my teeth on his ultra-Euro science fiction debut, Omikron: The Nomad Soul and it made me a fan. Omikron suffered from being made well before the technology could do the concepts justice. It strained against the limits of 1999’s 3D rendering technology (and an evident shoestring budget) to bring us a video game starring David Bowie that exuberantly poured in elements from multiple genres: brawling, shooting, adventure gaming, navel-gazing — it was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
So being the David Cage fan that I am, I go into Fahrenheit (sold in America as Indigo Prophecy) excited to see what the French auteur and his studio managed to do with this much better funded 2005 followup to Omikron, which was just released for iOS a couple of weeks ago.
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.