In later levels, hitting “play” on my first draft usually meant sending two poor truck drivers into a tragic head-on collision.
Driving. You only see other delivery trucks, so it must be late, but you’re so amped that the world takes it color from a small box of crayons. Need to swing by the stash; they need red tops across town. Have to be careful not to circle around or trace the path of the fella bringing the green pills to that rich kid’s party, though–boss don’t want too much exposure in case of a stakeout somewhere. He’s getting paranoid, moving his drivers to a new city every ten jobs. Never get to learn the layout; feels like civil engineer gremlins lay out new roads every morning.
The un-themes and family-friendly attire of many puzzle games drive me to creative interpretation. RGB Express is the polar opposite of noir, a simple deliver-the-packages puzzler with a difficulty curve reminiscent of the world’s longest bunny slope. It instantly attracted my children to perch on my shoulders like a five- and six-year-old Hugin and Munin excitedly shouting what we’ll euphemistically call “wisdom”. It’s a wonderfully inviting experience, and for a long time offers only rare challenges for a disciplined mind. Eventually, though, I was tired and distracted, and chose Ascension over RGB–that was when I realized it had gotten hard. Continue reading…
“Wine, boar and an approved arborist, if ye please.”
When people invariably stop in the street and ask me for my most cherished video game, I smile earnestly and tell these affable inquisitors that it is Cryo Interactive’s Dune. The 1992 adventure-strategy hybrid was something else entirely, and while Westwood’s Dune 2 might loom longer and larger in the collective consciousness, it was Dune that taught me that even strategy games can have a heart. Twenty-odd years one, that same heartfelt mix of tactics and characterisation is echoed in The Banner Saga.
Card Dungeon is a charming drunk of a game, staggering towards brilliance one minute and then turning around and lurching at ineptitude the next. It’s carrying around a bucketload of great ideas, but it’s also occasionally being sick into that bucket.
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.
My grandmother is a Gin Rummy player, and by “player” here, I mean something rather less innocent and more ruthlessly predatory than the association with “play” might suggest. Many traditional card games have a high skill ceiling and a basic mechanism which generates interesting choices, but also have a themeless blandness and significant gameplay flaws which make developing that skill something of a chore. Rocco Bowling thought it would be pretty cool to highlight the heart of such a game by adding some tactical positioning and setting it in the same universe as his masterful and well-maintained Starbase Orion. So, instead of playing a five to take a two and three as in the classic Italian card game Scopa, you’re launching a midsize cruiser to ward off an attack on your home star system. Like tabletop gem Nexus Ops, Starbase Annex is still fairly simple, but departs from its traditional card game roots in that playing feels more like being a galactic emperor and less like being an elderly hairdesser.
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.
Yes, I’m yellow. Yes, I just lost 15 pieces of my ship to meteors. Yes, I’ll have another drink.
Vlaada Chvátil has always been a designer known for taking risks. Look no farther than his tabletop magnum opus, Through the Ages, for proof of that. Here is a civilization-building game—complete with diplomacy, leaders, and wonders—that truly felt as sprawling as any Sid Meier creation ever has, but it was accomplished with nothing but cards. No maps, no little plastic soldiers, no dice. It was a pure eurogame masterpiece and, while there have been other civilization building games, none have matched it or dared to follow his lead and try to recreate what Through the Ages did sans map.
In 2007, the follow up to Through the Ages was released and, while I’m not sure what people were expecting, I’m positive nobody was expecting Galaxy Trucker. Where Through the Ages dared you to play without analysis paralysis, Galaxy Trucker dared you to play without drinking a beer. It was a farcical romp that involved little, if any, strategy and created its fun out random, wanton destruction. It was also one of the greatest board games ever created, and it’s a testament to its uniqueness that no other game has ever come along and tried to replicate it. Galaxy Trucker is, truly, a one of a kind experience on the table.
Seven years later and Vlaada is, again, doing something unexpected. Galaxy Trucker has now arrived on our iPads. It seems an odd choice for a digital game as the bulk of the board game is played simultaneously. There are no turns in Galaxy Trucker, instead everyone is frantically building their spaceship at the same time. How would this work on a digital device? Doesn’t Vlaada and everyone else at Czech Games Edition understand we want our board games asynchronous? Where did this rash come from?
I used to share a room with a sleepwalker. It wasn’t quite like this.
If a game is also a piece of surrealist art, can its shoddy controls and weak design be treated as an intentional part of its message? “It’s a commentary on the futility of trying to control our own lives,” says the e-cigarette-puffing hipster [watch it -- ed.] in this hypothetical App Store art gallery I just invented. “You just don’t get it maaaaan.”
Back to Bed makes no such explicit excuses for its many flaws, but tries to coast on on its Daliesque aesthetic far longer than it can get away with. Once the veneer of weirdness wears thin you’ll find little but frustration beneath. There seems to be a surplus of games like this on the App Store lately, with striking visuals quickly giving way to underwhelming mechanics.