iOS Reviews

Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Tempest having a good day

Tempest having a good day

Prior to 2011 there were almost no games in the hobby market with a superhero theme. The only two I can remember were 2007’s Heroscape Marvel and 2006’s Marvel Heroes. While successful at the time, Hasbro eventually killed Heroscape and Marvel Heroes was never reprinted. After 2011, however, superheroes are nearly as ubiquitous in board games as they are on TV or at the cinema. Games like Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (that’s an actual title), the DC Comics Deck-Building Game (seriously, guys?), and the fashionable latecomer, Marvel Dice Masters (it has dice!). So, what happened in 2011 to ignite this boom? Sentinels of the Multiverse happened.

The problem with trying to create a superhero-themed board game starts with superheroes doing the impossible. The impossible is a hard fit for a board game’s strict ruleset. It works in superhero RPGs because a game master can adjudicate and find ways to keep the story moving forward regardless of what a PC hero (or villain) can dish out. A board game is tighter and lacks that flexibility. Sentinels overcomes this by putting the hero powers on cards and giving each hero and villain their own deck, thus making everybody play by their own set of rules. You can now have heroes with super speed or flight both work in the same game universe. Super strength or a tech-based hero? Yep, both work. It didn’t hurt that they made the game cooperative, too, so when the draws aren’t going your way and you feel a bit nerfed, at least everyone wins or loses together in the end.

Sentinels of the Multiverse was the first superhero game to become a phenomenon, spawning (to date) 4 full expansions and too many promo and alternate cards to count. Now, Sentinels has made its way to our tablets and has turned a good tabletop game into a great digital one.

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Review: Russian Front

"If you're the owner of a grey Kubelwagen parked in Lot B -- you left your lights on."

“If you’re the owner of a grey Kubelwagen parked in Lot B — you left your lights on.”

From the distant vista of the casual fan, WWII wargames might all look more or less the same: you push around some tanks, you compel some infantrymen to butt helmeted heads; somebody wins and writes the history books, someone loses and then reloads a save.

And to be sure, there’s some truth to that. Much like basketball and baseball might look fundamentally similar to uncontacted Amazonian tribesmen made to watch SportsCenter, a lot of the differences between super high-level operational wargames like Drive on Moscow and intimate tactical affairs like Battle Academy can be cosmetic and presentational. But as Michael Jordan reminded us in 1994, you can be pretty damn good at one kind of ballgame and rubbish at another. Those little differences might be important.

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Review: RGB Express

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Would it be in bad taste to make puns during the funeral? Because I would have a hard time resisting "Today, we are all blue."

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…

Review: Banner Saga

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“Wine, boar and an approved arborist, if ye please.”

“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.

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Review: Card Dungeon

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"I love you man." *hic*

“I love you man.” *hic*

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.

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Review: Anomaly Defenders

The only good human is a dead human, that's what I always say. Wait...

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.

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Review: Starbase Annex

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Dr. Evil is sort of Darth-Vaderish in that scene, isn't he?

“Get away from me, you lazy-eyed psycho!”

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.

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Review: Strategy Rome in Flames

Rome, Rome on the Range.

Rome, Rome on the Range.

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.

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