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.
Please welcome new reviewer Alex Connolly, a Nippon-based writer and illustrator who is condemned to the PT writers’ dungeon for sins committed in a(t least one) past life. Follow Alex on Twitter and peruse his excellent blog — after you’ve read this review, of course. –Owen
The Rapture — the celestial event that spirits away the worthy before Beezlebub clambers out of a sewer. Morbid curiosity makes me somewhat intrigued by Christian eschatology. If Chris Carter’s Millennium was right, evil encroaches on the periphery of everything.
Or at least tedium. Tedium creeps like bathroom mould. And that’s where I found myself with Rapture: World Conquest. Sitting on a stool next to the tiles with vinegar, scrubbing idly while the comets fell.
This puzzle was more fun when I was matching swords.
My first thought, upon hearing the pitch for Matchstick Memories, was that it had great potential to remedy a serious problem with classic interactive fiction: as I read most IF games, I’m basically playing Spock (Leonard Nimoy style, not the new-fangled, emotional Zachary Quinto version). I might have some investment in the story, but I always have as much time as I like to rationally evaluate my options. Even worse, the authors know this, so they have to write their choices so as not to make the better option so obvious that the distinctive freedom the book offers effectively disappears. So, not only do I feel like that bizarre abstraction, Economic Model Man, but the story also ends up feeling contrived for maximum uncertainty.
Matchstick Memories (henceforth MM) offers interactive fiction in which your performance on a variety of puzzles determines your choices. You’re still the ruthlessly efficient Economic Model Man, but now there’s some gameplay standing between you and your decisions. It’s well-suited to players who’ve ever imagined that successful life choices might hinge on the thousands upon thousands of hours of games you’ve played (which, as a man with a gig reviewing games for a website, I have).
I hear that train a comin’, it’s rollin’ round the bend
Tabletop publisher Crash Games is a newcomer to the digital world, and Yardmaster is their first card game port for mobile devices. It’s tough to make a good iOS board game in your first crack at the platform (Cyclades, anyone?), but we’ve seen other first-time publishers/developers make great apps. Pandemic and the upcoming Galaxy Trucker come to mind as games that feel like the products of much more experienced studios.
Yardmaster is a first-time effort and it feels like one, too. It’s definitely not a total disaster, but the app is broken in some very important ways, even now a few weeks on from release. Worse still, the Yardmaster card game itself might not have been the best choice for a digital port.
There was a time, I’m sure, early in Spymaster’s development when it was a fun game to play. I can just see the fun down there, buried underneath all the strata of free-to-play crap that’s been layered on top of it. Somewhere in the world there is probably a game reviewer or critic who has the patience to play Spymaster long enough to dust off that fun and excavate a shortcut to it.
That game reviewer is not me. I’ve spent probably three hours in Spymaster babysitting my fragile little punnet of easily-bruised peaches that this game calls WWII spies and I’ve had more than enough, thanks. Spymaster wheedles you for cash a couple of different ways, but its primary means of poking your wallet is to randomly injure your spies mid-mission. They can be healed, it won’t surprise you to learn, with real cash money.
Spymaster is ostensibly a game about espionage in Nazi-occupied Europe like Where Eagles Dare, but in practice it’s a lot closer to Goodfellas. Spymaster gives you a bunch of characters to get attached to, then holds them for ransom. Actual ransom. With real dollars. “Wow, level 3! This spy of yours is pretty great, huh?” Spymaster says in a Joe Pesci voice. “You should give us a donation, because it would be a shame if anything happened to her, am I right?” A lot of free-to-play games are crass, but Spymaster is a bully.
The Al Bundy Rule: It’s not a good sign when the rolling and tumbling starts and you just want to get it over with.
Carcassonne meets Pokemon is a hell of an awesome premise. Build a custom overworld from individual tiles, uncovering its weird and dangerous inhabitants as you do so. These creatures can be added to your squad of fighters, which will do battle with other teams to claim the resources you need to keep building. That sounds great! How could a game like that possibly not be fun?
“Yeah, I’ll show ‘em who’s buying a ‘midlife crisis car.’ I’ll show ‘em all!”
I first queued up BattleRiders at the start of what proved to be a tortuously long Labor Day weekend bus ride from my hometown in New Hampshire back to Boston. This setting–overcrowded bus, overly sanitized air, a saccharine safety video and a highway choked with fender benders and multi-car pile-ups–proved to be the perfect contrast to BattleRiders arcade-y blast em’ up racing.
If the point of a good, pure racing game is to marvel at the speed and grace of the automotive age, then the point of games like BattleRiders is to remind us that the vehicles which we rely on for commerce and entertainment can just as easily serve as either tanks or missiles. Of course, the missiles here aren’t “improvised” so much as “explicitly deadly and heat-seaking,” but the point stands.