Given the enormous and enduring popularity of James Vaughan’s Plague Inc, it won’t surprise you to learn that I get a lot of pitches for clones of his cataclysmic infectious disease simulator. Up until today, they’ve always been half-hearted clones that weren’t worth talking about, but Frontier Worlds: Origins is the first game I’ve seen that makes some meaningful enhancements to the Plague Inc formula, and it does it by adding more infections that you’re trying to out-compete with yours.
Plague Inc is a horrifying zen rock garden of a game. Your goal is to make a disease that wipes out mankind, but it’s not as violent as this sounds. Most of the time you’re just watching it happen, waiting for another million people or two to succumb to your virus and fill your DNA point coffers so you can afford to enhance your bug with a new symptom. Frontier Worlds is similarly a mostly hands-off affair, but it has a big sci-fi twist.
Frontier Worlds is set in the far future where corporations are jostling to be the first to colonise newly-discovered exo-planets. This is a gung-ho capitalist future, so that colonising isn’t being done with unreliable robots or expensive humans; the pioneers of tomorrow are hardy, adaptable microorganisms.
Your bug starts on the world map with microbes from several other companies. As in Plague, you get periodic subsidies of DNA points that you can use to adapt your nano-settlers: make them photosynthetic on sunny planets, or more ferocious in direct competition with other bugs. Once a game really gets going it starts to look like Conway’s Game of Life, but in this case you have the ability to stick your finger in the petri dish and nudge the results.
I doubt Frontier Worlds is going to dethrone Plague Inc: the UI lacks feedback on what immediate effects your choices have, and the human-free sci-fi setting saps the game of emotional impact. But turning a planet into a petri dish full of weaponised bugs is a damned clever idea.
I suspect that, as it was with A Dark Room, the less said about The Ensign’s plot and circumstances, the better. Rajan “highly recommends” playing A Dark Room first, and I recommend that, too. It’s a completely unique game that’s part ascii-art adventure and part interactive fiction. With the barest minimum of graphics it manages to create a grim, unsettling atmosphere that few AAA games can match.
For veterans of A Dark Room, The Ensign is an expanded version of the first game’s A Dusty Path segment. Rajan apparently thinks you aren’t up for it. “Best of luck to whoever attempts this game,” he says in the app description. “I imagine few will succeed in completing all of it.” All right tough guy, we’ll see about that.
After rejecting the app at least three times, Apple’s mercurial gatekeepers have finally deigned to release the long-awaited Star Realms to the App Store, about a month and a half after debuting on the Android Market. If you’re just tuning in, Star Realms is a deck-building card game akin to Ascension that I loved when I previewed it in June. That resemblance to Ascension is no coincidence, as Star Realms designer Rob Dougherty also co-designed that most cherished of hobby card games.
I’ve kicked the space tires on the new iOS version and it’s an easy recommendation to make. The UI isn’t as fluid and responsive I was hoping it would be (moving cards around feels weirdly straitjacketed) but it’s well up for the job and the gameplay itself is very compelling.
If you’ve wanted to get into deck-building card games and never tried Ascension for some reason, this is a fine opportunity to give the genre a shot. Star Realms is free to download (there’s a single in-app purchase to unlock all the content) and it’s got a pretty decent tutorial — plus you can play async online matches against the hordes of PT regulars who are about to flood the online lobbies.
White Wizard Games haven’t provided any video for this one so I’ve got Drive Thru Reviews’ hands-on with the Star Realms PC beta after the jump — it’s nigh-indistinguishable from the mobile version.
UPDATE: Maybe the future’s not so bright after all? Folks on Facebook and righthere on the PT forums are reporting problems with registering Star Realms accounts and encounters with UI miscues. Looks like the long incubation period may not have been sufficient to shake out all the bugs. I’ll send a note over to White Wizard to see what their plan is.
*I’m lying. There’s no more. It’s just those three games, but that made the headline seem really sad. Truth be told, this is a pretty slow release week for proper games, but there’s three offerings I thought would be worth a second look. Trailers and chat after the break.
UPDATE: There’s a game I forgot about! 1st&Goal is a football sim board game adaptation. Details below.
Yesterday was positively turgid with game announcements that many readers (quite rightly) blew up my inbox about. All three of these games — Space Hulk Ascension, Battle Academy 2, and Below — would be entirely welcome on tablets and mobile devices, and in some cases it would be downright surprising if they weren’t coming to touchscreens.
After the break, (mostly) definitive answers about if and when to expect this trifecta on your iPad.
Pretty! But not remotely what Battle Worlds will look like on your tablet.
Back in May, Battle Worlds: Kronos devs King Art told me that the iPad and Android tablet version of their turn-based sci-fi wargame were due out just two weeks hence. Now I’m no fancy mathematician, but the chronomages at the Pocket Tactics Time Calculation and Pizza Re-heating Research College high atop Mount Hexmap inform me that BWK is now about 11 weeks late.
We can only speculate about the reasons for the big gap, but if you watch the video after the break you may find a clue. In an update from last week, King Art showed off builds of the mobile versions of Battle Worlds for the first time, revealing that the tablet editions will have entirely new graphics that have been downgraded from the PC iteration. Alas, it’s clearly not as nice to look at but King Art point out that the gameplay is entirely identical and that cross-platform multiplayer is a go.
There’s no new release date for the tablet editions, but King Art are soliciting beta testers. After the break, the first video of the iPad and Android versions of Battle Worlds: Kronos, and the Ouya version, too! I bet that seemed like a sensible use of resources in early 2013.
And in the Sunday night game this week, the Indianapolis Colts take on the Orks.
There’s still no publicly announced arrival date for Slitherine’s iPad-bound Space Marines vs Orks wargame Warhammer 40K: Armageddon, but we’re starting to see the plumes of dust in the distance. Slitherine are raising a volunteer legion of beta testers right now on their website, brave souls willing to beta-test Armageddon on PC. And undergo some organ harvesting. Only a little. I signed up.
As an entreaty to sign up, Slitherine have sent us a drop pod of new screenshots. If you look really closely at the one at the top of this post, you’ll see that the Space Marine squads are kitted out with different weapons and armour, which hints at the customisation possibilities the devs told me about when I previewed the game a couple of months ago. If this is your first time hearing about Armageddon, it’s a Slitherine-published wargame set in Warhammer 40K’s Second War for Armageddon – the first proper computer wargame set in Games Workshop’s iconic sci-fi universe in many, many years. The game will ship with a 30-scenario campaign, multiplayer, and (a real rarity for Slitherine games) a storyline.