Review: For the Win

By Kelsey Rinella 21 Dec 2012 0
The ninja can be anywhere. That's actually their power. The ninja can be anywhere. That's actually their power.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a cartoony game entitled "For the Win" involving fighting among aliens, monkeys, pirates, ninja, and zombies was a silly, casual game. The rules are simple enough that it can be enjoyed by children and bosses, and so it's possible to play it as one. The presence of five AI strategies in three difficulty levels offers a clue that this is not merely the shallow frivolity the slightly ironic theme might suggest. In fact, it's a conversion of a board game which is rather well-regarded among the boardgaming hardcore and was produced by Kickstarter alumnus Tasty Minstrel Games. Like the better-known Hive, FTW is an approachable yet deep abstract game.

For the Win's presentation is pleasingly clear and direct, with a brief tutorial and easy access to help at any time. The default music serves as a helpful reminder to turn off the sound, but otherwise its aesthetic choices promote clarity of thought about the sometimes difficult choices offered by the game. The persistence of completed games in the list of options to "Resume" struck me as a surprise, so the interface isn't quite perfect, but it's very functional. The only big issue with the translation to iOS is the lack of internet-based multiplayer. It does have pass-and-play, and the quality of the AIs means it's possible to get a good game even if you don't have a local human opponent, but for a feature which is fast becoming standard, it is a surprising omission.

A rare win against one of the hard AIs. A rare win against one of the hard AIs.

I found the hard AIs quite difficult, about which I am slightly ambivalent. If they presented only a moderate challenge, I could happily play the game without much thought, but would find this unsatisfying. However, I feel as though I'm wasting time playing against anything less than the hardest AI I can handle, and FTW loses its innocent charm when played at the limit of my ability. The problem is that FTW, though in many ways similar to Hive, has a much wider possibility space. Unlike many abstract games, it does allow players to generate useful heuristics which make it easier to grapple with, but I find playing the game an exhausting exercise in looking several moves ahead. Happily, many players enjoy this chess-like exploration of decision trees, so my tastes need not be taken to indicate a fundamental flaw.

One possible use for which FTW may be very well-suited is introducing a causal gamer to something with more depth. Once a player has a bit of experience, the game is a fine teaching tool for problem-solving and tactical thinking. It's easy enough to realize that putting a monkey near as many opposing tiles as possible can be a good move, but it's less obvious that having your aliens near one another reduces your flexibility, and less obvious still that putting a pirate where it can blast your opponent's alien can help you put them in that position. There are all kinds of examples like this of tactical considerations which are concrete enough to explain even to a child, but which help reveal the underlying strategy of the game.


3 out of 5


• iPhone edition: For the Win, $0.99



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