I wrote recently that I think the distinctive art of game design resides in tailoring the elements of the game itself (mechanics, art, etc.) to create the experiences of players. Blizzard has created a particular experience to which I connected very deeply, and it illustrates that idea well. When I play Overwatch, I play a lot of Reinhardt, a character who carries a massive hammer and can generate a wide shield. One reason, I confess, is because I’m so bad at aiming in fast-paced games that a meleé-focused character helps avoid a weakness so exaggerated that one wonders whether I must reach superheroic heights in other areas [He doesn’t. -ed.]. But the other is that his shield evokes for me a particular ideal of fatherhood. I don’t much go in for tradition, or belonging, or the comforts of occupying clearly-identified roles, so the power of this one over me earned some attention.
Tabletop • Fantasy Flight, the Angel Cordero* successfully flogging that Star Wars license to win after win, have announced that their immensely popular X-Wing line of prepainted tabletop miniatures will be getting a new edition. Lest my fellow players of the existing game crack their screens in frustration, all existing ships will be supported with a conversion kit, so those of us who’ve sunk hundreds of dollars into the first edition won’t be left behind by organized play and new releases. Naturally, we can always play the edition we have, but that’s still a comfort. There’s a (by X-Wing standards) modest cost to upgrade, and it looks like small ships are headed for a price hike, but the goals announced seem pretty desirable, so it’s more defensible than some routes to our wallets. It sounds like they’re aiming to make the game substantially more responsive to balance problems while making it easier to build ship lists, avoid having to buy everything, offer a greater variety of play styles, and tweak some of the decisions they now regard as limiting both their design space and ability to accurately represent the world of Star Wars. But none of that’s what caught my eye.
Steam • In which the author addresses the greatest philosophical problems in gaming I tried to do a brief look at Silicon Zeroes, the easy chair of the programming game mini-genre, but, like Proust’s madeleine biscuit*, a single level touched off a bunch of related thoughts I needed to address. But SZ deserves at least a brief overview: if you’re familiar with Human Resource Machine or TIS-100P, you’ve seen the basic idea before: simple programming tasks are basically just puzzles, anyway, so folks have started turning them into puzzle games. SZ does so more comfortably than most, with an easily-grasped interface and helpful features like the ability to bundle a code segment into a reusable chunk. But it also includes the level in question: a problem in which you’re briefly denied access to one of the functions you’ve been using (subtraction), and have to build something to accomplish the same goal. Months later, I think I have an idea of how to understand the intellectual product which makes games distinct from other art forms, and which tracks my intuitions about intellectual property. Though you might have different intuitions, we’ll at least be able to disagree more specifically.
Tabletop • I recently got an itch to play Sails of Glory, a game which wonderfully illustrates the joys which games, especially historical games, offer outside of the game itself. Sails of Glory puts each player in charge of one or two warships from the age of sail (late 1700s/early 1800s). Turns out, there are an embarrassing array of ways to commit to it, and it was with an eye toward justifying myself that I thought of writing an article on the topic.
[Right around New Year’s, I’d asked all the writers to pen something about games they’re looking forward to in 2018. I had assumed one or two from everyone, which would lead to a single article with everyone’s picks and that would be it. Instead, each writer sent me a bevy of games making me realize that one article probably wouldn’t cut it. Hey, I love 4000 word articles as much as the next guy, but it’s easy for games to get lost in something that vast. So, I decided to split it all up and give each member of the Stately Staff their own day to shine. Today, Kelsey. -ed.]
I mistakenly thought I might be able to tempt my daughter into a game of One Deck Dungeon. An all-female cast in a relatively simple and quick dungeon crawl seemed like it might be the key which unlocked the gamer she could become. It didn’t happen, but I can make lemonade: I now happen to own a copy of the tabletop version of a game with a much-watched (including by us) digital kickstarter campaign. So this isn’t a review of the game as a tabletop experience, but specifically a look at its fitness for digital translation.
iPad, PC/Mac • Subsurface Circular exists primarily because of a willingness to experiment during a lull in the developer’s schedule, but it also seems to suit the needs of a maturing game-playing public. While its gameplay is aptly described as “text adventure”, the game deserves credit for establishing an atmosphere and an aesthetic using high-quality audio and visuals. This is possible in such a short window largely because it’s a single-room mystery: the game is played entirely on a train for robots, with the player taking the role of a robot detective smart enough that humans have rendered it unable to leave the train as a precaution.
Switch • I like to imagine that Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was pitched by the most dependable, sober person at Ubisoft. You may have heard that it’s mostly XCOM, but with much less uncertainty and with some light puzzling elements replacing base management. Add a manic, child-friendly theme and remove permadeath, and that’s pretty accurate, which makes me think that pitch involved a virtuoso in the projection of normalcy. The characters are pre-made (so I can’t do what I’ve long done with XCOM and learn my kids’ classmates names by assigning them to my soldiers*) [I, on the other hand, change all my soldiers to British redheads named Amy Pond. It’s a bit weird. -ed.] but they have distinct skills trees which allow them to specialize in quite varied ways. Consequently, you have a lot of freedom to build the tools you want, but the game is correspondingly free to offer rather off-the-wall challenges.
Tabletop • Arkham Horror: The Card Game gets a lot of love around these parts. It’s as flexible as a tentacle–it can be deeply thematic if you’re into that, or offer moderately involved deck-building and agonizing decisions during play for the more mechanically minded. It can be enjoyed solo (though I recommend playing two characters) or in groups of up to four, as a campaign or a one-shot. I’ve been extremely pleased with it as a solo experience playing both the original campaign and the full Dunwich Legacy cycle, and will here offer brief mini-reviews of each expansion in that cycle. While I’ll avoid spoiling anything beyond the initial setup in each, even the basic premise of some of the expansions gives information about the plot, so beware.
iOS, Android • Dave has given me the impression that HexWar are the Lucy van Pelt to our Charlie Brown, repeatedly advertising wonderful games and delivering troubled ones once we get our hopes up. I assume that, once the running gag had been established, the challenge for Charles Schultz was to find a way to create interest in a joke with a predictable ending. With Lightning: D-Day, HexWar did it by translating to app from a well-regarded, unusually simple WWII card game famous for its poorly-written rules. I had hoped that the combination of a lower degree of difficulty than their ambitious past games mixed with an easily addressed problem in the cardboard version made this a superb candidate for an unqualified HexWar success. Then again, we all know how this joke ends.