iOS Universal, Android • I’ve given up being mad about freemium games. Its akin to fighting the tide, doesn’t really have any impact, and, after all, most freemium titles aren’t games at all but psychological engines devised only to part people from their money. Occasionally, however, a freemium title releases that, deliberately or accidentally, is actually a good game and that old rage begins to brew. Stormbound is a strategy CCG developed for Kongregate by Paladin Studios in the Netherlands. It’s a vibrantly styled, unique take on the CCG with some very interesting gameplay elements. It also has a freemium pay-engine strapped to it, by Kongregate I presume, that will make you weep for what could have been a true gem. It’s not as sad as the ending of Old Yeller, but you will ponder how greed can so often overcome the desire to less egregiously monetize a very good game.
PC • Uppercut Games dropped City of Brass into Early Access last week, and after having spent a good few hours with their Arabian Nights gauntlet simulator, I’m here to give it a mighty thumbs up from the bottom of a spiked pit.
iOS, Android, Kindle • You don’t need to be Fred Allen to know that mobile Real Time Strategy games are seldom well-done. Sadly a phone or tablet doesn’t have the requisite number of easily accessible input devices to allow for standard RTS play. Not that people haven’t tried to reproduce the Command and Conquer or Starcraft experience, but the results have been less than spectacular. RTS games that have succeeded on mobile–Rymdkapsel, Autumn Dynasty, and Alien Tribe 2 come to mind–do so by either reworking the concept of an RTS or creating new control schemes to simplify what’s possible with a keyboard and mouse. While these are all good games, none manage to create the same tension that desktop RTS titles are famous for. And so, into this peculiar gaming niche comes Iron Marines from Ironhide Game Studio. Is it the grail RTS we’ve been waiting for?
Tabletop • I’ve never played a solo game quite like Nemo’s War from Victory Point Games. I went into it prepared for the usual solo/cooperative game tropes–turns divided by a “bad” phase, more fires to put out than you have hoses, a general sense of being completely screwed–but found none of those. Instead, Nemo’s War felt more like one of those open-world video games like the Elder Scrolls series. Do whatever the hell you want, when you want, and have fun doing it. There’s never that moment, as in other cooperatives, where you “beat the game”. It’s strange, yet mesmerizing.
PC/Mac/Linux • INTRODUCE Capped off 12 East Games’ Trackless some days ago. Still thinking about 12 East Games‘ Trackless today. Surely a very good sign. CONTINUE
iOS, Android, PC/Mac/Linux • Art is cheap, at least when it comes to mobile games. You know this is true because even the most crap-filled freemium abomination is filled to the bevel with the most precisely crafted artwork. Pretty pixels are the aluminum siding of mobile gaming. Consequently, a good game is often not even particularly about the visuals but about the way the developer creates a tension between the tactical options available to the player and the desired game outcome. That and timers. We must always have timers. The reason this is important is that one of the latest titles to make its way to mobile, Minos Strategos by Brett Lowey of Militia fame, is not a particularly ground-breaking game in terms of visuals and also has some surprisingly poor UI choices. Combined, these make Minos Strategos troublesome at first but are, ultimately, a slight blemish on what is a very good abstract strategy game.
Tabletop • I assume that board game publishers commission board game cover art to be evocative of the game’s theme while also creating some excitement for what lies inside that cardboard box. All publishers except PD Verlag, that is. Instead of promising a thrilling adventure, their box covers depict old white guys looking like they need to use the toilet. They broke new ground with Concordia, not only by having the cover focus on a woman instead of a man, but simply by depicting someone smiling and not looking like they’re waiting for the reaper to mercifully end it all. Today we’re looking back at one of Mac Gerdts’ better designs, Navegador, complete with a box cover depicting a sullen Henry the Navigator staring a map. Prepare thyselves for adventure!
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.
iPad • “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for any man to actually succeed at Darkest Dungeon.” — Jesus (probably)
Tabletop • Seven-plus years ago, I would have been glued to news of the Spiel des Jahres–the Oscars of gaming–researching each game, buying them if available in the US, voting in polls about which games deserved to win and more. Yes, I was one of those people that, today, I can’t stand. Still, in its heyday the list of SdJ winners contained a bevy of fantastic games: Scotland Yard, El Grande, Carcassonne, Codenames, Hanabi, and Dominion just to name a few. Today, I keep an eye on the SdJ, but most of the nominated games are simple, family-style games that just don’t excite me anymore. That was definitely the case with this year’s winner, Kingdomino, until I got a chance to actually get it on the table at Gen Con. It’s not going to knock Through the Ages or Twilight Struggle out of my top ten, but as a quick and light filler, Kingdomino hits the spot.