One of my most endearing traits [right above obnoxious, yet not entirely unwarranted, levels of self-loathing and below crippling social anxiety. Just in case you’re keeping score -ed.] is the ability to instantly give up when the going gets tough. This goes for everything, but let’s put it into a gaming perspective. Factorio, Europa Universalis, RimWorld, and Kerbal Space Program. What do all these titles have in common? Steep learning curves. How do I adjust? I simply stop playing them. I’ll get back to them, eventually. Usually. Factorio, for instance, has become, quite possibly, my favorite video game of all time. I’m slowly, but surely, getting my head around the interpersonal hooha in RimWorld. EU still eludes me, but I have started to get my Paradox feet wet with some Hearts of Iron IV. Oh, and I’ve really started digging into Kerbal Space Program the past couple weeks. Why did I wait so long?
iOS, PC Since the day I picked up a Atari 2600 joystick, I’ve never played anything like DUNKYPUNG, the latest game from Missile Cards developer Nathan Meunier. That’s not to say it’s entirely unique or there’s never been another game like DUNKYPUNG, it’s just that these are the type of games I’ve always avoided like the plague. Games which serve up a difficulty that’s so severe only the inhuman can compete just have no allure (with the sole exception of Defender). Yet, for some reason, DUNKYPUNG has its claws in me and has become my time waster of choice.
iOS, Android • While my gaming desires tend to lean toward heavier fare such as Through the Ages or Twilight Struggle, there’s a warm place in my heart for simple, quick card games. Games that, while sitting at your child’s Holiday Concert and you spot another dad from your game group, can be played without dedicating all your attention, thus lowering the chances of your wife catching you sneaking turns. This is an entirely hypothetical situation, by the way. I’d never play games…who am I kidding? Lost Cities was our School Concert/Play/Sports game of choice but it has been surpassed by a little game that, until November, none of us had played, Morels. [Whoa, big reveal! It’s in the title of the piece you dink -ed.]
PS4, Xbox, PC • I imagine the right way to open the review of a Lovecraft-riffing game is dark foreshadowing of looming evil, so, uh–don’t look behind you. [Well done. Now clean out your desk. -ed.] Ripstone’s Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (henceforth ACT) aims at an experience much like XCOM. Not XCOM as it would be now, because you’ve probably already played that. Instead, it has all the pieces needed to give you the experience of playing XCOM for the first time, again. That is, it’s mechanically distinct enough to play quite differently, facilitating the joy of discovery. The setting is almost perfect for this purpose–while I feel the pull of legitimate concerns about continuing to use Lovecraft’s work (starkly put by Michael Barnes here), ACT’s melding of techno-über-Nazis with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos offers players mostly familiar, immediately comprehensible weapons and soldier roles to build from, with such a variety of possible ways of adding strangeness that you never know what might emerge from the shadows.
PC I recently waffled in a Scrye about INSOMNIA: The Ark, written calmly henceforth as Insomnia. It’s quite the thing, especially if you go in blind. Given that you’re reading this, I suspect there’s a forfeiture of surprise in your immediate future, but that doesn’t detract from Insomnia’s beguiling premise overcoming its somewhat flawed execution. Flawed, I hasten to add, in that Eastern Bloc way. An ambitious pursuit of atmosphere; a journey through time and space, anchored to a colossal star city, where dimensions appear to be a lot less demarcated than first thought.
As we get our new forums up and running, I wanted to mention that lots of folks had seen their activation emails go to their spam folders, so keep an eye on that. If you’re having troubles, hit me up on Twitter (I’m “rinelk”); if not, feel free to use your new forum account to make suggestions on this post. While I’m at it, KeyForge releases today, and my thoughts on that border on marketing spam themselves, so this seems like a good opportunity to bring them up.
PC/Mac • I went into Return of the Obra Dinn with high expectations, stemming from its designer, Lucas Pope. You might know Mr. Pope as the creator of the thought-provoking and terrifying Papers, Please, a game that crawled into your skull and stuck with you well after you closed your laptop. Return of the Obra Dinn does the same, and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had on my laptop in a long time.
PC • When Terraforming Mars first hit the cardboard scene back in 2016, the hype was up there with the likes of Agricola and Dominion. You couldn’t listen to any game podcast, Twitter feed, or YouTube channel and not be overwhelmed with tales of just how good this game was. I held off as long as I could but, when I finally got Terraforming Mars to the table, I had to agree. It was a keeper. Maybe not the best game I’d ever played, but it came with enough variety and decision points hidden beneath a fairly simple facade that I could see it hanging around and being a family favorite for a long time. That was the cardboard version. Today I’m starting a new Terraforming Mars hype train, but for the digital version. It deserves it. The PC port from LuckyHammers and Asmodee Digital is nearly flawless and is easily one of the best digital board games I’ve ever played.
iOS/Android (out now), PC/Mac/Linux (coming Friday) • There was a time, not long ago, that I dreaded any game that included a stock market mechanism. Something in my brain convinced me that games with stocks and money were the purview of the business-inclined, which I’m definitely not. [For example, look around this website and see how well he’s monetized it. -ed.] Luckily, a little game called Imperial changed my mind and, while I’m terrible at stock games, I discovered that they’re fun as hell. If you’re not aware, stock trading is a (the?) major component of the 18xx family of board games which readers will know I’m currently in love with. Stock games tend to fall into two categories: those that treat stocks fairly realistically and those that don’t. The 18xx games, for example, deal with it somewhat realistically with your stock price rising and falling based on demand and the profitability of your train company. Stockpile falls into the unrealistic camp in which stock prices are randomly in flux. Both are fun, and while I doubt we’ll ever see an 18xx game make its way to our phones, (unless Playdek ever gets around to developing 1846 from GMT) today Stockpile makes its grand entrance on the digital stage.
iOS, Android • I didn’t pay much attention to the Spiel des Jahres this year, so I’m a little behind on telling my Azuls from my Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburgs. Yes, that last one is a real game and it actually won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. Thus I was unaware of another nominee vying for “complex game of the year”, Ganz Schön Clever. A quiet release of a digital version has allowed me to give the game a go, however, and I’ve determined that the English translation of Ganz Schön Clever is “what the hell have I stumbled on?”