PC/Mac/Linux, Switch There’s been a noticeable uptick in quality spatial puzzle games in the past five years. Games like Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Snakebird, Jelly no Puzzle, and A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build all take the classic Sokoban formula of moving/changing objects to their designated zones/states and put in their own little wrinkles, exploring the possibility spaces created by these tweaks to the formula. I like to call them “SokoButs”, as in “Sokobon, but…” because it’s fun to create microgenres and nobody has claimed this one yet. Feel free to use it, because I sure will. I attribute this recent boom at least partially to the release of PuzzleScript, a free toolset for designing SokoButs, in 2013. PuzzleScript streamlines the game design process via a simple markup for defining the rules that govern a SokoBut’s core systems. Baba Is You is a new SokoBut from Arvi Teikari, and its “but…” is huge: each puzzle’s rules are physical objects within the puzzle. By pushing around nouns, verbs, and adjectives, you rewrite the logic of the game in real time. Basically, it’s PuzzleScript: The Game. Baba Is You is an entirely new kind of logic puzzle, and it’s the best puzzle game I’ve played in a very long time.
Tabletop Remember those math puzzles your friends would quiz you with when you were a kid? They’d always begin by asking for your birth year, adding the day you were born, subtracting the hour, dividing by the number of eggs you had for breakfast and, viola, the answer would reveal, correctly, how many pet otters you’ve owned since the age of six. Having that answer always pop up correctly, no matter who you tried it with, was like a small miracle. It was like opening a portal to universe where magic existed and everything fit into a specific place. As I grew older and submerged myself in math, the magic was replaced with the cold dissection of numbers and seeing the trick for what it was: a simple math equation. Enter Black Sonata from Side Room Games, which feels like the most complicated math puzzle I’ve ever been dealt. The cool thing is, I can’t see the math and, even if I could, I don’t think I’d be able to suss out how the trick works. The only explanation that makes any sense: Black Sonata is magic. Real magic.
iOS Universal, Android At first glance, Legends of Andor may resemble other campaign-driven fantasy board games like Gloomhaven or Descent: Journeys in the Dark. There’s a fantasy map (you know it’s fantasy because there’s a castle and spooky caves), characters that fit the usual fantasy tropes, monsters, and even markets where you can buy your heroes better equipment. It may resemble those games, but Legends of Andor is nothing like those games. Not a bit. In fact, Legends of Andor isn’t a board game so much as a puzzle game wrapped in board game attire.
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.