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I have been trying some of the Battle Kitchen – Strike Challenge – Extreme Difficulty challenges in Cook, Serve, Delicious! As you might expect, they can be somewhat difficult, and the only answer is to git gud. They are, however, a spectacularly awful place to learn things because of the lack of feedback. If you make a mistake, you fail and are kicked out. I cannot normally go several minutes without making a typo, so doing so under time pressure with unfamiliar keys where “onion” might be O for one recipe and N for another … is somewhat difficult. And if when you fail a round, you do not know if your brain had the wrong letter for an ingredient, you clicked the wrong key, maybe something else you did not notice? There is something to be said for kill cams.

Then again, the Olympics are not where you go to learn new sports. There are recipes I have never made in the game, and it seems that I should master them before approaching this mode. But I do not have everything fully upgraded in story mode, so the challenges are the best place for me to see all the ingredients in all the recipes. I should probably just ignore the time pressure and practice a bit there, or look up ingredients and recipes online if I want to learn them in advance.

Hardcore cooking sim!

: Zubon

Balanced Forces

I love and fear asymmetric PvP. It is so hard to balance well and so good when it is done right.

There is something satisfying about being the big monster fighting several of your friends, or being that group of friends taking down a big monster we know to have a capable pilot. About pitting goblins against elves against dragons. About ninja and samurai, pirates and ninja, merchants and pirates. Symmetry is elegant and much easier to balance, but teams with different advantages and disadvantages add so much more color.

But it is so easy to get wrong, and if you mess it up, it may not be fixable. Or maybe the balance really is perfect, but not in your local gaming group, where one person is especially good with one strategy and makes all the other factions look like trash. It is hard to tell whether the im/balance is in your game or your gamers, and imbalanced gamers can lead to runaway differences in-game.

I see the latest thing on Kickstarter or Steam, and my interest is piqued, but it will take many hours of (hopefully someone else’s) play to see whether the game has the chops to make it work. A bit of randomness in the game can hide imbalances for a long time, and really for as many times as I am likely to play a game, “close enough” is probably good enough.

: Zubon

Premium Game

I have previously mentioned the notion of a premium game that charged more for more, rather than a F2P race to the bottom. Monte Cook, bless his heart, is going for it. He is Kickstarting a new RPG called Invisible Sun that costs $197. That is the lowest pledge tier. The other pledge tier is $539, which adds on the stretch goals and a 12-month subscription of sorts. That’s it, those are the two options. The premium and ultra-premium pledge slots were all sold for $42,811. It garnered a quarter-million in about a day, is already funded, and now can start putting the stretch rewards in that $539 box.

I respect the audaciousness of the project. Monte wanted to make a deluxe game, so he went and did it with a bunch of friends, a big box with books and cards and dice and a cloth map and everything you dreamed of doing as a young nerd. Kind of like when Steve Jackson used Kickstarter for his dream deluxe game, only more. Kind of like that $1000 omelet only the omelet itself is both the PR stunt and the product they are really selling.

I do not have a regular gaming group and I cannot see myself buying this, but I am interested in seeing where it goes and what will get added to the game as its pledges rise above a half-million.

: Zubon

Tinker Steampunk Metal Meeples Closing

As a reminder, our friend Tesh’s Kickstarter for metal steampunk meeples has a week left. The number of options has doubled with the addition of a Dame meeple to accompany the Gentleman. By popular demand, this Kickstarter will help pave the way for a future one with a broader range of Tinker steampunk meeples.

I am still in love with the founding idea of Cheapass Games. They started selling white box (or often envelope) versions of what are now their free print & play games. The idea was to sell you just the game, usually a board or cards, and then you could buy yourself a fancy set of peripheral components to use with many games. Get a nice set of pawns, money, etc. and use them for every game, rather than getting a couple pieces of expensive (yet cheap) plastic with every board game. It is an approach that works well when you are pondering efficient storage for tabletop games.

: Zubon

Hexcells

Played recently and recommended: Hexcells. That link is to the “complete pack” with all three games in the series. The third, Hexcells Infinite, includes generating levels from random seeds, so not technically infinite but more procedurally generated levels than you could play in a lifetime.

Hexcells is a puzzle game, a cousin to Minesweeper played on hexes. As usual, each hex says how many neighboring hexes have “bombs.” Hexcells then goes on to have more board layouts and different ways those numbers appear: -2- means the two bombs are not next to each other, {2} means they are. A number on a bomb means how many bombs are within two hexes, not just next to it. Some spots have ? instead of a number, so you do not get new information. Some columns have numbers on them, or not. As the “infinite” implies, there are lots of ways you can play with that. Notably, there are no “guess” points; given the information available, you should always be able to deduce at least one more hex until you finish the puzzle.

Level design is mostly good, sometimes uneven. Difficulty can jump around, although the level of difficulty is likely related to what you consider intuitive, which may track with the developers or go in an entirely other direction. The last game has some of the best deductive moments in the series, along with several levels that are just clunky. The levels usually get longer as the game goes on; the original game is pretty quick, while you start to regularly see maps with more than 100 bombs in the second game.

Enjoyable, and enjoyable at length with procedurally generated levels.

: Zubon

Gen Con and Kickstarter

It felt like Kickstarter usurped the Gen Con vendors this year. I go to Gen Con mostly to see the new games, and it seemed like most of the prominent new games were Kickstarter successes, waiting to fulfill delivery from Kickstarter, about to start a Kickstarter, or on Kickstarter now. The others were delayed and maybe available for a prototype demo. Overall, a disappointing time checking out new games this year. I should have kept a tally of the number of times I heard “only available to backers” as I walked around the exhibits hall.

How about some examples? Friends were very excited about Scythe, and that’s a Kickstarter link. I said I was going to look at the GameFolio system, and that’s a Kickstarter link. I had on my list to see One Deck Dungeon, not yet released, and that’s a Kickstarter link. Okay, I am getting tired of saying that. BetaBotz and Giga-Robo are two current Kickstarter projects that were there, and I cannot give you links to upcoming Kickstarters that were being promoed. As I look back through the BoardGameGekk preview, it was not that severe, but it certainly felt like Kickstarter was taking over the role of pre-release game promos. Certainly there are publishers using Kickstarter heavily to gauge interest and collect pre-orders.

Other differences in the world noted at Gen Con:

  • Geek Chic remains the big name in gaming furniture, but they seem to be staying at the high end while competitors arise at lower price points. Carolina Game Tables was at Gen Con, and I did not see BoardGameTables.com but they recently had a successful Kickstarter. Google tells me there are also a few companies in that space in the UK.
  • On the cosplay front, in one day at Gen Con, I saw only 19 Deadpools and Harley Quinns, which seems like a big drop from previous years. All but one of the female Harley Quinns went with the Suicide Squad style; all but one of the male Harley Quinns went with the classic costume, sometimes a skimpy version.

: Zubon

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, and its core is a sci fi-themed re-skinning of Civilization V. I mostly enjoyed Civ V, so this is mostly a good thing to me, but I know that opinion is controversial. I also know it is not exactly a new release, but I only recently got around to playing much of it.

The first thing I noticed after playing is that the game is long. This is also not exactly news, but after focusing on bite-sized gaming for months, a “quick game” that takes 5 hours is a different sort of commitment. Beyond Earth adds to this by having steps towards victory and showing only the next step, so your first time through each victory path is a lot like waiting in a long line, reaching the doorway at the end, and then discovering that the next room is also a winding line to another doorway. For the past decade, I have played Civilization games almost exclusively on the shortest game setting; I recall frequently using the “epic” game setting in my youth, but I cannot recall any way that stretching the game to 15 hours made it better. Finer increments on how long things take? It feels like most of my Civilization time is spent waiting for other players’ turns to process. I can also see how a more military strategy becomes appealing when eliminating those rivals cuts your waiting time.

Okay, so how does Beyond Earth differ from Civ V, and is that good? The big differences are the tech tree, virtues, and affinity. Oh, and there are no Great Leaders. Continue reading Civilization: Beyond Earth

Dealbreakers

I uninstalled two of my mobile games. That gives me some openings if anyone wants to recommend more.

Pathfinder Adventures has always been buggy, but occasionally you forfeit a game because it gets stuck and cannot advance, oh well. I started seriously playing through Story mode after Quest mode was stuck with that sort of bug: if you hit level 30 in Quest mode, the game offered the wrong reward, so the first time I hit that I just stopped Quest mode at the victory screen until the next update; fixed, right reward, move on. I happened to play that character again this weekend and hit level 31 in Quest mode. That is the level where you can select a role, a specialization with different power options, for example whether to make your rogue a thief or an acrobat. That role screen is just unclickable, with no way to accept the reward, which is strange because I have done that with every character in Story mode. That makes this the second time I cannot advance past the reward screen due to a bug, locking down one of two game modes. I am out.

Pokémon Go is notionally interesting but in a couple hours of play I have done literally everything there is to do in the game. I have not caught ’em all, but there is no gameplay difference between catching Pikachu and catching Rattata. You move your finger in a straight line to flick a Pokéball. That and tapping on the screen for gym battles is the entire game. I played Ingress, so I have already played this game with a different theme and deeper mechanics. Sadly, even that might not have been an “uninstall” dealbreaker, but the game has been plagued with server issues, and apparently the plan is to remove features rather than fixing bugs. Frankly, I only installed it because I had friends who were super into the game, and some are already grumbling about Niantic and Nintendo and I do not care enough to read third-hand about developer drama on Facebook. I am out.

: Zubon