Second Winds

I often find myself trying a game, getting really into it for a day or a week, setting it aside for some reason or another, and then never getting the taste to pick it back up. I binged on Mini Metro but barely played it after the first week. (Still worth it, for the time and the money.) I have a dozen games on my desktop started but incomplete. I think I could binge the rest of the way through them if I started, but I have not had the intersection of mood and time to binge on them. And then I hesitate to start another with a dozen waiting there.

Years ago, this was summer vacation and I could burn through those games. Now I am thinking about cleaning out my house, and procrastinating from both cleaning and gaming.

: Zubon

Second Chances

Do you often give games a second chance after a bad first experience? So many games, so little time. You chanced an hour or two, do you want to chance more? After all, it takes a while to get the swing of a game or learn the rules.

That is an odd experience for games. Rules mastery is usually a requirement for having a meaningful opinion. There are few movies anyone would say you should try watching a few times to see if it grows on you. There are TV shows people will recommend watching until they grow the beard. Even then, it can be hard to suggest someone sit through about 10 hours of weak Buffy the Vampire Slayer until “School Hard.”

There are plenty of games I am not offering a second chance, like the DC deckbuilding game. Deus has kind of meh, but maybe it will grow on me.

Video games often run 40 hours. If the first two hours are weak, do you even press on to four?

Kill Ten Rats started as an MMO blog. Those run 1000+ hours. Can you really say you even tried World of Warcraft after two hours? But I remember mostly liking the first two hours I played way back when. And my wife tried it, saw it as similar to Guild Wars (which she did not care for), and for her purposes I cannot say she was wrong.

What game did you give a second chance? Did it work out well?

: Zubon

[TT] Cultists of Cthulhu

I played Cultists of Cthulhu, which is in the vein of Betrayal at House on the Hill or Arkham Horror. If you clicked the link, you know I was not a fan of Betrayal, but I kind of wanted to be (I am told the second edition is better). I was hoping that Cultists would be a better version of Betrayal. I did not enjoy it much.

Like Arkham Horror, Cultists is a much longer game than Betrayal, about two hours. Like Betrayal, it has multiple scenarios, although far fewer and with the traitor role known (to the traitor) in advance. There is more strategy and gameplay than Betrayal’s interactive story, but there can also be a lot of randomness. Like the first edition of Betrayal, the first edition of Cultists has unclear rules with ambiguities and misprintings. It does not have a lot of rules, but enough to make your first game(s?) clunky rather than elegant.

We just did not have a lot of fun, which is about as big and simple an indict as I can give a game. The game felt cumbersome, slow, and little under our control, even for a first playthrough. In retrospect, some of that was a rules misunderstanding. The rules as written are susceptible to that and could use a bit more editing. With only five scenarios in the game, they could have playtested a bit more to check for obvious edge cases.

What were our big negatives?

  • There were apparently no monsters in our scenario, and it was unclear what was supposed to happen with the one tentacle that spawned; we walked around it without it ever touching anyone.
  • The stars mechanic became completely irrelevant after the cultist was revealed.
  • The cultist found her experience completely unsatisfying because her reveal just gave her a cool gun. Which blew up on the first roll, slightly damaging her and not damaging any of the heroes.
  • Two unlikely dice rolls swung the game.
  • One of our players was colorblind. The cards use red, green, and blue icons to indicate what is going on. Ouch. Even for those of us not colorblind, the shades of blue and green could be mistaken for each other in low lighting.
  • Our scenario had a misprint. Instead of the Elder Sign, it showed “G” (“good”). Small thing, but again, there are only five scenario cards to proofread. There were also ambiguities in the scenario, as the rules say a scenario ability can only be used (successfully) once, but ours required using it three times. So is it only that one that could be used three times?
  • Characters can die and get stuck watching. Did I mention that a game can run two hours? The cultist’s goal is to kill the academics, so we should expect at least one academic to be sitting out at least a third of the game, with more players having nothing to do as the game progresses.

We liked the atmospherics, the variety of characters to choose from, the several options you had each turn, and the feeling that you had some control over your destiny. We had a good time accusing each other of being cultists. We were amused when thematic elements came together, like the fellow who drew a shotgun and trenchcoat.

Maybe it would play better on a second playthrough. But I played with random people at a board game party, so unless I take to playing this with a regular group, it is usually going to be someone’s first time on a multi-hour game. I cannot say that I can recommend the game at this point. I welcome others’ experiences in the comments.

: Pietro

Portal Review

Ingress has been e-mailing me a lot lately. They are getting around to reviewing some of the portal submissions I made two years ago. Apparently quite a few of them are duplicates now.

There is nothing in the e-mails to stop these notifications. I think I would need to re-download the game and update settings. Maybe I should just start marking them as spam or something.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Adventures Update 1.2.6

Pathfinder Adventures launched on PC and Mac last week. In celebration, the game has new partners, added standard P2W cash shop elements, and removed Quest mode. On net: I hope this makes them more money, but I quit playing.

Desktop release: yay! It includes linking accounts: yay! There is some bug about wiping out progress that I need to check before doing that: par for the course with this game. The desktop version is a standard “buy the box” with some DLC, not the F2P (now P2W) from mobile.

Bugs were fixed with this release. Given the length of bug fixes listed, the game presumably remains buggy.

The cash shop is unexceptional. There were always “sell random cards” chests; now it also has “sell specific, powerful cards.” There are now boosts, for everyone who wants to pay to play a game and then pay to circumvent playing the game.

Quest mode was most of my time in-game, so its removal means they took away the game I was playing. (For free, so it’s not like they owed me anything.) It makes sense to eliminate it in that Quest mode broke the F2P model. Quest mode generated so much gold that I never needed to pay to play the game, and I have enough gold to buy the entire next adventure path. Weak business model. Now that is gone, so I do not know if reasonably one could F2P the game. Players “cash in” Quest mode to get a small amount of cash shop rewards; that process is bugged of course, but customer service is quick to respond to e-mails.

Content removed, cash shop expanded, primary way to earn cash shop currency removed. But you can now get it on Steam! The core game remains good, so that could be worthwhile.

: Zubon

Mini Metro

Mini Metro is a minimalist subway simulator. You design the public transportation system for a city that is growing and expanding. You keep going until commuter demand exceeds your ability to keep up.

The gameplay is so absorbing that my first play session was a 7-hour binge. This is a sim game stripped down to its cleanest essentials. The visuals are similarly clean. It looks like a subway map. The mechanics go mostly unexplained but are straightforward. Shapes go to shapes. Link the shapes. If you are familiar with public transportation at all, you will get the idea. A really elegant mechanic is that the screen is slowly but continuously zooming out, expanding the amount of city you are covering. The controls are simple but occasionally clunky if you are trying to do something precise in a hurry, like drag a train to another track with an impending crisis.

Variation in the game comes from having more than a dozen cities and then some randomness within each map. You start at a random point in the map, and I am not clear on whether the zooming out is straight up or pans as it goes. Cities grow randomly, so the placement and pattern of shapes is unknown as you start. Every in-game week, you get another locomotive and your choice of two randomly selected bonuses (train carriage, another line, tunnels, interchange).

Your ability to shift train lines, tunnels, and bridges around quickly is something real life transportation planners would envy. I think they would find the randomness realistic. Not only does growth defy urban planners’ dreams of molding it, you get both districts that perfectly mix functions and entire chunks of the map that are defiantly single-purpose, which is sometimes convenient and other times a nightmare to plan around. Sometimes your plans will be foiled because the upgrade you want is randomly not available. That feels really realistic, where the need for a new line is obvious but politically forbidden for no reason that anyone can explain adequately. Make do with a bigger interchange, skippy.

Fun, compelling, elegant.

: Zubon

The Emperor’s Challenge

Renowned Explorers: International Society recently came out with an expansion: The Emperor’s Challenge. This as an Asian-themed expansion, with four new crew members and a new map. The titular challenge is a new game mode, which changes the goal of the game from “gain the most renown” to “complete a series of random challenges before the timer runs out on each.”

As far as I have played it, the new content seems enjoyable. The new crew members have the sorts of abilities I like, with a mix of abilities so they probably have something you like. If you like the base game, “more of the same” is a good thing. I am apparently still somewhat burned out from having worked on 100%ing the game. (Tip: do not try to get 100% of the treasures in REIS unless you are already very close. You can invest quite a lot of time for a chance of having a treasure appear on a map, and then you have a chance to get that treasure. Many treasures * % to appear * % to acquire equals a lot of time, especially when many of them are mutually exclusive.)

The new game mode is not my cup of tea. It changes a strategic game into a more purely tactical one, and it is frustrating that you can be given challenges that are impossible to complete. Granted, that is part of the game, and you just work on the other challenges until your rival clears the ones that are impossible for your team/map/combat (nothing is ever impossible for the NPCs). It’s like a scavenger hunt mode, but not all the things to find are on the map, and the usual fog of war hides the map, and you still have the normal limits of needing to manage supplies and keep improving your team in the usual ways.

If you enjoyed REIS but thought it could use more randomness, this is your perfect DLC. If you do not like increased randomness in your gaming, this is not for you.

: Zubon

Ellipsis

Ellipsis is a minimalist avoid-em-up, where you much touch four blue circles and escape without touching any non-blue things. If you touch any non-blue things, you die. The real goal is to touch five blue circles per level, carefully enough to collect all the smaller blue circles in them, and escape before the timer has gone down a single green circle. That is how you 100% a level, and you must score perfectly on every level to 100% the game.

There are no words. The gameplay explains itself. The map is very pretty. The difficulty curve is erratic, as levels that are easy to 100% sit next to ones that are difficult even to finish. You do not need to play all the levels, although there are bottlenecks on the map. Ellipsis is good for “bite-sized” gaming, as each level goes very quickly (unless it is one you need to play 20 times to get the timing to 100% it).

Ellipsis is a game that rewards manual dexterity, timing, patience, and persistence. Ladies, get yourself a man who can 100% Ellipsis.

The game also teaches the important life lesson that you might as well kill yourself if you make the slightest mistake. Or at least the quest for the 100% achievement does.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Adventures: Rise of the Runelords

I reloaded Pathfinder Adventures, the mobile version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. All six parts of Rise of the Runelords are now available. The quest mode level cap is still 40.

The gameplay remains good. The later content is not terribly special, with some variety but mostly more of the same. I am told that is how Rise of the Runelords works: the first and most straightforward of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game sets. It responds well to brute force.

The game remains buggy. It seems better but still buggy. My Cleric’s ability to heal a card after fighting undead does not work after all undead. The game can get stuck, requiring you to forfeit and start over. Cards can get stuck in an unbeatable state, requiring you to forfeit and start over. This last was most irritating when it happened in the hardest adventure. The last card literally said that it went on the bottom of the deck after being fought, no matter what, and I needed to completely empty the deck to win. The forums list this as a known bug for at least six months.

When I reinstalled the game, the cloud save had my current story party but no other characters. That flushed a lot of character advancement.

I am still unclear on how this game makes money. There are now more cosmetics to buy, but it is trivial to get enough gold to pay for all the content. My previous play left me with enough gold for all the new content, and now I am back to having enough to buy the first third of the next campaign if they make another. Daily challenges were added, making that even faster. If you buy the game, you really are donating to the developers.

Straightforward, fun, worth the time. Theoretically being ported to Steam but I don’t see the evidence.

: Zubon