I have been playing Plague Inc.: Evolved, which is pretty good, if a bit formulaic across the diseases in a way that makes differences seem like inconsistencies rather than variety.

Greenland, though. Man, Greenland. Greenland is the Madagascar of this game.

: Zubon

I can recommend the PC version. I do not recommend the mobile version, which is a bit heavily ad-ware, although maybe that goes away if you give them a dollar? There were too many screens asking me for money to skip things.

The Stanley Parable

I played The Stanley Parable, but “played” feels somehow both wrong and perfect. It is closer to an interactive story than a game as such, but unusually for that genre it has a branching story tree — a “choose your own adventure” walking simulator. It is also a deconstruction of games in ways that I will avoid spoiling, but the comments section is fair game for all spoilers.

I will note that even the achievements are deconstructions. Three of the achievements are meta-commentary on achievements, one of which is literally “unachievable.” One achievement is to leave the game running for all of a Tuesday, another to log off and not come back for five years. 7% of players have that one on a game that has been out for less than five years, and 4% have the literally unachievable achievement, so I am wondering if cheating on those is meta-meta-achievement commentary. But for some reason only 1% of players have “leave the game on for an entire Tuesday,” despite that being something you can do AFK.

: Zubon

Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest

I have been playing a bit of M:tG-PQ (punctuation adventure). Puzzle Quest is basically good match-3 gameplay, even the version drowned in F2P2W, and this is another entertaining implementation. Matching gets you mana, mana summons monsters or casts spells, knock out your opponent to win. Pretty standard.

It is more Magic-themed than an implementation of magic. The five colors of mana exist, and they influence what spells go with your planeswalker and how much mana you get for matches. Any mana powers your cards, you just get more for certain colors. Planeswalker abilities exist, enchantments go on gems and last until they are matched X times, and some monsters block but most just attack your opponent. The elements that are borrowed from Magic seems fairly deft.

It is a F2P game. It is hard to fault something card game-based for selling cards. That seems almost entirely in the RMT currency, with the free currency being used to level up planeswalkers. I have no idea what level of P2W exists in the (standard asynchronous) PvP world there; I do not expect to play that far.

One of my main impressions is how random the game is, between cards and gems. I have several times lost a fight, restarted it, and won it without taking damage. Some games I cannot summon a monster, others I completely control the board, even when that “other” is against the same opponent. Maybe that goes down at higher levels, when higher hit points and better customization options mean it averages out, but then maybe you just get bigger, faster snowballs at higher levels. I do not expect to play that far.

Briefly entertaining, and a good commercial idea, but I cannot say that I can recommend it strongly.

: Zubon

Thanks to AEG Customer Service

Obviously everyone knows I like board games, but one of my favorite things about the hobby has always been how good the industry treats its customers. In a world where most companies are looking to take you for as much as they can, board game companies almost universally have great customer service despite the fact that a lot of times they are not making a lot of money per unit sold. They’ll replace missing pieces, cards, etc, often at no cost because they want you to enjoy their product and continue to enjoy their product.
— Haen, gamer

I picked up a Smash Up box at Gen Con. It was missing a card. I e-mailed AEG customer service, and they sent me the card.

That is not much of a story. It rarely is when things work properly. Customer service worked well, and now I have a full set rather than saying, “Pretend this card is a Collector.”

: Zubon

Flavor of the Month: Tastes Like Burning

Spellstone is still rolling as my current online card game. For some reason I always have one going. “Flavor of the month” is part of its design with “battleground effects.” Battleground effects last two months, and they give a boost to all cards from a particular race, faction, whatever. This is a not-horrible way to keep decks changing and to encourage people to spend money on new cards and upgrading cards. Unsurprisingly, the cash shop cards follow the flavor of the month, including introducing new high-end cards for that faction.

This month is an elemental defensive effect: elementals get a flaming aura based on their hit points, and anyone attacking them gets set on fire. “Scorch” burns out after two turns, except that if you get a new source of scorch it stacks and starts the two-turn counter over. All elementals have a scorch aura for two months, and a fair number of creatures have a scorch effect on their attack.

There is an event every weekend, usually an asynchronous PvP tournament. NPCs do not change their decks to follow the flavor of the month, but players do, and this is the first time to fight a large number of players who have switched over to elementals. PvP this month is just running around shouting, “my frogs are on fire and my dragon is on fire and the fire is on fire and everything is burning, aaaugh!”

: Zubon


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