A cutesy roguelike. Decent but not great.

On Normal difficulty, it is a very short game. You should have little trouble rampaging through the levels, especially if you repeat some levels with the classes you unlock and get the extra gold. It has some amusing mechanics like the magic doors that appear late in the game and whenever you use a Scroll of Wonder. Those get you things like pastel sheep and mirror farmers that throw teleporting pitchforks.

On Savage difficulty, the game is subject to the usual roguelike nonsense where information is hidden and not everything is possible. The difficult is not necessarily unreasonable, but it can become a war of attrition in which the game may not give you any health refills, or where the equipment that will help you get through a level will get you killed against the boss. Savage difficulty does create some truly interesting situations by mixing up what the monsters do, like having exploding monsters fire in all eight cardinal directions instead of just the usual four. Sometimes those interesting abilities become a problem, because you may run into a combination of them that you cannot beat with your class and equipment, or even escape. And because it is a roguelike, that is randomized, and one of the game’s explicit goals is to defeat every level with every class on Savage difficulty.

That constitutes half the achievements in the game. The other half is basically “play through the game on normal difficulty,” plus a couple of oddities.

It is hard to get angry at the usual roguelike nonsense when it is hidden under cuteness. There are still times when randomness is more important than your decisions, but I found that I did not care as much. That led me to asking whether I actually care, and why would I play if I don’t care? And done with Sproggiwood.

: Zubon

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is now available

steam message announcing the release of Cook Serve Delicious 2 If you’ll excuse me, I need to focus intently on my computer for the next day or four. I have a wedding to attend. I might miss it.

ETA: If you are not mad hyped about CSD2, you may want to wait a few days for bumps to get ironed out. The opening note says that a few features were pushed back to make the launch date. There is a bit of clunkiness. Still, CSD2! If it is mostly as good as the first one, it is worth full price.

: Zubon

Gaming Tables

Every time I go to Gen Con, it restores my resolve to buy a gaming table, although that always remains in the “after the next time we move” category. And I haven’t moved in a while. And Geek Chic shut down this summer after their deal on Shark Tank fell through. It’s a shame; I cannot speak to the market for high quality, high margin, low volume, niche market luxury products. Last year’s Gen Con post will direct you to competitors like BoardGamesTables.com and Caroline Game Tables.

Let’s talk about a few new entrants into that space. In honor of last year’s theme of “everything seems to be on Kickstarter,” all three are Kickstarting right now. Crowded market all at once, but “just after Gen Con” is either the best or the worst time to catch tabletop gamers.

  • Transforming Designs had a Game Anywhere Table campaign, now running a sequel campaign for more versions. Their gimmick is the portable nature of the table, which folds up, along with a variety of magnetic add-ons like card holders and “player pockets.” Portability is nice, although I am not sure how often I have needed a portable gaming table. It also has a bit of that folding table feel and is built around an assumption of four players. Much less expensive than the more permanent tables, $400 versus more than $1000. At which point you may have an uncomfortable comparison versus the cost of a non-gaming folding table, which is closer to $20.
  • The Gaddis Gaming TableTopper 2.0 is also a follow-up Kickstarter, this time to a project from two years ago. Their version is also portable and, as the name implies, is a topper to covert existing tables to a gaming space, intended for miniature wargaming. Their new project is for adding customizability and options, like finishes and modular components for larger and smaller gaming spaces. It is made of foam, which helps with the carrying and floating. In case you have ever wanted to do some gaming while swimming. The Kickstarter is already successful, but it seems far less popular than the actual tables, which has a lot of reasons behind it: foam, built for the even more niche wargaming market, not actually a table, rails on only two sides, fewer options, cost comparable to the lower-end Game Anywhere Table.
  • The Table of Ultimate Gaming is a more traditional table and then some. They have fewer options than BoardGameTables.com but are much more competitive on price, capping at $1000 as a Kickstarter price where others start above $1000. They have two sizes, three heights, and a few colors, which must help with keeping down some complexity and cost. They add complexity back in with the sort of modular add-ons that Geek Chic and the Game Anywhere Table have. They have decoration packs in case you want to advertise it as a gaming table rather than disguise it as a standard dining room table. What I found most interesting was modular tables sizes. The sides are removable, so if you want a bigger table (now or later), just get a second table put them together (I am unclear on whether anything would hold them together except gravity and friction). Downside: assembly is required, and the lower surfaces of the table make that apparent. Compare these corners to these ones from BoardGameTables.com. The latter advertises hand-crafting, whereas this advertises laser-cutting. You get a bit more of an Ikea experience here, at a much lower price. Having power outlets in the table is nice for some options. I am unclear on what the “play mat” is made from.

Thoughts? Comments? More information or other recent entrants into the market?
: Zubon

4000 Achievements

steam achievement showcase: 4000 achievements At the end of the year, I will have been on Steam for 10 years. I just earned my 4000th achievements, so I earn about 8 achievements per week. Many of those must come in large lumps, because I do not play Steam games everyday, nor does everything generate achievements. Still, we all have those days when you complete a game and get seven achievements all at once for various options you chose along the way.

You have heard me have strong opinions about achievements in games. I apparently have some experience with them.

: Zubon

“Imagine if Starbucks was run like Steam”

Wilhelm strikes back on the gaming market. Excerpt:

The video game market is overloaded with choices, most of which are uninspired imitations or direct knock-offs of worn-out concepts we’ve seen many times before hidden behind a series of horrible user interfaces that defy people to actually find the gems in the huge steaming stack of dung that is the video game market.

: Zubon

Gen Con 50

Gen Con was this past weekend, its 50th anniversary. It was the largest ever, with 207,979 “turnstile” attendance (about 60,000 people, most of whom went for multiple days). It overflowed into the football stadium next door, and it still completely sold out before the convention started. Those are impressive numbers for a bunch of gamers getting together.

I skipped this year, and Gen Con may be too big for me at this point. That is a lot of people to have crowding into even a large space. Extroverted nerds are exceedingly excited, and cosplayers will have an ever-growing audience.

: Zubon

Lost Cavern

The brawl map of the week for Heroes of the Storm is Lost Cavern, HotS’s version of LoL’s ARAM. In many ways, it solves some of the problems with both HotS and ARAM.

The basic problem of HotS has always been that minigames trump laning and fights. ARAM removes any objectives except team fights in one lane.

ARAM is as random as the name suggests. Lost Cavern lets you pick from three heroes and shows you team comp while you do. Controlled randomness, rather than absolutel chaos. You can still win and lose on team comp, but not utterly and before the game starts.

: Zubon

Rubber Duckie

A friend blogging at The Unit of Caring writes about rubber ducks as the ideal of gaming … if you are a baby. Excerpt:

… the reason we enjoy different media at different ages is that interesting things are things that are the right amount of surprising and comprehensible. … Interesting things are in the sweet spot where they make enough sense you can form expectations and not so much sense that your expectations are wholly sufficient and the follow-through completely predictable.

And to a baby, the most delightful game in the world is ‘throw the duck out of the bathtub; throw the duck back into the bathtub’

She discusses what “the right amount” means to us and to a baby. Please do read for a delightful vignette. “Merlin” is the baby in question; she is not bathing an ancient wizard of inestimable power (or if she is, that is a different person).

: Zubon

The blog name is a reference to this post, discussing a concept better known as “earning to give.”

Card-Based Rogue-likes

Two games in my recent rotation are Guild of Dungeoneering and Hand of Fate. Both use card-based mechanics and a bit of deckbuilding alongside roguelike elements. Both games set you against fixed challenges, where the path there is built from a player-influenced set of cards. Your weapons against them are player-influenced sets of cards.

Hand of Fate gives you more control over the enemy deck but less on how it comes into play. You pick out what cards (challenges) are in the dealer’s hands, subject to restraints like fixed cards for each quest and based on your progress through sidequests. Once that happens, it is all in the dealer’s hands. The dealer lays out cards on a path you must follow, sometimes with paths you can choose, but always with cards face-down. That is its most rogue-like element. You never know what you’re walking into until the card flips over, and there are few chances to flip cards other than walking into them. In Guild of Dungeoneering, the player has no control over which cards form the dungeon, but the player chooses which, where, and how many to play each turn. You are occasionally dealt nigh-impossible cards for your hero, but it feels like a lot more control. The interesting decisions in Hand of Fate come during deck construction, while they come during gameplay for Guild of Dungeoneering. Score one for Guild of Dungeoneering, since most of your time is spent playing.

Both games let you customize your hero and equipment. Guild of Dungeoneering gives you an expanding roster of heroes to pick from. Hand of Fate has an expansion that lets you pick “Fate” modifiers (characters). More choice up front for Hand of Fate, at an extra dollar cost, but less choice throughout the game. Equipment generally comes with victories in both games. Guild of Dungeoneering lets you pick one of a few choices for each victory. Hand of Fate has far fewer choices but more equipment slots and a fair number of shops to buy and sell equipment. You customize a deck of possible equipment finds at the start of each Hand of Fate game; Guild of Dungeoneering unlocks more cards with the same cash pool that lets you unlock more heroes, and all cards are available each time. Better equipment customization options in Hand of Fate, and more individual choices in Guild of Dungeoneering.

Hand of Fate has a lot of random events. Most of them are a card-based “subgame,” although the whole game is “pick one of four face-down cards.” Not a terribly interesting decision. Equipment and curses can influence it, which has led me to the question of whether the odds are as they appear or if the cards are simply a graphic covering a percentile chance, as the wheel is in Renowned Explorers: International Society. In REIS, the wheel always likes to show a very close spin, nearly winning or losing on each. In Hand of Fate, there is equipment that straight up eliminates a “fail” card from the mix, but other equipment refers to changing odds in a way that makes no sense if you have a 25% chance of getting each card. Hand of Fate also has a combat subgame, which is somewhat entertaining but not great; if you see combat as the centerpiece of a game, and why wouldn’t you in a fantasy quest about getting loot and killing foes, it is not a strong centerpiece.

Guild of Dungeoneering uses a card game as its combat. Each character and monster has base abilities and skills, which translate into cards. Your equipment adds skills, which adds cards. Specialize, and you get stronger cards. Diversify, and you get more variety in cards, but you still play just one per round. The card game is nothing enormously special, variations on two types of attacks and blocks along with some exotic effects. It is entertaining, but most of the decision seems to be made by how well your class/equipment plays against this sort of monster plus whether one of you gets extremely bad luck. That makes your play in the other level of card game very important, but there are relatively few chances to feel like your beautiful mid-combat play saved the day. You can play well, but stacking the odds in your favor is stronger than playing the odds.

On the graphics and atmosphere side, Hand of Fate is dark and brooding. It has an aura of mysticism, although it seems skin deep. Guild of Dungeoneering is cartoony and cute, its narrator somewhat meaner. Hand of Fate has a bitter fortune teller laying out the cards and commenting on your progress. Guild of Dungeoneering has a bard taunting death for every quest. Graphics for either game are decent enough for what they are trying to do.

I think I have been enjoying Guild of Dungeoneering more, because its card game combat is better than Hand of Fate’s combination of random choices and action combat. The card game combat is not top tier, but it does one thing pretty well as opposed to having two “meh” mechanics.

: Zubon

West of Loathing

If you have never played Kingdom of Loathing, you probably should. It is one of those big, classic pieces of online gaming literature.

But literature has been defined as something you want to have read but not something you want to read. Maybe you want the newest and flashiest, not the classics? The makers of Kingdom of Loathing just released West of Loathing, a comedy western.

I have yet to try it, but “from the makers of Kingdom of Loathing” is self-recommending.

: Zubon