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 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


Ichi is an example of a game damaged by its achievements. Ichi is a simple puzzle game, a bouncing ball with bumpers and switches and such. It comes with 60 levels and proudly advertises that it has over 100,000 player-made levels.

To encourage you to make levels as a player, there are achievements for publishing 10 levels and for having 100 people play your levels. To encourage you to play others’ levels, there is an achievement for completing 100 levels, which you cannot do with the game’s built-in levels. There is a combined achievement to gain 1000 points; you can get 3 points on the built-in levels, but the other 820 come from 1 point per player-made level you play and 1 per player who plays your levels.

As a gamer, you can already work out what these incentives produce.

The player-made levels are filled with insta-complete “puzzles.” You start the puzzle, the ball flies into its target a few seconds later, and you do not even need to click. There is a mutually beneficial arrangement for achievement hunters, whereby you want lots of quick points and levels, while the level-designers want lots of quick points and plays. The original goal, generating lots of player-made levels and letting the cream rise to the top, would demand stronger tools than the game has to help that cream rise.

But there are some cute and interesting puzzles, and I got my 49 cents’ worth.

: Zubon

Countless Generations Unfulfilled

This weekend, I was in the mood to play a worker placement game. The question dawned on me with rising horror: how many generations now lie buried and insensate, gone to their biers with a nameless ache because worker placement games had yet to be invented?

Have you ever gone to the kitchen, in the mood for something, but nothing looks quite right? You are hungering for a dish that does not yet exist. The plant that would placate your eager taste buds has yet to evolve. And there you stand, wondering if a little more mayo would do the trick.

When you are bored on a Sunday afternoon in the long, dark teatime of the soul, those hours are stolen by your need to do something that does not yet exist, for a career in a field requiring another century of technological advance.

And there lies your bier, wondering whether you took the time to play a worker placement game.

: Zubon


The University of Essex is trying to trying to increase student retention. That is where Richard Bartle works, and he notes:

The thing is, all the ways that the document listed to increase retention among new students were straight out of the MMO newbie-retention handbook. A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check.

Remember your gaming insights at work. Games are designed to be more enriching and enjoyable than real life, so why can’t we take the lessons of games to make real life more fun? I currently work in educational assessment, and we are looking ahead to games as teaching and testing tools.

: Zubon

10%, 50%, 90%

How many games do you have nearly completed, but just never got around to finishing because you got bored?

I have a bunch of games dropped in the first 10%, either “crap” or “not my thing.” I have another stack somewhere around 50%, a mix of neat ideas with poor execution, promising starts that went nowhere, and generally games that just stopped being worth the time.

And then there are the 90% games. The ones that needed to have 40 hours of play, so they padded in 10-20. The ones with an unreasonable last level that did not seem worth suffering through. The ones where you really did like the puzzles but they were so similar that after 90, you could not muster the energy to finish the last 10.

After bingeing heavily, I am starting to get burned out on Renowned Explorers at exactly 90% of the way through the achievements. Since each set of 5 expeditions is its own game, you’ve beat the game once you do that once, and you’ve seen all the possible expeditions after you’ve done that a half-dozen times (although probably not all the encounters). So a bit of that is burnout, a bit is having used the captains and crews that interested me the most.

Looking at my other installed Steam games:

  • I still have Borderlands 2 going. I think I still have a DLC campaign there I never played, and a bunch of 90% achievements. You kind of enter a Borderland sequel burned out from killing that same bandit in the previous game.
  • The Talos Principle has many interesting puzzles, some BS puzzles, and so many variations on the same theme that I wonder when I will finish map C. Again, in my usual pattern, I binged heavily, but now I can maybe do one of the puzzles and be all set for a couple of weeks. And there are mutually exclusive game/achievement paths, so how about doing all of them again for slightly different story text that you could just as easily YouTube?

I have a category in my Steam library called “shelved” for those 50% and 90% games that I may get back to someday. Steam Cloud is freeing, in that I feel free to uninstall the game and walk away. If I ever get back to the game, great, but having those kilobytes saved on a distant server is all I need to feel free to do the digital equivalent of house cleaning.

: Zubon

I also have a category for those 10% games called “crap,” so that I do not accidentally reinstall them someday.

Tinker Steampunk Meeples 2

Our dear friend Tesh is launching another Kickstarter for metal Steampunk meeples, this time with the Mad Scientist and the Tinkerer. The detail is nice, like the wrench and dagger on the back of the Tinkerer. I am personally more fond of the Mad Scientist, with his lab coat, goggles, and rumpled hair. I have a friend who wants this look IRL, so maybe I well get them some meeples.

And now: steampunk fairies, too.

I enjoy Tesh’s projects, and I encourage you to check it out. Comments are open if you have a crowdfunding project going or want to note exciting ones you’re supporting. (If the spam filter eats your link, please e-mail me, and I will dig through the filter.)

: Zubon

Renowned Explorers: International Society

From the makers of Reus: REIS!

My usual reaction to roguelikes is, “Well that was some BS.” This one I am really enjoying.

The theme of Renowned Explorers is adventure and discovery, under the banner of lighthearded Victorian imperialism. You are gentleman adventurers, heading to darkest Africa, the voodoo islands of the Caribbean, or mysterious lost lands. It plays tropes of the era straight with a joyful lack of modern sensibilities. Occasionally someone tells you off for plundering their cultural treasures, but mostly you are pacifying the natives, making off with the treasures, and working on a good story to tell upon your return. The artwork feeds into all this.

Like Reus, REIS enjoys sets of three. You have a team of three explorers. You can be aggressive, devious, or friendly. Some situations are better solved with charm, others with fisticuffs. There is a rock-paper-scissors relationship among the three, and some enemies will turn that on you. Continue reading Renowned Explorers: International Society

Decks and Pets

Tobold posted about “The Grizzly Bears deck,” which of course reminded me of a Duelist article from 1995. Because you come to this blog for notes on how recent gaming events relate to forgotten gaming history.

The idea is to have some cheap-to-assemble “computer” decks to test your deck against. The variety of them listed in the article give you a range of challenges like you could expect to see in play, although the state of the game has changed a bit since 1995. The two I remembered best were the goldfish and angel decks

The goldfish does nothing, nothing at all. If you cannot beat a deck that does absolutely nothing, quit the game. If you cannot do it in 7-8 turns, fix your deck. (With some exceptions for decks that are doing fancy, slow, safe things.)

The angel decks does nothing for four turns and then gets a free Serra Angel every turn forever. That is your “slow deck” opponent. There are similar decks for defense, weenie hordes, etc.

There is not a lot of point to this post other than to point to history. That is one part “isn’t that neat,” another part that history keeps coming back around. That was an article from 1995 that was mentioned in a Wizards post in 2010, coming up in a variant in 2017. I have several times recommended reading Jessica Mulligan’s archives from Biting the Hand because so many of today’s issues were also yesterday’s issues. We are not just fighting the last war, we are doing so with the strategy that lost the last war.

: Zubon

More Hexcells

I find myself going back to Hexcells lately, so I am going to recommend it again. Hexcells infinite has a random level generator, so it is an endless source of enjoyable puzzles. Random levels do not have the potential to be clever like the hand-made ones, but it is consistently on the level of a good sudoku.

The sound effects are quite soothing.

: Zubon