When it Reigns it Pours….

A review of Reigns (Google Play Store)

♘George:

Bad puns aside, Reigns combines the simplistic and callous, swipe-based decision making of Tinder with the medieval theme and mortality rate of Game of Thrones.

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Reigns had me enraptured, from nearly the moment I started the app. I don’t play many mobile games (other than Subterfuge)as I prefer books or music when on the train and at home I would rather play something more substantial. But after seeing a short article about it on TechCrunch, I thought ‘Why not? So far it seems like the perfect mobile game.

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Reigns sits you on the throne of a medieval kingdom and presents you with a series of decisions, brought to you by various members of your kingdom.It grabs you right away, there’s no tedious tutorial, you jump straight into choosing how to respond to the choices presented to you. Resolving these problems is easy enough, you simply swipe left or right choosing one to the two potential answers. The thing is, it turns out ruling successfully is a balancing act. You must have enough money, keep the church happy, keep the military strong, but not too strong, and keep the populace in check. If that wasn’t tricky enough you’re also aiming to complete certain narrative objectives such as having an heir or meeting a witch.

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Reigns teases that desire to achieve a high score (or in this case long reign), like so many other popular mobile games but manages to weave it into an intriguing narrative. As you progress, more characters and possible events are unlocked and added to the deck of cards on which you must make your decisions. One of my favourite things about Reigns is its emergent story telling. Alongside moments of intended narrative, the different cards and decisions weave together to create these amusing and organic micro stories. One of my Kings died, because I kept funding the court scientist and ignoring the churches annoyance, leading to …… SPOILERS!. Naturally evolving stories like these, are one of my favourite things about video games from the story of my plucky Xcom squaddies to the wild mishaps of my FTL crews.

Reigns is quick to play, it looks gorgeous and you can pause at any time. Despite a minimal amount of text on each card, Reigns manages to develop a narrative that is filled with humour and intrigue. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the game cleverly hints as to why you continually take control of ill-fated monarchs. Despite your constant demise or overthrow as ruler, each new reign is not a total reset, the effect of previous reigns continue and your deck of decisions and characters constantly grows. There are times when you’ll be making the same decisions repeatedly, but Reigns advances just enough each reign, to keep things fresh.

So if you’re finding your journey to work, devoid of life or death decisions, give Reigns a go.

Gaming When Life Gets in the Way

All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy

 

Busy life leaving you no time to game? Perhaps you only have access to a laptop or tablet PC?  Maybe you’re just looking for something you can play while on the go? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some excellent games for playing in less than optimal circumstances.

♘George:

The Tablet Gamer:

I love my windows tablet, it’s versatile and does everything I need it to do. Sadly it won’t be running the Witcher 3 anytime soon. But don’t worry, if you are looking for a great tablet friendly game, look no further than Door Kickers.

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Door Kickers has you draw out the paths for your swat team, setting up intricate chains of commands for the squad. You then hit play and watch the carnage unfold. You can pause time at any point to issue new orders, but you are rewarded more for completing each short mission with a single chain of orders. Door Kickers works great whether you’re using a mouse, stylus/pen or even the touch controls for windows tablets. Missions are short but satisfying and action-packed, so perfect for journeys on public transport or completing a few after getting in from work.

 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:

You may have had to saw off your legs to fit into your Easyjet seat. Perhaps you’re on the train and some guy is hogging the armrest. As long as you have enough space to get your laptop out, then you’ll be in good stead. Requiring just two buttons to play, One Finger Death Punch will turn your drab commute into a melange of martial arts madness.

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Despite looking a bit like an old flash game from the noughties, One Figner Death Punch is a frantic and addictively simple game. You have two buttons. One hits right. One hits left. All you have to do is wait for the enemies to enter you hit range, and press the appropriate button. The difficulty scales to your performance, ramping up as you do well and dropping each time you fail.

 

The Machiavelli on the move:

Wishing you had time for a grand game of strategy and diplomacy with your friends but too busy for Civ V or Europa Universalis? Subterfuge is perfect for the out and  about Admiral. Played on your iPhone or Android device, Subterfuge is a week long multiplayer strategy game.

Subterfuge

The aim of the game is to be the first player to produce 200 Neptunium. You control bases, that are either factories, mines or generators. Factories produce submarines (your tools of war), mines produce neptunium and generators power the whole lot. Diplomacy is intense as you plot and negotiate with your fellow players via in-game or external means. You can log orders to occur at specific times allowing you to set the days orders in the morning, check how they’re going during lunch and see their payoff after work. Often though you’ll wake up to find yourself betrayed, hurriedly try and consolidate before sending paranoid messages to your neighbors in the hope of aid.

Images via steam & subterfuge-game.com

Pokemon Gone? 

Let’s be honest Pokemon Go is a bit shit, how long can it really last?

♘George:

Pokemon Go is here. The dream of becoming a real Pokemon trainer has haunted school daydreams since the nineties. Now Niantic have delivered that dream into millions of hands. There is just one problem. It’s shit.

Now a brief disclaimer, the only Pokemon game I have played, was an emulation of Leaf Green and I only got about 5 minutes outside the starting village.

Pokemon Go feels like a Pokemon game where your rival is richer and has more time than you (you don’t even get the satisfaction of naming them something offensive) . The problem with Pokemon in the real world is just that; Pokemon in the real world. You’re not the plucky underdog and your lovingly named Bulbasaur ‘Thompson’  won’t win just because you believe in him. You can have all the heart in the world but all that really matters is how much time and money you’re willing to stump up for poke candy to create Pokemon more dosed up than the Russian winter Olympics team. Gyms everywhere are already guarded by 3000 cp monstrosities,  and those in busy thoroughfares look like scenes from Gladiator.

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‘Butt-Face wasn’t a better Pokemon Trainer, he just had access to his parents bank card’

Pokemon Go can be fun.  Catching your first Pokemon. Catching your first exciting Pokemon.  Evolving Pokemon.  That’s about it. Niantic have stretched a tight skin of nostalgia and addictive gimmick over a nearly none existent game. At first, it was exciting to catch, lovingly name and evolve my Pokemon. There was a school-yard joy in comparing what you’ve caught with your friends, but the meaning and significance of your different Pokemon beyond that, is almost nil. What makes Pokemon special in Pokemon Go other than their rarity is their significance in other external media. A Gyarados might be exciting to catch or evolve in Pokemon Go but only because it was an exciting and special Pokemon in other games. In Pokemon Go, a Gyarados is just a number to put on a pedestal and hope that larger numbers don’t knock it off.

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I’ve named them all. Now what?

Pokemon Go will not last.  Its app is glitchy, its content next to none existent and the pull to keep playing dies quickly after you’ve evolved a few Pokemon to their final stage. How many people are still playing Doodlejump or Flappy Bird?. There was a fad app that went viral,  properly functioned and was a pleasantly simple but addictive game. It was supported by updates and new content was added, but how many people play it now? Unless Pokemon Go sees proper bug fixes and substantial content added,  it will surely be consigned to the rusty school locker of crazes alongside Heelys and Beyblades. Perhaps though I’m being naive in my cynicism. Pokemon is one of the most beloved game franchises of all time, continuing to improve and develop the app can only serve to generate huge profits and further engagement with the app.But who knows? maybe people will get bored, maybe they won’t, only time will tell.

 

18/08/2016 Edit: Pokemon Go seems to still be going strong :/

 23/08/2016 Edit 2: The beginning of the end? 🙂 

 

Competitive Plastic Pushing

A Tournament Report from the Norwich X-wing Regionals

2nd July 2016

♘George

I began Playing X-Wing Miniatures towards the end of September 2015 and quickly fell in love. The game involved 2 players competing to see who can best move their plastic spaceships around a 3ftx3ft table. Other than the briefest affair with Warhammer 40k in year 6, I’d never played any sort of collectable miniatures/card game let alone gotten involved with the game’s community. I first started playing at uni, splitting core sets with a friend (rebels4lyf), before going to X-Wing nights at Athena Games in Norwich, becoming passable at the game.

After months of everyone in the Norwich X-wing scene obsessing about Regionals, July arrived and with it, the big day. My only previous tournament experience had been two small store shindigs of about 20 players. It was prophesied that Regionals would see upwards of 100 players though the day saw slightly less at 60 players. Still, this was a wider pool of talent than I had ever faced and I decided I would aim for at least middle of the table.

I chose my list about a month before, having had a very fun game with it, and so began flying it regularly on Tabletop Simulator. For the week leading up to the tourney my life became a shit training montage as I played X wing every day at Athena. Think Rocky but less exercise and more Flat Whites.

My list was two large ship from the Scum and Villainy faction; Bossk and Dengar, each with a healthy spoonful of upgrades.

 

Dengar (54pts)

Predator

Recon Specialist

Punishing One

R5-P8

 

Bossk (45pts)

Veteran Instincts

Mangler Cannon

Greedo

Zuckuss

K4 Security Droid

(99pts)

 

 

The general strategy was for Bossk to slowly trundle forward to deliver a face melting opening barrage. K4 Security droid provided a target lock to ensure maximum modification, the mangler cannon delivered a crit, Zuckuss ruined the enemy defence so that Bossk’s ability could change the crit to 2 hits where by Greedo could then flip one card face up. Aside from being a very convoluted sentence, this set of abilities could hit like a Rancor. Dengar on the other hand was tasked with flitting round on the flank to try and avoid fire in the first engagement, though it was crucial he was still in range to add his fire power to the damage smoothie, so that the target’s shields might be stripped, allowing crits to hit the hull. Range control was essential as the first engagement needed to happen at range 3 denying lower PS pilots the chance to target lock and give Bossk as many chances for a shot each round as possible. Bossk’s ship is was likely designed to a high standard of ‘Vogon’ beauty and so resembles a small apartment block from the sixties, though is not quite as manoeuvrable. Should the enemy ever get behind Bossk he would effectively be out of the fight so it was crucial that he soaked up as much damage as possible before the foe turned their eyes on Dengar. Ideally Bossk would blow up in spectacular fashion taking enough of the enemy with him, that Dengar could handle what remained by himself.

The list isn’t meta defining (though two ship scum lists seemed to be in vogue that day having had the new FAQ less than 24hrs earlier) and struggles against the infamous Triple Jumpmasters but it is very fun to fly and as the cult-like hive mind of X wing players chant, ‘Fly Casual’.

But enough waffle, at 9am, nearing peak caffienation, and with enough beef jerky and Capri Suns to get a hoard of Carthaginians over the Alps, I arrived at Athena Games.

 

Game One: The ‘Swarmening’

Sitting across the MDF star field from me were seven Tie Fighters in a configuration dubbed the ‘Pattiswarm’ by 186th Squadron (A group of London based X Wing players with a penchant for matching T-Shirts).

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Black Squadron Tie Fighter w. Crackshot x3

Academy Tie Fighter x3

This list and its creator Andrew Pattison had re-written history and brought the Imperials victory at Yavin (Open), the largest ever X Wing tournament, so seemed like a list to be reckoned with. The opening engagement went in my favour as the Ties all opted to barrel roll leaving them token-less allowing Bossk to smoke Howlrunner with his first shot. Writing almost a month later the games are somewhat of a blur now though I remember feeling confident in the first few rounds. The three crackshot ties went down without using a single crackshot in exchange for Bossk. It was now Dengar against three academy Ties. It would have been in my favour had dengar not lost his shields in part due to his own astromech R5-P8. With 5 hull left and trapped in the corner of the board, my opponent skillfully blocked the avenues in which I could s-loop and bring the Ties into arc. The game came to a nail biting finish as my opponent skilfully blocked me onto and asteroid with his last 2 badly damaged Academy pilots finishing poor Dengar.

 

Loss 76 – 100pts

 

Games 2 & 3:

Further less exciting defeats followed as a result of my poor flying of Dengar (rock magnet), poor target priority and the superior flying of my opponents.

2:  Loss 34? -100 pts Vs Manaroo, Zuckuss, Palob.

3: Loss 19 – 100 pts Vs Red Sq Veterans x2 Tala Sq x2 (lots of ordnance)

Thanks to the business end of a well flown Rebel ordnance list I had plenty of time for lunch and retired to the Birdcage for a Pint and some (Mon) Calamari. The Tournament was hosted in the halls above the Athena games shop with the main tables on the 1st floor and the lower tables on the top floor. Thanks to my performance I had been cast out of the main hall into the outer darkness and ascended up the stairs to the lower tables. In actual fact this was an ascent to Nirvana. Where the main hall had been filled with stale air and the smell of nerd funk, the upper level was a breezy paradise. Relaxed and refreshed I began my last three games.

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The upper floor was a few white uniforms short of a pleasant ‘New Age’ cult.

 

Games 4 & 5:

I can’t remember the order of these two games.

Luke, Dutch Vander (Ion Turret), A-Wing with P’rockets (Tycho or Jake)

Against the Rebel list it came down to Dengar chasing down Dutch who refused to fire back for fear of Dengar’s retaliatory attack.

Win 100 – 49 pts

Darth Vader: Engine Upgrade, Advanced Targeting Computer, Tie/X1, Veteran Instincts. Tempest Squadron Pilot: Tie/X1, Accuracy corrector. Tempest Squadron: Tie/X1, Advance Targeting Computer (x2)

Bossk was unphased facing the Sith Lord whom he quickly dispatched with Dengar’s aid. The crits from the ATC Tempests hurt, but they were unable to withstand my list’s relentless damage output.

 

Win 100 – 49 pts

 

Game 6: The Bosskinator

Sadly for my final game, I was called back down into the maelstrom of the lower hall to meet my final opponent, the air staler than before and aromas more pungent by contrast. Flying against me was Dengar and Boba Fett. The Dengar was built to be a bit more nimble with Push the Limit, Unhinged Astromech and Engine Upgrade. Boba Fett was equipped with Wired and Zuckuss. The opening salvos seemed an equal trade as Bossk lost his shields in exchange for heavy damage to Boba Fett. The Dengars traded shots, mine being the first to go down followed by my opponent’s the next round. So this was it Bossk somehow miraculously alive but stressed out of his mind against Boba Fett how was also pretty far from chill. I was now reliant on K4 security droid for any hope at dice accuracy and so I began the slow process of green 1 banks hoping to catch Boba in range for a target lock. The problem was that while I had 4 or 5 hull remaining Boba had rather rudely set Bossk’s cockpit aflame. The face-up damage card ‘Console Fire’ meant that I stood a 3/8  chance of taking a damage. Boba knew this and being in poor shape himself was running away in the hope Bossk would burn to death. But in his ‘Rage’ Bossk slowly lumbered round surviving 4 rounds and a debris field without a single damage to finally catch Boba  in range. Likely rather irked by being on fire, Bossk was unforgiving in his attack, Zuckuss unrelenting in his defence re-rolls and with Greedo just happy to be there, Boba Fett’s fate was sealed.

Win 100 – 77pts

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The one and only.

Final Position: 30th out of 60 Players

Verdict: Success

 

Overall I had a great time. My first game though a loss was easily the most fun and I replayed it in my head for days afterwards. I had originally run Outlaw Tech on Bossk but had decided to swap for Zuckuss in the week leading up to the tourney. Though it usually denied the use of the 0 stop manoeuvre, Zuckuss proved invaluable, and the 1pt initiative bid for Dengar was nice too. The guys at Athena Games (A massive thanks to them for all the work they do) and the community there are amazing. I’m gutted that now I’ve graduated uni, Athena will no longer be my local store, as I leave Norwich, Dick Whittington style (though swap the cat for a box of X wing Miniatures) for the Capital. For my efforts, I won myself the alt-art Hera Syndulla pilot card, annoyingly for the Ghost and not the attack shuttle in which I much prefer to fly Hera. I also now have more acrylic Ion tokens than you can shake a gaffi stick, thanks to the raffle.

 

Over and out.

You’re Only Making This Harder for Yourself

Self-Imposed Difficulty in Stealth Games

♘George:

It seems most mainstream games of the ‘Stealth’ genre claim to offer ‘player choice’ through multiple ways to tackle a level and the choice between ‘Loud’, ‘Quietly Lethal’ and ‘Non-Lethal’. Generally, a loud gung-ho approach is punished by low player health and a finickety combat system not suited to Rambo recreations.The easiest way to play these games is to be ruthless and quietly kill your way through the level. Even on the highest difficulty, stabbing and shooting wrist-bow bolts from the shadows, makes short work of the game’s ‘baddies’. The same is true of recent Splinter Cell games, massacring guards with suppressed weapons is easy even on higher difficulties. The games manipulate you with encouragement to play ‘non-lethally’, but knocking guards unconscious takes time and risks you getting spotted making the game harder.

Stealth games rely on a certain type of player: the perfectionist. Hitman, Splinter Cell, and Metal Gear Solid V all use points systems to reward players for certain types of play, while Dishonored also tries to appeal to your moral sensibilities by altering the story in relation to your kill count. When playing stealth games I strive for perfection, restarting the level as soon as the guards are alerted and knocking out goons to allow them to reconsider their employment choice. It was only after cranking Dishonored up to the highest difficulty and deciding ”perhaps I won’t play the paragon of virtue this time’, I decided to simply kill everyone that stood in my way though maintaining a quiet approach. As the bodies piled up and the levels flew by, I realised how hard I make things for myself the challenge having largely gone. I tried similar tactics in other stealth games and found similar results. It seemed that stealthily killing guards without compunction rather than taking the effort to merely knock them out, removes a lot of the difficulty. Oddly though I did feel the occasional twinge of guilt, that I didn’t need to be killing.

So then this highlights an interesting catch 22. Take the easiest path but forsake your morals (or desire for a high score) or take the difficult approach to placate your conscience (and desire for larger numbers). For all the Daily Mail’s hysteria that video games will turn anyone into a frothing at the mouth serial killer, it seems that players, more often than not, will take the more difficult moral high road. I’m not certain of the exact point I’m trying to make I just think it’s interesting that players will make a game harder and perhaps even less fun for themselves either for vague moral reasons or the compulsive desire to achieve perfection.

 

Come Sale Away

Put on some Styx as we pick underrated gems that won’t break the bank in this year’s Steam Summer Sale.

♘George:

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
For the price of 249 fruit salads in 2005, you can get your hands on this brilliant. The servers are still up for games and surprising there are often one or two people playing on public servers. Forged Alliance is still one of the most enjoyable RTS’s available and a blast to play with friends.

£2.49

Dishonored

While certainly not an unknown game, I know so many people that haven’t actually played it, many of them just letting it sit in their libraries. While the game could be longer it’s so cheap that it’s not an issue. The stealth is great with a slick system of sword fighting and magic powers to aid you through the branching story.

£3.99

Risk of Rain

This lovely little rogue like has you shooting your way through levels and grabbing loot drops. The difficulty increases over time so you have to find a balance between searching for upgrade chests and making progress. With a host of characters to unlock and master as well as 4 player co-op, I can’t recommend Risk of Rain enough.

£1.74

Convoy

If the wasteland from Mad Max and FTL had an ugly child this would be it. While the pixilated graphics don’t look as nice as FTL the game itself is solid. You upgrade your rig and hire cars to fight off bandits as you try to complete the objectives. When not on sale it might be a little overpriced but at its current discount it feels just right.

£3.39

Pixels vs Plastic

Why bother with Warhammer miniatures now we have the PC game?

♘George:

The transition of Games Workshop’s Warhammer tabletop game to the PC seems to have gone flawlessly. The game brings to life the previously static fantasy warriors in gorgeous fidelity. Where once their plastic figures merely touched bases, orcs and vampires now rend men limb from limb before your eyes. Total War: Warhammer is perhaps the best realisation of a tabletop game in video game format alongside Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, another Games Workshop game. Total War: Warhammer is everything the tabletop game tries to conjure in your imagination, so why bother with the tabletop version at all?

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Imperial Reiksguard, both virtual and in miniature

I’ve never properly played a tabletop game of Warhammer. I had a brief foray into the game when I was about 11, collecting about 40k, though how to actually play was beyond me. However, I now play X-Wing, the miniatures game. While Warhammer and X-Wing appear to share few similarities, they both have video games that perfectly capture what the tabletop games try to emulate. From X-Wing Alliance to Rogue Squadron there are numerous games that perfectly capture the spirit of Star Wars space combat. So why do I fill my shelves with tiny plastic starfighters when my hard drive is full of their virtual counterparts?

My love of Star Wars aside, there are a few reasons why I love playing X-Wing on the tabletop, that explain why someone might play Warhammer in both PC and miniature form. Part of it is the physicality of the game. I play X-Wing on Tabletop Simulator but it just isn’t the same. Tabletop Simulator is good fun, but only stokes my desire to play the real thing. FFG’s miniatures are beautifully detailed and painted and as many boardgamers will attest, there’s just something indulgent about handling physical game pieces that video games can’t recreate. As the majority of games, music and films I own are virtual there’s something nice about having a physical board game collection with lovely big cardboard boxes.

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Giving the ‘Hound’s Tooth’ some proper fangs

I think the other major appeal of Warhammer is the painting and customization. I have always enjoyed model making, although until recently I rarely tried to paint anything. Though my X-Wing miniatures came pre-painted I wanted to make them my own, so I’ve given several their own unique design. The personal pride you get from building and customising your army (in my case, squadrons) just isn’t an itch video games can scratch. It’s likely an army painter will be added to TW: Warhammer, but selecting a primary and secondary colour is not the same as taking your time to paint your miniatures. For many, painting the miniatures is a major part of the appeal, as it can be a relaxing and satisfying experience.

It will be interesting to see how Total War: Warhammer effects Games Workshop’s sales and the popularity of Age of Sigmar, the fantasy miniatures that controversially replaced Warhammer. Will Total War: Warhammer pique interest in the tabletop game or prove a cheaper alternative?

Screenshot courtesy of forsakeNXE