The Trouble with Robots is a sort of single-player, sidescrolling trading-card game, with something of the feel of tower defense.
The backstory is that a flying saucer has landed in a fantasy world, disgorging innumerable robots. In a series of 20-something levels, you control armies composed of peasants, elves, centaurs, and the like against robots of diverse types.
Before a level begins, you select 5 cards from those available to you -- only a few choices are available at game start, but other cards are unlocked during play. There are multiple waves of attackers within a level; each wave, you are dealt new cards. Energy to play them recharges over time; you can use surplus energy to trigger lightning bolt attacks on individual robots, which means that, unlike so many tower defense games, you do still have things to do while attacks are ongoing.
Less than Three (aka <3) is a short Adventure Game Studio title from Ben Chandler; at the inception, a D&D-like party of adventures have just opened the treasure house of Emperor Kemal, and shortly find themselves trapped in it.
There's one long-ish and not particularly difficult puzzle (walkthrough linked above should you become stuck), but what's interesting isn't the gameplay per se, but the writing. The "examine" and "use" texts (LMB and RMB) provide a sense of a living world, and the by-play among the characters provides a story that's actually interesting, a rarity in games of any sort. A nice, short adventure gaming fix for those who like such.
Citadels is the first tabletop game I've bought in a long time, it was a Friday afternoon, I had just gone into the city to score a lit'ol consulting gig, and was hanging out with my friend Steve, a fallen angel... investor. I went to Gamescape in the Haight and bought Ticket To Ride: Europe as a reward for an artist who had just nailed some great mock-ups which may be imminently scoring a deal for us, and Steve recommended this game. The way he remembered it, "which is the one where the Assassin is #1 and then there's the Thief and the King?"
You know I love me some numbered archetypes! It was on.
Submitted by sebastian sohn on Fri, 06/17/2011 - 04:45.
Orcs Must Die is a hybrid, an active tower defense game where you setup an automated defense systems -- typical of the tower defense genre but with the twist that you are an active part of the defense. Anything that breaks through your gauntlet of traps must be shot, blasted, or cut down by you, in a first or third person perspective. Robot Entertainment describes Orcs Must Die as a third person tower defense game.
Majesty was a game that my brother and I played a lot over Easter about 10 years ago, because in my family, we got presents on Easter - resurrection trumps birth in material yield, my father used to say (he didn't). The game had a certain iconic magic to it, you played a king who had to run a D&D kingdom indirectly, creating the economic incentives for the various heroes to go out and explore, kill monsters, gather loot. The heroes then spend the profits of their adventures on better equipment, healing potions, or new spells. It was a process not unlike the engine that allows the US to conjur money out of nothing and scare the rest of the world into honoring it. It's fantasy Keynesianism, as opposed to the Keynesian fantasy we deal with in real life. But I digress, insulting two religions in the opening paragraph, and I haven't even talked about the religions in this game, which are comparatively more useful.
So you're probably thinking "another Facebook game on 'Play This Thing!'?" with nested quotes and punctuation neatly laid out, because that's how you think - nested. However, here are some things you may not know that makes this particular FB game touchingly indie:
- it's made by the designers of Train and uh... this game you may have heard of: DOOM.
- its parent company is currently being taken the woodshed with hardcore mafia-style, Hostel 2-level grotesque punishment by Facebook. They've disabled all the distribution/retargeting channels on all the company's apps for six months, except this game, which is only suspended until Wednesday. The company is technically not owned by anyone, except its owners and maybe some VCs, but this kind of singling out gives it a shred of indie dignity, maybe?
- it makes numerous, canny references to the Millenial Fair in Chrono Trigger.
You take all the stuff that Brian Reynolds made work in Frontville but tweaked out, collections for example play like a slot machine reward every time you click a tree. You get one click every two minutes and you need some special items that pop-up to complete buildings. This alone will drive a significant percentage of the audience to pay less than a dollar into the game, just some extra Facebook credits and why not, but I think they'll be tapping into a higher monetization rate for that. They also have a more balanced economy, with the battle between nature and your energy bar brokered by Protectors which cost wood - in Frontville there was always a surplus of wood, here the snake gorges on its tail.
But wait! It doesn't sell out the level curve and adjust it so you get a Ding! at frequent, clean intervals, it instead has a meaty level curve, where each new Ding! marks new things to do, and where getting to level 20 puts you on par with Drizzt Do'Urden - albeit a Teddy Bear version.
There are monsters to fight, and gothic stuff mixed with Winnie The Pooh meets Redwall character designs.
My biggest criticism is they over-saturation of newsfeeds. Until recently, the way you promulgated a Facebook game and got people to re-engage was through prompting newsfeeds. Every conceivable thing you could post about is solicited for a feed, because maybe you'll click on one of those options, and it will shotgun some "virality" to people who browse your page. Well, Facebook nerfed the newsfeed, now only people who are already playing can see it - personally I think it's the best goddamned thing to ever happen to the platform. If they adapt this game to having just a few key feeds that relate to some actual social gameplay, a dimension where the title is currently weak, that would do wonders for the experience and probably the longer-term business.
My biggest praise is that this game has, more than any other title I've seen on the platform, pop-up book potential for new features to recombinantly deepenify it. I wish Brenda and John the courage, nay, the bravado - ok, that's just a synonym - to take this game in bold directions that challenge the conventional mass-market logics chaining the rest of the industry.
But I have a feeling the company politics surrounding the only revenue-generating property in the portfolio might complicate that. If that's the case: Brenda Brathwaite, John Romero, I am hiring.
Submitted by Tof Eklund on Mon, 09/20/2010 - 00:49.
In 1981, after the original Dungeons & Dragons had spawned Gary Gygax's monstrous magnum opus, AD&D, and in the same year that IBM's Personal Computer hit the market, Milton Bradley did a strange and surprising thing. They released a moderately-complex fantasy boardgame with an electronic "tower" that adjudicated combat, random encounters, and even purchasing and haggling for goods at the bazaar.
This hybrid board/electronic game was called Dark Tower -- just in case you were wondering, it preceded the first book in Steven King's series of the same title by a year, but came after the story began to be serialized. This suggests that they were in simultaneous, independent development, as a title and a central, dark, tower is about all they have in common. The Dark Tower game shares a lot more with D&D, including a Tolkeinesque fantasy setting, random combat, and resource management (food and gold).
Perhaps due in part to the expense of the game, and certainly in part to an intellectual property lawsuit that Milton Bradley lost, Dark Tower soon went, and stayed, out of print. A "failure," it would have no clear successor, and the potential for hybrid electronic-board games, and especially for "geeky" ones, would die with it. But, to quote Lovecraft, "with strange aeons, even death may die." A number of fan-sites exist, of which the finest may be Arioch's, hosted at Well of Souls.
This comprehensive site features Bob Pepper's original art for the game (which appeared on film cells on a rotating carousel inside the tower, somewhat like a slide projector), along with detailed information about gameplay, and almost every imaginable related interest. But if you, like me, begged and pleaded your parents for a copy of the game and were denied (due to sticker-shock or simple lack of availability), you can now play the game without having to shell out $300+ dollars for a used copy that may or may not work properly.
The Hot Flash Games version of Dark Tower isn't the only adaptation out there, but it does a fantastic job of re-creating the look, feel and gameplay (complete with irritating quirks) of the original. The most obvious difference is that the original game supported 1-4 players and the flash version is single-player. Multiplayer games are "not yet supported," and there doesn't seem to have been an update since 2006, so I'm not holding my breath.
You start the game with a certain amount each of three key resources: warriors, gold, and food. You move one space on the map at a time, either facing random encounters (such as brigands or plague), or special encounters at a handful of locations, including "dungeon" sites with bigger rewards but larger bands of brigands, a sanctuary, and the most useful location, the bazaar, where you can buy more resources as well as purchase (hire?) allies: the scout, who prevents the "lost" encounter, the healer, who inverts plague encounters from bane to boon, and the monstrous-looking but nearly useless beast, who increases the amount of gold you can carry.
I still remember my cousins (who had the game, lucky sods) laughing at me for using all my gold to buy a beast.
To make a long story short, you have to adventure until you find all three keys needed to open the dark tower. Then you face the hordes of brigands within and, if you come out victorious, you save the kingdom and win the game. This is where the lack of multiplayer (computer of otherwise) really hurts - the game is a race against the other players, more like Dokapon Kingdom than anything else, just with much less emphasis on bashing your friends. The only dirty trick in Dark Tower is using the randomly-appearing Wizard to curse another player.
There is also a Java version of Dark Tower with multiplayer (human and/or computer) support that also attempts to correct some of the flaws in the original: you can download it from the "About" page of Arioch's fansite. Arguably superior, the Java version fails the "nostalgia test" -- it just doesn't feel like the old boardgame. This matters a lot, because an experience of what was (aeons ago, in electronic gaming time) and what might have been is the reason to play this game. In the end, Dark Tower isn't a lost chapter in gaming history, but it is an interesting bit of marginalia.
Submitted by sebastian sohn on Thu, 06/17/2010 - 23:20.
Spirit Engine 2 is a near perfect RPG. It combines the kind of gripping story and dialogue that you find in interactive fiction with the character advancement and monster bashing of RPGs. The graphics are simple pixel art yet stylish with a hint of Japanese Anime flavor. Even better is the music; many indie games don't even have music, but for Spirit Engine 2 the talented Josh Whelchel, composed fanatastic soundtrack that weaves emotion into the dialogue. The story is well written, but almost completely linear--to the point that plot-altering choices may be an illusion. However, you forget about the linear plot, because you become focused on the the characters and how they deal with the problems they face.
The story behind Pathfinder is so convoluted and indeed silly that it's worth noting.
Once upon a time there was Dungeons & Dragons. It was a little game published in a small box in three booklets, and it was, actually, kind of a bad game -- very poorly written and rather clunky. But it was the first RPG, and at the time the idea of a roleplaying game was so novel and exciting that it became a huge best-seller.
Submitted by EmilyShort on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 01:39.
Walker and Silhouette used to be antagonists. He's a police detective; she's a criminal of sorts, though it seems that most of her crimes were expressions of social subversiveness, rather than anything too hard-core. Now, of course, they solve crimes.
Walker & Silhouette is designed to be friendly to novice players, and in particular to get around some of the challenges of parser-based IF: instead of requiring the player to type full commands, it provides keywords that can be typed in or (on interpreters that support hyperlinks) just clicked on. Selecting a keyword means having the protagonist do whatever he (or she -- you play both characters during the game) thinks is the most reasonable action applying to that object at the moment.
Most objects don't get picked up, either, which means that the player has a fairly static inventory. And movement is limited to using the leave keyword when it becomes available -- which means that there's no map to keep track of and no compass directions to memorize. There are even some achievements to unlock, which is cute, a borrowing of game tropes decidedly alien to standard IF.
As one might expect, the keyword-dependency narrows the puzzle range of Walker & Silhouette: any given thing is only useful in one way at one time. It's not completely without challenge, though. It soon becomes evident that puzzle solutions are about interacting with objects in the right order, or timed to coincide right with external events.
I'm describing this keyword-based IF as though it were a novelty. It isn't: people have been playing with variations on this idea for a long time, because it offers obvious advantages to players who find the regular IF parser too frustrating or challenging to learn. Adventures of Helpfulman used clickable keyword-driven conversation back in 1999; in 2007, Ferrous Ring explored the possibility of giving the player multiple modes of play, ranging from the standard parser through keyword play to a system that would more or less play the game for you, so you could read it like a book. There are others. But unless you've followed the IF community and its competitions very closely, you probably haven't heard of those games, and that's largely because they didn't entirely work. Some of that has to do with writing (Ferrous Ring was deeply surreal, so it was hard to figure out what was going on), but some of it was because the authors hadn't given enough thought to how a keyword-based system might be fundamentally different to interact with from a parsed-command system.
More recently, Blue Lacuna offered a partially keyword-based system: it was possible to play quite a lot of the game typing only one-word commands to examine things or move from place to place, resorting to the fuller commands at the parser only for extraordinary actions. But it tended more or less to fall back on the parser when puzzle content was needed; whereas Walker & Silhouette really commits to the idea that the keywords are going to suffice for all gameplay. And they do.
In spite of that, W&S is not quite the same as a hypertext story, and not just because the world model has more state than the average hypertext story tracks. There is still a command prompt, and if you want to, you can type commands in classic IF style. It's not necessary to do that in order to win, and most of the time it won't be productive of anything important, but there are occasionally moments when I wanted to toy with the characters by suggesting actions that they aren't consciously considering. And this paid off: the game responded as though the protagonist was surprised by an unanticipated nudge from the id, often with rather entertaining text.
All this about interface and I haven't talked about the content. Walker & Silhouette is pleasing for some of the same reasons that Gun Mute is pleasing. Pacian likes to take a setting that you think you understand (the old west, early 20th-century England) and then add layers of worldbuilding that make that setting strange and new again. Each new scene brings twists not only for the mystery in the foreground, the one the protagonists are trying to solve, but for the mystery in the background about what kind of a world this is.
I am not describing the setting at all, because one of the constant pleasures of the game, for me, was in discovering that this world contained Surprising Element X... and that Walker and Silhouette considered Element X commonplace. The keyword system helps out with that effect, too, because it allows the protagonists to act on their world knowledge in situations where the player might not completely understand what's going on. If that sounds like a demerit, trust me: in this game it generally works.
Add to that a light romance and a theme about promoting gender equality, and you have a distinctively Pacian-esque piece. It's fun, adventurous, and not too hard; it feels like enjoyable fluff while you're playing, but after you're done you may find it leaves more of an impression than you expected.
The Mines of Zavandor is an excellent business sim boardgame. The premise is that the great and wise Dwarven king Zavandor is retiring and is looking for a successor. Zavandor is holding a contest via a procession from the mountaintop into the twisty caverns that lead to the Coronation Chamber, at the bottom depths. Along the procession, candidates must amass gems to hire laborers, buy wealth-building spells, and buy victory point-generating shrines. The contender with the most victory points when the procession reaches the Coronation Chamber will be crowned the next king.
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