Oneshot

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What’s this, Aether? Yet another RPG Maker-created indie adventurish game? And this one doesn’t even seem that spooky. You’ve been on a real kick with those, haven’t you, Aether?

Well, sort of. Thanks to my friend and yours, Red Metal, I had the chance to try this game out. I hadn’t heard of this game before. Knew absolutely nothing about it. Yet it ended up being the kind of thing that absolutely vibes with what I look for and enjoy about video games. This is an experience.

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In a sentence, Oneshot is a game with the art style of Cave Story set in an Undertale-esque world mired in the tone from Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine as played through an RPG Maker puzzle adventure, with a fun and unique twist. And it all comes together, and it works, and it’s good. The game feels like something special, like a real labor of love.

So the big selling point behind Oneshot, the headlining factor that makes it stand out from the rest of the market, is that Oneshot is a game that does its best to make you believe it’s not really a game. You play as yourself, an incredibly sexy warbeast named Aether (or, you know, whoever you are, although I don’t know why you’d want to play as anyone else), who has discovered a piece of software on your computer that allows you to interact with and guide a single catperson, Niko, themselves a stranger in a dying world. You are revered as a deity in that world, much as I am in this one, while Niko turns out to be a sort of messiah, tasked with delivering a light bulb that illuminates whenever he touches it to a tower, where it will serve as the worlds new sun after the last one burned out a while ago.

This game will mess with your computer, and you’ll need to look outside the game itself to solve some of the challenges it presents you with. Puzzle solutions will wind up in your documents, on your desktop, in mysterious programs you don’t remember putting on your computer, etc. The game says in the beginning it’s best played in windowed mode, and that’s true, because sometimes you’ll need to play around with something on your computer or the game window itself to figure out something or other.

That’s the gimmick, and it’s used really creatively throughout, but rarely in a way that you’ll be lost without outside help. After you’ve got the logic of how the game works down, you can usually follow along pretty easily.

It’s not just that alone that comes into play, though, as far as the immersion factor goes. You’re constantly referred to, Niko will chat with you and you have your own dialogue options, and a few characters will bypass Niko and address you directly. If you’re into immersion, few can match this game.

Of course, all the immersion in the world doesn’t matter if the game itself isn’t good. And Oneshot is good. It’s the type of good that’s completely reliant on characterization and storytelling and a lot of things that are way more subjective than the already subjective gameplay-mechanics, so of course, your mileage may vary, but if you’re into the types of things I’ll be talking about here, you’ll probably find the game very solid as well.

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Characterization is really strong, here. Niko, the character you interact with this world through, is one of the few that’s around long enough to get any real depth to them, but he/she is quite interesting. A child, passed from a happy life into a world seeing its sunset years and tasked with being its one ray of hope, they often get overwhelmed, or don’t know how to handle the situations before them, but keep trucking on. They’re decidedly human, as well. They have very understandable desires and impulses, and though they are childlike and a catperson, they’re very relatable.

The other characters you come across are a little different. It’s clear from the outset that you and Niko are very different from the rest of them. And although you can easily find plenty of characters who go beyond the shallow level, you always get the feeling that there’s something a bit off about them. That they’re playing by a set of rules you can barely penetrate and have no hope of ever fully understanding. There’s a point to that. You and Niko both may be one of a billion in your world (unless you’re playing as me, in which case even then, you stand apart), but here, you are something completely unique. The plot takes it from there, but the ways all the characters interact with you keep hammering the point home.

There are puzzles in this game. Again, no real stumpers, even though they do require a lot of outside the box thinking. I think there was one I needed to consult a guide on, and a few I needed to get some mental distance on, take some time away and come back to, but most of the rest I just cruised through easily. It does occasionally work on cartoon physics, but when you get used to how they work, they’ll work pretty well. This would be a very individualized experience, but for me, they generally hit the sweet spot where it takes a bit of thought but not so much that you’re getting frustrated or wasting a lot of your precious gametime retracing steps over and over again.

The plot is one of the stronger parts of the game. It’s one of those good indie-style plots, not a lot of moving parts but what is there is well done and thought provoking. I love a story that lies to you, and Oneshot is playing off your expectations from the moment it drops that title. Even with that in place, though, the story is simple enough to be relatable, and peppered with enough Earthbound-esque surreal humor to keep the dark story from going full on sad. It controls the tension, the bits you may remember from the classic Freytag’s pyramid, very well, going on a slow burn through most of the opening, reaching the climax and having a good denouement, then breaking out the intensity once you’re on the path to the true ending.

Oneshot feels like a special experience. I find myself staying vague with quite a bit of things about it, just because it’s the type of game that’s really best experienced in a vacuum, in a quiet room by yourself. I don’t think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, it delivers like none other. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a try. I know I haven’t found much else quite like it.

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Corpse Party

I guess I’ve just been in the mood for this. After I finished up with the Witch’s House, I started up its fellow Japanese RPG Maker developed horror game, which seems really too specific to be a thing but it totally is, Corpse Party. Corpse Party isn’t a freeware game like the Witch’s House, so although it’s got the same basic DNA, it’s got a much more professional presentation. And when you think of professional, of course you think of your main man Aether, so given that totally excellent segue, let’s get down to our review of the game.

Corpse Party is a version of a game that’s a remake of another game from like 1996 or something. There’s a couple different versions of the game, and they all seem to be slightly different in presentation. Basically a horror adventure. Trapped in a school. An evil school. Have to pixel hunt and solve the occasional puzzle to get out. All the while avoiding things that will happen to you. Bad things. Just in case you were thinking you might have to avoid ice cream or something. Wanted to be clear on that. The school is full of traps and also haunted and some of the traps might be haunted to. Maybe you’ll get possessed. Maybe you’ll go crazy. Maybe you’ll make the wrong move and find yourself sliced in half. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And if you die here, there’s no pearly gates waiting for you on the other side. Your soul will linger, feeling the pain you felt at the moment of your death for all eternity.

So it goes without saying that the death scenes are some of the best parts in the game. But let’s get into that later.

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So, like I said, Corpse Party is an RPG Maker Horror game. That should give you at least some idea of what you’re looking at. Sprite art everything, text boxes with occasional options the main means of progressing story, simple chase scenes mixed in sporadically, the works. And let’s get the conclusion out of the way here. Horror games are always going to be a ‘your mileage may vary’ type of thing. It’s so personalized, so built on tapping into just who you are and what makes you tick and twisting that against you, that how you react to it is definitely going to be an individualized deal. And I’m going to say that Corpse Party is going to be even more that than most. The horror is really all it has to it. The gameplay is as white bread as it gets, the puzzles barely require thought, plot is totally ehhhhhhh, so it’s all atmosphere here.

And there’s a lot of ways that horror media. Some go the psychological route. Some fill themselves with jumpscares and play off the fear of that momentary panic. Some will present you with things from your everyday life and twist them into freakish interpretations of themselves. Corpse Party goes the route of just being straight disturbing.

The ghosts aren’t particularly scary, in themselves. Nor are the traps. It’s what they do with you that gets to it. You know how most media, right before it does the horrible gruesome thing, will cut away and leave it up to your imagination? Corpse Party doesn’t do that. Corpse Party shows you the horrible thing the whole way through. And the creators are very creative with their horrible things. You get a few stinkers, sure, but for the most part, the game is full of cruel and unusual ways to die, rendered in disturbing detail. You get spared a bit by the fact that it’s all in pixel art, it’d probably cross the line into being rather disgusting if it was in a more representative form, but the descriptions and audio bits do a really good job of carrying that through. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And if it’s not yours, nothing wrong with that. You’re probably what the professionals call “well-adjusted”. If that is the sort of thing you’re into, well, it’s what really carries the experience for you.

I do really have to give props to the game for its audio design. You don’t get the usual freesounds.com bits here, the audio is used very, very well to match the scenes. They’re unique, and really carry along the activity, and most of all, are the biggest piece carrying along that horror atmosphere that’s so important in this type of thing. The soundtrack is notably strong, as well. The voice acting was all recorded binaurally, meaning that if you’re listening to the game through headphones, you’ll get some pretty sweet 3D sound out of it. I’m too lazy to walk across the room and pick up a pair, but I imagine it’s a pretty interesting experience.

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Snap Judgments: Persona 5

Everyone who knows I play, which is a lot less people in my personal life than one might think, have been asking me about Mass Effect Andromeda.  Figuring I would have pounced all over it.  I have had to keep reminding them that although I’m not disinterested, there’s another game that my heart already belongs to, coming out at right about the same time.  And although I’ve got a lot of love to go around, in this case, I’m wanting to take the time.  Make myself a commitment, at least for a while.

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Persona 5.  I have been looking forward to this game like none other.  At least looking  forward in the sense that I totally consumed the first couple trailers they put out years ago, then avoided every single piece of content about the game since in the hopes of protecting my precious virgin experience.  I like to play hard to get.

It came out yesterday.  I’ve spent most of my free time since it came into my hands with this little beauty here.  And, it’s so rare that I play a game when it’s so fresh that I thought I’d make note of the occasion and record my thoughts so far.  In brief, though.  The more time I spend here is the less time I spend playing Persona 5.

So, a bit of book keeping up front, I’m 5 and a half hours into the game so far.  So this might have spoilers for that bit of it.  Outside of that, though, nothing.  And really, that 5 and a half hours is still the intro.

Persona 5 has a slow paced start.  So did Persona 4, and 5 is a bit faster paced than that, but even so, outside of the en media res opening, it still takes a good hour before you’re getting into any action.  So, you know, be ready for that.

Although it is also possible to lose the game before it actually starts, just by answering the first question incorrectly.  That was pretty fun, actually.

The big things that stand out to me about Persona 5 is just how messed up the game world is.  Even before the series started exploring the social aspects between characters, that’s always been a big feature, seeing how the supernatural junk you’re fighting impacts the day to day life of what should be an otherwise normal town/city.  In Persona 5, whatever’s going on seems to be hitting the town hard.  Every single adult you run into is a total piece of trash.  Completely self-focused, all your interactions with them center on how much they would rather be without you, and none of them seem to have a single care for anyone else around them outside of doing their jobs.  All your playable characters are the subjects of some nasty rumors and the derision of their peers.  The city is plagued with people just randomly losing their mind, and most people only care about how it affects them.  If this wasn’t so total, you could take it as just a part of the ‘oppressive order vs. emancipation’ theme they’ve been pushing since the first trailers, but the fact that the city gets so dour, there’s definitely something more going on there.

Your Personae are unexpectedly dark as well.  Whereas previously, they found strength in your self-assurance, and were based in the faces you put on to interact with the rest of the world, in this entry, your personae are based in your rebellion against the rest of the world, and call upon your hatred and lust for vengeance for strength.  I don’t know if it’s forthcoming, but I’d be really interested in seeing an explanation for that.  Philemon’s still hanging around, and although Igor seems a bit changed, he’s still the one managing your Personae for you, so it seems they’re at least closely related to the old personae, but still, there’s a pretty clear difference here.   Likewise, the real-world source of your personae have changed.  Whereas the leading personae used to be drawn from mythology and folklore from a specific nation, here, they seem to come from fiction and history from all over Western Europe.

That most assuredly center’s around the otherworld of this game, the Metaverse.  You travel between the real world and the Metaverse by means of a cell phone app OF DOOM.  In said Metaverse, you find ‘Palaces’ who have ‘Rulers’ which are the shadows of people in the real world.  Shadows, as you may remember from 2 and 4 or if you know Jungian Psychology, are the repressed parts of the personality that a person will refuse to recognize in themselves.  In the Persona-verse, if a shadow gets strong enough from a single person, they can take a form of their own.  To be honest, the shadows were some of the narratively deepest parts of Persona 4, so I’m glad to see them get some more play here.  At least judging by the only shadow I’ve encountered so far, they’re going to be based on more than just your party members this game.  They can seemingly impact the behaviour of their real-world counterparts as well, possibly explaining why everyone in the real world is such garbage.

The Metaverse itself is heavily based in perception and belief.  Regions get altered in the Metaverse based on the perceptions of strong personalities in the real world.  To use the only example I’ve run across so far, an overpowering teacher’s view of his school turns the school in the Metaverse into a castle with his shadow as king.  A pretty direct metaphor, there.  Toy weapons work just fine in the Metaverse if they look real enough, because their targets believe they’re real, and as a result, an airsoft store turns into your armory.  This gives me HUGE flashbacks to Persona 2, in which if enough people believed something, it would change reality to make it true.  I’m kind of interested if that callback will actually come to fruit.

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The mechanics of this game are going to be very familiar if you’ve played Persona 3 and/or 4.  It’s obviously running off of the same design, although it does work in some refinements.  Some might justifiably take issue with the fact that the gameplay is largely the same as it used to be even after a 9-year gap between major releases.  I’m cool with that, though, largely because 1) Persona 4 was a masterpiece and I would gladly take more of that and 2) there’s nobody else who’s delivering the type of experience Persona does, so the model has not been spoiled or even really advanced in the interim.  Your mileage may vary on that front.

One of the few major shifts in gameplay mechanics comes in the form of dungeon design.  Namely, that there actually is some now.  I am excited for this.  Persona 3 and 4 had procedurally generated dungeons, which is almost never a recipe for compelling gameplay.  Now, at least in this first area, we’re getting premade dungeons.  I’m a little hesitant about this, because even at their best, the SMT series has never had great dungeons, but it’s still sure to be better than the randomly generated ones of the past two games.  The initial ones show some promise, playing into the stealth mechanics the game uses.  It puts a lot more weight on sneaking up on enemies and starting the fight from behind them than did previous games, and I got a lot more use out of obstacles, corners, and other dungeon features than I have in previous SMT games, so yeah, good signs here.

A lot of the renovations to the gameplay of Persona 5 seem to be drawing back from the mainline SMT series.  Once again, you have your player characters wielding both melee weapons and guns, which has been a mainstay of most of the Megami Tensei franchise but has been absent in the Persona series since the first game.  Demon negotiation is back, and it uses the classic Shin Megami Tensei call-and-response model rather than the activity/emotions system that the older Persona games used when they still had demon negotiation.  For that matter, I find it really interesting that the enemy shadows are now the traditional Shin Megami Tensei demons that had recently been only showing up as your personae, rather than the unique tarot-based shadows of the past two games.  In fact, that’s how you gain new personae, you talk to the demons once you’ve knocked them all down and remind them that they’re personae, and not shadows.  Given that these shadows are a part of the collective unconscious, and that assuming Persona 5 directly follows from Persona 4 it’s part of the same timeline as Shin Megami Tensei If…, the present-day Devil Summoner games, Persona 1 and the second half of Persona 2, in which these demons were running rampant all over the real world, well, it makes the Wild Fiction Theorizer part of me want to get busy.

While I’m in that vein, it’s not a gameplay feature, but the Persona series is set in Tokyo for the first time.  SMT games usually are, but the Persona series has avoided that thus far, preferring to go towards fictional cities and towns instead.  I find myself wondering if there’s going to something coming out of that.

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I haven’t gone into the plot long enough to make a good judgment on it, but I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.  It’s definitely one of those stories that’s going to take a while to come to fruition, so not wowing me yet, but I can see the same things that made me fall so in love with Persona 4 at play here.  I’m interested in seeing how it rolls out.  Themes of control, imprisonment, and crime are very strong, here.  The early marketing for this game promised that the story would be about breaking free from the imprisonments of the social order, and although I haven’t really picked up on that so far, I can see how theming that we’ve been given so far could translate into that pretty easily as the series progresses.  Thieves are heroes, authority figures are evil, and you need to save the world by criming.  I’m into the characterization, too.  I’d better be, because that’s been the strongest part of the series’s writing since the turn of the millennium.  Again, not been spending enough time to see things come to fruition yet, but I can see the promise there, so far.  I do find myself getting waaay too much of Morgana, the game’s mascot character, already, however.  So far, he acts like the bratty know-it-all you’ve seen in too many video game children so far.  I could turn around on him, I did on Teddie my first time through P4, but, you know, sooner would be better than later.

There is one big problem I’ve had with my time so far.  It’s something that’s not going to carry through the whole game, but I’ve been absolutely writhing underneath it.  The game has those tutorial rails on HARD.  Five and a half hours in, and I really don’t feel like the game has truly given me control.  You’re put in a whole new area that’s obviously deep and active and it won’t let you see a single inch of it that you’re not supposed to.  The game dictates where you go and when, which parts of the dungeon you see and when you have to leave, and so, so much of what you can’t do right now.  There have been a lot of times where I’ve wanted to go a direction the game wasn’t comfortable with me going yet, checking out a new store or some such, and I got the whole ‘you can’t get ye flask’ deal.  Every where I go, I’ve been running into limitations because the plots in a different area or the game hasn’t told me what to do yet.  And when it does tell me what to do, it will brook no disagreement.  I was forced to sacrifice my strongest persona because the game decided it was time to teach me about fusion even though I have played literally two dozen SMT games with that mechanic, and the only fusions I had available at my level involved that one persona.  Look.  I know I’m pretty, and some people think it’s impossible to have both looks and brains, but I’ve been around for a while.  I’ve played a game or two.  I know how to do it.  It feels so, so much like someone’s trying to teach me to walk like a baby when I’m capable of running a marathon.  It’s the biggest leech of fun in what should otherwise be a great experience.

So yeah, there’s my thoughts on this brand new part of my library.  To be honest, this game’s predecessors have meant so much to me that I’m almost certain to enjoy it even it’s a heaping pile of crap, so my objectivity is pretty busted, here.  Even so, I’ve been liking my time with it.  Brings a lot of the good from earlier in the series, draws on a lot of classic features, while the writing and characters seem poised to reach the heights that have been established by that which came before.  I’m liking it, even with that big tutorial tarnish.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear something calling to me.

The Tabletop Critique-Eldritch Horror

Let’s get this out of the way, because I’m going to be talking about it a whole lot this post. My all-time favorite board game is Arkham Horror. Well, the 2005 version of Arkham Horror if you want to be that specific. Pedant. A deep, challenging, and thematic game loosely based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG which in turn is spawned by the Cthulhu Mythos/Yog-Sothothery created by H.P. Lovecraft and a whole host of others. I love that game. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into it over the years, picked up every expansion set, and… well I haven’t quite gone down the fanfiction hole for it yet, but I’ve been tempted. It’s good, that’s what I’m saying.

Well, after the publishers released the 8th expansion for it, they seem to have decided, probably wisely, that it’d be counter productive to make the game any larger, so instead, Fantasy Flight Games had started making whole new games based on that originator. The Arkham Horror Files, a line carrying such games as Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, and our little friend of today, Eldritch Horror. Children of the original Arkham Horror, all seeking to carry on the themes, atmosphere, and some of the aspects of gameplay that made the original so successful.

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Suffice to say, when this game came to my home at Christmastime, I was pretty excited. A little unsure, however. I’d been playing the Elder Sign game and enjoying that as well, but that was designed by the same creator as the original Arkham Horror. Eldritch Horror was not. So how does it hold up? That’s what we’ll be talking about in today’s Tabletop Critique.

One of the best things about Arkham Horror is how deep and complicated it is. One of the worst things about Arkham Horror is how deep and complicated it is. It’s a game with literally thousands of little chits and cards, and at any given moment there are about a dozen little factors you have to keep in mind for any given move. Elder Sign cut both the depth and complexity way down while still keeping the feel and atmosphere of the original. All good, when that’s what you’re in for, but when I jumped into Eldritch Horror, I was really looking for some middle ground. Something approaching the mental gymnastics Arkham Horror called for but that didn’t require you and all your friends to set aside your entire afternoon if you were going to give it a go.

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The Sole Eyes on Hollow Knight

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Hollow Knight. I got a demo of it. That feels somewhat clandestine. See, I had no idea I would be receiving a demo of it. It was one of the mystery things slipped into January’s Humble Monthly deal. Nobody who got the demo knew it was coming. It just snuck its way into my possession, delivered by a faceless and mysterious person with no word or forewarning. And yet, to my knowledge, the previous Humble Monthly was the only way to get your hands on it. You don’t get to play this demo. Most people don’t get to play this demo. It was only provided to a select few, through a single point of distribution, that nobody knew about.

And yet, nobody’s talking about this demo. And that’s a darn shame. I played it. It was good. I thought it was lovely. Let’s talk about why.

Hollow Knight is a Kickstarter game yet in development, as most Kickstarter games are. I could give the overview, but let’s let the developers do the work for me. From their Kickstarter page:

Channeling the styles of classic games like Metroid, Zelda 2 and Faxanadu, Hollow Knight is a 2D action adventure set in a sprawling, interconnected world.

As the enigmatic Hollow Knight, players will journey through the depths of Hallownest, a vast and ancient kingdom buried deep underground. Though long fallen to ruin after a dimly-remembered catastrophe, explorers and thieves still brave its dark roads, its caverns and towers, searching for riches and wonders.”

That… sounds completely and utterly standard, doesn’t that? A whole bunch of words that deliver little context and with descriptors that nearly any game in its genre can claim. Yeah. I’m pretty sure if you’re colorful enough, you could describe my dinner using much the same terms. Team Cherry, the developer, is a three man group, and it doesn’t seem any of them have much marketing acumen. Luckily, the demo speaks to a game beyond that weak description, so allow me to see if I can do better.

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In spite of the developer’s claim, gameplay in Hollow Knight feels nothing like Zelda 2, only a bit like Metroid, and… I’ve barely heard of Faxanadu, so what the hell, it feels exactly like Faxanadu. It plays like nothing so much as the Igavania games, though, taking clear inspiration from the likes of Symphony of the Night. Gameplay relies on a lot of the same things that Iga’s Castlevania titles did, so expect lots of interconnected platforming, zoning, and angle management.

On top of that, the game carries an atmosphere that harkens back to Dark Souls. The whole feel of the game is deliberately dour. The art is one of the best things about the experience, and it is implemented beautifully and masterfully to create that tone. It’s no coincidence that most things in the games comes in shades of grays, blacks, and muted blues, with only the rare splashes of color highlighting important things. Nor that shadows envelop almost everything aside from yourself in this game. The demo doesn’t give you much of an idea of what the world you find yourself in is like, but it is clear enough that it is at or near its end, and it has a very depressed spirit, because of it. It carries a lot of subtleties that it weaves together quite well, and the visuals and overall mood of the game are incredibly striking.

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So yeah. Gameplay of Castlevania, atmosphere of Dark Souls, all wrapped up in a cute cartoon bug shell.

Combat here feels wonderfully kinetic. I mentioned before that zoning was a big part of gameplay, and the impact of successful attacks plays a big part of it. They get everything on point there, from the brief pause upon impact, the sounds and sights of it, and the knockback achieved. It all goes together to just feel good. Not nearly as good as getting hit feels, though. Yes, I realize how strange that sounds. I can’t think of the last time I played a game where getting hit has such impact. Not that I would know, never having gotten hit by a single thing, after all. This is just what I heard. Large cracks appear from where you’re struck, the music grows mute, and the screen grows darker in response to a successful enemy attack. It adds a lot of weight to the moment, and seemed to draw me in a lot closer to what was going on with my little bug dude.

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Another thing I would have absolutely no idea about due to never ever needing it and anyone who tells you differently is a filthy liar, the game has a pretty unique method of healing. Attacking enemies fills up an healing reservoir, which you can later use to recover health after an impact. You can. Not me. You can heal yourself in the middle of a fight, but it takes some time spent motionless or defenseless, so you really have to pick and choose your moments.

The game is obviously built to be upgrading your character overall. That’s part and partial with the whole Igavania/Metroid inspired deal, after all. The demo didn’t give you the chance, but there are areas that are obviously calling for abilities that aren’t available at the start. Double jumping is the big, obvious one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see dashing, some limited flight, and the rest of the standard offerings there. Judging from the way you open up more map abilities, I’d imagine that it’s a lot of minute unlocks that you’ll be hitting frequently. I get a certain satisfaction from unlocking things, so it’s good to me to have a ton of small ones, but I know that’s going to grate on many.

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The game is good. This is a really early version, showing a very limited area, but it does showcase solidly competent gameplay coupled with excellent visuals and atmosphere and a lot of promise. The gameworld is gorgeous and intriguing. I’d love to see more. If you could play the demo, you might to. Keep your eye out for it. I’m sure it won’t be exclusive to me and only me for long.

The Tabletop Critique-Ticket to Ride: First Journey

I’m not positive, but I’ve heard that some people out there have these things called “children”. From what I’ve been told, they’re a type of parasite. They hatch out of eggs inside people’s bodies, then progress to devour their hosts’ time and money as they grow. Oddly enough, people seem to like having these children around. And so they purchase products specially made to appease them.

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Our subject today is one of them. Ticket to Ride: First Journey. As you might guess from the name, it’s based off of a larger, slightly more complicated game that’s made for grown ups, which is what I’ve been told children become when they exit their larval stage and develop muscles and body hair. Now, I’ve never played the original Ticket to Ride, but I’m guessing that this is something of a simpler version of the original. Less rules, less pieces, and some more colors and happy faces.

But in any case, let’s take a look at how the game stands on its own.

So, Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a competitive game about trains. You’re in control of a train company, trying to outperform your competitors by buying and establishing transportation routes between key cities. Specifically, each player is given specific cities to connect with each other. If your routes can take someone from one city to another, you get a ticket. First player to six tickets win.

I’ve heard a lot of very positive reports about the original Ticket to Ride. Apparently it’s the height of easy to pick up hard to master-ness, featuring some simple gameplay with some deceptively complex resource management and predictive strategizing behind it. Ticket to Ride: First Edition definitely maintains that simplicity. The game is pretty easy to work through. So easy, it feels like you just go on automatic, sometimes. It does not seem to have much depth or complexity to it, though. It does have some element of strategy to it, particularly when you have more than two players there and the board starts getting crowded. So skill does make a bit of play. But it doesn’t seem that you have much room to exercise it. Which, you know, you’re playing a kid’s game here, so you shouldn’t be going into it expecting a masterful hardcore tabletop gaming deal, but you know, just saying. It strikes a really good balance, though. It’s enough thinking that your engaged, so you’re having a good time, but not so much that you really have to be planning things out, if you’re not up for plumbing the limited depths there are here.

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One thing I really have to give the game credit for, it is snappy as nothing else. The game moves fast. Even when you’re playing with kids, it is a swift game. It helps that you only do one thing each turn, and you’ve only really got two options. You either get more resources, or use your resources to buy a route. It’s pretty easy to choose what you’re going to do. Even if you’re one of those kid things. This makes it feel super active. It’s not one of those games where you have to wait like ten minutes for the other player to figure out their move because the game never bothered putting in a time limit and your fellow players don’t care about anyone else having a good time. Man, freakin’ scrabble. No, here, you’ve barely finished your turn and it’s your turn again. Same thing for everyone else. It moves fast. Like, cheetah speed in SimCity or something.

The game is pretty rife for abuse, as well. Making plays that, although perfectly legal, are not exactly sporting. For example buying up routes for the express purpose of denying other people easy access between Chicago and Washington DC, or buying worthless routes solely to run out of trains so you can end the game early when you’re ahead on tickets but behind on resources. The rulebook says that you shouldn’t do that, but what is it going to do? Give you a paper-cut when you’re tasting the sweet, delicious, brutal victory? This might be taken as a flaw in the game, a gap in the design. Really, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. This opens up the opportunity to reveal to this ‘children’ the valuable lesson that the world is a horrible place and everyone you trust will take advantage of you if given a moment’s chance. Sure, they may cry in the moment, but think of how better they’re going to be set up to move forward in life.

You know, I wonder if that’s why I don’t get asked to babysit so much. It seems parents would rather just leave their children weak.

So yeah, Ticket to Ride: First Journey. I really wouldn’t recommend that you play it with a group solely made up of ‘mature people’. I actually had a good time playing it with kids, though. It moves quickly, it’s easy for them to pick up on their own so they don’t need me planning out their moves for them, and when you’re working on that level, it’s pretty fun. I didn’t play it long enough for its lack of complexity to wear thin, although that’s a definite possibility, but hey, if you’ve got some of those childrens in your life and you’re looking for something new to do on those slow Tuesday nights, Ticket to Ride: First Journey is really solid. I had some good times with it.

The Tabletop Critique-Cards Against Humanity

I’m just going to guess you’ve heard about Cards Against Humanity by now. Because, really, chances are. It’s gotten a little bit of attention. On the interwebz. I hear some people like it.

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Right, so, if you don’t know about Cards Against Humanity, it’s basically Apples to Apples, except it’s intended to be played the way everyone really played Apples to Apples. The game is played by someone throwing out a statement card. Everyone else plays the cards in their hands that finish up the statement in the most humorous or awful way. Whoever gets the biggest laugh wins, then it all starts over again.

Also, the cards, they tend to be a little… brusque. Dirty jokes and black comedy. That’s part of the charm. Don’t play this game with your mom.

So yeah, game’s simple to play, so there’s not much analysis of the mechanics here. Let’s get down to the judgment here. Is the game good? In the right circumstances, it’s a great time. You have to enjoy this type of humor to have a good time with it, but if you do, yeah, it’s good. It’s pretty dependent on having a good-humored crew playing with you. Larger groups do seem to make it more fun, but the big key is that they have a sense of humor that aligns with yours. I played with a group that did, and had a great time. Played with a group I didn’t know so well, whose humor was more about alluding to baby murder as quickly as possible, and it was a lot more hit or miss. I played it drunk in a party, and it was like I found a new reason for living. I played with my mom, and we ended up having a long conversation about Jesus and my eternal soul.

Blazes, this is the quickest post I’ve written in a long while.