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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From the Outside Looking In

A good critic is not a good creator. We saw this well with Roger Ebert, who became one of the most important voices in the film industry for his critiques and reviews, but the actual movies he was behind saw a troubled reception at best. Critiquing something takes a totally different skillset than creating something, which itself takes a totally different skillset than getting someone interested in something. Talking about what did or would make something good in retrospect is a completely different picture that building something good from the ground up. And frankly, creators have the harder job.

I used to follow Shamus Young’s blog pretty consistently. Dude’s pretty prolific with it, so I’ve read a lot of his words. His former LP series was the first Let’s Plays I got into, so… yeah. He’s put a lot of thoughts on video games out into the world, and I’d absorbed a lot of his ideas over the years I spent with him.

About the time I moved on from his content, he was working on building a game of his own. I ended up being surprised that it actually existed when I caught it by chance on a Steam sale last year, so I picked it up, toyed around with it a few times, and finally gave it a good, earnest playthrough relatively recently.

There’s something very surprising about Good Robot. Namely, after all his commentary on games that I’ve consumed, this would be the last game in the world I would have expected him to make.

Which, to be fair, he didn’t end up being the only person making the game. He took it to a point, but got another team involved once it turned out he couldn’t get it to where he wanted himself. But still. There’s a lot in that game that runs completely along the same lines as things he’s been completely dour for before.

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Let’s give you a picture of what we’re looking at first. Good Robot. It’s a twin-stick shooter roguelike. And… that’s about it, actually. The real notable things about it are the interesting things it does with vision, and the fact that the levels are truly procedurally generated rather than being a collection of pre-built rooms in random formation. Aside from that… meh. The engine seems pretty solid, and it feels good to move and shoot, which is what you do most of the game, but it’s aggressively simple and feels like it’s just wasting a lot of potential. Also has some pretty major, avoidable flaws that just make the game less fun.

And it’s those flaws that are really interesting to me, because I’ve seen Shamus identify them in other works before.

Let’s talk about the most apparent one to me, and probably the biggest one with the game. Good Robot is a rogue-like. Meaning that death is a complete restart of the game. But it’s a slow, long rogue-like. The game encourages hesitant and defensive play by virtue of having the permadeath in the first place, and the levels are just so loooooong. I beat the game. It took about two hours, start to finish. If I had made a stupid mistake (which I never do, but hypothetically) at any point during the latter part of that run, that’d be a solid two hours of my life cut down by a video game punishing me for essentially pressing buttons wrong.

That’s a problem on its own. But then that comes from a guy who once termed the “Dark Souls problem” wherein failure makes you repeat something you’ve already done in order to get to any new content. This comes from a guy who stated that rogue-likes don’t have to do this, followed by examples of some who have circumvented the problem by implementing a level select. This comes from a guy who complains about a game’s difficulty coming from punishment rather than challenge, yet built what’s potentially the most punishment-heavy game I’ve played in a long while.

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There’s plenty of examples like that, but I don’t want this post to be turning too negative on an innocent blogger I haven’t followed in a while. Rather, the big thing I want to focus on is why that happened. And why you’ll see that happen in most critics-turned-creators. It all comes down to what I mentioned, that there’s completely different skillsets involved.

What I would consider to be good critiquing largely comes down to being able to analyze oneself, particularly one’s own thoughts, and being able to communicate them well. Sure, being able to analyze the work itself, break it down into its component parts and talk about how that works, because that gets people to understand how what relates to you would relate to them, but overall, critiquing is really a selfish process. It’s all about your own opinion, how you’ve arrived at it, and what reactions you have to what’s going on with whatever you’re looking at. I’d like to say that good critics are able to analyze themselves the whole way through and track their emotional development throughout, but particularly in video games it seems that the most popular critics never leave their first impressions, just making things work because they’re good at communicating those first impressions. In any case, though, critiquing is very self-focused, very reactionary, and has a strong basis in communication.

Creating has a strong basis in communication as well, but aside from that, it’s where the similarities with critiquing end. It’s not about communicating a reaction, it’s about communicating a vision. Which of course, requires being able to build an interesting and full vision in the first place, having the technical chops and the resources required to achieve that vision, and a whole bunch of other skills I probably can’t speak to very well because I’m not a professional creator. Creating is forward-looking whereas critiquing is reactionary, building the material to deliver that reaction from whole cloth.

Which is not to say that being good at one can’t help you with the other. But there’s a lot of primary skills in both that don’t cross over. There’s a lot of stuff we can bemoan about a bad game, and armchair game design is a lot of fun, but we probably wouldn’t be able to build anything better without a lot of skill-building to overcome some of the realities of game creation. I can rail against the rogue-like nature of a game that seems poorly suited for it here, but perhaps without that the game had some even greater flaw.

It’s easy to be a critic. I’ve done it. So have plenty of other random internet weirdos with some free time and a checklist of slightly edgy jokes. And critics are very valuable. I’d say they’ve become even more valuable as it’s become easier to be a critic. And it is still important to call out bad games for what they are. But I have found Good Robot to be an excellent reminder that just being a good critic doesn’t mean anyone would be a good creator. Bad games are bad usually because game creation is hard and complex way more than anyone not involved in the process can understand, and that can sometimes be hard to see from the outside looking in.

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 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.

The Tabletop Critique-Magic the Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers

Despite my best intentions, Christmas happened again this year. Sorry about that. A man can only do his best, and although my best is considerable, it takes some time to efficiently bring Christmas to a close. Until then, I suppose we all have no choice but to suffer through it.

In the meantime, that means presents, from people. To me. They try their best. This year, me and mine seem to have gotten a lot of tabletop games. It’s been rather a year for that. A lesser man may simply play them, and leave it there, but I’m much more than that. Instead, I shall use this opportunity to enlighten the world! And you’re welcome.

Right. So with all my traditional self-absorbed pompousness out of the way, I got a lot of new tabletop games this holiday season. I’m going to review them. Sound good? Good.

The first game on the Tabletop Critique chopping block is this little number here.

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Magic: The Gathering holds a special place in my heart. I was super big into it as a cub. Well, as super big into it as you can get without actually owning any cards. See, I had those types of parents who thought that anything their children enjoyed was a tool of the devil, so, I had to rely on borrowing stuff from friends. Still, there was a time in my life where my thoughts were constantly on Magic. Beyond just the game itself, the stories, the world-building, and the lore had a really strong impact on me, kickstarting my imagination at a formative stage in my life in a way that little else did. It may be a little odd, but Magic was where I first started playing with storytelling, using the cards as setpieces to craft my own tales to tell myself, which built into one of those good old lifelong passions.

Eventually, I did start picking up the card game itself, then lapsed out of it, and now generally only play on special occasions. I still do have a lot of fond memories for the flavor and the world, however.

Which I suppose is where Arena of the Planeswalkers comes in. It’s a competitive miniature-based tabletop game. I know absolutely nothing about Heroclix, so I feel completely comfortable assuming this game is exactly the same but with a different flavor and a major twist to the mechanics somewhere. Each player controls one planeswalker figure and a collection of critters associated with them, then uses this squad to attempt to conquer all the other players who are doing the same.

In keeping with the source material, you’ve got five colors to work with, each with their own planeswalker, creatures, and spells. Each comes with their own strategic focuses, strengths, and weaknesses, giving you the tools you need to craft your tactics in taking the other teams down. Combat takes place on a game board that can be set up a couple of different ways, with a few obstacles and terrain features to present risks and opportunities. Each creature and planeswalker has different stats and traits, each spell card affects the battle in different ways, you get the picture.

Arena of the Planeswalkers isn’t very flavorful, but mechanically, it does carry the Magic the Gathering feel about as well as you could expect when turning the card game into a board game. The mechanics of it are quite simplified, but the functions carry over into the new format quite well. Summoning creatures plays much the same role as in the card games, and well placed spells will twist the flow of the game in exactly the same way as they can in the card game. In terms of mechanical feel, the game has built it’s similarities with the CCG with unequivocal success. Continue reading