Sunday, September 28, 2008

Game Night: Second Edition

I hosted another game day/night/event last night. Wife and daughter were out and about, so we had the house to ourselves all day. We started off playing Rock Band 2. Quite a lot of it. I'm not sure exactly what the problem was, but I think Rock Band 2 was moved down my wishlist if not dropped from it. It's not that I didn't have fun, but the game did not impress me at all. The only substantial change is the song selection, and while I think it's great that all the DLC and songs from the first game are available here, RB2's setlist sucks. I just looked up the complete song list, and of the 84 songs present, I see exactly 7 that interest me. As long as the DLC keeps coming for the first game, I'll stick with that.

From there we went to Castle Crashers, a game whose virtues I have praised here. A fun little beat 'em up game, my only real beef is that it gets repetitive, and a little bit hard to keep track of where your character is sometimes. Nevertheless, CC = fun. Then it was time for pizza, Mt Dew and board games.

We started off with TransAmerica, which went over very well. It was quick to learn, had some strategy and as an added bonus, is easy to play without making a mess while eating pizza. Since everyone was fairly new to the tawdry world of board games, TransAmerica is a suitable launching point. From there, we played a game of Settlers of Catan. This went pretty well too, even with people taking for-damn-ever trying to trade every turn. It helped that everyone was already familiar with the game.

We finished up with a fairly epic game of Arkham Horror. Considering that everyone else was new to the game, and we drew a real boner for the Ancient One, this game went great. I mean, the game took a hell of a long time largely because of Hastur's "you need 8 clue tokens to seal a gate" ability. Rob played well and rolled well and kicked a lot of ass. Luke played well, rolled and drew badly and ended up in limbo a lot. I was unsure of how to play my character and a little lost. I don't know what Fons was doing. But we closed the last gate and won the game right before Hastur was about to awaken. Right about at 2am.

All in all, a good time was had by all. The fact that several new players endured a very long, difficult and late game of Arkham Horror and enjoyed themselves makes me happy beyond measure.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Kat tells me that this was the name of a movie about transvestites. This post is not about ladies with penises, however. It's about a board game. And trains. Big ones.

My friend loaned me a copy of this board game last week, and my wife and I got a chance to play it last night. It made a pretty good first impression, TransAmerica is a lot like Ticket to Ride. It's very easy to learn and accessible, it's got a nice blend of luck and strategy, and most importantly it's a lot of fun.

Each round begins with each player drawing 5 cities from the deck and keeps them hidden. These are the cities that player will be trying to connect their train tracks to during that round. On each turn, each player may play 2 track pieces (or 1 if going over rivers or through mountains.) If your tracks are touching your opponent's tracks, you can build off of their tracks as well. The first player to connect their cities ends the round. Player who haven't connected their cities lose points based on how far they are from success. The game ends when one player has lost more than 12 points total. Whoever has the most points remaining at that point win the game.

It's luck elements come from the 5 city cards you draw to start each round. It's not completely random, and the game mechanics ensure that your cities will be at least somewhat distributed across the map. It's still possible to get a very favorable or unfavorable draw though. Much of the planning and strategy comes from deciding if and when to merge your tracks with your opponent's. If I can take care of connecting my cities in the west while you build to the east, then simply connect my tracks to yours, getting to my eastern cities will be much easier. Of course, things will get easier for you to.

Some luck, some strategy, easy rules. TransAmerica is much fun, and I plan on buying it eventually.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ye Olde Backlog

The backlog. I suspect all gamers have one. A stack of unplayed or unfinished games they've been meaning to get to. Sometimes I'll get a deal and wind up getting 2 or 3 games at once. Sometimes one game will eat up my playing time for weeks (Dragon Quest VIII) or months (World of Warcraft.) Sometimes I get to a frustrating point and leave the game be. Hell, sometimes a game appeals to me enough that I want to play it, but never enough to actually put it in and do so. My backlog looks like this:

Pikmin 2 for Gamecube

I played the first one and enjoyed it quite a bit, but got stuck somewhere and never finished it. Pikmin 2 I got for a song. I put it in for 5 minutes to see how it played. I'm sure it's great, it's just never worked its way to the top of the heap.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for Gamecube

I've sunk some time into this one. I remember being underwhelmed by it, largely because it was just like the N64 Paper Mario but not as good. I don't recall whether I got stuck or sidetracked by something better. I do recall taking it to Gamestop and being offered $1 trade-in value. It's a decent game, so it stays.

Beyond Good and Evil for Playstation 2

I played this a long time ago for the Gamecube. It didn't leave an impression on me and I traded it away. The game has such a good reputation and passionate following that when I saw it in the garbage bin for $6, I had to bring it home for another try. I have yet to put it in the console.

Grim Grimoire for Playstation 2

Gamestop was doing a 'buy 2 get 1 free' promo and this was my free one. It looks like a weird adventure/RPG/RTS hybrid. One day I'll find out.

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for Playstation 2

After playing Persona 3, I had a powerful lust to try another game in the Shin Megami Tensei series but they were all rare and out of print. I found this at Gamestop after it was rereleased and snatched it up. I've sat down with it couple of times and it just hasn't grabbed me yet. I've seen lots of "my favorite JRPG ever" sentiment thrown around, and I want to like it. Hopefully it'll change my mind next time.

Persona 3: FES for Playstation 2

I nearly hit the 100 hour mark on Persona 3 when I was done with it, and it impressed me more than any game I'd played in a long time. So when they rereleased the game with the FES post-story content, I had to buy it. So far though, they've taken the overworld/daytime/social aspect out of the game and left me with only the dungeon crawl part. I'm going to pick the game back up at some point and hope that this changes

Rogue Galaxy for Playstation 2

I bought this one used a long time ago. I got the start of chapter 2 and the game would freeze. I ended up getting my money back because they were out of them. I re-acquired the game on clearance at Target last year and have yet to try it again.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for Gamecube

I have made multiple efforts with this one. I have yet to meet a 3-D Zelda game I like. Last time I got stuck in a large dungeon inside a giat tree, got lost and pissed off. One day I'll finish this. Or not.

Half-Life 2: Episode 2 for Xbox 360

I'm an achievements whore. I playing this one right along, trying to get the Little Rocket Man achievement. This involves carrying a little garden gnome through the game with you and strapping him into the rocket ship when the time comes. It was little trouble until I got to the stage where you need to drive the car; the damn gnome will not stay in place, and everytime you drive he flies out of the car. Add to the mix a helicoptor shooting at you while driving and you get high frustration. This one is the most likely to get brought out and finished.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oh, the Horror!

It's everywhere!

So the Arkham Horror boardgame fell into my lap this week (Thanks, Fons.) It's a large, sprawling board game based on the Cthulhu mythos written by HP Lovecraft. I'm starting to get into his writings; I read Lurker at the Threshold a couple of years back, and I've started on his short stories like The Call of Cthulhu and Dagon. His stories are about supernatural evil, lurking just beyond the veil that seperates our world from theirs. Arkham Horror places 1-8 players in the role of a paranormal investigator seeking to prevent the ancient one from returning to our world and thus lowering property values and raising gas prices.

The game board represents the town of Arkham, as well as few smaller other dimensions the investigators must visit. On a given turn interdimensional gates will open, monsters will spawn into play and move around the board, players will find clues, fight monsters and attempt to seal the gates. Players can win the game by sealing a certain number of gates. If too many monsters get through, eventually the Ancient One returns and the players must do battle with him.

This is a co-operative, plaers versus the game experience. It's also got lots and lots of rules and exceptions to learn, and takes about 2-3 hours to complete. It's definitely not a pick up and play quickie game, and it seems to have quite a learning curve. Turns were dragging out as we kept referencing back to the rulebook. And sweet jesus, the horror spreads everywhere. Literally. The game is huge and sprawling, with an obscene amount of cards, dice, tokens and game pieces for everything under the sun.

That said, I'm liking the game so far, and I think it'll be a blast to play with the right group of people. We have yet to finish the first game (it's in stasis in the front room) but these are my early impressions. I love the setting and I'm looking forward to getting some more play time wiht this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Evolution of Catan

At this past Gen Con, wife and I picked up a copy of the Cities and Knights expansion for the Settlers of Catan board game. Catan was our gateway game into the world of board game geekiness, and we've spent much of our convention time at the Mayfair booth the last couple of years. So, a month after buying it, last night came time to finally give the expansion a try.

Our first game of Cities and Knights in progress.

This expansion places a large emphasis on cities (the upgrades from basic settlements in Catan.) Rather than producing 2 standard resources, cities now produce 1 resource and 1 of the new commodity cards (paper, cloth or coin.) Those commodity cards are used to make upgrades to your cities (market, churches, etc.) These upgrades are what allow you to draw the new Progress cards (which replace development cards from the basic Catan game.)

Knights are soldier units that can be built mainly for the purpose of defending Catan from the barbarians that periodically lands on its shores to pillage its cities. Successfully defending Catan from the barbarians yields the strongest defender a victory point. Knight and cities each cost stone, and with these 2 elements being so key to the game, good resource management is key with this add-on.

Running a Settlers of Catan demo at the Mayfair Booth, Gen Con 07.

Long story short, Cities and Knights adds more complexity and strategy to basic Settlers of Catan game. Wife and I didn't get a chance to finish our game (it was late and the front room was filled with poison*) but I'm looking forward to giving it another go, and seeing how it works out with 3+ players. It was overwhelming at first, but after a few turns we got the hang of it pretty well. All in all, Cities and Knights adds a lot to the game. Next on my list is the Seafarers of Catan add-on.

*We had been using a large card table in the game room, which was still a little too small for our needs. For example, the Gangsters board game itself fit, but did not leave enough room for everyone's cards, game pieces and whatnot. On our front porch was a circular wooden table we'd bought at a garage sale a few years ago. It was on the front porch because we lacked the space to store it inside. After donating the recliner that was in the game room, it was time to bring the wooden table inside.

Now, there is a large roof covering our porch which has 2 effects:
- It protects the porch (and the table) from the elements.
- It has made our porch a haven for spiders.

The porch has become a warzone, pitting humans vs spiders. This table had been sitting on the porch for about a year, meaning it was crawling with spiders. First I took the broom to it and broomed the shit out of it. Spiders and nests begone! I then flipped the table and sprayed the hell out of the little nooks and crannies with pest killer. The resulting cloud of green poison made us evacuate the game room a little early. It is currently under quarantine and will be open again soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How I'm a Dick and Why

It was brought to my attention while playing Castle Crashers cooperatively that I'm a greedy dick who takes all of the weapons and gold. Once I was accused of this behavior, I realized that it was true. When playing co-op games, I am generally aware of all of my teammates health, and I try to help them out if they look like they're in trouble. I point out food or health powerups when someone is in need of them. Whenever loot of some kinds hits the group, I instinctively snap it up without thinking. I share my in-game possessions selflessly, but I do try to take every single thing that appears.

Where did I go wrong? Was it my parents' fault? Were violent video games to blame? And it turns out that, like most murders, robberies, rapes and acts of terrorism, violent videos games are responsible. This loot-whoring behavior can be traced back to the seedy, smoky arcades I frequented growing up. The game responsible for me becoming a greedy, loot-snatching bastard would have to be Gauntlet. A 4-player co-op dungeon crawl littered with keys, treasure and food. Don't even get me started on the bonus treasure stages. And yes, I always chose the speedy little green elf character.

The next, and worst, offender is the 2 diablo games. Grabbing up all the equipment in original Playstation Diablo with my buddy was no big deal, but Diablo 2 on Battlenet is where the greed bug really took hold. When you're runnng through Diablo 2 with seven strangers, the quickest mouse pointer gets the loot, so it quickly became second nature to jump on anything that dropped. The focus was on the gameplay and grabbing up the loot simply became second nature, automatically handled by the reflexes in my brain.

I'm making an effort to change, but basically the stuff that drops in Castle Crashers? Mine.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Game Night: Maiden Voyage

Saturday Night was the first of what I hope will be many game events hosted at my place. I've got 8 or 9 people on my invite list, with the expectation that I won't get more than 4 or 5 people on any given day. The first gathering was semi-successful. The first gamer showed up around 5 or so, and it was just he and I for an hour or so. Luke is relatively new to these crazy board games, so I imagine tonight was a lot to take in. We started off with a head to head game of Carcassonne: The Discovery. It was his first time playing Carcassonne in any form, and he picked it up very well, as my victory was pretty narrow. This probably took about 30 to 45 minutes, we then moved on to Rummikub for a bit.

Settling the island of Catan.

Matt showed up near the end of our Rummikub game, and he wanted to try Settlers of Catan so we set up the board, placed our starting settlements and got started. Jimbob showed up shortly after we got started, so we let him place 2 settlements, gave him a couple of bonus resources and he jumped in. Matt was the only one new to Catan at the table, and everyone enjoyed it though it was probably the longest game of Catan I've ever been a part of. The laws of probability failed us, as stone, which paid out on 8, 10 and 12, was incredibly scarce. 8 and 10 only rolled a couple of times each, while the dice continuously rolled 3s and 4s. Matt latched onto Longest Road early on and never let go. I eventually ended things when I got to a wood port and was able to trade up for stone and upgrade to cities. It's looking like I may need to pick up the 5-6 player add-on for Settlers of Catan in the near future.

Settlers took almost 2 hours, a hell of a long time for this game. We then busted out Gangster, a new favorite of Jimbob and myself, which the others wanted to try. This game went over very well, and everyone understood the scoring rules it got pretty competitive. I took advantage of a war between Matt and Jimbob and snagged several smaller territiories while the others fought over a few high point-value ones. The last round saw everyone conspiring to dump my men in the river while I scrambled about trying to end the game as quickly as possible.

Gangster: damn, it feels good.

All said, everything went pretty well, and the only real problem was that we didn't really get started until about 630 or so. That and the table in the gaming room is too damn small. Game Night: Part Deux is tentatively planned for Saturday Sept 20th.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Holiday Season Wishlist

As usual, the fall-winter months are chock full of promising new releases sure to drain the bank accounts of many-a-gamer. I can't imagine I'll be able to afford more than one or two of these, but that just means I'll be able to get them later at discount prices. So it's a good thing...right?

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise for Xbox 360

Filled with fun!

This one's already out. It's a sequel to the original Viva Pinata, a bright, cheery, kiddie, fun little killing and fucking simulator. It's beautiful, relaxing and surprisingly deep. I've also got the gotta-catch-em-all sickness, and having so many different species of pinata to attract to my garden is appealing.

Fallout 3 for Xbox 360, PC

Fallout 3: Family Edition

This one's been in development for a while now. It's made by the fine folks who gave us Oblivion a couple of years ago. The Fallout series is highly regarded, and it's one of those that I bought the games, and always meant to get into them but never did. Post-apocalyptic shenanigans sounds like fun to me, it also sounds like there are several ways to play the game and, reportedly, multiple endings which will give the game good replay value. If I can only get one title this season, it'll probably be this.

Persona 4 for Playstation 2

Persona 4: English Edition - coming in November

Yes, they're still making RPGs for Playstation 2. I said Fallout 3 was tops on my wishlist, that's bullshit. Persona 3 was an absolute blast, and Persona 4 keeps several of the game mechanics from its predecessor and throws in a murder mystery plot. I love those.

Dragon Quest IV for Nintendo DS

This is a remake of ye olde NES game from days gone by. One of my all-time favorite RPGs will be receiving a graphical facelift (obviously) as well as a major gameplay tweak: your party members will no longer be AI controlled. That enough makes the game a must-buy for me.

Alan Wake for Xbox 360, PC

Alan Wake is out looking for his develpoment studio with a flashlight and gun, planning to demand a release date. Or, better yet, a release.

Alan Wake looks and sounds great. It's about horror/thriller/adventure game about a writer working in a small, secluded town and involves supernatural shit. The bad part is, it's been in development for a couple of years now, and there's no release date in sight. Putting this on my holiday season wishlist is pure horseshit, but a guy can dream, right?

Rock Band 2 for Xbox 360

Rock Band 2 will be more of the same, with a few minor tweaks. Sounds good to me.

More songs. Band quickplay will be easier. Online world tour mode. More songs. All downloadable songs from Rock Band will be compatible with Rock Band 2. Harmonix is also including the option to import the songs from the first game disc into RB2 for 5 bucks.

There are several others upcoming as well, but these are the big-uns.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Best of Xbox Live Arcade

Lately I've been doing the majority of my gaming with my XBLA games. It's a combination of not having enough money to buy expensive new games for the Xbox and there being some great downloadable titles out there. So I figured it's time for a top 5 list! Sure, they're pointless exercises in conceit but hey, no one's looking anyway. So I'll go ahead and indulge myself. I love writing these damn things as much as I love reading them. Here are the top 5 Xbox Live Arcade games in no particular order.

Pacifism in Geometry Wars 2.

Geometry Wars 2: The original Geometry Wars felt more like a throwback to my younger years in the arcades than any other game the service offers. Nothing to explain, easy to pick up and play, hard to put down. GW2 took an already great classic game and improved upon it. In addition to the orignal "kill everything and aim for the High Score" gameplay mode, the sequel adds some fun new modes to the mix. The best of these is Pacifism, where your ship cannot fire and must destroy the ever-growing mob of enemies by flying through gates that appear randomly. There is also a timed mode, a mode that involves flying from safe zone to safe zone (King) and a fast-paced, chaotic mode called Waves that becomes hopelessly hectic in a short time. Geometry Wars 2 captures your attention, keeping your focus glued to the game until the end. It has provided several of those "holy crap I haven't blinked in a hell of a long time" moments.

The thoroughly awesome and impossibly expensive super-ultra-comes-in-a-wooden-treasure-chest edition of Settlers of Catan.

Catan: Settlers of Catan made the transition from board game to Xbox Live with everything in tact. It's a great blend of strategy and chance that involves setting up territories near resources, building roads and new settlements and robbing your opponents. Each resource node in the game is given a number, and when that number is rolled everyone with an adjacent settlement gets that resource. It's a relatively simple to learn board game, and it's a gateway drug for more complexe strategy board games. It's the main reason we've spent the last couple of years at Gen Con playing and buying board games.

Puzzle + RPG = fun.

Puzzle Quest: Puzzle Quest took the addictive old "match 3 colored gems" gameplay of Bejeweled, added RPG elements and somehow the results were pure gold. Assuming you find gold impressive, that is. Your character can equip weapons and armor, gain experience levels and learn skills, so there is always a sense of progression in the game. Matching gems gives you mana which is used to fuel spells and skills, and there's that blend of skill and randomness that many of the best games have. There are 4 different classes to choose from, giving the game lots of replay value. Puzzle Quest isn't limited to Xbox Live - odds are, if you have any sort of electronic device, you can play Puzzle Quest on it. And you should. Now.

The evolution of Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Championship Edition: Namco Bandai took the classic Pac-Man game's weakness (an ever-unchaging stage) and made it a strength. The stages now morph as you play, and you can also chain together power pellets to rack up a huge score. These 2 simple changes make a world of difference, and this 30 year old game feels fresh and new again. My only beef with the game is that all the different game modes are timed, it could have benefitted from a classic "play until you run out of lives" mode. And a multiplayer mode of some sort. These shortcomings don't make it a bad game, there were just opportunities to make it better.

Goth Metroid with whips? Sounds good to me.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: As a horse's ass who missed out on this game back in the PS1 days, I will thrilled to see this available on XBL for 10 bucks. Thrilled as hell, let's say. Internet nerds everywhere refer to this as "Metroidvania," a Castlevania game using the mechanics of a Metroid game. It's an open game world where you are free to decide where you'd like to go, and you'll find several dead ends which remain closed to you until you find a skill or upgrade that lets you bypass it. There are also plenty of hidden areas and items you find for us "collecting stuff" junkies. This game is a classic for good reason.

These are my picks for the best Xbox Live Arcade has to offer, with apologies to Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Castle Crashers.