Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Top 50 Games: 50-47

A few years back, I did a listing of my best video games of all time on our shared blog. The process was fun for me, and I feel it's time for an agonizing reappraisal of the situation. I'm going to redo my personal top 50 video games list and post them here. There won't be a huge number of changes from the last one, as I've been playing video games for some 25 years now.

The rankings are based on my own personal feelings and whims. They have nothing to do with sales, awards or anything else.

Number 50:
Title: Theme Hospital
Platform: Sony Playstation
Genre: Strategy/Simulation

We'll kick things off with one most of you won't be familiar with. Theme Hospital is a PC game (later ported over to the Playstation) about constructing and managing a hospital. You'd start off with a certain amount of cash and an empty building. The game consists of building various diagnostics and treatment rooms and hiring a (hopefully) competent staff to run the operation. You need to make sure your layout is practical, otherwise people will have trouble getting from one place to another. If patients have to wait too long they'll either leave or die, neither of which is good. Your doctors, nurses, receptionists and janitors will work faster the more they're paid, and they'll often demand raises. The game is made by Bullfrog Games (it's a sequel to Theme Park) and is full of tongue-in-cheek humor. Among the ailments your patients have: TV Personalities, Corrugated Ankles, Bloaty Head and The Squits. Theme Hospital also has the distinction of being the first thing I ever purchased online. My mom and I went up to the Yale Library, went to and bought the game with her credit card. Go capitalism go!

Number 49:
Title: Golden Axe
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Side-scrolling beat 'em up

In the late eighties, the beat up all the bad guys on the screen style of co-op games were pretty popular. Double Dragon was the first one I remember seeing, followed by things like Bad Dudes and Streets of Rage. The plot of Bad Dudes was "Ninjas have kidnapped the President. Are you BAD enough to rescue him?" How awesome is that? Anyhow, the best of these games was Golden Axe. You got to choose a character at the beginning from the male warrior (average at everything) the female warrior (poor at combat, powerful magic spells) or the dwarven warrior (weak magic, powerful combat.) I typically chose the dwarf. There was a story about Death-Adder and killing your parents or innocent villagers or some such nonsense. It was an excuse to run from stage to stage killing bad guys. Along the way there were mounts you could ride like dragons or weird lizard/bird hybrid monsters. In between stages you would make camp and sleep, and while you were sleeping little midgets would come and rob you. You got to chase them around and kick them until they gave your stuff back. If you beat the game, it showed the monsters coming out of the arcade cabinet and chasing you down the street. On the screen, I mean. Not in real life. Great game.

Number 48:
Title: Paper Mario
Platform: Nintendo 64
Genre: Roleplaying Game

If I had more memory of it, this spot would probably be held by Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo. I don't recall anything about the game other than the fact that I loved it. My sister, however, let her then-boyfriend borrow it some 15 years ago and it disappeared into the abyss. I do still own, remember and enjoy Paper Mario however. It's one of the (very) few good N64 games. Paper Mario had the typical Mario story of the princess being kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario needing to rescue her. The game is written with a good degree of humor, and definitely not afraid to poke fun at itself which is always welcome. It's a turn-based RPG with some timing thrown in, so you can score some bonus damage if you hit a button at just the right time or if you rotate the analog stick just right. That sort of thing helps keep the combat more involved than many old-school RPGs. If you like Mario and RPGs, odds are pretty good you'd like Paper Mario. It's also available for download on the Wii for a reasonable price.

Number 47:
Title: Tetris
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Genre: Puzzle

If I were basing the list on worldwide appeal and impact on the gaming industry, Tetris would probably be number one. It would certainly be in the top 5. After all, it is largely responsible for the success of the original Nintendo Gameboy, which helped get us where we are - with handhelds like the DS and PSP becoming major players in the video game industry. Every knows it, everyone knows how to play it, and I'd bet that people will still be playing it in 50 years. How many other games could you say that about?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Game Review: Attika

What's in the box?

The game consists of several discs made up of hex spaces, a deck of small cards and a rule book. Each player also gets a player sheet to keep track of their buildings and 30 discs representing those buildings. The components are pretty good quality, and the aesthetic of the game really works for me. The cards are smallish, similar in size to the original Ticket to Ride cards. There isn't much information to be displayed on them, so the size works fine in a functional sense, they're just a little awkward to shuffle for those of us with big hands.

Everything that comes in the box with Attika

How long does it take to play?

Our 2-player games of Attika take about 45 minutes. If someone is sneaky enough (or if their opponent is careless enough) they can win the came more quickly, and likewise if one of the players is AP prone, the game could take longer.

How does the game end?

There are two ways to win the game:

- be the first to place all 30 of your buildings on the board or
- be the first to have a chain of buildings reaching from one shrine to the other (the game starts with a shrine marker at each end of the board.)

How does it work?

At the beginning of the game, you divide your building tokens into 4 random, face down stacks and deal resource cards to each player. You then randomly choose 4 pieces to build the game board from, placing a shrine marker at each end. The building tokens each have a list of the resources needed to build them, these resources correspond to the resource cards in your hand and the resource symbols on the game board. The resources are water, forests, hills and mountains.

To play a building on the board, you pay its cost in resources by placing it adjacent to those resources on the board and/or paying resource cards from your hand. You'll spend your turns drawing more building discs from your supply and either placing them on the board or on your player mat for use in future turns. There are ways to play building without paying any resources if they're built in a certain order, and placing certain clusters of buildings together gets you an amphora token, which can be spend to take an additional action. As you begin exhausting your supply of building tokens, you start adding additional sections to the board. In this way, it is possible to open new routes to the shrines that were previously blocked off.

Of the two winning conditions, I initially believed the 'place all 30 of your buildings' to be the much more common way to win - our first 3 games all ended this way. It seemed pretty easy to block an opponent from connecting the 2 shrines, but subsequent plays have shown that it is quite possible to connect the shrines, you just have to be crafty about it and do a bit of planning ahead. If your opponent isn't vigilant about blocking you early on in your progress, you can surprise them with some solid planning. One could focus on trying to connect the shrines, or focus on trying to place their buildings as cheaply as possible in an attempt to play them all quickly. Most games so far have been a mix of the two.

A 2-player game of Attika in progress

Who will enjoy this game?

Those who are looking for a quick, intelligent tactical game will find what they are looking for here. There is definitely a strong "take that" aspect to the game as well. The game rewards adaptation as well. It's nice to try to form a plan, but it's important to keep an eye on your opponent as well.

Who won't enjoy this game?

Those who don't like having their plan interrupted may be frustrated with the game. I can see how some would consider the game to be a bit dry as well. The art style may put some people off too, I suppose. There is a little bit of luck of the draw between drawing your buildings and drawing cards from the deck, but I don't see this causing any big swings. Indeed, I'm not sure I can imagine a loss in Attika I didn't have a chance to prevent.

What I liked:

I love the reactionary play of the game. Trying to find a balance between accomplishing my goals and thwarting yours is the meat and potatoes of Attika. I've had a game or two where I thought I knew what my wife was up to, figured I could wait a turn or two before trying to stop her and got surprised. Likewise, I like trying to hold back amphoras and resource cards until I can make one big push in a single turn and ambush my opponent.

What I didn't like:

The back side of the player mats and board pieces look like big Q-Bert boards and make my eyes hurt.

A close up of a Corinth player mat

The bottom line:

I love Attika. My wife likes it too. It feels like there is room to grow and learn as we play more games of it. You can learn new strategies from your opponent and incorporate them into your own play. The game feels like a race where you're always trying to trip each other. The game's aesthetic is simple and beautiful. I'm curious how this game will work with 3 or 4 players, but It's becoming a staple for my wife and I. It seems every time we sit down to game, she requests Vikings and I request Attika. Win/win.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cool City Games in Port Huron

Just a quick shout out to my Friendly Local Game Shop, Cool City Games in Port Huron. I'm typically there playing board games on Wednesday nights, I know they have Thursday night Magic events, I believe they have open gaming on Friday and Saturday nights as well. They sell Magic, board games and sports cards. They are located at 724 Huron Avenue (next to Alpine Cycle.)

Stop by and say hi sometime!