Minesweeper Genius Review

Released 2019
Platform Switch (reviewed), Android, iOS, PlayStation, XBOX, Windows
Publisher Blowfish Games (Website)
Developer Mother Gaia Studio (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Puzzle
Deductive Logic

Far from a new game, but it’s new to Switch, so I nabbed it. It’s not the Minesweeper I remember, but it’s not a bad evolution either.

As an older computer geek, I have had a soft spot for Minesweeper for decades. It used to come bundled with Windows, all the way back from Windows 3.1. It’s only Windows 10 that stopped that little tradition, but you can still get it from the Microsoft Store.

It’s far from the greatest game in the world. But it is a satisfyingly frustrating logic puzzle, and if you just want a little bit of a distraction, it fit the bill fine. Not a game for everyone, but it was free and it scratched an itch.

As I mentioned in Last Week’s Gaming a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing through the Switch eShop, and I saw Minesweeper Genius for something like AUD$1.20. So I thought what the hell and gave it a try.

Minesweeper Classic
I almost grew up with the screen. Such a simple concept should not be so hard!

Since when does Minesweeper have a story?

One of the first differences you see from ‘classic’ Minesweeper is that you control a character called Aristotle. You have been captured by aliens or something, and you need to solve their tests.

Honestly, the story isn’t essential or even necessary to understand. I have yet to hit a cutscene or anything along those lines, so you just jump in and play.

So the only ‘story’ you have to deal with is that you need to complete a variety of different puzzles and then get to the end.

Minesweeper Genius - Early Levels
The early levels are very simple - at least, for someone that has already played a lot of Minesweeper

Puzzles? It’s Minesweeper, isn’t it?

Yes, but with a small difference. When you play Minesweeper, you need to clear all the non-mined squares. In Minesweeper Genius, you need to guide Aristotle through the level. It’s a small functional difference, but it is a difference.

What makes me put Minesweeper Genius more into the puzzle category than deductive logic is the fact he can’t backtrack. You do need to find the one path to the level exit.

The initial levels are very simple and let you get a feel for how to play the game. If you judge Minesweeper Genius from the first few areas, you would think it was a ridiculously simple game with little challenge.

Minesweeper Genius - Level Select
Each area is split into 10 levels of the same difficulty level

There are a few unique tiles that allow you to jump a square, or move rows/columns in a direction. As you get into larger areas, more indicators are placed within the level itself, not just the number of mines in a row or column. These take a while to get to though. So there is a bit of ‘stick with it’ for Minesweeper veterans.

Once you get through an area, you unlock the advanced puzzles. Early on, these ramp up the difficulty significantly. So if you are looking for more from the game, this is a good way to keep you interested as you get through the lower difficulty levels. If you are learning, you can come back when you have a better grasp of the game.

Minesweeper Genius - Early Advanced Level
The advanced levels ramp up the complexity nicely

So I just look up solutions online. What’s the fun in that?

So when you play, if you get through a level without dying, you get a 3-star rating. So if you complete every level with 3 stars, I am guessing that’s your completion goal?

I made a few mistakes at an early level, but Aristotle’s body was a grim reminder a mine was there. So I thought I would retry the level now I knew the layout, and keep my scoring streak going.

Reloading the level, it had changed entirely. So no walkthroughs are available – you have to complete the randomly generated puzzle!

This actually made me excited. Once I find an area I can just jump into and play with the difficulty I am looking for, I can play an endless amount of levels. So this isn’t a ‘one and done’ run through, which I appreciate.

So should I buy Minesweeper Genius?

If you are interested enough to look for this review, probably. Especially if you pick it up for sale like I did for only a couple of dollars.

Looking around, it has been released on almost everything. You could get it on your phone, PC, PlayStation and Xbox. Personally, I think mobile and Switch make the most sense, maybe on PC.

Minesweeper Genius is a game you pick up for a few minutes at a time and forget about until you next want a quick diversion. I couldn’t see myself firing up my PlayStation or Xbox for a few games. I have been firing up my Switch while something is playing on the TV though, and it’s been fun.

Minesweeper Genius - Progress so far
The best praise I can give is that I actually want to finish all the levels

Overall Thoughts

Minesweeper Genius is an evolution of the classic Minesweeper game. Straightforward and challenging, it’s a great way to pass a few minutes while keeping your brain engaged.

The music is repetitive, and the visual style could use some variation. Still, Minesweeper Genius is a solid game and a great new take on a classic game.

If you are a Minesweeper veteran though, you will need to spend at least 15 minutes clearing the ‘easy’ levels before getting to a real challenge though.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Clean (if bland) visual style
  • Very accessible and easy to pick up
  • Good challenge difficulty curve for beginners
  • Random puzzle generation leads to infinite playability

Cons

  • The soundtrack can be annoying
  • More suited to mobile gaming than dedicated play sessions

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

The Outer Worlds Review

The Outer Worlds Cover Art
The Outer Worlds Cover Art
Released 2019 (Switch 2020)
Platform Nintendo Switch
PlayStation 4
Xbox One
Windows
Publisher Obidian Entertainment (Website)
Developer Obidian Entertainment (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Open World (Hub World)
Adventure
RPG
Sci-Fi

Bethesda doesn’t like it when you call The Outer Worlds ‘Fallout in Space’. That will be because The Outer Worlds isn’t a Bethesda game.

Last year, I wrote about The Outer Worlds in a few Last Week’s Gaming articles. I inhaled this game. As a fan of the Fallout games, I was keen on seeing Obsidian’s take on a new world to explore.

This review was delayed partly because I played The Outer Worlds on Xbox with Game Pass, and my plan was always to buy it on Switch upon release and do a review. Launch delays, and the game coming to Switch just as I started getting busy work-wise, meant that this is a review long in the making.

Before I talk about the game, I am going to get the Switch comparison out of the way.

Like The Witcher 3: Complete Edition, there are visual sacrifices. The Switch is an impressive piece of hardware, but it’s not in the same class as the ‘proper’ consoles in terms of raw power.

There are texture popping issues, and frame rates dip when a lot of characters are in an area. A fight with about 8-10 enemies (which happens a couple of times in the first world), my guess is about 15-18 frames per second in handheld mode? I can only estimate from feel, but the dips are apparent, and if you are in melee combat, this will make things harder than ranged combat.

That said, I am now about 40% complete on Switch, and I have played almost exclusively in handheld mode. Yes, I have had to reload because of the fights I have lost. But I had to do that on the Xbox One S as well. General exploration and gameplay have been fun, and everything works well overall.

The Outer Worlds Sign Not Loaded In Properly
It looks worse when on a big screen, but the sign is only 'half loaded' - this is an example of texture popping

My biggest complaint is the ‘fuzziness’ of the screen when playing in handheld mode. The game is compensating for lower performance by dropping the resolution. When exploring the open world, it’s almost impossible to tell a tree from a human enemy at a distance. It’s not game-breaking, but I was using my gun scope to look at trees a lot!

I also have not seen any of the ‘loading circles’ mid-game other people complaining about at any time. I don’t know why. I have the eShop (downloaded) version, but I do have a slightly overkill for Switch SD card. The exact card from Amazon is: Samsung 512GB 100MB/s (U3) MicroSDXC Evo Select Memory Card with Adapter (MB-ME512GA/AM).

I am not trying to say this is the best card for Switch or anything like that, but if your using a slower card, maybe that is part of the problem? A lot of information needs to be loaded into the world, and a slower card may cause these pauses in play. But because I didn’t experience the issue, it’s a semi-educated guess.

Switch SD Card
This card is overkill normally for the Switch, but I got it on sale. Maybe my game isn't waiting for loads?

So should I play The Outer Worlds on Switch?

It’s a hard one. I am going to finish The Outer Worlds a couple more times at least, playing with different skill builds and faction responses. 

This week, I had an in-person meeting. The drive had the potential for a lot of traffic, but it was a good drive, and I got there pretty early. Being able to pull out my Switch and do a couple of quest steps and put it away was great.

Again, like The Witcher on Switch, being able to play wherever I am in short bursts like this is the primary benefit. The longest session I played continuously was about 3 hours, and I had to plug the charger in.

If you only have a Switch, you will enjoy playing The Outer Worlds. If you primarily want to play in docked mode and have a PS4/Xbox One (or a gaming PC), I would stick to those versions. The experience is better, but the gameplay is identical.

The Outer Worlds Ada is dissapointed
The humour is present throughout the game, often much more subtly than this

OK, so what is The Outer Worlds?

The Outer Worlds in a lot of ways is a typical RPG adventure. You play a character and become the hero to some and the enemy of others.

The story begins in a way I really enjoy. Short version, two colony ships were sent into the far reaches of space. Everyone was cryogenically frozen for the trip, and the idea was that a new solar system would be terraformed and inhabited.

Things didn’t quite go to plan, and one ship (The Hope) didn’t quite make it. All of the colonists are still in hibernation, and instead of being frozen for 10 years, you are woken up 70 years later.

The Outer Worlds Phineas Welles
You are 'rescued' by fugitive scientist Phneas Welles. Help him, or turn him in - it's up to you

From here, you set out to explore the new worlds. You can try and save everyone from the greedy corporations, or join them and make life very comfortable for yourself. The choice is yours.

Because your character is coming in effectively 60 years late, asking why the world works the way it does makes sense in the narrative. On my first playthrough, I asked everyone everything I could to learn about the world. The second time, I knew which questions to ask, and skipped asking about the corporations or who certain characters are.

The Outer Worlds Opening The Hatch - Switch
The first glimpse of a new world, as shown on the Switch. Now, it's up to you.

What The Outer Worlds isn’t.

It’s not Fallout. Obsidian developed Fallout: New Vegas, a game that on launch I couldn’t play. It was so full of game-breaking bugs I just had to stop. Over time, all of these issues were fixed, and New Vegas became so polished, too many it’s considered the best Fallout game to date.

There are very similar mechanics though, so the comparison for Fallout players is unfortunately natural. You can slow time instead of using the V.A.T.S. system, some conversations lead to side quests, and those quests can end in different ways with the choices you make.

While there is a lot of combat in the game, it’s also not a shooter or first-person combat game. You can solve a lot of problems with violence, but you can also talk your way through a lot of situations. If you have science skill, you can also use that to help/hurt people (and yourself).

The Outer Worlds Time Dilation
When you use Time Dilation, everything slows down and you get some extra tactical information

Fallout was built on 7 character statistics – the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. The Outer Worlds has expanded the character customisation, but also made it still streamlined for a baseline experience.

But what do you do in the game?

Here is where it gets tricky. On the first world of Edgewater, you need a power regulator to repair your ship and leave the planet. Everyone does this, and it’s why I concentrate on only showing this world.

But even with this seemingly linear opening act, you can choose very different ways of reaching your own goal. You can help the people there or make more money supporting some more selfish characters.

You can help the settlement overall, or you can help a single faction for short term goals and let the colony suffer in the long term. Things you set in motion at this early stage can open choices later in the game – or close them.

The Outer Worlds Edgewater Summary
This is how my shenanigans in Edgewater ended. How will yours look?

Oh no, I don’t want an early choice to ruin the game for me!

It won’t. Unlike some adventure games I have played, there is no ‘critical’ choice you can make very early on. You will see the options being laid out, but it will be at least 8 hours in before you can commit to a path.

Character creation follows this methodology as well. You are presented with a screen full of statistics, but until you hit a level of 50 in a branch, you upgrade all skills within. From there, you can choose to specialise in particular areas. For example, you can increase ranged weapons to 50, but then decide to specialise in handguns. You can still use the other weapons without handicaps – you just don’t get any bonuses either.

The Outer Worlds Character Creation
It looks like a lot to keep track of, but the charcter system is very simple and helps you experiment

OK. So why would I want to play The Outer Worlds? You haven’t talked much about that.

It’s tough to talk about The Outer Worlds in detail without either a) spoilers or b) talking about potential story areas you might not see.

The Outer Worlds has a lot of humour to it, but it also has a story that can be as deep as you want it to be. The overall story is about corporate greed, but how you explore this storyline is up to you. You can play the game ignoring the lore, or you can explore deeper and form bonds with your crew and NPCs.

Bottom line, if you enjoy sci-fi and open-world RPGs, The Outer Worlds is a game that should be on your radar.

The Outer Worlds - Loading Screen
I love the style and humour in these loading screens

If you have a PC/Xbox and Game Pass and are on the fence, grab it on Game Pass. You don’t need a ‘great’ video card to play The Outer Worlds on PC, so even if you try it out before buying it for PS4/Switch you will have a great idea of what you are getting into.

Overall Thoughts

Take all the best elements of playing Fallout: New Vegas, and move it into a new environment. Multiple quests, character stats that allow you to play differently, faction relationships – it’s all here.

The Outer Worlds still isn’t perfect. For example, defeated enemies can disappear, making quests impossible to complete. Some of the choices you get are very black and white – not every storyline has nuance.

But if you enjoy a semi-open ended adventure, The Outer Worlds is a fantastic start to hopefully a new franchise.

Best play experience order – PC (mid-high tier graphics card) > PS4/Xbox One > Switch. That said, The Outer Worlds is enjoyable on every platform. The Switch version has the most visual sacrifices, but you can play it anywhere – it’s a pretty good trade-off.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Solid (if cliched) story
  • Plenty of player choice in story and upgrade system
  • Great atmosphere overall
  • Combat isn’t deep, so don’t need to be great at shooters to do well
  • Replayable for different endings/character types
  • On Game Pass if you want to try/play that way

Cons

  • Not a lot of enemy types
  • Hub style open world – lots of loading screens
  • You can get quest breaking bugs, especially when enemies you need to loot vanish.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

The Card: Poker, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Page One Review

The Card Title Screen
The Card Title Screen
Released 2018
Platform Platforms
Publisher D3Publisher Inc. (Website)
Developer D3Publisher Inc. (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Card Games
Poker
BlackJack
Texas Holdem
Page One

It’s like someone looked at The Game and proclaimed “Hold My Beer”. The Card is going to be hard to beat for search engine unfriendliness.

I enjoy poker. Not gambling so much, but poker. Texas Holdem and Omaha Hi-Lo are probably my favourite flavours. But playing these games without going to a casino and spending money has always been a mixed affair.

Home games are fine, but eventually, players always come along that insist ‘it’s no fun without cash on the line’. That leaves video games.

These have always been hit or miss. Years ago I would play the World Series of Poker games. They were fine, but the story mode and animation would annoy me when I just wanted to unwind.

There are some free poker games (mainly online multiplayer), but I find they are full of people that just go all in every hand.

If you want to play snap, please leave my poker table!

WSOP Tournament of Champions
Graphically impressive for the time, but to just 'play' poker the old WSOP games were frustrating

So cruising around the Nintendo eShop the other day, I saw a game that made me think The Game has competition. Not in gameplay, but in being the worst titled game around.

Meet The Card: Poker, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Page One.

So the first thing that people will probably notice is the look of the game. No flashy animation, no avatar, no even real naming options. The tutorials are all text. No cut scenes, and no voice acting.

It looks like a student project. It’s a polished project, but a simple application without any ‘flash’. But it’s also AUD$2.25 on the eShop at the moment. I had $1.70ish in my wallet and points for the difference, so I bought The Card.

Lately, I haven’t had much ability to play the games I want to. A poker game I can pick up and play sounded like a nice distraction.

And honestly, it surprised me.

The Card - Menu
The screens are functional, if not eye catching

It’s just a card game, what’s to enjoy playing solo?

Like any game, card games aren’t for everyone. What had me interested in The Card was Texas Holdem, and maybe Blackjack.

There have been quite a few video card poker games. Most are online affairs, but the ones that focused on solo play also tended to try and give the player ‘a game’.

Not in a ‘how do you make poker more interesting’ type game. All of these games have set rules and changing those changes the game. No, you usually get ‘story modes’ that add objectives for you.

Another addition can be player avatars. These can be further enhanced to show the AI players thinking, trying to recreate the experience of ‘reading’ your opponents.

The Card - Casino Menu
You don't have to 'unlock' games - just pick what you want to play

While interesting and technically impressive, if you just want to sit down and play some cards, having to sit through all these aspects can be detrimental to the experience.

This is where The Card shines. Want to play a couple of rounds of Blackjack? Start the game, select the game, and you are playing straightaway. No downtime, no fluff, just the game.

The Card - Blackjack
Want to just play some blackjack? In The Card, you can be in and playing almost immediately.

You better already know how to play the game.

This streamlined game experience does have some drawbacks. There is no tutorial on how to play, for example. There are ‘how to play’ rules, but they are very short. It’s not like Poker or Blackjack has complicated rules. Still, there is terminology specific to the games that you should already know.

Luckily there are plenty of YouTube videos that will teach you how to play each game. Eventually, I will be looking one up for Page One – I have never heard of this game! But the other three games are well executed, so why not give it a try?

The Card - Tutorial
The information is fine for refreshers, but if you were learning the game like this, different story.

But what’s the incentive to play in the first place?

This is where my usage may be considered niche, but I doubt I am alone in wanting a Card Game distraction. I gave The Card a chance on a whim. It was cheap, and what was the harm?

Where The Card instantly showed me one of its strength is each ‘tournament’ is only 5 rounds. Will you make a fortune playing 5 hands of cards? Probably not. But you won’t instantly go broke trying to ‘beat’ a tournament to progress either.

You can raise bets to be ‘all in’ and push your luck, but it’s not the default play style. This is your only real goal – play a few rounds, hopefully leave the table with more chips than you started with, and build a virtual fortune.

The Card - Customisation
You can customise a lot more than I expected, not just some appearances.

There is no tournament scene to dominate, or local ‘legends’ to beat to progress. Just sit and play some cards.

The best part? You can finish a ‘tournament’ in about two to three minutes, depending on your analysis paralysis level. Without having to watch AI players ‘think’ about their moves or watch pretty but time-consuming animations, the games are incredibly quick.

What keeps you wanting to play?

Really, just wanting to have a small distraction is the reward for me. One of the appeals to Texas Holdem is the real-time probability analysis. And yes, I am pretty sure I just put Alpal to sleep. 🙂

Playing other poker games tends to deny me this. You either have free multiplayer games, but as I said earlier, a noticeable percentage of players don’t play ‘properly’. Just betting everything on a chance of winning big each round is not what I consider playing a game.

Well, it is a game. Just not the game everyone else is trying to play.

So, to just sit down when I have a few minutes and play a few rounds of a card game with no added ‘single-player’ pressures like progression has appeal for me.

The Card - Achievment Earned
'Tournaments' are just limited run games. It's still satisfying when you win though.

But it looks so… meh?

Now don’t get me wrong, the controls work fine. You can use the Switch touch screen (did you forget it had one? I do a lot!), joycons or a pro controller.

What I wish I could remap are the default buttons. To raise a bet, you hit the bottom button (B), and to sit/check/pass or call, you press the up button (X). You get used to it, but this layout seems counter-intuitive to me.

The Card - Poker discarding cards
It may not be the prettiest UI, but it is clear and functional.

So what are the downsides?

There aren’t many. What some people may overlook as not ‘modern’ gaming standards (graphics, avatars, voices) are actually a bonus for streamlined gaming experiences.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t something I wish I could change – the controls.

Yep. But you can change this. The Card has in-game achievements, and making them unlocks customisation options. OK, it’s not much – but it is a nice little touch. I have largely ignored it though.

What you can also unlock is the ability to change the number of rounds you can play. As you win more and more games, you can also increase the number of rounds you can play. Want to play a 50 round game of Poker and try to suck your AI opponents dry? You just have to win games on the lower round count first.

The Card - Achievments
The achievements so far are easy to unlock. Just a little dissapointed they are mostly hidden.

The other thing I would like to be added and made its use customisable is input protection. For example, the ‘all in’ button is R2. Hit the button, and you bet everything you have.

A couple of times now, I have had to put down the Switch to do something else. Because of bad timing (my turn came around while I was putting down the Switch), R2 was accidentally hit, and I bet everything. Once I was fortunate and bankrupted all three opponents on the first hand. You can’t expect this to be a strategy though.

Adding an ‘Are you sure?’ prompt to All in (and folding – I have folded amazing hands by accident!) is usually a common feature of card games. It can get annoying, so the other convention is to make this prompt customisable. Not the wording – just if you want to see it or not.

But really that’s it. For me, the most significant downsides of the game is a ‘can you update this’ and getting used to a control layout. That’s pretty good feedback for a game that costs less than a cup of coffee.

Overall Thoughts

The Card: Poker, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Page One is a hidden diamond for certain card players. I didn’t realise this game was two years old, and it has flown under a lot of radars.

If you want to play for ‘real’ money or against human players, there are plenty of other options available. But if you are the sort of player that just wants to play a few quick hands of cards without ‘story’ or other video game elements getting in the way, then The Card is a game for you.

I wish you luck trying to Google it though! :p

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  • Smooth, quick gameplay
  • No extraneous single-player elements
  • Can play a whole ‘tournament’ in minutes
  • Customisable game length

Cons

  • Need to know how to play before going in
  • Control system is fine, but not as intuitive as I would like

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Blood Rage Digital Edition Review (and physical game thoughts)

Blood Rage Cover Art
Released 2016
Designer Eric M. Lang
Publisher CMON (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (5 with expansion)
Playing Time 20 – 30 minutes per player
Category Resource Management
Hand Management
Area Majority
Minis on a Map
BoardGameGeek View on BGG
Released 2020
Platform Steam
Publisher Asmodee Digital (Website)
Developer Exozet (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 – 5
Category Resource Management
Hand Management
Area Majority
Minis on a Map

To play Blood Rage alone, this is a great adaption. There are quite a few caveats, though.

The first in a series of games from Eric M. Lang and CMON, Blood rage mixes minis on a map with strong Euro game elements. Released about four years ago, Blood Rage had a lot of hype and for many just faded away.

I still remember my first game of Blood Rage fondly. It was at PAX Aus 2016, and I managed to luck my way into a Loki strategy win. What’s a Loki strategy? I tried to lose more than I won and got to penalise the winners and steal points.

But the bottom line is I only want to play Blood Rage with that general group. It was a group of people that know each other reasonably well, and in-game rivalry with smack talk and tit-for-tat making sub-games within the overall game. We all enjoy heavy games now and then, and while Blood Rage has heavy elements, it’s ‘medium’ style gameplay makes it more likely to hit the table.

So when Blood Rage Digital was announced with its own Kickstarter, I was intrigued. A lot of digital Kickstarters get started and go off the rails. CMON was (in my opinion) padding the finding by offering physical copies of the game at higher pricing. So I decided to sit and wait rather than back it.

But the game is here now, and I grabbed a copy.

Well, that’s interesting and all, but what is Blood Rage?

Blood Rage is a Viking/Norse Mythology based game for 2-4 players. This can be increased to five players with an expansion, and the digital version plays 5 out of the gate.

A lot of different game elements are blended into a glorious mess. At its core, you put your army on the board and fight to pillage villages for bonuses and Glory. There is card drafting and hand management, which adds strategy elements to the game.

This drafting also adds memory elements to the strategy. Each player has a selection of cards, you pick one, then pass the remaining cards to the next player. This means players see almost all cards that are available that round. But each round, a certain number of cards are never introduced into the selection, so you never know if someone beat you to a card or if it isn’t in that game.

Blood Rage Physical Components
Before you ask - yes, this takes ages to setup properly

When you are playing, you also have resource management to consider. Most actions cost Rage, so think of them as Action Points in most other games. You can only have a certain number of minis on the board, as denoted by your Horns. When fighting, you will earn Glory (points) for fighting, and you can upgrade the number of points you earn by upgrading your Axes.

Combat is relatively simple – the player with the highest strength in the contested area wins. Each player in combat must play one card during the battle. These cards can add strength, modify abilities, or be virtually ‘blank’ cards.

Blood Rage Physical Cards and Boards
It looks like a lot, and it is, but once you have the basics down information is easily read at a glance

At the end of each phase, Ragnarok happens. This destroys an area on the board and sends any mini in that area to Valhalla. During this part fo the phase, you can also complete Quests for more Glory.

At the end of three phases, the player with the most Glory wins.

Wait, what? That’s a lot of game to follow!

Blood Rage is a simple enough game, but it has a lot of ‘simple’ things to keep track of all at once. This is why I don’t consider Blood Rage a game for everyone. Only certain types of gamer will enjoy this sort of game style.

That said, Blood Rage is a lot simpler than many popular ‘heavy’ games, so it’s an excellent middle ground for a wider audience.

So I should pick up the physical copy?

If you can find one! The physical copy of Blood Rage also suffers from what I term CMON Kickstarteritis. Yes, I know that’s not a real word. :p

Blood Rage really shines with more players. The physical game lets you do up to 5 players with an expansion, but once you play the retail copy you quickly realise you need to Kickstarter exclusives to make the most of it.

It’s almost impossible to track down retail copies this far after it’s release, and if you can find a Kickstarter collection, it will either be a steal or incredibly expensive.

Blood Rage Physical Amazon Listing
This was a snap of Amazon.com Friday, June 5th. Remember, that's USD!

That’s why I was excited about the digital edition. Apart from being able to play Blood Rage far more often with AI players, it also included almost all of the Kickstarter expansions.

But because the physical copy was getting hard to find in 2018 when the digital version Kickstarter launched, it looked like most of the money was going to the physical copy. Only about 12% of the number of backers wanted the digital-only copy. 

That leaves almost 8,500 backers that wanted the digital copy with the physical game add ons. I have no idea how many of those people then added the original game to their pledge to get a ‘complete’ set.

So without being able to see how much would actually go to the development of the digital version, I decided to hold off and wait.

And now, Blood Rage Digital exists. The Good Points.

I have had a few games solo with the AI, at 3 and 4 players. I am still playing against ‘easy’ opponents. Still, as I have won the last 3 games mainly by upgrading my stat tracks, I will be upping the difficulty soon.

Being able to play a few games kicking back and relaxing whenever I want is great, and I have really enjoyed playing the few games that I have.

I can say hand on heart that the game plays very closely to the board game. The feeling of dread waiting for cards to be revealed is all there. The disappointment at missing a favourite card is there.

The pacing of the game is a little slow. It takes a bit too long to resolve quests, combat, that kind of thing. Having to sit and wait without a ‘speed up’ option is confusing.

Blood Rage Digital Drafting
Decisions, decisions. The feeling between digital and physical for if you are choosing right is just as stressful!

Why do I include this in the ‘good’ section? Because when you are learning the game, being able to see each card and each section slowly helps you quickly determine the flow of the game and tactics involved.

Seeing the minis on the board look great. It’s not the best graphics I have seen in a game, but you can play it on almost any Windows machine. I will take a little bit of a graphical presentation hit to play Blood Rage on any device happily.

Access to the information on cards and rules mid-game is also reasonably well done. From the main menu, you can browse all the cards and their effects. Not all digital implementations do this, and I am glad Exozet and CMON included this.

Blood Rage Digital Compendium
I wish more digital board games let you look throught he decks outside of the actual 'game'

And the bad.

A common issue I have with many digital implementations is the tutorial. Blood Rage Digital’s tutorial isn’t the worst I have seen, but it could still be a bit better.

My advice here is to watch a tutorial on the board game. The rules are the same, and some of the intricacies are explained a lot better in tutorials like those from Rodney at Watch it Played.

That’s not to say the tutorial is terrible – there are even sections of the compendium that describe drafting strategies, which is great!

But even as someone that knows how to play the game, there were sections of the tutorial I looked at and was confused why some information wasn’t there. Prior knowledge of the rules going will definitely a plus.

If you want to learn Blood Rage completely within the digital game, everything is in the compendium but it’s a lot of text to absorb. So if you rather learn by watching a video, check out the video.

If you look at the Steam reviews, there is one facet of the game that apparently needs a lot of work – online multiplayer. Apparently, people are having a lot of trouble being able to play against friends online.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I did grab Harls a copy recently as a gift with the idea of playing against him online. Harls is the sort of player I can have a lot of fun playing Blood Rage with, but it’s not much of a two-player game. Adding AI fixes this while letting us play together.

At least, it would if it worked.

Blood Rage Digital Steam Page
If you were just browsing, I could understand skipping the game on this alone

There is also the controls themselves. Earlier, I mentioned that the pacing is a bit slow. Sometimes, you can hit a skip button if you can’t do an action, for example, if you can’t play an additional card. This doesn’t always happen though, which is strange.

I can’t say for certain that this is a design choice. If you play, you will notice at times cards and other screen elements sit over the controls. I wonder if at times you have this speed option available, but you can’t see it on screen.

Blood Rage Digital UI Issues
Why is Skip hiding? And this is at 'normal' screen size

Playing on an ultrawide monitor makes this user interface issue a lot worse. Playing on my ‘game’ screen at 2560×1080, elements like the strength of my army are hidden by my cards.

When 21:9 and similar aspect ratios first started appearing, a typical display issue was the game/application would zoom the screen. The program would fill the width of your screen with the contents, but that would crop the height from what you can see.

Five years ago, with the tech being still new, this was mostly understandable and early adopters needed to work around the issue. In 2020, this just feels sloppy.

Blood Rage Digital Funny Aspect Bugs
You can see where the title and bottom of the banner is being cut off. I am supposed to click on Continue. The button below the bottom of the screen.

Even worse, when finishing a game in ultrawide, you can’t continue on to the final score, because you can’t click on the continue button. So you will never honestly know if you won a game or not.

These display element issues might seem like a problem only for a few users. Still, the fact they are happening at all makes me wonder what other glitches are happening at ‘normal’ resolutions.

The only other thing I wish was available was a ‘save’ system. It can be an XCom ironman type save, where you only have one save slot that happens at the end of each player turn. This way, you can’t go back and try and cheese the game with different strategies until you dominate.

Blood Rage Digital Widescreen Issues
Why hide my army strength? I can count my minis, but once cards come into play, that doesn't help!

Playing solo, a game takes me about 30-40 minutes with 2 AI players. I would love to be able to leave and take a break mid-game. Also, such a system may help when multiplayer crashes instead of the entire games progress being lost.

So stay clear?

Here’s the funny thing – I think Blood Rage Digital is a great implementation, it just needs a lot of fixes. Some are hopefully simple to make, some might take time.

Playing solo, I have had no real problems other than having to change my screen to 1920×1080 when I want to play. I have enjoyed quite a few games, and I don’t regret the purchase at all.

While I am yet to play online multiplayer, until more patches have been made (and to Exozets credit, there have been updates quite often already), I won’t even by trying except as an experiment.

You can’t even play Blood Rage with a screen sharing local game properly, because this will reveal players entire hands to everyone. The multiplayer needs to be fixed to recommend Blood Rage Digital to more than solo players.

Overall Thoughts

Blood Rage is a sound implementation of the original board game and makes for an excellent alternative for solo players.

The low system requirements mean that players can play on pretty much any computer that runs Windows 10. This means the entry-level for a ‘video game’ is easy to achieve.

If you want to play Blood Rage Digital online though, a lot of work needs to be done to get this working properly.

I would rate the Kickstarter version of Blood Rage’s physical copy a 7.5 and the retail copy a 7. But until the issues mentioned are addressed, I couldn’t give the digital version a higher score. Even though it works great as a solo game, board games are better played with others – even digitally.

Overall
6/10
6/10

Pros

  • A lot of fun to play solo against AI
  • Can play well even on ‘work’ computers
  • Faithful adaption of the board game

Cons

  • Lots of issues with multiplayer
  • Some screen elements seem to be broken or having issues

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Dragon Castle Review

Dragon Castle Cover
Dragon Castle Cover
Released 2017
Designer Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, Lorenzo Silva
Publisher Horrible Guild (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Can use AI in digital for solo play)
Playing Time 10-15 minutes per player
Category Tile Placement
Mahjong Solitaire
Pattern Placement
Town Building
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

I used to play Mahjong when I was young. Back then, it was usually a tile-matching game. Dragon Castle takes me back to those days.

Going through some digital games to play while my games group is separated, I found Dragon Castle had a digital version. Jumping at the chance to play via Steam Remote Play Together, I bought it.

Why was I so excited? When Alpal introduced me to Dragon Castle, I ordered a copy before I left her place. So much of the gameplay and presentation just makes me happy.

So what is Dragon Castle?

Dragon Castle is a mix of quite a few games. There is the evident Mahjong Solitaire influence, with the titular Dragon Castle’s being built from Mahjong tiles. Selection is simple – grab one of the edge tiles from the highest levels. Next, you can collect an edge tile of the same symbol from anywhere around the castle.

You don’t have to select a second tile though. You can choose to destroy the tile for a point or store up a shrine for placement later. This isn’t a legacy game though – destroying a tile just takes it out of the game.

Dragon Castle Pieces
You will be collecting and placing tiles and shrines for scoring

Once you collect tiles, you then build your own new castle in a solitaire pattern placement affair. You can place tiles anywhere on your player board, except on top of tiles that are face up.

How do you turn over tiles to build higher? Have four or more of the same coloured tile touching each other orthogonally. They don’t even have to be on the same level, adding some 3D complexity to the game.

Dragon Castle Player Castle
Building up your castle is strangely satisfying, especially when the tiles click together

The more tiles you can complete this way on one turn, the more points you collect. Once you have done this, you can also place a shrine on one of the tiles you just flipped over. The higher the shrine is set, the more bonus points you gain.

That doesn’t sound very interesting.

Not when explained like that it’s not. But as solitaire sounding the gameplay is, there is a surprising amount of player interaction.

Trying to make a large 8 tile collection of green tiles? Other players can start taking your tiles before you can make a match. Even worse, if you need a pair, players can choose one of them and take it from the game!

The purple Dragon tiles also allow you to place two shrines if you can make a set. Sounds great, but you have to remember there aren’t many of them!

Dragon Castle Tile Placement
Pleacement is the trickiest hurdle. If the bottom sword was one higher, a group of 4 would have been made

There are also optional modules you can add in the form of Dragons and Spirits. Spirits introduce random special abilities that can be used during the game. Dragons themselves add more of a strategic element. Some add more points for shrines, others offer bonuses for your building arrangement.

Both spirits and dragons are optional to add to play, but I like that you can expand the game without buying expansions down the line.

Dragon Castle Spirits
Sample of the Spirit Cards. Include as you choose!

And there is also the tiles themselves.

Just like when you play a game with metal coins or poker chips, the tactile satisfaction of the tiles themselves shouldn’t be underestimated.

The art style of the game is simple yet beautiful. Every board shares a theme, and yet is visually distinct. In fact, my biggest disappointment with Dragon Castle is the boards themselves. The cardboard used is too thin, in my opinion. Not severely so, you won’t be creasing them accidentally making them unusable without going out of your way. But thicker boards would have completed the premium feel the tiles provide.

Premium – that’s code for expensive.

That’s an understandable concern. And yes – those tile pieces couldn’t have been cheap to produce. I picked up my copy for about AUD$70, and I think it was worth every cent.

This is where Dragon Castle’s value becomes subjective. I enjoy abstract games, and the primarily ‘multi-player solitaire’ nature of the game means conversation during a round is easy.

However, you can do the same sort of gameplay with many Roll and Write games, which expensive ones are around the AUD$55 mark. You can’t deny there is a cost to so many mahjong tiles contained in the game.

Dragon Castle Boards
I have played with much flimsier boards, but thicker ones would have been nice

Everything you get in the box though makes it hard to suggest you aren’t getting what you paid for. The question is really if it’s to expensive for the enjoyment you will get from Dragon Castle, and I can only tell you I think it’s all worth it.

Dragon Castle Components
Just picking up the box, you know you where the cost goes. Dragon Castle is heavy.

You mentioned a digital version?

The purchase that prompted me to finally review Dragon Castle! At the moment, there is a Steam sale where you can grab a copy for AUD$7.12. This deal ends on June 2nd. Full price is close to AUD$13. Much cheaper than the physical version!

Gameplay-wise, Dragon Castle translates well to digital. The music in the game is relaxing, and the art style is carried across as well. The tutorial is a little bit confusing – and this is coming from someone that already knows how to play.

The AI is available in different skill levels, and so far seem very well balanced. I have only played a few games on PC so far, and I haven’t braved the hard levels yet. You can also play online against other people, or locally in a pass and play style mode.

Dragon Castle Digital
Relaxing and challenging at the same time, the digital implementation works very well

The biggest downside for me? The controls. I miss picking up a tile from the pile. Instead of dragging tiles over as I expected, you need to click on the tile once to select, then again to confirm your choice.

Once you get used to it, the flow of the game works well. It just didn’t control as intuitively as I would have liked.

There is another downside. The reason I bought Dragon Castle was to play with my group with Remote Play Together on Steam. Unfortunately, Dragon Castle doesn’t work with this feature, so if you want to play with others online you will need everyone to buy a copy.

Overall Thoughts

If you enjoy Roll and Write and/or abstract games, Dragon Castle is a game you should definitely add to your ‘To Play’ list.

Dragon Castle is easy to teach and learn, and players will have the flow down during their first game. Once you have the basics down, a game of many layers slowly unfolds before you.

While the physical game can be seen as expensive for the type of game it is, the quality of the components justifies this to me. If you are unsure, the digital version is considerable cheaper – and easier to buy!

If you are looking for a game to play while everyone is still separated, again Dragon Castle is definitely worth a look.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Simple to teach and learn
  • Beautiful art and quality components in the tiles and shrines
  • A game that can grow with you as you gain experience.

Cons

  • Can be considered expensive to buy without playing it to justify the purchase.
  • The digital tutorial isn’t the best

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

Animal Crossing Cover Art
Animal Crossing Cover Art
Released 2020
Platform Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Nintendo (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1*
Can invite/visit friends islands online or share 1 island with other account holders on your Switch
Category Relaxing
Exploration
Collecting
Customisation
Life Simulation

Well, I finally started to get what all the Animal Crossing buzz was about! Also, Tom Nook is evil :p

I have known about Animal Crossing as a franchise for years. It has never really held much interest for me. I generally like to do ‘something’ in my games, and Animal Crossing has me doing things I should be doing in my real home.

Things like cleaning up the garden, decorating my home and making stuff don’t sound like a ‘game’ to me. I understand that sometimes slow and straightforward gameplay is what you need – I have said it many times. I just like having a goal to work towards, and Animal Crossing is known for having no end.

And then I couldn’t leave the house anymore. I lost the precious downtime of my daily commute. I needed something to try and focus my brain away from work. Multi-tasking in other games is just too much to juggle.

Enter Animal Crossing: New Horizons

I thought I would jump on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, spend 15-20 minutes each day doing a few little odd jobs and relax.

And, for the first few weeks, that’s precisely what I did. I expanded my house a couple of times and ran around my island collecting fossils and fishing.

My museum was my ‘prettiest’ building for quite some time. I just didn’t really know what I was doing. I was (and still am) enjoying my time pottering around my island, fishing and collecting shells and oranges.

Animal Crossing Game Start
From simple beginnings, as they say.

Four weeks later

So I have realised what Tom Nook was trying to tell me for the previous few weeks. I stopped chipping away at paying off the ever-increasing renovation costs of my home and started preparing plots of land to sell.

Visitors have started appearing. I am building up an eclectic little community that I am enjoying talking to each day. I can now see the layout possibilities of my island, and kicking myself for some early “Oh that’s good enough” decisions.

Now, I am starting to get into creating hybrid flowers and turnip sales. I am resisting looking up the plethora of guides out there, but I may buckle in a couple of weeks. See how I go first 🙂

Animal Crossing Meeting Deirdre
You start with 2 other 'islanders', and your population grows

My goal of turnip sales? To make enough bells to terraform my island into my ideal getaway location.

But what is the actual game?

This is the hardest part of Animal Crossing. Everything I have been talking about is the game. It’s why I recognised that it was good for those that enjoyed it, but I couldn’t see how I could enjoy it. 

You can hopefully understand that I am enjoying different things in Animal Crossing. Hearing people tell me about their Animal Crossing adventures was always lovely, but never really enticed me. Why not? Because you can’t really see the goal.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has apparently ‘fixed’ this, but I am not at that point yet. Your goal in New Horizons is to improve your island to the point that K.K. Slider comes and does a concert there. You do this by doing all the things I have been talking about. Decorate the island, get people to live there, and collect records apparently. That’s what Tom Nook suggests anyway. I am pretty sure he just like me paying him 3,200 bells every day for a new album.

Animal Crossing Museum Opening
You can celebrate milestones with your community

So the point of the game is to work on an artificial island to hold a phony concert?

If you are cynical, you can look at it that way. Animal Crossing won’t be for everyone. For me, it gave me a goal to work towards other than ‘enjoy yourself’. Something concrete to aim towards.

If the current world pandemic hadn’t happened, there is an excellent chance I would never have played Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Once I played enough to realise there was a ‘goal’, it allowed me to focus my gameplay.

Today, I am looking forward to what I do after the concert is held. Animal Crossing is a completionist’s dream – or nightmare. Fishing is a simple activity I have little patience for in real life. But the fish you can catch change. Part of this is a random bit of luck, part of this is seasonal.

Animal Crossing Lounge Room
You don't just collect creatures. You can also collect decorations for your island and home

Just like in real life, different breeds of fish appear at different times of the year. And not only fish – there is a plethora of bugs to collect as well. You can donate these to your museum to display along with all of the fossils you find. Art has been added as well.

The museum gives you a great way to display your progress as well as giving you a goal. 

Wait, the content changed? Art has been ‘added’?

Yep. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has embraced the software as a service model. Not only has content been added, but more is also coming. And not just things to collect. The rumour at the moment is there will be a swimming and diving mechanic coming soon.

Sure, this will lead to new things to collect. This is the sort of game grind that can kill many games for me. Destiny 2 ring a bell anyone? Animal Crossing has somehow made this grind ridiculously fun and relaxing. Will I get bored with it eventually? Yes. But I can’t see that happening anytime soon. That’s why I feel that even without fully experiencing all the game has to offer, it’s still fair for me to review it after 45 hours of play.

Animal Crossing Bunny Day
There are also seasonal events, such as Bunny Day when I just started playing

That kind of makes sense. I don’t know if just collecting stuff appeals to me though.

Here is another aspect of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and one I am probably not going to engage in. If you are the creative type, the level of customisation in New Horizons is staggering.

For example, I made my own flag from the site logo. My island tune is an admittedly butchered version of the Chocobo music from Final Fantasy.

You can design clothes, flooring, roads – so many things. This gives you a real sense of ownership and satisfaction.

Animal Crossing New Flag
This made me happier than I thought it would.

Not so much into the artsy side? One of the things that make me smile is people are hosting TV shows from Animal Crossing! The first time I saw this was Outside Xtra and the Show of the Almost Weekend. During the week, I watched another show where Danny Trejo was a guest on the show. Animal Talking with Gary Whitta is a full blown talk show, all done within the game. It’s amazing.

Games like Little Big Planet and Dreams give you tools to make amazing things. The things people have been making in Animal Crossing: New Horizon have blown me away.

Long story short – Animal Crossing is the relaxing time soak I knew it would be, and the community has made it so much more.

Overall Thoughts

Games where you ‘get out of it what you put into it’ are always hard to classify. They can sound like people just want to like them, or just can’t convince you to give them a try.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons falls into this category. Giving it a try more out of desperation to try to get some downtime than ‘real’ interest in the game, my expectations were low.

I was wrong. I am enjoying the daily grind loop. My joy at finding an island full of Bamboo plants was real. The eye rolls from Rabbit when I show her the next silly thing I have done are also real. 🙂

The only reason I am giving Animal Crossing: New Horizons 7.5 is because I know I won’t be playing it in 10 years. That’s not how my ranking works. But I would guess 90% of people that jump into Animal Crossing for the first time and stick with it even casually for a week will begin to fall into the same trap I did.

Damn you, Tom Nook! :p

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick, what you want to do gameplay in chunks of time you decide.
  • New things to discover and are being added at a steady pace.
  • A relaxing game that gives you an escape.
  • Lots of complex systems to discover.

Cons

  • Early game is prolonged.
  • In-game tutorials aren’t always as helpful as I would like.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Billionaire Banshee Review

Billionaire Banshee Cover Art
Billionaire Banshee Cover Art
Released 2014
Designer Steven Bailey aka Razlo
Publisher Breaking Games (Website)
Players 1 – 10 (really, any number if you use thumbs up/down for voting)
Playing Time Box states 60 min. About 2-5 minutes per ’round’ depending on conversation.
Category Party
Icebreaker
“Would you rather”
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

It’s a dating game, but so much more. And less. Billionaire Banshee is a game you can make anything you want it to be!

This is probably going to be my shortest gameplay review ever. You have heard me talk about simple games that offer more than they seem in the past. It’s a bit of a cliche in a lot of ways. But it describes Billionaire Banshee perfectly.

Billionaire Banshee is a great ‘getting to know you’ party game. A player draws a Perk and a Quirk card, creating a fictional date for the player. For example, you may meet a Kung Fu Master than can only speak in Rap.

The player then decides secretly if they would date that person. Everyone else chooses if the player would or wouldn’t date them. Everyone reveals their choice, and if you match the player, a point is earned?

That’s it. That’s the game. Play until you have had enough. It’s that easy.

Wait, you don’t know how to score the game?

I use the question mark because Billionaire Banshee is like Who’s Line is it Anyway? – the points don’t matter. You can track points to see if there is a winner, but I treat each game as a getting to know you activity.

You can sit and chat and get to know new players. It’s the part of board gaming I enjoy the most. But sometimes it’s hard to find a common thread to start a conversation. The over the top situations presented by the game are great conversation starters.

Billionaire Banshee Would you date them
Would you go on a date with this person?

How does that start a conversation?

To start with, the premise of the term ‘date’. It’s incredible how many groups I have played this with that instantly assume this means sleep with or marry the fictional person.

Is it a first date? A dinner/movie/see what happens type affair? Do you mean long term? Just that little interpretation of the word ‘date’ reveals a lot about a person.

You then have the list of Perks and Quirks. There are a lot of Quirks as I see as Perks and vice-versa. One perk is ‘Expert Treasure Hunter’. They are intelligent, wealthy and athletic sure. They are also away a lot. I would love to go out for a meal or catch-up.

Would I try to date them though? Probably not, I see this as a negative.

Others might not – they may see this as a positive, as they have a lot of time to themselves to do what they want. This difference of opinion and why opens up the chance for a lot of discussions.

Billionaire Banshee Can be seen differently
Not all cards will fit everyones ideas. A 'sexy accent' is racy?

This is why I think Billionaire Banshee is a great icebreaker game. The ridiculous situations presented sometimes, and watching players react to those situations, is a heap of fun. 

I wouldn’t play it over and over, or for hours on end. But to pick it up at the start of the night and find out about people, yourself, and how others see you is a unique thing.

But I heard that there are inappropriate cards.

Yes, there are. If you want to keep the game relatively clean, remove/discard the cards with the teddy bear on the back. These are the racier cards.

I say relatively clean because even in the ‘safe’ cards, there are some perks and quirks that can be read as racy. For example, one ‘clean’ card has a person whose nipples taste like pizza. Read into that as you will.

This is where you begin learning about people very quickly. If someone is offended because a ‘safe’ card mentioned nipples, it tells you a lot about them.

Conversely, if they are overly enthusiastic about the mention of nipples, that tells you a lot about them as well.

Billionaire Banshee Bear
Playing with your parents? Maybe don't draw the cards with a bear.

I have heard this game is pretty offensive.

At the end of the day, Billionaire Banshee present players with a hypothetical situation for a potential date. You don’t have to say yes, just like real life. And like real life, people you may not be interested in might ‘ask you out’.

If you can’t handle the idea of being asked out by someone with traits you don’t like, I don’t think that’s the games fault.

Here’s my take. Yes, some wordings and descriptions could have been worded better. Some things can be seen as negatives because they only appear as quirks, such as ‘Opposite Gender’. There are very valid points raised in this regard.

On the whole, I think Razlo did a great job of leaving a lot up to the player. When you are presented a date option, it’s up to you to determine a lot of details outside character descriptions. Things like gender are up to you to imagine.

Billionaire Banshee Not many components required
These are all the components. Really, you only need the Perk and Quirk cards.

Criticisms about representation are valid, but by the same token, the only bad experiences I have had with the game were because of another players prejudices. This was a one-off, and I have played Billionaire Banshee in at least 30 different sessions with multiple new groups.

There are also ‘safe’ Perk cards that are presented in a wholesome way, but for me bring back negative memories, so I don’t see them as such. Other people will have similar reactions to different cards. People that don’t like to be touched won’t be interested in a Professional Hugger, for example.

So it’s blown out of proportion?

Sometimes. Billionaire Banshee is such a quick and fun game, that it’s easy to bury the gameplay in negatives and potential trigger situations. This makes things sound much worse than the fun game that is generally played.

If you want to have fun with a new group of people or old friends alike, and learn things about them at the same time, Billionaire Banshee is a great game. Just remember that in learning about people, sometimes you will discover something about them you might not have wanted to.

Overall Thoughts

There are cards that could make people uncomfortable, but they are easily identified. The conversations and humour Billionaire Banshee generates make it a great game adaptable to many different play styles.

Throw the rules to the side, kick back and enjoy the ride. How many games can you pull out a couple of cards and play the first round with a rules explanation in under a minute?

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Quick to teach
  • Fun to play
  • Conversation starter

Cons

  • Some cards could be worded better
  • NSFW cards especially can cause people varying levels of distress

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Boom, Bang, Gold! Review

Boom Bang Gold Cover Art
Boom Bang Gold Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Alexandre Emerit
Publisher HABA Games (Website)
Players 2-4 (More players are better)
Playing Time 20-25 minutes including setup
Learning game – 25-35 minutes
Category Dexterity
Western
Variable Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Yes, it’s a kids dexterity game. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of quick fun!

My mental capacity is flagging lately. I tried playing Doom Eternal last night after a couple of weeks, and it took me far too long to work out a platform puzzle. It wasn’t the controls – I literally didn’t think to look up for about 5 minutes. Fun times! :p

We all get into this kind of mode at times. Especially now with us all locked in. When this kind of mood hits, simple games that can be played on automatic are a great fallback. You get entertained, without having to run a mental decathlon.

HABA games are great for these moods. Primarily made for kids, I have yet to find a HABA game that my games group hasn’t enjoyed as well.

Today, I thought I would share a simple dexterity game with a western theme – Boom, Bang, Gold!

The title describes the gameplay entirely.

The overall idea of the game is simple. Players pick different miners, each able to do different things (player powers). The box is filled with the counters of the game face down.

Each round, players take their wooden sticks of dynamite (yes, they are fun to hold), and throws them into the box. This causes the tokens to mix and flip. Everyone then uses one hand only to quickly grab as many tokens as possible, grabbing the gold.

Boom, Bang, Gold! – see how it works?

Boom Bang Gold Components
It's not often I can show the box of as an actual game component

How does that work? It doesn’t sound fun.

The box has a raised section in the bottom, giving a mini-trampoline effect when the large wooden blocks hit it. It’s hard to describe how satisfying it instantly feels watching the counters go flying!

It’s that instant tactile feedback that hooks you into playing. Everyone wants to throw the dynamite back into the box straight away, but you have to wait for the next round.

Boom Bang Gold Impact
Still don't do justice to the fun of throwing down dynamite 🙂

There are also more tokens than just gold. There are even two forms of gold – yellow gold and orange ‘illegal’ gold. Various critters are exposed when the dynamite goes off as well. Snakes, Bats, Rats and even Ghosts can be revealed.

Each character is immune to one type of critter. For example, Hank isn’t worried by bats at all. During the round, players can call out whatever they aren’t scared of.

So if a bat is revealed, Hank can call out “Look out – BATS!”, causing other players to stop momentarily.

Boom Bang Gold Miners
A little hard to see here, but when the miner is in front of you storage doubles as your summary card

While Hank continues collecting, the other players must put both hands on top of their heads and call “HELP!”. This gives a player a moment to collect unimpaired. 

So this game just went from overly simple to confusing.

A little – especially if you are playing with younger kids. Getting your head around the player delay mechanic can be a bit confusing, but it usually only takes a round or two to get the hang of.

If you are playing with younger players, maybe take out the critter that I could call out. So if I was playing Hank, I would remove the bats. Then you can teach people to look for their token, and show them the penalty action. That way, they only have part of the process to concentrate on and learn by seeing the penalty in action.

Once all the gold is collected, the round isn’t over.

You don’t instantly score the gold you collect. Other little twists can affect scoring.

There is also a Sherrif badge and Revolver to potentially collect as well. The Sherrif badge lets you force all other players to put back their ‘illegal’ gold.

The Revolver forces a bluffing duel. One player takes two bits of gold from their shelf and hides them in closed fists. Really you will either have one piece in each hand or more commonly hide both nuggets in one fist.

The Pick lets a player turn over and collect 5 tokens after a round, but before scoring. Finally the Dynamite (not pictured) lets you throw one more stick of Dynamite. Always fun!

Boom Bang Gold Tokens
Not too many symbols to keep track of

The player that started the duel then picks a hand. If they find any gold, they keep it. The penalty isn’t too bad, but the mechanic adds another wrinkle to the scoring.

For both of these tokens, if it’s too much for the players, just remove the symbols. They are fun additions, but if it’s too confusing, keep the gameplay simple.

So why would I want to play Boom, Bang, Gold!?

The gameplay is quick, taking about 20-25 minutes. It’s a great little filler game, and because of the Boom also a fun game to attract people to your table.

It’s also a fun game to play with younger players, and rules can be altered to suit. At about AUD$50, it might look expensive for a filler/simple kids game, but the quality of the components justifies this price for me.

Would you design a games night around Boom, Bang, Gold!? No. But for a game to have on the shelf for a quick bit of fun, Boom, Bang, Gold! is an excellent choice for any library.

Overall Thoughts

Sometimes, you just want a quick bit of mindless fun. Boom, Bang, Gold! delivers on this for players of all ages.

If you were looking for a first game to start building your game collection, I have a hard time suggesting Boom, Bang, Gold!. While it’s a lot of fun, it’s not a game you can play over and over again. You need other games in between sessions to keep the joy of playing alive.

If you were looking for a game to pad your existing library though, Boom, Bang, Gold! is high on this list. The quick setup, general appeal and quality components make this a good choice for many libraries.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick and fun gameplay
  • Quality compents
  • Can be tailored to newer players

Cons

  • Can be confusing if teaching younger players everything at once
  • Best purchased to extend your library rather than start it

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Hattari / Yabunonaka Review – or In A Grove in English

In A Grove Box Art
In A Grove Box Art
Released 2011
Designer Jun Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games (Website)
Players 3 – 4 (Best with all 4)
Playing Time 10-20 minutes (First game – 20-25 with teaching)
Category Hidden Information
Bluffing
Trick Taking
Deduction
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

The Deduction, Hidden Information, Bluffing and Trick Taking game all in one tiny package!

Oink Games publish some brilliant games. They also make tiny games. Not always simple, but a lot of their games are smaller than a box of cigarettes. That makes them easy to carry with you, and also limits the components required to play.

Not all games are for everyone, and In A Grove is one of these. The premise is excellent, but when I try to describe it to people, it’s hard to get your head around.

All right, what is In A Grove?

At its core, In A Grove is a mystery trick-taking game. Yes, I know that makes little sense – its part of the reason getting people excited to play is tricky.

There are eight people in a park, and someone has killed one of the group! So you would think your job is to find the killer. It is, but it also isn’t. Your job is more to be the person accused of lying less than everyone else.

Finding the killer is secondary in terms of ‘winning’ the game. Making others choose the wrong suspect is your tactic of choice. But be careful in employing it!

In A Grove - Components
All of the components. iPad (2017) for size.

Wait. What?

Yep. It’s a mystery game where you don’t have to find the killer. Your job is to get more people to believe you, even if you are wrong.

All but one of the eight people have a number between 2 and 8. One is blank – this person is always innocent. These cards are shuffled, and three are placed in the middle standing up. These are your suspects. One card is placed sideways, marking the murder victim.

Each player then gets one of the remaining four people. Not playing with four players? Put these in the box without seeing their values. Each player then looks at their suspect without revealing their number/identity and passes them to their right. You then look at the number on the suspect moved to you.

In A Grove - Typical Setup
What the start of the game normally looks like after setup

The point of all this is to give you some starting information. The killer is almost always the person with the highest value, so you know if you have seen 7 and 8, 6 is the highest possible value in the centre.

You said ‘Almost always’. Mid game rule changes?

Yep. It’s not always as simple as find the highest value suspect. You see if there is a 5 amongst the suspects, the rules flip – the killer is the person with the lowest value. Hence, the blank silhouette is always innocent.

It almost always takes players a couple of rounds to get their head around all of this. The rules aren’t hard, but having to remember rules based on hidden information is tricky.

In A Grove can be hard to teach, especially as everything we have talked about is before the game/round starts – this is all setup.

In A Grove - The Reveal
Normally, 8 would be the killer. But becuase there is a 5, 2 is the villain

If the setup is this hard, what is the actual game like to play?

The explanation can take a while – execution doesn’t. Once you have all the rules straight, the setup can take 30 seconds. 

Going in turn order, the first player looks at two of the three suspects. They can also swap the victim for one of the suspects. They then place one of their tokens below a suspect.

The next player can then does almost the same thing. The only catch is they can’t look at the suspect the previous player ‘marked’ with their token.

If you agree with another player, you place your marker on top of theirs. This means accusations/guesses/bluff are marked in piles.

In A Grove - Player 2
So in this case, the player couldn't see the last suspect as marked by the token

So why mark a player? What’s the point of that?

I’m getting there, I promise. When all players have marked a suspect, all of the suspects are flipped to reveal their values.

If you marked the correct suspect, you get your marker back. For the player on top of the pile for wrongly accused suspects, you flip them over to the ‘liar’ side, and you keep the whole pile. Each and every one.

If you get 8 or more ‘liar’ tokens, you lose. If you run out of tokens to mark suspects with, you lose. So as you can see, it’s not so much a case of being right – you just need more people to be wrong.

Who would want to play a game like that?

In A Grove sounds like a niche game, and it is. But the number of people that can enjoy it is bigger than you think.

You wouldn’t play In A Grove all night. It fits well as a game night opener/closer or in-between game choice. Once you know the game, even with 4 players you can belt out a full game in 10 minutes. 

You can even play rounds as games if you are passing the time between other games. Just make the player with the most ‘liar’ tokens the loser and reset. This creates a game that lasts only a couple of minutes – excellent as a time killer.

Because In A Grove comes in such a small box, playing it this way is a great way to pass the time in convention queues and the like. It also lets players switch in and out with people around you.

In A Grove - Take Anywhere
Everything you need, in a tiny package that fits in any bag

And this is the catch with In A Grove – trying to explain to people why they might like it, and I usually get glassy-eyed silence in response. Once people see it played, they often want to jump in and give it a go.

This is In A Grove’s biggest weakness. There are plenty of ‘so simple it sounds boring’ games out there that work against it. In A Grove sounds much more complicated than it plays, and people don’t want to overthink a simple game.

Overall Thoughts

That feeling of satisfaction when you can steer someone to take ‘Liar’ tokens is fun. The disappointment at being the person receiving the tokens is palpable.

The biggest problem with the game is the learning curve. When I play with people that have played before, it’s almost always a fun game. When I need to coax people into trying it, players come away disappointed.

My advice – you have basically all the rules in this review. Play with 8 playing cards and some tokens. Use the 2-8 of one suit, and a joker as the ‘blank’.

I encourage people to support game designers always, but In A Grove is a game that you will need to get used to before deciding if you enjoy it or not.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  • Quick and simple gameplay
  • Easy to transport or make your own version
  • Retail version very cheap if you can find it

Cons

  • Teaching rule changes dependant on hidden information is tricky
  • Because of the quick and semi-random outcome, players can get put off from playing again

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Resident Evil 3 Review – Seeing S.T.A.R.S.

Resident Evil 3 Cover
Released 2020
Platform PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Capcom (Website)
Developer Capcom (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Survival
Horror
Action

2019’s Resident Evil 2 may have set some expectations too high.

I am one of those people that grew up playing the Resident Evil series. I was in my early 20’s when I first played the original, and I still jump when the dogs first jump through the window.

Resident Evil 5 and 6 have not had a great time review wise over the years. I appreciate Capcom’s attempts to try new things. Still, I didn’t get excited about Resident Evil 7 until I played the demo. Gone was the heavily action-oriented gameplay. ‘Returning to your roots’ is on overused cliche description, but here, it fits.

First, let me clear the elephants in the room.

To play through Resident Evil 3 doesn’t take long, especially compared to modern games. My first playthrough was about 6 hours of playtime. For a fully priced title, this has some people crying foul.

Here’s the thing – the original game was also short. Replay was promoted in trying to achieve multiple endings, which can be fun to watch. It doesn’t change the fact that you play vast portions of the game over and over again.

The remake removes the multiple endings, and also some gameplay mechanics as they were linked. But if you stick with it, the higher difficulty modes add back a lot of the elements people were saying was missing. Playing on nightmare randomises enemy types and positions, but most people haven’t highlighted this in their scathing reviews.

Resident Evil 3 PlayStation Original
20 years ago, this was cutting edge graphics

The more significant issue to me is the price. Bottom line, Resident Evil 3 2020 is a bundle game. You get the remake, and you get a new multiplayer game – Resistance.

I am not interested in blind multiplayer games. I don’t want to join up with a whole lot of people I don’t know and play a game. Now, this is a personal game decision – I would rather play with people I know and have a fun catch up as we play.

As such, I haven’t even started up Resistance. But I have had to buy it to play the game I do want to play. I can see both sides on this one.

Getting more Resident Evil is rarely a bad thing to me, but I would rather have paid AUD$60 per game or maybe have an AUD$100 bundle option.

Resident Evil Resistance
I'm not saying it's a bad game, just I am not interested in it

If you do want to play Resident Evil 3 but like me don’t like the online multiplayer vs type games, wait until it’s on sale. But this review is all about the main Resident Evil 3 game, in all its single-player glory.

This definitely isn’t your standard Resident Evil build-up.

Resident Evil, and survival horror in general, have a formula. You start the game, have about 10-15 minutes of slow and ‘safe’ exploration, and then the game starts properly. It’s usually about an hour or two before your first boss fight.

Resident Evil 3 starts you off in a dream sequence with Jill Valentine, the character you play. Even if you don’t know anything about the series, this sequence gives you the information that Jill has problems with Umbrella and with dealing with the existence of zombies.

Then, you get a phone call that is interrupted by the games big bad Nemesis breaking through your wall. There is no subtle build-up here – you are thrown into the deep end straight away. You get that sense of adrenaline like the opening of a high impact action film.

Resident Evil 3 Here's Nemesis
I don't care what anyone says - this is the 'classic Jill' uniform :p

How can you keep up with pressure like that for the whole game?

On your first play, the tension is high, and all you want to do is get away from the monster hunting you down. But, this tension is only felt the first time.

This is where I say Resident Evil 2 may have set the bar a little high. When Mr X pursued you through the Racoon City Police Station, you never knew what to expect. In contrast, Nemesis only appears at set points. You always know when to expect him to make your life harder.

Resident Evil 3 And They Pull You Right Back In
You think you get away...

I have heard a lot of people talk about how this is a negative of the game. Personally, I think this is positive. But I will get into the reasoning of why I believe this when I talk about replayability. 

I tried Resident Evil before, and the weird puzzles and backtracking are frustrating and annoying.

Yep. The original PlayStation Resident Evil trilogy and the later Resident Evil 0 all have this problem. Having to go from one end of the map to the other to pick up weird components in order is a problem. Picking up too many items not knowing what to when, and having to drop vital health and ammo, is frustrating.

You don’t have any of this in Resident Evil 3. Not really. There are a couple of puzzles, but they are very streamlined if you have to do them. And that a great change – if you have to do them. A lot of puzzles are optional, and while you get rewards for doing them, they aren’t vital.

This kind of ties into people saying with Resident Evil 3 is so short. Streamlined puzzles and smaller areas that you can’t go back to cut out hours of ‘pointless’ exploration.

Resident Evil 3 Optional Puzzles
Don't wan tto solve the puzzle? Only a couple are now mandatory

So you don’t seem to be talking much about the actual gameplay…

I am kind of glossing over it in this review. This is for two particular reasons.

Firstly, the game looks fantastic, and the controls are great. Any of the screenshots and video footage demonstrate this. Based on the same technology as Resident Evil 2, this was pretty much guaranteed. Hence, going into the great graphics and flawless cutscenes (even if the content can be cheesy) is pretty skippable.

Secondly, as I said in my First Impressions, the Racoon City Demo is very representative of the final gameplay. You can download it on any platform, and decide for yourself if you enjoy Resident Evil or not.

So what makes Resident Evil 3 replayable?

When you first play a Resident Evil game, you can enjoy the (admittedly convoluted) story that makes the series unique.

Once you have finished the story, you can then continue to play to reach higher ranks and earn rewards. Some rewards are aesthetic, like costumes. Some make future runs easier, like infinite ammo rocket launchers.

Resident Evil and its set gameplay make for a magnificent training ground for learning how to speedrun. Did it take you 20 minutes to find the combination to a safe? Now that combination is known, you can cut out that whole section of gameplay.

Resident Evil 3 The Shop
You can even pick your own rewards with the new Shop system

It was also the series that got me interested in Completionist gameplay, long before trophies or achievements. Finding all of the documents and files around the world fleshes out the lore of the Resident Evil universe.

This still doesn’t sound like a game I would be interested in.

Doing this with the original games takes a lot of patience and dedication. Many players have given up because the grind to get to better rewards is too much. This is more than fair – Resident Evil isn’t for everyone, and not just because of the theme.

Resident Evil 3 has made the series accessible. Not easier – don’t get the two confused.

If you wanted to get started in Resident Evil, I would have said start with 4 and warn people that it takes a while to warm up to. Resident Evil 2 last year made this more manageable in terms of access, but I still would have said to people don’t be afraid to have a walkthrough handy.

Now, if you have any interest in Resident Evil, Resident Evil 3 is a great introduction. You can get a feel for the world, the logic of the series, and have it in a relatively bite-sized piece.

I know Resident Evil. Are saying it’s a series tutorial?

Not so fast. Yes, if you are a veteran to the series, the difficulty curve is lower.

Play on Hard. Give yourself the challenge. Then try Nightmare mode. Everything you are expecting from a Resident Evil game comes out to play. New combinations of enemies, locations, even adding randomisation of item locations. Nightmare mode is the real hidden gem of Resident Evil 3.

My biggest complaint is that the mode was so hidden in the game, and that very few reviewers are highlighting it.

Resident Evil 3 New Difficulties
Two 'hidden' modes - and it's not just tougher enemies!

For the first time, I have to ask an open question on some of these reviews. It feels like that they played Resident Evil 3 in Assist mode (the easiest way where you also start with an assault rifle) and called their game the entire experience. If that’s the case, I feel bad that they missed out on the experience they wanted. It was right at their fingertips.

Overall Thoughts

Resident Evil 3 is a solid new entry, and helps to solidify some of the series canon lore. It’s an enjoyable game, that I am on my third playthrough, and may try to Platinum Resident Evil 3.

I also enjoy the return to the ‘old days’ with demo versions that let you try before you buy. Really, take that I am enjoying the game and I think many would enjoy Resident Evil 3 as a recommendation, then try the demo.

I only wish they had greenlit Resident Evil: Code Veronica rather than Resident Evil 4 for the next remake.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Let’s you explore more of Racoon City
  • Increased enemy AI and new dodge mechanic are satisfying
  • RE Engine is beautiful on every platform

Cons

  • For series veterans, best experience is hidden
  • While the bundle value is there, if you only want one game it makes the other expensive
  • Segmenting sections stopping backtracking doesn’t feel right

Until next time,

JohnHQLD