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.Β 

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

Crossfire Review

Crossfire Cover Art
Crossfire Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher Plaid Hat Games (Website)
Players 5-10 (best around 8)
Playing Time 5 minutes
Category Social Deduction
Bluffing
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

How well do you know your friends? Social Deduction games can put this to the test!

Got a large group of people (10+) and want to play a game? Social deduction party games like Werewolf, Two Rooms and a Boom and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong are great.

If you don’t have quite that many people, games like The Resistance, Bang: The Dice Game and the One Night series are a lot of fun.

Only have 3-4 players? Coup, Saboteur and Love Letter are excellent choices as well.

But what is a social deduction game? Almost all of them involve hidden roles and bluffing mechanics. The goal is usually to determine who is a particular role or group. At the same time, some players work against you for their own purposes. This is where the bluffing comes in.

Almost all social deduction games start the same way – What do we do?

All of these games I mentioned share one underlying problem for new and experienced players alike. On the very first turn, what do you do? Who do you trust? In most of the games, only the ‘bad guys’ have information to work with, and everyone else is going in blind.

This makes social deduction games very stressful for some players. Being asked to instantly lie about what they are doing, also while learning a new game, destroys the experience for them. Most people that I see say they don’t like these sorts of games had that experience cemented right here.

There is also a problem, especially in the large group games of playtime. This can be remedied with experienced host players, but if you go out on the first round of a 20 player game of Werewolf, prepare to do something else for 2 hours!

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Box
One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Well, why does anyone play these games?

Because when done right, they are a lot of fun. I personally love new groups playing Werewolf and Bang The Dice Game because of social engagement.

But these games and situations aren’t for everyone. Being forced to talk to a group of strangers for two hours usually is my definition of torture.

However, I can host Werewolf for two hours for a group of complete strangers at the drop of a hat. I will play if I know the host is experienced almost anytime. I prefer Bang The Dice Game usually because I can also actively play and I don’t need as many people.

In today’s review, we have a look at Crossfire from Plaid Hat Games, that fixes a lot of these problems while creating a unique new problem.

Finally, the game! So what is Crossfire?

Crossfire is actually two games, which makes describing it hard. There is the crossfire mode, which is a reasonably standard team-based deduction game. Then there is Sniper mode, where one player is the Sniper, and everyone else argues who gets shot by the Sniper.

Talking to different people about Crossfire, I was surprised that people weren’t taught or told about both modes. This means people were arguing about the game they played and telling others they ‘played it wrong’.

The core of both games is very similar. There is a team that doesn’t want to be shot and a team that wants to shoot them. It’s not exactly high brow plot πŸ™‚

The two games play very differently, and that is where the confusion in describing the game can come from. So first, I am going to talk about the game in a general sense, then get into the different game modes.

Crossfire is set in the Specter Ops universe

What does this mean for the game? Apart from influencing the art style, nothing. Both games were designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, but you don’t need to know one to play the other.

This is similar to how The Resistance and Coup are both set in the Dystopian Universe. The art style and some terms are the same, but playing the other game doesn’t give you an advantage.

Specter Ops Broken Covenant Box Art

What do you get in the box?

You get the rule book, a deck of cards and a timer. That’s it. One of the great things about Crossfire is that you don’t need a lot of components.

One thing I will always do in hidden information games whenever possible is sleeving my cards. Most of the time, if you choose to sleeve for a bit of extra protection, it’s a personal choice. But if you need to hide information, sleeving to me is compulsory.

Not sleeving cards means that during play, cards will become ‘marked’. It’s one of the reasons I rarely play Skull with my own copy. Each card is unique, but I played Skull so often at previous game nights that I knew most of the marks on the skulls, giving me an unfair advantage.

Crossfire Components
There isn't much to show. It's a deck of cards and a timer. But it's so much fun!

While card stock has improved, I wish in small games like these sleeves were included.

Crossfire Mode

There are two central teams, the Blue team and Red team. The blue team has a VIP that needs to be protected by agents, and the red team has Assassins that want to shoot the VIP.

There are also other roles for extra players and advanced play. These all have their Crossfire mode victory conditions on the card. You can have Bystanders that mustn’t be harmed or Decoys that present themselves as VIPs.

Advanced cards are roles like that the Enforcer that acts as an agent, but get to shoot two times per round. Another example is the Bodyguard that protects the person they aim at rather than killing them.

Crossfire Advanced Roles
Some of the extra roles you get in the box

Setup – the solution and new problem

Depending on the number of players, a dealer shuffles a predetermined number of cards and deals one to each player. Everyone looks at their cards, but the setup isn’t finished yet.

Generally in a social deduction game, the play devolves into no one talking about their role and wondering how to get information. Crossfire handles this with the second setup step.

Crossfire Setup Rules
It sounds confusing, but works well. These pages should have a couple of reads though.

Starting with the dealer, they take the cards to their left and right, shuffle them and redeal them face down. Those three players look at their new cards, and going clockwise the player three positions from the dealer repeats the process. This happens until everyone has had their cards shuffled and seen a selection of those results.

This turns setup into multiple games of find the lady/three-card monte. This gives the players something to work with, as most players have seen their first card, and it’s possible to track where roles have gone.

It does make explaining the game to new gamers a little confusing, as there are a lot of mechanics to take in at once. I usually handle this with a dummy round, and if people still have trouble do another dummy setup face up.

This isn’t a perfect solution, though. I have still had players get stumped because as they focus on the perfect information rather than following the theory.

Playing Crossfire Mode

Here is where the timer comes in. The table now has three minutes to work out who is the VIP and who are Assassins. The Agents need to find out who the Assassins are to shoot them, and the Assassins want to kill the VIP.

During this stage, players can turn their card in the direction of who they claim to be. Don’t worry, one of these positions is undeclared – you don’t have to start bluffing immediately.

Agents then reveal their cards and shoot their targets. People that have been shot put their hands down and show their cards.

The VIP then shows their card, and if someone is still pointing to them, they are shot.

Not counting special win conditions on individual cards, that’s it. Five minutes, and the game is done. No player elimination, no real downtime, just quick rounds and everyone is ready for a quick reset if you want to play again.

Crossfire Declarations
The Agent did well, getting the Assassin with their one shot

This adds an amount of tension to the game. Why would someone undeclared by targeting an agent? Why is that Agent I trusted knowing I was the VIP pointing at me?

Then the dealer reads a set script. It boils down to this. Only Agents and Assassins can shoot (denoted by a pistol on their card), and everyone else puts their hands down.

Bystanders don’t want to be shot, nor does the VIP. Assassins tend to hide as Bystanders, Agents or Undeclared. This is where the number of roles comes into play. If you are playing a 7 person game, everyone knows for example, that there is only one bystander. If there are 2 being declared, someone is lying. Here are the bluffing and deduction parts of the game.

Once the three minutes are up, everyone points to their target simultaneously. One go – don’t go changing targets when the hands are up!

Wrong Role Counts
2 VIPs, 3 Agents and a Bystander. I don't think so.

Playing Sniper Mode

Sniper mode is almost the same, except there is one sniper that is the only one that shoots.

Setup is very similar to Crossfire mode. According to the rules, the Sniper is pre-selected and given their role face up. If no one wants to be the Sniper (or everyone does), I usually do the pick a dealer and include the Sniper in the shuffle. When everyone has that first look, the Sniper reveals themselves.

Then you do the find the lady information setup, except the Sniper is excluded from this. The Sniper is then given some shot cards equal to the number of assassins, and everyone tries to work out the Assassins in three minutes.

Once the time is up, the Sniper puts a shot card in front of their targets. When all shots are ‘fired’, people targeted reveal their cards. If a Bystander or the VIP is shot, red team wins. If all of the Assassins are shot, blue team wins.

Crossfire Sniper So Close
The Sniper took out one Assassin! But also a Bystander. Instant loss.

If neither team has won at this point, the surviving Assasins then try and shoot the VIP. They point at the player they believe to be the VIP, and those players reveal their cards. If the Assassins kill the VIP without shooting a bystander, they win. If they hit a Bystander or missed the VIP, the Blue team wins.

Wait, so multiple people can win?

Yes. Because this is a ‘team’ based game, conditions tend to lean towards team victory conditions. When you start using some of the advanced roles, this can get a little messy. When starting to play games like this, stick with the primary characters to keep it simple.

Overall Thoughts

Crossfire is a great Social Deduction game, as long as you know what you are getting into. The setup can be confusing, and while the rules try to make the process clear, I have seen lots of groups make mistakes. Getting this setup wrong will ruin the play.

I also really like the inclusion of the Sniper mode. If you have someone with a lot of experience as the Sniper with people learning, this can be an excellent tutorial mode. Letting new players watch the higher level play with little of the Win/Lose pressure is a great idea.

My number one complaint with Crossfire is shared by almost all of these games – you need at least five players. This makes for a fun game, but means it can’t get to the table very often under normal circumstances.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick game play
  • No player elimination
  • Two great game modes

Cons

  • Game setup is a lot of shuffling
  • Player count too high for an anytime game
  • As a genre, Social Deduction isn’t for everyone

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Pokemon Sword/Pokemon Shield review

Pokemon Sword and Shield Review Welcome
Pokemon Sword and Shield Art
Released 2019
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Game Freak (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category RPG
Collectible/Set Collection

It’s a brave new world for the venerable RPG. Just not too new a world.

Pokemon games have been around for decades. Starting with Pokemon Red and Blue on the original Game Boy, the formula hasn’t changed much in almost 25 years. You take the role of a young aspiring trainer and wander the land capturing Pokemon and building your team to become the best.

Pokemon Let’s Go (reviewed here) was the first significant departure to this formula in a long time. The main storyline and quests were still there, as they ultimately a remake of Pokemon Yellow. What had changed for the first time in a long time was the capture system. It bought in the Pokemon Go style ‘throw Pokeballs at creatures until you catch them’ style play. You could also for the first time see in the world the Pokemon wandering about.

Pokemon Red Blue Gameplay
The graphics have changed, but the core game has remained largely the same

To say the reception was divided would be an understatement.

Long time fans held there breath for the first ‘proper’ Pokemon RPG for the Switch – Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield.

You keep mentioning two titles. Which game are you reviewing?

The very confusing answer to this is “Yes”. Each game has an alternate edition that includes Pokemon the other doesn’t, so you need to find players of the opposing version and trade to complete your Pokedex. While I have only played through Pokemon Shield, everything I am going to talk about is relevant to Pokemon Sword.

Pokemon Sword and Shield – the basics

Nothing has really changed here since my first Game Boy Pokemon adventure. You choose your avatar and begin your quest to become the best Pokemon trainer around.

Your ‘rival’ in this outing happens to be the little brother of Leon, the unbeatable Champion of the Galar region and final story boss fight. What is the Galar region? It’s the area you are exploring, and this time around has been heavily influenced by England. Without getting wrapped up in Pokemon lore, basically, each region of the world of Pokemon has a ‘real world’ equivalent. In most games, you explore new areas, giving a reason for new Pokemon and mechanics to exist.

At its heart, Pokemon Sword and Shield are still light RPG adventures – depending on your definition of light. The path you take is fairly linear, but you can explore the world at your own pace. The story is far from complicated but serves to keep the game going.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Hop and Leon
That's you on the Left, Hop your rival, then big brother Leon

Instead of wandering the land looking for monsters to fight, you instead battle your Pokemon against other peoples Pokemon or even wild Pokemon. You can capture wild Pokemon to complete your Pokedex (your Pokemon checklist). You can also use some Pokemon’s abilities to complete quests during the game.

The first big change – Sword and Shield differ in a little more than just Pokemon!

That’s right – it’s not only a question of which Pokemon are in each version anymore. I am not going to go into details as I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a slightly different story path in each game. You do all the same things, but you meet two different gym leaders depending on the version you play. It’s not just the leader though, it’s also the Pokemon type they specialise in that is affected.

There are also slightly different items available in each game, but this only really affects your curries which I will talk about later.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Allister
You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield

None of this is worth it for me personally to play both versions, but it is nice that Game Freak is experimenting with this feature and I hope it continues.

And now you can camp and cook for your Pokemon!

That’s right – you can camp and rest with your Pokemon now. Not only that, you have some Poketoys (what else?) that lets you play with your Pokemon at camp!

But not only that, you can cook for everyone as well. This little mini-game isn’t strictly necessary, but as you find new ingredients and get better at cooking, your Pokemon see in-game benefits.

It’s a bit of fun, but not essential. My Pokemon would sometimes complain of being tired and hungry, and taking care of them increased your relationship. If you treat your Pokemon well, they are more likely to critical hit opponents or hold on with 1 health point instead of being knocked out.

You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield
Some of these meals I wish I could make so easily!

I have seen this mechanic in a few games now, and I had fun playing with my Pokemon overall. Sometimes it was nagging me to camp more than I wanted to (two-minute intervals sometimes!), but camping was executed pretty well overall.

The next change – the Wild Area

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

Pokemon of a certain level tend to hang around in specific areas of the Wild Area, but not always specific Pokemon. Depending on the weather and time of day (yes, this does matter in-game now!) different Pokemon will appear.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Wild Area
Bit of fourth wall breaking there πŸ™‚

It is also an area with a couple of mini-games, such as the Rotum Rally. Winning these games do earn you prizes, but for me, they were not essential to play. So I will say they are there, and they are fun enough but know there are little games to play. Describing them makes them sound incredibly dull, and as they aren’t essential to the game, knowing they exist is enough.

Another feature of the Wild Land is the Pokemon Dens. Here you can find watts, a type of wild area currency. But the big payoff is the chance to capture a Dynamax wild Pokemon.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax Raid
It's four on one - we can get it! Right?

Capture a dynawhatnow?

A change in combat mechanics in Sword and Shield is called Dynamax. Basically, you make your Pokemon really, really big for 3 turns of combat. They get increased health and access to special moved. You can do it once per match in specific areas.

It looks cool most of the time. There can be new animations and looks for the Pokemon, as well as unique special moves. My big issue with Dynamax is once you have seen it a couple of times, I got bored with it. Competitive play has banned its use. I am glad they tried something different, but for me, this isn’t something I hope sticks around.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax In Battle
Some of the Dynamax Transformations can be a little terrifying!

So why is Dynamax in the Wild Area important?

Ahh, here is where it does hold my interest. In the wildlands, you can team up with up to three other trainers over the internet and do a specific Dynamax raid. You only get to use your first Pokemon, but if you win the timed battle, you get a chance to catch one of these special Pokemon.

The problem isn’t the Dynamax raids though. My issue with Dynamax raids is the glitchy online connectivity. But I will talk more about this later.

Even playing offline, you get three computer-controlled trainers to battle with, and the raid itself is still something different. Don’t want to do them? Don’t start a raid. It’s nice having optional combat choices in a game like this.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Camping Games
Anything is more fun than a loading screen. Like playing fetch with Magikarp!

And my favourite change, Jobs.

Previously, if you wanted to level up all of your Pokemon, you need to constantly battle with them. Now you can send your Pokemon out on Jobs and earn experience and items without playing!

This can sound cheap, but there is still a lot to it. You can’t just spam a job with the same Pokemon, you need to match the Pokemon you send to the task required. Sending Fire-type Pokemon to someone that needs help from water-types will not earn you much.

You also have to wait. You can send your Pokemon out for a full day, and I have levelled up Pokemon I haven’t used in combat pretty quickly. Later some jobs let you boost your Pokemon’s stats. Love a Pokemon, but they keep getting knocked out? Send them on tasks for a few days to increase their defence and health!

Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokemon Return From Job
When do well with a job, it's a party as your Pokemon return

That sounds alright, but you started complaining about online?

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but as a general rule, Nintendo has made some interesting online decisions. I use Nintendo Online mainly for cloud saves and access to the retro games. Tetris 99 is the only big multiplayer game I play.

When you activate online in Pokemon Sword and Shield, you are continually seeing other players phase in and out of your game world. This is annoying, but not terrible. Trying to get players to join your Dynamax raids is awful. Even if you can see another player waiting and asking for players to join them, rarely can I actually do it.

Most of the time, you sit looking at the screen for 2 minutes for the requests to time out, then you play with computer-controlled players. It has stopped me from even trying to be honest. It’s not the end of the world, as it is an optional mechanic. It is frustrating to see the start of a fun feature that should work in 2019 fail again and again.

What about the complaints I have heard about reused assets and poor graphics?

OK, here I am picking a fight with the internet. The Pokemon games got their start on the Game Boy, and have had their biggest run on the DS consoles. These handhelds, while technological marvels in their time, hardware limitations equalled simpler games.

The Pokemon games are formulaic. They follow the same general structure again and again. Think of EA’s sports titles the 2K series – you keep getting the same game over and over again with small tweaks. Pokemon has been doing this for a long time, and people wanted to see something different.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Metacritic
What do I mean by people slamming Pokemon Sword and Shield? Look at the difference on Metacritic

Game Freak has tried to do things in a new way with the series coming to the Switch. Some things worked, others didn’t. As I have only played select titles in the series, I didn’t realise when I was playing that the same sound file was used for various Pokemon in battle. I was playing, the funny sound played, I was happy.

In the wild area, the ‘generic tree’ doesn’t look great. Apparently, the textures were a direct copy from the DS Sun and Moon games. And it is the same tree over and over again – no variety in the forest.

Personally, it made it easy for me to differentiate a generic tree from a Berry Bush. Because ‘normal’ trees are supposed to be generic, I noticed the difference and moved on. It didn’t ruin my experience overall, it was all a momentary blip. Which I promptly ignored.

People that did notice this and raised it on the internet have a point. This was supposed to be a game built from the ground up for the Switch. Using previous designs/textures/sounds means that wasn’t the case. When this happens, it’s usually because the developers were running out of time. Fixing things like this means delaying the game, it’s part of what ‘Polish’ means when delays are announced.

How is this picking a fight? Becuase there is a lot of yelling from people that haven’t moved on about it. I have seen reviews that have slammed the game because of a tree image reused from the DS. Not poor online connectivity, not game-breaking issues, but because of a time-saving trick used in one area that means nothing to game working or not. Immersion yes, but not the game functioning.

My comment? Get over it. Yes, I noticed it. Yes, you have a point that ‘built from the ground up’ didn’t happen. These are negatives that should be addressed.

But to attack a game and declare it rubbish because of reusing sound files and a tree? Priorities people. The amount of overreaction to small things that don’t affect the gameplay at all has me stumped.

Don’t let people ranting on small issues pull you away from a fun experience. The game is not groundbreaking. I could probably suggest other games for you to try, sure. But hand on heart, you can do a lot worse than the Pokemon Sword and Shield, and if you enjoy Pokemon and/or RPGs, you will enjoy your time with the game.

JohnHQLD

Overall Thoughts

While not perfect, I really enjoyed my time playing Pokemon Shield. The game still had that distinctive Pokemon feel, while pushing the envelope in certain areas.

Some things I would have liked seen pushed further, some I hope to get dropped in future games. Overall though I am glad Nintendo and Game Freak are embracing the idea of change, just not as much as in other titles like The Legend of Zelda.

Not yet, anyway.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Gameplay lets new players in easily
  • Trying out new mechanics while holding onto the classic feel
  • Generally good graphical upgrades
  • Nintendo is embracing expansion by DLC for the first time

Cons

  • The gameplay is still very close to all the other Pokemon games
  • Online is spotty at best
  • The main story is very linear
  • Dynamax bored me fairly quickly

Pyramid of Pengqueen Review

Pyramid of Pengqueen
Pyramid of Pengqueen
Released 2018
Designer Marcel-AndrΓ© Casasola Merkle
Publisher Brain Games (Website)
Players 2-5 (Best with 4-5)
Playing Time 30-45 minutes
Category Hidden Movement
One vs Many
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you escape the Pengqueen?

One of my favourite scenes in adventure movies is the escape sequences. It can be from a boulder, a storm, or an unseen force – whichever it is, it’s almost always fun to watch.

And of these adventures, a classic staple is, of course, the Mummy. Not just an unstoppable force, but a power that is capable of outwitting the heroes.

And you know what you call a board game that uses this type of setup? One vs Many. There is one mastermind that must beat all of the other players to win!

A problem with a lot of One vs Many games is you have to learn two sets of rules. One set as the mastermind, and then the player rules. This can be a big ask for new players, but there are gateway or introductory games to help with this.

One such game is Pyramid of Pengqueen.

Oh wow! Why didn’t they think of this before?

They did. Pyramid of Pengqueen is a reprint and retheme of the 2008 game Fluch der Mumie, printed in English only as Pyramid. In 2018, Brain Games got the license and rethemed Pyramid with the Icecool theme, hence all the penguins.

The games are almost identical in everything but the artwork. The Mummy has been replaced with the Pengqueen, and there is an arctic feel to the art. Gameplay-wise everything has been kept, so this is basically a review of both versions.

The re-theme can get a little confusing as well. In the rules, the Mummy of the Pengqueen is referred to in different ways, mainly the Mummy or the Pengqueen. While this doesn’t make it harder to learn, it does show how little the Icecool theme does for the game overall.

Pyramid International Cover
Originally release in 2008, not much has been changed

So what do you do in the game?

Players sit with the game board between them, similar to Battleship. On one side, the Pengqueen controls their movements as they travel through the tomb. On the other side, players have their tokens and can see the Pengqueens location.

How do the pieces stay on the vertical board? With SCIENCE! Well, magnets. Still counts :p

The players roll for movement each turn and have to explore the tomb and collect treasures. The treasures they collect are determined with a random card draw at the start of each game, so there is no one way to win each game.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Components
Opening the box, you can see there isn't much to setup

As the players explore the tomb, they must also evade the Pengqueen. If they are on the same square as the Pengqueen, they are captured and lose a life.

Once they are caught, they start from the Pengqueens sarcophagus and continue collecting treasures until they run out of lives. Once a player collects their set of riches, they win! If the Pengqueen collects a certain number of lives though, the game ends with the Pengqueen winning.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Pengqueens board
You always know exactly where you are as the Pengqueen

That sounds great!

Doesn’t it? The game is simple to teach and play, and players can jump straight in. The satisfaction of hearing the clink when the player piece is caught by the Pengqueen is fun for both sides.

For such a simple game, the tension that builds as players watch the Pengqueen coming closer is excellent. It doesn’t matter how many times you have played, seeing the Pengqueen a square or two away and coming towards you never gets stale.

It’s also great for all ages. You only pick one die for your movement as a player. You can play and teach your first game within about 5 minutes, then a quick reset to start playing properly.

A game plays in about 30 minutes, and setup/teardown only takes a few minutes. This makes Pyramid of Pengqueen an easy game to play on short notice, unlike many One vs Many games.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Players board
Watching the Pengqueen marker on the right move can be tense

I am waiting for the But…

Yeah. The But. As fun as Pyramid of Pengqueen is, there are a couple of factors that do kill it for me.

Balancing is a big one. Playing two players, the Pengqueen has way too much information. This can be adjusted a little bit by the player character spending more time running to different areas before collecting treasure. Still, it adds 5-10 minutes of somewhat dull gameplay, so it’s not a great solution.

The other issue is the board and player pieces. The player magnets are tiny, and you move the board a lot when you move your piece. The Pengqueen player gets a pretty good idea of what area you are in just by watching the board flex. It’s so apparent, even younger players will pick up on this quickly, giving away more information.

Finally, the magnets are not always your friend in terms of hiding. Ideally, you want to put your piece in the middle of a square on your turn. This rarely happens, though. You usually end up closer to a side, and if the Pengqueen stops closer to your side on their square, you can capture a player without meaning to. This again gives away exactly where you are. No one has cheated, it’s just the way magnets and people work.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Component Sizes
The black die is what I would call normal sized. The player tokens are tiny!

So should I buy Pyramid of Pengqueen?

To me, this is a game you should play before you buy if you can. I am glad Alpal showed it to me, and I am so happy I got to play it. I am just not keen to play it again anytime soon. I will show people how to play anytime, but it’s not a game I want in my collection.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Overall Thoughts

On paper, the Pyramid of Pengqueen looks to be a fun game. Smooth one-vs-many gameplay with quality components that can be played by all ages. The theory works well, the final execution, in my opinion, not so much.

Many people say how fun the Pyramid of Pengqueen is to play. I am not saying they are wrong. I know everything I have said can be taken as if I am, but that’s not my problem with the game.

The Pyramid of Pengqueen has balancing issues. Big balancing issues. With two players, it is too easy for the Pengqueen to win. At higher player counts, it is too easy for the players to win. Individual players can be eliminated by the Mummy pursuing them, which can make players feel bullied. This is more of an issue for younger players, but I can see it happening. The potential for frustration and arguments, for younger players, is just too high. And those situations aren’t fun for anyone.

Overall
5/10
5/10

Pros

  • A light game that is easy to teach and play for all ages
  • Novel moving mechanics, especially anticipating the Pengqueen’s movements.

Cons

  • Doesn’t scale well
  • Player pieces too small
  • Not very good at hiding player movement
  • Icecool theme does nothing for it

Terminator: Resistance Review

Terminator Resistance Cover Art
Terminator Resistance Cover Art
Released 2019
Platform PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher Reef Entertainment (Website)
Developer Teyon (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players Players
Category Description

The Terminator franchise finally gets a decent computer game

The original Terminator came out in the before days of 1984. I was 9 years old. I can’t remember exactly why, but my Mum let me watch it with her when I was about 14. I remember being bored :p

A couple of years later, Terminator 2 was the BIG THING. My friends and I watched it multiple times. Not the perfect movie by any means, but it captured my imagination in many ways. Time Travel and consequences were simplified. Well, to an extent. It is a convoluted logic train at the best of times. There were lots of explosions, and the T-1000 was terrific to watch morph.

At the time, I didn’t have a computer that could play new games well. Doom was fun, but almost all of us were drooling at the idea of The Terminator 2029.

I remember some of my friends being excited that Terminator 2: Judgement Day was coming to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The gloating during the countdown before they could play it.

What I remember most is the silence after they played it. I didn’t know anyone that enjoyed it, and a lot of Terminator games since had a similar low quality.

The only Terminator game I remember playing was Terminator 2: Judgement Day at the arcade. This was an Operation Wolf style gun game that had very little to do with the movie, but was still a lot of fun.

Terminator 2 NES
There is a reason this wasn't included in the NES Mini collection

The idea of the paradoxical loop presented by The Terminator always intrigued me. It opened the door to so many possibilities – and so many headaches. Skynet wouldn’t exist if it didn’t send a Terminator back in time to give Cyberdyne the push to create the learning CPU.

Doctor Who addresses such paradoxes as ‘Fixed Points in Time’, inviolate events that must occur. This convenient narrative fix came about after decades of debate. Personally, I still prefer the throwaway “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff”, but Fixed Points in Time does stop a lot of arguments. While starting others.

The Terminator films started to get into these alternate theories and complicating the storylines further. Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest Terminator film, basically ignores any films between Terminator 2 and itself. Without seeing it (I didn’t get time at the cinemas), the natural reasoning as to why they are ignored is “Those Timelines didn’t eventuate”. Narrative reset 101.

You know what other story ignores those films? Terminator: Resistance.

So what has all this to do with the game?

Like all paradoxes, nothing and everything. I am a Terminator film fan. I think it’s clear I have a bias toward the franchise and the idea of time travel as a whole.

Terminator: Resistance is its own game. It has it’s own characters, and is set after Judgment Day – a period only glimpsed in the movies.

If you had never seen the first two movies, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. You would miss some great in-jokes and easter eggs, but that’s it.

Terminator Resistance - Intro
The visuals may not be photorealistic, but they nail the source materials tone

Teyon has made a fantastic fan love letter to the original series, and it shows. But the story is it’s own. You play a totally new character, and while you hear the name John Connor bandied about, it is given context within the story. You are given all you need to know to play, and extras are cleverly woven in.

OK, enough of what the game is about, what sort of game is it?

This is harder to answer than you might imagine. I can’t tell you what sort of game Terminator: Resistance is. Why not? Because I don’t think it knows. It’s like a lot of games, but it doesn’t really commit to any style. It is a first-person style adventure game with shooting and character-building elements, similar to Skyrim or Fallout 3. Similar, but not quite.

At the start of the game, you have relatively standard ballistic weaponry. Pistols, rifles, that kind of thing. They do allow you to shoot down drones, but Terminator units? Your best bet is sneak around unnoticed. The semi-open world gives you lots of options to do this, and the goggles allow you to see robots through walls. Think Arkham Batman Detective Mode.

During the story, you meet other survivors of Judgment Day and help them enough for them to get you to the resistance. Or you help them with various other jobs and earn their trust. Think any RPG with quest givers that can influence the story, like Skyrim or Mass Effect.

Terminator Resistance - Goggles
Not having to stick your head out helps to find a path around enemies early game

Rewards for exploration can be trade resources (virtually cash) or items that allow you to craft items. These items can be first aid, weapons or ammo. There are plenty of games that have this mechanic these days. But of course, if you can craft, why not upgrade your weapons? Yes, this is present as well.

There is even a hacking mini-game bought back by games like BioShock. The most significant difference is the old Pipe Dream style game has been replaced by Frogger.

Terminator Resistance - Lockpicking
There is also a lockpick mini-game. I have played better (and worse) versions.

That’s what games it’s like, but what sort of game is Terminator: Resistance?

And here is the crux of the problem. A lot of solid mechanics have been mixed together well. Just not well enough to make Terminator: Resistance its own game.

It’s not an Adventure/RPG, it’s not a shooter, nor a stealth game. It’s Terminator: Resistance, and what it does is done well enough. It’s just not incredible.

I enjoyed playing through the story and getting another glimpse into the Terminator universe. The only characters I can remember that wasn’t John Connor is Baron and The Stranger.

The story depth just isn’t there though. The dialogue is terrible at times, and the choices presented are largely meaningless until the close credits. There are checkboxes to modern features in the game, but nothing shines out as ‘must do’.

Terminator Resistance - Dialogue Choices
This dialogue is here mainly for fans reactions. I was happy when I saw the choices πŸ™‚

And yet…

I really enjoyed playing Terminator: Resistance. For all it’s faults, it is a solid experience. They keep the source materials tone for better or worse. Yes, the twists are pretty obvious. The voice acting borders on ridiculous at some points. The Terminators can’t hit the side of a barn with the first few shots.

But if you watch the sections of the future in the movies, this was just how it was presented. The music and sound effects are movie perfect, and not having the most profound story is appropriate under the circumstances.

So should I buy it?

And here is the problem. If you are a Terminator fan and/or you have nothing else to play, sure. If you want to play games like The Witcher or Cyberpunk 2077, but the scope concerns you? Terminator Resistance is an excellent introduction to what you can do.

Like shooters, but you are learning, or your reflexes aren’t there? Playing Terminator: Resistance on normal won’t punish you for this. Want to be punished? Play on the harder levels, where you don’t have time to react to being seen in the open.

If you buy Terminator: Resistance on Steam, it’s only just over AUD$55. This isn’t because the price has been cut due to poor sales, I think Reef realised that this wasn’t a killer game and priced it appropriately. PlayStation and Xbox are still charging full price though. Buy on console only if you don’t have a PC that can run it.

Terminator Resistance - HK Tank Battle
By the end game, taking out the huge HK tanks is a very straightforward affair

Wait – is it worth a buy or not?

If you want to finish a game that won’t take you 40+ hours and is a solid gaming experience – Do it. If you are a fan of the original two Terminator movies, this is the Terminator game you deserve.

However, if you are comparing buying Terminator: Resistance to almost any other new release, maybe don’t buy it. Teyon, as a developer, is improving in quality in leaps and bounds. Compared to Rambo: The Video Game, Terminator: Resistance is awesome. It’s just not special compared to other offerings out there without the license.

Look at it this way – I can’t recommend the original Witcher like I can the sequels. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy The Witcher, it is only that the sequels have nailed the formula that was only forming in the original. But I still want to replay the orginal (again), because I am a fan and know what I am in for. Treat Terminator: Resistance the same way.

Overall Thoughts

If you are a Terminator fan, this love letter to the franchise is definitely a game you will enjoy playing. If you don’t know the franchise, there is nothing you need to already know to play the game.

One of the most significant marks against Terminator: Resistance is that it is a solid game. There is nothing new about any of the gameplay mechanics, and what is used is done well. There is nothing except the Terminator license to make it stand out on shelves. Also, previous Terminator games haven’t been very good at all.

The problem is these days solid doesn’t really cut it in the hype engine, so they get lost. As much as I loved playing Terminator: Resistance, I put 3 games I hadn’t finished before it on my Top 10 for 2019. If you get the chance and are interested, you won’t regret playing – it just won’t stand out in your other memories.

Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10

Pros

  • Obviously created by fans of the series
  • Terminator models look amazing
  • Some great easter eggs for Terminator fans

Cons

  • The gameplay is solid but nothing stands out
  • Enemy AI and level layout are too forgiving at normal difficulties

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Onirim Review

Released 2014
Designer Shadi Torbey
Publisher Asmodee (Website)
Players 1 (technically you can play 2, but really solo game)
Playing Time Physical: 15 – 25 minutes (mainly shuffling)
Digital: 5-10 minutes
Category Card Game
Solo
Hand Management
Set Collection
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you escape the nightmares?

Onirim is a game that players either know about or have never heard of. Like all well-kept secrets, not only is Onirim a gem of a game, it is also part of a greater universe – the Oniverse.

Why is it such a well kept secret? I think a big part of this is that the Oniverse are single-player games, and solo games aren’t given a significant push marketing-wise.

The Oniverse shares a common theme, taking place in a dreamscape universe. What more do you need to know to play them? Nothing. That’s something else that the Oniverse games share – you don’t need to know the theme at all. It is light enough for a superficial theme, however, go digging and the lore is surprisingly profound.

So what is Onirim?

If you want to get technical, Onirim is a set collection/deck management game. Make sets of three coloured cards with different symbols to unlock doors, unlock all of the doors to win.

Like all simple games, this does not sound inviting. But if you look at all great games, they all boil down to ‘You just do the thing’. The factor of what makes a decent or good game great is the extra feelings the game can give you, and Onirim manages to get into your head in very subtle ways.

All you have to do is open these doors. What can be hard about that?

So why do I want to keep reading?

As I mentioned in Last Week’s Gaming, I recently started playing Onirim again on my phone. Onirim has been on my solo playlist since it was released five years ago, and when I think of what to play next, it always manages to be on the shortlist.

Why is it always good to play? Firstly, it’s a known quantity that doesn’t ask a lot of time from me. These days, that’s always appreciated. Secondly, it has a free digital version that is spot on in terms of game mechanics and simplifies setup so much.

That’s right – for a change, I can do a board game review AND a video game review at the same time! And because the digital implementation is free, I can also highly recommend playing it to see how you like it.

Got a couple of minutes and want to challenge yourself? Onirim Digital is a great choice

OK, I’m listening. So what is Onirim?

According to the theme, you play as a Dreamwalker trapped in a dream labyrinth. To escape, you need to unlock all of the oneiric doors. Vefore you run out of cards. That’s right – you get to go through the deck once and once only.

When dealing with a random draw pile, getting the right cards is hard enough, but there are nightmares as well. If you are unlucky enough to draw a nightmare card, you will lose cards. The game makes you choose to discard the remaining cards in your hand or the top 5 cards in the deck. When you discard from the deck, if you draw a door card or a nightmare, they stay in ‘Limbo’ and are shuffled back into the deck.

I can discard my hand, but I need the green sun to unlock a door. Lucky I have a key that will beat the nightmare!

You can choose to discard what is left in your hand instead. This makes the cards you lose a known quantity, but sometimes you really need the cards in your hand, so it can be a harrowing decision to make.

Lose track of how many cards you have played or discarded, and you will lose. Get a bad run of drawing nightmares, and you will lose. Each decision counts towards a win, but the luck element has you dreading the next draw. It still surprises me that hundreds of games later (yep, I played a lot over the years), I still get that rush of excitement or disappointment as I win or lose.

I just need to unlock the blue door to win. But I have almost a 50/50 chance of drawing nightmares!

So that’s it? You just play cards out?

Yep. As I said before, just describing the game to someone makes it sound boring and question why anyone would want to play it. But once the rules all click (normally takes one maybe two games), you really start to want to beat such a simple system.

And again, the digital base game is free. You can try it yourself for nothing and decide if you like it or not. Yes, digital expansions will cost but it’s only a couple of dollars each, and by then you will know if you want to add new cards, powers and objectives.

That said, if you like the game I would suggest buying Onirim Second Edition physically. Why? It comes with all expansions and variants, most of which are not available digitally. Use the digital app to try before you buy, and see how much you like it for yourself.

The physical copy. So much potential gaming in those cards - and so much shuffling!

So what can I play Onirim on?

You can get the digital version of Onirim on Steam for PC, and there are Android and iOS versions as well. If the links don’t work for you, just search for Onirim (maybe add Solitaire Card Game) from Asmodee Digital and you can’t go wrong.

Final Thoughts

Onirim is a rare board game. It’s a highly abstract game that makes it easy to immerse yourself. While the core gameplay is simple, the physical version comes with expansions that let you scale the complexity to increase replayability.

Five years later, and I keep coming back to Onirim. I have that much fun with it.

But. Like a match 3/tap to continue mobile game, Onirim is a fun and challenging quick game before mobile gaming was a science. It’s not a campaign/legacy game, and yet it is a game that has continually pulled me back after long absences.

And best of all? You can try the excellent base game digitally for free. Even if you don’t enjoy digital gaming, the implementation is spot on. Also, the in-game tutorial is excellent, making the digital version a great try before you buy experience.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Easy to learn and play
  • You can set your difficulty/complexity with expansions
  • Digital version makes games lightning quick to get into

Cons

  • The physical version is a lot of shuffling and setup
  • High luck factor can put off some players

 

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

HORI Split Pad Pro Review

Released 2019
Platform Switch
By HORI (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Category Controller

Big hands? HORI has you covered – with a couple of caveats

I enjoy playing on my Switch. I tend to play docked with the Pro controller, but being able to continue playing when I travel is fantastic. True, the Vita had this first for a few games, but Sony dropped the ball in terms of supporting the undervalued console.

When I travel for work, it tends to be day trips or for the better part of a week. The Switch shines here. I can sit in the airport and continue playing, but unless I wanted to bring extra equipment, I am limited in what I could play comfortably. Astral Chain on Joy-Cons for example words, but it’s uncomfortable and hurts my hands.

The solution? Bring a stand and pair my Pro controller. But putting the Pro controller in my bag worries me. Nothing to protect the sticks, and I also worry about button presses trying to wake it and drain the battery.

There have been a few third party cases that try to emulate ‘full’ controller feel, and they have all missed for me. The extra ‘wings’ to fit in my hand were nice, but I was still playing with Joy-Cons and their stick/button placement. It wasn’t great.

It works well, but not the most easy to carry around setup

HORI has come out with new controllers to address almost all of these issues, and I am loving.

Introducing the HORI Switch Pad Pro (Daemon X Machina Edition) controllers

First things first – Daemon X Machina Edition? Yep. I haven’t seen any other edition, but all it means is a black and red colour scheme with a stylised ‘X’ on the X button. In the future, there may be different game tie ins, but today it just means slightly off norm colouring.

So what is the Switch Pad Pro? Take the general layout of the Switch Pro Controller, break it in half, and slide them into the Joy-Con rails on your Switch. That’s it. You now have a pro controller with a screen in the middle, and it’s incredible.

There is no other way to describe it – that’s what it feels like, with all the pros and cons that entails.

It's not just the angle, the Split Pad Pro has everything that little bit bigger

What cons can there be with a screen inside a pro controller?

Size. Straight up, this makes the Switch longer and deeper. Now for myself, this made playing the Switch in handheld mode more comfortable. I am 6’3″ tall, and not everyone has hands and arms the size of mine – individual experiences will vary.

The changes to the dimensions also make the Switch impossible to not only put in a pocket, but any case on the market I have seen. This puts you squarely back in the ‘take extra controllers with you’ camp, which I was hoping to escape.

It doesn't look much here, but the Joy-Cons have the switch flar and it all fits inside the Split Pad Pro setup

HORI makes Switch cases, I would love them to make a case I can store the Switch with the Pad Pro attached, Joy-Con’s underneath just in case, and maybe a pocket above for carts. This would make the Switch perfect for taking on day trips for me. Get on it, HORI!

What it does Switch Pad Pro does do well is when you are home and want to put the Switch down between sessions. Because the Switch itself is above the surface, picking up the Switch is much more comfortable. I have trouble sometimes picking my Switch up from flat, and that is no longer a problem.

OK, fine, so what’s the Switch Pad Pro like to play?

And here is the crux of the matter. The Switch Pad Pro is like a Pro Controller, but a little oversized and most importantly,Β notΒ a Pro controller.

It’s tough to explain in words, but while the Switch Pad Pro is great to play on, you still know you aren’t playing on a Pro controller – probably my favourite controller in general.

Everything is oversized on the Switch Pad Pro. Not comically, at least not for my hands, but it’s noticeable. The sticks are just that little bit larger than the Pro, but the same ‘mushy’ feel in the movement. The seems to exaggerate the loose feel to the sticks, even though in gameplay they are quite responsive. It’s a learning curve, but not a steep one. I was playing Astral Chain comfortably within a couple of minutes, and that was after not playing for a couple of months.

Even with one hand for the shot, you can see the more 'normal' placement of the Dpad

Like any controller, the ultimate form is very personal. What do you want in your controller? If you like the clicky feel like the Xbox controllers, this will not feel great to you. I prefer the feel of the Dualshock, but this is softer again.Β 

If you are comfortable with the Joy-Cons, the Switch Pad Pro will probably be too big for you, but if like me they are too small this is a viable option.

But that’s not all of the caveats!

That’s right – even after all that, there are still things to watch out for. These are not Joy-Cons – and that had a more significant impact than I imagined.

You lose NFC (Amiibo) support and HD rumble. The rumble I was surprised at, the Amiibo support was a little annoying, but if required I can switch controllers mid-game. The big one you lose is motion control.

If you are like me, right now you are thinking to yourself “It’s attached – that’s fine.” and no, no it isn’t. Not for some games anyway. Realisation dawned on me when I tried to fire up Asphalt 9 Legends, thinking the wider grip would help my arms last longer.

I couldn’t play it at all. The vital ingredient that makes Asphalt so fun to play is missing in the Switch Pad Pro. Everything worked, right up to the point I needed to steer the car!

Not a game I would play without the Pro controller previously

Then I tried Pokemon Let’s Go. The game worked as expected, right up until the time I tried to move the Switch to aim. Ooops. Not the end of the world, but not a hurdle I expected to have to deal with.

That sounds like a lot of negatives with not much going for it!

Yes, it does. And it’s important to flag them, not because the Switch Pad Pro is a bad product, but it is a more niche product than I imagined.

There are a couple of features I haven’t touched on. The first is the Turbo button. I don’t know why, but it has one. I have yet to find a use for it. The second though is an on the fly assignment to buttons on the back of the controller. I haven’t used it yet, but I can see times where a simple button press (or even the dreaded L3/R3) combination needs to be used a lot, so you can hit this button instead of taking you thumb off the stick.

This doesn’t change the fact that for a lot of people, the Switch Pad Pro controller won’t be the best choice for all situations.

The assignable button without third party software is nice

So who should look at buying a Switch Pad Pro?

If you find the Joy-Cons uncomfortable and play in handheld mode a lot at home, these will probably do the trick. If you play docked a lot or don’t want to take the Pro controller with you when travelling because of space, this probably won’t be the best choice.

Playing on the plane, I considered playing The Witcher 3 but instead tried Astral Chain again in the more cramped quarters. Playing felt good, and I wasn’t locking elbows more than usual with the passenger next to me. I also didn’t have tired fingers 20 minutes in, a big plus.

What was a pain was taking a bag for my ‘flight’ stuff, the Switch case and the two Switch Pad Pro sides separatly. I really would have preferred a single case I could have lifted the unit out of, but I have already described that.

Travelling with the Switch Pad Pro is about as fiddley as moving with the Pro controller and a stand, but the price is about the same. If you travel a lot, it might be worthwhile, but if it’s occasional, I don’t think it’s worth the select purchase and custom travel storage you will need to create.

HORI Split Pad Pro

Final Thoughts

The Split Pad Pro controller is great for me, but I am not using it as much as I thought I would. Missing motion controls is a pain for some games, but I miss the rumble more than a couple of games.

Because I already have a Pro controller, I am more likely to drop the Switch in my dock and grab it than setup the Split Pad Pro at home. On the move, it’s almost perfect – except for the size and carrying it around safely.

Add a case to hold the Switch and this HORI, put Rumble back in, and everything else can be forgiven.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Feels like you are playing with a pro controller with a screen in the middle
  • Using the controls feels better when playing action games, especially with my large hands
  • DPad is very responsive and works great

Cons

  • Could use more resistance in the sticks
  • An extra item to carry around with you, as actually two controllers
  • Unable to use a case with the controllers attached (May change in the future)
  • Rumble would have been nice

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Jackbox Party Pack 6 Review

Released 2019
Platform PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, XBox, Switch (Reviewed), Amazon Fire TV, iPad, Apple TV, Android TV
Publisher Jackbox Games Inc. (Website)
Developer Jackbox Games Inc. (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players Usually 3-8 plus audience – recommend at least 5 players
Category Party Games

Sometimes, all you want to do is sit and mess with your friends. And Jackbox Party helps you do this ;D

I have plenty of party type board games in my collection, but most share a common flaw. They are all niche in some way. Geek trivia, Pop Culture, Dexterity or ‘gamey’ games. Whatever the niche, you are setting yourself up for just that game for a while.

None are bad games, but there are usually people that don’t want to join in because they feel they can’t win. The other issue can be the judging of answers. Even going with the written response, people can argue because there is a person to contend with.

This is where the Jackbox Party Pack shines. There is a central app that controls a series of different games, so any rules disputes are typically written off as ‘bugs’. It’s incredible how much this changes the focus of the group, and makes organisation and hosting game nights a breeze.

So it’s a trivia game? Pass

Like so many simple games, it sounds too simple to be any fun. But that isn’t where the Jackbox Party games shine.

Yes, there are trivia games. Word games. There are even drawing games. Each set features a unique host that has a series of jokes and quips that gets laughs as the game continues. The games each feel unique, even when using tried and true mechanics.

Having a host or forcing a player to get up and read a bunch of questions can make or break a games night. We have all been there. A great host can elevate Even a standard pub trivia night. Here is where Jackbox shines – you genuinely want to know what is going to be said next.

Yes, my friends were trying to skewer me for a small cash bonus. What a group :p

But why would I want to play a video game with a heap of people? No one has that many controllers!

One of the great features of Jackbox Party Packs is that almost everyone already has their own controller.

You need a device that ‘hosts’ the games sure, and in a party environment this works brilliantly on consoles as everyone can see the game on their TV.Β 

The players need a web browser to join in. And as almost everyone has a smartphone these days, everyone gets to play on a device they are already comfortable using. No mixing up XBox and Dual Shock buttons here!

OK, but how does this help with people that don’t want to play?

Say you are playing a game where you need to come up with clever wordplay. Some people do not enjoy this, and wouldn’t want to participate.

A great feature of Jackbox Party Packs is the Audience feature. You can have a few players competing, but everyone else can still be a part of the game by voting on the winning answers. Everyone always gets to play, and the audience has a vital role to play in picking winners.

The Audience feature is great for everyone at a party, but it has another bonus. If you are into streaming, you can stream your Jackbox game and have the room code as a part of the stream, including all of your viewers as well.

What can I say - I have a weirdly awesome group of friends to come up with words like this πŸ˜€

Playing like this has made the Jackbox panels at PAX Aus one of my ‘must-do’ panels each year – it’s so much fun watching the panellists playing, while at the same time participating in picking winners.

Well, that all sounds alright, but what do you play?

Each party pack comes with about five mini-games, each unique in their way. As you can tell from the title, this is the 6th such collection of games, with new packs coming out every year.

There is never the same type of game in each pack. As with every compilation, some that are gems, and some that aren’t.

Dictionarium

Dictionarium is a fun and fast word game. Players are given a word, and then everyone comes up with a definition of their device. Once everyone is finished (or the time is up), everyone, including the audience votes on their favourite.,

Round 2 has players writing a synonym based on the winning response. Once again, everyone votes for the winner.

The final round has players then using their synonyms in a sentence. Once again, the winner is voted for by everyone. Finally, you end up with a definition and usage of a completely new word!

Dictionarium is a great quick game that can start the night or a quick reset between some of the bigger games. While fun, it’s not a game I would want to play multiple rounds of back to back.

Role Models

Role models is a great game for a group of friends or at least people that know about each other. Players vote on a category (e.g. Olympic Sports, Heist Jobs, Girl Scout Cookies), and everyone chooses who in the group would suit roles in that category.

When everyone finishes voting, the votes are counted, and a player is assigned that role. If there is a tie for the part, a mini-game between the players plays out to pick a single winner.

‘Correctly’ guess the player for the role, and you can win the game! But really for party games like this, the end score is usually an oversite.

While this is a fun diversion, I think its more fun when players know a bit more about each other. Most of the fun is seeing peoples reactions to what the group thinks of them. For example, why am I better suited to Curling that Synchronised Swimming? You need to know the people to get the most out of this. Randomly assigning players because you have to isn’t as fun.

Joke Boat

For all of those aspiring comedians out there, Joke Boat is here to let you shine. It is also a great way to get a room of people laughing at Dad jokes πŸ˜€

There are three rounds in total, with each round mostly sharing the same steps. First, you have the brainstorming round. Enter a bunch of subjects for people to write a joke about.

Next, players select a setup that includes the topics from the brainstorming. Finally, you write the punchline. Simple, right?

Players get to deliver their joke, and players vote on the best. Do all of this twice, with the final round having players trying to write a better punchline for other players jokes.

Joke Boat sounds like a lot of fun, and it was enjoyable, but again not a game you will want to play over and over again.

Push The Button

Push the button is a different Jackbox game in that it doesn’t include audience participation. Every player is a player, and each round is a different mini-game on its own.

The setup of the game is relatively standard social deduction fair. Players are all crew on a space ship, but some players are aliens in disguise. The humans must work out who the aliens are and eject them to win.

The time limit is worked nicely into Press The Button as well. The aliens have uploaded a virus into the ships AI and will delete it entirely in 15 minutes.

Each round, a different player takes the role of the captain and picks a mini-game and crew members to participate. Most of the games have the same kind of setup – answer a question. The catch is the humans get one question, and aliens get a different one. You need to look out for the outlandish answers and responses to determine who the aliens are.

As the game progresses, aliens also get the ability to hack the games and can give the humans ‘alien’ answers, or aliens ‘human’ answers. Because everyone is on their phones, it leads to some exciting experiences.

Anyone can vote to ‘Push The Button’ at any time to vote out aliens. The player that pushes the button then nominates who they think are aliens, and everyone not being accused votes if they agree. If the vote passes, the unlucky players are ejected into space!

If one alien remains on the ship, the aliens win. By far the most complex Jackbox game I have ever played, but one of the smoothest social deduction experiences I have ever played.

Murder Mystery Party 2

Murder Mystery Party is probably my favourite of the games in this pack. It’s a typical trivia game, but with a very dark humoured twist.

Players are guests at a spooky hotel, and the host happens to be a serial killer. Each round, players answer general trivia questions for cash prizes. Get the questions right, and everyone continues.

Get the answer wrong, and the host will get to have fun with you with fatal consequences. ‘Losers’ get to play a random mini-game with the host and safe players/the audience. For example, losing players must drink from a goblet. The catch is the safe players have added poison to the drinks!

If you lost the mini-games, you are not out of the game. You become a ghost and continue playing, so no player elimination in the real sense.

When there is one player left, you can then try and escape the hotel. This is done by answering more trivia questions, with each correct answer moving you closer to the exit.

The other players are still playing, and the higher their score, the closer to the exit they are. There is another catch – if you are in the lead, you can only choose two of the three choices, giving the others a better chance of catching up.

With congratulations like this, is winning really worth it? πŸ˜€

If you take the lead as a ghost, you steal the life force of the other player and then everyone is against you. Also, just reaching the exit isn’t quite enough. You have to answer the final question perfectly to win.

Murder Trivia Party 2 was by far our most favourite game of the pack.

They all sound pretty good, what is the downside?

Overall there isn’t too much wrong with any of the games. There were some localisation issues as the questions have a significant US bias, but that increased the ‘us vs the game’ mentality of the group.

On the Switch, there were also a couple of times that I had to close the game and start again. Far from the end of the world, but when trying to change games, having it hang was a bit jarring.

Overall though, if Jackbox Party Pack sounds like something you would like to try, grab one of the older packs for cheaper and give it a go. Each iteration has had a standout game for me that has made the cost worth it!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Tetris 99 v2 Review

Released 2019
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Arika (Website (Japanese))
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 (more with Big Block DLC)
Category Tetris
Battle Royale
Online

It’s Tetris 99 – New(ish) and improved(ish)!

Tetris is one of those games I love, but always have trouble explaining why I enjoy it. For that reason, I have been trying to write this review for a long time. How long? Long enough that a significant update was released! How significant? Tetris 99 has officially entered version 2!

This review is more of a journey as to what I like and don’t like about Tetris 99. So apologies if I start rambling or seem vague below – I just kind of assume everyone knows Tetris and how to play it.

OK, so what is Tetris?

Tetris began in 1984, the brainchild of Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov. Yep, it’s a Russian game from the 80s that has nothing to do with the cold war. The idea is incredibly simple – a variety of shapes made up of 4 squares (tetrominoes) fall within a set play area. The player’s job is to create horizontal lines from these shapes, that then clear giving you more room to play. You lose when the tetrominoes reach the top. Simple.

This simplicity is the key to Tetris. You have one particular and repetitive task to do, but the satisfaction of clearing rows is addictive. Incredibly addictive.

Tetris has had a lot of facelifts over the years

The story behind Tetris is also one I find interesting. It’s way too much for this review, but YouTuber The Gaming Historian has a great video explaining it all if you are interested. Even if you just put it on as background noise for an hour (yep, it’s a big story), check it out. I have posted it below, but you can also save the link here.

That’s all? Where is the game?

Like so many simple games, Tetris sounds too simple to be a challenge. That is so completely far from the truth. For one, what I didn’t mention is as you play the drop speed of the pieces increase, giving you less time to plan and react.

For a lot of solo games, the challenge is usually to beat your previous score, and that is the same for Tetris. But there is something else with Tetris that hooks me.

Have you ever meditated? Just being able to let everything go and relax. Tetris does this for me. It doesn’t matter what is on my mind or what is happening. I can usually turn it all off to play a game or three.

This was the first version of Tetris I ever played - the original Gameboy version

Why does this work? I don’t know. All I can say is it does for me. Like meditation, different people have different paths to get there. When I get into that state though, my scores soar. My row clears are three or four lines time after time instead of one or two.

Like in chess, I can see the next pieces coming up and know where I have to put them. You play three or four moves ahead, but without concentrating on it.

Beating your high score wasn't your only reward. Higher score? Better rocket!

There is also another benefit to playing Tetris. So much so, another game was named after it. If you guessed Tetris Effect – you’re right! Long story short, playing Tetris for 30 minutes a day can help your cognitive ability. You can read more about the effect here.

So what is Tetris 99?

When I first heard about Tetris 99, I eye-rolled and groaned loudly. Battle Royale Tetris. The game mode already jumped the shark, in my opinion. Involving Tetris in the format – it was too much.

But it was free with Nintendo Online, so I gave it a go. One game in, I was hooked.

I have played Vs. style Tetris games in the past, and there is a familiar mechanic amongst a lot of them. When you clear rows, you send garbage lines to your opponent, making it harder on them. Tetris 99 uses this same technique, but instead of playing against one player you play against 99 others. And it works well.

The right stick lets you target different sort of opponents. You can target people targeting you, random people, people with the most badges or people in danger of being knocked out. The left stick lets you focus on specific players, but honestly, I am usually to overwhelmed to use it.

First game results. Yeah, I was pretty happy with that πŸ˜€

And then you play Tetris. You get on-screen warnings when people are attacking you, and you can see a stack of garbage that is coming for you. Clear lines yourself, and can remove rows from the queue.

When you knock out more players, you collect badges. The more complete symbols you have, the more garbage you send and clear when you clear rows. You can also chain row clears which add multipliers as well.

So apparently I annoyed 4 players before the game started?

There is a science to playing Tetris well, but like all simple games, you will become aware of them as your skills increase. One such technique is called T-spins. When you rotate a piece to fit in where it can’t merely drop-in, that is called a T-spin. It takes practice, but what skill doesn’t?

So I can’t win a game without hours of practice?

Probably not. Not win. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do well and enjoy the game. Think of it like any other Battle Royale game – you don’t expect to win your first game, but because you can drop into another match, you still have fun.

Getting beaten over and over is frustrating. But you don’t need to win to make progress. The higher up the ladder you finish, the more points are awarded. These points go towards a level system. The levels themselves are purely aesthetic, allowing you to get new avatars shown in ladders. Now there are a few other things to let you do this, but more on that later.

So Close! But every game lets you progress, so keep at it!

The Grand Prix events

Where this point system can be seen working is the roughly monthly Grand Prix events. I completely missed the first, but I have joined every one since.

The event is just a weekend of regular Tetris 99 with a goal, usually a free theme. To win the prize, you don’t need to win a round of Tetris. It helps, but it’s not necessary.

All you have to do is earn 100 points during the weekend, and you ‘win’. So while it’s time-consuming, if you just entered 100 rounds, you will win whatever the prize is.

Play a few games, get a free theme. It's a fun way to get people on for a weekend.

The one exception was a Grand Prix where the 99 best players over the weekend (read highest-scoring players) won 999 points in the Eshop – effectively a $10 discount. I spent a lot of time playing that weekend and was lucky enough to score in that top tier.

But here is the thing – during that event, I only won 3-4 matches tops. It’s not the fact of how many matches I won that mattered – it was points earned during the entire event that count. So don’t let being new to Tetris be a factor in not playing the game. Persistence is the key and will be rewarded.

And I didn't 'win' many games, I just kept at it. There has only been one of these events though - so far.

So what is this Version 2 stuff?

Version 2 adds quite a few things, but also more of the same. There isn’t any change to the core gameplay, but how you play those games have gotten tweaked.Β 

The most significant change is Tetris Invictus mode. It’s still Tetris 99 online, but this time you need to have won to join. That’s right – it’s Tetris 99 hard mode!

Because you know everyone you are playing in Invictus mode has already won, you are going in expecting a battle. What I wasn’t planning on was starting a match with faster drop speeds from the get-go.

So there isn’t the usual slow set yourself up like I find in a standard game of Tetris. You get thrown in the middle, and off you go. The only downside I have found is it takes longer to start a game. I am guessing it’s merely fewer people joining the Invictus games, but it was noticeable.

If you play here, you know you are in for a challenge

So, a hard mode. What’s the big deal?

Invictus mode is a new mode, but that’s not all. There have been a few other changes as well.

For one, daily missions have arrived. Yes, Tetris 99 is following the Battle Royale formula to the letter πŸ™‚

So far, the missions I have seen have been relatively simple to achieve, but have forced me to play Online and against the CPU. This only way to do the second half is buy buying DLC, but I will talk about in a little bit.

Completing missions gets you tickets. Tickets let you buy new themes and avatar symbols, so the rewards are mainly cosmetic. So far there are a handful of items, but I have been sticking to the ones I have won from Grand Prix.

Play a few rounds each day, and use the tickets to 'buy' customisation options

There is a legend of Zelda one that appeals to me. The background is the map of the original game, which puts a smile on my face. Just not enough to have actually ‘bought’ it yet πŸ™‚

Did you mention DLC? I thought this was a free game!

Yes, Tetris 99 is free. But there is also DLC known as Big Block DLC. From memory, it was $15, but I can’t find the price as I have already bought it.

Big Block DLC primarily gives you the ability to play offline. I bought it as I was going to fly, and a couple of Tetris battles sounded great. You can play a CPU battle where all of the opponents are AI. You can set their difficulty level, and also give yourself a boost by starting with badges. It makes a pleasant diversion or practice mode, but that’s it.

The other version and the mode I play more often is Marathon mode. Marathon mode is closer to old school Tetris, where you keep playing as long as you can. For a quick challenge, I play the 150 line mode, where the game ends once you clear 150 rows.

Want to play a traditional game of Tetris? Try Marathon mode

Hang on this is a review – shouldn’t you play it and tell us about it?

Ordinarily, I would have gone out of my way to do that. But there is a catch with Tetris 99. The DLC and extra game modes are precisely that – extras. The main game is the Battle Royale, and that is what I spend the most time playing. Hence, for the review, I have spent the most time talking about the online battle.

Tetris is Tetris, and if you would like other ways to play offline, there are different versions around that may scratch that itch better than Tetris 99. Admittedly not so much on the Switch, with Puyo Puyo Tetris being the only real alternative. Puyo Puyo Tetris is an excellent game, but I had issues playing the Puyo Puyo sections due to colourblindness. There is the same drawback as Tetris 99 for offline play – the main game is different to what you are looking to play.

So if you want to play Tetris, stay away from Tetris 99?

That’s not what I am trying to say, but I can see how it can come across this way. I went into Tetris 99 as a solo Tetris player but converted quickly. I think most Tetris players will have the same experience.

If you are looking to learn how to play Tetris, playing on another console or playing the Big Block DLC will help. But I genuinely think that just jumping into the free online games will be fine. Just jump in and enjoy it.

Marathon mode is fine, but I don't see why it had to be paid for

Almost all Switch owners I know have Nintendo Online, so it’s a free game that at worst you delete. What I don’t recommend is buying Nintendo Online to play Tetris 99. Borrow someone else’s Switch and try it out before putting money down.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Warriors of Waterdeep Review

Released 2018
Platform iOS, Android (reviewed)
Publisher Ludia, Inc (Website)
Developer Ludia, Inc (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 with online play
Category Dungeon Crawl
Set Collection
Leveling Up
Different player powers

Mobile game reviews? Really?

Mobile gaming keeps slipping past all of my ‘What did I play this week?’ checks. It’s not intentional. I don’t think I have a bias against mobile games. My stance is ‘Do you enjoy playing X? Then you are a gamer.’ I don’t believe a Twilight Imperium player is any less a gamer than a Call of Duty regular or a Candy Crush fan. As long as you are enjoying your game, you will keep playing games. That’s a gamer.

So in planning a run of reviews to write coming up to and during PAX Aus, I realised something. I have spent the most time on the last couple of weeks playing on my phone. And I haven’t even mentioned that in Last Week’s Gaming.

I spent about 12-15 hours playing two mobile games just last week alone. And I have plans to sit and get into another the week before PAX on the drive down.

So to make up for some of this oversight, let me tell you about Warriors of Waterdeep on iOS and Android, my biggest phone game at the moment.

Lords of Waterdeep got a sequel!

Well, no. But I can see where you might think that. It’s also not what a lot of people would call a Dungeons and Dragons game.

Warriors of Waterdeep has nothing in common with Lords of Waterdeep except for the thematic setting and D&D license. Your warriors getting a mission load screen set in the pub made me smile. Well, the first few times I saw it. Now I want it to hurry up and load.

It’s a mobile dungeon crawler. There are a few variants of this type of game out there, and all share similar traits. Take a party of adventurers that grow as you level up/buy more, beat the monsters, and repeat.

What Warriors of Waterdeep does well is making this such a simple to play experience. The reason I have sat on the couch and played it for two hours straight wasn’t that it was the best game ever. It was the end of the day, and I was tired after work. The couch called to me, and I answered.

A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go...

I knew I couldn’t give the truckload of other games on my playlist the attention they deserve. The reflexes needed for Astral Chain were dulled. The logic required for puzzle-solving for Catherine: Full Body was out to lunch.

Do you know what I could do, though? Play a game that only asked of me “Tap the bad guy you want to hit”.

But it’s Dungeons and Dragons – isn’t that deep role-playing stuff?

Ordinarily, it can be. But Warriors of Waterdeep has nods to its D&D roots; it doesn’t try to recreate it.

Your warriors gain experience points (XP) to level up after clearing a room, but the improvements you get are preset. If you want to enable new abilities, you need to arrange your inventory.

Better pants allow for better healing. You are more likely to get a bonus attack with axes instead of a bow. It’s all straightforward – you want that skill? Equip that item. There isn’t layer upon layer of hidden stats and interconnected benefits. “I do this!” is what every item screams, and if you choose to equip the thing you can too.

The primary way of getting more powerful is by powering up your inventory, which you do by collecting cards, but I will talk more about that later. For now, just now that setting up your party isn’t a huge deal. You can get straight into clearing bad guys and not look at the party screen for ages, and enjoy Warriors for the simple diversion it is.

No real choices to weigh up - you upgrade items, your stats increase

The most complicated nod is most items have a chance of activating a bonus ability. There is a dice roll that happens in the background, and if you succeed, you get to do the particular thing. There is also the magical critical hit which plays a unique animation of your attack. But this is again where Warriors makes a nod to D&D, without pushing it all onto the player.

So that’s all you do? Tap on bad guys and level up?

Pretty much. Warriors of Waterdeep isn’t mobile Skyrim, nor is it trying to be. At its heart, you enter a dungeon, clear some rooms, and get rewarded. That said, there are some variants to what you play.

As you explore Waterdeep, you clear out different areas. These areas end up becoming Boss Room gauntlet runs that you can run over and over again. There are some unique backdrops, but there are only so many ways you can layout a 4×4 square room.

The different bosses do have unique attack patterns and abilities, so learning how to get through can be a challenge. You are just replaying rooms of monsters followed by a boss, so the rewards are what makes this worthwhile.

The other thing you can do is Battle, which puts a random group of your heroes against another human team. These fights seem to try and matchmake even teams, based on a score rather than your team. I have been in unwinnable or unlosable battles as a rule. Lose a few fights to lower your standing, and could face off against players 2-3 levels lower than you.

Enter room, hit all the things, move on

That’s a big power difference – and it cuts both ways. You can be working your way up and see a team that is 2-3 levels higher than you. Suck it up and take a breath buddy, it will be over soon πŸ™‚

I can also see this being the ‘pay to win’ section of the game. I have lost to teams with access to rare/epic/legendary equipment I haven’t got and lost 3/4 of my team in a single hit. Because Warriors is so quick to play, it’s easy enough to shrug off and jump back in. I wish this could be improved, though. Just losing a close battle is infinitely more fun to me than creaming opponents in one hit.

And finally, there are the quests. New ones are added every day. Kill X many enemies, do Y amount of damage, that kind of thing. Your reward is either a bunch of gold or a random card drop. It gives a sense of purpose to aim at something, but it’s just a reward for doing the same old over and over again.

Like Fortnite and the like, daily grind quests give you something to work towards to justify the grind

So overall, it sounds fun! What’s the catch?

Core play mechanics, not much. It’s a light dungeon crawler with RPG ties, which can be just what people are looking to play. Having the ability to run boss gauntlets to level up your characters is a grind, sure. But what RPG doesn’t ask you to do the same thing over and over to level up?

If you don’t have the time or energy to play a ‘big’ game, having something on your phone like Warriors of Waterdeep can be just the ticket.

The issue is the cost of the free game – and not just microtransactions. The cheapest and best way to keep going with bonus chests and prizes is the VIP club. AUD$17 a month gives you access to exclusive chest rewards, mainly in the form of gold. You need gold to pay for levelling up everything in the game. You also need gold to redo those Boss rooms.

You can trade gems for gold, and you buy gems for cash. A fairly standard model, I agree. I am in a position now, where I feel the need to pay for stuff from the shop. Over and above the $17 I paid for the subscription, see where this can get expensive?

And the second problem is what you buy. You don’t buy the mythical axe of opponent stomping, that would be too easy. You get to buy a pack of trading cards like Magic: The Gathering, where the more expensive decks have a higher chance of the rarer cards.

3,000 gems is close to $40. Ouch.

So the theory is that you need the extra cards to level up your characters’ equipment, which in turn levels them up. Sounds reasonable. Except what if you need 50 arrows to level up your ranger, and in 10 booster packs you don’t get a single arrow card?

Long term, Warriors of Waterdeep is a great example of loot crates as gambling. Which in today’s world is not what you want to be known for.

So you are saying stay away?

Not at all. I have had a lot of fun playing Warriors of Waterdeep. Just be aware that it is asking a lot of you in terms of the old wallet.

I have the VIP subscription, and I will probably let it renew for another month. Unless something drastic happens to let me get further into the game though, next month will probably be my last month playing Warriors.

But until then, the relaxation and enjoyment I have gotten out of chilling on the couch and tapping the bad guys have been worth it. But you know what else I can relax with for $17 a month? Netflix. And have change. Microsoft Game Pass, and have lots of games to choose from – with change. Here is where I make the comparison and call Warriors expensive.

Download it, try it out, and see for yourself. If you have made it this far, you are probably interested enough to try it for out. Just before you hand over the old credit card info, weigh up the subscription against what you already have is my advice.

It's still a fun game to play, try it out πŸ™‚

Until next time,

JohnHQLD