198X Review

198X Feature
198X Feature
Released 2019
Platform PC, PS4, Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One Coming
Publisher Hi-Bit Studios (Website)
Developer Hi-Bit Studios (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Retro
Story
Arcade
Beat-Em-Up
Shoot-Em-Up
Racer
Action Scroller
Light RPG

Arriving about seven months later on Switch, I still didn’t know one vital facet of the game

Retro gaming is all the rage these days, especially amongst older gamers. Hitting 45 this year, I sometimes feel sad that I am borderline considered a grandpa gamer at this point :p

Checking out the eShop a few weeks ago, 198X came up as on sale. As it was only a few dollars and the title rang some bells, I grabbed it. I knew it was a narrative experience overall, tied together with homages to old school retro games. What the hell, right? Worst case, I was only out $10.

I talked about enjoying it the first time I picked it up on Last Week’s Gaming. Then last week, on the third real try, I finished the entire game. After being stuck on the second level for way longer than I like to admit, I flew through the rest of the game.

It is only on finishing the game did it become clear 198X is the first part in an ongoing series. 198X is an episodic game, similar to the Telltale games like Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. This revelation didn’t lower my overall enjoyment of the game. It did leave me with a sense of disappointment and confusion. Like so much of the game, just as I was getting into the groove, the game just stopped.

Opening Screen
I remember waiting for the arcade to open. It's a suitable start scene.

I know this sounds like I am saying “Bad Game, Don’t Buy.” at the start of my review, but 198X is something different. Unlike my regular reviews where I try and add the downsides at the end, today I wanted to get that out of the way upfront. Usually, I have the negatives lingering in the back of my mind as I write, and I have to wrestle them away. Today, I can kick back and enjoy my memories of playing 198X.

OK, so what is 198X?

If I was overly dramatic, I would say it’s about my childhood. Finished rolling your eyes? Cool. It’s not that far off growing up in the 80s though. The retro flavour isn’t just the games 198X includes, but the story as well.

198X is the story of Kid, growing up in the suburbs and not going through the easiest of times. Everything looks down, and he is generally unhappy. At least, until he finds an arcade that allows him to escape the day to day of his life. This is where the different retro-inspired games come into play.

Each game is a homage to an 80s classic in some form. When you complete the small section of gameplay (usually about one stage or level depending on the game), you get some more of what is happening with/to Kid.

198X Story
It's something we have all heard before. "Back then was a simpler time". Still true in a lot of ways.

The ending is a promise to continue the story, and I am really interested to see where it goes. All of the stories are presented in a beautiful pixel art style with voice acting. The voice acting isn’t stellar, but not bad. I was surprised how the old 80’s comic panel/limited animation style held up in progressing the story.

One thing I both loved and hated was the lack of tutorials. Shows how ‘soft’ I have become 🙂 Having no idea how to play was what games were like in the arcades back in the day. There were buttons on the cabinet that may or may not be used by the game, and hit them all and see what happens was how you learned. Got used to the far left button being attack? Not in this game! Mwahahahahah!

School
The loner gamer kid may be cliche, but I know lots of kids that felt this way

Be surprised when you waste your super on a different game because standard layouts just weren’t a thing. Even games by the same company would change button layouts between titles. Why make it easy on players, when they just wanted you to put more coins in the machine?

Beating Heart

When you first start the game, you are thrown into a side-scrolling beat-em-up. The gameplay is very similar to my old favourite Final Fight, and the visuals also give me the same vibe. Nothing new, nothing out of place. It was a perfect piece of nostalgia.

The level pacing is about on par for the first level of any beat-em-up. Not too many enemies, cheesy flanking AI, weapon pickups and food drops for health boosts – everything is here. End of the level, the boss was two of the bigger enemies at the same time with flunkies.

The camera then cuts away as the character I expected to be the end of level boss entering the fray. I am still fighting away, but the focus is on the city. This is how storytelling is done in 198X, and it works really well.

Beating Heart
No plot, no warm up, just straight into the action

Out of the Void

Next comes the shoot-em-up, otherwise known as a shmup. Heavily inspired by R-Type, this was another well put together homage. Power-ups, pattern recognition, smooth parallax animation – everything was as it should be.

Out of the Void is the game I spent almost an hour over 3 play sessions playing. Not because I loved it, even though I do enjoy it. I am terrible at these type of games. The difficulty was enough to present me with a challenge, but not to be insurmountable.

Now that I know the stage, I should be able to beat it on a single life each time. I was kicking myself for shutting down when I did, as I was so close to finishing on my second playthrough. Only one or two more tries would have seen me finish the level!

Out of the Void
Believe it or not, dodging asteroids was a break in the action!

The Runaway

After the quick timing of Out of the Void, OutRun inspired The Runaway was a welcome break. Today, this kind of game I would probably consider boring. Drive your car at high speeds through traffic, and make it to the checkpoints before the timer runs out. Simple.

Without going into spoilers, the meta of changing the game into the story I thought was really well done. Being able to cruise through traffic while merging the story and location really worked for me. Not a title I would select to replay for a quick arcade blast, but for the setting, The Runaway worked almost flawlessly.

The Runaway
Weaving through traffic did make me wonder if Outrun still ran on my PC. Or mini console.

Shadowplay

Shadowplay is a game I hope the developers spin off into a full title of its own. Inspired by classics like Strider, the auto-scrolling ninja game had me cutting through swarms of enemies in various settings. Easily the longest game in 198X, the simple gameplay was a blast to play.

I am not 100% sure, but the controls felt the loosest for me here. It may have just been my joy-con, but jumping in a direction seemed to be a challenge for me. Because you can change direction mid-jump, it was never more than an inconvenience. But the tightness of the controls in the other titles made this one seem out of place.

As I said, I would happily put down $20-$30 on a full version of Shadowplay though. Hi-Bit Studios, if you need a cash injection between episodes of 198X, this is how you get it.

Shadowplay
This doesn't look like much is happening, but I didn't have much time to use the Switch screen cap once things started!

Kill Screen

The final game is a first player light RPG game, similar to games like Eye of the Beholder. Set in a computer world like Tron, the player must level up their character to hunt down and defeat 3 dragons in a maze.

Today, this kind of game is overly simplistic. Back in the 80s though, this was hardware pushing tech. I only remember playing one title like this as an arcade as a kid, and that wasn’t in Australia.

Kill Screen might be seen by some as the most out-of-place game in 198X, but for me, it was probably the most ambitious. Here you get to explore another game genre, while simultaneously revealing the most in-depth clues as to what is happening in Kid’s life.

Kill Screen
As a game? It's OK. But story wise Kill Screen is great in a 198X way.

And then… To Be Continued

I was seriously toying with leaving my review here and coming back next week, to show what impact this screen had on me. Just like that, the game is over. Here I was ready to know what happened next, and I was left hanging. 

You keep getting glimpses at everything and want to see what happens next, and then it all stops. While not the most sweeping story ever told, Kill Screen finally succeeded in making me invest in the story, and I was told to wait.

Do we get the rest of the game in future updates? Do we need to buy 198X part 2? I would like definitive answers to questions like this. It’s hard to say that the current form is worth the asking price. It was a fun experience though – it’s just a pity that even newbies can get through it all in 2 hours of straight playing. Experienced retro gamer? Maybe an hour.

Suburbia
I can't wait to see what happens next

Overall Thoughts

I really like 198X. Not I want to like it – I really enjoy it. The little glimpses of retro gaming goodness might be short, but it also stops you playing a genre of game you might not like. The overall story may not be engrossing (yet). Still, for a lot of people, parallels can be drawn between themselves and Kid.

This is what 198X does best. It doesn’t excel in every way, but what it does do, it nails. And in interesting ways. You think you are going the same old route, but there is always enough of a twist to make 198X a game on its own.

For the 2 hours run through and minimal replay incentive, the AUD$15 asking price to me is a little steep. Grab it on sale is my advice, but definitely give 198X a play, even if it’s just to sample different retro game styles.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful Pixel Art Style
  • Games are well designed and represent their inspirations well
  • Arcade feel translated well to the Switch

Cons

  • Short
  • Unclear if the price is for the entire game or just the first episode
  • Limited replay value

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

One Deck Dungeon Review

One Deck Dungeon Box Art
One Deck Dungeon Box Art
Released 2016
Designer Chris Cieslik
Publisher Asmadi Games (Website)
Players 1 – 2 (4 with special rules and 2 copies)
Playing Time Physical: 30-60 minutes
Digital: 20-30 minutes
Category Fantasy
Dungeon Crawl
Light RPG
Worker (Dice) Placement
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Who could have guessed playing an RPG with one deck of cards was so fun!

I love playing RPGs. Playing in a new world, enjoying the camaraderie both in-game and around the table, it’s a great time. The downside is RPGs need a group of friends. Not the people themselves, but trying to get everyone together at the same time is a massive undertaking.

There are plenty of board games that recreate a lot of the fun of RPGs. Dungeon Crawlers are especially good at this. Exploring an area, fighting monsters, and collecting loot. Some even have a basic levelling system. Almost all of them have one fundamental flaw – setup and teardown.

Mansions of Madness 1st Edition was a great example of this. It would take me 40-50 minutes to set up a game. And I had to try and do it before anyone showed up. There are plenty of other games that I can set up and play in that amount of time.

True, those games don’t have the same feel as an RPG, but it’s quicker to get into. But what if it didn’t have to be?

I have had One Deck Dungeon, and it’s stand-alone expansion Forest of Shadows, for a while now. I have even taken it interstate and overseas on work trips. Somehow, things just never seemed to align themselves for me to sit and learn how to play it.

Well, that changed a couple of weeks ago, and boy have I been playing it!

One Deck Dungeon Boxes
Both game boxes. Standard gel pen for scale. These are small!

One Deck Dungeon – What is it?

The best way I can describe One Deck Dungeon is a solo or co-op light RPG dungeon crawler. I know this is a very jargon-heavy description, but it’s really the best way to describe it.

You play as an adventurer making their way through a dungeon. During your dungeon run, you fight various monsters until you take on the boss. The monsters can give you new weapons, skills or experience to level up. Hence, light RPG dungeon crawler!

You get five different bosses in the box and five adventurers. Each boss has different conditions for their dungeon, and combined with the five adventurers means there is plenty of variety. More on that later.

One Deck Dungeon Components
A Deck of cards, some tokens and character boards, and a lot of dice. What more do you need?

So how does it work?

This is where the solo and co-operative part of One Deck Dungeon comes into it. You can play solo with one or two adventurers (the way I have come to prefer to play), or play with someone else using one adventurer each.

Each adventurer has three different stats – strength, agility and magic. Fairly standard fantasy RPG stuff. These stats are represented by different coloured dice. Unlike most RPGs, instead of rolling a dice and adding stat modifiers, you use a certain amount of dice depending on your stat.

So for example, if you have 3 agility, this means you roll three agility dice. Nice and simple! There is also the fourth colour of dice in the box – black hero dice. Hero dice can be earned with experience levels or skills, and are used as any coloured die (wilds).

One Deck Dungeon Adventurers
Each adventurer has pros and cons. Playing one adventurer or two is shown with 1p and 2p on each side.

Shuffle the 56 cards, and put it on the table. This deck of cards is where One Deck Dungeon gets its name. Each card is a different room with a monster or trap, but it’s also almost every other thing used in the game. They are also equipment, skills, experience markers and the game timer. It doesn’t sound obvious, but it works really well!

Each player turn, you burn (discard) 2 cards. This represents time in the game. The very first turn, you spend the first turn exploring. All this means is you draw cards and place them in front of you until you have 4 rooms to explore.

From now on, each turn you can choose to explore or enter a room. Entering a room means picking a card and turning it over to see what’s in it. This is where the card layout hopefully becomes a little clearer.

The card will either be a trap or combat, shown by the icon next to the card title. Below the title is a picture of the room’s contents. To the right of that shows what is needed to clear the room.

One Deck Dungeon Game Start
This is setup. Pick a coupel of characters, shuffle deck, set things out. Done.

You will also notice other parts to the card. On the left shows the extra skill dice you will roll if you choose to take an item from the room. On the bottom shows a skill you can possibly learn, and top right is the amount of experience (XP) you can earn.

If you decide to try and clear the room, you roll all of your dice. To beat the challenge, you need to place your dice onto the various squares on the right of the image. If it’s a square, you need to put a die of the same colour with the value equal to or higher than the number on the card. If it’s a rectangle, you can put any number of dice on that area, as long as the total at least equals the value shown.

One Deck Dungeon Sample Encounters and Rewards
It just looks like four cards, but each card serves 5 functions.

If you cover all the squares, you win! If you can’t cover all of the squares, you still win! You lose some time (discard more cards) and/or health, but you succeed. This helps you build your character even at the start of the game.

And that is basically it! There are some additional rules like mandatory extra requirements depending on which level of the dungeon you are on, hero dice and some other things. But what I have outlined is all you need to know about playing the game. 

That sounds rather simple. Why wouldn’t I play Yahtzee instead?

Simple isn’t always dull. Not that I am saying Yahtzee is dull, but for me, Yahtzee is at it’s best when playing in a group. 

The amount of depth and immersion in One Deck Dungeon cannot be understated, especially if you are a fan of RPGs or Dungeon Crawlers.

Yes, the mechanics are streamlined, but for a game designed to play solo and quickly do you want a lot of bookkeeping?

There is also the sheer variety of the dungeons. Initially, I believed I would get bored of One Deck Dungeon once I saw all of the enemies. Straight up – I was wrong. I have almost 20 games under my belt now, and I don’t think I have seen all of the cards yet.

One Deck Dungeon Dungeon Bosses
The bosses aren't just different battles, the rules for their dungeons change as well

Forcing you to burn cards during the game pretty much guarantees you will always get new choices each game. Do you take the powerful skill, or use that XP to go up a level and be able to carry more items and get a hero die each round?

That is the challenge and immersion of One Deck Dungeon. Each game is different. Dominate last game mashing a particular skill? You might not see it again for 10 games. Your character can be a relatively weak hitter, but take damage like a champ. Or you could be a glass cannon, dealing damage left and right but only take one hit to go down.

One Deck Dungeon Upgrade Decisions
When setting up a shot, I realised I had not seen the skill on the mage OR the room card before.

But each game, don’t you start again at level 1?

This isn’t as cut and dry. Yes, you start each game at level 1, but this isn’t always the case. For starters, you can choose difficulty level in One Deck Dungeon. Playing on Novice starts you on Level 2 each run.

On top of this, there is also a progression system. While you don’t keep your levels from game to game, you can start with skills, carry more items, heal between levels, all sorts of things.

Like any RPG game, you will need a few games to build up your adventurer. But you will get more powerful, and that old game grind becomes a different experience. You can also level up different groups of benefits and change at the start of each dungeon to tailor your run.

One Deck Dungeon Progression SHeet
You earn different symbols by playing harder dungeons

OK, so what’s the catch?

So the game is ultra-portable and a blast to play. But using cards for everything as well as tiny dice makes for a fiddly experience. For someone like me with large hands, I find myself spending as much time cleaning up my play area as I do playing the game.

I found a perfect fix for this, though. 

I’m Listening

Some of you may be wondering why this review appears in both Board Game and Video Game Reviews. That’s right – there is a digital version! And it’s a perfect translation from the physical copy. In fact, because it’s digital, it takes advantage of being able to move the level challenges to the room you are facing. This means you only have to look at one area to see all of the dice and values you need to clear a room.

There is also the added bonus of getting a sixth adventurer for free! Mist from Aeon’s End is a promotional card that you need to hunt down or buy for the physical version. Mist comes for free on the digital version, or at least on Steam.

You aren’t restricted to Steam either – you can also get One Deck Dungeon on your mobile. I am not buying it, as I am honestly worried about how much time I would spend playing it when I should be working 🙂

One Deck Dungeon Digital Character Selection
No knocking dice, no covering cards accidentally - let the game manage the fiddly bits
One Deck Dungeon Digital Progression
Everything works the same as the physical version
One Deck Dungeon Digital Boss Fight
Rolling a bunch of physical dice is so satisfying, but the app manages everything so well

Overall Thougths

One Deck Dungeon got a lot of love when it came out a few years ago, and today I can say it deserved it. While not the perfect game, it scratches that Dungeon Crawl/RPG itch for me in a solo experience.

The portability of the game is excellent for throwing my bag on trips. The digital version means a small install on almost any PC as it has meagre graphics requirements. Basically, if you can run Windows 10, you can play One Deck Dungeon. Don’t take a PC with you? Grab it on mobile!

While the dry explanation of gameplay can make it sound like another dice game, actually playing One Deck Dungeon throws that idea out the window. I can highly recommend One Deck Dungeon to everyone that enjoys an adventure.

Overall
8.5/10
8.5/10

Pros

  • Simple to set up and learn
  • Incredibly customisable experience
  • Replicates the feel of Dungeon Crawling/RPG very well
  • Can play solo very quickly
  • Portable both physically and digitally

Cons

  • Using cards can be awkward mid-game
  • High random nature of exploration may put off some players
  • Hard to describe how fun it is unless people can play it

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Luigi’s Mansion 3 Review

Luigi's Mansion 3 Cover
Released 2019
Platform Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Next Level Games (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1-2 (Campaign)
1-8 (Party Games)
Category Light Puzzler
Collection
Cute Horror Theme

Who you gonna call? Luigi! Wait, wrong franchise.

It’s an appropriate crossover, though. Luigi’s Mansion was a hit when released on the GameCube way back in 2002 (2001 for Japan). I got to play it in early 2019 when re-released on the DS. I say play it, as I started playing but never finished it. By then, the Switch was becoming my portable console of choice and other games called.

But even then, I knew Luigi’s Mansion 3 was coming. I got to pick up my copy when I got back from PAX Aus last year. And a couple of weeks ago, I finally got to enjoy it 🙂

So what is Luigi’s Mansion?

The series has Luigi somehow trapped in a situation where he needs to capture ghosts and save his friends from King Boo. Professor E. Gadd helps him in this by providing Luigi with a Pultergust – a vacuum that can capture the ghosts. Along there way there are collectables you need like keys to progress in the story. Eventually, you will work your way to King Boo and set everything right 🙂

The plot isn’t any more profound than this in any of the games. You don’t play Luigi’s Mansion for the riveting story. Luigi’s Mansion is a 3D light puzzle and collection game, and a whole lot of fun. That’s why you play it 🙂

OK, so what about Luigi’s Mansion 3?

You start the game on a bus with Mario, Peach and some Toads. Luigi has won a holiday at a new hotel, and everyone is looking forward to a well earned holiday.

Things go south quickly, and Luigi is the only one not captured in a portrait. Fleeing in a way only Luigi can, he lucks into Professor E. Gadd’s car. Armed with the Poltergust, Luigi then sets out to rescue Mario and all.

You need to get up to the top level of the hotel, but the elevator buttons have been removed. Gameplay wise, this means you have to solve the puzzles of each individual floor before beating the boss. Defeating the boss gains you another elevator button, and eventually, you unlock all the levels.

Welcome to the Last Resort
Everything looks like paradise when you arrive at The Last Resort

Unique Levels? Isn’t it a hotel?

You are in a hotel, but plenty of hotels are built around themes. Instead of having say the Disneyland Hotel with rooms tailored to different characters, the hotel in Luigi’s Mansion takes things further.

The lower levels and first few floors are standard kinds of floors. They look like most high-class hotels. Shopping, Lobby, Restaurant, that kind of thing. But as you continue to go higher, the levels take on their own themes.

Garden floors that have multiple levels, Film Studios, a Museum, even a dessert. You don’t have too long to get bored of any level. This is one of Luigi’s Mansions strengths and a weakness – the games are not very long.

Garden out of Control
The first 'strange' level is a multi level gardening nightmare

So how does a vacuum let you capture ghosts?

Simple, you vacuum them up! The ghosts themselves aren’t exactly keen on this idea. You flash them with your flashlight to expose their hearts, then you can catch them in your vacuum. Once you have them like this, but they try their best to get away from you.

When this happens, you need to pull away from them. This drains the ghost’s health, but do it long enough, and you can get a firm hold on it. Once you do, you can slam the ghost around. When you have them like this, you can slam it into other ghosts, using them as a club.

Capturing Ghosts
Watching the boss ghosts finally get caught is always fun

That sounds like it would get boring.

It does, but Luigi’s Mansion doesn’t have you doing the same thing for too long. Mostly you are exploring the floor looking for a key to get into new areas. Combat like this is all through the game, but it’s not a constant activity.

There are only a few types of ghost in the game, but they get tricky as you continue. They start wearing sunglasses, for example, so the light doesn’t affect them. This turns new encounters into mini-puzzles that need to be solved as well.

Fair enough, but just collecting elevator buttons doesn’t sound like a lot.

You need to collect elevator buttons to get through the story. But that isn’t the only thing you can hunt for in the game.

There is a bunch of cash hidden in the hotel. The more you collect, the higher your score at the end of the game. I spent a bit of time vacuuming everything and ended up with just over $80,000 collected. This gave me an A rank.

Elevator Button Acquired
Game progress is marked in how many buttons you have collected so far

With this kind of ranking system, there is usually an elusive S rank. No one is reported to have this, so I am not sure if it exists in Luigi’s Mansion 3. But if I was to replay the game, it gives me something to aim for.

There are also six gems hidden in each level. Collecting all of these gives you a sparkly plunger. Each gem is uniquely shaped based on the floor’s theme, and finding the first one got a smile out of me each time.

Once you have cleared a level, you can also go back and try and find a Boo hidden on each level. I found a couple when the mechanic was introduced but didn’t spend a lot of time hunting them down. Each Boo has a pun name. Some made me laugh, some made me groan, so the puns were spot on 🙂

Well, until I got to the second last floor. Then I went back and spent about an hour getting the boos and any gems I missed. The beauty of both collectables is that they are entirely optional. If you do decide to hunt them down, it doesn’t add much to the playtime, but it never got dull looking for them either.

Gem Display
You have standard collectibles as well.

What about the second all green Luigi? I have seen him on the cover.

This is a new mechanic introduced in Luigi’s Mansion 3. The bright green fella is Gooigi. As I was playing solo, I could use him to solve puzzles by switching control between Luigi and Gooigi.

You can also play Luigi’s Mansion with a friend. One player plays as Luigi, the other as Gooigi. If you are playing with two players, I would suggest the more experienced player plays as Luigi. Gooigi has health, but if he ‘dies’ he can be respawned very quickly. If Luigi runs out of health, it’s game over.

Gooigi taking center stage
Taking control of two characters can be a challenge, but opens up lots of puzzle possibilities

The biggest thing I grappled with in Luigi’s Mansion 3 was the controls. Mostly I could work around the sometimes overly helpful control system, except for one mandatory area.

There is a level with a lot of water that has you floating in a duck-shaped floatie. You turn left and right to pick a direction and suck or blow with the poltergust to go forward and backwards.

Going through the level, this was a little annoying but not too bad. The real hassle was with the boss fight and is the only time I stopped playing out of frustration.

B2 - the water level
While fun initially, this levels boss fight was very frustrating

Speaking of multiplayer, there are also two other games you can play – ScareScraper and ScreamPark. These are competitive and cooperative player modes to play as well. These are fun diversions, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. Not because I am not interested in trying them, I just haven’t had the chance.

Who should play Luigi’s Mansion? It doesn’t sound like a lot of game.

This is one of those questions that I get a lot but sometimes have trouble understanding. There are more narrative-driven games and games with better graphics. Not that Luigi’s Mansion 3 looks terrible, it’s just no Red Dead Redemption 2 for example.

After coming off the 80ish hour Final Fantasy XV, the relatively short 20 hour run through of Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a great palate cleanser. The puzzles are engaging without being harsh. The length of the game meant I could always be progressing. I didn’t have hundreds of side quests to distract me.

If you want to sit down for a serious gaming session, Luigi’s Mansion 3 isn’t the game. But to just sit down and pick up a fun experience that keeps you engaged, it’s just about perfect.

Just about perfect?

Every game has one big downside for me. The controls never quite seemed to work the way I expected them to. There are some motion aspects where you can tip your controls to adjust the height of what you are aiming at. This isn’t too bad, but it did take a bit of getting used to.

Once I had the boss fight worked out though, it only took me two more attempts to get through it. It wasn’t the end of the world and didn’t reduce my enjoyment overall, but if I had to pick on something, this level is the only frustrating part for me.

Overall Thoughts

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a great in-between game. If I had started expecting a long story-driven game, I would have been disappointed. Instead, you get a medium length light puzzle game with just enough elements to never get bored overall.

While I haven’t played any of the multiplayer games, I do appreciate their inclusion. It does help justify the full retail price for a short solo experience.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Light hearted game play that is still engaging
  • Good balance between exploring and combat
  • Extends campaign with multiplayer party games

Cons

  • Controls can be a little tricky
  • Campaign is a short for the asking price
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 🙂

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 🙂

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

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, not 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. 

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

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 🙂

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 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

5-Minute Marvel Review

Released 2018
Designer Connor Reid
Publisher Spin Master Ltd (Website)
Players 2-5
Playing Time 5 minutes per villain boss
Category Cooperative
Hand Management
Unique player powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you take down Thanos?

I have mentioned 5-Minute Marvel being played by my group once or twice, and I thought I would give it a full review.

It’s also a retheme of 5-Minute Dungeon, so the review can almost be for both games. I am only going to be talking about the Marvel version though, as 5-Minute Dungeon does have a couple of small differences and expansions.

So what is it?

5-Minute Marvel is a cooperative deck builder game where you choose different heroes to defeat various villains. There is no deep backstory or prior knowledge required, making this an incredibly accessible game.

A mix of heroes included. Some well known, some not so much. All fun 🙂

What do you do?

The first thing you need to keep in mind is the promised five minutes. Yes, you can play a round in five minutes. To play the gauntlet of enemies means fighting six bosses, which takes longer with resets in between.

Setup is pretty quick, and you can have most of the game explained during setup, but there is a disconnect between playtime and the title.

The basics of gameplay are straightforward. Each player chooses a hero, and a villain boss with henchmen is set up at the top of the table. Each ‘bad guy’ has several symbols on it, and players throw down cards that match the symbols to beat it.

Like many cooperative games, you need to be playing with the right group to get the full benefit of the game. Play with people that only shout at others, and no one wants to play. On the flip side, people that don’t speak up to offer advice/cards/etc., and you aren’t playing anything.

The symbols you need to match. Play as many matching symbols as on the enemy, and repeat

The combination of players for 5-Minute Marvel has a lot more tolerance than other cooperative games though. A lot of people will probably be quite happy after the first five minutes – even if you do have to all but force them to play!

The timer is sassing you the whole time.

Using apps with board games can be divisive. I enjoy the integration when done well, like the Mansions of Madness or Chronicles of Crime type implementations. Just as a clock though, and I tend only to set the countdown on my phone.

However, like Klein Klenko’s fuse, the timer in this game gives you lip while you play. The timer is J.A.R.V.I.S., and while Paul Bettany isn’t the voice, the voice acting is fine. Different, but fine. The lack of the MCUs distinct J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision can cause you to stop for a second and lose thought!

The free app is available on iOS and Android and doesn’t take long to download.

It’s not for a whole night game though

Not by a longshot, unless you are playing for a half-hour only. 5-Minute Marvel comes into its own as a filler game, to be played as an opener or closer. Now a few more people in my group know it, I am even tempted to get them to play it as I set up a bigger game. You can get it done that quickly!

5-Minute Marvel is a great diversion, but nothing more really. While you get a good range of heroes (10 to be precise), the same six villains and couple of enemy types can get repetitive quickly. Even a gauntlet run may not be in your best interest after a couple of tries.

The enemies all look great, but when all you concentrate on is the little row of symbols that is lost during gameplay

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Codenames Review (including series)

Released 2015
Designer Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher Czech Games Edition (Website)
Players 2-8+ (best around 6)
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Social Deduction
Word
Party
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Don’t have a lot of players? Just play it in public. People will join you quickly enough 😀

You have heard me talk about Codenames a few times on the site. I keep saying I need to get around to reviewing it. Today, I finally get around to that review!

What I am not reviewing is a single version of Codenames. Back in 2015, Codenames was released. Then came Codenames: Pictures. Later the others arrived. And they just kept coming.

So while I talk about the base game in this review, remember everything I say holds for every other Codenames game – you can even mix and match them!

So what is Codenames?

Codenames is a party social deduction word game. Four years after release, it is still the party game on Board Game Geek. Describing Codenames is the hardest part of the game, and it’s hard to describe because of its simplicity.

You play in two teams, each team having a spymaster. Before you lies a grid of Codenames, and you are trying to find your agents before the other side find theirs.

The theme I have heard explained in many different ways, but I usually just stick with “You have these files/words/images before you, and we have to give you clues that link as many together as possible. First team to find all their tiles wins.” – how many games can you teach that quickly?

Just a bunch of cards and some tiles. Setup is really easy with Codenames.

But because this is espionage, you can’t just blab out to your team where they are though – you need to do it in code. On the spymasters’ turn, they give one word and one number. The word ties into the grid somehow, and the number is how many files are associated with the word.

You might think that sounds too easy, and it can be. Except Vlaada Chvatil put a little twist in – the deadly assassin word. If your team finds the assassin, they are instantly out of the game

Using the app for the spy board. If you put it down, the clues hide!

That doesn’t sound like much of a game.

I agree in describing it that it doesn’t reach out and grab at people. It’s one of those games that you need to play to get excited over. And you will get excited about it. Of all the people I have shown, I know only two people that didn’t enjoy playing it, and that was when we played a three-player variant.

The magic of Codenames is I have been in situations where I scraped up three other people and just started playing in public. By the end of the game, we usually have about eight people playing, and most of them staying for a second round. Most of the people that would wander over would call themselves ‘not gamers’, yet Codenames is simple enough that you can teach someone all of the rules in a single round. It’s this simplicity that lets everyone play.

But I don’t know a bunch of those words – what do I do?

Being at its heart a word game, playing with younger children non-English speakers can be a challenge. Codenames: Pictures helps with this immensely.

It’s the same game, except with some fantastic artwork with multiple meanings. But just because the game uses pictures doesn’t make it easier. It just helps with players maybe not knowing certain words.

It’s like playing with simplified Dixit or Mysterium cards. While I wouldn’t put a child in as spymaster on their first game, their team can help them with the clues. This teamwork makes Codenames very inclusive to a lot of different groups.

Pictures doesn't make the game any easier, unless reading can be an issue

So what is Codenames: Duet?

If you typically game with only one other person, Codenames: Duet is for you. The spymasters’ tablet is double-sided, so each player switches between being clue giver and player each turn.

There are a couple of twists. In Duets, there are three assassins on the board. One of those assassins is shared between both teams, meaning a square you see as a dangerous square has a 2 in 3 chance of being something else when you are receiving clues.

The differences are slight, but at its core Duets is still codenames. There is also no reason why you can’t play Duets in teams. One of the most beautiful thing about Codenames is that it is incredibly flexible.

Two players, one board. Duet is a great two player game.

What about the other Codenames?

There are a few different versions of Codenames, mostly thanks to USAOpoly/the OP and licensing.

Deep Undercover is an ‘adult’ version of Codenames that initially I overlooked. Did I want a Cards Against Humanity type version? After playing it appreciate Deep Undercover as both childish humour and an extra layer of difficulty. How many clues can you give for ‘bum’ when so many cards overlap?

Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter all share Codenames base play but pull all of their cards from their licenses. They also share one flaw – you need to be a fan of the theme to join in fully.

A magical twist to the theme

In Codenames: Marvel, for example, there are a bunch of characters and locations not used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am a Marvel fan, and even I had to Google some of the characters to know who they were.

There are also little thematic twists in each version to keep them unique, but the mechanics are the same. The assassin in Harry Potter is a Death Eater. In Marvel, if you guess all of the neutral characters, Thanos collects all of the infinity stones, and it’s a double team loss. There are little twists to keep them fresh, but not enough to make them overly complicated.

Our first game setup. Even with MCU fans at the table, there was a lot of Googling on who was who

Rules Lawyers Beware

There are a few rules in giving clues. You can’t use words that are on the board, or form to make part of a word on the board. You can’t give clues that are positions of words.

So when someone says ‘Right 3’ for example, the team should expect that the clues aren’t three on the right-hand side on the board. They should be wary of picking ‘Writer’, as Right can be interpreted as a part of the word.

I have played Codenames with die-hard players, and I have played with complete casuals. I have heard team arguments about the validity of a clue.

Bottom line, the only person that can rule a clue invalid is the opposing spymaster. When playing with new players or one of the themed games, I try and be forgiving on clues. I might play at the stricter clues, but if someone is unfamiliar with the game or the subject, they still need to be able to play.

Follow the golden rule of gaming – everyone is there to have fun. If you have a player telling everyone why a clue is ‘bad’, maybe let them go back to their heavy euro games :p

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Codenames

Final Thougths

I love Codenames, and if you are looking for a game for every gamers shelf, Codenames will be on the shortlist. Get Codenames: Pictures and Codenames: Duet for instant flexible gameplay.

You can also combine games. Have a player that’s as much a Disney fan as you are? Use the Disney tiles with the Duet spy board!

Codenames is a quick game that people can join in mid-game, making it a great games night opener while people arrive. Its simplicity, combined with social gameplay makes Codenames a modern classic.

Overall
10/10
10/10

Pros

  • Simple to teach and play
  • No one way to win
  • Variety available on the base concept
  • Can combine versions for different experiences

Cons

  • Licensed versions may be too detailed for casual fans
  • Younger children or non-English speakers hard to be spymasters