Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bannermen Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bannermen, a real-time strategy game by Pathos Interactive and 2tainment.

The campaign is typical for a strategy game (defend against waves of enemies, attack enemy bases, use only hero units against a lot of foes, stealth) with nothing innovative. The skirmish mode only has a handful of maps and only one faction, though online play is available. The interface needs the ability to repeat build queues, and building descriptions would be useful. Workers collect the two resources (wood and gold) automatically once assigned; there is a unit limit per building and a resource quantity limit, so expanding out to a second or third base is a necessity. Numerous houses must be constructed to increase the population cap, though there is a hard cap of 200; after this point, researched upgrades will improve units. Spells can be cast by heroes or on the map by building a temple on an appropriate location. Creep locations can be raided by your hero to level up, but these are ultimately unnecessary since combat happens so quickly that spells can only be used once or twice. The AI is extremely inert and rarely attacks your position in skirmish games. Defenses are strong (and cheap) enough that any army that is below the 200-unit threshold will be repelled, and since everything takes so long to build, you really need to ensure that your first assault is your last. Bannermen has interesting streamlined resource collection, but shortcomings in the AI, campaign, skirmish mode, and repetitive gameplay mechanics lose the battle overall.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

SNOW Gameplay Review

I'm playing SNOW, an open-world winter sports game by Poppermost and Crytek.

The game is free-to-play, but not really: the free version acts more like a demo, with access only to the tutorial mountain and the main peak for one week. The Ultimate Edition unlocks everything for $20, including custom outfits and all 13 locations. The settings consist of an impressively large mountain and a smaller village, but are filled out with tiny stunt-focused areas; one additional large mountain to explore would be appreciated. There are a number of events to play (time trial, freestyle, half pipe), but they are focused on experienced players and cannot be customized in any way. Multiplayer is also available, but only takes place on the large mountain and events can’t be played with others. Both skiing and snowboarding are available, although the controls (typical for an action sports game) are identical. Mountains can be customized with props like jumps and rails in free roam mode. There are noticeable bugs in the game (input occasionally not accepted in menus, crashes to the desktop, clipping through the terrain, and server issues where progress will be lost). While SNOW can be enjoyable, it is ultimately buried under an avalanche of shortcomings, including having only one large mountain, the lack of custom events, limited multiplayer, and bugs that should have been fixed in over five years on early access.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Evolution Gameplay Review

I'm playing Evolution, a board game adaptation by North Star Games.

The game features a very interesting campaign mode with variations on AI strategy and card availability. The interface is good, with animations that do not slow the game pace down, easy-to-read values for population and body size, and tooltips for cards. The board game itself is fantastic, offering a good combination of strategy and luck as you use cards to create new creatures, give them varied attributes, increase their population (to earn more points), and increase their body size (to deter predators). The AI also offers a nice challenge, and online human opponents are also available. Evolution is about as good as a board game adaptation can be, with formidable AI, a decent interface, online play, and an intriguing campaign.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jon Shafer’s At the Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Conifer Games.

In this single-player game, the goal is to build a thriving kingdom that can succeed the Roman Empire. The random map generator is fantastic, offering up realistic terrain (mountain ranges, rain shadow, coastal areas) and granting a limited selection of surrounding resources. The resources that are immediately available will drive early production, and the remainder must be traded for. The art style is striking, and while the tool-tips are fantastic, the interface lacks several features, such as a list of all buildings and clans, plus easy switching between the settlement and research views. The first difference between At the Gates and traditional 4X games is the use of towns and citizens. First, there is only one settlement that can train workers in new jobs and research new professions. This significantly reduces tedious city micromanagement (especially late-game) while making decisions more important. A single clan of workers can undertake one job, which either takes place on the map or in the settlement itself. Professions fall under several categories: honor (military and hunters), agriculture (farmers and gatherers), livestock (ranchers), metalworking (miners and smiths), crafting (wood cutters and stone carvers), or discovery (explorers and traders). Clans can have preferred jobs and personality traits that can make them clash with others.

Resource locations on the map deplete over time, until permanent stone structures to collect food, wood, or minerals are built. Because of this, the settlement location can be moved until it is established as a kingdom in a lasting location. Areas outside the borders can only be foraged, but borders can be expanded with watchtowers. A caravan arrives three times a year so that goods can be swapped for others. Seasons significantly impact resource income; makes sure all the foragers and explorers are inside the settlement once winter strikes! Research involves unlocking and improving jobs for your clans. Some are better than others (crafting stone blocks is a must, for example), but the research choices are largely determined by what resources are available nearby (no reason to research beekeeping if there are no bees). Diplomatic options are extremely basic: only alliances and wars are available, with limited gifting options to adjust relationship levels. The environment provides the strongest foe, as the AI is very passive and easy to defeat with a strong economy. At the Gates is a truly unique 4X game that is a couple of minor improvements (interface, diplomacy, AI) away from being phenomenal.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chieftain Gameplay Review

I'm playing Chieftain, a 4X strategy game by Splout Ltd..

Utilizing randomly generated terrain, the game is turn-based on the map with real-time battles. Different races give varied bonuses and drawbacks. Resources can only be collected in specific tile types: gold from towns and villages (which can only be founded on fields or plains), food from farms (again, only on fields or plains), wood from lumberyards (only on forest), and iron from mines (each nation start with one mine and there are no neutral locations to capture). Builders can construct new farms and lumberyards, while settlers establish villages. An army can consist of five different units (each unit is a group of 30 individuals). There is only one unit allowed per hex, which means you can block opponents from accessing parts of the map (and vice versa). Units cannot be told to guard their location and skip every turn until attacked. The real-time battles have some minor adjustments in stance and formation, but usually just involve moving towards the enemy. Diplomatic options are extremely basic (just declare war or sign treaties). Because you cannot change the terrain (turn forests into plains, for example) or trade resources, success in Chieftain is primarily determined by the luck of the map generator instead of skill. Because all nations start in very close proximity to each other, the number of available tiles to scavenge is very low, meaning you will likely be short one or two resources and can’t do anything about it other than invade adjacent nations and hope your army is superior. Due to the rigid nature of the map tiles, Chieftain lacks the flexibility to allow the strategy to overcome the luck of starting positions.