Thursday, April 28, 2016

Offworld Trading Company Gameplay Review

I'm playing Offworld Trading Company, an economic real-time strategy game by Mohawk Games and Stardock Entertainment.

The game features a campaign mode that is slightly more than a series of scripted scenarios or skirmish games: over seven matches, staff are hired to upgrade building production and the corporation with the lowest stock value is eliminated until a final showdown. In addition, there are skirmish games on maps where the resources are randomized, online multiplayer, daily challenges, and a set of tutorials. The interface does a good job showing prices for the different goods and tiles that are tied to each resource. The goal is to buy out the stock of the competitors using cash earned by selling produced commodities. There are four corporations with slightly different strategies: expansion when resources are far apart, purchase from the black market, bypass basic resource gathering, or ignore life support resources. There is a limited number of claims (hexes to place buildings on), so choices must be made; structures that are further away from headquarters require more fuel and produce more slowly (as transport vessels must automatically shuttle back and forth). Upgrading the HQ opens up more claims but requires more food and water to support. The basic resources (power, water, iron, aluminum, silicon, carbon) are used to produce more advanced items (food, fuel, oxygen, steel, chemicals, glass, electronics); buildings of the same type placed next to each other earn an adjacency bonus. The price of each resource changes based on how much players are buying and selling, so producing expensive resources or monopolizing rare resources are good strategies to maximize profit. Additional options include the ability to research patents, increase production, create artificial shortages or surpluses of resources, export goods offworld (for huge profits), convert excess power to cash, and access the black market to play actions against other players. The AI players are very good, regularly producing a profit and habitually using black market abilities to continually annoy. Although the end-game can be a bit of a grind when all of the claims are exhausted, the typically quick game lengths are refreshing. Offworld Trading Company is a real-time strategy game that actually focuses on strategy instead of the ability to perform more actions per second, creating an accessible and challenging game of economics.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Automata Empire Gameplay Review

I'm playing Automata Empire, a real-time strategy game by Nonadecimal Creative.

The game features several skirmish game modes against the AI: elimination, conquest, capture the flag, and more; online multiplayer is planned for the future. Units move automatically and combine populations when colliding: a single unit moves randomly, a “2” moves forward and turns, a “3” moves straight, and a “4” follows enemies. Populations greater than four split and make an additional unit, while severely overcrowded units are eliminated from the game. Population can be used to construct several buildings that corral units, block movement, launch units, create paths, or give weapons for increased attack ratings. The key to the game is management unit movement and creating positive feedback loops to increase unit populations, because when opposing units converge, the higher population wins. AI opponents are very good at the game. Although difficult to manage (on purpose), Automata Empire is a unique take on the real-time strategy game.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

March of the Living Gameplay Review

I'm playing March of the Living, a zombie survival roguelike by Machine 22 and Creaky Corpse.

A randomly generated world (which could look better on the map, as paths routinely overlap and lead to confusion) full of zombies must be traversed. Cities and objective locations, in addition to simply reaching the end, drive the journey forward. Most locations involve a text-based decision event (which repeat themselves after several playthroughs) or a zombie invasion. Health, fatigue, and hunger must be maintained: rest will recover fatigue (safer to do in cities) while food replenishes hunger. Ammunition for weapons (pistol, shotgun, rifle) is in short supply, and a very limited inventory means tough choices in which loot to keep. Useful scavenged items are rare, and are usually accompanied by a zombie attack that depletes ammunition and health to alarming levels. Long-term survival relies more on luck (randomly finding the right items) than skill or strategy. Pausable combat begins when the zombies arrive; each enemy can be chosen as the current target and given an engagement type (body shot, head shot, melee attack, shove backwards). Characters can also move to avoid getting bitten, and getting surrounded is a death sentence. March of the Living is an occasionally enjoyable but repetitive combination of FTL and Oregon Trail, highlighted by high difficulty and randomized (though recycled) encounters.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Villagers Gameplay Review

I'm playing Villagers, a city management simulation by bumblebee and Avanquest Software Publishing.

The game features a campaign consisting of six chapters on six maps, plus a free play mode that allows you to play on any of those six maps without objectives. There are no randomized maps and this decreases replay value. The interface could be better: there is simply no reason for building information to take up a majority of the screen, and the display can’t be moved and other actions can’t be performed while it’s open. Resources (wood, stone, iron, food, tools) can gathered or produced, allowing for a variety of buildings to be constructed, covering production (farm, mill, bakery, barn, fishing dock, forester, quarry, mine, and forge (for tools)), housing, or services (well, tavern, inn, chapel, pharmacy). Villagers plays very, very similarly to Banished and fails to add anything innovative to the genre.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Game Tycoon 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Game Tycoon 2, a management simulation by Sunlight Games and KISS Ltd.

The game features a campaign of twenty missions with specific objectives (plus tutorials) and an endless mode to make the greatest game developer of all time. The interface has a lot of limitations, requiring many clicks to switch between departments; it would have been better to offer a simple drop-down menu to access other locations. The game also auto-pauses for some events (like game development finishing) but not others (like research or production finishing). Step one is to peruse the publisher and distributor contracts for a game to make. Then, make a game concept by choosing various options for quality and features. Hire a team from the university and then assign them to development. Finally, manufacture the game, send it to the distributor, and advertise it. Additional options include researching new technologies and purchasing furniture for your home. However, the game development cycle is very monotonous and bland. The extremely repetitive gameplay and limiting interface makes Game Tycoon 2 a hard sell.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Victory and Glory: Napoleon Gameplay Review

I'm playing Victory and Glory: Napoleon, a turn-based grand strategy game by Electric Games and Slitherine.

The game features six campaigns where you lead France to victory (and glory). Each turn takes two months; land and naval units can move between provinces and engage in battles. Additional units are recruited each spring, and units can only move when equipped with a leader. Event cards can also be played to provide special abilities. Political points are spent on diplomacy, which consists mostly of declaring war on other nations. Battles can be interesting as units position and attack the enemy, with some randomization thrown in to mix things up. The AI also plays the game well, although its numerical superiority is somewhat to blame. Victory and Glory: Napoleon is an approachable strategy game with an asymmetrical take on the domination of Europe.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mushroom Wars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Mushroom Wars, a real-time strategy game by Creat Studios and Zillion Whales.

Originally appearing on the PS3 in 2009, this game features a campaign mode, a series of skirmish matches against the AI, and online games. Victory is achieved by controlling specific locations on the map, or by simply capturing all of the villages. Gameplay involves moving troops between locations and upgrading existing towns in order to produce troops more quickly. Mouse controls generally work pretty well, with the mouse wheel used to determine what percentage of units (25, 50, 75, or 100%) will be sent to the destination. However, I have accidentally upgraded towns by double-clicking them when simply trying to select them. In addition to the towns that produce units, forges grant an improved attack and towers provide defense. Successfully capturing locations improves morale, which also improves the attack rating. While the computer opponent is usually very good, the AI is not aggressive enough at the end of a game when they are clearly dominant. In addition, some of the map layouts are very susceptible to stalemates. The quick games, simple controls, and approachable tactics of Mushroom Wars will appeal to casual strategy fans, although long-term enjoyment is limited due to the simplistic mechanics.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Gremlins, Inc. Gameplay Review

I'm playing Gremlins, Inc., a turn-based board game by Charlie Oscar.

The goal is to accumulate the most score points. Cards from a six-card hand can be played to move around the game board, or used in specific locations to earn money, score points, gain votes, or perform other actions. A large number of different cards in the deck generates significant game variety. The board can only be traversed in certain directions; locations can give income, require bribes to be paid, or involve a roll against police inquiry, risk, misfortune, or gambling opportunities. Money is used to play certain cards (especially those that earn the score points required for victory), while votes are used to elect the governor (a player that never pays bribes and can’t be arrested by the police) and malice can be earned by playing “mean” cards and increases the bribe penalty. Going to jail can have its benefits, with experience giving better cards drawn per turn behind bars. Highly contentious AI opponents provide good opposition. Gremlins, Inc. is a unique board game with a memorable theme and solid AI opponents plus online play.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Ashes of the Singularity Gameplay Review

I'm playing Ashes of the Singularity, a large-scale real-time strategy game by Oxide Games and Stardock Entertainment.

The game features a brief, typical single-player campaign, but the focus is on skirmishes and multiplayer on a good number of expansive maps. In addition to simply annihilating the enemy, key resource locations can be held to achieve victory. The interface lacks a number of hotkeys that would be useful in selecting factories or units quickly in the heat of battle. The DirectX 12 graphics look great and perform better on the Windows 10-exclusive API. Power generators must be captured from neutral units in order to accumulate nearby metal and radioactive resources; additional income may be earned by constructing collectors. Factories crank out large numbers of units, from small frigates to large dreadnaughts. A group of units can be combined into a single army, which moves in formation and attacks as one. “Research” points can be spent on upgrades (population cap increases, increased damage or health) or calling down powerful weapons and abilities. The AI is an extremely challenging opponent. The focus is very heavy on offense and constant expansion: those who wish to turtle and defend will lose. Because of that, the game never allows time to relax, as steady growth is required. Those looking for a more defensive, measured game will be disappointed by the ever-expanding, offensive nature of Ashes of the Singularity, but the game does offer some notable innovations to the genre.