Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BATTLETECH Gameplay Review

I'm playing BATTLETECH, a turn-based mech strategy game by Harebrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive.

The game features a potentially compelling campaign mode where semi-random missions are accepted; the loot and cash earned from each encounter is then used to repair and upgrade your mechs and hire new crew. Unfortunately, the campaign routinely features unbalanced missions with double (or more) the number of mechs on the enemy side, making sustained success very difficult. More fair are skirmish games online and against the AI. The interface is slick with useful information always displayed, once you learn what the icons and bars mean. Each mission is limited to four mechs, a good number to limit tedious micromanagement while still giving tactical options. Maps are hex-based but without obvious hexes and look great. Mechs take turns in phases (lighter mechs go first) and can move, sprint, jump, change facing, defend, and attack. Additional special abilities allow for sensor locking enemies or targeting multiple foes at once. Units that sprint can earn evasive points that make them more difficult to hit (a way to abstract real-time movement in a turn-based game). The game displays clear hit percentages for each weapon and possible target; each part of the mech is given individual armor and structure points, so parts can be shot off (for example, destroying the torso also removes the attached arm and all of the weapons on it). You can target specific parts of an enemy once they are knocked down, and using weapons too often may cause structural damage when the mech overheats. Cover (usually trees) can be used to lower hit chances, and line of sight to the enemy must be maintained for direct fire. The varied abilities of each pilot and mech open up different avenues to success, and the AI is a fine opponent, which makes the decision to give more units to the opposition in the campaign even more baffling. BATTLETECH is a well-executed turn-based strategy game with tactical variety and a slick presentation, but it is hindered by the unfair difficulty of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tempest Citadel Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tempest Citadel, a strategy game by Aartform Games.

Similar in approach to X-COM, the game features a campaign with scripted events but (I think) randomized maps for combat. The interface presents a lot of information but organizes it well. While the game progresses in real-time, it can be paused at any time and will automatically when important events occur. The citadel base offers building slots for housing, food production, engineering (namely building structures and performing upgrades), medicine, and research. Crew can be woken from cryogenic sleep and placed in any available job; crew will level up with experience and can be given equipment and medical augmentations. Missions will regularly appear in the game world, and you can choose which crew members partake in the action. Combat is the weakest aspect of the game, as the action happens too quickly (in real-time) and is too automated (orders can only be given to the entire fireteam, not individuals) to make any tactics matter. Resources can be scavenged after combat. Despite the shortcomings in combat, Tempest Citadel offers feature-rich base and crew management options and a decent story.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Jalopy Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jalopy, a driving adventure game by Minskworks and Excalibur Games.

The game features a tour of Eastern Europe in a rustic automobile. Each day offers a choice of routes with randomized events (weather, road hazards) to the next destination. The car must be maintained and parts (engine, air filter, carburettor, fuel tank, battery, water tank, ignition coil, tires) can be upgraded. Money can be earned by finding boxes on the side of the road, and selling the goods they contain at gas stations in each town. There is limited storage space in the trunk, so everything needed to keep the car in working order cannot be hoarded. If things get too tough, the journey can be restarted but money and items are kept. While a simplistic game, Jalopy is effective in its limited scope.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Through The Ages Gameplay Review

I'm playing Through The Ages, a turn-based board game by CGE Digital.

The game features custom games, challenges, online matches against human opponents, and a tutorial. Despite being a port of the mobile game, the interface is modified to take advantage of a mouse; I also appreciate the ability to see the same information (how many workers are in each building, for example) or perform the same task (dragging workers, double-clicking cards) multiple ways. The goal is to accumulate the most culture points by the end of the game; this is accomplished by choosing cards from the card row and playing them by spending resources. These can be new buildings or upgrades to existing buildings; structures will produce food, resources, science, or culture based on the card properties and how many workers are assigned to the structure. More advanced cards are gradually introduced as new ages arrive. Other actions include increasing population, playing a leader, developing a new technology, declaring a revolution to switch government types, playing an action card, building or upgrading military units, or playing a military tactic. In addition, a politics phase allows for preparing future game events, declaring war against another player, or forming a pact. There are typically too many things to do each turn so you must make tough decisions on what to choose. You must also keep an eye on happiness (you need more food as you grow while staffing buildings that produce happiness) and corruption (stockpiling too many resources results in a penalty). Scouring the online forums for the board game version shows that there simply isn’t one viable strategy for the game, which is the hallmark of a well-balanced strategy title. The AI plays the game very well and uses varied strategies to achieve victory. Through The Ages succeeds at the two important aspects of any digital board game adaptation: a user-friendly interface and AI competency.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Empires Apart Gameplay Review

I'm playing Empires Apart, a real-time strategy game by DESTINYbit and Slitherine.

The game features a skirmish mode either online or against the AI, annoyingly unbalanced challenge scenarios (one or two friendly units against several enemies), a survival mode, and a brief tutorial. There is no campaign mode of scripted missions, though the randomized maps for the skirmish mode do give a lot of replay value. The six factions in the game are pleasingly varied. The interface has many shortcomings: resource locations need bigger indicators on the minimap, there is no “select all military units” button, there is no “select only military units” option while box-selecting, and there are no repeating or infinite queues. All of these issues become magnified with the fast pace of the game; the inefficient interface really hinders your ability to play without getting continually frustrated. Finite resources (food, wood, stone, and gold) mean migration is necessary in longer games. Efficient resource collection (by placing nearby storage structures) and continually increasing the population cap by constructing houses allow for quick upgrades to higher technology levels. Military units each have a specific counter, and while formations and stances are available, combat usually just devolves into a giant mass of units chasing a single enemy around the map. The AI can be a challenge as it is good at collecting resources and producing new villagers, but it usually sends only a few units at a time instead of a concentrated offensive. Empires Apart is a solid real-time strategy game with fast-paced gameplay and varied factions, but it lacks the smooth, feature-filled interface required for true excellence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Golem Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Golem Gates, a card-based real-time strategy game by Laser Guided Games.

The game features a fifteen mission campaign with repetitive objectives (capture these locations, then defeat the enemy base), a challenge mode with much more interesting scenarios, a survival mode, and versus play against the AI or online that needs more maps. Playing any game mode unlocks new cards to add to your customizable deck of units, defensive structures, traps, and spells. Energy (collected from generators) is spent to play cards in any area within the vision range of a friendly unit. Since the cards are drawn at random from the deck, there is no static build order to follow; this really helps to vary the gameplay, a common problem in real-time strategy games. The game is quite difficult overall, and coming up with a strategy on the fly using only the cards you have is a welcome challenge. The interface makes playing cards and accessing units straightforward. Golem Gates is an effective combination of card game and real-time strategy game.

Metropolis Gameplay Review

I'm playing Metropolis, a city  management simulation by Studio by the Bay.

The game features the same base map each time and lacks intermediate objectives to suggest what to do next. The map scrolls very slowly and there is no minimap to orient yourself. Actions include the ability to buy and sell buildings, upgrade existing structures, adjust tax rates, purchase cheaper off-map housing, adjust pension rates, hire doctors and teachers and police, adjust the budget for roads and mass transit, enact a wide range of policies, buy and sell stocks in private companies, buy and sell power and water, and make choices during events. The problem lies in the game speed: at its fastest setting, one game month takes over 20 minutes of real time (and a year lasts four-and-a-half hours!). Since the budget is only updated once a month, there is an extremely long delay between performing actions and seeing the impact on the finances of your city. This is a huge issue early in the game when money is tight: you have no idea if you can afford a new policy or building long-term and must wait 20 (or 40) minutes to find out if it’s worth it. Even worse, you can’t leave the game running and come back later as frequent events automatically slow time down. While Metropolis is a good concept as there are many options to shape your city, the plodding pace of the game severely hinders enjoyment.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Surviving Mars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Surviving Mars, a space colony management simulation by Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive.

Difficulty options are determined by choosing a mission sponsor; these grant varied attributes like funding, the number of rockets available, and the customizable initial payload. The number of resources to collect is pleasingly limited (for easier management): power, water, oxygen, food, concrete, metal, rare metal, polymers, electronics, machine parts, and fuel. These are either extracted from the environment at exhaustible locations or manufactured from other goods. Drones will automatically carry resources within their range and repair broken structures; transports can also be told to shuttle resources between bases. Sectors on Mars must be scanned for resources and anomalies, which then can be surveyed for a research boost. The research tree is quite extensive and comes with interesting unlocks and bonuses. Eventually, humans can be brought to the planet, living in domes and manning the more complex factories. Needs (such as social, medical, gambling, relaxation) can be met by constructing the appropriate support facility. Random events (cable faults, dust storms, meteor showers) break up the potential monotony of a smoothly-running base. Rockets must be refueled (making fuel, and thus water, a very important resource to focus on) and sent back to Earth for new supplies and colonists. Surviving Mars focuses on the fun aspects of resource management (larger-scale production and supply chains, not micromanagment), delivering a very enjoyable space colony management game set in a compelling environment.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Northgard Gameplay Review

I'm playing Northgard, a real-time strategy game by Shiro Games.

The game features a linear campaign with different mission objectives and a skirmish mode (both online and offline against the AI) featuring random maps and varied clans that give different bonuses. Attaining victory involves conquering the map, mastering trade, defeating a powerful boss, reaching the end of the tech tree, or simply accumulating a high score. The interface is very well done, displaying lots of pertinent information without taking up a lot of space. It is easy to see how your citizens are assigned and where gaps in resource production lie. Each citizen can be assigned a job at a particular building: scouts (to explore new map areas), woodcutters, farmers, healers, fishermen, hunters, merchants, soldiers, researchers, and brewers (to raise happiness levels). You can also place houses to increase the population cap and silos to store food for the winter. Each province can only support a small number of structures, so tough decisions are made regarding what to build where. You will also have to carefully balance the economy so any particular resource does not become scarce. Beyond food and wood, krowns earned from merchants are used for upkeep and military recruitment, stone and iron and mined for unit and building upgrades, and lore is researched at specific locations. Adjacent territories can be captured once defending units are disposed of by the military; units placed in the same province as an enemy will automatically attack. Northgard strikes a good balance between automating certain tasks (resource collection and transport) and giving the user control (assigning workers ad building placement), although the game has a slow pace with noticeable waiting for new citizens or winter to pass. Northgard is a challenging, unique real-time strategy game with a focus on careful management and tough decisions.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Crest Gameplay Review

I'm playing Crest, a god game by Eat Create Sleep.

Taking place on randomized maps, the crux of the game is to create commandments to give orders to your followers. This is accomplished by choosing a group of people, selecting an action for them to do, and choosing a target for them to do it to. Issuing commandments costs precious influence points; this restricts the focus of the commandments to only the most important needs. Issuing commandments that both satisfy needs and align with the goals of each village is key to running a harmonious civilization. Commandments will eventually get associations (modified interpretations of each commandment), which can be blessed or condemned to show favor. There is a somewhat sophisticated ecosystem present on each map as well, with different animals interacting with the environment and each other. Beyond simply keeping the villagers happy, another goal of the game is to ensure the long-term survival of the ecosystem through careful balance of resources. Still, because of the limited number of commandments that you can issue, there are large periods of the game with nothing to do other than watch society collapse. Crest is an innovative, unique game that doesn't offer enough regular interaction to maintain high interest throughout.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Citystate Gameplay Review

I'm playing Citystate, a city building simulation by The Citystate Development Team.

Featuring randomized maps, the game allows you to choose a starting government (from a couple of multiple-choice questions) and design a flag. Low, medium, and high density housing can be placed, but Citystate lacks zones for any commercial properties and industries other than mining operations and farms. All roads are multi-lane highways, but zones can be three squares away and still count as being connected to the road system. Parks can be placed to increase the seemingly random land values for surrounding areas. Exploring the land for minerals (mountains for iron, desert for oil, and jungle for gold) is expensive but necessary to balance the budget through exports; each square has a percentage chance of success (clearly shown before excavating) each time you drill. Citystate allows you to sculpt the nation by choosing policy options for each legislative topic that comes up; these decisions affect ratings in each income demographic, and overall national indicators for “freedom index”, culture, and lifestyle. Citystate has a seemingly sophisticated economic simulation with trade, bonds, and tax rates, but choosing appropriate funding levels for education, health care, and security is not obvious at all. Citystate is a strange combination of detail (laws, trade, citizen demands) and oversimplifications (no commercial zones, no small roads, no government services (like power and water or fire and police) beyond a budget slider, vague feedback) that just doesn’t work.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Space Tyrant Gameplay Review

I'm playing Space Tyrant, a turn-based strategy game by Blue Wizard Digital.

The campaign features a collection of skirmish games on random maps with different victory objectives and increasing difficulty; standalone skirmish games are also available. The overall goal is to capture planets by sending a fleet to its orbit, defeating the defenders, then sieging the world. Planets will grant various bonuses (gold income to purchase ships, research points to unlock better attributes, crystals to play cards, or new commanders) when captured. Combat with opposing ships is done in real time; your vessels will automatically fire upon the enemy, but special abilities are manually triggered. Before each match, a one-use tactic can be chosen (from a randomized list of three). If combat is successful, a simple dice roll is used to siege a planet. After a planet’s defenses are reduced to zero, a random event with a decision may trigger. Commanders gain experience with combat, unlocking more ships in their fleet and better abilities. Crystals are used to play cards that may provide more ships or other bonuses. A tyranny rating ensures that you are always on the attack, as you must keep capturing planets or lose. Scenarios become more difficult with increased quantities of enemy ships to deal with. Space Tyrant is a fast-paced 4X space strategy game that is very accessible without sacrificing too much depth.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Empires Apart Beta Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the beta of Empires Apart, a real-time strategy game by DESTINYbit and Slitherine.

Currently, the game features skirmish games against the AI and online, plus survival matches. Randomized maps are available in several themes (desert, polar, et cetera). Five factions are present, which are enough to have subtle differences in military and economic strategy options. Resources (wood from trees, gold and stone from mining, and food from farms, fishing, roaming animals, or bushes) are finite, so mid-game migration is likely. Structures can be built to increase the population cap, serve as resource drop-off points, sell excess goods, recruit new units, or provide empire upgrades. New buildings and units are unlocked through expensive development research. Empires Apart is scheduled for release March 29th.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wartile Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wartile, a role-playing strategic board game by Playwood Project and Deck 13 Interactive.

The game features a campaign with generally repetitive missions (keep going until you find something at the end of the map); new characters and items can be purchased between scenarios. Wartile does not feature randomized maps or a skirmish mode. The interface can be cumbersome, with mouse dragging used to move units and cards. This method lacks fluid movement in real-time and a misclick can waste precious seconds. The scenery also obscured the view as it lacks transparency. Wartile is a real-time game where movement and attacks have cooldown periods. Units will automatically engage nearby units, but specific enemies can be targeted. Ability cards can be used on enemy units, but the process is tedious (all cards of all units are not on screen simultaneously). Battle cards can also be used by spending points earned by killing enemies. Strategy involves attacking from higher ground and from behind while using cards at key moments, although Wartile lacks true strategic depth. Though Wartile looks like a compelling title, the limited strategic options, repetitive scenario design, and plentiful interface shortcomings make it an ineffective game.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Islander Gameplay Review

I'm playing The Islander, a click management game by 7 Box Games.

The game features random maps onto which you place crops, bushes, trees, and livestock to make money. Simply mouse over each item when it is ready to harvest to earn cash. Placing decorations (like flowers and grass) will increase an income multiplier, and new items are (slowly) unlocked by leveling up. Helpers can automatically collect items, useful when the farm has grown too big for one screen. Every object requires the same interaction, as they will all grow on their own and simply need to be harvested, so the gameplay is repetitive. Items also grow in price exponentially, so past a certain point it’s not “worth” placing more of a particular item. Overall, The Islander is a relaxing click management game that lacks any major shortcomings.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Rise of Industry Early Access Beta Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the early access beta of Rise of Industry, a  business management simulation by Dapper Penguin Studios and Kasedo Games.

Currently, the game features a career mode with progressive building unlocks, a freeplay mode with no unlocks, custom games, and a brief tutorial. All game modes take place on randomized maps, which dramatically increases replay value, as town placement, resource locations, and city needs are different every time. A technology tree is used to unlock new buildings that gather raw resources, farm crops, produce goods, or transport items. The production chains offer many, many options for which goods to manufacture, and choices should be based on the limited, specific city demands. Goods are transported between factories with trucks, which can be sent out from depots to streamline logistics. Rail and boats can be used to transport goods further distances, especially later on when more complex, multi-step goods are being manufactured. Rise of Industry is scheduled for release by the end of 2018.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Wars of Succession Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wars of Succession, a turn-based grand strategy game by AGEod and Slitherine.

The game features five scenarios: a small tutorial that lacks instructions, three different start dates for the War of the Spanish Succession (1701, 1706, and 1709), and the Great Northern War of 1700. Apart from the very limited tutorial, Wars of Succession needs more smaller scenarios restricted in both theatre and time scale to welcome novice players. The game engine is the same as it was twelve years ago in Birth of America: sluggish. The vast majority of the game is as it has been in past AGEod titles: units placed into stacks lead by commanders, provinces to conquer and gain resources to recruit new units, automated battles based on stack postures and rules of engagement, regional decisions and events, limited diplomatic options, and passable AI. This iteration doesn’t bring any new features (apart from the setting) and highlights the limitations of the game engine as a whole. Despite the high level of historic detail, Wars of Succession lacks scenario variety and utilizes an increasingly outdated game engine.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Railway Empire Gameplay Review

I'm playing Railway Empire, a transportation management simulation by Gaming Minds Studios and Kalypso Media.

The game features a pleasant number of game modes, with a five-mission campaign, eleven scenarios with challenging objectives, a free mode where you can play in any region in 20-year increments, and a sandbox mode without AI opponents. The same maps are used for each game region, restricting replayability a tad by not randomizing resource locations. After placing stations near cities, farms, and mines, waypoint-based rails are placed to shuttle the trains back and forth. Signals can be used to direct traffic, and supply towers are needed to keep trains running at maximum speed. If citizen needs in a city are met, they grow, producing more money and unlocking additional industries. Personnel can be hired to buff trains, and research can be conducted to unlock new trains and enhance abilities. Once the map is full of trains, money can be invested in industry and stock of the competitors. The AI builds quickly and provides a good opponent. While Railway Empire might not be the complete heir apparent to the Railroad Tycoon series, it is an enjoyable management game with a good amount of content.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Valknut Gameplay Review

I'm playing Valknut, a city building simulation by Dyrnwyn Games.

The game features a ten-mission campaign, randomly generated skirmish modes, and a three-scenario tutorial (although you can’t access the third mission). The interface is entirely too small at high resolutions, there a limited keyboard hotkeys for performing actions, you have to manually rotate buildings (it won’t figure out the correct orientation on its own), and informative tool-tips about population and resources are not present (I have no idea what half of the icons mean, nor how many people work in a building or live in a house). Raw resources (wood, iron, stone, clay) are collected at certain buildings and processed at others (pottery, jewelry, rope, tools); only certain resources can be produced on each island (typically limited to specific crops), which may have had interesting strategic repercussions if the rest of the game was better. People randomly die due to hypothermia or starvation before you have a chance to build the appropriate buildings and even if sufficient supplies are available. Also, resource stocks can fail to grow (especially wood) with no indication as to why (is the wood being used? do you not have enough population to collect wood? is there an extra processing step?). Valknut is an unfinished game that doesn’t provide enough information on how your town is running.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nantucket Gameplay Review

I'm playing Nantucket, a role-playing seafaring strategy game by Picaresque Studio and Fish Eagle.

Taking place during the height of whaling, the core of the game is business management: hunt whales, earn money, trade goods, hire crew, and upgrade the ship. Quests are available to search specific locations for new whales or find lost ships. Whaling areas are not randomized each game, which drastically reduces replay value (my only major complaint about the game). Naval encounters are resolved using cards and dice rolls: each crewmember has a chance of rolling a card each turn, which can attack enemies or buff friendly units. More experience crewmembers will have access to more interesting options for their cards, and striking a good balance of offensive and defensive possibilities is a core strategy of the game. Overall, Nantucket offers a unique setting for the business management game with satisfying, though repetitive, card-based battle resolution.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sky Is Arrows Gameplay Review

I'm playing Sky Is Arrows, a role-playing action strategy game by 2,000 Damage and Sometimes You.

NOTE: The "P" key pauses the game. I am not good at reading directions.

A mixture of roguelike, action role-playing game, and real-time strategy game, the goal is to explore randomly generated levels to find the enemy castle that must be defeated before moving on to the next map. In each map, there are enemy encounters, loot chests, and items to provide bonuses. Gold can be spent to recruit new troops or improve your castle (to defend against the occasional enemy attack), and experience points are used to upgrade the stats of the hero. The game is light on features (you can’t save or pause the game (though each match is short, 15 minutes at the most), the maximum resolution is 1080, and hotkeys cannot be changed), though there is a selection of heros with different spells and the maps are different every time. Real-time battles are chaotic, namely because it is difficult to control troops (partially because they move on their own, and partially due to the control scheme that can’t be altered) and using spells can be imprecise. You never feel like you are totally in control of the battles, which makes them lose some appeal. While Sky Is Arrows has a unique combination of mechanics, the features and battles are lacking.