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.