Monday, April 30, 2018

Frostpunk Gameplay Review

I'm playing Frostpunk, a city survival management game by 11 bit studios.

The game features a finite main story-based campaign (the length of which depends on how quickly you progress through the story) with the same map and same scripted events each time through. With only two other side scenarios and no sandbox mode, replay value is very low, especially for a city builder. Lowering discontent and raising hope is the overall goal, performed by placing buildings, extracting resources, and keeping everyone alive. Coal, wood, and steel can be collected from the environment and (later) specific buildings. Food must also be collected and processed. Buildings can only be placed next to streets that radiate outward from the central generator. Most of the game involves deciding where to assign your limited workforce. Cold ambient temperatures require heating structures to keep people from getting sick, though medical facilities can be utilized. Laws can be enacted periodically, and an extensive research tree unlocks new buildings or improves existing ones. The surrounding area can also be scouted for resources, new settlers, and to advance the story. The game is very challenging, as the conditions are harsh and the people are finicky. Frostpunk is a compelling city builder with a strong emphasis on survival in a unique setting but little reason to experience the highly scripted campaign more than once.

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.