Thursday, July 26, 2012

Smashy Smashy!

So my room was a sauna last week and I missed an update. Boo! On the other hand, this week's is only really late.

So yeah, that is an improvement.

This week we have Hack, Slash, Loot, developed and published by David Williamson. It is a roguelike with a classic dungeon diving theme to it.

Hack, Slash, Loot is unique in genre in its outright simplicity. It has no inventory beyond what you are wearing, a simple consumable based upgrade system and only a small amount of effects beyond damage types. The classes are differentiated by their equipment and starting stats, usually identifiable as simple melee, ranged and magic variants. It even does away with deep, labyrinthine dungeons in favour of four short quests with distinct environments.

The simplicity of the game makes it very accessible. Most roguelikes are lauded for their complexity, rewarding those who can maximize the effectiveness of growing lists of abilities and items. However, this is one of their biggest weaknesses as the number of things you have to track as the game goes on gets mind boggling. This can be somewhat mitigated by the interface but I find that my characters are almost always lost due to the problems of tracking all the minutiae.

Lacking this element, Hack, Slash, Loot provides instead the visceral satisfaction provided by simply smacking your foes and upgrading your character. If even lacks maximum hp value, a convention casually accepted by almost all genres of gaming. The short, punchy levels add to the experience, allowing you to finish with your character before you get bored of it. Note that the game's simplicity does not indicate a complete lack of strategy. Frequently the upgrades you choose will depend on the quest and character you are playing and will dictate your survival.

Of course, the game's simplicity can also work to its detriment. Sometimes you will find yourself wishing you could do more than move and attack. There is a damage type that has benefits that almost always make it crucial to victory. But the game has no pretenses of what it is. The description is right there in the title.

As far as recommendations go, I think Hack, Slash, Loot plays to a very specific audience. It is geared towards the gamer who is a fan of classic roguelike play but is perhaps frustrated with the spiraling complexity that occurs in the later stages. My personal favourite thing about the game is how easy it to just dive in for a play session. Any given quest takes at most a couple of hours to complete and there is no long list of effects to give headaches on the occasions you pick up an unfinished game.

Hack, Slash, Loot is available on Steam.

Anyways, that is all for this week. I am hoping to make up for last week as well as get next week's up in a somewhat timely manner. We will see how that goes.

Until next time, good luck and have fun!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Information Gathering: Magic 2013

Welcome back! Or welcome for the first time.

This weekend was the prerelease for Magic's 2013 core set, so I am going to talk about my thoughts on it after playing with the cards for the first time.

Magic has been kicking around since 1993 and it is a study in ingenious game design. An instant success on publishing, it has captivated the gaming public while continually churning out content on a regular basis for almost twenty years.

Being a huge fan of limited, opening a few sealed pools is a very satisfying way for me to explore the new set. The first deck I played out was black-green, which usually means big smashy creatures and quality removal. What it meant for me was big smashy creatures and piles of ramping. My removal turned out to also be my rare bombs in Liliana and Nefarox, which was cool but also inefficient.

There are a few things I learned with this deck. First of all, Elderscale Wurm can completely stall out the game by just not letting you die. Second, Liliana's is nice in any black deck but works much nicer if you have something to sink a lot of mana into (I did not). Third, exalted is fantastic with Tormented Soul. Send in just the unblockable guy? Yes please!

My second pool was a more typical of what I expect in this format in a black-white build. It removed things, it stacked Exalted triggers and it produced a lot of little guys. The deck has a few interesting angles to it. First, recycling removal and token producers with Elixir of Immortality can be a powerful move. After a few turns of drawing and playing lands you want to start playing spell after spell. Once a few lands are on the field and a few instants and sorceries have been cast, the Elixir will skew the land/spell ratio in favor of spells.

Another interesting card to play with is Veilborn Ghoul. It provides an interesting tension with how you play your land, encouraging the player to hold back some Swamps. I find it best to start keeping them back once your hit enough mana to cast your most expensive spell if you have one in your deck. The ability to cast multiple spells in a turn is usually outweighed by the advantage gained by rebuying the Ghoul but I would not want to miss the opportunity to drop my bombs for it. Note the non-swamps are fine to play as normal.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found out from this deck was the surprising synergy between Exalted and token producers. Instead of having to chose between all out offense or leaving them back to stall out combat against superior creatures, you can send one as you big Exalted fatty and still have chumps back/replacements for next turn.

The last thing I would like to comment on is Mindclaw Shaman. At some point this weekend I was asked what I thought of the card. While I find it very exciting, it has been difficult to evaluate. I think it can be good in three situations (limited in mind, of course). The first is where the opponent is holding back removal or combat tricks and intending to blow you out on your attack. In this case the Shaman will play the role of lightning rod, hopefully pulling out the trick before it can wreak maximum havoc. Situation two is where the opponent is holding a bomb instant or sorcery and just has not hit the mana yet. In this case the Shaman can function as an additional bomb. This depends on the how useful the card can be to your deck of course but at least he can deny it if not leverage significant advantage. Lastly, we have the situations where you opponent could have cast his or her spell but chose a different sequence of plays. They could been developing their board, for example, instead of playing a Divination or Mind Rot. It is in these moments that I expect Mindclaw Shaman to shine. In essence, the is more fit to combat decks rather than compliment them. Has your opponent been blowing you out with tricks or the removal special? In he goes. Are the just playing creature after creature (not token sorceries, mind you)? Probably not.

So I guess that is this week down. Hopefully you liked this as I figure I will probably be doing this for every prerelease. If you have not tried Magic yet I highly recommend it. It is a great game with a long history and ,while it is complex, I find it has a great community willing to help a beginner find his or her feet.

Until next time, good luck and have fun.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oh, the Horror!

It is my second week and I am already behind schedule!

I was not home all weekend to write review number two so here it is. Luckily during my time away I was able to play this week's game several times with my friends.

The game? Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Yay, board games! This bit of horror is brought to us by Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill.

Betrayal play anywhere from three to six people, with five or six considered the best numbers. It is essentially divided into two phases. In the first the players create the board by exploring the house, placing down empty tiles as they enter unexplored rooms. As the rooms are explored, events occur and items and omens are discovered. Eventually an explorer will find an omen that causes the haunt to be revealed, leading into phase two.

When the haunt starts, the explorers will consult the scenario books. Generally, one player will be assigned the role of traitor and will be working against the others. Note that this does not necessarily mean a slugfest. Frequently, though not always, it will be in the heroes' best interest to avoid confrontation as the traitor will have some significant advantage over them and his death does not necessarily mean victory. Everyone's against him, it's only fair.

The best thing about the game is the way it captures the dramatic tension of the horror genre. As the house is explored, a sense of foreboding sinks in. Most of the events are genuinely creepy and frequently threaten stat loss, causing the player to feel anxious every time they enter a room. Revealing an omen is nerve wracking, as even though most offer some nice stat bonuses each one brings you closer to the haunt. Finally, the scenarios are masterfully written and hit on all the best horror tropes. I would love to elaborate here, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers I shall refrain.

My one complaint about the game has to do with rules clarity. There are a few things, particularly special room tiles, that have special rulings that are unintuitive as written. For example, the speed roll to save yourself from falling in the Collapsed Room only applies to the first to enter. This differs from most other rooms that require ability rolls and is not made apparent on the tile.

Overall, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a fantastic game. My friends seem to have taken quite a liking to it, including several who are not avid gamers. It is a testament to the game's quality that nearly everyone I have played with has had positive things to say about it.

Hopefully you will see me here on Sunday. I already have a plan for it so hopefully this week will go better.

Until next time, GG.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sailing Away

Welcome to the first post of Rerolls!

So what is the point? Well, I have a bunch of games that I need an excuse to play. I also have been looking for an excuse to do some writing. I figured that writing a review every week would be a good way to attack both of these desires. I probably will not be presenting the latest hot thing (my purchasing habits are largely focused on whatever is cheap on Steam) but there should be a good deal that flew under your radar on the bill.

For my maiden voyage, I will be reviewing Waves (awful puns AND a strange nautical theme!).

OK, so this has nothing to do with boats. Waves is a twin-stick shooter developed and published by Squid in a Box using the Unreal engine. Basically you are a ball trapped in a circular arena blowing up wave after wave of enemies for a high score.

There are six different play modes. Crunch Time is your basic time attack mode where you aim to hit the highest score possible within the time limit. Survival's pretty self explanatory, you just keep shooting things until you run out of lives. Rush is timed like Crunch Time but with the opportunity to extend your time by achieving some goals. Bombing Run turns your gun off, forcing you to continually run over checkpoints to activate bombs in order to clear enemies. Challenge is a series of 20 scripted waves which reward things such as quick clears and large combos. Finally there is Chase, a mode where you are required to roll over a checkpoint every 5 seconds in order to survive

I have a confession. I love arena shooters. There is something entirely satisfying about chasing a high score with no story or motivation worth mentioning. Your advances seem so much more meaningful when they are based on perfecting your grasp of the game mechanics rather than grinding levels until you reach critical mass.
The experience the Waves brings to the genre certainly does not disappoint. Largely the sole effort of Rob Hale, the game has a surprising amount of polish to it. The controls have a pretty natural feel to them while really getting the point across that you are essentially rolling across the arena. Despite claiming to be no artist, Hale has created an incredibly attractive visual style and the music by SMILETRON provides a pleasant backdrop. As far as game modes go, while Survival is my go to I am quite fond of Bombing Run and Chase. Both provide very white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat game play in their own way. The slow-mo offers a way to get out of sticky situations without making it too easy and bombs based on your current combo provide a nice way of giving yourself some breathing room when things get too cluttered. The game even has a good bit of humour, offering jibes about your performance after every round. My biggest knock would be the score cap, an unfortunate artifact of the programming. While I have never been close to achieving it, knowing it is there is a bit of a disappointment.

It is important to note that this game is not Geometry Wars. I find the controls more organic, the visuals more attractive and the game play experience better overall. Or at least I think I do. Right now Geometry Wars is giving the hilarious error of “Failed to find Steam”.

Oh You.

Now rather than add to the abundance of meaningless scores in game reviews, I will simply say I like Waves. While I am aware that score chasing in arena shooters is not everyone's thing, for those who are into it this one comes highly recommended. Check it out on Steam. Summer sales are coming soon (possibly tomorrow as I write this) and the base price is only $10 to begin with.

That is all for this week. Hopefully I will stick to this and have something up before next Monday.

Until then, GG.