Let’s talk about Schlitz. The butt of jokes, the ass-crack beer you’d have to choke down on camping trips: Pabst, Blatz, Hamm’s all beers with a certain flavor that is maybe almost good if the weather and batch were just right. Throwing Schlitz in with those beers was easy back in the day, but with the new bottled version using the original formula it’s become one of the go to beers like High Life (of course) and your obligatory stable of New Glarus wizardry.
However, Schlitz’s billboards featuring Cynthia Myers and 2/3rds of her BREAST on the freeway with the heaviest traffic in the state has made me an ardent supporter of their so far glowing comeback and a soon to be more frequent kisser of their hops.
Small World was one of the big board games of the last year and I picked it up like many based on reviews of it and it’s predecessor Vinci. I found it OK, but it didn’t totally grab me the first few plays. After about 6 plays however, it really started to grow on me. The game works well in that Euro/Ameritrash hybrid genre that we keep seeing in recent days, but what I like about Small World best is that is an asymmetric strategy game and like the granddaddy of all asymmetric board games, Cosmic Encounter, has a lot of room to grow. While Small World oozes with theme and comedy, the board is totally insane on the eyes and in all honesty I think I would prefer the theme of the original version (Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, etc.) to the wacky fantasy theme– but the fact is, the game sold a lot and it’s quite fun to play once you get the hang of it–and now we have the first launch title of interest for the iPad making some history last week.
The only reason I’m exposed to the iPads is due to work– no one I know personally has plans to pick one up in the short term. As frivolous as it is, I must admit the iPad is an awesome piece of consumer electronics: far better than what I expected both in size, readability and responsiveness despite a terrible name that somehow passed muster with everyone at Apple with a dirty mind. That said, I’ve really only used it to read some comic books, watch an ASL video and, of course, play some Small World.
So what is Small World? In short, 2-5 players try to conquer a piece of cardboard with a map on it, scoring points for the number of regions on this piece of cardboard they control at the end of their turn. To do this, players choose a combination of a Race, like elves, dwarves, orcs, wizards and a Skill like berserk, commando, Ethereal, etc. This gives players an adjective, noun combo i.e.: Commando Amazons (a favorite for many reasons), Berserk Trolls, and so on. Each combination gives a player a number of Race tokens and two means to break the rules of the game: one with his Race power and one with his Skill power. The player then attacks parts of the piece of cardboard to score as many points as possible. Each player turn is scored, and whoever has the most at the end of 10 turns is VICTOLY. The key funny business in the game is that players can choose another race after sending their original race into decline. Knowing when to decline your race and what race/skill combinations to select based on the board conditions are the painful and fun choices for players.
With the iPad version, you can play with another person sitting in front of you (there is no online play and no computer player) in the same way you would the board game, but without the box, pieces of cut up cardboard and cardboard map.
First, I want to make note a few flaws in the iPad version of Small World in terms of gameplay. The game crashes sometimes after a race is selected. You can tell when this happens as the player’s name and score disappear from the map screen and though you can mess around with the active buttons on the screen– the game will not continue. This is exacerbated by the fact that the game does not save it’s state on exit, so if you exit the application for any reason, you have to start over. This is a bit odd as just about every application on the iPod touch had the save state feature, even the real time ones like Field Runners.
Second, the iPad version is only two player. This may put some people off who are used to the wonderful backstabbing and mystery score of the 4 and 5 player games, but after playing quite a two player games, I’m slowly becoming convinced that it may be the better way to play. With two, the game plays extremely fast and you can predict fairly well what powers your opponent will choose, when they will decline and where they will enter the board. This is very tough in a 3-5 player game as so much is going on you basically hang on for the ride and hope for players not to notice how well you are doing (Merchant Wizards seem great for this).
The final issue I had with the game is that when selecting my stack to drag to a space to attack, it didn’t pick up that I was trying to select it as well as I would have expected– you have to have your finger/appendage directly on the stack to move it. This may seem a ridiculous complaint, but when someone hands it to you in a morning scrum and you have to take your turn before anyone notices, you want to go fast fast fast.
That said, let’s get into what’s awesome about the iPad version of Small World: It plays fast, fast fast! No digging through stacks of counters, or searching for the 3 and 5 gold coins in your game box, nor counting your gold in secret means that 2-player games can be over in done in 10 minutes at which time you can be on to another game or doing something else, like finishing your morning scrum. What’s more, the multi-touch means you can check out your gold total while the other player is taking his or her turns.
The graphics look extremely crisp, and it’s very easy to pick out what is what, especially if you are used to the insanity of color that the boardgame tends to become during a game. Small World, good gameplay aside, is all about the funny illustrations and the iPad does them all justice here–though the screen does get awful greasy…
Except where noted far above, the UI and interface is spot on. If you are a veteran Small World player you will know exactly what to do as soon as you start playing, it’s that intuitive. The only confusion came when one was selecting a race and want to go back to the map, then back to the race selection screen. There is no button or link– you just touch the screen (this was a d’oh moment).
If you have an iPad and have any reason to try to have fun on it, you should pick up Small World. It’s dirt cheap and if you even play it 2-3 times you will have well spent the cash; chances are you will play 10 to 20 times that number in a single week. I’m very impressed with the hardware and am very much looking forward to many more board games on the device. Books? Movies? Tax Software? BLEH. Board games are what the iPad was built for.
Beer. It’s proof that the gods love us and want us to be happy. I am compelled by my uneducated beer-snobbery to mention a high quality brew that anyone in the Green Bay area for any amount of time should imbibe and that’s DARK HELMET from Titletown brewery. I’m usually not a fan of dark lagers as everything around turns out to be very Guinness-esque but this is something absolutely special.
While the amount of stuff in my own basement that I’ve lost track of continuously grows, the amount of stuff in my parent’s basements diminish by the year as they pawn off boxes and furniture with random drawers filled with gaming erm… jewels. This weekend I ransacked my dad’s basement and here is what I dragged out of darkness.
While I’m a big fan of the D&D as the wellspring from which most gaming today flowed, the game itself has a history of pretty terrible rules, many of which exist in the nether realms of these small books from back when I was in kindergarten. This little book could be the very reason Games Workshop decided to make Warhammer Fantasy Battle back in the day as the rules are really just that bad: and to think, I actually played this as part of some early 80’s D&D campaigns. This will probably sit in my basement shitter for a month or so and then get put away along with all the other old D&D stuff.
Ah Paranoia–an RPG with near 100% death rate for the Player Characters during any given SESSION, let alone a campaign. Sure sure, there were 6 clones of the PC’s each, but that basically meant that no campaign could go more than 6 sessions for fear of the entire cadre of characters being wiped out. It was fun and a refreshing change from dungeon crawling or being driven insane by elder things back in Jr. High, and this is certainly the best edition. Like many of my boxed games hidden away in dark recess of my basements, this came with some extras. In the bottom of the box looks to be the complete chit-set from the Ogre influenced Battlesuit game as well as a mess of stand up cardboard armies from Steve Jackson. I’m assuming they were used to represent the characters during their ill-fated adventures.
The reason for my delve into the dank basement over the weekend was to search for a copy of the original Squad Leader, which I remember seeing in someone’s attic/basement/shelf back in the 80’s. While Panzer Leader is really not what I was looking for, I grabbed it anyway. It had a touch of mould on the box, but everything else looked great for it’s age and the counters are surprisingly high quality compared to today’s games. In addition, the extras include a chrome-plastic Transformers weapon, a few cavalry figures from THIS comic book ad, a staff from one of the lava dudes from Crystar the Crystal Warrior, a mess of counters for some Napoleonic SPI game and what looks to be the Dark Tower dragon (with his base broken off).
All in all, some great and terrible finds. Sadly I could do the same sort of crap hunt in my own basement and be just as surprised.
Mount and Blade: Warbands released today, continues onward from humble beginnings into a major release that hopefully has the Elder Scrolls/Dragon Age/Gothic/Fable creators a little nervous as this tiny indy developer has shown HOW TO PROPERLY DO THIRD PERSON WEAPON COMBAT. Need we say more? Demo to level 7 but you know deep in your heart that you need the full version.