Good iphone game: Kingdoms: New Lands

Pretty much every iphone game is shit; total garbage that should never be bothered with at all. However, with every rule, there are exceptions and while incredibly rare– like one per year, it is possible for there to be a few good iphone games. Dreamquest, SmartGo, Ascension, King of Dragon Pass are the main three, as for the rest I make the mistake of buying and installing, one by one they step down into the darkness before the footlamps, destined for a night that is eternal and without name.

That said, Kingdoms: New Lands is pretty great! I finally finished the game last week and even went back to try stuff on various islands for fun. The game is essentially a real time tower defense where you build a town/castle and then try to survive attacks from trolls until you can rebuild your boat and get the fuck off the island you are on before a troll steals your crown. You do this solely by riding around on a horse distributing and collecting gold. You can run your horse, walk your horse, stop for your horse to eat, pick up gold, disburse gold and that’s it! You cannot attack, you can’t shoot a bow, you can’t talk to anyone in the game. Walk, Run, eat, collect, disperse.

One thing the game does is not tell you how or what to do at all. What are the cabins in the woods? What do the different horses do? Why are the trolls attacking and what do they do? I’m going to keep this recommendation very short as to not spoil anything. You can build various stuff and interact with the stuff on the islands in different ways: shrines, trees, horses, portals, etc. Advice: don’t go off at night. Get catapults quick.

Aesthetically the game is fantastic, rendered in a beautifully pixilated side scrolling world with an elegance that approaches Dungeon of The Endless.  The weather effects, change of day, change of seasons (!?) and changes  in light as you run through the woods are worth the purchase of the game alone. While containing some specific elements always, such as a dock and a cliff portal for trolls, each island is somewhat randomly generated.

I was fairly enthralled by this until I was able to finally finish it, and I bet you will be too.

New Elder Sign expansion means new Elder Sign Expansion for the iphone (plus blood bowl)!

unseenFantasy Flight announced a new expansion for the excellent Elder Sign (which is a lighter, better version of Arkham Horror) which means, soon, we will get it on the iPhone. While I don’t know anyone that actually owns the cardboard version of the game– just about everyone has the iphone version to be mentally raped by Cthulhu and friends while riding the bus to work.

…And an expansion for the Blood Bowl Team Manager game is coming soon. I’ve had a bad experience with the Team Manager game after a couple plays that I felt I automatically lost because I went last each game so I’m skeptical if it will be worth it as it never hits the table. However, the expansion DOES include the Dark Elves so there’s that. Everyone knows the Dark Elves are the best.

What to play on the Win2K box?

With my gaming rig down for the count and Bulletstorm, Singularity, BFBC2 and Shogun Total War 2 are a distant dream so I’ve spanned some time on my Windows 2000  box that is going on 11 years old now and still cranking!  Typically I use it for Close Combat almost exclusively as I have most of the series installed (though I have to dig around for the cd’s–how antiquated…).  Yesterday I found a gem installed right on the C: drive:  CHAOS OVERLORDS published by New World Computing back in the elder times — also responsible for HOMM and Hammer of the Gods.  It’s a CCG-like game of area control and gang warfare that allows you to research tech, hire gangs that randomly come up in a queue and extort protection money for the businesses and buildings in your regions.  Like Imperialism from back in the day, Chaos Overlords is notable because I have NEVER won a game.  Even without victory, it’s quite fun to play until you get simultaneously attacked by all the other gangs at once.

Secondly, one of my favorite games from the 90’s– King of Dragon Pass is still hanging out on my win2K’s hard drive awaiting invocation.  While it requires the disk during play, this is a game that I cannot believe hasn’t come out on Steam or GOG, though it looks like it’s being developed for the iPad.  It’s difficult to describe as it’s a little like a Koei strategy title but also a bit of an adventure game with a series of random events obviously very keyed to your current situation in the game.  These random events path, so if your clan adopts a certain red-headed girl when prompted, later random events will be keyed to the fact that she is part of your clan.  If you never accepted her, another set of events are keyed.  Since this happens across a myriad of events, it’s never the same game twice, though you will see the beginnings of event-trees over and over.    My initial games were extremely blood thirsty, choosing to fill my Elder Circle with followers of Humakt (the god of war) and go forth and kick ass on my rival clans.  It turns out the balanced path is the one that wins the game as it’s not about conquest, but forming a tribe of other clans, and then a kingdom through a series of rituals where a member of your Elder circle enters into the lands of the gods.  A brilliantly unique experience.

I can abide 2 weeks or so of this… maybe…

Small World for iPad review

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.

Pondering the race selection as Spider looks on at something else entirely.

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…

greasy
All the touching makes for a real greasy iPad in mere moments of play.

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.