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Recent reviews by Ichthydion

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3 people found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
8.7 hrs on record
I started playing Plague Inc: Evolved again after COVID-19 arrived in my city. The conceit is you are a pathogen intent on wiping out humanity. So, it's on the morbid side, which may or may not be what you want in the middle of a pandemic. (It was for me, but I'm not necessarily typical.) I've wiped out humanity as a bacteria, a virus and a fungus. There are many other variations, including horror and a "fake news" scenarios, created by the developer. Included is a scenario creator which allows anyone with the game to create and publish their own versions. Not surprisingly, there are several COVID-19/coronavirus scenarios to play with.

There are two different ways to think about Plague Inc.: as a game and as a simulation. The game play mechanics are simple: collect DNA points and spend them to evolve your pathogen. Evolutions can occur in transmission, symptoms and abilities. The basic strategy is to start increasing transmission until everyone is infected and then start increasing symptoms until everyone dies. Abilities can be added to slow research into a cure or help your pathogen survive various environments. Most of the game can be played by waiting, so there's also a bubble popping mechanic that provides more DNA points randomly or when a new country is infected. So it starts to feel like a clicker game with end-states. The various pathogen differences feel more like window dressing than real game play variations. So the game isn't really all that good.

As a simulation, it's not terribly deep. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe there's depth that isn't visible to the player. As far as I can tell, there are a handful of variables the evolutions control and those determine how the pathogen is transmitted, what symptoms patients might come down with, how deadly the disease is and how quickly a cure can be found. It clearly tracks ports and boarder which can be closed down. And every country/region has it's own set of variables. So it has a vernier of simulation.

Unfortunately, the simulation doesn't track well with how pandemics are actually modeled. Take for instance this article about COVID-19[medium.com]. It uses more complex model that includes transmission rates, incubation period, infectious days, fatality rates, etc. It also considers the possibility of collateral damage that occurs when the health system is overtaxed. Plague Inc. doesn't consider how prepared a country would be to implement strict quarantine procedures or whether it might be unprepared to test for the disease. As it turns out, these factors play a large part in determining how well a country does in a pandemic.

But the larger problem is that the game aspect of Plague Inc. interferes with the simulation aspect. A pandemic might conceivably destroy civilization, but it won't have the advantage of being controlled by an intelligence that can adjust the lethality of the pathogen. The mutations that might occur will not be the simple toggles made necessary to play the game nor can they be reverted as a part of a larger strategy.

Still, the two parts together are morbidly fascinating. The "what if" aspect of the game is quite strong even if the game play and simulation are weak. I've certainly been captivated by it the times I've played. But there's never quite been enough to propel to the next pathogen I unlock. Instead, I just feel like uninstalling the game and contemplating the fleetingness of life after I've masterminded the death of humanity.
Posted March 21, 2020.
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1 person found this review helpful
266.1 hrs on record (64.2 hrs at review time)
During the 90s, Magic: The Gathering set off a craze of collectable card games. These required players to build a deck of cards to compete with each other. For people willing to invest the time and money to play, these games were incredibly engaging. Maybe the most enjoyable way to play was the card draft in which players would open new packs of cards and select cards one by one hoping to create an effective deck. Later games like Dominion, Ascension and Star Realms (to name games I played) dispensed with the "collectable" aspect of the game by releasing complete sets of cards and building the drafting system into the core of the game. The result is a far more approachable system that can be introduced to new players.

Slay the Spire takes that basic deck builder game and turns it into a finely tuned solo game. In theory this could be a physical game, but there's a lot going on just under the surface that makes it best suited for a computer. For instance, the enemies follow simple rules for what they do each turn, but there's a definite progression of challenge to your deck's increasing strength. Also you start collecting relics that change the basic rules of the game. Finally, there are a wide variety of status effects, potions and powers that need to be accounted for. Doing it all on a table top would be tedious and slow, but the computer makes this stuff fast.

Fast play is important too. After a few games you get to know the rhythms of combat. When to block and when to attack are the basic choices, but later you need to use your deck efficiently. Playing cards shouldn't take very long and most enemies can be defeated in a few minutes. The real challenge of the game is picking one (or zero!) cards from a draw of three at the end of every combat. In other words, building your deck.

Each game will work out a bit differently based on early draws and your choice of cards. Collecting block cards might lead you down a path of defense and waiting for chances to strike. (Ideally getting a Shield Strike card.) Collecting cards that focus on other abilities results in other types of play. The real joy of the game is discovering deck strategies that combine cards in imaginative ways. To be clear, the game design is the source of the strategies. Players merely discover them. But when you do, it feels as if you've made a scientific breakthrough.

There are now four different characters to play and each has a very different set of mechanics build into their card sets. Finding the strategies of one won't help reveal the strategies of the other characters. The enemies you face along the way seem to be the same for each character, but they get increasingly challenging and interesting. Once you play through to the end, you'll have a good idea of what you need to be prepared for in the next run. Unlike so many other games, this one doesn't seem to wear out once you've completed a run. There are always more things to unlock and discover.

I'm not sure if it's true, but it very much feels as if the game should always be beaten if the player plays well. There's a quirk where you can go back to the start of a combat by quitting the game before the final blow. I've used that feature to replay combats that I've lost decisively with the same order of cards and enemy moves. Usually the second time results in a win for me as I avoid mistakes. Still, I normally just take the lose because I can see I picked cards poorly. I never feel the game is unfair; I just feel like I made mistakes I could have avoided. A good deal of this comes from being able to see enemy actions before they are made and having a somewhat predictable enemy progression.

The game also includes a bunch of cards and relics to unlock, a daily challenge mode and plenty of statistics to chew on. It rewards replay without a whiff of grinding. And it can be played in short play sessions or while listening to something else. It's an excellent blend of simplicity and depth.
Posted December 3, 2019.
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7 people found this review helpful
2.5 hrs on record (2.2 hrs at review time)
Almost There naturally gets compared to Super Meat Boy. It is a punishingly challenging platformer that requires many attempts and nearly perfect execution to complete the short levels. There are only two control verbs: horizontal control and jump. Every other mechanic arises from the environment. For instance, long platforms allow the player to gain enough momentum to make longer jumps and vertical surfaces enable wall jumps. The levels introduce new mechanics in smart ways so you never feel overwhelmed or stuck. Instead, your focus can stay on planning your movement and perfecting your actions.

Still, this game lacks a lot of Super Meat Boy's character. I mean this in a literal sense as you control a cube in a sterile environment. Sometimes elaborate themes and story can be distracting, you know? Perhaps a better comparison is 140, another platformer featuring a square. (Though, that box turns into a circle when rolling and a triangle in the air.) The one bit of character Almost There's box has is a red line, which seems to be a bit of ribbon according to the cover art. It serves a useful purpose of streaming behind to show where you've travelled.

Despite being demanding, it is possible to make progress through the levels if you take your time and plan your route. I suspect the square shape aids platforming by making platform edges obvious. Like Super Meat Boy, the levels are short and it's easy enough to try again. Unlike SMB, you don't restart the level immediately after failing. Instead, you have to press a button. I think this is intended as an aid to speedrunning so that you can prepare to start the run immediately. Completing levels under certain time thresholds earn extra stars. (I think the stars unlock new words, but that's unclear.) In my opinion, it would be better to just boot the player back into the level without a button press. That encourages the player to do focused practice that can help them learn to be better at the game. Also, and this mostly fun, I miss Super Meat Boy's replay feature which shows all the ways you failed before beating a level.

Many of the mechanics (especially the spinning buzz saws) harken back to Super Meat Boy. Some of the challenges seem a bit closer to plagiarism than homage. If you are going to copy, take from the best, I suppose. Still, there are plenty of unique (as far as I know) ideas here. More importantly, Almost There captures the tension and release cycle that makes for the best platforming experience. You are in complete control of that little box whether using the keyboard or controller, so yours is the responsibility of failure and so is the glory of success.
Posted August 9, 2019.
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1 person found this review helpful
10.3 hrs on record (9.1 hrs at review time)
I got this game in a bundle a few years ago and assumed it was some sort of turn-based wargame. Going through the main campaign was pretty easy until I hit a wall on about the 8th or 9th level (of 19). It seemed like a poorly designed game with a very uneven difficulty curve. So I uninstalled it and forgot it existed. Recently, I noticed there was a sale on Zachtronics games. Since I enjoyed the SpaceChem demo and was interested in programming-type games, I thought I'd see if anything caught my eye. Imagine my surprise when I noticed I already owned one of their games: Ironclad Tactics. Knowing the developer and their style of game, I thought I'd give it another shot.

In truth, this is a deck-building puzzle game with steampunk story set in the Civil War-era United States. You can't necessarily play the game in a straightforward way. The strategy comes from selecting cards before each battle starts. There is tactics within each stage to pull off your chosen strategy, but winning is mostly about getting the right cards. So doing well means collecting the right cards and knowing how to use them. All the stages can (and should) be replayed to get new cards if you perform certain feats, such as using a particular set of cards. Many cards can be upgraded by meeting certain conditions, such as using them to attack a certain number of enemies or get a number of victory points.

The trick is it's hard to know how to pick cards until you play the stage and fail. You might get lucky the first time by picking cards that happen to work well, but that's the exception. It might help to look at the optional goals, but winning those often depends on cards that you aren't guaranteed to have yet. Trial and error don't exactly work the best with a narrative game. Neither does replaying the mission you just beat to beat it a different way. This might be why the story doesn't stick with me at all.

On the other hand, building an effective deck and using it well can be a lot of fun. The true gameplay loop includes quitting a mission halfway when you realize a card isn't working or you need another card added in. Often a card seems pointless when you first get it, but starts looking useful when you try later stages or combine them with newly unlocked cards. Some levels have puzzles that illustrate the use of certain cards. (The puzzles aren't all that hard, but they are reasonably enjoyable and quick.)

Putting together decks is somewhat simplified by not allowing more than 2 factions. Since each faction has distinct characteristics, you can plan decks that combine strengths. The levels have an interesting variety of obstacles and a few have unique objectives which give more reason to explore various deck combinations. Each deck is also given appropriately themed names such as "The Monroe Engagement" and "Remarkable Bastion". (I don't know if there is any particular method to these names or if they are just random.)

Considering there is a New Game Plus mode and the expansions are now bundled with the base game, there's plenty of content and replayability here. My sessions tend to be short since they do get puzzly and my brain gets tired after I complete a challenge. I do enjoy returning to the game after a break, however. I might complain a bit about the luck required sometimes (often when a needed card doesn't show up), but that's part of the challenge of building an effective deck. Most likely the solution is to swap out whatever cards aren't helping.

In summary: an enjoyable game if you know what you are getting yourself into.
Posted June 20, 2019. Last edited June 20, 2019.
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1 person found this review helpful
1.5 hrs on record
After an hour and a half, I think it's safe to say this is a funny game. It starts by putting your character on top of an airplane with an RPG to shoot out air defense systems like some sort of insane barnstorming terrorist. But the line that got me was when I accidentally baled out of a car, watched it shoot off a cliff and the protagonist said, "A perfect parking spot!" The gameplay mechanics seem ripe for goofy fun. I enjoyed shooting a cable at a billboard I was tasked to destroy and attaching the other end of the cable to a truck. It's almost like Spiderman meets American Graffiti.

I'm less certain the story or the quest lines will keep my interest for long. Funny doesn't always mean fun. Also, I get the impression some of the early scenarios are supposed to be more funny than they actually are for me. Still, worth picking up in a sale or whatnot.
Posted April 19, 2019.
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1 person found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
0.4 hrs on record (0.4 hrs at review time)
UBERMOSH is a simple and very difficult arcade game similar to Robotron: 2084. As a smooth twin-skick shooter, it plays equally well with a mouse and keyboard or gamepad. (I usually find a mouse better for precision aiming and the gamepad for twitchy movement. I think the gamepad is slightly better for this game.) Enemies (technically competitors) stream in from the edges of the playfield attempting to kill you. Fortunately, you are armed with a gun and a sword. The sword is particularly useful as it serves both close combat and deflecting bullets. The game offers several player classes, including an arguably overpowered sword-only Kensai which can use no guns, but gets 6 lives. Mastering the sword is the key to the game, so it's a good class to start with.

You will die—constantly. Winning isn't possible, but there are steam achievements and high scores. (I gather a round ends after 90 seconds, which could be considered a win state if you make it.) It's really a classic arcade style designed to eat quarters. Fortunately, restarting is free (and quick). The idea is to keep learning from mistakes and improving your skill. It can feel a little bit unfair since the viewport is small compared to field of play. Enemies and projectiles come from all directions, but it would be nice to see more so that you can plan your moves. Still, most hits can be avoided with skill.

Also, quite listenable music.
Posted December 20, 2018. Last edited December 20, 2018.
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7 people found this review helpful
9.2 hrs on record (0.1 hrs at review time)
On my Mac, this game gets stuck on a black screen at launch. I've seen a workaround for Linux, but it didn't work immediately for me. So I gave up trying to fix it. In any case, there's no reason the developer shouldn't patch the game since it's advertised for Mac.

If this gets fixed (or if I end up playing on WIndows), I'll update this review.
Posted October 12, 2018. Last edited January 5, 2019.
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1 person found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
1.3 hrs on record
Effective humor depends on timing. When you tell a good joke, the punchline arrives unexpectedly. Therefore, it's a bit hard to make jokes in games where the player's decisions change the flow of the setup. So interactive fiction could be a good way to deliver kitchen appliance double entendre. Unfortunately, this particular game is too wordy by half and the jokes get old before they are wrapped up. Then there's a really dumbed-down game vaguely reminiscent of Burgertime. Some of the jokes (the toaster and knife) are kinda clever, but there too many empty words so the jokes get old.

I decided to get all the achievements, which wasn't a good use of time. (I had a movie running on another screen since the game is mindless.) Unfortunately, the spacebar skips the dialog and also selects an option. So you gotta be a bit careful if you don't want just pick the default option. There's only one save, so you gotta do some planning to get each ending. It's the closest you get gameplay, so that's something.

I was a bit worried the game would go pornographic. The text is super suggestive and there's a final image with the male protagonist, er, player character with a bare chest for each ending. If the writer had just gotten out of the way of the jokes, I probably would recommend the experience for people who like off-the-wall humor of a sexual nature. That was not to be.
Posted October 1, 2018. Last edited October 1, 2018.
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4 people found this review helpful
5.7 hrs on record
D-Day requires two units that hadn't previously been introduced to the Tank Battle series: paratroopers and landing craft. Both come with quirks that make them a bit gamey.

Many missions use landing craft that come in two varieties: regular and gigantic. In order to land heavy equipment, such as tanks, on the beach, the Allies used LCT (Landing Craft, Tank). In the game, these occupy 7(!?!) hexes and hold up to three units. Alternatively, LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel AKA Higgins boats) occupy one hex and hold two units. The trick is maneuvering LCTs so that armor can provide cover for infantry. It can also be a struggle to unload engineers early so they can clear mines. Landing craft blocking the next wave of units seems like an authentic problem the Allies faced. Somewhat less authentic is mortars and artillery raining shells on the enemy while still on the landing craft. The main advantage is they aren't clogging the beaches.

Paratroopers work like off-map artillery except a new unit materializes in an empty hex. This can be very convenient to capture strategic and control points. The landing zone must be within the visible area of the map and not on a building or an enemy unit. Otherwise, you have complete freedom and the drop will go exactly as you order. While that's handy, it's hard to connect the mechanism with the historical reality. Real airborne drops were chaotic and disorganized. Paratroopers often found themselves in unknown territory far from their objectives. For the sake of the game, I suppose deterministic drops are best. But I wish there were some way to simulate the confusion of the actual invasion.

Speaking of historical simulation, the maps of the beaches were designed to reflect the actual battlefields including German pillboxes, obstructions and fortifications. Other missions are more thematic than modeled directly after Normandy events. Frankly, the historical missions tend to be tedious. It's just a lot of maneuvering and slow chipping away at German fortifications. I suppose that's what it was really like. One way the level designers enlivened these missions is by sub-goals. If the Allies capture certain points, they can stop German artillery.

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the Tank Battle series with novel features.
Posted September 25, 2018.
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3 people found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
2.2 hrs on record
I've been reviewing the Tank Battle series and it's getting hard to differentiate the games now. East Front might be "the one with the odd campaign interface". Instead of showing the flags of your army and the opposition, this installment gives you a choice of dates from 1941 to 1945 and "Core". Then you see a cryptic set of campaigns with names like "Attack!", "Momentum" and "Collapse". Finally, you can work through a series of missions with slightly less mundane names ("January Thunder", for instance). I believe all of these missions involve just German and Russian forces, so you really need to be interested in their combat equipment.

If you are the sort who cares about each variation of the Panzer III (and II and IV, etc.), this is the game for you. According to the feature list, there's even a chance to deploy flamethrower tanks. Unfortunately, I have no idea which missions might include them since the campaign menu is so convoluted. Other than the model differences, it can be hard to tell the difference between one tank variation and the next. Instead of changing the way you use units, the variations mostly seem distinct only in having slightly different stats.

Poking at the missions randomly, I did find one new mechanic that added to the experience. Some missions give an option to destroy AA guns in order to grant the player with air support. In theory, that would give players a choice in how they tackle the battle. Instead of racing to the final control point, it might be better to divert a few units to accomplish the optional objective and call in more firepower. However, the one mission I found with this feature didn't use it well. Since there was a bridge to the final objective, there was a traffic jam. So it didn't cost anything to move a few units out of line and take care of the AA.

I still recommend this game, but not as strongly as Tank Battle: Blitzkrieg and others in the series.
Posted September 21, 2018.
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Showing 1-10 of 42 entries