Pokemon Go – A Casual Player’s Reaction

If you haven’t heard of this small mobile game that has taken over the world by now I’m pretty sure you’re either living in a cave, or you cut yourself off from all popular culture deliberately as you find yourself above such plebeian pleasures – either of which would make it very unlikely for you to be reading this very blog (although with the second one I still find it hard to believe you wouldn’t have even *heard* of it), so let’s forgo the basic description and get right down to it.

Pokemon Go is a phenomenal success – never in their wildest dreams did Nintendo predict it becoming as popular as it has done. Children run around with their parents, adults who grew up with the original Red and Blue run around with mixed feelings of excitement and nostalgia, hardcore gamers mingling with us casuals and even those who don’t generally play anything more complicated than Candy Crush – all running to parks and public venues to battle gyms/collect items and catch Pokemon.

I think one of the things I have loved about this game is that you see people playing it *everywhere*. Last night the future-husband and I were in the car driving to where we believed a Bulbasaur spawn nest was located, and not only did we see kids running around looking for it, we saw people our own age (and older) in their cars with passengers bathed in the electronic glow of multiple phones. I then went on Facebook and my friend had posted that she had spent her date night with her husband on the hunt for elusive ‘mons. It’s EVERYWHERE.

People have posted time and again how important this game has been in helping people connect, and although I could happily join in I realise I would just be repeating things better said elsewhere, so I will try to limit the gushing. What I will say is something that the FH (see I’m abbreviating it now) said to me when we started playing this together:

“I love that I’m part of something mainstream again.”

We geeks do love and embrace our identity, but sometimes I think we forget how fun it is to be able to engage with something we enjoy with literally anyone. The FH has managed to go out and started to recognise familiar faces on Poke-Hunts, and then start up conversations about what they have caught and if anything good is nearby. I don’t think he realises it, but the quote I shared (probably paraphrased by my terribly memory) is something he has started to regularly say when we talk about the game, or when we’re out together hunting (HA! Never thought there would be an innocent and environmentally way to talk about hunting did you?!), so I know how much he’s enjoying that feeling.

pokemon go loading screen

I will say this though – the game isn’t perfect. Because they didn’t predict the kind of global reaction this game has received, the servers are nowhere near stable and glitch all the goddamn time. And don’t even get me started on my issue with the sensitivity of throwing a bloody pokeball (my depth perception with this isn’t the best either, so I piss through pokeballs which irritates me no end). My last bugbear is the tracking, which is broken to all hell. In fact it is so bad I’m pretty sure that’s why Pokevision has become so popular (although I don’t really believe that, people will do anything to get a legendary).

But I forgive all of these. If the game kicks you out, you just wait and try to get back in when you can. Pokevision is a good alternative to tracking whilst its still broken, and has resorted in some pretty spectacular sights (the FH went out to catch a Snorlax at a school nearby, he arrived at the same time as a bunch of cars, and then proceeded to watch a stream of people break into school grounds and run across to catch this one guy. I would like to point out at this time he did not join in, instead he came back to tell me about it)

The positives definitely outweigh the bugs that come with Nintendo quickly learning how to wrestle this epic beast they have created. They have persuaded people to run around outside, and socialise in groups they wouldn’t otherwise. All whilst playing the most hated of gaming platforms – the free-to-play mobile phone game. I tip my hat to them all.

It also means I can fulfill my dream to become the Joey Rattata of Psyducks. Top percentage of Psyducks here I come!

Marina's_Psyduck

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Stardew Valley – The Adorable Way to Farm

So this has been a busy June/July for me – in the space of one month I went from working as a contractor, to being unemployed, to working as a fully permanent employee (take that old job! You jerks!). During my unemployment “holiday” (read: “being a no good jobless bum time”), I went to visit my friend and she showed me a game she was playing – Stardew Valley.

When she explained me to what Stardew Valley was about, the first thing that sprung to mind was Harvest Moon – and then immediately after that remembering how goddamn awful I was at playing it. I’m not talking about your fancy DS and what-have-you Harvest Moon, oh no! My memories are from my dusty Playstation, buying my copy and sitting in front of my tiny TV/VHS combo (if that doesn’t age me I don’t know what will) worrying about whether or not I will have enough decent crops to just scrape by and make any kind of profit. Seriously, I was the worst at that game and gave up pretty quickly.

Harvest Moon Back to Nature – Another historical gem in the list of “games I suck at”

My friend was quick to assure me that whilst the basic premise of Stardew Valley was pretty similar – you own a farm, you grow stuff on it and make it better, this game was way less pressure to actually be good at it. And she was right.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older and therefore wiser (one would hope), or whether or not this game is actually designed to be easier, but I have played a full year (in-game *obviously*), and I’ve got to say I’m not actually doing that bad! I’ve managed to upgrade my farmhouse (I own my very own kitchen *smug*), got some farm animals that haven’t died or are even remotely close to death, and I even have completed a few quests (like going off to find the mayor’s underwear in the bedroom of one of his “friends”) So naturally my success has inspired me to stop being useless and finally get back into this writing malarky.

Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulation role-playing video game developed by ConcernedApe and published by Chucklefish Games. Released in February 2016, this labour of love by Eric Barone has taken the cute aesthetic of Harvest Moon, combined it with a soundtrack and adventure-feel/dungeon exploring similar to Terraria, and produced a game that is so relaxing and just pleasant to play. When I log on and see those pixel birds fly across the sky I get a warm fuzzy feeling.

I also know I will lose *hours* of my life, just playing through “one more day” or “just until the next season” – I’m not much of a gamer (as you all may remember), but I have found myself sitting in front of my computer screen at 4am forcing myself to log out and go to bed. I can’t help myself, it is that addictive (plus when I’m close to getting another heart with Abigail goddamn it I will stay awake to make it happen!)

stardew valley abigail love
My experience of Stardew Valley relationships (source:Tumbler lollibeepop)

There are so many different elements to this game, that it doesn’t matter if you suck at one – there *will* be something that you are good at to balance it out; farming, animals, fishing, foraging, dungeon crawling/adventuring – there is definitely something for everyone. I’ve been doing ok on pretty much everything (*humblebrag*), but if anything that shows you that this game is pretty playable on the scale of difficulty. There are plenty of people to wander round and befriend/woo (I’m looking at you Abigail, you beautiful purple-haired siren), and as long as you have the wiki open on a screen next to you it is so satisfyingly easy to see those hearts fill up. Before you know it you have the townsfolk saying hello to you in the town square, and you can feel a part of that happy little community.

The best way to sum up this game is to think about the goal/audience this game is aimed at. Is it aimed at full on players who play to win? Probably not. Is it aimed at providing an adorable, fuzzy, light-hearted experience for someone to dip into and escape the day-to-day? Absolutely. You play a person escaping the boredom of everyday life to look after a farm in this magical town, and I believe that this is true for the player in real life.

Buy this game, tend to your (surprisingly large) patch of farmland where you can make your own mayonnaise to tempt your future wife. I guarantee that like me you will find yourself coming back to reality at 4am wondering where the time went, but at the same time not regretting a single minute.

 

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The Cheat Sheet to Character Design

Our little Smashface Family kicked off a new D&D 5e campaign this weekend just gone (6th Feb). We’ve been discussing it for a while, but at the beginning of the year we started sorting out dates and  I had to actually think about pulling my character together.

Now ever since I can remember my online/gaming/rpg persona is a redheaded tall woman by the name of “Sai Rei”. If you have seen any reference to this name in forums or on FF14 then chances are that is me. I loved identifying with a strong, powerful yet slim and attractive woman (don’t all women everywhere?) who had a fucking big gun.

But this time I decided to switch it up. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to play as but it I wasn’t sure how to flesh out my ideas – do I figure out the full background and squeeze the stats to fit, or do I decide how I want to play the game and then make the person match? Or is it completely a 50/50 approach?

Our band of merry adventurers took a variety of approaches to character creation (some writing their backgrounds at the table during the big introduction), and I thought I would share a little bit about mine (because I was actually ridiculously proud of my dwarven fighter).

So, as I said before I had a *vague* idea of what I wanted. I still love to hack and slash (I just don’t enjoy fighting from the back) so I knew I was going to be either a fighter or a barbarian, and I knew that I was going to play a female dwarf. But a picture began to fill in the more I thought about it, and I decided that for me at least, the best way to flesh out this character was to think about her in terms of personality and background, and then the stats could be moulded to fit.

This was by far the most fun I have had with a character for a long time. I saw this kind and motherly figure in my head and just knew that was what I wanted to play. For those that have read Terry Pratchett I basically wanted a Nanny Ogg warrior. I saw her waddling round the countryside with pockets stuffed full of rock cakes (that could be used as rocks), her hammer strapped to her back and the medieval equivalent of a photo wallet crammed with illustrations of her many children.

Think this, but less witchy…

 

Dwarf Picture
Like this! (Original by AnekaShu)

The background and history for my motherly dwarven warrior was fairly easy to pull together. I googled some Dwarven names and picked some out I liked, I even went so far as to google basic Dwarvish to create a name for her Warhammer (no judgement people). What I found hard was the last part – making the stats fit.

If any of you readers have gone to the trouble of filling out a character sheet for D&D you will realise it is not the easiest of endeavours. So many numbers to roll and boxes to fill it – I genuinely found it hard to keep track of what stat affected what bonus and as a result needed ticking in which box. During our initial game our group was still arguing over the finer points on calculating successes for various skill checks or attack rolls.

Normally when playing a character I try to keep my stats fairly balanced. This time I decided to be more creative, and I think having a fully fleshed out character beforehand game be some additional confidence to do so. In the end I made her a full fighter – strong, dexterous yet not at all bright. I gave her some charisma (she did manage to have 8 children afterall), and put some points into wisdom (raising children means you know when they are up to no good and you learn when someone is trying to lie to you.) Therefore the skills I picked were Athletics and Insight (at 284 she’s bound to have gotten insight into something!)

My main focus when pulling these stats together was to create someone I wanted to actually *play* rather than someone that would be useful to the group. To be honest my impression of D&D is that if you enjoy playing a character and put your effort into playing them properly, the DM should reward that and as a result you will help your group.

So after this experience what would my advice me to anyone creating a character from scratch?

  • Pull together a couple of key points you think would be fun to play. I picked motherly, wise, warrior
  • Have a fun side note to flesh out the character – mine was a terrible cook, and will literally go talk to any Bard to see if they have news of her children
  • Don’t worry about the stats until the end – if you have a good idea what type of person you are playing, you will have a good base to figure out which skills fit them best and will give you the most to work with

Most of all – HAVE FUN WITH IT. If you enjoy the process, you will create a fully thought out and interesting character. Seeing a person in your head helps you bring them to life, helping you bring them to the table. Don’t worry about what your group needs or what someone else wants you to play, a good DM will tailor a campaign to fit your needs. So enjoy yourself!

What characters do you like to play? Let us know in the comments below!

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What’s New Kickstarter??????

And we are back! Here is another installment in the “WNK” series (and yes, I can see what the initials sound like…). In this series I browse Kickstarter on a monthly basis and pull out a couple of games (mainly board games) that really catch my eye.

We had a small break at the end of last year, for which I can only apologise. However we have a fresh start for 2016, so let us see what the new year brings game-wise.

Let’s see what we have for January!

Karmaka – A tactical card game for 2-4 souls

Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eddybox/karmaka-a-tactical-card-game-for-2-4-souls?ref=category_popular

Game by Eddy Boxerman
$36,656 pledged of $20,000 goal
28 Days to go (18/02/2016)

This game really caught my eye. The premise for this is that everyone begins as a Dung Beetle, and you play out each “life” to work your way up the Karmic Ladder to reach Transcendence. Each Life is played using a hand of cards, and players play those cards to reach 3 objectives:

  • Score enough points to climb the Ladder and keep up with your rivals.
  • Stash a good selection of cards to your “Future Life”. This will become your opening hand next life.
  • Play cards for their abilities to help yourself or to hinder others. But what goes around comes around. A key tension in Karmaka is that after playing a card for its ability, a rival may take the card into their Future Life. Your actions may come back to haunt you in the next life…

Note the last point – I *love* this idea. Other games have tried to incorporate a consequences element to a player’s actions, but this one manages to not only add a brilliant tactical element to a fairly simple card game, but it also does it in a way that fits with the context of the whole game.

The artwork looks to be beautiful, with the karmic ladder painted as a twisting vine with a variety of creatures on it all on the path to enlightenment. The cards are wonderfully detailed as well, with even the images of dung beetles rolling dung artfully drawn.

The site has included positive reviews from places like PAX South, and awards from the Boston Festival of Indie Games, so already the game seems like a safe investment.

In fact, for the first time since starting this Kickstarter series – I am so in love with this game I have personally backed it with my own money! So when it comes in expect an excited review in a future post.

Control: A Strategic Card Game

Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keymastergames/control-a-strategic-card-game?ref=category_popular

Game by Keymaster Games
$6,479 pledged of $7,500 goal
29 Days to go (19/02/2016)

This game is a quick card game, inspired by titles such as Love Letter (brilliant quick card game), Magic the Gathering and Cuttle. The aim of this combat card game is for players to use Fuel Cells (the cards) to refuel their time machines and to escape the rupture that has trapped them all outside of time.

Games generally run 5-15 minutes so gameplay is extremely quick and easy to learn. On their turn, a player chooses ONE of the following:

  • Draw a card. A player may not draw if they have seven cards in hand.
  • Install a Silver or Bronze Fuel Cell in their area of play. The Fuel Cell Charge on installed cards goes toward a player’s goal of 21 or more to win. Abilities on Silver Fuel Cells are activated when installed.
  • Burn a Bronze Fuel Cell to the discard pile to activate its ability.
  • Defuse an opponent’s fuel cells with a Fuel Cell of your own of equal or higher value.

I generally like quick card games as a rule, and combined with the sci-fi/steampunk-esque artwork I think this game is definitely a winner. The designs on the box make me think of Dr Who and Gallifrey (not a bad thing at all), whilst the artwork on the cards makes me think of the old Sci-fi novels and comics.

The campaign page itself is well done, with clear rules, affordable contributions that will give backers a copy of the game. And they even have a PDF print & play copy of the game available to download. Once again – to be so confident and proud of your idea that you’re willing to let people print it out themselves to play it says wonders.

Definitely one to keep an eye out for!

Dirigible Disaster-A frantic real-time co-op for 2-5 players

Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/letimangames/dirigible-disaster-a-frantic-real-time-co-op-for-2?ref=category_popular

Game by Dan Letzring
$9,194 pledged of $8,400 goal
22 Days to go (12/02/2016)

As the title already tells us, Dirigible Disaster is a co-operative boardgame set on an airship. Players must work together to keep the airship afloat during it’s maiden voyage.

Now this is the part that is really interesting; the “flight” consists of 10 1-minute rounds all played in real time. When you watch the example round they have filmed it just goes to show you how quickly the time goes, and just how in-sync the players all need to be in order to get through it and survive. The added difficulty is that players must all take turns one at a time rather than all together, so actions must be swift and a good mixture of proactive and reactive in order to make it through the round.

Now I will admit that the artwork is not the greatest, but in this game that isn’t necessary. The board is a little ugly, but with such innovative gameplay I’m willing to give it a pass.

I think this would be a great game to burn through with a group of friends as a breather between two larger games. Shouting out instructions and actions for each minute round would be the gaming equivalent to a pallet cleansing sorbet after a real meal.

Go look at these games that I’ve suggested. In fact – if you do, make sure to comment below letting me know whether they managed to convince you to go post them some money.

If you spot anything you want me to look into, be sure to let us know in the comments!

 

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Mice and Mystics – Campaign in a Box

For my birthday this year I was very lucky to receive a copy of Mice and Mystics, a board game which is like D&D but with mice.

Review done! Phew that was short….

Alright, alright – all joking aside! We finally managed to pick a rainy day where we were all free to try out this great game, and I thought I would write a review for you all.

As I summed up (very briefly) in the beginning, the easier way to describe this game to people that haven’t played it before is a “campaign in a box”. You have all the components you need to run a campaign with your friends – miniatures, drawn up characters, maps, items, even a story to play through. All you need to do is read through the rules on how to play, pick which mouse you’re going to be and play the story!

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The game is designed for 4 players running through chapters in a story, going through different rooms and fighting various “minions” to complete the objective within a set time limit. The minions follow easy rules to make their turns quick and simple for players, as it is designed to be played without a GM. Each chapter has the opportunity to earn ‘achievements’ in the game which gives you bonuses for the rest of the chapter (for example, there’s an achievement for defeating 4 roaches in one area).

Now it’s at this point I must confess we tweaked the rules a little to fit our group. The game calls for 4 players, and we regularly have 5 of us meet up to play games. Initially we ran a chapter with one of us playing a GM and controlling the enemies and controlling all the additional pieces (there is a *lot* to keep track of in this game). However for the only time in his entire life he somehow developed the ability to roll well, so after our spectacular failure at completing the chapter we decided to try it as a 5 person campaign. And to be honest I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work with that number – the difficulty is already ridiculous (the designer admitted that he wrote this game to only have a 25% success rate for completing each chapter), the only tweaking required (at least for chapter 1) was the number of players that can stand on a square. Once we agreed that we could work with 5 players on a square each scenario played out pretty well.

It took us a good hour or so to get to grips with the mechanics of the game, but once we had that it down we could focus on the game itself. The time just flew by when playing it, and as one of our group said to me after – it is one of the few campaign games where it’s easy to fully immerse into the game play and see everything unfold in front of you.

The game is really well presented, with detailed miniatures you can paint yourself if you so desire (so adorable!), and well made boards that map each location. The character cards are beautifully made with artistic drawings as well. And the story book is wonderfully illustrated as well, and written clearly so it is easy to progress through each chapter.

download

Overall I loved playing this game. Although we weren’t playing it exactly as intended, and we did play it wrong for the first couple of turns (teething problems that happen with all new games), we all had loads of fun. I didn’t even mind failing the campaign with our first run-through and was eager to play the same chapter again, a sure sign of a good game.

I highly recommend picking up a copy for your own group of adventurers. It’s a brilliant opener into playing role playing games if you are interested in trying it out, and even if you’re an old hand at them it’s a wonderful addition to any gamers collection.

If you want to see this game in action I highly recommend watching Wil Wheaton’s playthrough on TableTop – the first part is linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YquWfQ7eSU . It’s what got me interested enough to want a copy, and hopefully this article has sparked interest in getting your own copy. If you do, please let us know how you get on!

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