Tag Archive For "review"

Risk Legacy: In Defense of a Disposable Board Game

Risk Legacy is a $50 board game that you’ll probably only play 15 times.

If I had tried to sell you on that concept twenty years ago you probably would have laughed in my face. Board games have long been vaunted for their replay value and durability. If you grew up in the burbs, it’s likely you knew someone with a venerable iteration of Clue or a well-worn Monopoly set from fifties. Passed across generations like family heirlooms, these games are often hidden away in closets until a rainy day rolls around, when they are counted on for hours of entertainment. They’re usually good for a couple of shouting matches fist-fights too!

However, this reliability comes with a cost: predictability.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’re about half an hour into a game of Monopoly. After a few trips around the board, you’ve somehow managed to secure both Atlantic and Ventnor Avenue. Your brother, the insufferable jerk he is, has Marvin Gardens.

And the only way you’re going to get it is prying it out of his cold, dead hands.

You know the rules of the game too well. Allowing a player to get a complete set of properties is a death knell for everyone else at the table. So you wait, and you wait, and you wait… until someone hits a streak of bad luck and goes bankrupt. Or maybe, they get just desperate enough to make a deal. Then the rest of the dominoes fall and you embark upon a merry-go-round of crushing debt.

The original version of Risk, released way back 1959, often falls into a similar rut. The rules are about as simple as you can get: occupy land, attack your enemies, and try to take over the world. With such obvious objectives, you end up in the same obstructionist patterns as Monopoly – except with global politics rather that capitalist feuds. “We can’t let Matt take New Guinea and get the continent bonus!” or “Brooke almost has all of North America, stop her!” or “Watch out, Geoff has Irkutsk!”

Well, maybe not Irkutsk. Nobody likes Irkutsk.

To make matters worse, death is permanent and games can go on for (literally) days. Although reaching the end of a campaign can be satisfying, it is rarely worth the hours of outrage that accompany play sessions.

Risk Legacy manages to address most of these problems by making itself disposable. Like a rocketship casting off portions of its hull to hasten its ascent, Risk Legacy hurls new content at its players to propel the game forward. You can never truly settle into a rut because you never fully get a grasp on what is going on. As soon as you think you have everything figured out, a figurative (or literal) bomb goes off and you have to scramble to pick up the pieces.

I don’t want to get too deep into spoilers, but one of the reasons that Risk Legacy succeeds is because it manages to keep the experience novel through 15 accelerated game sessions. Full global domination is not required – players can complete missions, take over bases, or a do a little bit of both to win a game. The multiple win conditions are complicated by missiles, factions, and mission/event cards: some of which are one-time-only affairs and are thrown away once they are completed. This may seem odd – even sacrilegious – to some, but there is something strangely liberating about vandalizing board game pieces.

The marquee feature of the game, however, is the fact that the board does not fully reset after every match. Cities can be built to increase the value of countries. Scars can be placed to provide boons or weaknesses to specific territories. And cataclysmic events can be unlocked by meeting certain gameplay conditions. The unlockable content is really what makes the game shine: it is entertaining, surprisingly in-depth, and forces you to reconsider your entire strategy for the game.

There are some downsides to this approach, however. The game’s “race to the most wins” mechanic means that by the twelfth or thirteenth match, some people are likely just along for the ride. Additionally, the constant parade of new rules makes game challenging for younger players (or simply less seasoned gamers). In a way, Risk Legacy is a toybox for meta-gamers. You have to think fast and find the best way to exploit a parade of new rules and mechanics.

But is $50 too much for a board game with an expiry date?

I could make a very compelling argument for the dollars-per-hour entertainment value of the game. I could also draw parallels to linear video games, Dungeons and Dragons modules, and even Escape Room experiences: all of which lose a portion of their charm after the first playthrough.

However, what Risk Legacy really feels like is a giant puzzle that you solve with your friends. Although mortal enemies in-game, you end up banding together to decipher emerging mechanics while unlocking new content. When the board is finally complete – and a victor declared – you don’t really feel like you’ve won or lost. Instead, you are greeted with a moment of clarity: like you’ve put the final piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle. It’s no wonder that so many people have chosen to frame the finished product.

Maybe $50 is a bit much for something that may just end up being a piece of wall art, but I don’t recall ever playing a game of Monopoly or Clue that I wanted to frame afterwards. Heck, half the time those game boards ended up on the floor anyways.

The Cave Review

Cave Screenshot

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I really wanted to like The Cave.

The premise caught me immediately. Start out by assembling a team of three from a rogue’s gallery of characters ranging from a perpetually flourescent time traveler, a knight in shining armour, and a pair of twins who look like they fell out of a Tim Burton movie. After making your pick, drop down into a mysterious cave and delve into the dark backstories of your party.

Oh, and did I mention the cave is alive and narrates the game?

It’s an eccentric title, but that’s to be expected from Rob Gilbert. Also to be expected is that puzzle solving takes a forefront in the adventure. Only this time, the game trades the point-and-click mechanics of classic titles like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island for more contemporary puzzle platforming mechanics.

You’ll spend the majority of the game picking up items, carrying them somewhere else, or flipping switches. The subterranean environments – replete with ropes, pitfalls, and spiked pits – naturally lend themselves to their fair share of jumping, climbing, and running as well.

Perhaps a little too much. One of the biggest obstacles to my enjoyment of the game is the large amount of legwork demanded of the player. Each section of the cave is sprawling. While this does contribute to the disorienting tone of the game, it’s also a huge time sink. Running to one side of a map to pick up an item then running all the way back to put it in a socket or on a pedestal quickly becomes a chore. By about halfway through the adventure, I found myself recklessly jumping down ladders and off ledges to speed up the pace.

However, what really makes or breaks a puzzle game of any stripe is the puzzles themselves. Sadly, the ones offered in The Cave are a mixed bag. There were one or two I thoroughly enjoyed. The rocket launch puzzle entangled with the scientist character’s backstory felt very tight, largely owing to the compact and well designed backdrop it was set against.

Many others felt slow or needlessly convoluted. It seems that, after two decades, Ron Gilbert is still adhering to arcane 1990s adventure game logic. Expect to guess the wrong solution three or four times then – after sighing to yourself “that couldn’t possibly be the answer” – figuring it out.

Everything else in the game is passable. The graphics are good enough, the narration is engaging, and the play time clocks in at a healthy five hours. It’s also worth mentioning that the game can be replayed again with the characters you didn’t use in your first run, allowing you to take alternate paths through the dungeon thanks to to their unique abilities. Mechanics such as the time traveler’s ability to phase through locked gates add a particularly satisfying feeling of sequence breaking to The Cave.

However, puzzles are the heart of and soul of The Cave, and it’s a shame that they are so average. Every once and a while a shimmer of that old LucasArts magic shines through, but the game as a whole is too uneven for me to recommend.

If you’re hankering for an adventure game, titles like Deponia and Gemini Rue offer a much more satisfying fix.

ConBravo 2014: D&D Next First Impressions

This is part two of a three part series where Michael reviews his experiences as ConBravo.

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 I actually didn’t get a chance to play any of the multitude of table-top games available at ConBravo. Sad but true! However, former Spellstorm organizer Dominic Amann was running a newbie table of D&D Next and let me sit in for the first hour to learn the rules and get a feel for the system. I’ve written up some first impressions below:

Simple Is Good

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An obvious amalgam of second and third edition, D&D Next does something its predecessors could not: it keeps things pretty simple. A lot of mechanics that were headaches in 3.5 (and continue to be in Pathfinder) have been eliminated or simplified, including attacks of opportunity, ranged combat hindrances, and arbitrary attack bonuses. The straight-forward advantage/disadvantage system is a welcome alternative, allowing players to pick the best roll from two d20s in situations where they have the upper hand. This works in an inverted manner if something is hindering the player’s actions, such as shooting into cover or attacking from prone. It is a relatively simple and elegant system which should up combat greatly.

Tone It Down Everybody

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 Dominic explained to me that a lot of the “munchkin” elements of the game have been cut back in 5th edition, with one of his favourite changes being the hard cap on ability scores. Players can not start with an ability score above 17 (unless they roll for them), and can never exceed the maximum of 20. It also appears that player power has been mitigated in general, with players having to make tough decisions between feats and ability bonuses as they level up. Min-maxing runs rampantly throughout earlier iterations of the game, so it is very nice to see it reigned in a little bit.

A Good Start, But…

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 The D&D Starter Set comes with a lot of great stuff, but it seems a bit lacking even for a small beginner’s kit. There were a few times over the course of the game where  players had to stop and look up rules, only to learn that weren’t included in the set! I also felt that the lack of at least a single fold-out map was a missed opportunity, as those sorts of add-ons really help to add perspective to the game’s world. I will, however, give big ups for gender neutral character sheets. It’s a small thing, but it is nice to see WoTC at least somewhat embracing an increasingly diverse player base.

Let’s See How Things Play Out

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 At the end of the day, D&D Next is a solid tabletop RPG that will not be defined by its game-play, but instead by its publishing strategies. 4th edition was widely regarded as a gong show in terms of release schedules and rules bloat, and if 5th edition follows in the same footsteps it will fall flat on its bottom. Players were burned once already, and they certainly won’t put up with it a second time.