Terraforming Mars

Steam recently released a digital version of the board game Terraforming Mars. I haven't played the digital version (which is getting "mixed" and negative reviews at the time of this writing), but I have played the board game version. It's pretty fun, and in celebration of the latest NASA probe landing on the surface of Mars, I thought I'd launch a review of the board game.

Terraforming Mars has a wide variety of gameplay mechanics, which makes it kind of difficult to clearly categorize it. It also makes it a little difficult to teach the game to new players efficiently. It's not an overly-complicated game, however. It's just a lot of different concepts that you have to explain. Regardless, I've been able to get through learning games with new players in about three or three-and-a-half hours (including the rules explanation). So it's not overly burdensome to learn and play. It's also not terribly hard to simply play a sample round to teach the game flow, and then mulligan the game if any players feel they dug themselves into a hole.

Terraforming Mars has multiple distinct mechanics, ranging from tableau-building to tile-placement.

There's tile placement with adjacency bonuses. There's resource management. There's action economy. There's a little bit of tableau building and hand management. There's even a certain degree of bluffing. Playing with the non-basic corporations adds variable player powers, You can even optionally play with card drafting! Pretty much the only thing that we're not doing is loyalty / betrayal mechanics. Despite including so many varying game mechanics, nothing feels out of place, and everything fits together well.

The rulebook includes footnotes explaining the scientific basis for the rules and mechanics.

Depending on how you play, however, the actual game board and your tableau of cards can sometimes feel very disparate. If you're not actively placing tiles on the board, then the whole board can pretty much boil down to a score and prerequisite tracker. However, if you're avoiding placing tiles on the board, then you're probably going to lose, as I've yet to see a predominantly card-based strategy win the game.

The board itself includes a map of Mars' surface, and has notable landmarks on Mars clearly labeled. Unfortunately, the board only covers one half of Mars' surface, so there's some notable landmarks that are not included at all (perhaps the other side of the planet is an expansion?). The resource cubes are very shiny and pretty, and have an appropriately sci-fi aesthetic to them. The rulebook also includes little footnotes that explain some of the scientific bases for the game's rules and mechanics. it's like the kind of thing you might expect if Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote a board game. Science and space nerds will probably really appreciate these efforts at scientific accuracy.

The resource cubes are pretty, but shift around very easily on the flimsy, card stock economy boards.

Other components besides the resource cubes are kind of cheap and flimsy though. The player economy boards are printed out on basic card stock. There aren't any slots or grooves for the production cubes to sit in, so they slide around very easily if the table is jostled, or if the economy board is shifted around. You may want to invest in some third-party replacements or overlays in order to solve this problem.

The box also doesn't have any inserts of any kind for storing components -- just a handful of plastic, zip-lock bags. They expect you to just drop all the cards in a plastic baggie and just toss them in the box haphazardly along with all the other pieces!

At a price point of $70 (USD), I expect more from a game's components! Fortunately, where the game lacks in production value, it more than makes up for in entertainment value!

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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

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Civilization VI - Robert the Bruce of Scotland

Civilization VI's second expansion, Gathering Storm was announced earlier this year, and will be released in a couple months. It will include modified rules and new civilizations, and I'll certainly be writing some guides for its new civilizations. In the meantime, however, I'm going to tackle one more civilization from the previous Rise & Fall expansion. This civilization happens to be the last of the "new" civilizations (a civ that has never appeared in a previous game): Scotland, lead by Robert the Bruce.

Civilization VI - Robert the Bruce portrait

Scotland is currently a part of the United Kingdom, and makes up the northern third of the British isle. However, Scotland was an independent, sovereign kingdom throughout most of the Middle Ages. The lands of Scotland are shaped predominantly by receding glaciers during the tail end of the last ice age, and the area has been inhabited for over twelve thousand years. The Scottish Gaels strongly resisted Roman encroachment into their territory during the first and second centuries. Their raids on Roman forts forced emperor Hadrian to construct a defensive wall over 117 km long and as tall as 6 meters, that ran almost the entire width of the island. Parts of the wall still stand across England today. After the withdrawl of the Romans, the kingdom of the Picts became known as the kingdom of Alba, which flourished in the 12th and 14th centuries, possessing some of Europe's most influential philosophers.

In 1295, when Scotland's King John had refused to fight alongside England's King Edward against the French -- despite Edward having arbitrated the Scottish crown to John -- England and Scotland were plunged into war that resulted in England seizing control over Scotland. In the early 14th century, new Scottish King Robert the Bruce began a 20-year campaign against the English to restore Scottish independence. Victory at the battle of Bannockburn finally restored control of Scotland back to the Scotts, and conflict between England and Scotland continued off and on for many generations before the two countries were united diplomatically in 1707.

DISCLAIMER:
Civilization VI is still a "living game". Strategies for the game (and for specific leaders and civs) may change as Firaxis applies balance patches, introduces new features, or expands the game through further DLC or expansion packs, or as the Civ community discovers new strategies or exploits. As such, the following strategy guide may change from time to time. I will try to keep it up-to-date, and will make notations whenever changes are made. I'll also post links in the official 2K forums and CivFanatics, where I'll also report any changes made. If possible and practical, I will try to retain the original content of the strategy for posterity.

I welcome any feedback or suggestions that readers wish to offer. Feel free to post on the linked forums, or by posting a comment at the bottom of the page.

This guide is up to date as of the November 2018 "launcher" patch (ver. 1.0.0.262)

Scotland is another "world police" civ (similar to Australia). It can also hold its own and can become a technological and/or industrial powerhouse if its citizens remain happy.

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A couple weeks ago, I heaped praise upon the Spectacular Spider-Man TV show, saying that it "might be the best media adaptation of Spider-Man, period!". I still believe that holds true, but Sony's Into the Spider-Verse definitely gives Spectacular a run for its money.

Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Verse isn't really an adaptation of any of the Spider-Man comics. Not the original Amazing comics, or even the more recent Ultimate comics. It's a completely original story featuring the modern Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, the son of an hispanic nurse and a black cop in New York. So in that sense, Spectacular remains the most faithful adaptation of the original 60's and 70's, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics featuring Peter Parker. I was kind of hoping to see a Josh Keaton Spectacular cameo in this film, but no such luck. Damnit, Sony, bring back Spectacular Spider-Man! Make it happen!

I also said in the Spectacular review that Spider-Man (and perhaps all comic adaptations) are best-suited to television shows in which the long-form, character-driven storytelling of comics can be allowed to play out. Into The Spider-Verse, however, proves that Spider-Man (and perhaps all comic adaptations) also work much better in animation! The animation here is fantastic. The images are crisp and vibrant, and they really "pop" to the point that the movie almost looks 3-D without actually watching it in 3-D. The action is fluid and kinetic. The character designs and costumes are all interesting (especially Spider-Gwen, Doctor Octopus, and Prowler). Kingpin's massive, hunchbacked visage kind of stands out as odd, considering that all the other characters have somewhat realistic body proportions. Everything else, however, looks really good!

Seriously, this movie's visuals will blow you away. I'm talking, like, remember how you felt when Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Toy Story came out. That's how good this movie looks.

Animation if crisp, vibrant, fluid, and kinetic.

Not only is it pretty to look at from a technical level, it's also ingeniously-imaginative. There's some reality-warping, dimension-hopping dreamscapes that put Doctor Strange and Inception to shame. Most of the action is semi-realistically drawn and animated, but certain action scenes go extra comic-bookey with brief still-images of comic-like panels, complete with sound effects and speech bubbles drawn on the screen. Peni Parker, Noir, and Spider-Pig all have their own distinct animation styles that blend in flawlessly with the rest. Peni and her robot mech are from a future Japan, and are drawn and animated in a distinctively anime style. Noir is drawn like penciled-in black-and-white. Spider-Pig is full-blown Merry Melodies cartoon.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

I think I might finally be buying into this 2018 Bears team. They locked up an NFC North division title by beating the Packers this past weekend, and might still be able to clinch home field advantage if the Bears can beat the 49ers and Vikings, and if the Rams and Saints manage to drop their last two games. In fact, the Bears have the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Rams, and would be the second seed if they tie. I don't think it's gonna happen, but it is possible...

While the Bears do seem to finally have a complete team with talent at every level of both the offense and defense, I really feel like most of the credit deserves to go to first year head coach Matt Nagy. After suffering through the years of Mark Trestman and John Fox, I am finally happy with Chicago's coach hiring decision. Nagy is regularly out-scheming and out-coaching the Bears' opponents and putting his players in position to make plays and let their talent shine. Trading for Khalil Mach from the Raiders seems to have pushed the Bears from a good team to a legit playoff contender. Finally, this organization is making the right decisions!

I was actually pleasantly surprised to be in this position. I had some initial concerns with the hiring of Nagy. He's an offensive-minded coach with the pedigree of one of the best QB coaches of all time, Andy Reid. Chicago has tried hiring offensive-minded coaches, and they have all failed miserably. Nagy was also coming off of an offensive collapse by the Chiefs in the playoffs, so there was some doubt about whether he was really as good as Alex Smith's Pro Bowl-level performance was making Nagy look. My expectations were not particularly high. I figured that Nagy would get a better performance out of the offense than Trestman and Fox (and even Lovie Smith) were ever able to do. He also benefits from not being burdened with having to deal with Jay Cutler. But I prefer watching smash-mouth football with dominant defense and a battering run attack. I was not expecting that from Nagy's team.

Nagy is really getting quality performances out of his players.

I was wrong. The Bears are playing "Bears football". The kind of football that I love to watch. They are devouring teams defensively, and making the offense look good by giving them plenty of opportunities with the ball. What's really surprising me, however, is that the offense looks to be genuinely good on its own. Unlike that 2006 Bears' Superbowl run, this team's defense does not appear to be carrying the offense.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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