The Dark Souls remaster was recently released, but it doesn't make enough [single player] improvements for me to really care to buy it. I might pick it up for the Switch when that gets released, because portable Dark Souls could be fun and interesting and fresh enough to warrant another purchase. However, the Switch version is being developed by another company, and it doesn't even support 60 fps, so I may not bother getting it anyway.

In the meantime, I decided to try out another "remaster" of sorts, and I got some friends together for some jolly cooperation in Steamforged Games' Kickstarted Dark Souls: the Board Game. This is a co-operative dungeon-crawler. I think the closest comparison that I can make is that it's a Dark Souls-themed variation on Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Unfortunately, Dark Souls: the Board Game doesn't seem to hold a candle to Descent.

Opening the box sets the tone of the game right away.

YOU DIED

The big mechanic that is imported from the video game is the inclusion of the video game's bonfire and respawn mechanics. Like in the video game, resting at the bonfire (or dying and being returned to the bonfire) resets everything. This includes all enemy encounters, as well as all the players' resources (such as the Estus Flask, Lucky Coin, or Pendant -- which actually has a function in the board game). However, a bit of the sense of attrition is also lost in translation, as your HP (and stamina) fully resets after each encounter. I think I would have preferred if the Estus Flask had a certain number of uses, but only restored a subset of your damage. That way, you'd retain some of your damage from encounter to encounter.

All the party's souls are dropped
on the spot where a character died.

Nevertheless, the Bonfire mechanic is probably the one mechanic that is most successfully translated from the video game source material. Despite the lack of health attrition, the desire to conserve as much resources as possible for the upcoming boss fight pressures the players into riskier play. Trying to conserve resources can lead to a lot of deaths.

Just like in the video game, if you die, all your souls are dropped on the floor where you died. If any one player dies, the whole party "dies" and is transported back to the Bonfire. The deeper into the dungeon you died, the more you have to fight through [again] in order to reclaim your souls. If you die again before reclaiming your dropped souls, all those souls are lost.

As I understand the rules, you can't leave an encounter once it's started, so you won't be making any "soul runs" to pick up your souls and then run back to the bonfire. You also can't open treasure chests until the encounter is won, which means you can't make suicidal "loot runs" either, which are a trademark strategy of the Souls video games. If you need to level up or buy new equipment in order to beat the encounter that killed you, you'll have to risk losing your dropped souls by farming against other encounters...

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Star Wars Armada

If you like the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game (and I do like it), or if you're eagerly awaiting the release of the second edition, but you don't want to house-rule that your car can act as a makeshift Star Destroyer, then Fantasy Flight has you covered. Star Wars: Armada is a higher-scale, tactical combat game using capital ships, and it might actually be a considerably better game than the core X-Wing set (at least better than the first edition)!

Planning ahead

Much like the board game Sails of Glory (which I also really like), Armada requires you to plan the actions of your capital ships a couple turns in advance. However, unlike Sails of Glory, it isn't the movement of these ships that you must pre-plan; it's their desired "commands". I was a little disappointed that the capital ships don't require that players plan their movement in advance, but then again, the maneuverability of these ships is highly limited, and only gets lower as the ship goes faster (if the ship in question even can go faster). There is a sense of inertia to these behemoth ships, but not quite the same level of inertia as the sailing ships of Sails of Glory.

Star Wars: Armada - maneuver tool
Ships move very slowly and have very limited maneuverability.

I do like that these ships both begin and end their movement relative to the font of their base. This alleviates the problems that X-Wing had with its large ships counter-intuitively moving faster than their smaller counterparts. And since the base Armada package comes with ships of varying sizes, this improvement is immediately noticeable without needing to wait for expansions: all ships move and turn at consistent speeds.

The rules do require that ships attack prior to moving. This means that you must plan ahead a little bit, since you have to position yourself for an attack in the turn prior, and have to anticipate who will have initiative and where their ship(s) will be if they get to move them before you get to make your attack.

Star Wars: Armada - defense tokens
Defense tokens give players
more meaningful decisions.

More meaningful decisions

Even defense is a tactical decision! And this might be the single, best change from X-Wing. Instead of simply rolling defense dice to cancel out your opponent's attack rolls, you get to chose a set of defense tokens to apply, and each one mitigates damage in different ways. One defense token may allow you to cancel out an opponent's die roll, while another will allow you to redirect the damage to another hull section's shields, and yet another halves the total damage dealt. These tokens refresh each round, unless you use twice in the same round, in which case, it is permanently discarded.

This alleviates another of the problems that permeated X-Wing: that damaging an opponent often felt like playing craps. Getting into perfect position and lining up a point-blank shot against an opponent can be completely foiled by dice rolls in X-Wing. Dice still play a role in Armada, but damage seems to be much more consistently-dealt, and players actually have a say in how their ships defend themselves from damage. It gives the player more meaningful decisions...

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Star Trek Ascendancy 50th anniversary edition

As I had mentioned in my Star Trek: Fleet Captains review, good Star Trek games are few and far between. Perhaps my favorite Trek game of all time is the Windows '98 4-x strategy game Birth of the Federation. BotF, developed my Microprose, was basically a Trek reskin of Master of Orion II. It was buggy, had cheating A.I., suffered from a major memory leak that slowed the game to a crawl after about 100 turns of play, and it didn't include any Original Series ships or technologies. But it did manage to faithfully capture Star Trek's spirit of exploration and discovery by being a game about exploring and colonizing a galaxy.

It wasn't a stripped-down startship combat simulator (Starfleet Command), or a cookie-cutter first-person shooter (Elite Force), or a lazy StarCraft clone (Armada), or an out-of-place dogfighter (Invasion), or a derivative WoW clone (Star Trek: Online). None of those games is terrible. I've played them all, and actually have some rather fond memories with most of them. But none of these games really meshed perfectly with the Star Trek license, and none of them really scratched my Star Trek gaming itch the way that Birth of the Federation did. Apparently, some designers at Gale Force Nine also like Birth of the Federation, because their new board game, Star Trek: Ascendancy, almost feels like a board game version of that classic Trek PC game.

Ascendancy is the first proper 4-x board game using the Star Trek license that I've seen. It certainly blows Fleet Captains out of the water. While Fleet Captains included some token exploration and territory-expansion mechanics as a supplement to the ship-to-ship combat that was the core of the game, Ascendancy is a game that is actually about exploring a procedurally-generated map, colonizing planets, and developing their resources. You can win by conquering other players' home worlds, or by developing your culture up to a specific level.

The final frontier is always in flux

The board of Star Trek: Ascendancy utilizes an interesting and novel modular board. Disk tiles represent planets, systems, and anomalies, each of which is connected by star lanes of varying distances. New systems and star lanes are drawn from a deck as the players explore, and so the board is constantly expanding as you play. It's nothing earth-shatteringly new, but it does have one neat gimmick that I haven't seen in other similar games.

The map will grow and change as the game progresses.

In addition to the board dynamically growing as the game progresses, systems are considered to be "floating" until they become locked in place by being connected to two or more systems via a star lane. This means that leaf systems can be freely rotated around to make room for other tiles to be placed in the play area. I believe this is intended to model the 3-dimensional nature of space. In a more practical sense, it means that the galaxy [map] can (and will) change its shape occasionally, leaving the true distances between locations ambiguous until everything gets locked down.

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Almost a decade ago, my love of board-gaming was kick-started by a single game. That game was Fantasy Flight's Battlestar Galactica board game. For a period of a couple years, my friends and I were playing that game once or twice almost every month. Even after we started branching out to other games, BSG would regularly grace our tables.

The Battlestar Galactica board game kick-started my tabletop hobby.

Unfortunately, as time went on, members of the regular group(s) that I played with got new jobs, moved, started families, and it became harder and harder to get a large enough group together to play a 4 or 5-hour long board game. Eventually, BSG (along with all my other games) started collecting dust on a shelf.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I finally got back into having semi-regular board game sessions, thanks primarily to my girlfriend taking an interest in X-Wing. Most of our board gaming in the past years has been dominated by either quick group games (such as Dominion, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Resistance, or Cards Against Humanity), or smaller, two-player games (like the aforementioned X-Wing). No one game has dominated in quite the same way that BSG did. I'd like to play it again, and maybe someday I'll even put up a review of it, but we haven't dusted the ol' game off because we rarely have the time for it. When we do have a whole evening cleared for an epic game, we try to play other games that we haven't already played the hell out of.

Well, clearly, I wasn't the only one who loved Battlestar Galactica, but wished it didn't take so bloody long to play, because Evan Derrick's 2011 game Dark Moon is basically a reskin of Battlestar Galactica that only takes an hour and a half to play. Dark Moon accomplishes this by reducing a lot of the mechanical complexity and by making progress in the game a lot more straight-forward. Virtually every mechanic or interaction in Dark Moon is a direct analog to a mechanic or interaction in BSG.

The shape-shifting space monster among us

The core conceit of Dark Moon (and Battlestar Galactica) is that the game is a semi-cooperative game in which most of the players are working together to try to prevent their moon-based mining station from falling apart around them. However, one or more of the players is secretly a shape-shifting alien (an "infected") who is trying to sabotage the station and kill all humans. Players take turns performing a single action to try to stabilize the deteriorating mining station. However, the most efficient action is to "issue an order" to another player to allow that player to take multiple actions. The catch is that the player you give the order to may secretly be a saboteur, so you have to be careful about only giving orders to other players who you trust.

Dark Moon - board
Players cooperate to complete a series of events, but some players are secretly traitors.

At the end of each player's turn, the entire group participates in a group task. Each task card has a pass or fail condition. Passing may result in positive effects for the uninfected players, and failing may result in harmful effects. These group tasks ensure that every player gets to participate in virtually every turn, so you're never sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for other players to do things. Even if you weren't participating in the turn, it would still behoove you to pay close attention to what's going on, if for nothing else than to look for any tells or indications that the current player may be an Infected...

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Star Wars Battlefront II - title

Dang, I was really hoping to get this one out before the end of the year...

Thanks to previews, journalists, and complaints from beta users, this is yet another game that I knew better than to buy on launch day at full retail price. Even before the game came out, beta players and gaming websites were already condemning Battlefront II for its pay-to-win multiplayer system. When the media finally got their hands on preview builds of the full game, they were quick to attack the online progression system. Once the game was released, public outcry forced EA to literally neuter the game's online economy.

Slot machines are legally required to disclose
their paytables -- and sometimes their RTP.

EA started damage control by slashing the prices of heroes so that they supposedly weren't as much of a grind to unlock. However, the sneaky bastards also reduced the rewards for various in-game activities (such as completing the campaign), so as to render the cost reduction virtually moot. Then, EA disabled micro-transactions altogether. So by the time I finally started playing the game (over a month after launch), it was a totally different experience than it was intended to be at launch.

Star Wars license-holder Disney was furious with EA for potentially tarnishing the Star Wars brand (especially with the pending release of The Last Jedi). EA's stock prices fell as a result.

Battlefront II has actually caused law-makers and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe to consider whether loot boxes qualify as "gambling", and whether they should, therefore, be regulated as such, including banning their sale to minors. Corporations are also starting to hop onto the bandwagon of self-regulation. Apple announced that all iOS apps with randomized micro-transactions must disclose the odds associated with rewards. This is the same disclosure that is actually legally required for actual gambling, such as slot machines.

For the record, I do not object to gambling per se. I actually bet every week on college and NFL football. Don't worry, I live in Nevada; it's legal for me. I spent almost three years working as a game developer for a slot machine manufacturer, and the only reason that I'm not still at that job is because the entire department in which I worked got laid off in the wake of a corporate merger (I'm actually very bitter and opposed to corporate mergers, by the way, but that's a discussion for another time). So I don't have a problem with gambling. I just think that it has a time and a place, and I don't want that time or place to be in my video games that I'm already paying $60 just to play. This is why casinos don't generally charge a cover fee.

I personally feel that Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are much more egregious examples of corporate avarice.

Also, for the record, I think that Battlefront II's micro-transaction controversy is a bit overblown. It's an online multiplayer shooter in which there is no win condition or end state. Whether you want the extra hero characters, and whether you're willing to spend time or money to get them is entirely up to the player's own whim. The game is perfectly playable without those heroes, and you can play through the campaign completely without spending an extra penny. It's a bit sleazy that EA markets the game by advertising these characters, and then locks them behind a grind/pay wall, but fighting games have been hiding unlockable characters behind grind-walls for decades.

Battlefront II isn't even the worst micro-transaction / pay-to-win system to come from EA! EA Sports titles like Madden and FIFA have been getting away with much worse pay-to-win systems (via their respective Ultimate Team modes) for years. Personally, I also think that Shadow of War (review coming very soon) has a much more offensive micro-transaction model because Warner Bros actually tied it into that game's campaign. If you want to finish the story, you either have to sit through the grind, or pay to speed it up. Though all of these pale in comparison to Activision and Bungie locking formerly-accessible end-game content behind the pay-wall of a Destiny 2 expansion pack.

In any case, it's sad that a review of a video game has to turn into a political op-ed, but that's the sad state of things right now.

Controversy and public outrage forced EA to completely disable in-game purchases.

So, if I knew that the game was controversially terrible, why did I bother to play it? ...

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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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