Master of Orion (2016) - title

The 2016 reboot of Master of Orion kind of shoots itself in the foot a bit with its own subtitle: "Conquer the Stars". When I play 4x games, I like to feel like I'm really building an empire, managing an economy, and conducting diplomacy. All of those things are present in Master of Orion, but I've gotten a pretty distinct feeling that this is yet another strategy game that falls victim to military rushing being the optimal strategy by far. Master of Orion doesn't really want you to build a civilization and colonize the galaxy; it firmly wants you to do what its subtitle tells you: conquer the stars.

Master of Orion III was kind of shit (it was boring, ugly, and completely lacked personality and substance), but at least it made some effort to be new and interesting. Most noticeably, the galactic map was actually three-dimensional. Sure, this was a navigational and UI nightmare for the human player, but it required players to think differently about how they approached expansion and warfare. At a more fundamental level, MoO3 sought to be a game about macro-management, asking the player to manage a vast galactic empire rather than just a collection of a dozen or so planets. The meat of the game, thus, was intended to be in the mid-to-late stages, as developed empires engaged in epic battles for survival, rather than all the fun and challenge being front-loaded in the early rush to colonize all the nearby planets. It didn't work, but at least it was trying to genuinely innovate the 4x genre.

The new Master of Orion isn't anywhere near that ambitious, and seeks instead to simply bring the original Master of Orion concept (in its simplest form) into the age of high-resolution 3-d graphics. It's a scaled-down, bog-standard space-4x game that borrows heavily from Endless Space and Civilization V. But it is at least a competent one!

Conquer the Stars isn't as big, complex, or ambitious as Master of Orion 3, but at least it's competent.

The galaxy itself isn't very big this time around. Depending on the map's size, there's only a few dozen stars, and most of them only have two or three planets. Unstable star lanes and space monsters can lock you out of exploring certain systems until you research certain technologies or grow your military sufficiently large (respectively). Other than that, exploration is over fairly quickly (especially once you start performing map trades in diplomacy).

Planet-management is also fairly easy. You can assign population meeples between one of three different types of output: food, production, and research. Meeples of different jobs and races have different icons, and unhappy meeples on strike have icons that sit down holding a picket sign. It makes it very easy to see what your population's current status is at a glance. There's just not really much to do with them. You don't have to assign them to work specific buildings, and with only 3 outputs to manage, balancing or specializing isn't that difficult.

All the buildings in the game are also one-time builds that don't serve much function other than to provide flat points of one of the three outputs, or to modify the efficiency of meeples in a particular output category. Buildings that have unique functionality (such as the Spy Center, Gravity Generators, or Interplanetary Administration) are few and far between. The only other thing that you do with your planets is to occasionally terraform them in order to boost your max population and unlock additional slots along each of the output tracks.

Master of Orion - conquered planet
Each point of population is of a specific race, which affects the morale of conquered planets.

The tech tree also feels kind of bland and linear. I would much prefer a tech web along the lines of Civilization: Beyond Earth. Master of Orion kind of goes in this direction a bit by including some techs in which you have to chose which of two different items you want to take when you research certain techs. You can then trade for the other via diplomacy if you want to. It's kind of like the leaf nodes in Beyond Earth, but only some techs have them, and I rarely had to think too hard about which one I wanted...

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Cities: Skylines: Mass Transit - title

Cities: Skylines is easily my favorite city-builder of the past decade, but its expansions so far have been kind of lackluster. A big part of this is the fact that each expansion (so far) has had a pretty limited scope, meaning that I could really only recommend them if the expansion's particular theming was something that interested you.

While Mass Transit definitely has similarly tight theming, the effects of that theme are felt at a much broader level. Since Mass Transit seeks to specifically expand your transportation network (and fix some problems with creating transportation networks), and since every city of any size has a transportation network, this expansion has much more universal utility than any of the previous expansions.

Red light; green light

In fact, you'll likely start to see the impact of Mass Transit's new systems immediately upon loading up a city -- whether it's a new city or one of your established metropolises. If you're like me, then you'll immediately be thrilled to see that you can now name your streets. That's a cosmetic feature, but your budding young city will also soon encounter the new road and junction-management mechanics. You now have control over each and every intersection, and can assign STOP signs and traffic lights as you see fit.

Cities: Skylines - new features
As soon as I booted up the expansion, it informed me that it included a feature from my wishlist

Creating a main thoroughfare and want to make sure that traffic flows steadily through it? Assign it as a "priority road", which puts two-way stops on each road that intersects the thoroughfare, allowing traffic on the thoroughfare to move unobstructed.

Have a three-way (T) intersection? You can even assign only the "trunk" of the T to have a STOP sign, forcing traffic from that road to have to yield to traffic in the crossing road. Unfortunately, you can't add a median with a through lane.

Cities: Skylines - 3-way intersection
You can force traffic to yield to major streets.

Even the tiniest of cities can benefit tremendously from this simple enhancement, and large metropolises can definitely see an improvement in traffic throughput with efficient use of priority roads. However, priority roads are really the only useful functionality of this feature. Since the game doesn't model car accidents (not even at an abstract level), there's kind of no point in creating four-way stops (as opposed to simply leaving the intersection without any stop signs at all).

This feature also usually entail some frustrating micro-management, as having to manually assign traffic lights and STOP signs can be tedious if you get stuck having to do it for every new intersection. There's also consistent issues with named roads not maintaining their names when I extend them, which forces me to have to manually extend the label onto the new road segment.

The much bigger benefit, however, is that managing traffic is made simpler by the addition of some new route overlays. Not only can you see how congested an individual road is, but you can also see which direction is most congested and also where all the traffic is coming from. This is another item from my wishlist. You can use this feature to see the sources of traffic driving on the selected road, and you can also use it on individual businesses and homes to see where the people at the home or business are coming from and going to. You can even click on an individual citizen or vehicle and see the route that it's currently following.

[LEFT] Every intersection caused congestion prior to the expansion. Since Mass Transit,
you can use "priority roads" [MIDDLE] to speed up traffic in major thoroughfares [RIGHT].
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Star Wars: X-Wing - wave II expansions

I really enjoy the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game, and have been playing it on and off for a few years now. Unfortunately, the core set is very lacking in variety, and so the game really needs to be expanded in order to be fully enjoyed. There's a myriad of expansions available, and they can be pricey. A single fighter ship expansion retails for $15, large ship expansions retail for $30-50, and the huge (epic) ships can cost as much as $90 or $100! If you get into this game, be prepared to spend money.

I never got into much of the Star Wars extended universe, so my interest in expansion ships is mostly limited to content from the original three movies. This allowed me to be at least somewhat frugal in my purchases, but I still tried to find as much variety as I could. At the time of this review, I own (and have played with) the following expansion: Millennium Falcon, Slave I, Lambda Shuttle, VT-49 Decimator, X-Wing, A-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Advance, TIE Interceptor.

I also recently purchased the Corellian Corvette expansion (the foot-long huge ship that stands on two bases), but I've yet to have a chance to play it. I'm also interested in trying out the Imperial Raider, which (as I understand) is a ship that was conceived for the X-Wing miniatures game and then also ported into Armada. I also haven't played the "Most Wanted" expansion, which adds a third faction and could hypothetically allow for three-player games. I don't think that there's an official ruleset for a three-player deathmatch though, so even with a third faction, you'd probably just be playing in teams.

Small ships (fighters)

There's really not much to be said about the small fighter expansions, as they play (mostly) the same as the X-Wings and TIE Fighters that come packaged with the core set. Each ship comes with its own special abilities that add some nuanced differences to how they play, but they still play similarly at fundamental levels.

Star Wars: X-Wing - multi-ship collisions
Be very aware of each ship's Pilot Skill, as the risk of collisions dramatically increases with more ships.

The biggest change (and most obvious ones) is that they allow for larger fleet sizes, which complicates the board and requires more careful management of your ships. With more ships in play, you have to be much more aware of what ships are where, what their respective pilot skills are (e.g. their turn order), and what kind of movements and abilities each possesses. Collisions become much more frequent and harder to avoid as more ships are added, and a careless player will probably also find themself running their own ships into each other -- especially if you're trying to fly tightly-packed formations. Of course, I've never run my own ships into each other ...

Perhaps the most obvious expansion is stand-alone X-Wings and TIE Fighters. These are a little bit more than a simple repackaging of the core game's components...

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Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - title

FROM Soft has an erratic track record with how cryptic it can be to find the DLC in the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. The first Dark Souls required an absolutely arcane process that you'd probably never discover if you didn't already know how to do it. Dark Souls II apparently had its three DLC planned form the beginning, as the vanilla game included shrines for accessing each DLC - at least one of which is in plain view and can't be missed. Bloodborne put a prompt on the screen telling you where to go, but accessing the DLC still required the player to counter-intuitively interact with a specific entity in the game world. And Dark Souls III's first DLC added a character that you could talk to who teleported you to the DLC.

So how would The Ringed City implement its entrance to the DLC? Would it require some arcane process of killing optional enemies in optional areas? Would a dialogue box just pop up to tell the player where to go? If you ask me, The Ringed City might have the laziest and most boring access point of them all. An extra bonfire just appears at one of two specific points, which teleports you to the new area. It makes the whole thing feel like a very detached afterthought.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Ariandel bonfire
If you don't want to wait till the end of the game, you can access the DLC early by beating Ariandel.

If there's one common thread for the DLC, it's that it always requires the player to be teleported across space and/or time. Continuing that tradition is disappointing. I was really hoping for the DLC to be integrated into the actual game world -- that it would reveal some previously-blocked-off path in some obscure or interesting region of the map that would simply allow the player to walk to the DLC, thus revealing the game world to be much larger than originally believed. Like maybe defeating the Stray Demon gatekeeper above Farron could have opened the gate and revealed a path to the DLC. Or the Kiln of the First Flame could have a new path leading down into the Dreg Heap. Or you could descend into the chasm below the Profaned Capital. Something like that.

Maybe as a fun easter egg for fans, the access point could have been hidden behind a statue sitting behind Andre the Blacksmith in Firelink Shrine. But no, it's just an extra, out-of-place bonfire. Further, the fact that this expansion is an extension of the plot from Ariandel, and the very anti-climactic nature of Ariandel, makes it seem like Ariandel should have been the first act of this expansion, but was separated out into its own expansion for ... whatever reason...

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Bloodborne: the Card Game

I've written quite a few wishlist and feature proposals for video games on this blog. But today I'm going to do something that I don't think I've done before: suggest ideas for a board game expansion. In this case, I'm going to outline some ideas for my own user-made expansion ("mod"?) for Bloodborne: the Card Game. An official expansion may be due out later this year, so perhaps designer Eric Lang might come across this post and incorporate some of these ideas.

In my review of the card game, I mentioned that the card game adaptation is very simple, that a lot of stuff from the source material seemed strangely absent, and that it almost seemed as though the designers were leaving the door open for some easy expansion material. So I'm going to go ahead and try my hand at creating some of that material.

This isn't the first time I've ever tried my hand at modding a board game, but it is the first time that I've publicly posted my ideas. One of my better ideas (I think) was to try to write a series of national agendas for each of the factions in Axis & Allies, which would be drawn in secret at the start of the game. Only the faction(s) that fulfilled their agendas (and won the war) would be considered victorious. The idea was to make the game more interesting for more than just two players. Probably my most successful mod idea was for the Battlestar Galactica board game (specifically the Exodus expansion). Nobody in our BSG group ever liked playing as Laura Roslin, as we didn't feel that her benefits offset the handicap of having to sacrifice cards from her hand. In order to make her feel more viable, we all agreed that instead of having to discard two cards, Roslin could chose to take a trauma token. This introduced the risk that she might suddenly die (if a blood stain was drawn), but also allowed the player to keep her cards in her hand if they were going to be needed.

So let's see if I can come up with some workable expansion suggestions for Bloodborne...

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A gamer's life...

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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Another Cities Skylines wishlist: Tourism, Leisure, and the Great OutdoorsAnother Cities Skylines wishlist: Tourism, Leisure, and the Great Outdoors08/05/2017 Some of the suggestions from my first wishlist have actually been implemented in Cities: Skylines. Naming roads, and adding directional traffic overlays were recently added in the Mass Transit expansion, and the previous Snowfall expansion incorporated some of my ideas for seasonal cycles (minus the part where the seasons actually...

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Civilization: Beyond Earth feels more complete, but has less personality than Civ VCivilization: Beyond Earth feels more complete, but has less personality than Civ V12/12/2014 I was finishing up my Civ V: Brave New World strategies this fall, and thought that I'd finally have some time to play other games besides Civilization. Firaxis and 2K, however, had other plans. Instead of being able to play other Steam games and getting back to my PS3, instead, I now have Civ in SPACE! I guess I can't escape...