Bloodborne: the Board Game - title

I wasn't sure about the Bloodborne board game initially. The Dark Souls board game wasn't particularly good, and I already had a pretty great Bloodborne-themed card game. But I kept seeing good reviews of Bloodborne: the Board Game, and it was designed by the same designer who made the card game, Eric Lang, who I trusted to make a compelling board game. So I bought it. And then it sat on my shelf for a couple years because my friends and I were busy playing other games, like Star Trek: Ascendancy expansions. One of these days, I'll get around to actually playing a new board game promptly after buying it... One of these days ...

A narrative-driven dungeon crawl

First and foremost, Bloodborne is not simply a Bloodborne-themed reskin of the Dark Souls board game. They are made by different companies and designers, and have totally different design philosophies. Dark Souls is built around grinding with no real purpose other than to eventually beat a single boss. Bloodborne is a much more structured and purposeful game, which is built around narrative-based campaigns. In fact, this Bloodborne game actively and explicitly discourages grinding by implementing a strict turn limit. As such, a Bloodborne session (a single chapter of a campaign) takes about 90 minutes to play or less. It won't drag on for hours, or into the next day, like some of my Dark Souls play sessions did. This, by itself, makes it a lot easier to find people who are interested in playing, and to get them to come back for subsequent sessions to finish that campaign.

Because Bloodborne: the Board Game does have narrative campaigns, I actually feel like I need to preface this review with a SPOILER WARNING. Some of the images may contain story-related cards, board configurations, and enemy placements, which may contain spoilers for the first 2 campaigns (mostly the first one). The review itself does not contain any explicit spoilers for any of the campaigns, so feel free to read on. If you are worried about potential spoilers, and want to go into the game as blind as possible, then I advise that you avoid reading any of the text on cards in any of my photos, especially cards that are labeled "Mission" or "Insight".

Bloodborne is more narrative-driven and less grindy than its Dark Souls board game cousin.

The core set comes with 4 campaigns, each with its own short story and narrative branches that take place over 3 or 4 chapters. As of the time of this review, I've only actually played the first 2 of those 4 campaigns. But I've played the first campaign multiple times, with multiple different groups of players, so I still feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the game -- good enough to give a meaningful and relatively informed review.

Each campaign has a deck of cards that provide objectives for the player to complete, as well as the occasional reward. It plays out kind of like an old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, with each card telling the players to draw a specific numbered card after completing the given card's objective. In some cases, the players will have a choice, or the card will have different conditions, and depending on which choice the players make, or which condition(s) is met, the card will instruct the players to reveal one card or another next.

The total of 4 campaigns is actually a solid amount of content, and each campaign can be played multiple times to see the different branching paths. But the campaigns aren't quite as replayable as they might initially seem. Each decision always has the exact same outcome, which means that once you've played a campaign once, you know what choices to make in order to get which results. Knowing the outcomes sucks out a lot of the mystery, intrigue, and threat from the game, and allows players to micro-manage their decisions to optimize their play.

Player choices can cause several branches in a campaign story, opening up different quests and rewards.
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Star Wars: X-Wing - Imperial Raider

This past couple years, my girlfriend and I have been getting very into the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game. We've also been converting some of our friends into avid players as well. After sitting on my shelf for several years with only a couple play sessions under its belt, the set has been getting played every few weeks with regularity. As such, we've also been investing more and more into additional expansions beyond the set that I initially bought. Late in 2016, my local board game store put its Corellian Corvette expansion on sale, so I went ahead and snatched up a copy of that huge, epic expansion ship. The following year, I went on to pick up the Imperial Raider huge expansion (also on sale)..

It took a while for these two ships to get much play though (seriously, they were sitting around for years), since they don't slot into the X-Wing core rules as easily as other expansions do. Playing with the huge ships requires increasing the scale of the X-Wing game considerably. The huge ships, by themselves, cost well over 100 fleet points. As such, the basic 100-point fleets go out the window for the epic-scale matches. Instead, 300 fleet-building points are recommended if any epic ships are in play. In addition, a larger play area is needed for most epic scenarios. If you bought a play mat for X-Wing, you might need to invest in a second mat as well (and they ain't cheap).

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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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Call of Duty: WWII - title

I haven't played a Call of Duty game since World At War on the PS3 almost 10 years ago. I really liked the first two CoD games on PC, but after Infinity Ward stopped developing the games, they increasingly focused on spectacle rather than any attempt to accurately portray war. After throwing back more enemy grenades in the first mission of World At War than were probably ever manufactured in all of World War II (I'm exaggerating a little bit), I got sick of that game and basically gave up on the franchise.

After having a little bit of fun with EA's Battlefield 1, I decided to pick up a used copy of Call of Duty World War II from eBay. I was curious if the return to World War II would be taken a little bit more seriously by Activision. It wasn't. This is the same old stale Call of Duty that I've been actively avoiding for the past decade. The single-player campaign didn't do anything to pull me in.

A light-gun shooting gallery

Probably the biggest problem with the campaign is just how rote and repetitive it feels. Almost all of the game's missions boil down to moving from one shooting gallery to another. When you aren't in an outright combat tunnel (like a bunker or trench), you're only given about a hundred feet of lateral space to work with. The whole game feels very confined and small in scale, with very few opportunities for any tactical movement such as flanking maneuvers. Just sit behind cover and pop out to take a few shots, then repeat. It might as well be an on-rails shooter, or one of those pop-out-and-shoot light-gun arcade machines like Time Crisis. I wonder if this was maybe done to make the game work better in VR? Maybe they wanted to reduce the amount of movement so that players don't get motion sick? But it's not VR, so it just comes off as lazy and tedious.

Almost all the missions boil down to moving from one narrow shooting gallery to another.

Even when the game tries to do something a little different, it usually still finds a way to make it uninteresting, or to outright get it wrong. There are some stealth mechanics shoe-horned into the game -- because of course there's stealth mechanics. They are rudimentary and very unforgiving. It's clear that certain segments are intended to be played stealthily, but you just don't have the tools necessary to make it work, and the levels aren't designed very well for stealth. Your limited field of view makes environmental and situational awareness very difficult. It's hard to tell where enemies are, and it's also hard to tell if your'e hidden behind cover. Even if you are effectively hidden, you can't peek out of cover to monitor the enemy's position or movements.

After stealth killing one or two enemies, I almost always got caught and was forced into more shoot-outs. Many of these scenarios involve the player being isolated and usually disarmed, so that you don't have the firepower to easily deal with a shootout when it inevitably happens. Put simply, the stealth is only barely functional and might as well not even have been included.

The undercover "Liberation" mission is the only level that is actually built around stealth.

The only stealth level that worked was the undercover "Liberation" mission with the Marquis (which you mostly play as a different character). ...

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Total War: Attila - game title

A few months ago, I posted an article outlining some suggestion for unique civilization themes and abilities for a possible Sid Meier's Civilization VI game. In it, I proposed a unique characteristic for the Huns or Mongolians: that they be a true nomadic empire. The idea was that they would have traveling cities that allowed them to move their empire with their army and essentially occupy any unclaimed territory or territory vacated by defeated rivals. Well, the Creative Assembly had already beaten me (and Firaxis) to the punch with Total War: Attila (and apparently Firaxis is embracing the idea with Beyond Earth's first expansion). Total War: Attila has a feature almost identical to what I had conceived for the Huns and Mongolians in Civilization. I'm a fan of the Total War series as is, so I was going to play this game for sure. Of course, Creative Assembly running with an idea that I had independently conceived of only made me more curious to play the game.

Attila acts as sort of a sequel to Rome II. While that game was all about building up the Roman empire (or whichever empire you happened to select), Attila is all about tearing down those empires. But this is a fully stand-alone game (like Napoleon Total War was to Empire Total War), and does not require Rome II in any way.

Learning how to be a horde

The Prologue campaign in this game is brutal! It's like a Demon's Souls tutorial that is designed to kick your ass. I restarted it once before realizing that it was designed for the player to fail in order to teach the new migration feature.

This prologue acts as a tutorial for the new features and mechanics of the game, but it doesn't do a particularly good job of teaching these mechanics. It also doesn't go into much detail of the established features of the franchise (other than telling you that a feature exists, then making you click on the button to do it), so new players might find themselves completely turned off by the fact that they are having their asses handed to them and aren't being taught much about how the game actually works, or - more importantly - why they are failing so hard. Perhaps having two separate tutorial campaigns would have been advisable: one to teach basic Total War concepts of empire and army management; and a second tutorial campaign for experienced Total War players that just teaches the migration features.

The brutal tutorial concludes with the challenging, climactic, historical battle of Adrianople,
in which your Visigoths must hold off Emperor Valens' superior army until your cavalry arrives.

Playing as migratory hordes minimizes city management, but you do still have to develop infrastructure for your nomadic armies. Rebuilding conquered cities and defending your borders, however, is not an issue - which was always the most tedious part of the game anyway. You don't need defensive armies in your territory and are free to focus all your efforts on your eventual goal. This change works well with the requirement that all armies must be attached to generals, and is a big step up from Rome II. There were large chunks of Rome II's campaign in which I felt like I couldn't do anything because I had to camp out my armies in cities in order to replenish and improve public order. Since I was at the army cap, the campaign would stagnate because I couldn't build new armies in order to watch over my newly-conquered settlements while also pressing forward with my primary armies...

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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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