The winter chugs along, making staying inside gaming a better and better idea. Not that we need an excuse to spend the days rolling dice and wielding controllers. What are you all playing?
Sarah is playing Don’t Starve and Unknown Armies, 2nd Edition
Don’t Starve begins with an anonymous man looming over your unconscious body, telling you that you don’t look so good and you should probably find something to eat before night. He then disappears in a poof of smoke, and you’re left alone as Wilson, a scientist with the best Burton-esque pointy hair and slowly growing beard.
The point of the game is to literally not starve, and even improve your lot if you’re good or lucky enough. You collect resources such as twigs, grass, and flint and combine those into torches and tools, which let you get better resources like wood and stone. Find a golden nugget and you can make a science machine, which allows you to make even more complicated objects like farms, crock pots, and your very own bee box. Cute animals populate the area, with roaming beefalo looking surprised when you draw near, to pigs who watch the player cautiously, to frogs that zap you with their tongue and try to kill you. There are health, hunger, and sanity meters to keep an eye on, and if you get too hungry a red haze overlays the screen, while if you lose enough sanity the edges of your vision start going loopy and animals transform into creepy, hairy versions of themselves. And wait — did something just move in the shadows? Did you hear that?
I’ve been putting some time into this game, and I haven’t even covered the downloadable content or all of the characters. The only frustrating thing is that if you die and have either not found all of your resurrection stones or used them all, your place is lost, even if you had previously saved it, and you have to start over from scratch. However, I’m having a lot of fun figuring out all of the stuff I can make while avoiding killer bees and hounds, so I’ll still be playing this for a while.
Table with pen, paper, and funny-looking dice
Unknown Armies is a role-playing game in which you are part of the occult underground, a secret group of people who know that magic is real and, unlike those rubes walking around oblivious, can use it for your own ends. The game in which I’m playing is set in the Wild West, and our group is using the newly developing railroad system to bind together America, focusing its magical energy into embodying the American Dream.
One character, Alexander, was getting a little too powerful and had started to tip the balance of power, so the group performed a ritual to balance it out. He is a gunslinger, one of the Masterless Men roaming the country at this time, and so they appealed to Odin to send some feminine energy their way. This summoned my character, Eulalie Edevane, a quick shot from southern Missouri who appears to be the personification of War (they may have also inadvertently summoned the four horsemen of the apocalypse). Eulalie can get magical energy from people’s anger, and direct that energy to compress their internal organs until they burst. She really enjoys making people mad, and a sharp-tongued, free-speaking woman seems to be a surprise in the time frame we’re playing in.
Unknown Armies is a little different from most of the role-playing games I play in that there’s a real sense of it being about the long con, with repercussions reaching through years instead of weeks or months. I’m also playing with people who are well-versed in the specific history of this time, so a history book is reached for more often than a rulebook, and the possible ramifications of changing history mused through as we plan our next move. The mechanics are pretty simple, with a percentage role of ten-sided die against a skill determining whether you succeed in any particularly difficult task. I typically avoid role-playing games in which some roles are restrained due to the character’s gender or that is run where women are treated differently than men, but the GM has been using a light enough touch that it hasn’t really bothered me. Be aware, however, that the gender restriction is written into the rules, although the normal modern-day setting would avoid at least some of the gendered interactions.
Jo is playing Dreamfall Chapters-Book One: Reborn
Funcom/Red Thread Games
October 21, 2014
Played on: PC
Before I started playing it, I could not have been more thrilled about Dreamfall Chapters and a triumphant return to Arcadia. I constantly cite The Longest Journey (the first of now three games designed by Ragnar Tørnquist in this universe) as one of the most beautiful point and click adventure games of all time. Memorable characters, infuriating object-based puzzles, and enthusiastic voice acting all make the first game an old school hit (and it was recently released for iPad, so you have no excuse!)
I missed the sequel, Dreamfall: the Longest Journey, and the introduction of protagonist Zoe Castillo. Dreamfall Chapters’ first episode starts very much in media res, and I think the player is supposed to remember 1) who Zoe is, 2) what she did in Dreamfall: the Longest Journey, and 3) everything that happens in the franchise until this point. Admittedly, the fan community is huge: Dreamfall Chapters was developed largely on the funds from a successful Kickstarter campaign, but this newest entry arrived over eight years after its predecessor. It’s a lot to ask, and I can imagine a newcomer being completely confused.
That being said, once you get over the hump, Dreamfall Chapters is a pleasant experience so far. The puzzles are just as infuriating as the earlier games, with the same basic mechanic of putting items into an inventory and combining them in different ways until you can get to the next part of the story. It’s a very old-school: some of the controls are bad, and some of the textures make the game look a decade old instead of a couple months. But the writing quality and superb voice acting hold up to its predecessors, and Zoe’s story is very easy to fall into. I’m definitely spending more time with this game, if only to see if it can keep earning my attention.
Jules is playing Armello
League of Geeks
January 22, 2015 (Early Access)
I love tabletop and board games, especially ones about strategy. I want to feel the cards between my fingers and hear the dice clatter about the desk and onto the ground haphazardly. However something that will always seal the deal for me when it comes to these sorts of games is their aesthetic. I want to see a vision, an art style that supports both a stated goal and a backstory that helps shape the world you’re playing in. This is what Armello brings to the table. Successfully kickstarted last year, the game has been eagerly anticipated by many, especially with how much the Australian developers have delivered over the months leading up to the game’s recent Early Access release.
Set in a Game of Thrones-esque medieval fantasy world, inhabited by anthropomorphic humanoid animals in the same vein as Disney’s beloved Robin Hood movie, you dive into a tactical game of racing to win the crown of the kingdom by any means necessary. You can win by killing the king who is stricken by a foul tainted illness, or even cure him and graciously accept his position as reward. However you can also win through earning “Prestige”, essentially popularity points, by completing objectives and defeating other players in combat around the map. Victory can come within just a few turns or take the entire maximum length of a standard game, where the king perishes and it all comes down to your own individual feats of strength. Supported by the various advantages each character, and their clan, provide be it the strength of the Wolf or resourcefulness of the Rabbit, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to your own play style and strategy.
What I love about Armello is the beautiful blend of mechanics. The game looks like a very straight-forward hexagonal-tile strategy game, however there are resources to manage, a day/night cycle, traps to elude and place, not to mention the inclusion of both dice and cards that provide you with powers and defences as well as amplify them inside and outside of combat. It all seems very overwhelming at first, but once you play a game or two it just clicks. The slick animated card art, flashy sound effects, and amount of language conveyed visually really nail what this world is, and that bolsters a beefy core of mechanics with a subtle edge to it. Winning a game, even against the opponent A.I. isn’t easy, but it’s all the more rewarding when your patience, strong hand of cards you’ve saved up, and hefty handful of dice come into play and snag you the crown.
Although still not officially and fully released, I would highly recommend Armello. It’s a straight-forward yet surprisingly complex-under-the-surface strategy game, and it has some beautifully striking art to boot.