June 29, 2008

A Touch of Evil: First Impressions from Origins

Posted in Games at 8:18 pm by Calico Jack

My family/friends and I were able to play a full game of A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game with Jason Hill, the designer, at this year’s Origins Game Fair. The game isn’t scheduled to be released until sometime in September, but Flying Frog productions had a preview copy available to try out at their booth. Below is an overview, a list of components, a summary of the rules, and my general thoughts and impressions about the game after one play. This is my first review, so if you have any questions any elements that I didn’t explain clearly please ask and I’ll try to help you out.

Note: One thing that I should have done is take notes as we were playing; unfortunately, I did not. Therefore I’m going off of my memory and some post-play input from other players in the game. There might be a few unintentional mistakes in regards to specific names/locations/titles, but I’m nearly positive I have most of the gameplay correct. If you notice anything mistaken or inaccurate, please let me know and I’ll fix it right away.

Also, we only played the basic version of the rules, not the advanced version–which would understandably be a bit difficult to work with on a convention floor. All of the rules I refer to are the basic ones, but I got the impression that there’s quite a bit more heft to the advanced game.

Overview: A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is a semi-cooperative/competitive board game set in early 1800s America. The town of Shadowbrook has been invaded by various supernatural monsters who have terrorized the village’s inhabitants and laid waste to the surrounding countryside. The game can support up to 8 players, each taking the role of an “outsider” hero who has come to the town to defeat its evil villains and their minions. Unlike Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, there are no rules for playing more than one hero at a time. Our game was with four players, and each of us became very invested in our own hero’s actions and destiny. A big reason for this is that there are no character “deaths,” but rather knock-outs which ensure that you remain attached to your own hero instead of drawing a new one every time you lose a battle to the Villain (and in our game, that happened quite a bit).

According to Jason, this game can be played either cooperatively or competitively. We played the competitive version, where the heroes are racing against each other to become the first one to defeat the Villain in a one-on-one showdown. In a cooperative game, however, the heroes work together to defeat a stronger version of the Villain. If they choose, players can take turns rolling dice for the villain, although Jason did a nice job as GM for the game (and I can see how this might be a popular variant).

I think the gameplay and strategies would be quite different for each variant, since many of the cards used in the game can have different effects depending on if you want to hurt a fellow player or help yourself. I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison, but this element of gameplay reminded me of Munchkin, where you can give bonuses to yourself or other players to help defeat the Villain (cooperative) or stack those bonuses on the Villain to make him more powerful when battling another player (competitive). This feature in A Touch of Evil works quite well, and provides great flexibility in allowing you to choose your own style of playing. I believe Jason also mentioned that there would be rules for team play as well, but I don’t know how similar that would be to the LNoE system.

Components: Just like its sister game Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is absolutely stuffed with gaming goodness. The board is folded, not modular, and has the look of a faded parchment map from the 1800s. At first I was a bit dubious due to the mostly monochromatic color scheme (I tend to like my boards bright and colorful), but its appearance quickly grew on me. It definitely fits the theme the designers were going for, and it’s very clearly laid out and easy to read. There is ample space for everything going on, and the heroes never have to worry about bunching up in the same location. The center of the board contains the town of Shadowbrook and its various locations, each of which has some text on it to give the player instructions. This type is a bit on the small side, if I remember correctly, but it doesn’t get in the way of the board’s aesthetics. And it’s pretty easy to remember what each town location does once it’s been visited, so I don’t think too many people will have problems with it.

Eight hero figures and their respective character charts are included. Just as before, the sculpts are highly detailed and very attractive, and the figures themselves are of the same sturdy quality as the LNoE heroes. These are the only miniatures included in the game, but that’s all that A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game really needs.

There are four main attributes on a character chart: Cunning, Spirit, Combat, and Honor. Each has a numerical value which can be upgraded through the course of the game by playing certain items, allies, and events. The attribute used most often is Combat: this merely tells you how many dice you can roll when fighting a minion or Villain. Hits occur on a 5 or a 6, and both heroes and Villains (and their minions) have a certain number of wounds they can take before dying. Of course, all of this can be modified in one way or another, but that’s the general idea of how to take out your opponent.

The game includes four different villains, each with its own character card that more or less serves the same purpose as a scenario card in LNoE. In addition to character cards, every villain has a unique minion chart, which details the creatures that the villain can send out to harass and fight against the heroes during the game. These minions are represented by glossy character tokens; the two we played against were some kind of evil hound and ghost soldiers–both minions of the Headless Horseman (our villain for the game).

There are quite a few other bits, including lots of upgrade tokens for Cunning, Spirit, and Honor, as well as wound tokens (a carryover from LNoE) and a track that looks quite a bit like LNoE’s sun track but serves a rather different purpose than a game clock. There are also going to be Investigation tokens (these serve as the currency in the game), but Jason explained that they hadn’t been printed yet. Instead, we used blue glass beads, and I rather liked the visual effect they provided. I’m tempted to get a set of my own as replacements.

Finally, there are cards–lots of cards. A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is chock-full of them, much more so than LNoE. There are:

item cards to buy in the store which give you upgrades to your character chart
mystery cards that are drawn and played every round, usually spelling trouble for your heroes
event cards that can be kept in your hand until needed
lair cards which must be used to force a showdown with the Villain
four decks of location cards (which I’ll get into a bit later)
town elder cards, which are played at the top of the board before the game starts
secrets cards that are placed face-down beneath each town elder, also before the start of the game

Having so many different decks can seem a bit daunting, but it’s actually quite easy to get the hang of how and when to draw the right ones. Also included in the game are turn summary cards for each player; this is a nice gesture which greatly helps in player comprehension.

The only component I didn’t get a chance to look at was the rulebook; I’m not sure if it was even on the table. But I’m very impressed with the quality and number of components here.

Rules Summary: I’m going to try to keep this lightly detailed, because the more in-depth I get the more certain I am to get something wrong–and I don’t want to give false impressions about the game to anyone.

The object of A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is to gather a hunting party (comprised of town elders and your character) and summon the Villain to a Showdown in his secret Lair. At the start of the game town elders are each given a secret (unseen) card, meant to represent the dirty secrets that they might hold. Some of these are harmless and have no effect on the game, but others might reveal that an elder is in fact working for the villain. When you choose elders (up to two) for your hunting party, their secrets are revealed to all–and if an elder is in fact a member of the dark side, his stats are immediately added to the Villain’s. Therefore it’s important to make sure you only choose “clean” elders to join your party. There are several chances throughout the game to secretly look at elders’ secrets ahead of time, which should help you in making a wise decision.

To start a turn, the first player rolls a d6 to determine the number of spaces he may move. On the board there are four corner locations, each with its own unique deck of cards: The Manor, Windmill, Ye Olde Woods, and Abandoned Keep. Paths lead from the town of Shadowbrook out to these places, and there are several locations in the town itself that you may travel to. If you choose to head off to one of the corner locations, you must resolve the encounter by flipping over the top card of that location’s deck and reading it out loud. These locations have more risk involved than staying in the down, as you’re much more likely to be forced to fight a minion or two (or even an assassin). However, if you can manage to defeat your opponent, the rewards in turn are much greater, usually granting you some amount of Investigation. Not all corner cards are harmful; several give you upgrades or bonuses, or allies that you may play without having to go through an opponent first.

If the player chooses to go to a town space however, he or she must immediately draw an event card and may perform the action listed on the space itself. Two of the town locations have tests–one for Spirit and one for Cunning. Each test requires that you roll a number of dice equal to your attribute score; if any one of those dice rolls meet or exceed a target number your Cunning/Spirit is raised one point. The other three spaces either allow you to heal by paying one investigation per wound at the doctor’s, draw two event cards and discard one in the town center, or purchase an item card from the blacksmith by paying the amount of Investigation listed on the card. Afterward, you may choose to take any number of actions listed on your summary card. These include buying a Lair card, spending Investigation to secretly look at one town elder’s “secrets” card, pay two or three (I don’t remember which) Investigation to heal a wound, or a couple of other options that are slipping my mind right now.

Each player in turn then moves and resolves his or her encounters until everybody has had a turn. Then the first player flips over the top card of the Mystery deck and reads it out loud, performing the actions listed. Mystery cards describe the evil that the Villain has been doing in the town and countryside that turn, and their effects are varied but almost always negative to the players. Once the Mystery card has been played, the turn order token passes to the next player and the game starts its next turn.

A bit more on the Lair cards: each contains the name of a location on the board and an Investigation cost. To buy a Lair card you must use an action on your turn (there is no limit to the number of actions you may take) and spend the appropriate Investigation cost–not, I repeat, not the cost printed on the Lair card itself (since these are face-down until you buy one).

How do you know how much Investigation to spend on a Lair card? This is where the previously-mentioned scoring track comes into play. It’s numbered from 20 to 1, divided up into five sections of four numbers each (e.g., 20-17, 16-13, etc.) This basically serves as a tempo marker for A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game: instead of moving the marker down each turn automatically, it is shifted through the use of Mystery cards and other effects–sometimes more than one number at a time. The Villain immediately wins when the marker reaches the end, so the game can become a nail-biting experience when you’re three or four numbers away from losing and any card you draw could shove that down even further.

Below each section is a number that starts at 12 for the section 20-17 and drops down to 1 for the section 4-1. I believe the distribution goes something like 12, 8, 3, 1, 1, but I could be mistaken. It is these five numbers which tell you how much Investigation you need to pay in order to draw a Lair card. At the beginning of the game everyone is grabbing as much Investigation as possible in order to gather needed upgrades, making it ruinous to spend most of your hard-earned income on a Lair card that you shouldn’t use until later in the game. Currency is very tight in A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game (we rejoiced when a drawn card placed three Investigation tokens on every named space on the board to collect at will), and it pays to wait until later in the game before getting a Lair card. The longer you wait, the cheaper it becomes, but you have to balance that against the distinct possibility that you may not have enough time to defeat the villain before the scoring track runs down.

Once you purchase a Lair card, however, you may start a Showdown with the villain by moving to the location listed on your card and paying its Investigation cost. Yes, you have to pay twice–once to buy the card and once to play it. When a Showdown is started, you may choose up to two town elders and add them to your hunting party after revealing their secrets to all players. Remember, if an elder has a dark secret its card is immediately flipped over to show its evil side, then joins the villain, usually adding at least one additional wound space and combat die. Both the Villain and Hero roll their combat dice simultaneously (another player may take the Villain’s role temporarily) and apply hits to each other on a 5 or a 6. You’re allowed to play cards from your hand to help you in the battle, and in a competitive game other players may add cards to the Villain to prevent you from winning (as mentioned before).

If the Villain takes out all of your wounds, you’re “knocked out” and must be immediately sent back to the town center where your wounds are fully healed. Your Lair card is discarded as well, which prevents anyone else from fighting the villain unless they also play their own Lair card at the proper location. Believe me, losing to the Villain is a painful process, since by the time you’re killed the odds are good that you’ve just used up all of your bonuses, extra Investigation, allies, and any single-use cards and powerups in your hand. Then you have to start all over again, collecting investigation and buying another Lair card if you feel confident enough to challenge the Villain soon. I was one die roll away from defeating the Headless Horseman the first time I fought him in a Showdown, and it took me the rest of the game before feeling ready to challenge the Horseman again.

Side note: At the time, I didn’t realize that you’re allowed to run away from a fight; I assumed you had to stay in it until the bitter end. It isn’t the end of the world if you find yourself hopelessly outmatched, which should negate some of the sting of realizing you’re in over your head.

If you’re able to wound the Villain before getting knocked out, those wounds will stay on his sheet, making it easier for another player to take him out. However, he is able to heal three wounds every full turn, so another player waiting in the wings to force a Showdown should do it as soon as possible. In no time at all the Villain can be fully refreshed, ready to mercilessly slaughter the next unlucky Hero.

If, however, you put enough hits on the Villain to fill up his wound sheet and all of his allies’, you win the game. Evil has been successfully vanquished, and Shadowbrook can live peacefully once more.

General Thoughts:
It took our group about two hours to get through a full game (including rules explanations), which is right at the upper limit of the 60-120 minute suggested playing time. After we thanked Jason and left the booth, all of us turned to each other and said, “Wow, that was a really fun game.” And it is. For me, this was the best of all of the games I tried at Origins this year. It’s at least as good as LNoE, and one of my friends thinks it’s even better. But why?

For starters, the gameplay is engrossing without being too complicated, challenging without being too hopeless, and varied while sticking to a fairly straightforward rules system. We had very few questions about rules or timing elements once Jason explained the game to us; I think Flying Frog has fixed the problems that plagued LNoE’s card interactions. There are more cards in this game than LNoE, but they’re used for mostly different purposes. Combat is more reliant on permanent upgrades and allies than playing temporary enhancements, and since there is no player vs. player combat (and the villain doesn’t have a card deck) you’re mostly able to play your cards when you’d like during a battle. This helps to streamline combat, which is important because that really isn’t the main focus of this game–it’s the buildup required beforehand.

This brings me to my second point: A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is a rich and rewarding game. Since there’s quite a bit more to do than merely fighting monsters, your character becomes more well-rounded instead of solely focusing on combat upgrades. You have to worry about which town elders you’ll choose for a hunting party–and since you really want to take 2, it’s important to devote some time to figuring out their secrets. Because a Mystery card is played every turn, there’s always an element of danger involved even though the board may look deceptively quiet. I didn’t get a chance to go through the entire decks for the four corner locations, but my initial impression is that each has a different theme involved instead of just being swappable boilerplate decks with different names on the backs.

A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game also drowns the player in story, from the parchment-style board to the excellent-looking cards to the theme that augments the game’s mechanics without overwhelming them. This would be a hard game to repackage, since so many of the actions you can take feel directly correlated with what your character is doing in-game. By taking control of only one hero for the entire game, it’s easier to become involved in what you’re doing without worrying about having to start over with somebody new once yours is killed.

It’s important to note that this game is challenging, especially when playing competitively. I was ready to take out the Headless Horseman when another player put down a card that spelled certain doom for my character during the Showdown. Because of the difficulty of gathering enough Investigation to outfit your character and buy a Lair card, making sure that you know which town elders you want to bring along, and worrying about other players taking you out only after you weaken the Villain for them, there will be a lot of groaning and laughing at the table if you fall short of your goal in a spectacularly frustrating fashion. There’s a sense of unity around the table when someone starts a Showdown (unless, of course, you’re waiting in the wings to mop up the pieces), and everyone gets into the combat as well, cheering on the player fighting desperately to stay conscious. This isn’t a gentle game by any means, but the players’ collective energies are focused on defeating the villain and not on attacking each other. I like my cutthroat games, but A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game is difficult and fiendish without being antagonistic. I think that’s an important distinction to make, because even those of us who lost the game still left the table grinning and wanting to play again. We had a collective sense of accomplishment once we saw the Headless Horseman go down in flames after many, many difficult struggles.

I don’t want to give this game a rating because it was basically a pre-release, unfinished version and I only played one session of the basic rules. But I know that I’ll be pre-ordering it as soon as Flying Frog’s webstore puts up the link–and for me, that’s a very strong recommendation. I can’t wait to play A Touch of Evil Supernatural Game again, and encourage even those who disliked some elements of LNoE to give this one a chance. It was loads of fun for all involved, and isn’t that what playing games is all about?

April 21, 2007

Memoir ’44

Posted in Games at 11:57 pm by Calico Jack

My brother recently purchased Memoir ’44, and since I’m a big fan of Battlelore I agreed to give his new game a shot. We started out by playing the Sword Beach D-Day invasion of June 6th. My brother, after assigning me to play the Axis, assured me that this was a balanced scenario; but after setting up our infantry, armored units and artillery I wasn’t so sure. Yes, I had several squads of men embedded in bunkers, ready to repel any invading forces the Allies could muster against me. But my rearguard units were rather thinned out, and my only armored unit was surrounded on all sides by forests and a small village, the Riva Bella. So much for bringing the weight of German mechanized forces to bear early in the battle. Facing three Allied armored units and several special forces brigades didn’t do much to ease my fears that this would be a slaughter.

The Allied commander launched his attack with a heavy offensive by moving four of his infantry units onto the beach and into hedgehogs. Fortunately, they were too far away to effectively attack my forces, giving me a small window of time to marshal my defenses before I was overrun. My bunker squads were able to pick off a few of the invaders, but little damage was done otherwise.

The enemy became rather upset at my early initiative, and decided to launch his most powerful weapon against me — he called in an air strike. Bombs exploded all around the beachfront, and several of my squads lost half of their soldiers. It was a defensive catastrophe, but I could still attack with full strength. It was time for payback.

Unfortunately, my options at the time were rather limited. I knew that if I didn’t bring reinforcements to the front soon, my bunkers would be overrun with hordes of Allied soldiers. I sent an order to my lone armored unit to begin its slow march forward through the forest, and commanded a solitary infantry unit to provide backup for my increasingly desperate bunker squads. If only I could lure the Allies into coming within range of my two powerful artillery cannon…

The Allies were rather leery of my defensive centerpiece, and refused to give me the opportunity to demolish their forces. Instead, they swarmed onto the beach from all sides and took up positions behind barbed wire. One volley of rifle fire killed everyone in one of my bunkers. Battle lines had been drawn across the beach, and close-range attacks were going to inflict heavy casualties on both sides.

I needed to keep the Allies from reaching my towns, so I dug into the positions I already held, building rows of sandbags to further protect my troops from damage while giving them clear lines of fire to Allied forces. Two infantry squads launched a simultaneous attack against an Allied infantry unit, ripping it to shreds and leaving no survivors. The Axis forces were holding their ground against a massive Allied advance — something that seemed impossible only a few short minutes earlier.

© Days of Wonder

Flustered, the Allied commander made a grave mistake: he kept his British commandos in troop landers at the beach instead of bringing them up to the front lines as reinforcements. Four Allied tanks rolled forward to destroy the barbed wire that was holding their beleaguered infantry back, but fortunately my bunker squad was able to protect themselves from being overrun.

Now that the Allied tanks had joined the front lines, my artillery could finally go to work. Two thunderous booms shook the ground, and within a second or two an entire armored unit had been ravaged beyond description. Cheered by this heartening sight, the bunker squad launched a volley against a small Allied unit, pouring bullets into the enemy until no movement was seen.

The Allies had been severely shaken by the utter destruction of a full-strength armored unit. For the first time, their commander realized that perhaps he would be unable to reach the quiet French towns needed to achieve his objective. He ordered several units to take out my last infantry bunker, and this time my forces were unable to repel the advance. The Allies now had a clear shot to the town of Lion sur Mer, but they still faced an embedded artillery unit eagerly awaiting its chance to rain fire on anything that dared venture too close. With his attention on the cannon in front of him, the Allied commander missed my secret weapon that I was now ready to launch…

My lone armored unit had been making its way through the trees for quite a while, but was unable to advance any farther than the edge of the forest. Now, however, I could take full advantage of its long range. Gleefully, I ordered the tanks to move forward at full speed. They roared onto the beach and ground to a halt right in front of a half-strength Allied infantry unit.

As soon as he saw the sneak attack, my opponent hung his head in defeat. He could barely watch as my tanks fired at point-blank range into a ragged group of undefended soldiers. This display of carnage terrified many Allied soldiers, and one by one they threw down their weapons and surrendered.

The Axis forces had successfully repelled the invasion of Sword Beach. But there was no time for celebrating victory — much havoc was still raging up and down the coast. The Battle of Normandy was far from over…

January 22, 2007

Birthday Bashes Boycotted

Posted in Food, Games, Personal, Random Oddments at 12:34 pm by Calico Jack

I had quite a few birthday parties growing up, and my parents always worked hard to ensure that my friends and I had a great time. Usually there were only a couple of ingredients necessary for an awesome party: friends, cake and ice cream, and occasionally some sort of activity–whether mini-golfing or going to the roller rink or rock climbing…or even just staying at home and watching a movie or playing games.

As I got older, I stopped having the formal parties with their invitations and gifts given, and instead preferred to simply have a few friends over to stay the night. Some of my fondest memories growing up are from my friends and I bringing all of our Star Wars MicroMachines together (which, let me tell you, is a gigantic collection), spending several hours dividing up hundreds and hundreds of figures and ships into miniature armies, and having a gigantic Star Wars battle that lasted well into the next morning. Such battles often ended with a few sleepy-eyed preteens valiantly defending each side’s prized Millennium Falcon playsets from the hordes of Jedi and stormtroopers who were swarming the ships. Small plastic missles flew in all directions, knocking a dozen Rebel Troopers to the ground with one blow. TIE Fighters swooped overhead to perform recon against the enemy on the other side of the living room, and dozens of dead and wounded Luke Skywalker figures were scattered everywhere (because, as we all know, Luke didn’t become powerful until the end of Return of the Jedi, so when it came time to take turns picking the figures we wanted for our army, we always chose the green lightsaber Lukes first instead of the Hoth or Dagobah ones).

Those were the some of the happiest times of my childhood — and there are a lot to choose from. Today, however, parents have turned birthday parties into competitions. What once was an excuse for children to eat lots of cake, give presents and play games has become, in many households, a lavish production costing hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. The children become spoiled, and the host parents can now thumb their noses at the other parents who were unlucky enough to spend a few hundred dollars less for their children’s parties.

Some parents are standing up and refusing to get caught up in this tsunami of materialism. From Yahoo News:

Birthdays Without Pressure is taking aim at the oneupsmanship that drives moms and dads to throw parties that will really, really impress the kids and the other parents, too.

“We feel there’s a kind of cultural runaway going on right now around the birthday parties of kids,” said William Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of family social science who had a hand in organizing the group, launched publicly earlier this month.

Birthdays Without Pressure has started a Web site and launched a media campaign.

Among its suggestions for more modest, stress-free party planning: Hold gift-free parties, with a note on the invitation that says any presents will be donated to charity; eliminate theme parties and gift bags for the guests; instead of organizing elaborate activities, let kids play outside or hold a treasure hunt; and invite children only, not their parents as well.

I don’t agree with all of the suggestions listed. I often had gift-free parties; but as a seven- or eight-year-old, I wouldn’t want to see my friends give me gifts and know that I promptly had to give them away. And small gift bags are always nice thank-yous for the more formal parties…just don’t go over the top. Still, it is nice to see some parents who realize that these contests (because that is what they are, honestly) miss the whole point of having a birthday party for their children–to celebrate the passing of another year in their lives.

Let them eat cake. It’s all they need to have a great time.

August 16, 2006

Intelligence wanted

Posted in Games, Random Oddments, Television at 12:57 am by Calico Jack

Out of all of the game shows that are on television, The Price is Right has to be one of the easiest to understand. The minigames are simple to play…right? Not so fast. Watch this video of a girl who is truly “dumber than a doornail.” I laughed so hard when I saw this…

August 1, 2006

Dice Wars

Posted in Games at 12:11 pm by Calico Jack

I found this horribly addictive Flash game last night. Dice Wars is somewhat like Risk, but quite a bit faster-paced, and a lot more fun. The premise is simple: you control certain lands on the board with stacks of dice. If you want to take over your opponent’s adjacent lands, you and your opponent both roll your stack of dice. If you win the roll, your dice stack invades the conquered land, leaving one die behind. At the end of your turn, you gain reinforcement dice to beef up your stacks- one die for every adjacent land you control. Your goal is to take control of the entire board, but it’s easier said than done.

It sounds a little bit confusing, but the learning curve is quite easy. Mastering the game, however, is much more difficult. There is an awful lot of strategy required to ensure a good board position, and knowing when not to attack is more important than simply trying to take over everything you can. Dice Wars can be played with 2-8 people, although there isn’t a human multiplayer option; all of your opponents are AI. I hope that the creators of this game include multiplayer in their next version. A nice feature is that maps are random, and there are a lot of them, which adds much to its replay value.

Dice Wars is one of the most addicting games I’ve come across in quite a while. I spent an hour and a half playing three games last night, and I had no idea how much time had gone by. This is a perfect way to kill some time, and I know I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come.

July 26, 2006

Nothing says “Monopoly” like a debit card

Posted in Games, News at 2:32 pm by Calico Jack

In their latest edition of Monopoly, Parker Brothers has decided to drastically change the way their classic game is played. Instead of using the traditional brightly-colored bills, players will now be given a mock Visa debit card to keep track of their bank balances. No longer will the banker be required to count out everyone’s savings before the game starts; now he can simply swipe everyone’s card through the plastic reader to adjust their earnings and payments. According to spokesman Chris Weatherhead, “The new electronic Monopoly reflects the changing nature of society and the advancement of technology.”

I’ll be the first to say that Monopoly isn’t my favorite board game to play. It’s a decent party game when you have eight people at your house and no one is up for strip poker, but the game takes forever and you can usually tell who’s going to win after five or six turns. Having said that, however, I think this new cashless version is going to strip (no pun intended) whatever fun can be had playing this game. For example:

  • How are you supposed to be able to put all of the players’ taxes in the middle for Free Parking? That’s definitely the most common house rule, but without any cash Free Parking becomes a dead space.
  • You can no longer team up with another player to take over the board by combining properties and assets. The whole point of teamwork (apart from being really fun) is to make it harder to go bankrupt. But if you can’t combine the balances on your debit card, it sort of defeats the purpose of being a team. I suppose you could just use the second card once the first one expires, but you’ll have a much harder time convincing the rest of the players that you are teammates. With cash, you can’t separate your incomes once you make a big pile of money on the table.
  • Speaking of these debit cards, how will players be able to keep track of their balances unless they use sheets of paper? With cash, it was always very easy to quickly glance at your pile and estimate your assets. But won’t it be an annoyance to make the banker swipe the card every time you want a balance?
  • And finally, how are you supposed to be able to cheat? Everyone knows that if you can grab a few extra $500s before the game starts, it’s much harder to go bankrupt. I’m joking…but this will also eliminate under-the-table deals that are so much a part of the spirit of Monopoly.

Using cash also teaches kids how to count and make change. And Monopoly is such a classic game that it doesn’t need to be modernized or updated. Stick with our Monopoly money (even the annoying $5 and $1). Thankfully, this new electronic version won’t replace the original; you’ll always be able to find the regular one. But I have a feeling that we won’t be seeing the Visa edition for long.

June 23, 2006

Odds and ends

Posted in Games, Politics, Random Oddments, Sports at 1:34 pm by Calico Jack

Apologies for the light blogging; each of us has had a busy week for one reason or another. We promise that we'll be back to normal soon; until then, here is a roundup of links from across the net that you might find interesting…or not. We make no promises.

This is the biggest website I have ever seen. Literally. At nine quadrillion pixels wide and nine quadrillion pixels tall, it is 1.844 billion miles on each side. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself; just be prepared to spend a lot of time scrolling.

You can tell our elected officals have nothing better to do when they start attacking the video game industry. Jon Stewart shows us that common sense beats bureaucracy every time.

Do you like to play Euchre, but find yourself consistently losing? It helps to memorize the Ten Commandments of Euchre; they'll give you a solid foundation for playing well.

I don't like the World Cup, but a few minutes of this might help to change my mind.

What do you do when it's taken you six years, 4,872 demerits, four and a half years on academic probation, and two reprimands from the admiral to graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy? Why, you give the President a huge bear hug, and the Secret Service a heart attack!

(Copyright AP)

June 20, 2006

Game time!

Posted in Games at 9:58 pm by Calico Jack

Sometimes there is nothing better than sitting at the computer for several hours because you're addicted to one of the many Flash-based games that seem to pop up everywhere on the internet. We here at Ignorant Critics would like to offer some suggestions for our favorites. All of these games are guaranteed to waste much of your time, but we doubt you'll even notice the minutes and hours fly by.

First up is the Alphabet Game. The premise of this is quite simple: how fast can you type the alphabet? Trust me, it isn't quite as easy as it sounds. The fastest scores are just over a second, but I've never been able to get much below 3.5 seconds. I never imagined I could spend ten or fifteen minutes simply typing the alphabet over and over again, but it is quite fun.

Next we have De-Animator, a side-scrolling shooter where your goal is to kill all of the zombies before they reach you. I have no idea how many levels there are, as I've never made it past Level 13 or 14. The animation is extremely fluid, and frantically firing dozens of rounds at a horde of approaching zombies provides quite the thrill. Hint: if you shoot the zombies before they fully stand up, they only require one shot to kill. And never use the shotgun, especially in later levels. The reload rate is far too slow.

Escapa! is the most spartan of the games listed here, but it is still addictive. You control a little red sqaure inside a box. You must avoid touching both the walls of the box and getting hit by four blue rectangles that bounce around the walls. Normally I wouldn't recommend such a bare-bones game, but Escapa is interesting because the rectangles move in the same pattern every single time. If you can memorize the pattern, you'll be able to last for a long time, relatively speaking. Good luck making it past 25 seconds, though.

Hapland is one of the most brilliant puzzles I have seen in a very long time, but it's rather hard to explain. You must light both of the torches and open the portal, but there are no rules. Sometimes you have to click on things more than once. Sometimes it is all about timing. Sometimes helpful icons are engraved on the walls. Just try not to kill too many of your people; you need them to achieve your objective. Confused? Give it a try; it will become much more clear. However, there can be a high level of frustration involved; if you get stuck there are hints available online. Hapland 2 and 3 are also out; I've beaten the second and I anticipate spending quite a few hours working on the third.

If you don't like shooters or puzzlers, you might enjoy Roboclaw. You control a robotic arm using only the four arrow keys. Pick up the blue ball, and drop it in the hole without hitting any obstacles. Every level is timed, so you'll have to be quick.

Squares is much like Escapa!, except on steroids. 'Nuff said.

Finally, I would like to present Stick Arena. This is a multiplayer game, but don't even attempt it if you don't have a good broadband connection. You're a stick figure armed with a variety of weapons, from a baseball bat to a sword to an AK-47. Your goal? Kill all of the other players in the arena as often as you can before time runs out. Much hilarity will ensue.