Gremlins Inc (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The satirical computer board game of being a capitalist douchebag (and Gremlin) released earlier this week, and I finally got a chance to properly give the multiplayer a go. As it turns out, I’m an evil, evil man. But you knew that already. So let’s talk about the game.

Ahahahaa... I'm going to win, and they can't stop me. Well... Maybe...

Ahahahaa… I’m going to win, and they can’t stop me. Well… Maybe…

Gremlins Inc, essentially, is a tactical race for points, where the cards you use don’t only affect other players and give you points, they’re also the way you move. As such, you have to change your plans on the fly quite often, as while you could try holding on to that lovely card with all the victory points, you might need to get to a more immediate reward in a hurry… You know, before others do to you what you would do unto them. Despite being competitive as all heck, ranked multiplayer seems pretty relaxing, although due to one of the reasons it’s relaxing (Chat is mostly just emoticons and some stock phrases), it can be hard to tell sometimes.

Either way, playing against players is a very different experience than playing against the AI. Because the players are less likely to dick you over. Which segues nicely into one of the “problems” of Gremlins Inc. : Challenge mode is tough, because the AI is good. Or, more accurately, because the AI is aggressive. I have yet to gain three lamps in any of the challenges, despite them mostly being longer games than ranked. Because the AI players take every chance they get to dick you over if it looks like you’re winning.

Some cards are secret, or illegal. They're useful, and powerful... But exposure of your plans is dangerous, and can come at any time.

Some cards are secret, or illegal. They’re useful, and powerful… But exposure of your plans is dangerous, and can come at any time.

In a way, though, this is still revealing, because it shows how the entire game is built around threat perception. And there are lots of threats to perceive, from a player having lots of money (Used to buy cards, especially ones that give you those sweet, sweet victory points), lots of votes (Meaning they’re going to become governor, get a victory point, and become immune to bribe or police search tiles, letting them keep their money in places you wouldn’t want them to), lots of EEEEEVIL (An indicator of how many “selfish” cards they’ve played, such as Robbery… 350 easy money, but also lowers everyone’s income), and even the not often seen Prison Experience (Which establishes how much of a threat they can be if you’re in the Jail with them.) The computer is good at establishing this, whereas in multiplayer? It’s much less certain. You could slip by unnoticed for many turns, not considered a threat until BAM, one Infernal Machine and an instant jump to the top of the board. Or, of course, you could be heading toward the Astral Plane, somebody will say “Aha, they are about to play a good card” , and slap you down for your hubris.

I haven’t had this much fun playing ranked since Bad Company 2. And the game is cunning in that your rank slowly goes down for each day you don’t play, allowing newer players a chance to climb the ladder when others get tired of playing. The game also tries to keep the interactions friendly by limiting them, and it seems as though that’s working. Seems. It’s kind of difficult to tell, but I’m pretty sure most people are being friendly, gasping at others’ misfortune, asking if they’re alright, and cheering each other on as somebody makes a canny play.

I'm not going to pretend everything's happy, however. Sometimes, someone puts the boot in when you're already down... :'(

I’m not going to pretend everything’s happy, however. Sometimes, someone puts the boot in when you’re already down… :'(

Overall, this is a tightly designed computer board game whose main flaw is the same flaw of any board game… Once you become familiar enough with it, the entertainment lessens. But nonetheless, I’d recommend it as a good example of computer board games, and a game at a reasonable price.

(Other reading: The Early Access Review)

The Mad Welshman smiled as the gremlins told him he’d be “Right at home in Clockwork Town.” As another failed experiment due to lax safety measures (They cost money, after all!) exploded, he smiled. Yes… He was… Home.

Tharsis (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, you have games seemingly designed to encourage us never to leave this green earth again. Games which say “Space is so stupidly dangerous, there is literally no point in going up there.” Tharsis is one such game… And I don’t really think that’s so much intention as theorycrafting over testing.

No, you weren't prepared. You weren't prepared at all, and you're going to die.

No, you weren’t prepared. You weren’t prepared at all, and you’re going to die.

Make no mistake, Tharsis is beautiful. Digital paintings abound, the Tharsis itself doesn’t look bad by any stretch of the imagination, and the UI, while not as helpful as it could be, is laid out well. The music, similarly, hits the right note, with the cutscene music’s mood of “We are fucked” and the main game’s “Okay, but let’s go down working, eh?” It fits. Which makes the game’s core problem of… Er… The core all the more heartbreaking. Essentially, while on a mission to Mars to investigate a transmission, a micrometeoroid shower blows up one of your modules, setting off a cascade of problems, and killing two of your crew, leaving you four crew, and… Well, an ever growing list of potentially lethal problems on your mission. And that, right there, is both the thematic core of the game, and its core problem.

Simply put, there is never, ever enough work to go round. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it were a case of “Welp, I missed saving the ship by one die roll, I can do better next time!”, but it never is. It’s nearly always around 4 weeks in, with an absolute mess of sudden, critical, and life threatening problems. On “Normal” difficulty. And it seems to show how little thought went into the interaction between game elements that I cannot find a single way to get myself through this block. If I somehow had seven dice (out of a maximum of six), and managed to roll every single number on those dice once (Plus a 5) and got the right piece of research, I would be able to manage one out of five critical problems that arise. But this is also assuming, firstly, that I had seven out of six dice (An impossibility), secondly, that none of those six results were Void (Removes dice), Injury (Removes a health level from a crew member), or Stasis (Locks the number rolled), and, last but not least… It would be assuming it’s only one 20 odd dice problem, instead of… Er… Up to four.

Sometimes, your end is as ignominious as this. Others, it's at least mercifully quick.

Sometimes, your end is as ignominious as this. Others, it’s at least mercifully quick.

There are things that can sort of help, but they require dice to use, and usually specific numbers. Want some food to give one of your crew more dice next turn? This requires firstly, that nothing else life threatening is distracting you (Good luck with that), and secondly, that you get… Er… At least two dice with the same number. Assuming, of course, that you have two spare dice to go around. There’s more, of course, but it all comes back to the same core problem: You simply do not have enough dice to even attempt anything but prayer. In a sense, this is fitting with the mood the game is trying to portray. You will not win this game through strategy, because the dice are the true arbiter of whether you survive a turn. On the one hand, it’s relatively quick. On the other, once you’ve won it once, there’s really not much incentive to come back, as the story, and the ship remain the same. All that changes is the crew (Four members, with most choices being unlockable through… Well, grind, basically. Did you research 800 things? Have a crew member choice!) the specific set of disasters you’re going to go through (Which come in flavours of “Will blow up bits of the ship”, “Will turn off those features you rarely use because you’re too busy stopping the ship from blowing up”, “Will take away food”, and “Will take away dice”), and the side projects, combination heal and harm decisions that might give you that edge you need… But it’s generally doubtful, and as the stress mounts, the decisions get worse, and the chance of fuckups costing heavily increases. Oh, just for reference, stress is the bar on the left of the character’s portrait. Research falls to the same problem: You do not have the dice to spare, most of the time.

Do I think it’s well designed in terms of trying to recreate a mood? Yes. Do I think anyone except the masochistic or those who explore thematic design principles will enjoy it? Jesus wept, no. Do I think it could be rebalanced to be less sadistic to appeal to a broader audience? Yes. Right now, however, it just isn’t that approachable. There’s a lot of potential clarity work to go in, there’s grind for questionable results, and this is basically a game about managing luck. Skill will usually get you 4-6 weeks in, but you’re going to need 10, and for that? RNJesus is your only real recourse. For the price it’s asking… I’m not really sure this would appeal very broadly.

There is rarely a good choice here. There is rarely a good choice *anywhere*

There is rarely a good choice here. There is rarely a good choice *anywhere*

The Mad Welshman groaned as yet another monitor sparked in an alarming way. He was six weeks from retirement, dammit, this was meant to be an easy mission, and he couldn’t even get the satisfaction of recreating that one scene from Dark Star at the rate things were going!

Gremlins, Inc (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Capitalism sucks. There’s really no easy way around it. It’s biased, it’s unfair, and it promotes shitty attitudes that make everyone’s life a misery. Which is, in its way, a good segue into talking about Gremlins Inc, a computer board game about a steampunk capitalist society of Gremlins being dicks to each other. It’s a game that needs a little polish, a little toning down of the single player AI, and a somewhat more clear tutorial and UI… But it’s also got the same ingredients that give certain well known board games their rep as awesome games that destroy friendships.

A little hard to read parts of the UI at times, but the art style is *gorgeous*

A little hard to read parts of the UI at times, but the art style is *gorgeous*

Ruleswise, there’s a lot to go into, so I’m just going to sum it up: You have to achieve X victory points (With 20 being average), while stopping anyone else from doing the same, and you do it by moving around a board (using cards), and playing events when you’re able to (using the same cards). Sometimes bad things happen to you, and there doesn’t appear to be any single “OP Strat”, as it were, because everything is out to get you, including large portions of the board. It’s a little more complicated than that, and the tutorial doesn’t cover everything (Like the existence of a collective pool of “EEEEVIL” cards, as a prime example I wish I’d known about), but it’s effectively in a very solid beta (Meaning there are bugs, but not as many as a release would have, and nothing that appears game breaking), and board game afficianados would definitely enjoy it. Why?

Let’s start with how it encourages a wide spectrum of good, strategic thinking. I have three cards. One can be used relatively nearby, but I can’t afford it. Yet. One can be used right across the board, and one can be used back the way I’d already come. All of these options are technically viable, but to play any of them well, I have to think. The first option just requires both time and not being dicked over. It’s do-able, but requires me to either not be seen as a threat, or to pre-empt the threat from whichever player I think is going to threaten me. The risk there is that I’m either wrong about which player is the threat, or don’t keep a low enough profile. There are shortcuts I could use, but they have a chance of screwing me over just by taking them, especially on the shortcut through the middle of the map. I have to be adaptable. I have to play the players as well as the game. I have to risk assess. And I have to be lucky.

Even Jail can be used to win the game, if you're clever about it...

Even Jail can be used to win the game, if you’re clever about it…

This turn, I am not lucky. “Who rolls a 1?” I ask jokingly, as I refuse to bribe my local policeman so as to stop any searches without risk. After all, if I do that, another player gets to profit off my loss. And I roll a 1, immediately being sent to jail, and watching one of those options evaporate. But that’s okay. Even jail can be used to better my circumstances. In the long term.

Secret and Criminal cards. Evil cards. Elections. Bribes and Searches, and the role of the buildings… The game has somewhat of a learning curve problem, which means the tutorial has to be spot on (And currently, doesn’t show off everything you might need to know). A good system of tooltips somewhat helps, but new players will want to invest time in the single player to get a feel for things, and those of us who can’t invest an hour or so into a game? Probably shouldn’t get this, as a 20 point game might take as long as 4 hours, and the first single player challenge is 30 points to victory.

Similarly, the aesthetic is both a good and a bad point with this game. I love the art style, having always been a sucker for some good ink and pencil work… But the UI suffers in readability because some of the parts of it are small and relatively unhelpful (The turn log, for example), and the board looks busy because light value contrast isn’t as clear as it could be (Although, again, the tooltips help somewhat with “Where can I go?” and “What does this do?”) The music is pretty good, just the right, farcical feel for a farcical fantasy dystopia.

I am a moustache twirler. This is a moustache twirler's game. QED. :V

I am a moustache twirler. This is a moustache twirler’s game. QED. :V

However, when all’s said and done, I look at this game, think “This cost me as much as Dr. Lucky did, back in the day”, and smile. It’s a fairly well crafted, competitive game, and the devs know exactly what they have on their hands, with a tournament already having been started in the Early Access phase. If you want a competitive, multiplayer computer board-game, and have the time to spare, I really don’t think you could go wrong with Gremlins Inc. I would, however, mention one final thing in regards to the multiplayer… Er… How do you make a game friends-only again? Wasn’t a problem right now, but best to nip it in the bud if that hasn’t been thought of. I had a lot of fun with this, and expect to have more fun in the future.

The Mad Welshman cackled with glee as he dipped freely into the Widows and Orphans Fund for Disenfranchised Gremlins. Campaign Contributions, it seems, were always there if you knew how…

Guild Of Dungeoneering (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 normal, £14.99 incl. Soundtrack, £5.59 separate soundtrack.
Where To Get ItSteam

Guild of Dungeoneering is, in essence, a game about how impressionable and petty adventurers are. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but at its core, it’s about how a shiny thing, or an easy kill, is one of the easiest ways to lead an adventurer in a dungeon by the nose. In fact, the game counts on it. Because while there’s some things you can directly control about the illustrious (?) members of the Guild of Dungeoneering, where they go isn’t one of them.

...Shame you're going to have to step up your game, though, Dungeoneer!

When you get going, you really get going, and reveal new dungeons to loot as you go!

Now, it’s not often I comment on the visuals of a game, but Guild of Dungeoneering hits a sweet spot with me, because the look of the game is a better version of how I used to try and draw my dungeon maps, back when I was a younger, harder working Dungeon Master. It’s charming, and a lot of effort has gone into making a seemingly simple looking game… Look good. Not in the “It is shiny, and has lots of pixels” sense, but in the sense that it fits the theme really well. It’s a small thing, but it counts for a lot, hearing the scribbles, and watching the map tile being etched into the graph paper that is the world of GoD. In fact, the feel of the game is amazing, and the music… Has to be listened to to be believed. On that, I will only say two things: The game is filled with Ye Olde Bardic Limericks like in the trailer for the game, and they are all pretty awesome, making the soundtrack (£4 or £5.59, depending on whether you buy the Deluxe edition, or buy the OST separately) well worth the purchase.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s again, fairly simple, but meaningful. Adventurers like, in this order, unguarded loot, a monster that will gain them sweet, sweet XPs, aaaand… That’s about it, actually, but the value of the loot is always a factor. Combat and loot, however, requires a bit more thought, because the adventurer will take the shortest path to what they want (Which can definitely be a bad thing) and the classes you choose have a bearing. Will you enter a dungeon with an Apprentice, who starts with no physical defences, but powerful magic? Or maybe a Bruiser, the thug whose spikey demeanour (or armour, it’s not certain which) is so cutting that blocking all damage means you hurt the enemy? And once you’re there, will you go for magical kit, or physical? More blocking, more damage, more healing? Simple choices, but they add up to make a challenging experience. Even putting down more map tiles may open up pathing options for your poor, dumb adventurers that you really, really didn’t want them to pick right now.

Unless, of course, you get Stupid III. Uhhh... Uhhh...

The more loot you get, the more powerful you are! Simples!

So, for all that I’m talking up the game, is there anything I would complain about? Yes, but it’s niggles. There is always the possibility of a fail from turn 1 (For example, the only dungeon tile card you have bridges you straight to higher level wandering monsters), but death of an adventurer… Has no consequence I can see, so feel free to abandon quest if you see that. Animations play at a set speed, and while I’m fine with it, preferring the tension, the option of speeding it up could be put in for the less patient (A concession toward this has been added to the game with the ability to turn icon animations off). It’s also slightly unclear when a guild expansion is going to close off building directions, so a little extra mention there would be great. But, as I mentioned, these are niggles. The difficulty curve seems just fine, as you get a feel for a dungeon and its challenges after only one or two plays, and the game is mostly pretty intuitive. In short, it’s the best idealisation of Monty Haul dungeons I’ve ever seen.

Want to spend around £11-£16 on something with charm, wit, and simple play that’s easy to learn, but hard to master? Guild of Dungeoneering is a turn based strategy game for you. But if you’re the kind of person who groans whenever you have to wait for a movement, or attack, or animation to finish because you want to play quicker, it might be a better idea to wait, see if animation speed options get patched in. Overall though, I think you can tell that I’m enjoying this a hell of a lot. Now, to send a Mime into a Boss Dungeon… Muahahahahahaaa…

No class is a bad choice. Except maybe the Chump. Yeah, the Chump might not be a good idea.

And, of course, the more you earn, the bigger and more powerful your guild gets!

The Mad Welshman was put in charge of The Guild of Dungeoneering, and within a week, the hero population dropped drastically. There is no correlation between these two events, honest.