Unreal Estate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Unreal Estate is kind of emblematic of tiny games that work, in that while it’s undeniably perfectly fine on its own, you can play with friends, and it’s easy to learn, there’s really not much to say beyond that. The art is nice, the fonts are kinda eh, and the sound and music, similarly, is there, and that, beyond it being a mere £2, is, uh… Largely it.

The card art is nice.

Essentially, it’s a turn based card game, in which, on your turn, you either grab a card for your hand, or play a card that matches the ones on the right for the card’s value times the number of matching cards on the right. If you have more than one of that card, it counts for more, and once all players (from 2 to 4) have picked up or played a card, the rest go to the right. Rinse and repeat, until all the cards are gone or nobody can play anything, and the one with the most points wins.

Similarly, the criticisms are small: It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a windowed mode, nor does it have volume sliders (just sound/music on/off.)

Cue perhaps the shortest review I’ve ever written.

Pathfinder Adventures (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99 (£29.99 for Obsidian Edition, £3.99 each for a cosmetic DLC and a “Some good cards and nice dice” DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

You lose a lot of stuff when adventuring, it seems. Sometimes, in the most dickish of ways. “Get hit before the fight even begins, Discard 1d4-1 cards (Unless you have armour, which won’t always work)”, “Permanently lose this card to close this location (Which you need to do to win the adventure)”, “Permanently lose this thing to pass this other thing.”

“If you didn’t have a weapon, or have and roll low, become slightly more screwed. Oh, and it goes back into the location deck for you to encounter again later.”

If it weren’t for getting new cards, and not having to pay money for all but the best cards, I’d probably have quit Pathfinder Adventures (a tablet port of a collectible, co-operative card game that has now hit Steam) long ago. As it is, getting those new cards introduces its own irritations. But we’ll get to this in a bit. First, the general idea.

The general idea is that you play a party of adventurers (modelled after the Pathfinders, the mascot group of Pathfinder, which, itself, is off brand Dungeons and Dragons) , each with a limited hand, trying to fulfil quests where both time and hand size are against you. Run out of the Blessing deck (ticking down 1 per each character’s turn, more if you encounter the villain of each adventure early and let them get away), and you lose. Run out of cards to draw from your adventurer’s hand, and they die, making it harder to win the adventure (and dying permanently, losing you a lot of hard work, if you’re foolish or brave enough to turn Permadeath on.) There’s a lot more to it than that, and the tutorial feels quite heavy because it has to introduce a lot of concepts, pretty quickly, but that, in essence, is the core of it. You draw cards at a location until you hit either a henchman or a villain, and, depending on which it is, you either fight them to “close” the location (IE – “The Villain Ain’t Here, Boss, And They Can’t Run Here”), or you encounter the Villain, and try to make sure they can’t go anywhere else while you finish them off. Failure to do so, as mentioned, screws you, as the villain escapes and takes valuable turns to deal with said villain with them, to a random location you didn’t manage to close in time.

I have four or so locations to close. I *can* close three of them. Maybe.

This, in essence, is a lot of my problem with Pathfinder Adventures: It’s very adversarial, and, even in victory, most of your rewards (whether added to each characters deck in play, or via post adventure rewards) are going to be thrown away, sold for the pitiful in-game currency sum of 1 Gold Piece per card, seemingly regardless of rarity or use. To give some idea of how insulting this feels, a generic blessing sells for the same price as either a better blessing, or a spell that adds 1d10+1 (big numbers, for low levels) to a wizard’s normally quite shitty combat skills, a quest generally rewards you with 100 GP for completion, and a chest that allows you to add four random cards (and sometimes dice, a cosmetic item) to your Unclaimed pile (which, thankfully, you get to keep until you “claim” them, at which point they become subject to the same “Most things get thrown away” rule) costs 500 GP.

Generally, your progression will be upward, to better, more damaging and more roll increasing cards, but any adventure that involves a lot of banishing cards is going to reduce that trend, and there is, like very old school Dungeons and Dragons, the occasional “No, fuck you, you just take damage” that makes the adventure more difficult in entirely frustrating ways.

Just in case you thought I was joking. “Damage taken cannot be reduced.” Damage = Discard cards from your hand. The one saving grace is that it isn’t *Banish* cards from your hand (Permanently lost.)

Visually, it’s quite nice, even if some UI elements (like that Blessing counter that determines whether you run out of time or not) get lost in the crush, and the sounds are okay. But I got tired of the music (especially the wailing violin of the theme tune) very quickly, there is no multiplayer that I’m aware of (Unlike the card game itself, which you play with friends), and honestly? The adventures have started annoying the hell out of me with the aforementioned “No fuck you, things get worse” pretty early on. It has a fair bit of depth, it has a fair few strategic elements that help minimise the luck based elements (Such as adding dice via blessings, changing the skill used to one you have better dice in via other cards, etcetera, etcetera), and I will, in its defense, say that it currently keeps Pay 2 Win and microtransaction fuckery to an absolute minimum, but otherwise, if I wanted to be told “Rocks fall, you lose 3 cards” , I’d join a Pathfinder game without asking what kind of DM was running things.

The Mad Welshman hastens to add that, if you like Pathfinder, you may have a more enjoyable experience. Emphasis on “may.”

Cards of Cthulhu (Review)

Source: Regretted Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Aaaah, October. That time where games, regardless of quality, have to have something to do with something spoopy. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make any sort of sense. Such is the case with Cards of Cthulhu, a game with cards, yes… But the only Cthulhu related thing I’ve seen has been the title card. Everything else has been some odd combo of anime and metal album memes. And that makes me kinda sad.

It says something that this title card was actually a little tough to screenshot. It goes by moderately quickly, and with no input on my part.

It says something that this title card was actually a little tough to screenshot. It goes by moderately quickly, and with no input on my part. Gee, it feels so worth it to see Popcorn Cthulhu now…

Making me even more sad is that there really isn’t a whole lot to say about the game overall. A biker with seemingly no context (Out of game, the context is “Save your girlfriend.” So yay?) rides along a desert landscape, fighting a series of monsters in increasing group sizes. Most of the difficulty lies in numbers, whether that’s in the damage of your cards (Often reliant on the enemy not having a whole lot of health, or you not having a whole lot of health), or the numbers of each enemy grouping (So far, I’ve gotten up to groups of three at a time.) Numbers go down (once a second on each side, later going up to 2/s on your side with certain enemies), there’s not a lot of interaction, and when each enemy dies, a shader thing happens, and you move onto the next group.

Which would be a good point to mention that, for some reason, this seemingly all 2d game uses the Unreal engine… And I’m genuinely not sure where among the simplistic UI, animations, or canned sound effects this game really needed that.

So, onto the positive. It’s visually consistent. That’s… About it. The UI is ugly (Not cluttered, just ugly), the enemies are either monstrous, Brotastically macho, or have breasts and love to shove them out. Occasionally, there will be damned men being eaten, or women clinging to their legs. It’s all very cliché, doesn’t have a lot to do with Cthulhu, or indeed anything lovecraftian, and isn’t particularly horrific. It’s just… Trying too hard. There’s even a Cyber-Harpy who combos DRAMATIC FORESHORTENING of her biological limbs, while using two of her four cybernetic arms to, er… Show off her chest and/or try to lick it?

I would content warn this as "Immature Content" , but really, that's self evident.

I would content warn this as “Immature Content” , but really, that’s self evident.

Meanwhile, the attack cards (Your main actual interaction) are bland as hell. Oh look, here’s the ice card. You can tell, because it has ice on it. Same with the Burn card. The Venom card is green, and has smoke and bubbles. That’s how you can tell it’s poison. And from there, it doesn’t really get any better. Here’s some swirly things for a time bomb. And what they amount to, once they’re played, is a bar counting down at the top of the screen, a canned sound effect, and maybe an explosion at the right moment.

Oh, and let’s not forget it calls itself a roguelike, perhaps because it thinks that’s fashionable, or that there is meaningful procedural generation here. It’s not really a roguelike. It’s not even a rogue-lite. It’s a game which unlocks more content the further you go and/or the more you die. And that content is basically cards. It throws you straight in, not giving a whole lot of time to appreciate the title card, and once you’re in, it’s over anywhere between 5 minutes and half an hour later.

So, if you’re looking for a low input quickie to play, and really like the artstyle of monsters you’re going to see again and again and again, then maybe this is… A buy? But honestly, I’m seriously struggling to work out where the appeal is here. And this is from someone who likes metal album monsters.

You, er, ride on free, Boxing Sabertooth on an Iron Horse...

You, er, ride on free, Boxing Sabertooth on an Iron Horse…

The Mad Welshman is, secretly, a cybernetic whip wielding Chihuaha surrounded by Escher Women For Cthulhu. But don’t tell anyone.

Reigns (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99 (£2.37 for the soundtrack, interactive soundtrack, and companion artbook too, or 79p each for each of these things.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons with Reigns. Tinder: The Visual Novel (because swiping left or right is the main decision making mechanic.) Cards Against Royalty (because there are event cards, and horrible things can happen.) Long Live The King (Because, effectively, it’s a visual novel with a lot of bad ends, like Long Live The Queen.) But, while these do indeed illustrate aspects of this game by Nerial, it’s definitely its own thing.

You could be seeing this a fair bit.

You could be seeing this a fair bit.

Essentially, you are a King. An archetypal King, for good or ill. One who’s made a deal with The Devil for an endless life. Of course, nobody specified that this life couldn’t involve reincarnation. So you’re stuck in a cycle of life and death, trying to find a way out of this curse. And you will die. It says a lot that the very first achievement in the game is “Survive for 5 years.”

Now, it should be mentioned that, just like your average visual novel, once you’re aware of events you can plan for them, and move toward the True Ending of the game. It should also be mentioned that, like a Visual Novel, it’s somewhat short (34 minutes in, I’d gone through seven kings and met just over a third of the cast. An hour in, and I’d been given An Important Clue.) But it’s a game where things genuinely get better as time goes by, and that “Gets Better” is around five minutes in. As part of the design.

One of the people you meet. If you guessed they might not be helpful, win an imaginary cookie.

One of the people you meet. If you guessed they might not be helpful, win an imaginary cookie.

You see, as you progress down the lineage of kings (Harry the Doomed, Michael the Martyr… Y’know, just king stuff), you start to meet people who can help you in your long, slow battle against the devil. People who make your life easier… Mostly. I’m not even going to pretend that some of them are assholes that I won’t miss. And being a king, as it turns out, is somewhat difficult, because you have to balance things, and I really do mean balance. Run out of Papal Power, and the pagan hordes string you up. Give the church too much, and you find yourself declared a heretic. Similarly with the other three concerns (Population, Military Power, and, the thing The Mad Welshman keenly understands, Cashmoneys.) It also introduces new concepts at a reasonable rate, and so, the further in, the more interesting it gets.

In the name of balancing my own Review meter, it should also be noted that, once you understand what does what in an event, this is unlikely to change, although the spread of events does, narrowing at times, but generally expanding. So I now know that if I’m absolutely sure I want to stop my military from overthrowing me, I can send them to pacify the east… So long as that doesn’t max out anything else. The game even helps a little with this understanding, giving you little dots for a small change, and big dots for a big one (Although not everything you do has an immediate effect.)

You partied so hard you died. Because you had all the money. Haha on you for being such a fiscally successful king! XP

You partied so hard you died. Because you had all the money. Haha on you for being such a fiscally successful king! XP

In short, it’s interesting, it’s accessible, it’s kind of fun, and it’s £2.

The Mad Welshman has lived many lives. He’s even swiped in a couple of them. But this “swipe left/right” thing is a new definition for him.

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.