Lost In The Dungeon (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Lost in the Dungeon is one of those games where the art is quite nice. The intro cutscene is a short motion comic, and it’s nice. The card art is nice. The music, while a little bland, is nice. Obvious work has gone into the assets.

I will die in two turns, counting this wasted one. I feel, somehow, this sets the mood.

It’s just a terrible shame that not nearly as much was put into the game. Let’s start with the basics: Sound control? Sort of, you have music on, music off. That’s your lot. Windowed mode? Sort of, you can alt-tab to have a full screen window instead of full screen. Accessibility? Well, here, it sorta wins out, as it’s a turn based game, everything is via the mouse, and there are few enough options (with “Click again to confirm” on things like quit) that it doesn’t take terribly long to learn them. Forced tutorial every single time you start a new character, with no option to turn it off? Yup!

These are minor niggles, it is true. But these are, if you will, an aperitif, a little starter, for, regardless of your character class, the difficulty curve begins at “No fuck you.” And it surprises me how the characters fail in the early game, more than the fact that they do.

Mood.JPG.

The warrior, for example, does great damage. Hell, when he has the energy to use his best attack, and rolls well? He cleans house, taking even the armour of giant spiders off (That’s 7 armour at start, as an aside.) But his own armour is very prone to coming off, not just because, when energy is low, he’s unable to do more than defend, but because enemies like removing armour in the first dungeon, and one of his best early options for quickly barrelling armour… Costs armour. This is before we factor in that poison and bloodsucking, two abilities common to enemies in the very first dungeon… Completely bypass armour. Hope you’ve got an antidote card handy for that damage over time with your health, friend, and hope the snakes and spiders don’t decide to poison you all over again, because antidotes and potions cost 5 gold a pop, even if you got ’em in your hand of 3 cards!

Okay, how about the mage? Usually, when the warrior suffers, the Mage makes bank, right? Well, they have superior armouring options, and a good spell for removing armour… But when it comes to damage, somehow, fireball does bupkiss. It’s got some damage over time, but you’re not going to get very far when nothing is dying and everything is still poisoning or leeching or attacking you. Welp.

Be it vendor trash or new, good or not, the same, flashy presentation awaits your hard earned chests. There’s a lootbox joke in there somewhere.

I get where the game’s going with this. It wants me to grind those first few rooms of the first dungeon, again and again and again until I have Good Stuff, enough money for my potions and antidotes not to embarassingly run out (along with my money, making for a potionless grind of… The first few rooms), and some extra, better cards under my belt from its limited toolset (perhaps mixing classes, since there appears to be no restriction on that beyond… Well, starting from First Cards of varying utility. Thing is… I don’t want to do that. I don’t particularly care if it Gets Better Later (and I’m informed it does) , because what I’m experiencing now is some of the most painful, joyless grind I’ve experienced in a long time. And I’m not down for that.

The Mad Welshman is an adventurous type. He just prefers to be able to conquer early dungeons fairly easily. As tradition dictates.

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Wartile (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (w/soundtrack, £18.98 , soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wartile is, on paper, a great idea. Aesthetically, it is, at the very least, interesting. It takes clear direction, and some good planning, to so accurately replicate the feel of a tabletop diorama. And very pretty ones at that. But I’m going to let you in on a little tabletop secret: Beyond the cost and craftsmanship required to make said pretty dioramas, the main reason they aren’t used a whole bunch is because it’s a pain in the ass to move models around them. The prettier they are, the harder this is to do.

Similarly to trees, counting the rings reveals the experience of an enemy.

That this, also, is faithfully recreated is the first of Wartile’s problems. In fact… A lot of what feels unfun about Wartile is that very faithfulness to its inspiration. Let’s unpack that a little. Anyone remember Hero Quest? Or Space Crusade? Ahh, the heady days of proto-GMing, having a nice, dramatic blurb to read out, and then… Moving figures around the board to obtain simple objectives, like “Kill the Genestealer” or “Find Room X in Y turns.” Ahh, the grand stories that te- Ah. Yes. Was a bit basic, wasn’t it? And without the enemy cards to let you know precisely what bad news those Androids were, they were basically plastic white skullmen.

And so it is, to an extent, with Wartile. It’s taking from a rich tapestry of norse myth and creatures, but it can be a little hard to appreciate because, apart from some card abilities, they’re basically “Enemy, whack automatically [preferably from higher ground] until dead.” It tries to spice it up, even early on. AMBUSH! Yup. Yup. Two more enemies. Cool. Here, it’s not so much the individual animations (Which are fine), or any lack of impact (The enemies do react, although not always consistently) , but the fact that, beyond placement, and some card abilities (The less of which you use, the better your tactical score, and thus your money at the end of each mission), combat is very much a case of watching animations and timers go by. Turns are, you see, automatic, so enemies will move every X seconds, you’re allowed to move every X seconds. Picking a thing up? Be close enough, click. Destroying an object? Place near enough, wait.

“If I can just… HNGH… Reach under this tree, I can take my turn!”

Objectives, meanwhile, are nearly all some variation of “Collect X [sometimes plural], bring to Y”, “Kill D”, “Destroy Z”, or “Get to P” … Just like those older board games. It does get more tactical, at times, but… Yeah. The interface varies between being reminiscent of a tabletop game in progress (If, you know, you had rich tabletop friends with big-ass tables), and pictures from a tabletop magazine, complete with workmanlike, functional text paragraphs.

So, on the whole, Wartile does exactly what it sets out to do: Recreate a tabletop experience, albeit with some computer unique touches. Oddly, that’s exactly the problem… That, if anything, it does too good a job.

Ah… Fond memories of being told about a campaign’s Visrep rule. Strangely, I wasn’t allowed the twelve heavy guns my character owned…

Which is a hell of a thing to have to say.

The Mad Welshman is a nine ring creature, medium sized, with dual enchanted handaxes. Just so you know.

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Faerie Solitaire Remastered (Review)

Source: Free copy due to owning the original.
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When I reviewed Shadowhand, late last month, the last thing I was expecting was to be talking about the earliest “Solitaire with a story” game that I’d played, 2010’s Faerie Solitaire. And yet… Here we are. So… Solitaire, but with Faeries, and Remastered, how is it?

Ahhh, that twinkle, that sound you sadly can’t hear because it’s a screenshot. It’s nice to get rid of cards.

Well, there are, in fact, some changes under the hood. Eggs, for example, which had been a pain in the rear to collect, now drop more frequently, although the developer has stated that they’ll be adding more creatures to the egg pool. Spare cards have been replaced by wild cards, found the same way you find eggs and resources (by getting to the bottom of a stack, and finding them), and the game can now be put in an adjustable window. There’s new mechanics in the Challenge mode. So, overall? Yup, it’s an improvement!

None of this, of course, changing the basic idea, which is exactly what you’d expect: Get rid of cards, preferably all of them, by going up or down in numeric order, and filling arbitrary goals like “Get rid of seven cards in one go”, or “Get rid of all cards in three out of the ten rounds of this level.” Succeeding in these goals, and getting rid of enough cards in each round, means you get to smash a crystal with a fairy trapped inside. Before you even know why these fairies are trapped in crystals in the first place. Which is a nice segue into the story, such as it is.

In the land of Avalon, there’s magic, and a balance between these forces. But something is unbalancing them, and our young, male hero is out to repopulate the land by freeing fairies, and spending magical card money to give them buildings, which helps his card removing skills, his egg raising skills, and other skills that… Look, it’s paper thin, and you’re not really getting this game for a narrative magnum opus. You’re not getting it for the backgrounds of each area, either, as even with a remaster, they’re muddy paintings, a mere framework to let you know “You are in a mushroom land” or “This is the spiky place.”

Despite the backgrounds not feeling like an improvement, some of the art *has* improved.

No. What you’re paying your seven pounds for is 400 different rounds of Solitaire with puzzle elements such as fireballs to free up frozen stacks, roses to clear thorn stacks, and other fun things, split among 80 areas, themselves split among eight worlds. You’re paying for that minor serotonin rush of the cute widdle beasties you unlock and level up, and you’re paying for a free copy of the original game. Which is okay, as noted, so long as you’re okay with solitaire puzzles. Faerie Solitaire, even remastered, remains an okay game. Which is all it needs to be.

In the interests of disclosure, The Mad Welshman would like to note he didn’t spend as much time as he’d like with Faerie Solitaire, due to the unfortunate fact it fits with the more esoteric triggers for his epilepsy. Epilepsy can be weeeeird, folks.

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Shadowhand (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the noble highwaypeople, secretly nobles or derring doers! Oh, wait, no, that wasn’t quite the way it went, generally speaking. But there is a vast literary tradition of the noble turned criminal for Good Deeds, and this, generally speaking, is what Shadowhand is about. Also Solitaire.

See? Corruption. ‘Sright there, and we’re gonna fight it, as Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, aka… SHADOWHAND.

Shadowhand is an odd mix, and one I’ve only seen occasionally in the past: A solitaire game, with RPG progression, inventory, and special abilities, and, because RPGs do, generally speaking, need a story, a story about a noblewoman who, at first, dons a highwayman’s costume to find her maidservant, but then gets drawn into deep intrigue, fraternising with the criminal element, mystical ladies in caravans, and grave-robbing, to name but a few moments.

However, enjoyment of the game will really, really depend on how much you like Solitaire, that card game of trying desperately to beat random chance by putting a card 1 higher or lower than the card you have drawn into the deck until there are either no cards left in the layout (Go you, you won!) , or no cards left in the deck (Aw, boo, you lost!) Because it is very much the core mechanic here. There are elements that make it easier, harder, or more interesting in those aforementioned RPG elements, like Luck, a double edged stat that presents a percentage chance of any move you make getting rid of a second, random card that you could have picked, but it remains a little bit chancy that any layout is solvable.

That’s less of an issue with combat, as combat is effectively “Try to get chains while preventing your opponent getting chains, so you can wallop them harder than they wallop you.” A thing which becomes more of an issue when the hit-points and defense keep going up, the weapon damage keeps going up, and when a chain really hits, it hits… Either way. Attacking ends a turn, but that, also, becomes a consideration when items that give extra turns, or punish you with bleeding for taking your turn come into play.

This, er… Fine gentleman managed to get me to hit the retry button something like 4 times. This was near the end of the second.

So… There’s depth to this whole Solitaire shebang, but it’s depth that becomes rather frustrating early on. Yes, okay, I can infinitely retry pretty much any segment of a chapter until I ace it. But, the further I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been hitting that retry button (and, occasionally, taking advantage of the bit I’m thankful for, being able to change my equipment before I actually start each combat, search, or gimmick level.)

You might be thinking, at this point, “Wow, he really doesn’t like this!” Not… Exactly. What I’m trying to get across here is that, yes, it’s a solitaire game with depth, some nice, relatively static visuals (Combat has short animations, and cards have short animations, but character dialogue is the static image of a character and textbox we know and love from Visual Novels and the like), some okay music (It fits the theme, it doesn’t get in the way, but it’s not terribly memorable, either), and a story (Which we’ll come back to in a second), but Solitaire, however it’s dressed up, given depth, or the like, remains a game that frustrates the hell out of even those of us who enjoy Solitaire from time to time.

Which, finally, brings us to the story, such as it is. It is not, strictly speaking, a bad story in the broad strokes. In fact, it’s one we’ve heard a few times: A noble accidentally ends up a highwayperson, finds some corruption (In this case, her family fortune is being embezzled in some larger scheme), and decides to lead a dual life in order to halt this corruption. It’s mainly that, as sometimes happens, the story takes a backseat to the game, and the tone of the story thus suffers. Oh no, dark deeds are afoot in the graveyard, and our heroine must find a treasure map by graverobbing, while also defeating Thug, Other Thug, and the boss of the area, mean ol’ gravekeeper Doug Hole! This is kind of a shame, as, like I said, the broad strokes are the bones of a good yarn. But it’s a yarn that doesn’t flow, tonewise or in terms of pacing, and that makes me kind of sad.

Never let it be said that Lady Shadowhand doesn’t take advantage of the finest of the Regency Roguery line!

Overall, as I’ve pretty much been saying the whole time, it really depends on how much you like Solitaire, whether you like this or not. If you accept Solitaire’s flaws for what they are, then you have a perfectly fine Solitaire game that adds depth to the basic formula, wraps a story around it, and has some interesting additions. Myself, I’m not that big a fan, so I only see myself coming occasionally back to this.

The Mad Welshman would like you to step down from the carriage gently and hand over your valuables. He also thanks you for your custom.

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Reigns: Her Majesty (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09 (£2.09 for the soundtrack, 79p for the Book of the Queen, £6.99 for a bundle of both this and the original Reigns, with all the mod cons)
Where To Get It: Steam

I can say, having played Reigns: Her Majesty, that I have been a lesbian queen torn to shreds by the adoration of her populace. I’ve also been a bisexual queen burned by the church along with the unborn heir to the throne, a heterosexual queen who had a dalliance with her hunter, then turned off the sun, an asexual queen who burned the treasury on pretty things, but, in all of these stories, there has been a common thread.

Uggghh… The worst part about Queen PLC is the bleedin’ Marketing Department, I swear.

Some incredibly shifty (and often shiftless) men trying to tell me how to live my life. Not to mention a couple of folks, men and women, trying to tell me what is proper for someone of my station. Even if, as it turns out, a lot of that “proper behaviour” was bollocks. It even got me killed, in one early case. Reigns: Her Majesty has things to say, about medieval perceptions of gender, pagan faiths versus state religion, all sorts of clever stuff under the surface.

I’m loving every minute of it.

Much like its predecessor, Reigns, you are a monarch, destined to die and live again, until something happens. Instead of being cursed by the Devil, however, you are an Archetypal Queen, seemingly created by the Lady of the Wood for… Reasons. Although there is an amusing nod where you ask your pet cat Rex if they’re the Devil in disguise. Any which way, your reigns are generally short and brutal, due to the balancing act you have to make with binary choices (Swipe left, swipe right.) You can’t be too popular, or not popular at all. You can’t have too powerful a military, or a nonexistent one. Obviously, there has to be money in the treasury. And you can’t piss off the Church too much. There are goals, but more than baby steps are unlikely, due to just how fragile the kingdom really is. The crown and Church battle. The King can’t be bothered with most administrative tasks. You’re not, in a very real sense, allowed to be yourself. You have to be The Flawed Queen, not perfect (Because you’ll die), not terrible (Because you’ll die), just… Walking the tightrope.

NARRATOR: As it turned out, no, she wasn’t good. She had, in fact, been deemed Very Bad by the Church…

If you can’t find parallells there with the modern day, with celebrity, women, and the like, trust me, they’re there. Visually, it’s as tidy, as interesting, and clear as its predecessor, and the soundtrack is quietly menacing, eerie, and sometimes ridiculous, as it needs to be. The writing’s damn fine, and, as with Reigns, the further in you get, the more there is to do, narrowing again toward the inevitable progression toward… Well. Let’s leave that for you to find out… My Queen.

NARRATOR: …And so, the Queen and her unborn heir were invited to a lovely barbecue, where she was the guest of honour, and the Church forgave her.
Oh, wait, no they didn’t.

The Mad Welshman never did get the hang of the tightrope…

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