The Dresden Files Co-Operative Card Game (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (Base game. Whole shebang – £26.86. DLC – £14.86 total, individually ranging between £2.89 and £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dresden Files Card Game is an odd duck, to be sure. This isn’t because it’s a bad adaptation of the tabletop game, but because, honestly, the tabletop co-op card game has things that make me go “Hrrm.” So, keep in mind, dear reader, that most of this will be about how it plays, how the cards look, because the UI is fine, the ambient soundtrack is fine in small doses, and, apart from a minor control quirk where you scroll the mouse to zoom into a card, but click on it to zoom it out, it’s perfectly fine as an adaptation.

The character art is quite nice, and the book art remains as good as when I first saw it on the books.

Right. The tabletop game. Essentially, it’s meant to recreate the adventures of Harry Dresden, private dick, wizard, and meddler who often gets in way over his head, the creation of talented author Jim Butcher. The base game, much as the tabletop version, has the first five books, and five characters, each with their own small decks and abilities (Obviously, including Harry, and, just as with the tabletop game, 5 more books and 5 more characters are reasonably priced DLC.) The general idea? Solve cases and defeat foes, using a limited hand and tactical planning, to ensure that, by the end phase (or… If you’re lucky, after the end phase) you’ve solved more cases than there are foes remaining. So far, so simple.

The thing is, you have little niggles, and all of them are to do with Fate, or, more accurately… FATE, the tabletop system based on FUDGE, which has FATE Points and FATE Dice as resolution mechanics. In the Dresden Files Card Game, FATE Points are not experience, but a limit on what actions you can take, including passing your turn. You can get FATE Points back with, for example, Chicago cop Karrin Murphy’s Stunt (One use per game) or “selling” cards, and, as such, it’s a very tactical game. Hrm, I could use Harry’s Soul Gaze to clear up that case, but if I do, I’m leaving Karrin in the lurch for finishing off that Foe, getting us some FATE Points, and getting most of the way to clearing a case. Passing will also dick her over, because it costs a FATE Point, so… Discards final card, Harry is now a liability in the final turns.

FATE Dice sometimes play a hand in FP cost, attack power, and other shenanigans. This is, hands down, the best Showdown result I’ve ever gotten. A less than 1% chance that won me the game.

Tough choices, obviously, abound. And the game does do a good job, with a fixed card pool for each book and character, of getting across the narrative each represents. Billy and Georgia, for example, are werewolves. But they’re not bad Werewolves, and at least two of their cards can only be used if it doesn’t kill or solve. Meanwhile, Susan Rodriguez is an investigation powerhouse, with mostly weak attacks, but a good chance to take advantage, overcome obstacles, and, in at least one case, get clues for a case from fighting a foe. Meanwhile, each book, even though the card pool is always the same 10 cards, has quirks. Kalshazzak the Toad Demon, from Storm Front, for example, cannot be killed, or even hurt unless you solve the core mystery of the novel. In one book, a hostage situation is an obstacle that has to be dealt with, blocking further investigation or combat.

It’s thusly sort of a shame that some of the card art is… Well, functional. Cases look the same. Combat cards, very often, look the same. Same art for a Soul Gaze as… Consulting Bob. In the Side Jobs mode (a more random, “Here’s some occult stuff and cases that Harry would be dealing with in short stories, fanfics, and part of his world” story), this becomes even more clear, with White Court Vampires, Ghouls, Shadows, and all sorts of beasties represented by… Exactly the same card art. Now, at this point, I want to reiterate that this is a very faithful adapation of the original tabletop game, so this is how it was in the tabletop game too. But it’s still a minor let down.

You’re gonna need those case points, as Grave Peril has a lot of TOUGH cases.

Finally, you have… The Showdown. Again, this is a faithful adaptation, and another tactical layer to the game. Do you save FATE Points for the Showdown, leaving some cases or foes for a Hail Mary at the end? Or do you do your best with the cards, and then leave it to the dice with narrow margins?

Neither, as it turns out, are great. Having lots of FATE Points is nominally better, with a roughly 11% chance of getting nothing out of a case… But that chance does exist, and if you need more than, say, the 3 points you buy with 3-5 FATE Points (Depends on whether it’s a clue or a foe) , you’d better hope that margin is 2 or smaller, because even 2 points above is a 23% chance of success. And Lady Luck, as many have found to their cost, has no memory. Also to be factored in is that you have to have at least some hits on a case or foe to try, and an impossible roll is… Well, still impossible. You will never get more than 9 points in the Showdown, and that’s such a vanishingly small chance that it’s really not worth it.

Is it part of that Dresden Files mood to have the final Showdown be partly based on luck? Hell yes. But equally, do I have to like that? Hell no.

In the end, it’s an interesting adaptation of an interesting game, albeit one with its flaws, it has a good tutorial, and it has hotseat for those of us who do play hotseat, meaning that yes, you can buy it to play on your tod (Thank you. No, really, thank you.) On the other, it’s definitely intended to be played with friends, and this shows in even elements of the interface (You can’t, even in Solitaire mode, just switch between characters in the planning stage to see their hands. You have to click on them, then on the hand, then scroll through it. Not much extra effort, but it’s not 100% clear.) This would be fine, except… Well, everybody’s got to have a copy of the game, and the base game is £15. Which is fine… If you are also intending to play it on your own. Which isn’t recommended for long stretches, as the sameyness, and the quirks baked into the game itself, can annoy after long periods.

I’m… Not sure what Biker Gangs exist that look like this, honestly…

Frustrating.

The Mad Welshman met Lady Luck for the fifth time at a bus stop. As before, she completely failed to recognise him.

Hand of Fate 2 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £23.79 (£6.47 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Rumours of the Dealer’s death, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated, as, in the sequel to choppy (in the sense of slashing things), choose-your-own-adventure Card Wizard Assholery, he’s back. Scarred, bitter, and using you, his newest pawn, to attempt to regain his position on the Throne of Life and Death.

“I want you to know I’m feeling very bitter right now…”

While, on its most basic level, Hand of Fate 2 is the same game as the previous, there are changes. There’s a bit more pizazz to the fight and enemy introductions, a little more cohesion in the narrative structure, and the story makes a bit more sense from the get go. The “adventures”, for example, follow a thematic progression down the Major Arcana of the Tarot, rather than the suits, and each has its own little fillip or quirk to make it interesting, such as needing to gain 6 blessings to impress the High Priestess (Who values purity and strength.) They also fit into what is, recognisably, a world, rather than a hodepodge collection of events (Although replaying older events, also, is still a part of the game.) There’s a little more customisation, in that you can be a man or woman of about four different ethnicities each. So far, so nice.

Nonetheless, the basic structure remains the same: You make your way round a field of cards, some of which you’ve picked, some of which the Dealer has picked, in an attempt to reach the boss, achieve the objectives, get new shinies, and eventually take on Fate themselves. Occasionally, and definitely for the bosses, fighting happens, and here…

As with the previous installment, you can’t just whale on a boss and hope they go down. There’s *tactics* involved. The game’s good at telling you them, however, or at least hinting.

…I introduce an edit to the review, as Defiant are as quick on the ball as they’ve been in the past, and combat, previously unresponsive on the ol’ Keyboard and Mouse, has been fixed, so it’s challenging, but fair. As with the story, the fights have their own little quirks and traps. Some enemies take more damage from, say, dual blades. You have a companion character (at first, the seemingly well meaning rogue bard Malaclypse, although there are others), sometimes more than one. Sometimes, protecting them is important. In the case of your major companions, they can give you blessings mid-combat (so long as you’re next to them, and interact with them.) A good pair of examples of enemies getting more interesting are the pictured boss above (who requires bashing to knock off his… Er… Gooey encrustations before he can be damaged. Ew) and the Northern Trappers, who have bolos. Telegraphed well, if you’re distracted or fail to dodge, well, enjoy struggling against the bonds of tight ropes as the Trapper’s barbarian friends come to give you big, crushy hugs.

The voice acting is high quality (The Dealer, in particular, subtly nibbles on the scenery, rather than outright chewing on it in rage and bitterness), the music is good, and the visuals have improved a lot, seemingly without too much impact on performance.

As such… I still honestly like Hand of Fate 2. There’s a definite sense of improvement overall, and, as with the last time, I find myself pulled into the world implied, wondering… What’s up with those damn goblins? Why is Malaclypse so friendly with them? Did my hero from the last game screw things up badly, or is this the Dealer having a very bad case of sour grapes? I suspect the latter, as he really did seem like a sore loser last time around.

It’s adorable, the doe eyes she gives new tools of murder and pain.

So yeah, it’s mostly good, gamepad recommended, controls are patched to be more responsive on the ol’ keyboard and mouse, and, as noted, the game is interesting, fun, with a little more customisation and spice than its predecessor.

The Mad Welshman was the Jack of Cups once, you know. Now, he’s a tired King of Wands, sitting in his throne, not thinking analogies fully through.

Golden Krone Hotel (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Golden Krone Hotel remains, to my mind, the most accessible entry point to Roguelikes I can currently think of. And it’s interesting how intuitive a lot of it can be, when it’s streamlined. So let’s talk about this a wee bit.

Potions come in threes, so identifying one is less of a gamble than in other roguelikes. Still, can’t hurt to use a Primer to identify some of them…

The story, like the game, is simply presented: Vampires and Humans lived in relative harmony until a great war happened. Today, things have kind of settled down, and the main troublemaker, Prince Fane, has been exiled far away, to the Golden Krone Hotel. Such a shame you, General Sorin Arobase, have a bone to pick and a curse to break. As the general (and noted assassin and master of disguise), you enter the hotel. How you enter the Hotel is up to you.

See, part of the reason you’re there is because you got bitten by a vampire, so you can enter as a human, a vampire, or, if you’re really ballsy, a werewolf. And you don’t have to stay that way. Potions can keep you human (or temporarily make you human), turn you into a vampire… Or the usual things of healing, exploding, blinding, antidotes, and the like. So, how is it accessible?

Well, first off, everything is visually clear (Except in darkness, which… Well, it’s dark!) Controls are simply and clearly presented (Space for wait/rest, arrow keys for movement, click on potions to use them, T for talk, and so on) Inventory management is entirely down to potions (I have yet to have too many potions) and spells (Humans can cast spells, vampires… Not so much. But humans are limited to four spells at a time.) If an item is better, you just equip it. If it isn’t, you resolve to sell it. Easy as. Similarly, everything can be looked at with a right mouse press. Want to know how close you are to becoming a vampire? Well, there’s your bar marked “VAMP” , slooooowly filling.

Thankfully, monsters like this Goblin Anarchist, once you identify them, won’t be blowing you up unless they catch you by surprise.

Turn-based, clear visuals, clear controls… There’s a lot to like here. Is it tough? Well, the first few floors aren’t, it’s very rare I die on the first few floors. But once the gloves start coming off, yes, it gets tough. It’s kind of hard to begrudge this, though, because with almost everything, the cause of your death was quite clear. Here, you drank too many teleport potions in a row, and ended up in the Maelstrom, a hellish dimension that changes around you. There, it’s because you let yourself get surrounded. How much time has passed? Oh, half an hour? Well, let’s get right back in there!

In the end, Golden Krone Hotel is easy to understand, quick to play, accessible, charming, and affordable. Nice.

Whups…

The Mad Welshman finds it pleasantly frustrating when there isn’t much to say beyond “It’s good, easy to understand, and friendly.” 

YS VII (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m somewhat grateful that I don’t need a heck of a lot of context for the Ys games, because there’s a lot of world throughout the series. A lot. Thankfully, one of the first nice things I can say about Ys VII is that, like others, while you’ll get a couple of references and extra context by playing previous games, each Ys game is self contained enough that you don’t need to.

Ys VII is an action RPG in perhaps one of the purer senses, in that a gamepad is useful, and fighting is mashing the hell out of buttons, dodging, blocking, all in real-time. One button for main attacks, four for specials, one for block, one for dodge-rolling, and one for ultimate power. Easy to understand, somewhat twitchy to play. In this particular installment, you play Adol (Who has a bad enough case of protagonism that he is the only character to explain that he is okay rather than just saying “I’m fine”) and Dogi, heroes of a couple of previous Ys titles, as they get embroiled in dangerous and momentous events on the isle of Altago, home of the Five Dragon Gods.

Altago is very pretty.

Originally a PSP game, the port is fluid and easy to play, with the only major sign that it is a port being the save menu. As such, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, whacking the hell out of monsters, getting and solving quests, and fighting… Titanos.

Effectively, the rough way it goes is this: You get a plotquest, maybe some sidequests if you actually talk to the NPCs (Even if you don’t do this for quests, the dialogue is occasionally interesting, and the world seems quite alive, so I’d recommend it), make your way through the overworld map, fighting as you go (Or, if you can’t be assed, dash-dodging your way past everything… Although this means you miss out on XP, gold, and resources used to craft better gear you’re probably going to need) to a dungeon, solve a few puzzles, and fight… Titanos. A boss by any other name is just as pattern based, and just as bossy. Giant beetles, boars, and stranger creatures abound, and honestly?

Screenshots, unfortunately, don’t do justice to how smooth and quick this is… Or how boned I am about to become.

These are the real skill-gates of the game, compared to the enemies. Until later in the game, yes, enemies have attacks. They give conditions. They have defenses. But they also generally go down to a sustained assault, which is exactly what you and your AI companions are probably doing. Titanos, in the meantime, are definitely both the more intriguing and frustrating end of things. Zeran Fith, the giant beetle, for example, won’t be taking much damage at all until you knock the armour off his legs, letting his almost chameleon-like sticky tongue out and giving you a proper chance to wail on it. And there’s a fair amount it can do to dissuade you (terminally) from this. Turning quickly, webs spit out, poison is shot, prawns with fiery bubbles are summoned… I died twice to Zeran Fith, and he’s only the third Titano you encounter.

Thing is, though, even coming out of that sweating, I’ve been having fun. Every basic mechanic is explained clearly, the world is interesting, the music good, and the world is beautiful. The rock-paper-scissors of bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage versus various enemies is clever, encouraging me to get to grips with every character I play as, and each one definitely has character. Adol is perhaps the most generic (Heck, it’s even joked about with that third person narration), Dogi puts his all into what he does (Which, in the overworld, is punching the hell out of armoured enemies), Elk fluidly and rapidly wields his dual bladed staff, almost dancing. And these are just the earliest examples.

Adol thought he should really stop speaking in the third person. But nobody else seemed to notice, so he carried on.

Honestly, there’s not a lot I have to moan about here, because even death is a case of retrying from the start of the fight or loading a save (A quick process), and the experience, overall, is fluid. The writing’s solid, the game’s solid, the difficulty curve is actually pretty good (This is an RPG where Normal difficulty really does mean “To an average player’s skill” , which is very nice.) The only flow breaker I’ve seen is using potions and items, which, due to limitations of the original platform, is effectively a pause menu.

Overall, a good action RPG, well worth its price, and well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman only speaks in the third person for effect, or when he really, really wants to close a conversation.

Opus Magnum (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Opus Magnum is, as you might expect from a Zachtronics game, clever, mildly frustrating at times, but overall very good if you like puzzles that use programming logic as their core element. This time? The logic of an alchemical machine, used by a recently graduated alchemist who very quickly gets way, way over his head. Solid stuff.

Anateus, as you might have guessed, is a slovenly genius.

So what’s clever about this? Well, it encourages tight, simple designs with fewer moving parts. Sometimes, this is positive reinforcement, like the warm glowies you get when two arms, a special kind of bonding machine, and a glyph to turn elements into salt take the element of Fire, and make it… Well, more fiery. Not that you’d see that, but rest assured, you’re making explosives, there is story to it, both before and after, it’s written well, and it makes sense (More bonds, in chemistry = More energy when they break. KABOOM.)

Sometimes, this is more restriction than anything else. The robot arms (your means of manipulating the elements) can’t be programmed until you place your element sources and the output down, and no, these sources are the sources you have to work with. Move them around, shuffle them for optimisation, but when it gives you one Water Sphere, and you have two waters to bond, then you just have to deal with it… And it’s fun to do so.

This took about an hour to program (including checking everything), and was slow, expensive, *and* taking up a lot of space. Don’t do this, kids.

Finally, there’s the negative reinforcement. The more complicated the machine you’re making, the more it costs, the more area it takes up, and the longer it’s going to take to program to work right (Although I really do feel a “Start from a certain place in the program” option would help there.) Two of those are things you’re scored on, compared with other folks… And this is the other joy of Opus Magnum… Different designs having different efficiency, efficiency that often comes at the sacrifice of other qualities. The game makes this pretty damn easy to make these designs, with multiple design saves per puzzle possible, so for some puzzles, I have designs that are quick (because I threw lots of arms in… Arms can overlap, even if collisions with their bases is not allowed. This is a useful tip) , and for some, I have compact and cheap (but sloooow) designs. Somewhere, you’re going to compromise.

The ability to make your own puzzles, puzzles not related to the story, but part of the world, a little side game… There’s a fair amount to Opus Magnum, and all this, combined with the good music and visuals? Makes it a good choice for folks who like puzzle games with a bit of bite. I would also recommend this to folks who liked previous Zachtronics games, but… Well, they probably already have it. While it is in Early Access, the game is pretty much complete, save for balancing.

The side-game, an interesting take on matching puzzles, with commentary by the two main characters.

The Mad Welshman likes the GIF record feature. It lets him gloat when he has a reaaaaally good machine. Or horrify people with overly complex creations. That too.