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.

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.

Secret Spaces (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $8 USD (Approx £5)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Secret Spaces is, in creator Heather “Flowers” Robertson’s own words, a game about being gay and in a hole. These things are true. It’s also a game about being in a strange, low-polygon world, moving ever deeper into the rabbit hole to, hopefully, find your girlfriend and get the hell out of this strange place.

It’s kinda dark down here, Elaine. I know sometimes we feel the need to hide in a deep, dark, hole, but… Literally?

At first, the game seems extremely simple: Finding notes and going downwards progresses things, cutting and growing ropevines to climb down safely, using berries to heal damage you’ve taken from falling too far (Although falling far enough will, as with any human being, kill you stone dead.)

The thing is, the more you take from this place, the less it will give. You’re almost in a relationship with the space itself, and working with what it gives you tends to give the best results. Take very little, and the Secret Space will give you help, in the form of seeds and berries. Take a lot, and the vines thin out, the berries don’t arrive as often, and you will need, more and more, to either be very skillful in climbing downwards, or plant the vines you have in the hope that it will make life easier down the road. It’s subtle, and being someone who prefers not to waste things, I didn’t notice this on a first playthrough.

Huh, that *is* odd. Some mysteries, unfortunately, are trumped by the immediate.

Aesthetically… Well, it’s cuboids and notes. The light (and thus the colours) change as you get deeper, giving it a little flair, but it’s a quiet place, and some might say a bare place, but, with this game, that feels just fine. I liked the character of Elaine as noted in the notes (Although, that dad joke… I make dad jokes all the time, and I loudly groaned at that one… So props!) , I liked the writing, and, from word one, I’ve been struggling with the fact that the developer has summed up the game a heckuva lot better than I have.

Secret Spaces is about being gay, and in a hole. It’s approximately £5 , takes around an hour to play through once, and my main “Do not recommend” here is if a very low-polygon world turns you off a game. If you like games where there’s something subtle going on in the background (The Hole is procedurally generated, yes, sometimes walls do move, and how easy you find it depends on whether you are, in game, a taker, or someone who works with what’s there) , then you may well like Secret Spaces.

Whoah… The plant… It wiggles. Kinda reminds me of you, Elaine… Hehe.

The Mad Welshman thinks love is cool. No snark, just… Passion is good.

Academagia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When it first came out, Academagia wowed people in the lifesim world with ripping yarns about life in a magical school. Now, the Steam version of Year 1 has hit, and the question has to be asked: How the heck is it?

Well, let’s get a thing out of the way first: If you do not like reading, then Academagia is not for you. Reading is, in fact, the majority of what you do in Academagia. And when you aren’t reading, you’re thinking of ways to have adventures while not skipping class, or what the heck to do. Because there’s a lot to explore, and considering a single playthrough can easily take a night away, it can at first be difficult to get into. It is not, it must be said, a terribly friendly game in a sense, as, while the character creation tries to explain things, it can often involve going back and forth between elements before finalising your character.

A swotty swot planning how to swot swottingly.

So this review is going to take the form of advice, if you like reading, how Academagia can be played a little more enjoyably.

Firstly, yes, you can go back and forth on character creation steps. You have points to spend on backgrounds and things, but you can go right back to stats if ideas present themselves. I often go for the Gift of Libraries, because I’m a swotty swot wot swots n wots, but you can be the child of a pirate, an athletic nobleman, the school gossip… There’s a lot of options, and at first it may seem like a mountain. Pick a path, get comfortable with it.

Read what things do as soon as you know about them. Academic success, for example, isn’t always dictated by the subject, but also by general exam discipline, knowledge in a secondary subject (Forging things, for example, is considered useful by Enchanters), and, of course, the odd spell to help you bone up.

The Steam version lets you resize and move panels. This is not advertised, but can be incredibly useful, especially when your specific resolution means that occasionally, it looks like you have a 0 in a subject, when actually, you’ve maxed it out.

He’s a *sneaky* little swot too, you can tell by the fact he’s maxed out his Glamour (Illusion) magic!

You have more options in dealing with a situation when you have a clique of friends (Kinda like a school gang, in a sense), but it’s by no means the only way forward, so if you feel like playing a loner bookworm (Hi), you can do so.

If you’re not a big fan of classical music, you can turn it off. Sadly, faces are pretty much set, and by college.

When it comes to skill chances, green text is good, blue is okay, black is 50/50, red is less than good, and purple is almost-no-chance. But just because it’s green… Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good choice. Sometimes a green choice is a “Get out of event” or “I choose to fail”, rather than a good thing.

So, essentially, that’s Academagia: There’s a lot of reading, but if you take your time with it, you can read a mostly charming, branching story involving a boy or a girl at a magical public school. I’ve fought pirates, settled arguments between ghosts, survived innumerable prankings (Including some jerky jerkface casting a love spell on someone I’d never met in school before… Asshole) , discovered the real history of the Day of Dragons, and, every now and again, seriously broken school laws and somehow gotten away with it. I’ve always had an exotic familiar, and sometimes, that’s been… Awwwh, not Craig!

Thankfully, my little swot’s familiar is Clarisse this time, a classy winged lady.

It’s okay. I’ll learn to appreciate him over my year in Academagia. I always bond well with my familiars. <3

Going Back – Adam Wolfe

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.79 for Episode 1, £14.99 for all 4 episodes.
Where To Get It: Steam

It may come as a surprise that this is a going back, considering my long held opinions on the state of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures (Often bad with colourblindness, puzzles that make no sense in the context, extremely thin story that doesn’t have a great track record with treating women well, despite being marketed to said women for the most part), but this one, I feel, deserves it for, at the very least, being less egregious about it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the game is enjoyable. So let’s unpack that.

This is, surprisingly, not quite how it seems. And a reason why I’m somewhat fond of Episode 1.

Adam Wolfe is an episodic hidden object puzzle adventure game… Which seems to tend more toward the adventure end than the hidden object end. Why? Because every puzzle I’ve seen so far has context, even if the puzzles, on closer examination, can seem a little silly, and a few have colourblindness problems. Can’t win ’em all. The final episode was released in November 2016, and I was approached to review it last week.

Episode 1 is a pretty strong start in many respects. The only traditional hidden object puzzle is, amusingly enough, when Adam tips out the junk from moving (Including, for some reason, a pizza box… For shame, Adam!), and this is somewhat less traditional in that it has a strict order, as Adam recalls various things. Still keep only one item, but fine, like I said, can’t win ’em all. The rest are more like forensic puzzles, in which Adam uses a mysterrrrrious watch to try and recreate crime scenes. He doesn’t even get all of them right, in the end, which is a nice touch.

There is a reason, later on, I say this should have been spotted before release. No other episode does this. Also, the file is above the lockbox. See if you can spot it.

But Episode 2, sadly, brings things back to form with a hidden object puzzle where not only are objects, unlike the other episodes, clearly a little glitched (“I’m looking for a %FILE% to do the thing”), there is a puzzle where Adam Wolfe finds a variety of objects to try and open a small lockbox, before eventually settling on the only one that works, a hammer. Adam’s an ex-cop. Which makes this hidden object puzzle, again with its strict order, all the more heartbreakingly stupid and obvious padding. Oh, and that file wasn’t visible without a guide, another common problem with HOPA puzzles.

The rest of the episodes, though, seem fine, for a HOPA… And this is where I go back to a macro-view of the game, because it’s more important to clarify what goes well, what goes the same, and what’s flawed, to highlight that, for all its flaws, Adam Wolfe is a step forward in terms of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures. Firstly, the story, while another supernatural mystery, is specifically patterned after supernatural mystery shows, taking the episodic pacing cues from the genre, along with a more action based story which makes sense in the context. The cast gets less diverse from Episode 2 onwards, sadly, but considering how often HOPAs don’t really write characters well at all, especially women and folks of colour? I’m actually okay with this. I liked that the villains are all white men, effectively. I liked how most of the characters feel like people, and not just “Plot Device X” (I’m not saying all, but most. Some really are just there to be obstacles or exposition.)

Yes, there are still highly silly puzzle locks like this. But, again, they’re less egregious, and more often, this kind of symbol hunting is restricted to, for example, a ritual binding.

Similarly, it’s a step forward to limit the magical protagonist power that all HOPA protagonists seem to have (Never explained, never given context) to the magical end of things (Rituals, spectral signatures, bindings.) The puzzles still feel a bit silly, but they’re less silly than “Oh, hey, a drawing of a bat, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” It’s good to see this experimentation, like “I need to collect things that make up one object”, rather than “I am going to collect all these things, and keep one object” (Which, sadly, still happens in Adam Wolfe too, but is at least sometimes given context. Baby steps.) Equally interesting to see are the QTE segments. Now, yes, QTEs can be good or bad, and Adam Wolfe’s are mostly in that middle ground of “Clunky, but entertaining”, but, again, this is a step forward. This is something new, being tried in a genre which, as a whole, prefers to crank out three a year of the same kind of thing.

Again, some of these puzzles could have been more clear (There’s rarely consequence for failure, but it does lead to some irritable clicking or mouse moving when no, you’re not told what to shoot, or you’re shown glowies when you’re actually meant to continue to shoot the bad time-wizard, or the like) and hints aren’t always helpful, but, in the end, here’s my summary of Adam Wolfe: For all that it still has some flaws of the HOPA genre at large, it experiments, it tries to emulate a genre of media and mostly succeeds, it tries to give puzzles context and change up the puzzle format and at least half succeeds, and it does enough interesting things that I am perfectly willing, despite my dislike of the HOPA genre’s stagnancy, to say that this game both deserves a playthrough, and this Going Back article. It’s not an amazing game. If it weren’t for episode 2’s highlighting of flaws and bugs that should have been noticed before release, I would say it was a “Highly enjoyable” game (In-between Good and Great, if you’re curious.) But it is by no means a bad game, and I would say that other HOPA developers, current and prospective, would want to look at Adam Wolfe and consider…

I couldn’t really leave this review without a screenshot of one of the fight sequences. Okay, yes, it’s not quite Super PunchOut. But it didn’t *feel* bad to play, and I am content with that.

“…Hey, this guy who dislikes HOPAs is saying the word ‘like’ more, maybe we should ask why?”

The Mad Welshman cannot peel hamburgers off adverts to feed his constant hunger, why should a HOPA protagonist have it any easier?