D&D Lords of Waterdeep (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£3.99 each for Undermountain and Skullport modules)
Where To Get It: Steam

There should be a word, perhaps, for when a game feels emptier and cheaper than it, in fact, is. That word would work very well with Lords of Waterdeep (Full title: D&D Lords of Waterdeep, to differentiate it from Waterdeep, Ohio, I guess.)

It is important to note that your avatar has no bearing on which lord you get. That’s down to *faction* . This screen also serves as a handy guide to what the expansions add.

Before we get into that, the basic idea of Lords of Waterdeep is that you are one of the titular Masked Lords of Waterdeep, rulers of the city who are, for the purposes of this game, at odds with each other. Each Lord (Chosen randomly from a faction pool) has special abilities, preferences, and goals, and winning the game involves making maximum use of your cards, and limited agents per round, in order to get Victory Points. It’s got a lot to it for something with such a simple base concept, and not for nothing was it, and games that follow a similar vein, quite lauded in the board game industry.

Part of the problem is, quite frankly, that it’s a direct iOS port of a game where the most effort has clearly gone into making sure the game itself works. The art is servicable, but the UI is iffy, and has trouble handling more than 6 buildings in a game (It is highly recommended to play the tutorial, to get used to the UI.) The music, I turned off rather quickly. It’s a single song. What you’re meant to mainly be enjoying here is the game itself, and play with others.

This is the first time I will see this card being played. It won’t be the last this turn. Not by a long shot.

Which can, honestly, be a disorienting experience, be it in multiplayer or offline, hotseat mode. On the one hand, I can understand why the decision was made to have every other player’s turn recap for every player, and why it will suddenly jump to another player (Who will also recap what they missed) every time someone has to confirm or choose something as a reaction, but there is not only no way I can see to turn this off (Should, say, you be playing hotseat on the honour system), and you need to go into settings to change the animation speed, that games can, at times, feel excruciating. Yes, I know Arilyn Moonblade did this, this, and this, I saw it happen. I don’t particularly feel the desire to see it four times in a five player match.

The AI in the game is pretty vicious, and even with an “easy” AI, there is a good chance you’re going to have to play pretty well to beat them, and, in the end, the main thing recommending this game is that it’s cheaper than the board game and its expansions. Overall, it feels kludgy, and very much a case of “You get what you pay for.”

On the one hand, thanks to post game scoring, I didn’t lose as badly as I could have done this game. But Mystra, to lose to a Moon Elf playing a Halfling. UGH. (And yes, that is apparently a halfling. CORRECTION: A Halfling replaced by a Doppelganger. THE REALMS, EVERYONE.)

The Mad Welshman is extremely salty that he lost to, of all people, Arilyn bloody Moonblade. Although he supposes it could be worse. It could have been Danilo Thann or Khelben Arunsen.

Shrouded Isle (Review)

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

I’m going to get this out the way right now, so as to weed out those reading this: Shrouded Isle is mechanically very simple. For three years (12 seasons), you, the high priest(ess?) of a lovecraftian cult, must keep the noble houses that support you happy, while encouraging “Virtues” like Ignorance and Penitence, and also sacrificing one of your advisors each year. Apart from a few somewhat spoilery details, that’s yer lot.

Find a sinner, kill ’em dead. Got it… But… Who’s a sinner again?

Now let’s get into why the game is still interesting, and not a little disturbing. Let’s talk about evil. Evil is not a single entity, no matter how much we sometimes wish it would be. Nor, funnily enough, is Good. They’re values, not people. Even within a group, there is difference. Even within a group that seems unified, there is dissonance, sometimes prejudice. Shrouded Isle, despite its fantastic setting, does a good job of putting this into play, synergising mechanics with its world.

Ivan Efferson is a Flirt. He’s bad for discipline. Problem is, I know from watching the Virtue levels that he inspires even more Obedience than usual. It’s a sin, it’s true, but forgivable considering his good work for his house. The family would be angered if I sacrificed him, and, honestly, so would I. A good advisor makes a bad sacrifice.

His daughter Fania, on the other hand, I recently discovered was exactly what I was looking for. My Lord had told me to seek a Swindler, and lo and behold, there she was. A prime sinner. She’s not even very virtuous (Although I have yet to determine what her virtue is.) But there’s another factor: If I let her advise, I will have to use her skills, because I’ve already sacrificed one of Ivan’s daughters, and I’ll need to counter the sheer outrage from the bias in selecting from the same family twice. I could wait a year, but she’s sabotaging me behind the scenes.

Sin… SIIIIIIN!

To win, I have to manipulate. I have to put useless people in positions of power both to maintain the status quo, and to ensure my relationship with this advisor’s family remains cosy. They may all be sheep, to be fed to my Lord once he Awakens, but even sheep can, in panic, turn on me. They may not even do it for reasons “Good” people would consider “Good.” There’s another person who’s undermining my perfect… Controlled… Society. And they’re doing it because they’re a massive pervert, blaspheming even before my eyes.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Because it sure as hell does to me. Like many, I’ve seen it played out, the scapegoat thrown to the wolves, the inner conflicts that can rend a group apart, the search for purity. As such, it blackly amuses me to note that victory not only involves invasion of privacy and deception, it involves satisfying overall goals while… Keeping little bars of Virtue between two poles. Poles that shift as the Lord demands focus on a virtue.

Of course, it also adds nuance. Chernobog may consider Ignorance a virtue… But Liars and Swindlers alike are just as high on his list as the secret Librarians and Kind folk. The soundwork is subtle and unnerving, and, while the colour schemes at first seem unsubtle as all hell, they’re picked for their high contrast, although recently a more muted grey (Cremation Ash) is available in the options. I’m thankful for that, as, while I appreciate that the original colour scheme is picked for its subtly nauseating effect, it’s not something I want to play for long.

…Listen, buddy… There’s only *one* narcissist allowed in this cult, and that’s ME.

I kind of like Shrouded Isle. It’s taken around 2 hours, 2 games, to get to the win, but the game has multiple bad ends based on which “Virtue” was found lacking, and I find myself curious. I also wouldn’t mind replaying, as the game randomises virtues and sins, and it’s simple enough that I can see myself coming back. The game is pretty accessible, it does what it says on the tin quite well, so my main “not recommended for” group would be folks who are not up for a game in which you are definitely bad folks sacrificing your fellow human beings to summon an elder god.

Children of Zodiarcs (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Ebony and Ivory, together in perfect… Oh, wait, no, this is a game with child protagonists, published by Square Enix. One of whom is a White Black Mage, and one of whom is… No, I daren’t even finish that sentence. Nonetheless, this is, some qualifications aside, a positive review about a cool game by Cardboard . Buckle up.

<3 Nahmi. That is all.

Children of Zodiarcs is a turn based strategy RPG which uses cards and dice as its main mechanics. The player moves, plays attacks, heals, buffs, and debuffs, then the enemy does the same. Levelling up gets you better stats, better cards, different cards, and the same goes for dice. Direction matters, because backstabbing does extra damage and doesn’t get counter attacked, cards have different effects, some special, red symbols on the dice do bad things, white ones do good things, and you get to reroll two dice with each card you play. Enemies have different decks, and bam, there’s your mechanical end summarised. In play, it’s actually pretty cool. I find myself thinking about how the players work together naturally, about how if I do this, then THIS, I remove two arrogant, assholish Nobles from my path, and, next turn, another couple won’t even know what hit them. Muahaha.

If it were just the mechanical end, I’d be okay with Children of Zodiarcs. It experiments, the experiment works well, and it’s explained clearly and succinctly. Apart from the red dice (a colourblindness issue), I can clearly see what does what, and, honestly, all I need to know is that Red Dice are Bad. Avoid them.

This guard is, briefly, going to have a very bad day. And then he’s not going to have any more days. Brice stole them.

But it’s not just the mechanical end. Narratively, I care about the characters. They’re young, sure, and, like the young, speak dramatically, bicker, bitch, argue, doubt… But they’re characters. Nahmi’s gruff, bold exterior hides a lonely soul. Brice hates grown ups (and with good reason), but has a hero worship thing going on with Nahmi. Pester, at first seeming like the whipping boy of the group, actually helps hold things together, and Zirchhoff is a laughing, brash Shounen Fagin who no doubt hides dark secrets, but charmed me with his bloodthirsty ways from the start. The Nobles are privileged, arrogant assholes, perhaps the weakest part, but still villains I love to hate, and other gangs are human, from the very first you meet, the Black Fangs. I care about the characters, I care about the world, and as such, I only cringe a little at the pun with Nahmi (a WOC protagonist to boot, miracles abound!) the… Ebony Flame, and Brice (A girl of the Caucasian persuasion), who immediately calls herself… The Ivory Flame.

Ouch. This, funnily enough, is a good segue into the game not being perfect, and, in its current state, not exactly for beginners. Which is slightly saddening, but I’m sure either balancing will happen, or folks will try it for the story. Anyway…

…While the visual design is clear and concise, with a good feel for story through costume and the like, and the music is excellent, the animations… Can best be described as “Servicable.” They could uncharitably, at times, be called “Lackluster”, such as the Ruiner, a line spell that, er… Makes a particle effect on each person. Eh. Similarly, once you’re out of the first three tutorial missions, the gloves are off, figuratively speaking, and you’re thrown into a mission where the objective (Get to the exit) is definitely not to be ignored. A swift death awaits you if you don’t plan, and plan well. It’s almost the same in the second such mission, but with the possibility of lessening the difficulty by… Repeating the first two missions to grind experience. Not, perhaps, the best solution. There are generally three characters in a mission, and, while I like some (the original trio), others are not so hot.

That… That was a Ruiner, huh. Mm. I was expecting something, Iunno… More *Ruiny*

However, the missions are definitely not unbeatable, although you may bang your head against them a couple of times, so while this isn’t a beginner SRPG at the present time, it’s still pretty accessible, charming, and seemingly quite well written. Well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman would like to inform people that the Nobles have been excluded from this year’s VillainCon. Remember, Villains, not JERKS.

Pit People (Early Access Review)

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

I’ve been staring at the page for a couple of minutes now, trying to marshall my thoughts. Behemoth’s strange worlds tend to do that to you, and Pit People… Well, Pit People is a doozy, world wise. A strange, disconnected world that somehow still works, both bright and malevolent. But, before we talk about that, let’s talk about the game itself.

Not pictured: Everything is bouncing to the music. The world is very much alive.

Pit People is a game with turn based combat, but real time exploration, where you explore the shattered world to which you belong, doing quests as Horatio the Boring Blueberry Farmer and his cohorts, gathered through accident, capture, and the whim of the malevolent and petty Narrator. It also has co-op and PVP, and it’s hard enough to describe that, for the first time in perhaps ever, I’m going to be putting one of my stream videos here. Warning, there are cries of “What the helllllll?!”

A lot of them. In any case, Pit People is quite accessible (Blue and Red are the main colours), easy to learn (the various character types are fairly well tutorialised, as are weapons and armour), and a little bit grindy (You have a loot limit in exploration, meaning multiple trips or a co-op partner if you want to collect things) , but, thanks in part to the Behemoth art style (simple, clear, characterful), in part to the music (pumping), and in part to the occasional interjection by the narrator (voiced by Will Stamper, the narrator of Battleblock Theater), it doesn’t feel that much of a grind a lot of the time. Enemies can be avoided in the exploration, with cannons or with movement, battles are usually over moderately quickly (And the rock-paper-scissors type elements are easy to understand.)

Yes, I actually quite like how Pit People is going.

Story wise, it’s… A thing. A giant, dying space bear crashed into the world, shattering it and turning it into a post-apocalyptic hellscape, where its malevolent god, The Narrator, malevolently snickers and directly manipulates events. He’s taken an interest in Horatio, a humble Blueberry Farmer, and so a great adventure begins. An adventure in a world where cupcakes are people (and also delicious), Queen Isabella waits to conquer the world, and the evil Helmetites (so called because they wear helmets, you know?) bully the weak. Oh, and there are pit fights, demiclops, medusas, ghosts with keyboards… It’s all very strange. It would perhaps be unbearably so, if it weren’t for the black humour provided by the Narrator’s pettiness, and the charm of how most of the characters speak nonverbally, but somehow clearly. “After giving her half of his remaining blueberries…” , “HUH? HUMEHUHNUH!”, “NO, you GAVE her your BLUEBERRIES.”

Why yes, that *is* a Cupcake Friend. He has waffles. And buttercream…

See? Perfectly clear! Pit People is perhaps the first game where I’d recommend watching the stream video, which covers the earliest moments in the game, then decide for themselves. I happen to like it, but tastes may vary widely.

The Mad Welshman gave his ups to Pit People [HUH? HUHME] YOU GAVE YOUR UPS TO PIT PEOPLE, JAAAAMES.

Lobotomy Corp (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lobotomy Corp is, at its heart, a management sim. You control a limited number of agents by assigning them tasks, which they take time to do, and you have perhaps more to do than you can. Manage the results.

You always start with the thankfully easy to please Hundred Sins and One Good Deed. But it quickly ramps up…

Thing is, those “results” are death, madness, and horror. Because what you’re managing is an SCP facility. For those who haven’t heard of the SCP files, it’s a community led horror universe, where the horrors are being exploited and studied (or just held in the hope that they don’t go off) by the SCP Foundation (SCP standing for Secure, Contain, Protect), and they range quite widely from deadly buildings, to monsters and people-as-monsters, to seemingly innocuous objects with secrets. Often deadly secrets. Unfortunately for you, most of the items in Lobotomy Corp are unknown to you unless you either have an encyclopaedic knowledge of SCP files. So there’s a lot of death and screaming and… Restarting.

Lobotomy Corp is not an easy game. Each successful mission (Which involves keeping said objects, monsters, and things “happy” enough to harvest some unspecified energy from them) adds a few more, only some of which are known to you from previous experience, and from the second mission on, it’s very easy to get, say, The Red Shoes, which is an instant no go area for women operatives due to its effect. Making things tougher, when some SCPs are unhappy, they lure the non-playable staff in, causing havoc all on their own. It’s interesting from a world standpoint, and very fitting, but unfortunately, makes the game feel a bit arbitrary until, y’know, you’ve worked out what a thing does and how to keep it happy. Considering each agent has four “skills”, four types of overall approach, and that, in the case of a gender or approach “liking” SCP, that agent cannot be used, it’s hard. Uncomfortably so.

WHOOPS! I DID THE WRONG THING, AND NOW WE’RE AAAAAALLL GOING TO DIEEEE.

Visually, it’s thankfully very clear. You know what things do fairly quickly, the contained things’ happinesses are in clear bars, and the game helpfully informs you, both visually and textually, when things have gone horribly wrong. In between missions, there’s chat between you and an AI, and this seems quite interesting, but the meat of the game is, really, levelling and getting agents, researching things to help your agents survive, and figuratively throwing them to the wolves to see what the wolves do.

Thing is, I’d still say to check the game out if you’re interested in the SCP universe, firstly because it’s certainly different than the various creepypasta games I’ve seen that are inspired by it, and secondly because it’s also a somewhat fitting game. Hopefully, there will be some options to tone the difficulty down some, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy the game. I’m just not fond of the restarts.

So… Many restarts. Damn you, Red Shoes. Damn you to heck.

The Mad Welshman can be found under SCP-[REDACTED]. Just so you know how to greet me at expos.