Stars In Shadow + Legacy DLC (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 Base Game, Legacy DLC £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d missed Stars In Shadow the first time around, sadly, but, thanks to a nice, cheap DLC introducing a new race, hey, I get to review it! Isn’t that nice? Wait, a cyborg race worshipping a computer that comprises most of their planet? Even better!

Awww, wookitdawiddle religious murderbots!

So, for those who, like me, missed Stars In Shadow, the basic idea is that it’s a relatively simple, very friendly to play turn based strategy game in space, where you raise an alien species (or, y’know, humans) with differing specialities and flaws to the stars in a micro-universe. Usually, it must be said, through building lots of ships and tanks, murderising the heck out of everyone else, while researching ways to keep your economy going and build better, murderier tanks and ships.

Okay, so there’s maybe other victory conditions too, like allied victory and winning the galactic presidency… But blowing ships up is, honestly, a skill you’ll need throughout. Also it involves building your very own Dread Star, and how many can turn that down?

Because this is mainly to do with the DLC, however, let us note that the majority of my playtime has been with the Tinkers, the cybernetic race who possess the upside of not needing food, and the downside of… Well, tying up an entire planet’s resources every time they want to increase their otherwise slow to grow population. Dagnabbit, game abstractions! They also convert population by, effectively, borging them, which is a shame, because they otherwise seem like very nice theocrats who worship a planet computer.

The Herald, who, sadly, had to make bank off someone else… Who got the sweet, sweet technologies I didn’t.

Which is a sentence I never thought I’d say. In any case, even if the Legacy DLC just involved a playable faction, it would be reasonably priced, but there’s also an added NPC race (The Arda Seed, who are treefolk), and… The Herald. The Herald’s an interesting one, as he flies about the galaxy, visiting pretty much every race, and offering them a leg up, research wise, in exchange for materials. It adds a bit of much needed spice.

There’s actually a fair bit added for the price, and that’s somewhat nice, because, as is, Stars In Shadow is very streamlined. It’s friendly enough that I would certainly recommend it as an entry point into Space 4X games, and the turn based combat is pleasant, as is the ship design system, but… I freely admit I have a little trouble saying much because I’m rather used to different fare by now. Is Stars In Shadow good? Alas, not for me personally. But, as mentioned, it’s a friendly and mostly accessible entry point into the 4X genre, and games are relatively quick. A 50 star game can be finished in a couple of hours, either to victory or defeat, and when it does end in defeat, it’s usually pretty clear what you had problems with. And the Legacy DLC? Well, it adds a bit more depth, a bit more challenge, and an entirely new race to play with for a very reasonable price.

A good example of an early game mistake: Taking on space pirates with only starting weaponry. So consider this “1 turn before Bad Things Happen.”

The Mad Welshman likes robot factions. It’s one of the easier ways to his heart.

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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.

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MAIA (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.64

“Mr. Johnson, Aldis isn’t moving.”

“I say, not moving? Isn’t he perfectly fine with an 18 hour workday and sleeping on cold tile?”

“Er… I think he might be dead, Mr. Johnson.”

Well, that’s a crap work ethic!”

Pictured: A Crap Work Ethic

MAIA remains a Very British Game. What do we do when we have to concentrate on power, oxygen and food generation, and our colonists collapse? Why, we call down another one, every ten minutes, until the bally problem’s solved! Hurricanes? Oh, we’ll bunker down, we’ve done this before, and it’s not like we need all that oxygen right now. Or cooking. Or light. Twelve earthquakes in a row? Anybody dead or anything damaged? No? Well, carry on then.

It’s interesting just how dystopic it all is, from the improvements to the solar stills (Oh, we’ll just add this drug that helps keep colonists cool… Yes, it has nasty side effects if we use it too much, but naaaaah, that’d never happen!) to minor descriptions (The Body Storage, on mouse over, reveals that it is, in fact, the Snuff Box. Care for a pinch?)

But it works. There are, as you might expect from early access, still some bugs, and it’s a game that takes a while to get going, but nothing is insurmountable, and that’s nice. Yes, there will be things that seriously screw it up (If a megabeast decides your Geothermal Generator is the perfect place to scratch their back, well… Scratch one Generator), there will be obstacles, but everything has at least palliative solutions, if not always actual solutions. Air and heat, for example, are pretty quick to solve, and, even without beginning research, there are basic food solutions, you can meet your power needs (Especially if you happen to find some Geothermal vents near enough to build with), and your colonists…

Since animal-proof locks were considered surplus to budget requirements, yes, the native flora can and will invade your base. Thankfully, *nobody* is truly defenseless.

…Well, they can be helpful. You’ll quickly spot the middle manager types, because not only don’t they do much, they have this tendency of calling for meetings or wanting to suggest plans. Meanwhile, others will try to make the IMPs (Your friendly mining droids) sentient, work on improving heat insulation, offer to set your crops on fire to solve a crop infection… And some of this, among other offers they make, are legitimately helpful. They even write nice little haikus and strange ambient tunes, when they feel like it.

Despite a sometimes slow pace to the game, I legitimately enjoy MAIA. It’s got a clear aesthetic, and due to the fact that, barring something that wipes out all your colonists within a 10 minute window, you can come back from disasters, it’s also a fairly pleasant ride.

It is the far future. Space can be colonised, but nobody particularly wants to build a toilet. In spite of this, life has become good…

Welsh and villainous
I control your lives now
Dance gaily for me.

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Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

For those who haven’t seen the Holy Potatoes series, they’re essentially games that futz with some established formulae, set it in a world where potato based people live, sprinkle in a boatload of referential humour, and set it into the wild. With Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Yes, the punctuation is mandatory), Daylight Studios have taken on the cooking game genre… And, in the process, given it a very fitting title.

I somehow don’t think this is going on his account.

I mean, what else can you call a game where you, a trio of potato people (and additional, potato based cast) are chefs in Hell serving the souls of the damned in various, delicious, potato-based flavours to deities as you travel through the seven circles of Hell?

Gameplay wise, the basics are very simple: Feed the sinners into various pots to create ingredients. This takes time, you won’t be able to put more sinners in until your current batch is done, and each ingredient maker makes better quality ingredients if they fulfill certain arrangements. Early on, for example, very high sin makes for Good baked potato people. A little later on? Oh no, we’re not doing that “More is more” stuff, sins within a certain range are what makes the ingredients truly… Mwah. Anyway, those ingredients go into a pool, and, after a certain amount of prep time, your customers (an increasing cast of hungry deities) start demanding dishes. Each dish takes time to cook, the customers have requirements, and, for the early levels at least, you only have one stove. So the addition of potato drinks, in which you send dishes to be made into a delicious Baaleys, comes in. Baaleys in moderation delays those deities from getting angry and docking you Favour, serving within a reasonable time, to requirements, gets you Favour, and, while there’s a fair bit more mechanical gubbins than that, constantly expanding as you go through the circles of Hell to your “Reward” , those are the basics.

As it turns out, the Potato Holy Book is *really strict*

And yes, at no point have we lost sight of the fact that we are potato people, serving other potato people to potato deities, including Potato Loki (Sinstagram star), and Potato Thanatos (The actual Greek God of Death, who, in this game, guilts over his duties because, even though he doesn’t punish people directly, he still has to watch. Poor spud.) So… How does it feel to play?

Mostly pleasant, actually. For all its grisly premise, its sometimes disturbing sins (Mostly wacky, but sometimes icky, like “I stalked a politician, because I have no morals.” Ew. Ew ew ew.), the game is quite accessible, for several reasons. There are skip buttons for talkiness. Everything is clearly colour coded, and, where colour alone might suffice, shape coded or numbered clearly to boot. Tooltips are friendly and, again, clear. And, and I cannot stress this enough… There is a pause button. Oh, thank Potato God for that!

See, while I can certainly appreciate the high pace and stress of unpaused food making in, say, Cook, Serve, Delicious, a pause button is an option I like, because it gives me the option to remove a layer of play that I don’t want on top of what the game already has (Time and resource management, because, even without the pause button, I’ve had a few hairy moments where I’ve been running low on different flavours of sinners, and, in one area on the Second Circle, I was also running out of sinners. They were being cooked faster than they were coming in… And it still came close to not enough!) It also gives the game room to add more layers, which it’s been consistently doing throughout. The 3rd Circle, for example, introduces condiments and the aforementioned Baaleys.

Occasionally, you will be given the option to spare a Sinner, on the offchance they’ll make life easier.

The writing for the game isn’t going to wow. As mentioned, it’s got a setting, it’s setting itself up for humour (and a DRAMATIC TWIST), but mostly, what it’s setting itself up for is Potato and Hell puns. Enough puns, as with the other two Holy Potatoes! games, to make even the most devoted dad joke maker throw up their hands and promise to live a better life.

Overall, I somewhat enjoy the game. It’s accessible while also providing a challenge, it has, for all that it’s an excuse for potato jokes, an interesting premise which occasionally does raise interesting questions… And, y’know, potato jokes and oddball humour. At less than £6, it’s very reasonably priced, and I would honestly say it’s worth a go if you like cooking management type dealybobbers.

The Mad Welshman prefers to eat at Tony’s Hot Manna, down the street (metaphorically speaking.) Damn, those pizzas are heavenly!

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Heat Signature (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£21.99 for Supporter’s Edition with extra stuff, £10.99 if you already have the game and want to upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

The wheels of the revolution are always oiled with the blood of the people. That may sound like a needlessly depressing start to a review of Suspicious Developments’ Heat Signature, a game about invading spaceships, but, in a very real sense, that’s what it is. Consider…

…Dying in the cold depths of space… It ain’t so bad, compared to failing the Liberation…

For all that characters have a brief, procgenned story, a reason for them to join the revolution, it’s their stuff that matters. Yep, okay, once you’ve done enough missions and earned enough intel on the ongoing interstellar war we’re trying to stop by, er… Liberating everyone with guerilla warfare… We’ll let you know how to save your sister, or steal that thing to pay off your debt, or murder the guy that sentenced your parents to death. Cool. No, you can’t will your things to others, even though we basically tell you, every one of you, that it’s basically a suicide mission, and good luck!

Essentially, while you can change characters at any time (even leaving them to die in the cold depths of space, if you so choose, as I admit I’ve occasionally done when particularly annoyed by a mission failure), what you cannot trade is their stuff. And, believe me, you’ll need some of that stuff, as certain enemy types are unkillable without either some very silly plans (Like shooting an airlock to blow them out of it, or just plain blowing up the room) or some very specific stuff in limited supply. Shields, for example, can only be dealt with by subverters and crashbeams. Turrets, at least, you can turn off if you come at them from the right direction… Shielded guys? Nope. Similarly, if you don’t have something armour piercing or explosive, you’re screwed regarding armoured guys who spot you. Those are the only truly egregious examples, but yes, some enemies just aren’t killable without either blowing up the room they’re in, or stuff.

Secondly, over time, the Revolution will tire of you. After a certain point, your liberations, your strikes against the four Mans of the game (the Foundry, the Glitch, Sovereign, and Offworld Security… Independents also exist, but don’t have a specific style, usually just denoted with “They’ve gone rogue, they won’t be running to anybody.”) won’t be as effective in liberating the stations, which provide challenge runs, possible unlockable defectors, and, of course, better stuff in the shop, be that armour piercing weaponry, rechargeable teleporters (Glitching reality in specific and interesting ways), better pod types (like the Foundry Brick, which can just ram its way into a ship rather than have to faff about with all this “Airlock” stuff), and the like. You’re not the hot new flavour of the month, Pavo, it’s maybe time to either retire or go out in the blaze of glory you deserve. After all, the end-goal of the game is to capture all four main factions’ home bases. Your “personal” mission? Even if you finish it, that will be so that you can pass on one of your things (aka, part of your stuff), to ensure it has extra nice traits for somebody, somewhere in the interwubs playing the game. Maybe even you!

Sorry buddy, nothing personal, but you have a key I need.

Similarly, you can, as a personal mission (Personal missions are always max difficulty), rescue another player’s character, giving them… Perhaps a fresh start? For a time, anyway… As noted, the Revolution cares not for Johnny-Come-Latelies, only the New Hotness.

Overall, the game is somewhat friendly to play, as, for all that it can get twitchy at moments, time slows down when you’re doing something, like lining up a shot or an item use, you can freely switch between items by pausing with no penalty I could see, and, beyond the visual designs of the ships being somewhat hard to read at first, the important parts (the guards, the keys, the captain, the timer, and boxes from which you can steal more items) are very clear. There are also clever ways of doing things, if you have the balls and the right idea… Luring or Swapping an enemy into your ship, then taking off, for example, knocks them out, letting you murder or capture them at your leisure. A Sidewinder or two, cleverly used, can teleport you in hops to the objective or the captain, as, once the captain’s down, alarms no longer trigger. You can even, if you’re ballsy and skilled, blow someone out of a window, and catch both them and yourself with your pod, remote controlled.

So, in the end, Heat Signature is a fairly well designed game. Even folks with silly equipment can, with planning (or a plan you’re not sure will work because holy crap, the first plan failed spectactularly but you aren’t dead and you have a few seconds and… Wait, it worked?), be dealt with. Nonetheless, even acknowledging this, I freely admit I don’t like Heat Signature. Not because it’s a bad game, because it isn’t.

Ships get *big* , and chock full of deadly things in the higher difficulty missions… and Personal missions are always the *deadliest*

But holy crap, do I not like being reminded of the subtext on display here.

The Mad Welshman would very much like armour piercing concussive weapons. Hopefully one day, he will find them. Or make them. It matters not.

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