Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

Become a Patron!

One Deck Dungeon

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £7.19 (Phoenix’s Den DLC :  79p)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Here’s another one that caught me off guard with the release. Yes, One Deck Dungeon, a game I reviewed about two months ago is out. Its main addition? A gauntlet mode, in which the masochistic can try and beat all the dungeons in one go.

The Lich’s special ability is frustrating. Turns out Liches are like small children playing Cops and Robbers.

Considering I wasn’t sure I could beat the main dungeons without the Hero Progression system they added… I can’t really say much about that.

So, to recap, One Deck Dungeon, a computer game based on the tabletop game of the same name, has up to two adventurers, each with a special ability, try to make their way through one of five dungeons, based on a single deck of possible encounters, random loot, and a boss at the end. Each dungeon has special rules, such as the Lich’s Tomb, which removes all dice rolling a 2 (Combined with encountering an Ethereal, who removes 1s and 3s, this dungeon can get painful) , and a boss at the end. Everything is resolved by rolling dice, fitting dice of the required number or above into boxes with numbers to prevent damage, losing time, or other fun things, and this can be aided with skills, potions, and each heroine’s special ability.

Nice to see a game with all-women protags, to be quite honest.

The Ethereal, similarly, is quite evil. But still, that loot… I need that looooooot!

Everything said in the previous review with the appearance of fairness (Yes, it’s dice, but skills can affect them, multiply them, reroll them… Skills go a long way to helping), the aesthetic (Solid, if workmanlike in places), and the dungeon deck (Could do with some extra variation) still stand. But one thing has served to improve the game, for me, at least, quite a bit. Hero Progression.

See, with the base abilities, the later dungeons can best be described as the sound of a table being flipped through a monitor, which is itself being thrown through a window. They’re punishing. But finishing a dungeon lets you, with Hero Progression on, unlock useful things in four basic categories: Basic, Healing, Combat, and Dungeon. I’ve mainly gone with a Healing build, and it’s been fun to go through the lower dungeons to get basic abilities, do the higher dungeons, just… Levelling up. As you would. I asked, last time I took a look, if the game could be more fair. And the answer, funnily enough, was “Yes, here’s a big step toward that.”

So, in summary, One Deck Dungeon is fun. Its music is alright, its aesthetic mostly solid, and it’s pretty clear to understand and play. It could do with some extra monster variety, but, overall, it’s alright as it is. Just… Turn Hero Progression on if you’re having trouble, eh?

Another 3 Star Dungeon, another… Three armour for every enemy on the third level. Well, good for me I brought the Warrior then!

Dungeons… Dungeons never change.

Become a Patron!

Austen Translation (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Austen Translation is an interestingly simple game: Spend four turns (plus some secret events) to try and get your stats (Wit, Ruthlessness, and Charm) close enough that your prospective hubby to be proposes to you, while sabotaging anyone else who might be after your beau (or… Well, just sabotage people so you’re the best match.) That is, beyond some twists and minigames, the whole thing, mechanically. Five players, local play only as far as I can tell, with randomly generated AI players if you don’t feel like filling the roster, and character generation with randomised stats, but you get to customise your lady’s looks.

Everybody got that?

Normally, this would get a “What it says on the tin”, some words about how, once again, Worthing & Moncrieff have nailed a clear, simple aesthetic with a good voice-actress for the round intros (Love the scandalised disgust in her voice when she asks “Did you really just interrupt me?” for clicking through an intro too fast), classical music fitting the theme of the piece…

…But I’ll freely admit, the narrative of the game doesn’t sit terribly well with me. See, Jane Austen was pretty good at critiquing the mores of the time, such as asking that dread question “Why can’t we marry for love, not money or standing?” in Pride and Prejudice… And Austen Translation, by parodying Austen, is almost as if Austen were playing it straight.

It’s pretty clear everyone’s competing, it’s definitely about the fat-stacks of cash the hubbies have, the losers “die in a rat-infested hovel” , and not even the odd winky asides and pleasant classical piano can really distract me from how uncomfortable it made me feel. It’s not played as being romantic, and from the outset, it’s made clear the women are going to be the dominant partners, but I still felt distinctly odd playing a narrative I’d kind of hoped we’d escaped a while back.

Mmmhm.

So, while I can’t personally recommend this, I will say again that it’s easy to pick up, tutorialises well, and has a good aesthetic going for it, with the minor niggle that maybe, just maybe, Wit and Charm could be different colours, or at least one could be made darker than the other so as to better differentiate them? It’s perhaps an interesting party game, albeit one with a narrative that, as noted, didn’t sit well with me.

I’m sorry, but I cannot accept, for my heart belongs to a man with six-degrees of freedom…

The Mad Welshman politely sipped his tea, wallet empty, and thought to himself “Thank goodness I’m a babbage-card critic, and don’t have to get embroiled in such things…”

Become a Patron!

For The King (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Folks, I could tell a long rambling story here, blow by blow accounts of the heroic deeds of a blacksmith, a hunter, and a scholar, normal folks who almost saved the day as the last hope of the kingdom of Fahrul. I could talk about their exploits fighting such evils as the Hangman, the dread King’s Maze, and the seemingly humble (yet devilishly agile) Imps. But a lot of this would distract from the fact that these are stories I made up, based on some damn fine procedural RPG play.

eep.

So yeah, For The King is a procedurally generated RPG, with a lovely low-poly board game aesthetic, where balancing aggressively pursuing quests, and biding time to make sure you can really take on that dungeon. Move too slow, and things get more dangerous, until eventually, you either fall, or the world ends. Move too quickly, and you’ll quickly get out of your depth. Thankfully, the game’s pretty good at giving you some idea which end you’re tending towards, play by play.

And it feels pretty good, with a fair amount of depth to it. Enough that I’d have a little trouble describing it all without this review feeling more like a feature list. Oh, hey, here’s a cast of characterful enemies, from the Triclops Infant that… Well, I feel bad killing these, because their main attack is “Fall over really heavily on top of you.” I have the option of sneaking or ambushing, but that XP is direly needed, because I have to take on the Mind Melter. The animations are great, with visible representation of your equipment on the well crafted low poly models, a real sense of impact to them, and the game tutorialises quite well.

It’s a beautiful world. Even the bits which are decidedly pointy and evil and stuff…

That it also defaults to the easiest difficulty mode is a real blessing, because yes, the game is pretty hard, even on the easiest difficulty. But also, oddly, gentle about that. It reminds you that you aren’t meant to win on your first try, or even your third (My third run on the main campaign, I got about halfway through), but getting further, seeing new and interesting monsters, made me feel… Well, like a badass.

So… Good aesthetic. Good music, fitting without over-riding. A real feeling of impact, both on the world and the fights. Good tutorials. And a hefty amount of replayability, due to unlocks and the extra quests and classes that some of these unlocks represent. Multiple game modes. What’s not to like?

Well, it’s best if characters stick together throughout, keeping close so as to have a full party. As such, multiplayer co-op (Where you play one character) is something that needs a tight knit group to work. Beyond that, though, there’s a lot done right with For The King, both in terms of mechanics, and in terms of feel and aesthetic. I foresee a fair bit of enjoyment with this one.

Yeah, remember what I said about a sense of impact? That *definitely* felt like a finale to the quest. 😛

The Mad Welshman could probably have said a lot more words. But basically, the game is pretty good.

Become a Patron!

One Deck Dungeon (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Adaptations of board games, for better or for ill, generally have to be faithful to the original. And so it is with One Deck Dungeon, a game that toes the line between “Yeah, that’s fair” and some good, old fashioned table flipping. You might be unsurprised to learn that dice are heavily involved. But let’s get into that.

If I’m clever, and my Black Die of General Usefulness roll well… I can still take it. Let’s do this.

One Deck Dungeon is a game where the majority of the deck remains roughly the same. Here, a beetle, armoured up the wazoo, and able to run away with its loot rather than die (as it should) if its armour remains unbreached, regardless of how much it hurt. There, a Wraith, avoided by many an adventurer, not for the traditional reason of life drain, but because it converts items (Which give you dice) into XP (Which, while useful in a fair few contexts, doesn’t give you dice, and gives you nothing if you haven’t levelled up yet.) So, it’s a game where, like a traditional RPG, knowing what something is on first glance (even without things helpfully being labelled and clearly explained on encountering them) means you can answer that age old question: Kill, Flee, Disarm. Every dungeon has the same timer, ticking down by a base 2 per turn, ticking further down if time is spent murdering an enemy (IE – boxes with an hourglass in them aren’t fitted with a corresponding die), and, once time has been used up, staying in that level of the dungeon hurts the adventurers (Presumably they have a bad case of loot itch, a horrid affliction that means not-looking for loot somewhere more powerful than where you were causes physical pain.)

Where does the change come in, the challenge from trying different things? Well, mainly two sources right now: The Adventurers (each with different values of stats-as-dice, in five flavours, and different skills if you play single player or two player) and the Dungeons (Each of which has a different boss, and different, stacking “Bad Things” per level.) My Warrior has, generally speaking, had a good time in the beginner dungeon (even getting me my sole win so far), but, due to a variety of factors, from 2s magically disappearing because of a Weakness Curse to magic based armour and damage, hasn’t done so well in, for example, The Lich’s Tomb, or against the Yeti. So… Everything is understandable, at a glance, and this is good.

So… Close, dammit! [dies]

You would think, at this point, that I’d then point to the dice and cry “BULLLL!” But no. Mainly because, while victory against a boss is only assured if you’re both good and a little lucky (and, in cases like the Yeti, heavily weighted toward hitting things while also having some dice to take care of, say, Magic and Agility), getting to the boss is, generally speaking, okay. The majority of the dungeon deck doesn’t change, as noted, so there’s a careful balance between taking damage to Get Cool Stuff (XP so you can hold more stuff, potions so you can live long enough to get stuff, or use special abilities in your quest to get stuff, stuff adds to your dice, skills to more easily turn crap dice into good dice, so on so forth) and knowing when it’s good to Just Run (The Wraith, for example, I generally avoid or potion out of if I can. No stuff for you, mister Wraith, only meeeee.) The feeling of being fair is important, and, for all that it is, at its core, a game about rolling dice and hoping for high numbers, One Deck Dungeon mostly feels fair.

Could it be more fair? Quite possibly. As implied, without a bit of luck, some good stats, and preferably a potion stashed away, the bosses of each of the five dungeons will mercilessly muller you. But then again, I’ve come so close… So close… So I know that these bosses can be killed, they can be beaten. Is it fair enough to keep me coming in without a friend to play with? Maybe. It does have a two player local mode at the moment, with each player’s stats and Heroic Abilities halved in effectiveness, but a good mix (Warrior/Rogue, for example, has served me well so far in Yeti’s Cavern) goes a long way, and that “X skills/items per character” wears thin slower (normally, in a single player run, I don’t bother going for items on higher floors.) I can even build synergy, so it helps.

5 Classes, 5 dungeons, and the only one I’ve not felt cool with so far was the Paladin. I more put this down to being a vaudevillain than any mechanical demerit with their play, though…

Overall, One Deck Dungeon explains itself and its rules quite well, seems mostly balanced and fair (for a given value of fair), and, if there were anything I’d maybe get tired of, it’s the main dungeon deck. Oh, right, another Goblin. Two flame traps in a row? Yaaawn. Still, it’s an alright pick if you like two player local play, or a single player game where you’re relatively free to expand your tactics in interesting directions. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.

The Mad Welshman appreciates well how the appearance of fairness is just as important as actually being fair. The game, thankfully, is both.

Become a Patron!