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.

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.

Pharmakon (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Pharmakon is a game I want to like because, goodness me, it tries to experiment. It even tries to make its own experience less frustrating. Let’s talk a little bit about what it is, first, before we deal with why, sadly, I’m not its biggest fan.

Thankfullly, this is a wee beast, and of an element I’m fully prepared for.

Pharmakon is a turn based combat game in which you, an Elemental Agent, are sent to a remote world filled with aggressive, equally elemental monsters, because… Well, as it turns out, mostly to die. You think you’re the first Agent to be here, are rapidly disabused of this notion, and then things get a bit odd, story wise. To the developer’s credit, although English is not their first language (Visumeca hails from France), they’ve done okay in localising, although some of the speech is a little stilted. In any case, you fight these creatures with your drone, the power of which depends on three things: First, what elemental tetrominoes you’ve plugged into its awkward casing. These tetrominoes, in turn, can be destroyed if you think you don’t need them (You only have a limited storage space, after all) to add to your repair stores for their respective elemental damage values. Secondly, the number of times you’ve fired, charging up a skill meter, and finally, those skills. Unlocked by progression through the story (More on that in a bit), levelling up involves firing lasers of various element through skill icons, from four different directions. Opposing elements block each other, and this elemental interplay resides throughout the game.

This, on the other hand, is big trouble. I’m *not* going to come out of this well, and will probably die in the next phase.

So… Having explained the basics, let’s go into why I’m not its biggest fan, although it does try. Let’s start with dying. Dying does not end the story. What happens when you die is that a new Agent is sent, with their inventory filled with one element. The monster progression, however, doesn’t change, which means that, once you’ve started dying, odds are high you’ll keep dying, because you don’t have the elemental variety to keep up. It’s only mildly less annoying to note, again, that dying does not stop you from progressing in the story. I have been informed that a theme of this game is perseverance, but, unfortunately, despite being told so, it doesn’t show very well in the game or the story, as Agents will say the same thing in the story no matter who they are.

Visuallly, the game is very clear, and although the angle doesn’t show it too well, a lot of effort has gone into making a variety of beasties to fight. You quickly ascertain what things do, although the first few fights are an extended tutorial, just to make sure. The sound and music are okay, nothing special, but they set the mood, and they don’t feel out of place, which is what’s needed.

Elements that don’t react with each other, thankfully, work well. Each extra icon I grab lowers the cost of a special ability.

As such, Pharmakon is not a bad game, and it does do interesting things, but the killing of monsters and the levelling up is pretty much all there is to it. If you’re okay with that, if you want to check out something that experiments, and has a few flaws that make it drag on, then I’d say give it a go.

The Mad Welshman is of Element Moustache. It has no weakness, only strength. Well, that’s what it tells you, anyway. Muahahahahaaa.

Zafehouse Diaries 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Zombies. Zombies never change. Wars. Bigotry. History… But zombies… Zombies… Never change.

Okay, maybe they do. Fast zombies, big zombies, little zombies… There’s a lot of zombies out there, but Zafehouse Diaries 2, like its predecessor, pretty much sticks with our shambling, flocking, endlessly moaning dead folks. It also tries to update the “Bunch of bigoted assholes are the only ‘survivors’ of a zombie apocalypse” formula Screwfly used in their very first game, Zafehouse Diaries 1, and…

Mark, like many of his ilk, is dancing around the fact that he judges books by their covers, or, more specifically, the *colour* of their covers. Redemption is possible, but I foresee head noms in his future…

…Honestly, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is one I feel conflicted about, because while there’s undeniably more to the game than its predecessor, there’s also more confusion. The Investigate/Snipe/Breach interface, for example, has become a little less clear. Click on the little icon to customise what you’re doing. This is kind of important, because that involves taking things with you, just one example of things you could be doing.

In any case, it’s a turn based strategy game in which you marshall a bunch of survivors, trying to feed yourselves, deal with internal conflicts, and, in at least some cases, try to get the hell out of town. Folks can work together on tasks, but, as in many zombie media, the survivors come from all walks of life, including howling bigots. Timothy, a middle class musician, doesn’t “like the look of” Dana, because he’s a racist. Jeffrey doesn’t like women. Dana, meanwhile, has beef with older folks (like Timothy, funnily enough.) Spreading rumours once a day can improve the mood, but it can also backfire horrendously. Heck, you can do it deliberately, if you really want to.

Not gonna lie, I kinda blinked a bit at this rumour. The options are racists and foreigners, and while it makes sense after thought… It did make me blink for a bit.

There are several scenarios, from the return of Road Kill (find a roadmap, a car, a repair manual, and five bits to repair a car to get out of town before everyone dies) to the new Kill Switch (Five soldiers, no relationship problems, stop an airstrike while nastier zombies try to wreck the town’s power grid.) As before, you can add custom content, such as making yourself in the game, but custom content (and indeed, changing the difficulty via the Custom Game option) stops you getting achievements. Similarly, there are events in game, such as the Piper, an asshole in a pickup truck who gives you the option of giving one of your folks as zombie bait, or having a tantrum, and beeping his horn as he drives off, attracting zombies. I hate the Piper.

Sadly, it isn’t the friendliest of games. Although Screwfly have clearly made an effort to improve over Zafehouse 1, making more things clear, such as customising orders, it’s a game where reading the manual (Which is in-game, under Help) is very important.

Overall, visually, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is an improvement over 1 (Although, as mentioned, that Breach/Snipe/Investigate could probably stand to be clearer), it does have more content, and it is a friendlier game than Zafehouse 1, especially with a tutorial, it’s still one you’ll want to explore the UI of before you make a move, and some things still aren’t quite clear (Survivor relationships, for example, affect the quality of their work together.)

While it’s not pictured, the Breach/Investigate/Snipe button is a post-it note next to Location Summary. A *small* , two-part post-it note. It could do with being a tadge bigger.

The Mad Welshman wants to eat the rich. However, he sees better chances of doing so as a zombie than a survivor.