Friday, December 17, 2010

This Week In Board Game News -- 12/17

Seize Your Turn's Twitterstream digest dishes up the gaming links for the week that was. It's as thorough a roundup of news and reviews as you'll find anywhere.

Estonia Buys 500 Copies of Agricola

Yes, really. And at full retail price, rather than from an internet site where they could have saved a few thousand Euros.

The idea was cooked up by the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture, probably after a wild night of beer pong and herring burgers, in order to "promote farming and countryside life among the youth."

Agricola is a Eurogame in which players expand and improve their farms.

Says the Ministry's PR rep: “One of our biggest tasks is to promote country life and farming, especially among youth. We plan to hand out the board games and organize tournaments. It’s a marketing tool."

I'm sure this means I'm hopelessly provincial, but whenever I read "Estonia" I think "Elbonia," and now I'm imagining people up to their elbows in mud while playing a Minor Improvement.

Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Conflict

 And while we're on the subject of Cosmic Encounter, there is a new expansion set due ... sometime. I didn't draw a Prophet power card, so I'm not sure when, but probably "some time in 2011."

The set is called Cosmic Conflict, and here's the official line:
In Cosmic Conflict, 20 new alien races explode onto the galaxy. Players will now shudder at the insidious kindness of the Empath, blink in confusion at the antics of the Lunatic, and howl in outrage as their planets are stolen away by the Claw.
Cosmic Conflict also makes the Cosmos even bigger, adding another player (and attractive black components) to the game. Cosmic Quakes will shake things up, ensuring that no player’s hand is truly safe. And as if that wasn’t enough, Cosmic Conflict introduces a new variant to the game – the hazard deck, which confronts the players with dangerous and amusing events that can crop up at any time.
Hazards are special game-altering conditions that bring exciting effects to your Cosmic Encounter experience. Special destiny cards, drawn during the destiny phase, display a “hazard warning” in the upper left corner; this indicates that a hazard card should be drawn.
Consisting of two types (temporary and permanent), these cards have a variety of wild effects. The Energy Fields hazard card, for example, lets each main player draw two free cards... but they must show them to the group first. And the optional “Extremely Hazardous Variant” will take you on a wild ride; it brings a new hazard card into play every turn!

VARIANTS: Powers Monopoly

Powers Monopoly is a variant that uses any basic Monopoly set and rules, but adds special rules to mimic the "powers" concepts of Cosmic Encounter.

The rules for Powers Monopoly were floating around the internet for a while, but seem to have disappeared. My copy of the rules credits Scott Weiss and Rick Rubenstein, but if that's an error please correct me. I think the only other place hosting it is Game Central Station.

All of the rules are the same as in regular Monopoly with the following exceptions:

1. Each player is given two powers assigned at random from the list below. Write each on an index card, or simply print the list and cut them into individual slips of paper, one per power. Then and have each player draw two from the pile. The powers give players unique abilities that allow them to subvert the normal rules in some way. Some powers require a marker to denote when they can be used (for example, once per trip around the board.) Use whatever you have handy.

2. A player may not use his powers while in Jail.

3. When a player lands on Free Parking, he or she receives a Zap (use whatever markers are convenient; just make sure they're different from power-specific markers.) The Zap may be played on any player attempting to use a power, thereby cancelling the power's effect. The Zapped player may not attempt to reuse any of his or her powers until the next player's turn.

As an optional rule, you can allow players to trade powers as part of a deal.

You can find the individual powers after the jump.

Settlers of Catan: 15th Anniversary Edition

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Settlers of Catan was an over-the-top, sculpted 3D version of the game stored in a treasure chest, and currently selling for $300 to $500.

The 15th Anniversary Edition is a still pretty lavish, with a hefty $150 price tag. This version is all-wood, including the box and the tiles.

It includes the following:
  • 52 map hexagons
  • 144 specially designed playing pieces
  • 6 hexagonal building costs summaries
  • 2 special victory point markers
  • 28 wooden number chits
  • 1 robber
  • 2 dice
  • 154 cards

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mac App Store: Coming 1/6/11

TouchArcade has the news: the Mac App Store launches on January 6th, 2011. Apple knows a winning idea when they spot one, so they're rolling out direct delivery for computer software using the same model that drove iTunes and the App Store to success.

This is the future, people. I'm not pretending to be Criswell, but since my days on the US edition of T3 I've been saying that all hard storage media will die. Every bit of storage technology we've seen for the past 30 years was merely leading up to digital delivery. Floppy discs, CD-ROM, DVD, Blu-Ray: they will all fall. One day soon, they will seem as novel as 8-track tapes, just like the idea of going to a store to buy a game or any other piece of software.

PC gaming already has a proven model in Steam, but it's not the most intuitive system for buying and installing software. Apple has a particular genius for creating smooth edges and a consumer-friendly experience. Could they even attempt a PC App Store some day?

If you're a Mac user (and I'm not) watch this space. This is the future, and remember: the future is "where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives!"

Poker Blog

If you read some of my card game coverage, you probably get the idea that I'm not a huge fan of Poker. I appreciate it, I admire the subtle strategies and the psychological game, but it's just not something I return to by choice. When I do play, it's because my son likes the betting and bluffing element. He seems to think his Asperger's gives him a natural advantage in this area, because it's very hard to "read" a person with Asperger's. I could play it socially and enjoy it, but it just doesn't scratch my card-playing itch.

That said, I have to give a shout out to a terrific Poker Blog that I just found while stumbling around on teh interwebz. It's called Online Poker Blog, and it is just crammed full of the kind of stuff I like, including strategies, variants, lore, news, and more. This is just a good example of a single-topic gaming site, and it's worth a stop.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twittering and Facebooking

I'm a reluctant Twitterer, and a fairly indifferent Facebookie, but I've found both are useful for two things: sending out links for new posts, and broadcasting price drops in the App Store and elsewhere.

I'm mentioning this because Roll Through The Ages is marked down from $3 to free for a little while, just like Axe In The Face went free for a short time last week. I only post these brief updates through the State of Play Facebook page and through the State of Play Twitter page, so if you're interested in that kind of information, you might want to consider following the site.

The Return of the Humble Indie Bundle

The Humble Indie Bundle is a set-your-own-price package of great independent games, and it's back with a second great offering this year. The titles in the bundle are a mixture of great games such as Braid, Machinarium, and Osmos, and works in progress, such as Cortex Command and Revenge of the Titans. Sold separately, they're worth about $85

At the Humble Indie Bundle site you can set your own price for the complete set of five games, with the money split any way you like. Sliders on the purchase page allow you to divide the money among the developers, between two charities (Child's Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation), or any combination of these three and the Humble Bundle group.

In the first 24 hours, there were about 77,000 purchases for a total of more than half a million dollars. Markus "Notch" Persson (creator of Minecraft) kicked things into high-gear by paying $2000 for the set. Average selling price is about $7, which is a disappointment. Broken down across various systems, Linux users were the most generous ($13+ average), followed by Mac ($8), and finally PC ($6).

That's really not enough for this package, and if the average is that low it means some people are pretty much stealing the games. If people want indie games, they need to support indie developers, and the Humble Indie Bundle is a great way to do it while also supporting a couple of good causes.

App O' The Mornin': Braveheart Review

Grade: B
Price: $1 (lite version available)

I kept expecting Braveheart to turn into something interesting: a good Diablo clone, perhaps, or even a deeper version of a Solomon's Keep. When it didn't, I decided to just enjoy it for the slick bit of mindless mayhem it actually is.

That's kind of a shame, since the game is tricked out with all the trappings of a decent RPG app. The production is top-notch. The story, such as it is, is told via expertly drawn comic book panels with some brief flashes of wit. But the narrative doesn't ever add up to more than a clothesline on which to hang the levels, and the character you create never really develops into anything all that interesting.

Oh, the game has plenty of stats and things to buy. There are stats for your hero's two weapons (flail and crossbow) and well as for vitality (total health), mastery (I never did figure this one out), and wisdom. That's all well and good, and I dutifully allotted my points to various stats after each new level, but I couldn't avoid a sneaking feeling that none of it mattered all that much.

You can also buy different versions of the crossbow and flail, each with unique characteristics. There are potions, bonus and perks. Enemies drop plenty of stuff. Everything is here for an interesting RPG.

And then you spend level after level spinning in a circle mowing down waves of enemies and ... actually, there is no "and". That's what you do. And then you do it again. Sometimes you do it over here, and sometimes you do it over there. Sometimes there are slime monsters, sometimes there are tree monsters, sometimes there are wizards. Actually, the game doesn't skimp on the monsters. You get plenty of them, in various forms and types, but they all do one of two things: charge you at the center of the screen, or cast spells at your from a distance.

And it all boils down to making little circley motions with your finger. Your hero's main weapon is a flail, which he wields by spinning around and around really really fast. You draw circles to get him moving, and then using simple taps to steer him around the tiny level maps. After a while, he'll slow down and you have to spin him up again, but he's pretty much a whirling dervish of death, and any critter that comes within flail range is promptly pulped. You can also use a two-finger tap to fire off some crossbow shots, but this actually doesn't integrate all that well with the spin mechanic. You can make it work, but it's a bit awkward.

Don't get me wrong: this is plenty heaps o' fun. The combat is immensely entertaining for a while, but all the RPG paraphernalia kind of gets you hoping for something a little bit ... more. You're largely reduced to knocking off several waves of enemies, and then moving on to the next set. After a few levels, you open a new region, which gives you a new environment and enemies, but the pace and the gameplay never really varies all that much.

Even with these caveats, I'd still say it earn its "B" grade. It doesn't fulfill those initial RPG hopes, but when you get right down to it the spin-slaughter is fairly entertaining, in a mindless and visceral way, and the production is quite good.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big Game Sales at Amazon and Chess Cafe

"Big" as in ...

$20 off Dominion: Seaside
$20 off House on Haunted Hill
$20 off Small World
$7 off Solitaire Chess
$10 off Axis & Allies 1942
and much more

And don't forget their 17 Days of Video Game Deals. 

Check it out!

Also,'s $5 and $10 sale ends tonight, but their regular prices are usually pretty tight.  Check out this Tournament Chess Set for almost $20 off. 

Christmas Giving: One More Suggestion

I spent today at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and they do incredible work. Everyone in the South Jersey, Philadelphia, and Delaware region is blessed to have such a remarkable pediatric healthcare system if, God forbid, they ever need it.

If you're still looking for some giving opportunities this year, then consider CHOP. You can either donate directly, or through the Child's Play charity established by Jerry and Mike of Penny Arcade.

Monday, December 13, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Free for Christmas!

Grades: A (Cut the Rope) & B (Ynth Xmas)
Prices: free!

I hope you've been watching for all the price drops flooding the App Store throughout December. There have been some great deals, including Axe in the Face for free yesterday.

A couple of fresh freebies hit the shop this weekend, gifts from their respective publishers:

Cut the Rope: Holiday Gift: Om Nom is back with 25 new puzzles in this free gift box straight from Santa's Chillingo workshop. This is a fairly light collection of puzzles. They're all very clever, but only a few of them are particularly difficult. They do, however, add a terrific new feature: Christmas stockings! These aren't stuffed with oranges and coal, but with the ability to warp space.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PUZZLE: Words From a Word

Eleven words hide therein,
Where they are clearly seen.
Ten lurk within the span of scapegoat,
In firestone, thirteen.

The letters are in order:
No anagrams allowed;
And finish up with usher:
With four pronouns it's endowed.