Friday, July 22, 2011

Apples to Oranges: Apples to Apples MOD

I played Apples to Apples MOD (a slim travel edition) during vacation, and the cards were awful: a lot of celebrities and pop culture references that were completely lost on our group. (Hence, "MOD".) So far, the kids edition is the best one we've played, with the most cards for the most people. Obviously, Mattel was aiming for people who'd want cards like "Megan Fox" and ""Neil Patrick Harris", but games like this need to be a bit more timeless, rather than trendy and easily dated.

It reminded me of a Trivia Pursuit 1980s Edition. It may just be the haze of memory, but it seemed like every other answer was either "Michael Dukakis" or "Condoms". It became a running joke. Need a wedge? Just answer "Michael Dukakis" or "Condoms".

There also simply aren't enough cards, so they repeat very quickly. Plus, the cards are a bit too small.

On the positive side, the new dice mechanic for Apples to Apples MOD is pretty decent, as long as people remember they can make up their own adjectives. The system uses a multi-sided die imprinted with 26 letters and an apple icon. There are two cards with an alphabetical selection of words on each side, offering 4 possible adjectives for each letter of the alphabet. The judge rolls the die to select a letter, and then chooses an adjective beginning with that letter. He can use the cards, or make up his own adjective beginning with that letter. This word becomes the "green card" for that game.

It doesn't seem like Amazon even carries it, so it may already be out of print. I picked mine up at Target for $10. It won't be coming out again.

DC/Marvel Teaming With Lego

This isn't gaming news, but it touches on two beloved subjects here at Casa McD: superheroes and Lego. Starting January 2012, Lego will begin a multi-year deal to produce sets based on DC and Marvel comics characters.

A line tied to The Avengers feature film will include minifigs of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Loki and Black Widow, while the the X-Men collection includes Wolverine, Magneto, Nick Fury and Deadpool, and the Spider-Man sets offer Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. On the DC side, we'll be seeing Batman, Robin, Catwoman, The Joker, The Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bane, Bruce Wayne, Superman, Lex Luthor, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

In the past, Lego has produced significant lines for both Spider-man and Batman, but this is the first universe-spanning deal to date. They're launching the new endeavor with a Lego Super Heroes Unite contest, which invites people to use their minifigs to create artwork and films highlighting the characters. Expect to start seeing sets in May 2012.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LostWinds Coming to Mobile Devices

Eurogamer is announcing that LostWinds, a really clever little puzzle/platforming game, is coming to mobile devices later this year. This charming fantasy from the creators of Kinectimals features the adventures of a young boy who conjures the wind with gestures. It was originally published in the WiiWare store, where it got buried in the service's notoriously crowded marketplace. It seems like a great fit for iOS and Android, and should help this great little item get the audience it deserves.

Days of Wonder: Memoir '44 Out of Beta & Small World Underground

When I loaded up Days of Wonder's new online version of Memoir '44, I could swear my copy said it was still in beta, and mentioned that in my announcement. It has, in fact, been out of beta since late June, and is humming along quite nicely.Thanks to Christine Goutaland for correcting me.

Also, we got a chance over the weekend to play a warm-up game of Small World Underground, and we're liking it a lot. The new races are clever, the powers are dastardly, and the integration of places and relics puts a nice spin on the play. One caveat, however: don't use this one to introduce new players to Small World. The new additions add a little the learning curve and might put off novices.

PUZZLE: Tabling the Question

I haven't done a math puzzle in a while, so here's an old one to strain the average brain. (And by that I mean my brain: in the past, my readers have solved these so fast it's almost embarrassing.)

Mr. Jenkins comes home to find his son Todd reading a comic book rather that working on his quadratic equations. He sets about berating the boy, when Todd interrupts him with a deal. "If I can pose a problem you can't solve, you have to finish my homework, and I can to finish my comic." Mr. Jenkins, considering himself something of a math whiz, takes this bet in a heartbeat.

Todd pushes a large, perfectly round table into a corner, with its edge touching both walls. He places a spot and then turns to his father. "That spot," says Todd, "is exactly 9 inches from one wall and 8 inches from the other. Without measuring the table, tell me its diameter."

My Jenkins puzzled and puzzled 'til his puzzler was sore, and then wound up finishing Todd's homework while the boy returned the adventures of Uncle Scrooge. Would you have done any better?

A Closer Look: French Tarot: Trumps 15 & 16

Many people are familiar with the standard Tarot suits (the "Major Arcana") used for "divination" purposes, but they're less aware that Tarot cards were created for playing trick-taking games and have a rich and diverse design history. These images are part of an ongoing series highlighting the art of a single deck used in France, which contains scenes of rural and domestic life in the 19th century.

Click to enlarge

Tarot Trump 15: Detail

Click to enlarge

Tarot Trump 16: Detail

Monday, July 18, 2011

App O' The Mornin': Tiny Tower

Grade: B
Price: freemium (extra in-game money can be purchased)

Compulsion loop games are not one of my favorite categories. Any title that requires someone to check in and do something at regular intervals feels less like a game and more like a poor lifestyle choice. Yet the genre remains insanely popular among people who forget just how irritating it was to keep a tamagotchi.

Tiny Tower (NimbleBit) is designed in such a way that it can be played by people who like to check on their game every 30 minutes or so, but it doesn’t have to be played that way. This rather clever balance between compulsion loop design and simple simulation gaming is what makes Tiny Tower work.

The game is like a stripped down, pixilated version of the much-missed SimTower. You build a high-rise, one floor at a time, and designate each floor as either residential or work. Tenants are rated for their work skills in food, service, recreation, retail, or creative businesses. After you build each floor and designate it as a business, you assign tenants to a job, preferably in some area of their ability.

Sometimes these are dream jobs for the tenants, while other jobs make them unhappy. Either way, they work where they’re told to and earn the money needed to continue construction and restock and the stores. The  Marxists at Popmatters try to read Deep Meaning into this, with lines like "I have become an exploiter of digital-human capital." (There is no more unintentionally hilarious read on the net than game coverage at Popmatters.) Because we all know that 16-bit dude with a frowny-face is dying inside as he quietly hums "The Internationale".

Tony Tower is free to play, but if you want to play faster you can buy more “bux” online. If you don’t get too obsessed with it, Tiny Tower is great fun and can provide a few minutes of daily play as you manage your little building. If you do get obsessed with it, it ceases to become a fun little game and transmorphs into a time sink.

Your Turn: The Games Magazine Electronic Games 100

It's that time of year again. For the next two months, I will be working with my crack staff to compile and write the Electronic Games 100: a buyer's guide to the best 100 video, computer, and handheld games published since last November. (We also do a small section of previews for titles we do not yet have in completed form.)

So let me know what you think. What have you been playing? What did you love? What did you hate? Do you know something small that deserves more attention? Something big that deserves less attention?

On Twitter, use hashtag #games100 to make your suggestions. I'm also on Google+ and Facebook, or you can use the comboxes. This is the first time I'm doing this "live," so let me know what you think. You can check out the Awards tag on this site for some examples from last year, which saw Super Mario Galaxy II winning as game of the year, just because that's the way we roll.

I can tell you this much: it's going to take a concerted effort to keep mobile games to only 1/4th of the list (25 titles), as I did last year. Given the sorry state of originality in PC and videogaming, and the startling originality and fun found on mobile platforms, that may not be easy. Four words, people: Axe in the Face.

Please note: this is for electronic games only. I don't edit the Traditional Games 100.