Slide through the shadows and stealthily creep into this week's Next of Ken, where I talk about Wreck-It Ralph, American Horror Story: Asylum, Ruse, and two games from Level 99 Games' upcoming Minigame Library: Noir and Pixel Tactics. Join us, won't you?
I took the kids to see Wreck-It Ralph, and we really enjoyed it. It was a movie that had been hyped and on my radar since I first saw the trailer this past summer.
I was worried it would possibly drown in a combination of fanservice and forced pop-culture references. Instead, it's a wonderfully charming movie that shows heart and craft, something missing from non-Pixar Disney movies for seemingly a decade now.
It didn't quite have that precise level of ultra Pixar polish and shine, but the story was clever and I really liked the universe they developed, with its own set of rules. Unlike a lot of kids' animated movies (say...Madagascar? Ice Age? Did we need 3 or 4 of each of these?) I would enjoy seeing a sequel just to find out what else they can do with this, other than of course the "hero's journey".
The voice work was terrific, and while the movie isn't devoured whole by fanservice, there are just a ton of easter eggs peppered throughout the movie for long-time video game fans. In the first pan through the Central Station alone there are a flood of cameos, some of which will definitely pass you by as you try to catch them all. I know I saw several the kids missed, and they mentioned five or six I didn't see.
I do wish modern arcades were as booming as the one featured in this movie! All the arcades in this area died out long ago. I think there's a "flat rate to play" place set up in the shell of what was once one of the mall's arcades, but it just isn't the same.
If you've got kids and were a fan of 80s arcades (or just video games in general, really), go check out Wreck-It Ralph. Best thing to come out of the Disney camp (not bearing the Pixar logo, of course) in a looooong time.
In other entertainment news, so far this season's American Horror Story: Asylum has been excellent. American Horror Story was one of the nice surprises for me from last season in terms of how much I enjoyed it.
There was the whole matter of how it began racing forward with seemingly super important stuff happening every episode...until you find out later that each season is not directly related to each other. Brilliant, as it allows them to tell the types of stories they want without being tied down to established characters from season to season. Incidentally, the whole "each season is its own story" was the original plan with NBC's Heroes, and it showed as after the first season it went into the tank, and quickly.
The show's creators took the anthology horror series one step further as several actors from last season are back, this time playing different roles in a completely different story.
It seemed the horror genre was going to fall completely into self-parody, torture porn, and shitty remakes, but American Horror Story is doing a fantastic job at bringing traditional horror to the small screen. Definitely a throwback to all the cool horror anthology shows from the 80s and early 90s (except, you know, they get away with a whole lot more in terms of nudity and gore than those old shows would ever dream of.)
I hope this remains a thing, as this and Game of Thrones are easily my two favorite shows on television. Man, the wait each season on that one is freaking agonizing.
James at Gamesalute sent a review copy of the new steampunk murder mystery card game Ruse. In it, players are trying to place a method, motive, and opportunity on one player so that they're convicted of being the killer.
Players on their turn draw either the top card of the deck or discard pile. Then they may either play a card on an opponent, or use a card to rid one from in front of them. These cards are of two different colors and three different types (method, motive, opportunity.) A player can only ever have cards of one color in front of them, and only one of each type. Should a player end their turn with all three types in front of them, they're guilty, and everyone else "wins."
There are alibi cards though that are of the same values as the evidence cards. You can instead use your turn to play an alibi and remove a card of that exact value (say, a King for a King) and put both the alibi and the evidence card in the discard pile.
You also have a once-per-game ability to punt, flip your identity card over, and discard a card of your choice from in front of you. This is useful if you have three evidence cards in front of you and no other way to rid yourselves of any of them. You only get that one freebie out, though.
The art on the cards is freaking fantastic and steampunk inspired, and it made me want to like the game more than I did. I like light card games, but the strategy in this is mostly straightforward. Players can only have one color in front of them, so you often just look to slap a card on someone that you possibly can. If you're about to lose, you can just save up the alibi card until then, as no one can pile on you with extras of any type. And since this is basically a normal deck of cards in term of composition, there are exactly as many evidence cards as appropriate alibis, so you either draw them or you don't, and there's no way to say, "Hey, three of a certain type have been played, so this is valuable now." There are exactly the same amount, so it's more about being a lucksack and having the one you need at the right time.
Also--one player "losing" and everyone else winning is pretty lame. Like Clue, "Am I the killer or not?" is one of those things you should kinda know, you know?
Okay, the Fear of Needles interaction I get. But who in the flying holy hell prescribes GATLING NEEDLE GUN TREATMENTS?!?
I do like the interaction between the evidence cards and alibis. For example, one of the Method cards shows Endurance and Conditioning, with someone scaling the side of a building with a rope. One of the matching alibi cards though is "Prosthetic Limb", with someone's fake hand suddenly and surprisingly snapping off, meaning hey, no way did they climb that building!
One of my sons liked the game a lot and asks to play it. It's certainly more activity than game, and there are worse ways to spend your time, but unless you've got a child with a taste for a super light game with a macabre murder theme, you can probably give this one a pass.
Level 99 Games was kind enough to send a preview copy of their upcoming Minigame Library. You may remember Level 99 Games from their excellent BattleCON: War of Indines. That game is crazy fun and deceptively deep, so I was eager to see what was next from them.
I didn't really know much about it prior to receiving it, but I was interested to learn about this 'box of goodies' that was basically 6 games with some common components tossed in.
The game types are extremely varied. Master Plan is a racing game with players taking the role of supervillains competing to win "a secret lair and one billion dollars." Blades of Legend is a secret role/team game where players are attacking each other, trying to determine who is on whose side. Infinity Dungeon is a non-competitive storytelling game where a DM and players try to narrate their way out of a dungeon filled with deadly--and often humorous--traps.
Pixel Tactics is a game that emulates Final Fantasy Tactics with 8-bit flair and positioning abstracted to a player's own 3x3 grid, where players try to kill each other's leader at the center. Noir is a Mystery Jack-esque game where one player is the killer, the other the inspector, and neither knows each other's identity...until the murders start, and then the chase is on. Last is Grimoire Shuffle, a game of moving through a maze, and manipulating pre-programmed movement cards to try and make it to the other side before your opponents do.
So far, we've only been able to spend time with two of these, and have had fun with each. Noir is an interesting deduction game as you have a 5x5 grid of character cards. The killer draws an identity card from the top of the deck and, keeping that card hidden, must immediately kill a card in any of the spaces adjacent to him or her, including diagonally. This gives the inspector, who also draws a hidden character card, the first clue as to who the killer could be.
From that point forward, players alternate turns. The killer can kill anyone adjacent to him, and if the inspector's character (also hidden) is killed, the game ends. The killer may also "shift" a row or column, moving those cards in either direction, taking the card that 'falls off' the row and putting it in the spot vacated by the other cards. The last thing the killer can do is draw a new card from the identity deck. If that character is still alive, the killer assumes that role and discards his old card, flipping his previous character to their deceased side. It was a frame job all along! If there are ever 16 deceased characters on the grid, the killer also wins!
The Inspector's turn is fairly similar, actually. Instead of killing, the player can "arrest" a card adjacent to his inspector. If that's the killer, the jig is up and the game ends. Of course, this gives the killer a valuable clue as to whom the inspector might be.
Instead of disguising, the Inspector can "Exonerate", very similar to how Sherlock Holmes' power worked in Mr. Jack. The Inspector draws a card from the identity deck and keeps it secret. Now he knows one more person who isn't (nor can ever be) the killer, extremely useful if the other player is trying to bluff being that particular character. The Inpsector can also shift rows or columns, but neither player can "undo" a move immediately preceding it (so no sliding a whole row right where it came from just because you didn't like your opponent's move.)
And that's the game. Players take turns with one action each until the killer either completes his killing spree or finds out who the undercover inspector is. Likewise, the inspector wins if he can ever arrest the dastardly killer before then.
The art for Noir is great, a black-and-white comic book noir look. The whole game is played with the two decks of cards. You don't need the extra tokens, but since my brother and I have bad memories we allowed the inspector to "cheat" and place gems on characters who were arrested falsely (i.e. not the killer). There are also 3 other ways to play--Hitman vs. Sleuth which adds a hitlist to the killer's goals, Spy tag for 3 or 4 players who try to evade each other, and Master Thief vs. Chief of Police, where there are treasure scattered amongst the characters and the Thief is trying to get them all before being caught red-handed. All of them use the very similar "figure out who I am by what adjacent cards I affect" gameplay.
Noir is fun, but can be taxing on the ol' brain if you have terrible memory like I do.
Next up is Pixel Tactics, and this is a game I am pretty smitten with so far. This is the Final Fantasy Tactics-inspired game where players each have their own draw deck full of characters. Each character is double-edged; one edge is a powerful leader, and at the start of the game each player will choose one of their cards to use for its leader side and put it in the center of their imaginary 3x3 grid.
The goal is to kill the opponent's leader, who has a much higher hit point total than regular characters and also has an "always on" ability, most of which will make you say, "holy shit, that's strong."
The rest of the character cards have an attack and HP rating, and four abilities. These abilities depend entirely on what row the characters end up in. The frontmost row is the Vanguard, and the first power is usable by a character there. The second is the flank, the two spots to either side of the leader. The second power on a characters' card is only usable if they're in the Flank. Last is the Rear, those last three spots behind the leader. Characters also have an ability only usable if they're in that position. The fourth row of a character card is a "one-off" ability and has a powerful effect, but can only be played from hand and is then discarded.
How the game works is one player is First Player, and takes two actions in the Vanguard wave. This can include recruiting a character to an empty Vanguard spot, attacking with a character in the Vanguard (though not one you've recruited this wave), or in any wave you can always Draw a card, Restructure (move a hero from anywhere in your army to an empty spot) or Play an Order (using those powerful one-time abilities of character cards in your hand.)
Recruiting is simple, you merely take a character card from your hand and play it to the row of the current wave. You can also attack with a character. The line of site is essentially this--a character has no one in his own army directly in front of him, and the target in the opposing army has no one directly in front of him. This includes the leader! This is a melee attack, and does damage equal to the attack to the defending character.
You can protect characters with useful support abilities by putting other characters in front of them, but watch out--ranged attacks can really ruin your day. A character with ranged attack can basically attack from any spot in his own army and target anyone in the opposing army. To stop this, some other characters have the Intercept ability which will protect other characters behind them in their column from ranged attacks. Very useful stuff.
Attacks are simultaneous, so even if an enemy character has lethal damage, the second player still gets to take his two actions, and only then are casualties checked. Your casualties don't just flicker and disappear unfortunately, they get flipped face down and become corpses, gumming up your ranks. As one of your actions you can remove a corpse from any spot in your army, but if you're having to do that constantly you're falling farther behind as you're not spending your actions assaulting your foe. Corpses aren't all bad though, as some leaders can make use of them such as Hepzibah Culotre who can command corpses to attack your foes.
So players take turns putting characters in their ranks, firing off powerful attacks and abilities, trying to carve their way to the enemy leader so they can pile enough damage on them to declare victory. Good stuff. Also, in a bit of 'world-building', some of the leaders in Pixel Tactics are actually BattleCON characters, and according to the rulebook they take place in the same universe. I thought that was a nice touch.
For both games, the cards are extremely high-quality linen finish. Noir's art is terrific and while the art on the Pixel Tactics cards is minimal, it uses 8-bit inspired pictures for each character, a nice touch.
I do have to admit that one thing I was balking on initially was price. The whole Minigame Library is $60. That's a decent deal if you're guaranteed to like all 6 games, but not all of them are necessarily going to strike everyone's fancy. Like for me, I'm not sure how much mileage I'll get out of the non-competitive storytelling game, as most of these freeform games with loose rules and no "winner" have always fallen pretty flat with me...good for a laugh, but not much more.
I was glad to learn however that you can buy these games individually for what looks like $12 each ($24 for Infinity Dungeon, the storytelling game I was just talking about.) Pixel Tactics for only $12 is a no-brainer to me, and I think there's plenty of gameplay in Noir to justify the $12 for that, too. So you've got my recommendations on those two already, and you can order them indiviudally at a supremely affordable price.
Over the holidays I'll dig more into the other games and give you more feedback on them. I do find the variety kit idea pretty cool, even if the only other game I remember that used this same method was reportedly pretty turdly (Stonehenge). Having a box that you can pop open and have a selection of games for a large range of players and gamestyles is very, very nice. I definitely recommend you read up on it to see if the whole libarary might appeal to you, or if you should cherry pick a couple that are directly your flavor. Again, for me Pixel Tactics is awesome and easily worth the paltry 12 bucks, no questions asked. Head over to their website at http://www.lvl99games.com/ for more details.
Another column in the books, thanks so much for reading! So until a song is released that's actually worse than Rebecca Black's "Friday", I'll see ya again, real soon.