Barnestorming- March of the Ants in Review, Bloodborne, Mushishi

Barnestorming- March of the Ants in Review, Bloodborne, Mushishi Hot

Michael Barnes     
 
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March of the Ants

Oh,how I wish you were weird.

On the Table

March of the Ants is one of those games that doesn’t really do anything wrong, but it’s just one of those workmanlike titles that struggles to make a case for itself. The ant concept it amazing, I love the illustrations and the idea of a 4x game about insects is freaking awesome. But the design is derivative, not really offering much more than a heavily streamlined TI3-style game with a light evolution subsystem built into it instead of a tech tree. It’s not an unappealing game and I think the solo option is actually more interesting and fun to play than the group game, which sort of fell flat over a couple of ho-hum sessions. Here’s the review.

Luchador is pretty fun, the little ring goes a long way to selling this one as a silly, ridiculous dice-roller. There’s slightly more to it than King of Tokyo.

 

On the Consoles

Bloodborne is the real deal. I’m about six hours in, haven’t beaten either of the two OMFG bosses I’ve encountered yet. The first hour of this game is literally as good as any other video game I’ve ever played. Official proclamation. I think this is better than Dark Souls. It’s just a touch more accessible and you can tell that Miyazaki and co. at From have really done their homework in terms of refining and improving the core Souls-type game. There are elements that fit like an old pair of shoes if you’re a Souls vet, but there are things you’re going to have to unlearn. It’s WAY more aggressive. No more shuffling around in heavy armor, shield up, waiting to poke the enemy. No sluggish (but realistic and visceral) exchanges of blows. The combat is actually closer to a traditional Japanese-style brawler in a way- it’s fast, there are sort-of combos, and NO BLOCKING. The intent is that you strike swiftly and dodge, looking for openings to do maximum damage. Brutal stuff.

But all of the weird, cryptic From stuff is in here, there is a lot of similarity in format and concept. You would never mistake this for a game made by other developers.

The atmosphere and setting are INCREDIBLE. Imagine Castlevania turned up to 50. It’s pseudo-Hammer gothic but gone completely berserk/baroque. Berzoque? You heard that here first. The visuals are astonishing, detailed and inventive. The town is littered with broken down carriages, chained up coffins, crucified (and burning) werewolf-thing. The whole place feels malevolent, eerie and forlorn like the locations in the Souls games, and there’s that wonderful penchant for the slightly surreal.

Last night I hit into a grinding loop when I realized I was in an easily farmable area so I pipped up a couple of levels. Starting to feel like I’m making progress. I’m refusing to read any spoilers or FAQ on this one. I want everything to be a mystery, a surprise or both.

That’s my go-to game for night time. Every other time I’ve been playing Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3 and Mega Man X. Going back to 2 and 3, it’s really funny how the obnoxiously difficult parts have stuck in my memory after decades. I’ll get to something like that stupid ass part where you have to use the jet Rush to fly over a pit and you don’t have enough energy for it and the whole thing is slowing down to like 1  frame per second. I remember just about crying over that when I was a kid. But now, you can use save states…which some people view as cheating, but I beg to differ. You still have to perform the tasks in the game and make all the jumps. You just don’t have to run out of lives/energy and have to do the entire level again…or make it to the end with no hope of beating the boss because you flubbed it up the whole way there. You use save states to effectively edit out all of the bullshit that made these games take forever to beat- but not necessarily more difficult.

On the Screen

Mostly Yamato 2199, which is just stupendously great. Any fan of Star Blazers/Yamato is going to go nuts over this. It’s funny though, even though I saw all of the original Yamato films in Japanese, watching it with the Japanese names still feels off. These people are still Wildstar, Avatar, Dash, Conroy, Sandor, Homer, Mark, Dr. Sane, Nova, etc. I do a pretty awesome impression of Captain Avatar saying “Wildstar!” Last night I watched a GREAT episode where the Yamato was stuck in this sort of space Saragasso Sea along with a Gamilas vessel. Some really well-done intrigue goes down, the Gamilas send over an envoy to work out a solution together and it resolves unexpectedly.

Frohike recommended Mushishi and I watched the first one…it is awesome. It’s almost like a cross between Japanese and European fairy myth mixed up with a Hellblazer-like occult detective angle. But it’s also got this angle that reminds me a lot of Kwaidan. It’s very gentle, elegant and quiet. There is some really interesting material here about nature and spirituality that definitely digs deeper than, say, Project A-Ko.

On the other end of the spectrum, I watched a couple of episodes of Full Metal Alchemist. I don’t think I can do it. It just seems way too teenage for my tastes. Some really dark material undermined by obnoxious Japanese humor, which I just about never find funny.

 

On Spotify

Nothing. Tape adapter is broken. Still. Too lazy to replace. Really need to get on that.

Barnestorming- March of the Ants in Review, Bloodborne, Mushishi There Will Be Games
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Posted: 26 Mar 2015 19:21 by stormseeker75 #199997
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Luchador is pretty fun? You bloody savage. It's amazing! Probably helps that I'm a huge wrestling fan. If you're not a wrestling fan, then KoT probably delivers more fun.
Posted: 26 Mar 2015 19:51 by Gary Sax #199999
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I think the sword/gravestone hammer is like the coolest weapon design ever.
Posted: 26 Mar 2015 20:08 by Frohike #200000
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I only played Demon's Souls but I remember how peculiar it was to find a lucrative grinding loop and actually feel like I'd stumbled across treasure, rather than a wall I was expected to scale as part of the design.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 06:27 by hotseatgames #200012
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Mushishi is definitely one of the best and most unique anime series out there. Great all the way through. They made some new ones, I think.

FMA does get a little teeny, but some of the plot points hit pretty hard.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 07:43 by Chaz #200017
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Bloodborne sounds like something I'd dig the hell out of. Except it's almost the only thing I'd want to play on the PS4, so there's basically no chance I'll get a PS4 to play it. :(

Really, since I never actually made much progress on it, I should probably just install and play through Demon's Souls or Dark Souls, right? But man, I love the Victorian gothic vibe in Bloodborne more than the dark fantasy thing.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 08:38 by Gary Sax #200021
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Bloodborne is probably the best horror game I've ever played. The gothic horror setting is genius for attaching to a souls game because the mechanics really facilitate horror. So when you play a souls game you are sitting there, incredibly tense, knowing that a single hit could kill you... and then to add the more horror centric trappings, when you're already in that tense, paranoid mindset and physical state... it facilitates everything that a horror movie or game is trying to do via the gameplay.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 08:53 by Gregarius #200025
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I'm sorry to hear March of the Ants didn't work for you. I really enjoyed my one play of it.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 13:59 by San Il Defanso #200049
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I got Mega Man 2 on my Wii like five years ago, and I still have never beaten Heat Man because I have never been able to conquer that part where the blocks appear in seemingly random spots around the board. I just haven't had the patience to memorize the pattern.

Great game though.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 15:06 by Michael Barnes #200054
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Ha ha! And that part is EASY!

Even with doing the savestates, the parts that are hard are still freaking hard. But it's almost like a puzzle thing, where you have to work out what you should do and then there's the skill element of executing it.

But you really get into that wonderful old school vibe of encountering something that seems like it's impossible until you notice a pattern or an opportunity. Like the first time you fight the Yellow Devil and see how to anticipate his actions and respond accordingly. Bloodborne is actually like that too.

And yes, Bloodborne is the best horror game I've ever played. The opening alone is so horrifying and spooky that it blows away most films in the genre.

Greg- it is kind of your fault, because I saw your mention in the forums and that reminded me that I needed to check out the game. I don't dislike and it certainly wasn't a waste of time...but it seems like the Great American Ant Game has yet to be created.
Posted: 28 Mar 2015 10:59 by Mad Dog #200077
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I went looking for other reviews for March of the Ants and they were all written before/during the Kickstarter campaign based on prototypes. And of course they all recommend funding the KS like the reviewer did. Kind of untrustworthy and self-serving, imo. So thanks for taking the time to review the final product and not writing like an infomercial for it.
Posted: 28 Mar 2015 13:27 by Michael Barnes #200080
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You have my solemn pledge to NEVER review a Kickstarter title before it is available to everyone at retail.
Posted: 30 Mar 2015 08:35 by Gregarius #200127
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Michael Barnes wrote:
Greg- it is kind of your fault, because I saw your mention in the forums and that reminded me that I needed to check out the game. I don't dislike and it certainly wasn't a waste of time...but it seems like the Great American Ant Game has yet to be created.
Yeah, the last part of your review made me think you were looking for a different game than what it is. But I blame them for that, not you. Everything about the game is presented as if it were an ant game, when really it is a Space 4X game in disguise. I also agree that there wasn't too much original about the design except for the compactness that kept the play time down to about 90 minutes.
Posted: 02 Apr 2015 23:46 by SatelliteTransmission #200269
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I have so many questions and issues regarding your review of March of the Ants that I'm not quite sure where to start. Well, I guess my basic question is: What is an example of an "ant-y" mechanic that you would have liked to have seen in the game? Or a game that has mechanics that really reflect the theme in a way that you appreciate or enjoy? These kinds of concrete examples would help me understand your point of critique in the review. In my opinion, the theme, art, graphic design and mechanics of MotA are thoroughly integrated -- the relationship between theme and mechanics is actually one of the things I appreciate most about the game.

@Mad Dog: If there were no huge divergences from the rules sent to reviewers before/during the Kickstarter campaign and those published at retail, what is the difference? If it is not a substantively different game, why does it matter when it was reviewed?

@Gregarius: Are all 4X games space-themed? Is a game with mechanics inspired by space-themed 4X games like Eclipse or TI:3 necessarily a "4X Space game in disguise"? Based on your thinking, I'm just not sure how we ever escape a sort of solipsism where everything is derivative of everything else. Like language…or fantasy tropes…or the fact that all organic matter is made of carbon… In other words: of course the game owes a debt to other games. That inspiration was mentioned very vocally in the Kickstarter materials. It's like your eating a blueberry muffin and complaining that it has too many blueberries.
Posted: 03 Apr 2015 01:25 by Frohike #200270
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  • Pheromone trails
  • Herding other insects
  • Slave-making ants
  • Sentinel soldier ants on trails of worker ants
  • Symbiotic parasitism with plants
  • Zombie ant fungus
  • Etc
Posted: 03 Apr 2015 05:05 by Mad Dog #200271
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If there were no huge divergences from the rules sent to reviewers before/during the Kickstarter campaign and those published at retail, what is the difference? If it is not a substantively different game, why does it matter when it was reviewed?

Are you kidding me? Even non-"huge" changes can alter a game in profound ways. Since you're probably the designer in disguise you should already know that. Also games that are not "substantively different" are still different games as many, many discussions here and on BGG have compared similar games. So you tell me, why would you go by a review that is for a minorly changed and slightly different game over a review of the actual game? Not to mention the bias of the reviewer wanting you to help add more stretch goals for themselves to benefit. Its like believing everything a used car salesman tells you.
Posted: 03 Apr 2015 08:57 by Gregarius #200272
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SatelliteTransmission wrote:
@Gregarius: Are all 4X games space-themed?
I don't know. It seems that way based on my experience, but I really couldn't say. I don't see any reason why a 4X game needs to be set in space, it just seems the most common setting, and a reference that most people are familiar with.
Is a game with mechanics inspired by space-themed 4X games like Eclipse or TI:3 necessarily a "4X Space game in disguise"? Based on your thinking, I'm just not sure how we ever escape a sort of solipsism where everything is derivative of everything else. Like language…or fantasy tropes…or the fact that all organic matter is made of carbon… In other words: of course the game owes a debt to other games. That inspiration was mentioned very vocally in the Kickstarter materials. It's like your eating a blueberry muffin and complaining that it has too many blueberries.
I don't know why I feel like I'm being attacked here... I like the game. I supported the Kickstarter (although obviously I didn't pore over all the materials). I have no problem with it being inspired by other games, or even taking concepts directly.

I will say that the ant setting isn't particularly integral to the game. It could be in space as I said before, or it could be Mad Max with upgradeable vehicles searching the desert wastes for oil or water. It could be roaming Medieval Knights upgrading their mounts and armor while attacking neighboring fiefdoms. No matter which of those themes was applied to the game, I'd still probably find it useful to refer to a Space 4X game because it is a convenient shorthand to convey a lot of information.
Posted: 03 Apr 2015 09:28 by charlest #200274
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Isn't Runewars kind of a 4X game?
Posted: 03 Apr 2015 09:39 by Michael Barnes #200276
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I have so many questions and issues regarding your review of March of the Ants that I'm not quite sure where to start. Well, I guess my basic question is: What is an example of an "ant-y" mechanic that you would have liked to have seen in the game? Or a game that has mechanics that really reflect the theme in a way that you appreciate or enjoy? These kinds of concrete examples would help me understand your point of critique in the review. In my opinion, the theme, art, graphic design and mechanics of MotA are thoroughly integrated -- the relationship between theme and mechanics is actually one of the things I appreciate most about the game.

Frohike already listed most of what I was going to specific call out as examples of real-world material that could have been used as a basis for more "ant-y" mechanics so I won't repeat those, but quite frankly your comment reveals that you don't have an understanding of what "theme" actually is, at least as I define it. March of the Ants is the poster child for "pasted on" theme. You can literally replace all of the images, nomenclature and flavor text in the game- without touching any of the mechanics- and it could describe any number of settings. This isn't helped by the fact that the mechanics are so clearly derivative of other games. There is nothing ant-specific about, for example, the action selection mechanic. Do other players get those knock-on actions because it reflects something about the ant subject matter? Absolutely not. It's that way because TI3 and other games are that way.

What you are basically stating is that because the game has "ants" in the title, has pictures of ants, and because the rulebook tells you that these cubes are ants is that the game has a somehow "integrated" theme, which is absolutely not the case here. Compare Tigris & Euphrates. The theme there is not what is pictured on the tiles or the box, nor is it "pasted on". It is integrated in the gameplay, which explicitly describes the rise and fall of civilizations along four specific vectors or metrics. When you place a religious leader token into another player's kingdom, it has a very specific thematic resonance and effect. There is absolutely nothing in March of the Ants that describes any kind of specific THEME. It has nothing to say about its subject matter, it is purely representative. it's like reading a story with no subtext.

Contrast this game with something like a Phil Eklund design...look at something like Origins, that starts out with players effectively developing the early human brain, which in turn affects the remainder of the game. That's thematic.

I challenge you to name ONE aspect of March of the Ants that could not be altered to be about spaceships, cowboys, cavemen, classical civilizations or sea life by simply replacing card art, text and nomenclature.

Bonus round- would you be willing to disclose how much you backed the game for?

@Mad Dog: If there were no huge divergences from the rules sent to reviewers before/during the Kickstarter campaign and those published at retail, what is the difference? If it is not a substantively different game, why does it matter when it was reviewed?


ANY divergences between the rules presented during a Kickstarter campaign and what is available at retail is BIG difference. If the rules presented to lure Kickstarter backers and the rules available to retail customers are two different things, than those early rules are irrelevant and SHOULD NOT be assessed in a publically available, published review of the game. At that point, the "review" is a "preview" at best, a shill at worst. Any review of a Kickstarter game prior to its retail availability should not be trusted. Full stop.

@Gregarius: Are all 4X games space-themed? Is a game with mechanics inspired by space-themed 4X games like Eclipse or TI:3 necessarily a "4X Space game in disguise"?

4X games generally have the exact same theme- 4X. There are many, however, with different settings and contexts for that 4X theme to occur. March of the Ants would be an example of one.
Posted: 04 Apr 2015 14:25 by SatelliteTransmission #200333
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This is a pretty lively discussion; you all seem to be pretty passionate about the topics involved. I'm going to ignore ad hominem (e.g., I don't "have an understanding of what 'theme' is") and focus on the substance of some of the responses to my original post. A post that was filled with questions because, honestly, I felt like Barnes' review was pretty cursory and didn't provide examples to support his perspective. I'm glad he's provided some details and examples in the forums, though -- now a real dialogue can take place.

@Frohike: Have you played March of the Ants? Many of the ideas you listed are in the game as Evolution and Event cards. For example, the Fungal Outbreak is based on the zombie ant fungus you mention.

@Mad Dog: I agree that any rules change matters, but I disagree that a typical Kickstarter backer is eagerly pouring over a Beta Rulebook.pdf in order to make their backing decision. Choices are made for a wide variety of diverse reasons; for example, there's a portion of the tabletop games' community that is most focused on components and will back/purchase a game simply because they enjoy the sculpts of the models included. I also doubt that someone who is trying to both develop a reputation as -- and monetize their practice of -- reviewing games is shilling a product they don't enjoy or think is terrible in order to squeeze more stretch goals out of their $35 March of the Ants backer pledge. I re-watched UndeadViking's 30+ minute in-depth review and I just don't get that feeling, at all. It is also common practice for early reviewers to make the constant caveat that "these are prototype components" or "these aren't the final rules" throughout their written and video reviews. But we can agree to disagree.

@Barnes: Yes, we have completely different understandings of what theme is, which I believe is the root of the difference in our perspectives. One of my favorite articles on the topic, that helped frame my understanding of theme, was published a couple of years ago by Mark Major, [url=http://http://www.leagueofgamemakers.com/theme-vs-mechanics-the-false-dichotomy/]Theme vs. Mechanics: The False Dichotomy[/url]. My take-away from the piece is that theme is a combination of flavor (art, graphic design, narrative, setting) and rules (conceptual actions players take); it is both "virtual" and "conceptual," a product of my imagination as a player that is evoked by all of the above.

By this definition, I believe March of the Ants is highly thematic. When I reveal and place a meadow hex using the Explore action during the Worker phase, or use my head evolution bonus (vicious mandibles!) to defeat a centipede in the Soldier phase, the combination of the rules and flavor of the game truly do give me the sense of controlling a colony of ants scuttling about doing various things that ants do.

I'm not sure if this answers your challenge of naming "ONE" aspect of MotA that cannot be reskinned into a different theme, but I read an article on BGG where the designers described researching ants in order to create all of the Evolution cards. The Blasting Head Evolution is directly based on species of Carpenter Ants that suicidally explode in self-defense, spraying toxic goo from their heads. To me, this is a mechanic that is highly flavorful and thematic.

Is it unique to ants? I'm not sure you could say so. I mean, couldn't we just reimagine the Blasting Head evolution as Bob-omb from Super Mario Bros., a little self-destructing dude that kills Italian plumbers instead of ants? That's kind of what I meant with the "avoiding solipsism" questions posed to Gregarius. I'm not sure I could ever come up with an answer that satisfies your criteria.

Again, in my understanding, 4X is not a theme. It is a description of play experience and player goals, of what you can expect to do in a game facilitated and framed by the rules and mechanics while playing and trying to win it. The question about all 4X games being space-themed was rhetorical: there are dozens of 4X games with a huge variety of themes.

Bonus Round: I backed March of the Ants for $35 dollars. My wife also bought a copy for her brother, so our family is in for $70.
Bonus Round #2: How is that relevant? Other than the fact that I own the game and have played it numerous times…which is how I developed my opinions and understanding of the game…?
Posted: 04 Apr 2015 15:08 by Frohike #200334
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I haven't played the game. You just asked for unique, weird, ant-y things that could possibly be thematically interpreted through actual game mechanics and dynamics, somewhat incredulously (or maybe I misread that), so I gave a list. I'm not sure weird ant-y things as flavor text on cards counts as what I described, but again, I haven't played the game so I have no idea whether those card events are integral to the functioning of the game or just a "do this one-off thing in the game that sort of has an analog with this text on a card."
Posted: 04 Apr 2015 15:33 by SatelliteTransmission #200335
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My point was that I believe the game already does that, in spades. Could it do more? Of course! The mind of an ant is a difficult thing to fully inhabit.

One thrust of Barnes' review, or even further his forum post that hyperbolically describes MotA as the "poster of child of pasted-on theme" (a title which, IMHO, belongs to true Eurogames like Power Grid), is that there is nothing ant-like about the game's rules or mechanics.

So I was hoping he could provide an example of what something like that might be.
Posted: 04 Apr 2015 17:22 by SuperflyTNT #200336
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Mad Dog wrote:
I Not to mention the bias of the reviewer wanting you to help add more stretch goals for themselves to benefit.

This is the reason I only backed on of the three games I did a KS Preview of. I saw it as a conflict of interest to be gaining monetarily as a consequence of doing the preview.

That ninja game, I don't give a fuck. That game was totally bad ass. Should've funded.