[Insert siege engine related pun here]
The latest piece of mine to have slithered onto Shut Up & Sit down is a review of Bowen Simmon’s long-awaited Guns of Gettysburg. It’s good, very good, with the usual mixture of design creativity, weighty strategy and brilliantly abstracted history we’ve come to expect from Bowen.
But I don’t think it’s as good as his previous offerings. It runs pretty long and is more complex, for starters, and that’s no small issue given the steep learning curve of his highly procedural games. It’s also rather deterministic early on in the game, because all blocks start at the same strength. But things still become pleasingly capricious after the first few battles, and its well worth playing, especially if you’ve not had the chance to sample his unique approach to games before.
I also did a long piece on the Spiel des Jahres for Casual Game Insider magazine. Proper games journalism! With research and everything! Did you know there was a print board gaming magazine? Me neither: thank Superfly Pete for the information. I presume the piece will be in the next issue.
Board game adaptations continue to pile up, and most of them continue to feel rather lifeless without the pleasure of other human beings to play with. But this month two games I covered on Gamezebo have notably bucked the trend.
First is Zombies!!! which manages to impressively overcome the colossal drag factor of the awful board game and actually be quite fun solo. What the game needed was speed of play and streamlining, and it got both. Although, oddly, without an option to speed it up even more by turning off animations. But it’s still Zombies!!! at its core and so should be approached with caution.
The other is A Brief History of the World. This was new to me, and I was actually really impressed with the underlying game, in spite of the colossal oddity of being Pharohnic Egypt one turn, the Shang Dynasty the next and then topping things off by assuming the role of Hitler. It’s also a near-perfect fit for the asynchronous play model. The app is regrettably buggy, but developer Sage has a good record of getting things fixed.
Speaking of computer versions of board games, there’s a new version of Catan out on PC. It’s lovely. But there’s still no online play, and no really good reason to pick it over existing versions you might already own.
There was a Steam sale. I managed to only spend £15. I am very proud of my indomitable willpower. I haven’t played many of the games yet. Little Inferno is an interesting concept, packed with cleverness and useful commentary on environmentalism, consumerism and a self-critique of lightweight mobile games. But it’s really more of an interactive toy than a game and expensive for what it is at full price. System Shock 2 might have a 92% Metacritic rating but it feels very, very old and clunky. I also got a bunch of interesting strategy games in the last Humble Bundle sale. Soon I'll have more unplayed games on Steam than I have in my wardrobe.
I reviewed some more stuff for PC Gamer. Super Splatters is a tolerable physics puzzler, Angry Birds style with added goo. Not awful, but only really worthwhile for dedicated fans of the genre. I also had a look at an alpha version of Conquest Mars which is an interesting idea: a real time strategy game stripped back to the bare essentials in an attempt to make it acutally about strategy and not the efficiency of gathering resources. It's pretty fun, and it's amazing to see a lightweight browser-based game handle hundreds of tanks on screen at once, although it'd benefit from some more development. There's an inevitable crowdfunding campaign if you want to help make it happen. Finally I covered a rather peculiar but interesting game called Cubetractor which, improbably, mixes elements of strategy, puzzle and bullet hell games into one unlikely package. It's entertaning to play and I admire its originality but it can be increadibly frustrating at times when you you want to plan a strategy or experiment with a puzzle solution but all you're constantly interrupted by the need to frantically dodge bullets.
It dawned on my some time ago that my knowledge of European history before Julius Caesar was almost non-existent. I’ve finally got around to remedying that with two excellent books, Ancient Worlds by Richard Miles for the broad overview, and Warfare in the Classical World by John Warry for the violence.
One of the most interesting things is the manner in which the books highlight the steady march of both civilization and warfare through what I’d previously perceived as a rather homogenous period between the invention of writing cities in ancient Mesopotamia and the rise of Feudalism and the mounted knight in the Dark Ages. I knew there was a lot of history in between, of course, but I had no idea how many new ideas came and went in the meantime.
God help me, but they're making me want to re-purchase the Greek C&C:A expansions (#1 and #6) that I slated for not bringing enough new to the game and sold. They don't bring enough new to the game. But suddenly names like Marathon, Salamis and of course Marathon.seem a whole lot more appealing all on their own.
This wonderful summer stretches on, a long, languid march of hazy days basking in the dusty glory of the sun and too many middle-aged men in shorts. When I’d been through all my reggae albums, where else was there to go but the techno-driven party scene of the early nineties?
As a dutiful indie kid at that time, I shunned electronic music like I shunned daylight, wincing in horror at the garish pop tunes that adorned the chart. But then, one day, I heard Orbital’s Belfast, and my life changed forever.
There were so many anthems then, glittering waves of melody riding on a sea of pounding bass lines. Next was Underworld and Dubnobasswithmyheadman one of the best, and best-named, albums ever released. Then Tricky with Aftermath, 808 State with Pacific State, the Aphex Twin with Xtal.
Whatever happened to techno? Drowned, it seems it an endless swamp of euro-trance from which project horrid oddities like The Knife, deliberately standing out by being as extreme as possible and skirting the edges of unlistenable discord as a result. They called it Intelligent Dance Music once upon a time. A pompous label, but I want it back: now it seems you can either have the Intelligent or the Dance, but not at the same time.