Inscryption

An incredibly interesting deckbuilder that takes the 4th wall and uses it as cardstock.

Let me save you a lot of time. Go play Inscryption. Here’s the game’s homepage. It is very good. That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. I actually have one very large problem, but I’ll get to that later. Once you’ve played the game, obviously.

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

……………..

You finish it yet?

>NO, I haven’t bought it or started it.

>NO, but I started Inscryption .

>YES, I finished Inscryption

Your move.

Orna

Orna is an interesting augmented reality game, with an focus on the “Game” bit.

Orna is an augmented reality game in the general vein of Pokemon Go. Where Pokemon Go is heavy on the augmented reality and sometimes forgets to be a game, Orna remembers that AR games are supposed to actually be… well, games. In general, it functions as a semi-procedural RPG. There are monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, quest givers, inns, and shops.

You can filter what shows up on your map by what you’re looking for, including only showing enemies, or only showing larger bosses.

Like Pokemon Go, you have a sphere around you that dictates what you can interact with, and if you want your character to move, you need to move around in real life. The game world is overlaid on top of a world map, and you tap nearby things to interact with them.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Orna and most other augmented reality games I’ve seen is that Orna is focused on being a game. While combat starts out as a fairly simple affair, leveling up gives you the ability to unlock and switch between additional classes. The higher tier classes give access to additional skills, abilities, and skill slots, letting you bring more moves into battle.

For example, earlier in the game I had a thief who turned into a magic wielding wizard. I would buff myself up to be able to dodge attacks, then just stab people a bunch. After a while, I found that not having access to elemental abilities was making it harder to defeat certain enemies. So I switched over being more of caster.

Before I stopped playing, I’d rebuilt again into using physical damage, but casting low-mana cost spells to apply elemental damage of various types to my attacks, while trying to lock the enemy down with sleep and other status effects. This only worked because I’d unlocked a high enough tier class to bring in about 8 spells to battle, and ran a pet that had a chance to heal me each round, so I could just focus on damage and status effects. So there was quite a lot of build variety available to me.

You start out with just two skill slots, but you get more as you unlock higher tier classes.

The end result of all of this is a reasonably in depth system that, oddly enough, illustrates something to me that I hadn’t thought about too much before. Why do so many Augmented Reality games lack in-depth mechanics? The answer, I realized, is because outside of all this combat, you are at least in theory supposed to be playing this game while wandering around outside. In games with in-depth combat mechanics, combat actually requires attention and planning. Trying to play Orna and not walk into people/traffic/road signs is actually pretty tricky.

Instead, I often found myself pausing my walk in order to finish combat encounters or larger boss fights. Orna includes an auto-attack system to get through fights while not paying attention, but using it tended to result in me getting my ass handed to me. A level of attention and focus was necessary to actually win.

Most of the game’s secondary systems also run into a similar problem. There are dungeons, which are a longer gauntlet of battles, and you can’t pause or anything between. There’s the arena, where you face off against other players’ builds controlled by the AI. Both of these can be a bit tricky, and require you to actually be careful with your moves.

On the flip side, there are some systems that encourage moving around, at least a little bit. You get quests through daily random quests, from quest givers, or from other sources. Some quests just ask you to “explore” and walk a certain distance. In addition, there’s a territory capturing system that gives you bonuses for a time period for beating the mini-boss controlling an area.

No, the blue currency isn’t premium, it’s Orns, used to create various buildings and unlock new classes. But you can’t buy it with real money.

You can also construct various different types of shops and buildings to provide additional passive income, and other boosts and benefits. Some of these buildings can be seen and used by other players, while some can’t. But if you want you can choose to make the public ones private. In theory, this would let you wander around and discover other players’ structures, but in practice, I mostly just built everything in one place, and never left that area.

There are a bunch of other systems, including upgrading items, socketing gems into items, fishing, and various multiplayer raids, but I haven’t played around with them enough to really know what to say.

Look, this photo of my gear is just here to pad out the article.

And that’s a general overview of Orna. An interesting augmented reality game without excessive microtransaction bullshit, but which is sometimes a bit hard to play because of how many mechanics and systems work. Or at least, difficult to play while not getting hit by a truck.

If Orna sounds cool, or you want to play something that requires you to walk around a bit and isn’t Pokémon Go, you can find Orna on the Apple App Store and Google Play store if you just search the name. If you’re not sure, there’s more info on the game’s webpage here.

Deltarune – Chapter 1 & 2

So, Deltarune. I think it’s very good.

Deltarune is a turn-based RPG. It’s made by Toby Fox, the creator of the darlingest of indie darlings, Undertale. There are a large number of similarities between the two games, including rad as hell music, incredibly weird yet cohesive stories, and bullet hell gameplay mechanics for dodging enemy attacks.

They’re also both games that at least to my mind are much richer if you go into them with no spoilers. As such, if you enjoyed Undertale or games like Earthbound, I would encourage you to grab your gaming machine of choice, and download Chapter 1 & 2 right now. They’re free, and they’re available for PC, Switch, and PS4.

Now, it’s possible that this isn’t enough information for you. You want to know more about what you’re actually getting into. So this next section of the article is for those of you who are either on the fence, or not as interested. Perhaps you played Undertale and it never grabbed you. Perhaps you’ve had your fill of weird internet humor. Perhaps you’re tired of listening to Megalovania. Whatever the reason, I’d still suggest you check out Deltarune.

Deltarune is still just as weird as its famed predecessor, and the music is in my opinion just as good. However, Deltarune’s combat and ACTION system are vastly improved over those of Undertale.

One of Undertale’s primary selling points was that you didn’t have to kill anyone. You could play the game as traditional turn-based RPG with grinding, attacks, and murder. But you could also play through the game by choosing to talk and interact with enemies, and then SPARING them, ending combat without defeating them.

How the story unfolds if you choose to spare enemies is one of the most unique parts of the game. Unfortunately, choosing to spare “trash mobs” quickly becomes tedious after the first time you fight that type of enemy. Combat encounters in Undertale are fairly simple. Combat starts, and on your turn as a pacifist, you select various options in the interaction bar to try to butter up or calm down your opponent. Whenever they attack you, you play a bullet hell dodging mini-game to avoid being hit. While this is fine for bosses, it quickly becomes a boring for the other fights. Every type of normal enemy has the same sequence each time to “beat” the encounter.

But this writeup is about Deltarune, not Undertale. Deltarune still allows you to be a pacifist, but without making the encounters boring. There are a few new mechanics that solve this problem, as well as some general ways that combat encounters have been made more meaningful than they were in Undertale.

The first new mechanic is a system called TP. When enemies attack you in both Undertale and Deltarune, you play a short bullet hell sequence. This sequence varies wildly based on the enemy, but the general rule is: don’t get hit. Deltarune adds the TP gauge to these sequences. It’s used for various special actions and magic attacks including healing, and it fills by being just barely close enough to not take damage from attacks.

The second new mechanic is that pacifist actions also occasionally have their own mini-games associated with them. They’re nowhere near as elaborate as the bullet hell sequences mentioned above, but they’re more fun than simply choosing options on a menu like in Undertale.

And finally, you now have multiple party members to use. Some of the more interesting encounters in the game play with how pacifist options work differently for each party member. And this makes sense because some of your party members are… shall we say… “Less Inclined to Non-Violence” than others.

(Looking at you Susie.)

Deltarune keeps the parts of Undertale that were already loved by pretty much everyone (including the strange story, bizarre art and animation, and music that goes so much harder than it needs to), but just makes them more fun to experience.

I highly recommend you play Deltarune, or at least what’s out so far. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Author Note: Images are from the IGDB because I was too lazy to take screenshots while I was playing.

Square Enix’s Letter From The Chairman – A Spicy Hot Take

Stop being concerned about the Square Enix letter, please.

I’m not sure how to start this brief writeup, but that’s okay. Anyway, now that we have a starting sentence, have you read the investor letter from Square Enix’s president? Here’s a link to the actual letter.

This letter has a lot of people hot and bothered, because it has terms in it like “NFT” and “Blockchain.” A large number of people are acting like he announced that the Square Enix servers will be powered by harvesting life energy from the Earth and that he’s renaming the company Shinra.

This interpretation is incredibly stupid for a variety of reasons, but it makes me think that people, perhaps understandably, don’t quite know how to read this sort of letter.

Brief diatribe. I think NFTs in their current implementation are fairly stupid. The idea of exchangeable digital property? Kind of neat. Everything about how they currently work, including the lack of oversight/controls, massive wastes of power, use for money laundering, and general pointlessness? Miserable, awful, needs to die in a fire.

Anyway, we’re talking about this specific type of letter. See, the purpose of a letter to investors is more or less to just buoy investor confidence. It’s not directed at consumers. If you do not care about SQENIX’s stock price, there is no reason to care about the content of this letter. Buy their games, products, and services based on what they actually release, at release. As a result, these letters tend to be filled with the appropriate buzzwords and terminology to signal to investors that the company leadership has their finger on the pulse of the industry.

As an example of this, I want to bring up the 2017 letter from the Chairman. In this letter, you’ll see extensive reference to virtual reality, augmented/alternate reality, and the key importance of smartphones. Why are they talking about Augmented Reality even though they haven’t ever made a augmented reality game? Simple. Because Pokémon Go came out in 2016 and made a godscrillion dollars while being a worldwide fucking phenomenon for several months.

So, with that as the context, let’s go back and dissect the actual letter with the framing, and the offending paragraphs that have people so annoyed.

Paragraphs 1 & 2 are primarily fluff about the concept of the “Metaverse.” They end with the following line.

As this abstract concept begins to take concrete shape in the form of product and service offerings, I am hoping that it will bring about changes that have a more substantial impact on our business as well.

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

No promises. No commitment or statement of investment. Just 2 paragraphs of fluff that if these concepts transition into actual products and services instead of a pipe dream, they may impact the gaming and entertainment industry.

Paragraph 3 is the spicy one that actually talks about NFT’s.

 However, we do observe examples here and there of overheated trading in NFT-based digital goods with somewhat speculative overtones, regardless of the observed value of the content provided

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

In case anyone is wondering how you say “Right now the value of any of this is massively fucking inflated, and the things being sold are pretty much worthless” in this sort of letter, here you go.

Paragraphs 4 & 5 touch on AI technology and cloud services. Of these, only paragraph 4 includes any actual statement of action, noting that the company has established SQUARE ENIX AI & ARTS Alchemy Co., Ltd. with a stated goal of R&D on AI.

5, 6 & 7 are all about token economies/crypto. They’re the second set of paragraphs that have people annoyed, and so I’m going to break them down a little bit here. I don’t actually agree with some of the concepts espoused here, but I’m gonna put my thoughts at the end.

Paragraph 5 is mostly a definition of the concept of “Play to Earn”, Blockchain-based games, and their theoretical differences from standard game development.

Paragraph 6 is, interestingly enough, the most consumer focused paragraph of the whole thing. I think this paragraph is attempting to make the case that there is value in the technical space that has been opened by Crypto. I think this paragraph is trying to win over people like myself who don’t like Crypto.

Paragraph 7 is the densest section of the letter, and has multiple concepts. Again, I encourage you to read the letter yourself, first from your own perspective, and then from the perspective of someone who is financially invested in Square Enix. I will likely not cover all aspects of it.

Loosely, I would summarize it as follows:

  1. People play games for multiple reasons, which in some cases include modding, creative expression, and gold farming. Traditionally, gaming structures do not have built-in methods for rewarding those types of players.
  2. The technology around Blockchain-based design, and social acceptance is currently mature enough to support creating games that do reward those types of players.
  3. Square Enix will continue to observe these changes, and will move to expand their portfolio of entertainment products to include what they define here as “Decentralized Games” if they think they can make money off it, which could include systems that financially reward those types of players.

8 is a generic wrap-up, and acknowledges the worldwide pandemic. Nothing too special here.

So, that’s the letter. It contains some overviews and definitions of some trendy topics in the video game sphere of business. It has a single concrete statement of action about AI for something they already did in march of 2020.

PS: I really do not agree with the definition of Decentralized Gaming presented in this letter. If the fundamental technology stack that is needed to actually run and play a video game from a technical standpoint is not actually freely available and modifiable, you have not created a decentralized game. You have simply created a game that uses Blockchain/a decentralized database as a repository for user game objects. But hey, that’s just my opinion. It remains to be seen if it ages like wine, or like my high school quote about how “The iPad will be a failure because it doesn’t support Flash”.

That’s a real thing I said.

2021 Wrap Up, and Future Plans for Gametrodon

Survived another year of the apocalypse. How did it go?

I did one of these posts last year, and I guess I’ll do one again this year. This is where we look at where Gametrodon is, and what was accomplished, and try to figure out what we want to do next year. Though, brief spoiler warning, I’m writing this at the start of December, so this may be inaccurate by the time you read it. I kind of doubt it though.

A brief scan of my logs shows that just over 60 posts went up this year. Diving into that a little deeper, it seems like 42 of those were their own, full individual writeups on games. Also, I missed six weeks of the year where nothing went up on the blog that week. In addition, several of the posts that went up were by folks other then me, so I’d like to give a shoutout and thank you to everyone who wrote for the blog.

So. How are we doing? How am I doing? Did we meet goals from last year? Let’s review those goals. As far as I can tell, they were something like the following:

Switch over to writing articles primarily about stuff I like.
Stop writing as much about stuff I played and dropped/didn’t finish or like.
Do weekly writeups on the sorts of stuff me and my friends were playing.
Add a random good game button to the blog to improve discoverability.

Looking at it like that, I’d say we’re at about a 75% on those. The random game button works! There are a lot fewer “Didn’t Make the Cut” articles. Most of what I wrote is either about a thing I enjoyed or a thing I recommended, even if it had some flaws. With that said, I absolutely did not follow through on doing weekly/semi-weekly “What We’re Playing” posts. Also, I feel like the random game button isn’t quite the right solution for discoverability, even if I did meet my stated goal.

With that all said, there’s an elephant in my room I’d like to talk about briefly. And that elephant is readership. I would like more people to read/see my stuff, but I also don’t want to end up getting those eyeballs by doing scummy/clickbait sorts of stuff that drives me nuts when other people do it.

So in order to do this, there’s one big thing I’m gonna try to do this coming year: every Wednesday, if you come to the blog, there will be a new post up. It might earlier in the day, it might be later, but it will be up and readable on Wednesday. My goal will be for these posts to primarily be about games I’ve been playing, or interviews/investigations. But if you show up on Wednesday, there’ll be something interesting here for you.

So yeah. That’s gonna be the goal for the year. To the me of the future, did you succeed? Let me know. It’ll be cool to see.

Princess and Conquest

I bought this because I was kind of horny, and frankly, the money could have been better spent.

Princess and Conquest is “unique.” That’s not the same thing as good. I cannot come up with a single simple way to describe it, so I’m choosing to go with Pornographic Action RPG with Political Simulation elements. From what I’ve played so far, I would not recommend it.

I don’t really consider this blog to be “Family Friendly,” but I also don’t currently provide a way to easily opt out of seeing 18+ content. For that reason, I’m not going to provide any in-depth level of analysis of the game’s sexual content. That’s not to say I won’t talk about it, but there should be nothing in this blog post that will make anyone upset or hot and bothered.

General Concept

So, what is Princess and Conquest? Well, at the base, it’s an open-ish world RPG. After a brief tutorial that explains a few of the general mechanics, you’re tossed out into a large open world map. From here, you can whatever you want, as long as whatever you want consists of wandering around, exploring areas, having casual sex, and taking quests to complete for Swirlies, the game’s currency and XP. Combat is done in a sort of real time action RPG thing, where you can switch between members of your current party on the fly. Each member has their own equipment, stats, and abilities. Some have access to magic and projectile attacks, while others don’t.

This isn’t a static open world. There’s a day/night cycle, and time is constantly passing, during which the various kingdoms will declare war on each other, send armies at each other, and generally cause the world to slip into absolute chaos. You can choose to intervene in these fights for one side or another, in order to push the balance of power a given direction. Doing this also gains you affinity with the Princesses you aid, allowing you to convince them to stop trying to murder their neighbors and whatnot.

If you’re reading all of this, and thinking “Okay, that actually sounds kind of neat, and I’m horny and want to play this” pause that thought for a moment. Because Princess and Conquest is, as far as I can tell, made in RPG Maker.

I do not know why anyone would ever choose to make a game with real time combat and open world mechanics in RPG Maker. In another post on this site, I wrote about No Delivery, and noted how the game was impressive for utilizing the engine in interesting ways, and taking advantage of some of its quirks for neat effects.

Princess and Conquest does not do that. Instead, it takes an engine that was primarily built for single player traditional semi-linear turn based RPG’s and uses it for a game that relies primarily on simulation and real time action combat. While it’s impressive that they were able to get it to do this at all, a large number of the mechanics just feel terrible.

The worst one by far is combat. Switching between characters on the fly is incredibly floaty and feels laggy. The hitboxes for the player weapons can feel absolutely miserable, compounded by the fact that many enemies can deal damage on contact. One of the bosses can’t be damaged, even with projectile weapons, unless it is faced directly head on; otherwise projectiles just phase through. Another boss is be able to land hits while in its theoretically “Vulnerable” phase, in addition to not actually taking damage when attacked. In another instance, because of how projectiles were handled, I attacked, missed, and then couldn’t use the projectile again because it was still traveling and hadn’t been cleaned up.

I’m not sure where this part of the article will go, but I’m just gonna write it anyways. I also want to apologize for the relatively lower level of quality in this portion of the article. Sex, and by extension, porn, is complicated topic for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I don’t have desire to do a deep dive analysis and criticism of a $12 Steam game’s portrayal of fantasy sex. Just like I don’t feel like reviewing random videos on Pornhub. If that was what I wanted to do, this blog would have a different name, and likely a higher readership.

Sexual Content High Level View

For a brief bit of context: I’m a straight man. I’ve done some stuff. I would not consider myself particularly “Vanilla.” I’ve seen a fair amount of weird porn, and weird porn art. I’ve had sexual relations with both genders. Okay, context and perspective set? Good. Back to the game.

My primary issue with Princess and Conquest is that it doesn’t offer adequate ability to opt in or opt of the sex/sexual activities. In the time I’ve played so far, I’ve seen content and situations that I suspect would make some players highly uncomfortable. However, there is only one form of controllable interaction, and it’s not broad enough to cover what the game offers.

My secondary issue has to do with the nature of sex in Princess and Conquest. While I consider the above topic to be more of a general statement regarding sexual content, this next one is more of a personal opinion. Sex within Princess and Conquest is almost universally encouraged, as is getting characters that the player has sex with pregnant, through two mechanical benefits. First, having sex has a chance to get an egg which grants more party members, potentially a party member of a hard to find “race” or with better stats. Second, having sex with an NPC will increase the affinity the player has with the Princess character of the same race as the NPC. One of the player goals is to try to avoid massive chaos and breakdown, and affinity points are used to convince people to stop waging war. Since affinity points can otherwise be difficult to get without pissing someone else off, in order to prevent a world war you kinda have to fuck everyone you come across who is interested.

Okay, so enough of that. Again, please don’t take this as some form of full analysis of the game’s sexual content, or my views of sex. The above are merely my two major problems with how the game handles its pornographic content and mechanics.

Okay, so, back to the rest of the game. I have a bunch of smaller problems outside of sex and combat. Here’s a short list:
1. The game is buggy. Most of the time, these bugs don’t do too much. Sometimes, as I discovered to my incredible annoyance, they crash the game. And because of how the save system works, have fun going back to your last save.
Author Note: I actually went back and played some more of the game to get screenshots/see if I was being overly harsh. Then the game crashed.
2. Obtuse systems. The game wants to have a level of political strategy and simulation, but good luck understanding how population growth, eloping, or any other system works without the Wiki, because the game will not tell you. Or Tea Parties! Because I read the wiki, and I still don’t understand how Tea Parties work, or are supposed to work.
3. Frustrating map design. This wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t somewhat accentuated by the game engine, but the map design. Dear God, the map design. I want to make something clear. If you have game with a zone-based map, and you leave or enter zones by pressing in a given direction, DO NOT FUCKING MAKE IT SO THAT YOUR MAPS SPAWN THE PLAYER IN A LOCATION WHERE IF THEY PRESS THE BUTTON THEY USED TO LEAVE THE AREA A SECOND TIME, IT BRINGS THEM BACK INTO THE ZONE THEY JUST FUCKING LEFT.
4. Quest system weirdness. I do not like that I cannot have more than one active quest from the adventurers guild at once. I do not like that quest descriptions can be weirdly vague about what you need to do to complete them. And I absolutely hate the quests where the descriptions don’t actually give information about what you need to do to progress the quest.

So that’s Princess and Conquest. A unique concept and set of game mechanics using a game engine absolutely not intended for them, with not great, but functional results. For what it counts for, the writing and porn (from my mildly kinky straight male perspective) is decent, but does not mesh comfortably with the game’s mechanics. Currently, I do not recommend the game, and short of them rebuilding the entire thing in a game engine that can gracefully handle their design decisions, I likely will not ever recommend the game.

Content on these links is NSFW. If for some reason, you still want to play the game after all of this, you can find it on itch.io here or on Steam here. You’ll have to sign in though, as again, this is an adult only game.

Operation: Tango

A very solid digital set of puzzle rooms with a vibrant 80’s spy movie/secret agent theme.

Author Note: Images in this article are from the Operation: Tango Press kit. It turns out getting nice images off a two player game on an ultra wide monitor is kind of a pain. I’d say they accurately reflect the look of the game.

Operation: Tango is a really cool asymmetric co-op puzzle game, where you play as one of two secret agents. And when I say “Co-Op,” I mean Co-Op. There is no single player option here. Good news is that you only need to own one copy of the game to play it with someone else on Steam, since they can just download the demo, and play the full game through that.

In Operation Tango, you and your friend take the role of two spies. One player is the Hacker, and one player is the Agent. The world has a “Futurist 80’s spy” vibe which is generally executed exceedingly well with bright colors, flashy outfits and locales, and clean UI for the puzzles.

Working together with your partner in anti-crime, you’ll need to make your way through a series of missions, each with a varied set of objectives and goals. While the game does require coordination and timing to be successful, not all puzzles are on timers, and even those that are tend to be generous, giving an illusion of intensity while offering far more time than might otherwise be obvious.

Because of its whole thing, most of the puzzles in Operation Tango that I saw don’t really fall into any single consistent pattern that can be used to describe them, outside of the idea of relying on asymmetric information. So I’m just going to go through a few that I remember and liked, to give a general sense of the vibe.

One mission has one player effectively playing an infinite runner while the other player feeds them information and call outs, while moving obstacles out of their way, healing them, and managing the rest of the interface. Others involve disabling security drones and cameras so that the other player can get by. There are a few re-used elements, such as lock picking, but those tend to amp up in difficulty as you progress.

My one big criticism would be that the game does suffer from a bit of a breakdown near the end. The last mission in the game is by far the weakest one in my opinion, and feels like the designers took 2 half finished missions and smashed them together to make a single level. To quote the person I played with, the finale felt like a worse version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and there’s a section in the previous level that is more or less just Spaceteam. With that said, the rest of the game is much stronger, and much more fun.

The game also doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to replayability once you’ve done a level as both roles. While the game does its best to randomize various elements of any given puzzle, once you understand the rules in play for a given puzzle, they’re mostly solved. Looking around to search for clues or ideas was the most enjoyable part of the game, and when you know what you’re looking for, it’s a lot less of a “Secret Agent” infiltrating a building, and more “Puzzle Speedrunning.”

Still though, Operation: Tango was one of my favorite demos from PAX East for a reason, and the full game feels like it delivers on the promise of the demo. Because of what the game offers, and because of the fact that only one person has to buy the game, I feel comfortable recommending it. If this article hasn’t persuaded you, I suggest you grab a friend, pull down the demo, and see what you think.

Good luck out there agent.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 3

I can’t think of anything clever to put here. PAX was fun.

It’s day 3. One of the things I enjoy about PAX (and conventions in general) is the chance to do things I might otherwise not. Sometimes this takes the form of playing games in genres I’m not as interested in. Sometimes it takes the form of doing something completely unrelated.

In this case, it’s the second one: painting miniatures. After trying to line up at the free painting zone, realizing how slow the line was, and leaving yesterday, I showed up earlier today. While waiting in line, I ended up chatting with a dude and his boyfriend, and asked him to play a game of Knights of the Hound Table with me. Despite being the person teaching, I got absolutely demolished before the floor even opened. After thanking him for playing, I headed over to the free painting zone, picked out a Space Marine, and sat down.

This isn’t a painting blog, so I won’t be going in depth on this. The short version is that: 1. Unsurprisingly, since I haven’t done this in years, I’m not currently very good at painting. 2. Despite that it was very relaxing. 3. The lady sitting next to me was very good at painting, gave me a bunch of helpful tips, and also finished in about half the time, with her Space Marine looking twice as good.

After this, I ended up browsing the show floor for a bit. My partner who came to the show with me had played in a game of Kids on Brooms the previous day, and really enjoyed it. I picked up a copy of that, and also a copy of Cats of Cthulhu. Then, after talking myself out of purchasing too much other stuff, I wandered back over to the Unpub Hall.

In the Unpub Hall, I found Privateer. It’s a drone piloting tactics game, and I really enjoyed it. It also had my favorite components of anything at in the Unpub hall. While I didn’t play a full game, I was really enjoying what I saw, and I’m going to keep an eye on this one. It’s made by TimeSpacePlace, and they told me they’re planning to have a tabletop simulator version of the game up at some point in the next year.

The last game of the day I played was a demo of Skytear. It’s a MOBA inspired miniatures board game, and while I didn’t quite mesh with it, it does have one really cool thing I want to quickly talk about: how it handles the concept of creep waves. (This next part is going to be a bit inside baseball for folks who don’t play MOBAs, so apologies in advance.)

Because Skytear is a miniatures game, the default assumption would be that creeps would be their own set of miniatures that spawn at the Ancient/Nexus, and then walk out into lane. This would require a lot of miniatures, effort, and extra movement. Skytear doesn’t do that. Instead, it has a “Capture Point.” It’s a little token that indicates where the creep wave currently is, and at the end of each set of rounds, it gets moved toward one of the towers, based on a variety of factors that simulate who’s applying more pressure to the wave. Then, new sets of creeps spawn in on this marker. It’s an incredible implementation of the system, and I really like it.

And that ended up being the last demo of the day. I wandered the show floor, grabbed some presents for friends, and headed back to the hotel. I really enjoyed PAX Unplugged. It was my first in-person convention since the start of lockdown, and I really appreciate the fact that everyone attending seemed committed to wearing masks, and following the safety rules. While we’ll most likely want to wait a few weeks to see how things turned out, I hope that this means that life can return, at least a bit, to normal.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 2

In which our narrator sleeps in, and then goes to the Unpub hall.

Day 2! AKA Saturday. This was my lightest day of the show. Not because the show floor was any lighter, but more because I was up past midnight the night before playing some two-headed giant sealed Magic: The Gathering with friend and occasional Gametrodon contributor, Max Seidman of Resonym. Of course, he got up the very next day, and went to work his booth and demo games for the remainder of the day… so… hmm.

I might just be weak.

By the time I got to the convention center after making the arduous trek all the way across the skybridge, I’d decided to spend a majority of the day at the Unpub hall. For anyone reading this post who hasn’t heard of Unpub, it’s a room where folks show off their unpublished board games and game demos. Polish levels range from “The Kickstarter is next week” to “I have never shown this to anyone I’m not related to.”

The first game I played was Arachno-Bump/Bounce, a fairly simple board game that according to its designer is targeted at families. It falls heavily into the second category of the above of being very new to playtesting. (That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a literal assessment.) In this game, you’re all spiders on a big web trying to capture as many flies as possible by moving around, and prevent your opponents by bumping them. I’d say that right now it has some problems, but honestly, what prototype doesn’t? Hopefully a few days of exposure to the general population of con goers will let the dev collect some good feedback and understand that players are ruthless fucks information. (To be less metaphorical and prosaic: right now, it’s very difficult to score points, the game heavily rewards aggression, and it also has room for accessibility improvements. But again, THIS IS A PROTOTYPE. These are all things that can be fixed.)

Next up was Territory CG, an LCG. I managed to scrape out a win here, either because the dev I was playing against was going easy on me, or because I top-decked a massive one-copy-allowed-per-deck dragon right as I needed it. But regardless, I was victorious! This game was unlike Arachno-Bounce in a number of ways. For starters, they have a website! And estimated prices! And they already have a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator! I might try to rope a few more friends into playing this with me. One round is really not enough to get a good sense of an LCG, but I applaud the effort, and the also the part where I don’t have to sell my kidneys in order to afford a card game.

This brings us to the last game of the day: Wingspan! It’s not an Unpub hall game. It’s actually been out for a while. It’s won fancy awards with German titles, and it’s rank 22 on Board Game Geek at time of writing. Wait, you find yourself thinking. Is he just using awards and other secondary features of the game to get out of having to actually describe the mechanics and gameplay? Is he not going to touch on the game’s themes, engine building mechanics, and other aspects?

Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. Also, I got kicked out of the convention hall before I could finish. Because it was midnight.

Return tomorrow for DAY 3!

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 1

Like regular PAX, but in the dark.

Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.

I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.

Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.

Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.

Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.

Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.

My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.

Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.

Day 2 approaches! Tomorrow.