Chess Evolved Online

Did you ever look at Chess and think “Wow, I really wish Chess was more complicated, and that you could power up your units?” Well boy do I have the game for you.

I think Chess Evolved Online (or CEO as I’ll abbreviate it) is neat. If you like Chess, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t like Chess, you can save yourself the time of reading this article by closing your web browser and doing something else. Okay, lede dealt with. Time for a diatribe.

I write this blog about games at least in part because I consider myself pretty good at them, though in retrospect, “Experienced” might be a better word. I play a lot of games. There are many things that I’m not very experienced with, and so I don’t really comment on them, such as international relations, and agricultural policy. I still have opinions on them, but I don’t think they’re valuable to share.

I mention all of this because CEO has reminded me of something I forgot: I really, really suck at Chess. Or at least I really suck at it relative to people who play Chess at any level of actual competition or play.

I bring this up because after playing 12 hours of CEO, I couldn’t tell you if the game is balanced, or fair, or a good Chess equivalent or what. I could probably play 100 more hours, and I still wouldn’t have a good idea.

So instead of talking too much about that aspect of the game, I’m just gonna quickly list a few of the mechanical innovations CEO makes vs an ordinary Chess game, talk about the game’s meta progression structure and my thoughts on that, and then wrap up with a link to the game. I’m not gonna talk about balance or fairness, or whatnot, because I don’t think I’ll get any of it right. I’m also going to assume anyone reading this knows how Chess is played, and if you don’t, allow me to link you to the Wikipedia page on the game.

I did not win this.

So, new mechanics. Unlike in Chess, CEO has a different set of win/loss conditions: Morale. Each of your pieces has a value associated with it, which as far as I can tell, generally scales to its power/utility. The queen is worth 21 points, a bishop is worth 12, a rook is worth like 13. You get the idea. When your piece gets taken, you lose that much morale. If your morale hits zero, you lose.

Your king, on the other hand, is special. When your king gets taken, you lose an immediate 25 morale, and then an additional 3 morale per turn. The fairly obvious result of this is that while losing your king will eventually lead to a loss, unlike in standard Chess, it’s not an immediate loss. This has some interesting implications, like being able to trade kings, and also ending up in situations where you have to decide if sacrificing your king might be worth it.

The other special factor controlling the game is “move decay.” After turn 50, each player loses 1 morale at the start of their turn. This effectively puts a cap on how long games can go, and also means that in a game of attrition, whichever player can take a take an early advantage is likely to win. As far as I can tell, there are no draws in CEO.

There’s one last big mechanic in CEO: time. I’m not familiar with professional/semi-pro Chess, but a few quick google searches make it look like the game is limited is to about 90 minutes for your first 40 moves or so.

As you might guess, CEO doesn’t really go in for that. Instead CEO has two formats: CEO Blitz and CEO Standard. Standard gives you 30 seconds a move, after which you have a pool of 4:00 minutes. Blitz gives the same 30 seconds but with a pool of 2:00.

The result of all of these changes, at least to me, is the game feels far faster paced and bloodier than standard Chess. At the same time, the fact that losing your king isn’t a loss means that games can turn into brawls far faster than standard Chess.

So, those are the general changes to the game’s structure. Now let’s talk about the army building. Yes, CEO has army building.

There are a few factors that go into army building. The game has two types of pieces: champions and minions. In general terms, you can only place minions in the front row, and only place champions in the back row. Minions are weaker than champions, and usually (but not always) have a promote ability. This is where another interesting change comes into play: pawns always promote to bishops. This opens up some interesting space for weaker minions with stronger promotions.

Pieces also have a supply cost, and your army has to be under your supply limit. You increase said limit by reaching a higher rank. I don’t love this too much, but I’ll talk about why later.

Everything else about the game feels like a fairly unique attempt to fix some of the problems that Chess has. But how you obtain and upgrade pieces for your army feels fairly standard. Because, of course, pieces can be upgraded.

The game has two currencies, gold and gems. You earn gold by playing games, and you earn more by winning. You get gems by either exchanging gold for gems, completing various objectives, or opening random boxes.

Or spending real money.

And this is why I say it feels standard: The game loop becomes a pattern of grinding for currency to either buy units straight up at a in-game shop, or buy random booster boxes of units in the hopes of getting something you want. At the same time, you use duplicate units to upgrade your existing units.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a mobile game UI.

And this is where the game started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at Chess, but all of a sudden the game starting feeling like a mobile game. I was no longer logging on to build unique armies or try interesting strategies. I was logging in to open daily boxes, playing ranked for currency to try to grind more boxes, and just generally playing the game solely to get more units. Instead of trying to build unique armies and innovate, I played the standard Chess army because I was more familiar with it, and I cared more about winning than experimenting.

Now, if I was better at Chess, this might not be true. Perhaps if I was a stronger player, I would find it easier to win, and as such be more interested in some of the other systems that make up the game. As it was, though, I ended up feeling like I wasn’t playing for fun, or to use the game’s unique systems, but to just grind to get more pieces. And this is where I stopped playing.

In summary, CEO’s actual gameplay containes a bunch of massive changes to the core structure of Chess, to try to make it more exciting and interesting, while also speeding up the pace of the game. But the meta-progression structure that exists around the gameplay feels like a standard mobile game, and it feels bad. If you end up matched against AI or players with higher ranking than yourself, in addition to likely being better at the game than you, they also have a larger supply pool to pay for their army. Even if you’re both playing identical armies, if they’ve upgraded their pieces, they have access to options and moves you don’t.

And that doesn’t feel great. And while I suspect that the actual mechanics of things like supply/value on units are probably balanced, it still feels bad to get decimated by someone with a unit you just don’t have.

Ed Note: The poster child for this particular experience is the ninja, a unit that feels like a knight on steroids, with the ability to take pieces in all directions that are adjacent, while also having a unblockable jump.

This just feels like bullshit.

Chess Evolved Online is free on Steam, with in-app purchases to buy additional rubies, which in turn get spent on buying units/random booster boxes of units. The game makes a bunch of really interesting mechanical changes to the base game of Chess, but it makes them parallel to a meta-progression structure that, for me, made the game feel like a grind. I still think it’s interesting enough that folks should check it out, but I feel like without a strong interest or background in Chess, you might end up having a similar experience to me.

Super Animal Royale

It’s 2D Fortnite for Furries. If you like any of the words in that sentence, you should probably try it, since it’s free.

Sometimes when I write “reviews” for this blog, I feel obligated to play a given amount of a game, or reach a certain threshold before I give my verdict. Then games come along that remind me that I write these articles because it’s fun, and also because when I’m asked “What do you do for fun?” “I write a blog,” is a more adult answer than ,”I think about Pokemon cards.”

The astute reader may note that for a Gametrodon review, it’s taking me a long time give my thoughts on the game, the mechanics, or if I even like it, but surprise! The actual summary was in the excerpt all along.

Super Animal Royale is 2D Fortnite for Furries. It’s free, you can download it here, it’s on Steam, and it’s generally pretty fun. There’s no pay to win bullshit or gacha, though there are a bunch of cosmetic microtransactions.

Is this enough? Can I now go back to wishing that Champion’s Path boosters were less expensive, and wondering why Shiny Charizard V is $400 dollars?

No? I should talk more about the game? Fine.

Part of the reason I don’t have too much to say on the game is that with a few exceptions, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen before. That shouldn’t take away from the game’s quality and polish, but all in all, you have a tiered weapon rarity system, a battle royale where you drop from a giant flying vehicle, a few different game modes, and a battlepass/exp challenge system that might have been copied straight from Fortnite.

Okay, so outside of all of this, the game does one VERY interesting thing that I haven’t actually seen before, and actually makes me think that more games should steal this system: the way it handles healing/health power ups.

In Super Animal Royale, you have a great big health jug. Instead of having bandages or potions, any health juice you pick up just goes into the jug. When you want to heal, you drink from the jug.

And that’s it! No more having to carry around 100 potions. No more having to figure out if you should carry 5 bandages or one Med kit, because the Medkit heals more, but can only be used once, and the bandages can be used on smaller wounds, but are much slower.

Instead, whenever you run over juice, it gets picked up, and added to your health jug.

I think more games should do this. Screw fiddly potion management. Just let me stuff all the healing items I pick up into my great big heal box, and whenever I need healing, I just take a big sip. It’s like Jungle Juice but for liquid bandaids.

Look, I don’t have too much else to say on the game. It’s free. It’s more or less Fortnite. If the screens looked interesting, or if the game looked fun, just go download it and play it.

PS: We streamed the game a bit. And by we, I mean me and another friend who I work on random projects with. You can watch it here if you want to know more about what the game plays like.

PPS: Oh, and the game has bots, which is something everyone who makes battle royales at this point should just do. Keeps the matchmaking time down, and means that even suckers like myself can get kills.

Genshin Impact

Free to play, more expensive then a trip to Vegas if you actually want to buy anything in game.

I’ve been wanting to write about Genshin Impact, but I’ve had a hard time doing so over the last week. This is because Genshin Impact might be the highest quality free-to-play game ever made, but discussing the game without talking about the monetization model would be crazy. It’s like discussing a tiger, without mentioning the teeth or claws, and just discussing its fluffy-wuffy tail. Let’s start with that fluffy tail though.

Genshin Impact is a free to play RPG for everything except your Nintendo Switch. It has cross-play for pretty much everything, and cross-progression for everything that isn’t a PS4. You can actually close the game on your PC, then open it on your phone, and just… keep playing. The same game. From where you left it on your PC. You can do cross-play between phone, PC and PS4. It’s incredible.

And when I say RPG, I mean RPG. You’re presented with a massive world to wander around, search for treasure and do quests in. There are world bosses, and hidden secrets, and all the good stuff. Mechanically, the game borrows a massive amount from Breath of the Wild. You can just climb up mountains and hills and walls, and you also get a glider fairly early on which lets you drift around.

The combat system is also pretty neat. You build a party of 4 characters, and as long as you aren’t in a Domain (Dungeon) or combat, you can swap characters out as you wish. Each character has a weapon type, basic attack, ability, and ultimate ability, all on separate cooldowns. Each character also has an element, and elements interact in various ways. For example, if you launch an Anemo (wind) character’s ability into an area with fire on it, it will Swirl, and create a fire tornado. Put ice onto a character affected by water, or vice versa, and that character will freeze. There are about seven of these elements, and in addition, things like walking through puddles will make both you and enemies wet.

There is a day night cycle as well.

These abilities can be used outside of combat to light torches, trigger pressure plates, and do other puzzly stuff. You can even use ice attacks to freeze and then cross lakes and oceans. Theres an entire quest line that requires you to take advantage of this to get to a hidden island that doesn’t even show up on the map.

Moments like this are Genshin Impact at its best. When you’re just running around, fighting monsters, climbing terrain, and discovering things, you might even forget you’re playing a free to play game, and if I had any gripes with the game as it is, it would most likely be that the climbing behavior can occasionally be a bit funky. You can climb all over every mountain, and every hill in the game, and there is treasure everywhere. Every mountain top has hidden collectibles, there are puzzles in every cave.

Okay, so now lets talk about the bad part.

If the moment to moment gameplay of Genshin Impact is Breath of the Wild, the meat of the game’s advancement system is classic mobile gacha. If you’ve ever played Puzzles and Dragons, Azur Lane, Fate Grand Order, or Dragalia Lost, you’ve seen this sort of thing before. You have Resin (Energy) which recharges over time and is used to collect treasure from world bosses and dungeons. These include advancement materials that are used to increase the max level of your characters and weapons, books that are used to upgrade their talents, and artifacts that can slotted in to give set bonuses, and extra stats.

You can spend in game currency to refill your energy, and honestly, as frustrated as some people are by Resin, I don’t take too much issue with it.

What I do take issue with is the drop rates and costs of the Wish system, the system by which you get new characters, and most of the higher rarity weapons. I refuse to call these micro-transactions, because there is nothing fucking micro about them.

ONE roll of the Wish system is 160 Primogems/Genesis Crystals. A SINGLE ROLL.

These are the prices, and after you buy the first time bonus, they change to this.

$Primogems / # of Rolls
0.9960 / .33
4.99330 / 1.83
14.991090 / 6.06
29.992240 / 12.44
49.993880 / 21.56
99.998080 / 44.89

So if you’re looking at this, and thinking, “This seems a bit expensive,” then yeah. It fucking is. But here comes the kicker: the drop rates are AWFUL.

The Wish system in Genshin has multiple different tables you can choose to roll against, usually called banners. For the featured character in a banner, the drop rate is 0.6%, or 3/500. The drop rate for an weapon OR character of the highest rarity is 1.6% total, or 2/125.

Ed Note: I think fractions do a better job illustrating how low this is, which is why I’ve included them here.

Keep in mind, a single roll costs $2.20 at its cheapest, if you buy the $100 currency pack. This gets you just over 44 rolls.

There’s also a pity system in place in which if you haven’t gotten a weapon/character of max rarity after 90 rolls, you will be given one. I want to point out that the real money cost of 90 rolls is just under $200. At this point, if you’re rolling on a featured banner, you will have a 50% chance to get the featured character. If you don’t, you’ll be guaranteed to get them at the next pity roll. Which means at this point, you’ll have to have spent over $400.

TLDR: If you want a FEATURED character in Genshin Impact, they can end up costing you $400 for a single copy of the character. In addition, the game has system by which characters are powered up for each duplicate you get of them. So getting a character to their max potential requires you to get receive them 6 times.

So yeah. That’s the state of Genshin Impact as of today, an incredible free to play game that is unmatched by anything on the market, with what I’m going to call “Macro-Transactions” that can easily total the same price of a new PS5 to get a single character. Play it. Enjoy the story, the anime bullshit, and the voice acting. Explore the incredible world, scouring every nook and cranny for treasure, and climbing every mountain.

But please don’t spend money on it.