Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue

Dungeon Defenders going rogue is undercooked and unfinished, don’t buy it.

Let me save you some time and money. Don’t buy Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. If you want to close this article now, or perhaps just read about a better Roguelike, or a better Tower Defense game, that’s fine.

I’m writing the rest of this article because posting a writeup that’s just one paragraph long is rude. Also, spite, because I spent $15 on this junk.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue wants to be a combo tower defense game and roguelike. It’s also technically an entry in the Dungeon Defenders series. (More on the franchise’s weird history later.) If you’ve never played a Dungeon Defenders game, they were 3D tower defense games with action combat, and fairly heavy leveling/progression systems.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, is not quite that. Here’s how the traditional loop of a Dungeon Defenders game worked: you’d pick a map to run, and a difficulty for that map. A map consists of a series of waves of enemies to fight, and potentially some form of boss at the end. Killing enemies drops mana, and you use mana to build and upgrade towers. Enemies can also drop loot, items you can equip, and whatnot. If you get to the end of the map, you unlock more maps and challenges, and if you fail, you keep the loot you had so far, but you have to start over.

All this is combined with having a permanent character, from one of the game’s classes, who you level up and such, also with mana.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue tries to take that formula, and turn it into a roguelike, but it just doesn’t do that very well.

Let’s quickly get mechanics out of the way. Like standard Dungeon Defenders, you have a hero, and you have the same sort of abilities. These abilities vary from class to class, but generally have a pattern. Each class has a basic attack, a secondary attack, a nuke, an activatable overcharge, and two tower slots. Unlike towers in normal Dungeon Defenders, these towers have time to live, and die once the the timer empties. But the cooldown to place a tower is far higher than the time a tower actually stays alive, so in practice, you can only ever have two towers up for a short amount of time. In an ostensible tower defense game, this is a bit strange.

The biggest issue I have with Going Rogue is that as a roguelike, it’s incredibly boring. A good roguelike offers a high skill ceiling for mechanical mastery (Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne), informational mastery (Slay the Spire, Inscryption), or preferably a combination of both (Binding of Issac, Spelunky). If your game is going to be based around playing effectively the same thing over and over, playing needs to feel rewarding, and runs need to feel different. A weaker player should have good runs where they can feel like they’re succeeding even if they don’t know everything, and a strong player should be able to salvage even bad runs.

But even if you disagree with my definition of what makes a roguelike good, I think you’ll agree that being boring is exceptionally bad in a roguelike. Every run cannot just feel the same. And that’s the issue with Going Rogue.

The way the game handles abilities and power growth is underwhelming. After you clear a level, you open a treasure chest, and the chest has a few random items in it. One of these are the game’s runes, which seem to be intended to function as value pickups. Ultimately, I find them mostly worthless, because there’s virtually never a reason to not pick them up, and they give uninteresting stat buffs, such as 5% health, or 10% movement speed. They’re numerically boring stat sticks. And most of the time you don’t even get to choose which ones you’re getting.

At end of 3 waves, when you clear a map, you get a slightly bigger chest with a special rune drop that lets you choose between 3 different runes. The problem is that the very generic runes mentioned before are still in the pool, and it’s entirely possible to roll the same one twice as one of your choices.

The weapons, trinkets, and towers suffer from a similar but slightly different issue. As a run progresses, better towers/weapons/trinkets drop from the end of level chest. And because they’re almost always net better, there’s virtually never a situation where you’d choose to keep your current item, even if it has interesting stats, over an item with more damage. Get a cool tower early on? Too bad, by the time you’re in the 3rd zone, it’ll have 1/5th of the DPS of any random trash that pops out from your end of level chest.

The end result is a system where you can’t construct a build. You can only pick up bigger numbers, and hope they’re big enough.

Perhaps this could all be ignored if combat felt good, but it doesn’t. It’s a weightless affair, where you swipe at enemies until their health bar empties, and they fall over and die. Particle effects and animations are unimpressive, and feel like greybox assets. There’s not an ounce of mechanical mastery required, and the fact that abilities have virtually no synergy does the game no favors either.

But that’s all subjective. Maybe I have bad taste. But regardless of my taste, the game is buggy. In five hours of playing, here are a few highlights of what I encountered:

Random disconnection from multiplayer for no reason, killing the run.

Items dropping with a description of “ITEM TEXT GOES HERE”, no stats, and a sell value of 9999.

Items all dropping with the exact same stats, instead of having random rolls.

So that’s Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. A unpolished, unfinished mess. A brawler with poor combat, a tower defense game with no towers, and a roguelike with no power progression. If you took your money, and set it on fire, you’d get more value. This is because while the money would be gone, at least you wouldn’t have wasted any time playing the game.

Ed Note. So, Dungeon Defenders as a series has a bit of weird history. There was Dungeon Defenders, then a shit ton of DLC, then Dungeon Defenders 2, and presumably even more DLC. At some point, the company making it sorta shut down, then someone else bought the rights/reformed the company? I’m not 100% clear. In any case, the folks who bought the rights again wanted to make a new Dungeon Defenders game. They didn’t have any money though, so they made Dungeon Defenders Awakened. It was mediocre. Then they made Dungeon Defenders Eternity which… no longer exists. And now they’ve made Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, which isn’t worth playing.

Ed Note 2: If for some reason you want to see actual gameplay, why not watch me play it with a friend here?

Satisfactory – Take #2

A while back, I wrote a post on Satisfactory. However, I don’t think it was particularly satisfactory, haha, I’m so clever, wordplay. Okay, that’s out of my system. Anyway. I’m not super happy with how it came out. So I’m gonna give this a second shot, because Satisfactory deserves a more focused review.

What type of game is Satisfactory?

One of the things I’m the most unhappy with in the last article I did on this game is how I actually described Satisfactory, because I really didn’t. I think at least part of this is because Satisfactory doesn’t quite fit into any video game genres particularly well. While you could call a Automation game, or maybe a sim, it’s not really a sim of anything, and most of the elements in the game aren’t particularly… sim-esque. (For who does think Satisfactory is a Sim, please go run 3000 MW through 3 inches of cabling, over several miles, and let me know how well that experience matches up with doing the same in Satisfactory.)

Instead, I think Satisfactory might be closer to a genre of board game, the engine builder. Engine builders as a genre are mostly about building sets of systems to take actions and produce resources, all of which ultimately get turned into victory points. Most board games with this system have some sort of win-lose condition, but this isn’t present in Satisfactory.

But Satisfactory does have a lot of what I’d consider to be the hallmarks of engine builders. There are a variety of resources, and you turn them into other resources. As you progress, you get access to both new types of equipment, and more powerful/faster versions of the equipment you already had. This access is gated by having your current setup produce certain thresholds of resources.

Why is it good?

Regardless of what genre you want to put the game in, Satisfactory can be really good. The animations and models are incredibly polished*, the gameplay is smooth and satisfying*, watching conveyer belts spin up is enjoyable*, and I really like the semi-parallel tech trees.

*If you’re wondering what that asterisk is for: Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a bit.

Lets talk about those tech trees for a moment, because unlocking them serves as both a combination of progression and tutorial. We’re mostly going to focus on the Tier progression tree here. There are several other systems in place that also unlock building items and craftable items, but they’re mostly sidegrades/semi-optional. Except for the ladder. I have no idea why the ladder is in the coupon machine.

Here’s how tier progression works. There are 8 tiers of research, and within those tiers, there are research goals. Once you unlock a tier, you usually unlock a few new structure types, the ability to see what unlocking the next tier will require, and the list of research goals.

As an example: I can work on unlocking improved logistics, or a jetpack, but neither of those will progress me to Tier 7-8.

At any given point in time, making progress on a tech tree is your general goal, usually requiring you to craft somewhere between 50-1000 of various different parts.

But the main gameplay of Satisfactory is building. And everything around the building is mostly designed to make it easy. For example, if you disassemble a structure, you get all the resources it took to build back.

It’s also fairly easy to switch between what you’re building, and you can look almost everything up in the in-game Codex. That’s right. No longer do you have to have a fandom Wikipedia page that consists of 95% advertisements and 5% the recipe for wood logs.

At the same time, the buildings themselves are fairly flexible in how they can be placed. You can run conveyer belts through each other, and also across things that you maybe shouldn’t be able to.

Look, the highest praise I can give Satisfactory is that each time I try to think of nice things to say about, I go boot the game up, play for 6+ hours straight, then go do something else because I’ve completely lost my train of thought. There’s a constant feeling of success and progress, even if you mess things up a bit.

Okay, nice things over. Lets talk about the somewhat… unpolished parts of Satisfactory.

The elephant in the room.

If I had been forced to guess how long Satisfactory had been out, prior to actually knowing the numbers, I would have gone somewhere between half a years, to maybe just sneaking up on two years. There are two reasons for this, the first being the combat, and the second being the multiplayer performance, and bugs. Let’s talk about the combat first.

If the combat in your game makes me LONG for Minecraft’s combat system, you’ve done something horribly wrong. Satisfactory has a combat system, but I’m honestly not sure why. From what I can tell, there are three or so types of enemies, all of which have larger more “Dangerous” versions of themselves. The dangerous is in quotes because every single enemy in the game can be dealt with in loosely the same way: Kite it behind something, and then hit it until it dies. Assuming you’ve unlocked one of the games two ranged weapons, you have the alternate option of “Stand far away and shoot it until it dies”. Lets actually talk about those weapons for a moment, because they’re awful. The entire weaponry array of Satisfactory consists of the pokey stick, the pokey stick that does more damage, a modified nail gun (which is the only one that comes anywhere close to fun to use) and the worlds most unsatisfying rifle.

Special shoutout to the rifle here as being the most joyless gun, both across real life and games that I have ever encountered. It both eats through ammo, which is a massive pain in the ass to make, has a laughably small clip size of 10 shots, and has absolutely no feedback/tracers/anything to make it clear if you’re actually hitting your target, or if shots are flying freely though the wind, and for all of that effort, it doesn’t seem to even kill things very well.

I can’t tell what the goal is here to be honest. If combat is supposed to be anemic to make us focus on building and other mechanics, why does every single resource node past a certain point have several of the higher tier enemies, who despite being dumb as bricks, also hit like a stack of them, and will force you to salty runback to where you dropped all of your stuff. If the combat and unlocks related to it are supposed to be meaningful, why do they all suck so much? It’s clear the devs already understand how to create gated zones with things like the hazmat suit and gas mask. That sort of thing is much more similar to the sort of game Satisfactory feels like it is, with the unlocks of various tools and equipment and options to make building more efficient and easier.

The thing is though, as much as I loathe the combat, it is vestigial. An annoyance when it shows up and rears it’s ugly head, but it can be ignored a good 95% of the time. The next big problem I have with the game can’t be.

Satisfactory, much like Minecraft, isn’t a game I would ever really play single player. This is because both games are about making things, and the purpose of making things, at least for me, is to show them to other people, and to see the things other people make. It also massively cuts down the labor needed, because while you’re working on optimizing iron production, your friend can be setting up a full oil refinery. I personally find exploring the world tedious, but some of the folks I was playing with enjoy it. Where there are required tasks that one person might enjoy, others like them.

All of which would be cool if multiplayer wasn’t quite as shit as it is.

“Bugginess/Stability” is kind of a weird metric. For me, the impact a bug has on my experience comes down to pretty much two factors (1) How often does the bug occur? and (2) What happens when it does? Something like Skyrim has a lot of bugs, but from what I’ve seen, they’re usually more immersion breaking then they are save file shredding. In my playthrough of Elden Ring, bugs themselves are fairly rare, but when they do occur, the game fucking crashes, and in a game where closing the game without saving is death, and death means losing all your experience points/currency if you aren’t able to get to where you dropped it, this is substantially more aggravating. I had one friend whose entire save file was corrupted and effectively died outside the door to the final boss, after 63 hours. A patch fixed that issue, and he was able to complete the game, but that’s the sort of thing that leads to an uninstall.

There are two bugs I’d like to talk about with Satisfactory multiplayer. The first is incredibly specific and straightforward: When you log into a multiplayer game, if you’re not the host, or if you’re playing on a Dedicated Server, there’s a pretty good chance you will show up with exactly nothing in your inventory. As a result, you’ll have to spend a fair amount of time running around and trying to resupply/reequip potentially each time you log in. Disconnecting and reconnecting won’t solve it, and there’s no easy fix. When I looked up this bug, I found bug reports and discussions to it that date back several years ago.

The second set of bugs are a set of bugs I’m just going to refer to as “Desync” bugs.

While I’m not a game developer, I do have a technical background, and enough knowledge to make a guess as to what I think is likely occurring to cause these bugs, and why I’m specifically calling them desync bugs. First, a brief and somewhat inaccurate crash course in one way multiplayer games work. You have a server. The server is the sole source of truth for information about the games state. Then you have clients. Clients send information about what the player is doing to the server, and the server sends world state information back to the player. Because moving things, even across the internet can only go so fast, many game clients use various tricks to make things look instantaneous, or have the game client attempt to predict what will happen in order to give a smoother experience. When the client and server can’t talk to each other fast enough, for any number of reasons, you get latency, AKA lag, AKA the server is delayed in processing client inputs and sending the client information. I’m pretty sure these bugs aren’t lag, because they happened to me almost non-stop even while running the game on the same machine I was running my dedicated server one.

Instead, there’s a second type of problem that can occur. Usually, the game server tries to send only information that the client actually needs. If the system is well designed, this will be information that is relevant to the player. If the system is not well designed, it might not do that quite as fast, or it might not refresh certain information at the rate that might be desirable. For example, loading in that the player has walked directly into a cloud of poison gas.

And because the server is the sole source of truth, the client can send instructions that directs the player into situations where they take damage on the server, before the client receives that information. To the player, it seems like they died to nothing, because the state that the server was in did not match the state of their client. This is desync.

And it is fucking everywhere in Satisfactory. Sometimes its just annoying, such as with how every single conveyer belt in the game displays what it’s moving inaccurately, and how trying to grab things off them is a complete crapshoot.

And sometimes it will just fucking kill you, because you walked into the aforementioned poison gas. Or alien bees. Or radiation. Or a pack of angry spiders. You can see where I’m going with this.

Bugs are not inherently a reason to rip on a game. They can be a reason to avoid the game until it patches, like I’d currently suggest with Elden Ring, they can be a amusing nuisance like with Skyrim. But in the case Satisfactory multiplayer, they are a massive pain in the ass that actively interferes with the games gameplay loops and feel, and many of these issues have remained unfixed for years at this point. One friend who I had played with was shocked at how little had changed since the last time he’d played the game, about 3 years ago.

Early Access isn’t an excuse to ignore multiplayer performance, and frankly, there’s zero evidence that server performance will ever be fixed. They’ve had 5 years to do it, and they haven’t. I don’t see why I should believe they’ll do it in the next 5.

TLDR/Wrap-up

As a single player game, it’s an incredibly satisfying engine building/factory construction game of optimization and improvement, with a vestigial combat system, and some unimplemented features. As a multiplayer game, it’s all that, but with some exceedingly aggravating bugs that offset much of the games polish and design, in exchange for being able to untouched wilderness into a something resembling if MC Escher was tapped to design an Amazon warehouse with your friends, and the fun you’ll have is directly proportional to how long you can all go as a group before one of you snaps and quits to go back to a game that doesn’t wipe your inventory every time you try to log in. If this interests you, it’s out for PC on both Steam and the Epic Store at $30 a pop.

Human Fall Flat

QWOPlike puzzle platformer, good with friends, bleh without them. Bit pricey for what you get in my opinion.

Ed Note: Images are from the IGDB game press kit. You can tell because the characters pictured below are either blank, or some level of thoughtful creative outfit, and my custom character had a dick, and “Fuck Single Moms” written on his back.

I have been planning to write about Human Fall Flat for just about two years now. This draft has sat there, staring at me, patiently waiting for its moment to shine. Well, I’m dead out of energy to write about anything this week, so now’s your time to shine buddy. I’m gonna blow the dust off this post, and put it up.

Human Fall Flat is a cooperative, physics-based, 3d-puzzle game. And when I say physics, think physics in more of a QWOP sense than Half Life 2. As a single player game, I wouldn’t recommend it. As a co-op game, I think it can be a lot of fun with at least 3 players, and I have good memories of laughing my ass off while playing it with friends.

Look at all these tasteful, creative characters. Couldn’t be me!

This is because of how wonky the controls are. You move with WASD, and left/right mouse button correspond to grabbing with your left and right arms. This grabbiness is binary, meaning you can either be grabbing something, or not grabbing something, but there is no in between. In addition, while you “Move” with WASD, it’s less actual movement than it is making your small blob person waddle in the right direction.

All of this is deliberate. The main difficulty with many of the puzzles in Human Fall Flat is not the actual puzzle, but managing to complete the puzzle while having the acrobatic ability and dexterity of a drunk jellyfish.

It’s this combination of “The spirit is willing, but the flesh made out of marshmallow peeps,” along with the (usually) simple puzzles that made the game enjoyable for me. Trying and failing to make a simple jump is frustrating on your own, but it’s golden to watch your friend jump onto ledge, barely pull themselves up, and then get clubbed by a swinging log and sail into oblivion, all while listening to them curse over Discord.

Then it happens to you, and it’s a tragedy, but your friends are laughing.

This image is a pretty good summary of a lot of this game really.

All of this takes place across a wide variety of levels, with a pretty good smattering of goals and objectives. In my personal opinion, the earlier levels tend to be longer and more fun than some of the free DLC ones, but there’s a solid amount of content. By far my personal favorite was a level that involved piloting various types of boats, for a given definition of “pilot.” It would be more accurate described as “50% pilot, 50% hanging to the side of the rudder and begging someone to pull you up before you fall off and die.”

That’s really all I have to say on Human Fall Flat. As I’ve already noted, this is a game that really has to be played with friends. As a single player experience, I found it to be stale, and uninteresting.

The game is a bit pricey for what it offers at $20 a person, so my personal suggestion would be to wait for a sale before picking it up. I’d say $10 is closer to what it’s worth. The game is available on everything (seriously, pc, all major consoles, and phones for some reason) but doesn’t support crossplay as far as I’m aware, so if you and the gang do decide to grab it, make sure you all get it for the same platform.

If you still want to grab some copies, you can find it here for PC

CRIMESIGHT

A fantastic asymmetric social deduction game.

CRIMESIGHT is an asymmetric social deduction game, and it’s fantastic. It might be my favorite giga-brain moment sort of game, and it makes you feel very smart, as long as you don’t scuff up wins that you have in the palm of your hand.

Which I’ve done a few times to be honest.

In order to talk about what I like about CRIMESIGHT, I’m gonna briefly cover how the game works. There are going to be several paragraphs going over the game’s mechanics. If you don’t want to read any more, here’s my summary of why I like the game: it’s full of incredibly clever mindgames and bluffing linked to an interesting balance of resources and information between the two competing sides.

A screenshot of a game of CRIMESIGHT in progress. I think I lost this one.

A game of Crimesight is played over up to 10 rounds, on a single map consisting of multiple rooms and areas, and with 6 pawns. One pawn is the Killer, and one pawn is the Target.

First, a little bit more about pawns. Pawns start the game with nothing, regardless of their roll. Each pawn can carry up to two items, and has two health slots. They can also carry a single weapon. Weapons do not take up an item slot, and cannot be dropped once picked up. Every three rounds, the day ends, and pawns need to eat, or else they will become hungry. Hunger, like any other injury in the game, puts a token into one of the health slots. A pawn with one slot occupied can only move up to two spaces per round, and pawn with two slots occupied can only move 1 space per round, and is also blinded.

Each round, the players in the game may issue a number of commands to pawns, determined by the player’s allegiance, and the number of other players in the game. These commands consist of a movement command, and an action. First, movement. Each pawn can move up to three areas in one round. If they move more than two areas, though, they get fatigued, and will only be able to move twice in the next round. Then the pawn does an action. The action can be to search an area for food, to use an item on a location or another pawn, or to interact with an object. Pawns always move, and then take an action; they cannot do otherwise.

Let’s talk about the two allegiances, Moriarty or Sherlock, and the differences between the two.

The Moriarty player wins if they can have the killer pawn murder the target pawn. In order to do this, three conditions must be met. The killer must have a weapon, the killer must be in the same area as the target, and there can be no witnesses with line of sight. If the Moriarty player fails to pull this off in 10 rounds, the best they can hope for is a draw.

The Moriarty player also has several special advantages. They can see which nodes on the map contain food, weapons, or special items/objects. They start the game knowing the target and killer. In addition, if both Sherlock and Moriarty command the same pawn, Moriarty’s commands always win out, and will overwrite Sherlock’s. Moriarty can also always command pawns to move up to three spaces, even if the pawn is fatigued. Finally, they have access to a single special command, “assail,” which can only be used by the killer. When the assail command is executed, the killer will delay their action until the end of the round, and then move as close as they can to the target, and if their end location meets the criteria for committing murder, they will do so.

There are downsides to the assail command, however. Using it will reveal the killer and target, and if the killer does not reach the target that turn, there is a single final turn, after which if they cannot pull off the murder, Sherlock wins.

The Moriarty player also has one weakness: they cannot issue commands to the pawn designated as the target.

The Sherlock player has none of the advantages listed above. They start the game being able to see that 2-3 of the searchable areas have food in them. They don’t know anything about the rest of the nodes. They also start out not knowing who is the target, and who is the killer. There are only three advantages that the Sherlock player has over Moriarty.

For reference on why I included this photo: I played a game as Sherlock that went to 10 rounds. There was one obvious target, and an obvious villain. But, I thought to myself, what if the “target” wasn’t the villain, and the obvious villain wasn’t either, but Moriarty was instead using them to make us move the actual villain right next to the real target? AND I WAS 100% CORRECT. And this victory screen is from that game. Gigabrain strats.

The first is that the Sherlock players can issue more commands to pawns than Moriarty. The Sherlock player can also command any pawn, including the target. At the end of every day, they get additional information from “deductions,” where the game will tell Sherlock if the Killer is within 3 areas of the target, and based on that, narrow down potential killers and their victims.

The game has a really interesting balance of power and information going on. When the game starts, Moriarty knows everything, but has almost no “resources” (i.e., the killer doesn’t have a weapon, all of the pawns are fairly bunched together to prevent murder attempts, and they’re also all healthy making it easy to run the target away from the killer). On the flip side, the Sherlock player has the board state where they want it, (no wounded pawns, pawns all close to each other so Moriarty can’t move a single witness away from a murder attempt, no gas leaks, dogs, etc) but zero information about who they need to protect from whom.

As the game continues, the balance of power starts to shift. The balance of resources and board state shift into Moriarty’s favor as pawns split up to search the map for food, pick up weapons, or end up hungry if they fail to find any. However, Sherlock gets more and more information: each time the two clash by commanding a pawn, more info is revealed to Sherlock about can’t be the target. The end of day deductions also potentially cut out large swathes of possible murder/target combos.

I do want to talk about the game’s multiplayer modes a bit though. There can be multiple players on the Sherlock team, or multiple on both teams. So far I’ve played the 1v1, 2v2, and 3v1 modes, and I vastly prefer 1v1 and 3v1.

While the game supports up to four players, there can only ever be one player aligned with Moriarty, in 2v2. The second non-Sherlock player controls Irene.

In the 1v1 modes, the game is fairly straightforward, since each player knows who the other player is. 1v3 is where things get interesting, because as a Sherlock player, you start the game not knowing which of the other 3 players is playing Moriarty. I find this neat because it lends an extra level of trying to read other player’s moves and actions, which isn’t present in the base game, and also lets you play more mind games as Moriarty.

This brings me to 2v2, and why I don’t enjoy it or the Irene roll very much. When playing the Irene roll, you effectively play a weaker version of Sherlock, but on the side of Moriarty. You can only command one pawn, you can’t see the location of items, you do know the victim and target, but you can’t use the assail command. It can be amusing, but it still feels like a fairly weak roll.

On the flip side, it’s not much fun to play against Irene either. Unlike Moriarty, if Irene issues a command to a Pawn at the same time as Sherlock, it’s a toss up on whose action goes through. And even if Irene wins out, it doesn’t give any information to the Sherlock player about who is/isn’t a target.

Outside of that one thing, I don’t really have any issues with the game. The game’s text display can be a bit frustrating, and there isn’t really a good option between “Tell me all the rules each time something happens” and “Tell me nothing,” but that’s pretty much it.

So that’s CRIMESIGHT in a nutshell, an asymmetric social deduction game for up to 4 players. I find it incredibly fun, and setting up either clever kills, or blocking them makes you feel smart. If all of this sounds like your cup of tea, you can buy CRIMESIGHT here on Steam. It’s $20, and it’s worth it.

Stacklands

Stacklands is cool! But short. But also only $5! So I recommend it.

Click this image and get the game!

I like Stacklands. Like many things that I enjoy, I wish there was more of it. But for what it cost, and what I got, I’m satisfied, and I feel confident recommending it. I have a few minor gripes, but in my time playing, I didn’t encounter any major bugs or flaws. So yeah, I recommend it.

Stacklands is also the first time I’ve played something by Sokpop Collective that I’ve really liked. Before Stacklands I’d kind of written them off as an indie arthouse studio, partly because I’m an asshole, and partly because they didn’t seem to make games with gameplay.

I’ve used the word “Engine Builder” more than I usually would in recent writing, at least for writing about video games, but I think it’s pretty accurate for Stacklands. I guess you could call it a progressive management game instead, but that just sounds like your boss decided switch the team to a 4 day work week.

A clean, untouched board. Don’t worry, that won’t last long.

In any case, here’s how Stacklands works: to start, you’re given a single booster pack of cards. After opening it, you’ll get a few different cards, and a villager. The other cards are also important, but if all your villagers die, you lose.

At least to start, most cards require you to place a villager on them to generate a resource. That’s kind of a cop out, but let me give a few examples. The Berry Bush card does nothing on its own, but when a villager is placed on it, the villager will harvest 3 berries from that card before it disappears. The same is true for cards like the iron ore vein, or trees, though they give different resources. However, some cards like the lumberyard and quarry, can’t be exhausted. They can be harvested any number of times (though usually slower then the impermanent cards).

Villager working on a Berry Bush. Gif shamelessly stolen from the Stacklands itch.io Page.

So, how do you get cards ? There are two primary methods. The first is to buy card packs. You buy them with coins, and almost every card has a coin value. You can unlock several types of card back, and even if you die, pack types that you unlock stay purchasable. Each pack gives different subsets of cards, and while some are available in multiple packs, most pack types have at least one or two unique cards. They also have ‘ideas’.

Ideas are the game’s recipes. You only have to unlock them once in order to be able to use them in future runs. In order to use them, you place the required items on top of each other. A countdown starts, and when it finishes, you get the item from the recipe. One minor annoyance I have is that while you can use a recipe without discovering it, the game doesn’t reveal those recipes if you find them by luck or clever experimentation. You still have to get the idea card.

I like farms and carrots. Can you tell?

Villagers can die in a couple different ways. It’s possible that you don’t have enough food to feed them all at the end of a round, and so they starve to death. It’s also possible that an enemy just murders them. Enemies can spawn from exploring certain locations, or buying certain card packs. They can also be spawned by a mysterious portal, which show up on specific numbered rounds. There is one more way to spawn an enemy, but that one’s a bit secret, so I’m not gonna spoil it here.

There are also some other mechanics that I haven’t really covered here, including exploring, villager promotions, and storage limits, but I also don’t have anything useful to say about them in the context of this review.

I do have two gripes with Stacklands, one of which is legitimate, and the other I think might be a design choice, but it’s a design choice that I find really annoying! The second strikes me as something that might have been intended to function like that.

First, the legitimate gripe! When you mouse over a card pack to buy it, you’re given a slowly scrolling list of text in the bottom left corner that lists what you can get in the card pack, and I hate this. I hate having to wait for the scrolling to see what I could get, and I really wish I could either click on the card pack to see a list, or have the text box expand or something. I really wish I could see everything at once.

Second, the “I just don’t like this design choice” gripe. There are a variety of cards that produce cards either when you put a villager to work on them, or when you place various resources on them. It’s never really clear to me where the produced cards will end up. Let’s use the farm as an example. You can plant a crop on top of the farm card. When the farm card finishes ticking down, a new card is created. But when a farm produces, the new card(s) appear someplace next to the farm. Since I was growing carrots by the truckload, I then had to 1. Replant the carrots and 2. Keep moving carrots around to keep everything organized.

Like. A LOT of Farms.

Stacklands as a game isn’t long enough for this to become super tedious, and I feel like this is a specific design choice to make growing certain crop types more mentally taxing, but I did find it annoying.

Stacklands is $5 on itch.io, and $5 on Steam. Gametrodon editorial policy, dictates that “The people that make games should be the people that make money.” So buy it off itch.io rather than Steam. Look, you’re probs gonna buy off Steam anyway, so I’m going to make you google it.