Tricky Towers

Tricky Towers is the bastard child of Tetris and a physics system. It’s also a ton of fun and great in multiplayer.

If I had to summarize Tricky Towers in one image, this is what I would use.

Artist’s conceptualization of Tricky Towers. Stolen from XKCD, by the eternally funny Randall Munroe.

Anyway, that would pretty much do it. Article over. You get the idea. Except that Tricky Towers has multiple modes, and is multiplayer, and… hmm.

Y’know, maybe you could read the rest of the writeup.

Anyway. Tricky Towers. Tricky Towers is kind of like Tetris in that it’s a game that consists of stacking tetronimos on top of each other. It’s unlike Tetris in that instead of lines disappearing when you fill them, they just sort of sit there. This is because your goal is different. Unlike Tetris, in which you try to clear the maximum number of lines possible, in Tricky Towers, you are trying to build a tower. (Okay, in most game modes, you’re trying to build a tower. More on the other game modes in a bit.)

Also unlike Tetris, where pieces are always aligned on a grid, you can move your pieces in half block increments. Oh, and there’s a physics system! And these two additions combine to turn everything into utter chaos.

Because there’s no easy way to remove placed blocks, you just sort of have to live with the consequences (much like how I’ll have to live with the consequences of how shit this writeup is!). Did a L block fall over? It’s now time to play some sort of warped sideways Tetris. Did a critical part of your structure just end up with a bit too much weight? Time to watch as your dreams crumble, and joy turns to ash. And also as your opponents build right past you!

Oh, yeah, opponents, and game modes.

Tricky Towers has variety of game modes, including single player, score attacks, and multiplayer. The first two are fine, but I don’t care about them much as I almost always only ever play multiplayer with friends.

Yeah, I’m sure you really did get a score that can only be expressed with scientific notation you cheating fuck.

Within multiplayer, there are multiple modes for games and types. Usually I play the Cup setting, which works kind of like Mario Kart scoring. You play a set of challenges, and get points based on whether you finished first, second, etc.

Within those, there are 3 different modes, somewhat analogous to tracks. These are Race, Survival and Puzzle.

Race is the most straightforward: be the first person to build a tower that reaches the finish line, and have it stay stable for 3 seconds. There’s some very clever design here as well, as the finish line actually moves toward the players. This makes it so even if you’re absolutely terrible, or the ratio of modern art to engineering embodied by your tower tends towards Jackson Pollock, the game will still end.

Survival is somewhat similar, except your goal is to just last the longest. In this game mode, whenever a block drops off the side of your tower, you lose a life. Lose all your lives, and you’re knocked out. It’s also possible to win by placing all 66 of your blocks before your opponents, but in the 12 hours I’ve played, that has literally never happened once.

Puzzle is the most unusual. Each player is given a starting block, and the same lineup of pieces, and the goal is to place as many of those pieces as possible, without going over a line. The catch is that if you drop a piece, the base of your tower is moved up, and when you place a piece that crosses the aforementioned line, it’s removed, and the number you placed beforehand is your final score.

Overall, these three modes in multiplayer are why I enjoy Tricky Towers. And the multiplayer is non-negotiable. I play a lot of games, but Tricky Towers is one of the few that everyone in my group will actually want to play on game nights.

Tricky Towers is $15.00 on Steam, but you can probably wait for it to go on sale, and get a few copies to play with friends for a bit cheaper.


Boston FIG 2022 Writeup – Part 1

They say to strike while the iron is hot, and it’s been like a day since Boston FIG wrapped up. So if it actually was iron, it probably wouldn’t be very hot anymore, and now I’ve lost the thread entirely.

If you haven’t heard of Boston FIG, it means Boston Festival of Indie Games, and it’s a smaller game convention that takes place in Boston. I find it to be a really good place to find games that I might not otherwise hear about.

That’s what this writeup is gonna be: a list of all the stuff I saw and played at Boston FIG, some notes on which things I liked, and where to find out more info about those games.

That said, before I start the rest of this glorified listicle, I want to make two quick notes:
1. I only played board games at Boston FIG, and of those, I played or listened to pitches for almost 75% of the pool of the games. I didn’t get a chance to see the digital side at all, and there’s a whole quarter of the board games at the show I didn’t see at all. So if your game/a game isn’t on this, I apologize. I just may not have gotten to it.
2. I think of myself as a someone who enjoys lighter board games, but even more importantly, I prize demos far more than pitches. For a digital convention this can be difficult, as not everyone has the time or effort to make something that can be played digitally. And some games (thinking of you, Crash Factor) would probably be near impossible to make a cheap digital version of. Thus, the longer paragraphs are pretty much exclusively for things I could actually play at the show.

Retrograde by Resonym

Retrograde is a roll and write, a genre that I think could be better named. I assumed “roll and write” meant some sort of word game, like Scrabble. As such I had kind of avoided it until someone explained, “No, it means a game where you mark stuff to score.” So Retrograde doesn’t involve writing any words. Instead, you roll dice in real time to try to get sets, then draft one of a series of cards from a shared pool to determine which of the invading droids on your sheet you can actually blast. The primary tension comes from trying to get a perfect roll vs. getting the draft card you want before someone else snags it.

You can find more about Retrograde here, and I believe it comes out next month or so.

Dyna-Boom By Entro Games/Chris Backe

Dyna-Boom is a set collection and movement game by Entro Games, which is actually just one guy named Chris Backe. I’m not throwing shade here, that’s his description from the site. Anyway, Dyna-Boom. You move around a playing field of randomized tiles, flipping them after you pass over them, and collecting them when you pass over flipped up tiles. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I very much enjoyed playing Dyna-Boom, and I want to play more.

Chris mentioned to me that he’s currently looking for a publisher for the game, so I guess maybe check out his site if you’re a publisher?

If, like me, you’re also not a publisher, don’t worry. You can play the Tabletop Simulator version of the game, and you can download the set of rules from the Entro Games site under the games page.

Speculation

Speculation is a number guessing game. Everyone gets a hidden number, and then takes turns drafting face up cards that give away various pieces of information about that hidden number. Nick Federico, the designer, mentioned to me that he thought of it as like trying to count cards in Poker. I’m inclined to agree with him that it’s a lot like Poker, because just like Poker:
1. I am very bad at it.
2. It made my head hurt.
Speculation was not my favorite, but if you want to try it, it has a Tabletop Simulator implementation you can grab here.

Lab Meltdown by Zerua Games

Lab Meltdown is a co-operative… hmm. Writing “Co-operative Board Game” seems like kind of a cop-out. But I’m not sure what genre to place it in based on what I played.

Players are a group of astronauts on a space station, working to stabilize various chemicals compounds and keep the station from turning into a ball of gas and flames high in the sky. It has some very neat movement mechanics, with the same cards being used to both run your astronaut around, and also stabilize chemicals.

It did feel like it might end up suffering from quarterbacking, where one player ends up directing everyone else on where to go, and what to do. But it also isn’t out/published yet, so it’s also possible that might change.

While Lab Meltdown isn’t released, Zerua Games does have a bunch of other games out, and you can see those on their website here. (Tack was also at the show, and supposed to be very good, but I didn’t get around to playing it!)

Rapid Fire Round – Some Other Stuff

All the games listed below are either one of two things: I didn’t make it to their booth, or they just had a pitch deck and not a demo.

The Worthy – Grand strategy/area of control game. Lots of minifigs.
WarBonds – Grand strategy fantasy wargame. Apparently fully deterministic. Not really my thing.
Persuasion – Supposed to be good. Didn’t get to play. No idea how it plays.
Critical Care – Won a bunch of awards. Didn’t play it. Also supposed to be good.
The Genetic Code – Genetics themed builder/trick taker. Didn’t have a demo.
Plague House – Non-worker misplacement game. More stuff by author here.
Crash Factor – Manual dexterity/placementgame with a board designed to allow structured placement and strategies without having great dexterity.

That’s all for this section of the writeup. I think there were enough games to do 2-3 more of these, so expect more as the week/day rolls on!



Omega Strikers

To my mind, soccer is one of the world’s simplest games. Put the ball into the net without using your hands. On the other hand, MOBA’s are one of the most complicated. Sure, the general goal is pretty simple: destroy the Ancient/Nexus. But everything else is a complex mishmash of systems, paved cowpaths, general fuckery, and meta-weirdness.

Omega Strikers is effectively a synthesis of these two systems. Score five points (or two more then your opponent in a tie breaker) to win. Score points by hitting the disc into the goal. A nice simple win condition, with theoretically simple gameplay.

But it Omega Strikers also feels a bit like a MOBA. Instead of being a generic soccer player, you pick a Striker in a pregame draft. There’s a not-quite leveling system based on picking up powerups from around the map, and some of your abilities do “damage” to enemy strikers. You can also temporarily knock out enemy players by depleting their health, and also by hitting them into walls.

There’s not too much else to be said for Omega Strikers. It has the same sort of art style as Eternal Return, with the 3D anime and sorta cel-shaded look. It has a battlepass. You can pay money to unlock characters, but it’s not just real life money, it’s funbucks which can only be purchased in random amounts.

Oh, and it has a “Rune System.” You know, that terrible system from League and Multiversus where you have to spend your in-game currency on passive buffs to put onto your character instead of, I don’t know, unlocking more characters to play.

You want my simple opinion on Omega Strikers? I think it’s fine. I think as a game that seems to run fairly well, it was fun to download and play with some friends for a bit. I don’t fully understand the game’s damage systems. I also don’t have any huge desire to return to it. I do think it’s by far the easiest MOBA style game I’ve ever played, and convincing non-gaming folks to try it would be probably be pretty easy.

Omega Strikers is Free* on Steam.
*If you get into its gonna cost you more than a triple A game, so good luck.

V Rising

V Rising is a solid survival/crafting game with a vampire theme and mechanics. I can’t think of a good vampire pun to put here.

I like V Rising. I don’t think it’s a perfect game. But it cost $20, and I’ve played 60 hours of it. If that’s not an easy recommendation, I don’t know what is.

V Rising is a multiplayer survival/crafting game in the vein Valheim or Rust. Instead of following their lead and being in a first person or over the shoulder camera, V Rising has a top down camera much closer to something like Diablo.

And instead of being a human unlucky enough to wash up on some random island, you’re a vampire.

The vampire thing isn’t just a theme. Sure, there’s a blood meter that replaces your hunger bar. But who you drink blood from also heavily impacts gameplay. Drink blood from a worker, and you’ll harvest more resources. Drink blood from a nun, and you’ll restore health when casting spells. Drink blood from a warrior, and you can parry some incoming attacks.

Also, you burn real hard during the daytime.

The general gameplay loop of V Rising is straight forward. After you get through the game’s equivalent of tutorial, and have a simple base set up, you’ll venture out to farm materials to craft better gear. Once your gear is good enough, you can go fight stronger bosses or “V Blood Carriers.” Defeating a boss and harvesting V Blood unlocks additional spells, powers, and crafting recipes. Then you can craft better gear! But that might require expanding your base, which requires more resources. So you rinse and repeat.

Of course, when I say “harvest resources” I mean less in a “harvest crops” sort of way, and more in a “humans in the Matrix” sort of vibe. V-Rising’s combat is probably closest to Battlerite (not surprisingly, given that Stunlock made both games). If you’re not familiar with Battlerite, I’d say it feels like a slower-paced version of League of Legends. Also, damage, health and “level” is all completely dependent on the level of gear you have equipped.

I never really had that “Power Fantasy” moment that I get from games like Path of Exile. Instead, you’re limited to 3 skills from your weapon, 2 spells, and an ultimate skill. Even when you outlevel an enemy, unless the difference is absolutely massive, you can still get put into the dirt. The combat is at its best in the game’s boss fights against V-Blood Carriers. It’s at its most annoying against packs or random mobs.

I don’t have too much to say on the multiplayer, mostly because I feel like you can play the game however you want. My first 50 hours were with a few friends on a publicly-hosted PVE server. The next 10 where those same friends on a privately hosted PVP server, and now we’re not friends anymore. Jokes aside, the multiplayer works well, and many of the factors like resource scaling are configurable. If you want a comfy base building setup with some friends, you can just join or host a PVE server with 5x resources, and the ability to teleport. And if you’re masochistic, you can join a 0.5 resource PVP server. Changing the pace and flow is pretty much just a server config setting.

I don’t think the game’s perfect. There’s a whole system for binding and turning humans into vampire servants, but their utility is limited outside of equipping them with a bit of gear, and sending them out on timed missions to gather resources. While the weapons are fairly diverse, the clothing options are a completely linear path, with no build diversity other than “big number good.”

Arise reborn, my servant! Now go get me copper.

Still though, there’s a lot more thought than often goes into games like this. It’s not possible to build a base in such a way that blocks off other players from a critical resource. The number of bosses is fairly high, and despite many of them just being random humans, the actual fights feel meaningfully diverse.

I think V Rising’s greatest strength compared to a lot of the other crafting/survival games is how complete the game loop feels. In 60 hours, I think I only looked at a wiki or guide 2-3 times, and I never encountered any jank.

V Rising is $20 on Steam. It’s a pretty good time. If you’re looking for a solid survival game, or a base builder, I feel comfortable recommending it.

Ed Note: Screenshots are blatantly ripped from the Steam Store page, at time of publishing. The game’s UI doesn’t look like this anymore, though. I still think these are decent representations of what V Rising looks like, even if the lighting in the screenshots is a bit nicer.

MultiVersus

MultiVersus is fantastic. If you haven’t heard of it yet because you exclusively read Gametrodon and literally nothing else, thank you for your loyalty! You’ll be given a ranking position in the new regime. If you have already heard of MultiVersus (because you don’t live under a rock), and haven’t played it, or were on the fence about playing it, stick around and maybe I can convince you to try it.

MultiVersus is a platform fighter developed by Player First Games, and published by Warner Brothers. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the publisher, don’t worry. It’s relevant. But first let’s quickly talk about platform fighters as a genre. Platform fighters are, for better or worse, defined by Super Smash Brothers. If you’ve never played a platform fighter, there are few things that differentiate them from traditional fighting games.

Platform fighters, like traditional fighting games are 2D games where you use your character’s moves to hit your opponent. As someone who plays both traditionally fighters and platform fighters casually, there are two big differences. The first is that platform fighters are far more open, with mobility much closer to a platforming game. The second is the win condition. In most platform fighters, instead of each character having a set amount of HP, they have a percent value. When you get hit, your percent goes up. The higher your percent, the more knockback you take when you get hit by an attack. But no matter your percent, you don’t actually die until your opponent can knock you off the stage. Finally, platform fighters often have more characters on stage than just the traditional 1v1, and MultiVersus leans into this. The game’s primary game mode is actually 2v2, with many of the characters having abilities that buff or somehow interact with their allies.

Speaking of which. Characters!

The other thing a platform fighter needs to be good is good characters. That’s easy for Smash Bros, which might as well just be the Nintendo “Who’s Who” list for video games even if the list does have some washed up entries. (Seriously, I’m pretty sure Falco and Fox are more relevant as Smash Bros fighters than their series is. And there hasn’t been a new F-Zero game in a million years.)

This is great if you’re Nintendo, but if you have to invent your own characters, like Brawlhalla, or Rivals of Aether, or anyone else in the genre it can be rough. After all, it’s not like you can just go dig up a treasure chest of intellectual property from the 40 years.

Hey, remember how I mentioned this was being published by Warner Brothers, and said the publisher would be relevant later?

Turns out, Warner Brothers has the rights to a lot of stuff.

A lot of stuff.

MultiVersus currently has a seventeen-character roster, which isn’t huge, but let’s look at a few folks in that roster. You have Batman and Superman. You have Shaggy and Velma. You have Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Wonder Woman. You have Arya Stark, and Lebron James. You have Stephen and Garnet from Stephen Universe, and you have Jake the Dog and Finn the Human from Adventure Time.

If you can read that entire list without going “Wait what” or getting a least a little excited for a moment about the idea of Shaggy absolutely thrashing Batman in hand to hand combat, then please come to my apartment so I can give you your “Least Exposed to Pop Culture” gold medal. I grew up without TV, I still barely watch TV, and I know who these folks are.

Unlike Smash Brothers, though, these characters aren’t from a video game, so it raises the question “How well were they adapted?” Personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Shaggy is this kinetic bruiser, dashing around the stage, doing that funky little leg zoom walk, and tossing sandwiches. Finn is an assassin, charging up these big swipes of his sword and leaping around. From the characters I’ve played, they’re all fun, with their own tricks and traps.

But this does bring up a point I want to cover: I haven’t played everyone, because MultiVersus is F2P, and that means you don’t actually get all the characters. It’s the League of Legends model, where there’s a free rotation of characters, but if you want to unlock a character permanently, you have to buy them with either in game gold, or the premium currency.

This isn’t a particularly evil implementation of F2P, but it does commit a lot of the traditional sins of the model. I don’t want to put too much energy into calling them out here, so instead I’ll give you a quick list of why I don’t like it much:

  1. Premium Currency can only be purchased in specific increments. This means you can only purchase say 1000/2000/3000 of it, but all the characters and skins cost different amounts. So you’ll always have some left over, and if you want to buy more stuff, you’ll have to buy more currency. It’s like the evil video game version of the XKCD nacho cycle.
  2. Skins are expensive, like 15-20 bucks a pop.
  3. There’s a battle pass/daily quest system, so you have that whole FOMO structure, and since a lot of your gold generation is linked to leveling up characters, it’s easy to tell the flow of gold will shut off pretty quickly.
  4. Perks are a gold sink for F2P players.

Oh, that’s right! We haven’t talked about Perks yet. Lets cover them quickly.

Each character in Multiversus has four perk slots, 1 unique one, and 3 generic ones. The unique ones are a non-issue for me. You unlock all unique perks for a character just by playing them. They tend to offer some sort of boost, or change to one of your character’s attacks, but since you can see your opponent’s perk choices before a game, they’re not a big deal.

The generic perks are where I have a problem, not because of what they do, but because of how you acquire them. They tend to offer small buffs to both you and your teammate. As an example, one gives you an additional third jump in the air after you connect a hit. If you and your teammate stack the same buff, you get a better version it. For example, the aforementioned jump perk when stacked just lets you and your teammate have a third jump always available.

But anyway, this isn’t the problem with perks. The problem is that there’s a limited pool of perks you unlock for each character. Then you have to spend gold to unlock the rest, and you have to unlock them on a character by character basis. It’s like a worse version of League of Legends’ old rune system.

The gameplay itself, though, is what carries MultiVersus. And while I might not be a big fighting game person, the friend I played most of my 30 hours with is. To paraphrase his thoughts, while the game is very focused around hitstun and combos, it doesn’t feel super toxic. There’s also a larger focus on mobility, and to quote him directly “The lack of the homogenization of the trinity (grab/shield/stun) and the presence of charged aerials is a significant shift from other platform fighters.”

Personally, I just think smacking folks around in the game feels fun, and even as someone who sucks at fighting, the matchmaking has yet to throw me into a game that I felt like I couldn’t possibly win.

Speaking of matchmaking, let’s talk about the other part of online play: netcode. MultiVersus has some issues, but overall the netcode is far better than, say, Smash Bros online. There are still situations where it feels like your inputs are dropped, but it’s fairly rare.

Overall, MultiVersus is an incredibly fun F2P platform fighter, with a strong (if small roster), and solid mechanics. While it doesn’t commit any special sins of being a F2P game, I feel like it would be better if you could just buy the whole game instead of being hit with the traditional spending traps. That said, I might not have tried it if it cost $40, and that would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on one of the very few games to even try to give Smash Bros a run for its money.

MultiVersus is free to play on PC, PS4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox S.

To preempt the question from the one person I know who will read this article: it’s not available for Switch, and it’s not clear if it will be. Just go grab it for PC. C’mon, it’ll be fun!