Dear Esther

Dear Esther screenshot

If you have an hour spare and a copy of Half Life 2, check out Dear Esther. I installed it with Desura, which worked flawlessly.

From the readme.txt:

Dear Esther is a Half Life 2 mod built as part of a research project by thechineseroom, a development team based at the University of Portsmouth, UK.
Rather than a traditional FPS game, Dear Esther is an interactive story, told using FPS technologies.
Using a stripped down version of the normal keys used for play, explore the island and unlock the story.
The story is randomised, so each visit will trigger a different selection of story fragments and reveal more details of the plot.
For more information about the project and other mods to be released, please visit: www.thechineseroom.co.uk

It was a genuinely beautiful experience.

There’s a professional version coming out that was previewed in the latest copy of PC Gamer. A must-buy for me.

Washington’s War

Washington's War

I played Washington’s War with John on Friday night. I played the original, We the People, a few years ago. Just about the only thing I remember about We the People was that it was a great game let down by a tediously slow battle card system. Washington’s War fixes that simply with a modified die roll. Both games have top-notch components, so this seems the perfect reprint.

We the People “started the Card Driven Wargame genre”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/519144/card-driven-wargame-cdw-evolution and as a genre-creator it has genuine quality. If only it had been imitated by more games that were as fast-playing and easy to understand. Twilight Struggle fits that bill and the BGG ratings speak for themselves. I would like even simpler, shorter wargames to come out of this mould, but I doubt I’ll see them. If you like Twilight Struggle or Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage you will almost certainly like Washington’s War.

8/10

Highland Clans

Highland Clans photo
Sorry for the horrible photo quality.

Yesterday we played four-player “Highland Clans”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/16500/mac-robber (aka Mac Robber). This game has not had a lot of attention and deservedly so. It is a small-scale cube-fest. Although designed for 45 minutes, we played for much longer. Mostly this was because we struggled with the rules, which were clearly translated by a non-native English speaker and never blind-tested with English-speaking players. A big publisher like Queen should know better.

If you ever play this, definitely use “Innovan’s”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/Innovan three player aids ( “1”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695562, “2”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695450, “3”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695449 ) in the BGG image gallery, as Highland Clans is pretty much unplayable without his clarifications.

The gameplay itself has a nice confrontational element as every turn you have a free chance to raid an opponent. Ironically these constant attacks make the game feel quite friendly as they do not have much negative effect and they are a good catch-the-leader mechanic that can backfire. The rest is quite abstract and unintuitive. Scottish clan warfare deserves a game with the flavour of Pirates Cove. At least it is lighter and faster than most current eurogame cube-fests.

Our friends enjoyed it as they bought it as a birthday present and enjoyed the Scottish theme. I am a bit more fussy and just can’t recommend a game with such poorly translated rules.

4/10

Sternenhimmel

Late last night three of us sat down to “Sternenhimmel”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/668/sternenhimmel (Starry Sky), a German 30-45 minute area-majority game from 1995. I bought this cheaply second hand and it was a good purchase – despite the unnecessarily large box. The rules took five minutes to skim through and we all picked it up very quickly. I normally hate open scoring as it slows games down, but in games this short it is bearable. Unfortunately my two friends over-analyse terribly, so it took 90 minutes. I may buy some new batteries for my “G8 Game Timer”:http://www.thegamesjournal.com/reviews/G8GameTimer.shtml. Recommended if you like games like China.

Please forgive the horrible photo, but there are no *free* photos at the BoardGameGeek. Not sure if it is just because my phone’s camera lens is scratched or if there is something wrong with the software or hardware internals.

Sternenhimmel photo

Dungeon Crawl

Dungeon Crawl screenshot

My netbook refuses to run almost all modern games, largely because of its 1024×576 screen resolution. Most games from the mid-90s onwards tend to demand 800×600. Old “roguelike”:https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Roguelike games run on it fine, as they come from the distant past, so I have been playing “Dungeon Crawl”:http://crawl.develz.org/wordpress/ on the “recommendation of Troy Goodfellow”:http://flashofsteel.com/index.php/2010/11/17/comfort-games/.

I have never played a roguelike before so there has been a bit of an adjustment. Dungeon Crawl is basically a fast RPG with minimal graphics and zero plot but played with a high-score mentality. I have played it many times over the last few days and have never come close to finishing it or even hitting the mid-game. Apparently most are this tough. Nethack, the most famous roguelike, is even nastier.

Troy’s blog post points out that there is not too much strategic though required but that Dungeon Crawl requires you stay engaged or you will come a cropper. In this way at least it’s similar to computer solitaire or Minesweeper.

I can’t say I am now hooked on roguelikes, but I now know what people are talking about and I have a decent game to pass time with on my netbook.

Please let me know of any decent Ubuntu-compatible, offline-play and netbook resolution friendly games I can try. It’s a narrow list.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game

“Chris”:http://twitter.com/ctd and his son Raphael came over last night to play “Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/77130/sid-meiers-civilization-the-board-game. (Why did they have to give this game such a long name and one that is exactly the same as a 2002 game that no one liked? What about Sid Meier’s Civilization V or even just Civilization V?) We had four very enjoyable hours playing it. Apparently it usually takes about an hour per player.

My patience for long efficiency-engine boardgames has worn very thin, but SMC:tBG has the huge advantage of familiarity. I recently played a full game of Civilization IV on my PC and this boardgame is close enough to make learning much easier.

Michael Barnes wrote a pretty negative review of SMC:tBG, calling it a “heartlessly efficient process-driven machine”:http://www.gameshark.com/features/782/Cracked-LCD-177-Sid-Meier%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%84%A2s-Civilization-Review.htm. He says:

bq. If what you are looking for is the mechanics of CIVILZATION more or less faithfully reproduced as a board game, this may be a game for you. I would be inclined to steer anyone so interested toward games where the designers have explored the CIV idea rather than bringing its literal gameplay to the tabletop.

That’s harsh. SMC:tBG does what it says on the tin and does it well. It is forgiving and accessible, unlike Through the Ages. I actually downgraded my rating of Through the Ages after playing SMC:tBG.

I would like to play again. Three players is probably best, just due to the length of the game, but four would be more directly confrontational.

2010 Video Games

This year I bought a new PC and I have been enjoying getting back into PC games. These days I mostly blather on “Twitter”:http://twitter.com/icheyne, but here are some longer-form thoughts.

PC games have suffered in recent years, I suspect mainly because piracy pushed marketing money towards consoles and because laptop graphics are weak. There has been a recent renaissance due to digital distribution. It’s trivially easy to download games from “Steam”:http://store.steampowered.com or its competitors like “GamersGate”:http://www.gamersgate.co.uk and prices have fallen drastically. Also hardware requirements have fallen and PCs are cheaper, so you can play pretty much anything on a £400 desktop PC.

Some recommendations:
* “Team Fortress 2”:http://store.steampowered.com/sub/469/ for multiplayer shooting. I *love* this game. Be warned – it’s very competitive. Quake Live is free…
* “Bioshock 2”:http://store.steampowered.com/app/7670/ for a creepy first person shooter – too scary for me.
* “Mass Effect 2”:http://store.steampowered.com/app/24980/ for a sci-fi shooter with RPG elements.
* “League of Legends”:http://www.leagueoflegends.com/ for an online real-time strategy game. It’s free, so worth a try.
* “Civilization IV”:http://store.steampowered.com/app/3900/ for slow, intricate empire building.
* “World of Goo”:http://2dboy.com/games.php for a casual puzzle
* “Batman: Arkham Asylum”:http://store.steampowered.com/app/35140/ for a beautiful adventure/brawler. Plays best with an Xbox 360 gamepad.
* “Torchlight”:http://store.steampowered.com/app/41500/ for an action RPG, similar to Diablo, but more accessible.

Watch “Gametrailers”:http://gametrailers.com for video reviews.
Check “Can You Run It”:http://cyri.systemrequirementslab.com/cyri/ to see if it will work before you buy.
Read “Rock Paper Shotgun”:http://www.rockpapershotgun.com for news and reviews.
Buy a copy of PC gamer and build the PC Gamer Rig. It’s an £800 PC, but it’ll last for years and do anything you want.
Ready “SavyGamer”:http://savygamer.co.uk/category/deals/pc/ for bargain games. Generally only mentions decent games.