The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

I finished The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s a noble failure. Best graphics I have ever seen. They perfected a new technique that translates photographs of environments into game art. They call it revolutionary and I can’t argue.


The problem is not with the story. It’s well written and solidly delivered, with reasonable voice acting.

The flaw is the game itself. At the start they state that the game doesn’t hold your hand, which is just a disclaimer for bad game design. They wanted to have an open-world, but they failed to explain what to do. You will almost certainly have to backtrack to the start of the game once you realise the right approach. Small spoiler: at the start of the game there are several man traps if you go off the path. Do not do the natural, intuitive thing and stay on the path. Find every man trap, even though the game doesn’t give you any explanation why you would want to. It’s typical of the opaque game design and it’s not the worst example. I had to resort to a walkthrough to finish, in other words the game failed me.

It seems a game with a linear story requires a linear structure to frame it. I’d rather play Dear Esther, even though it’s not quite as pretty and the story is far less sophisticated.

Having said that, if you can get the game cheaply, it is still worth buying simply to experience the environment. I kept stabbing F12 to take screenshots.


Before the Wind

Before the Wind last night was good.

It is themed around captains loading their ships with goods before the wind changes.

There are three types of action cards. In order:

  1. Take goods
  2. Pay money to load goods into warehouses
  3. Loading onto ships and gain victory points OR take money

The start player chooses as many action cards as there are players.

In turn, players choose from the action cards, or bid for an action card that an opponent has already taken. The opponent can accept the bid money or pay the bid to keep the action card. Both players then take no more part in action card selection.

Around the table, players play their action cards to buy goods then load them into warehouses and then load them onto ships.

When only two ships are left, the fleet sails and all goods left in hand and some in warehouses are lost.

Play continues until a player reaches the victory point target and wins.

Unfortunately, a crucial rule was missed in the Mayfair English rules: once you pick an action card, you cannot bid on others. We discussed this for 10 minutes before we figured it out.

It is an interesting game, especially when you pick and bid on action cards. There is plenty of scope for meddling with each others plans without overt aggression or catch the leader. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. The art is lovely. My only reservations are the rulebook error above and that it may be too long. I’d like to experiment with playing to a lower victory point target.

High Frontier

I played “High Frontier”: a while ago with Peter Haslehurst and friends, but real life got in the way of blogging. Hard-working Peter got his “thoughts”: down quickly. The recent “Ludology interview with Phil Eklund”: was superb and inspired me to get my thoughts down.

After playing High Frontier, Peter’s initial reaction was that it was like the German games revolution never happened. Any game with eight pages of core rules, that still takes seven hours for four pretty hardcore gamers, including two hours of explanation, has hardly been influenced by Settlers of Catan.

Amazingly Phil Eklund said in Ludology that he has been assimilated by the German gaming revolution and pares down his designs from complicated drafts. Don’t believe a word of it – at least if you’re thinking of trying High Frontier. It is an amazing design – in the same way that a 20-minute guitar solo is amazing. Definitely an acquired taste – especially the the rule that lets the Chinese jettison their crews.

I’m not the only one who struggled:
* “Boardgames in Blighty”:
* “Games Night News”:
* “I’ve Been Diced!”:

The last is a podcast describing the game in detail. There’s a moment when one guy is rendered speechless when he’s told they were playing the game with a few rules significantly wrong. Priceless.

All grumpiness aside, if you like simulations and space more than me, you will agree with “Michael Barnes”: and “Paul Evans”:

Check out this Essen preview. Phil Eklund’s reaction, at the end, to HF being described as a sci-fi game is the highlight:

I *would* like to play again, but as a two-player game to save time and there’s hardly any player interaction anyway. I’d also like to take notes, as there’s too much for this newbie to keep in his head. If I can avoid running out of fuel at the far end of the solar system, there’s far more chance of me enjoying it.

Games for young children

I was asked for kids games recommendations for a four year old. I have played quite a few, mostly two player, games with my daughter, who is now 6 and a half. Most of the these are fine for the very youngest kids, especially if you adapt the rules:

* Viva Topo! – Clever little race game. Not as good as I thought it would be. Probably better with more.
* Snail’s Pace Race – Totally non-confrontational and very simple, which is very important for their first multiplayer games.
* Schildkrötenrennen – Good, Knizia racing game. You have to keep secret which is your racing tortoise, which is a struggle for very young kids.
* Rüsselbande – Alex Randolph. I prefer Schildkrötenrennen.
* Piratissimo – Nice components, but this race game takes too long and has almost zero skill. Nevertheless my kids often ask for it.
* Monkey Madness – Works for the youngest kids. Small and simple. Highly recommended.
* The Kids of Carcassonne – Quite good, but you might as well buy regular Carcassonne and play simplified rules.
* The Kids of Catan – Beautiful components and simple enough for the youngest kids, but large and pricey.
* Happy Families – My kids love playing with me and my wife. The oldest designs are usually famous for a reason.
* Gulo Gulo – Not quite as good as it’s rated. The core dexterity game is great, but the game surrounding it isn’t so good.
* Giro Galoppo – A great first racing game.
* Flinke Flitzer – Fine for the youngest kids.
* Enuk – Inelegant game design. Not recommended.
* Elefun – Lovely dexterity game. Excellent, but you’ll lose all the floating shapes.
* Click Clack – Excellent for very young children. Beautiful components. Vast, poorly made box. My kids love it – even though I’ve had enough.
* Chateau Roquefort – Another inelegant design. Probably better with more than two.
* Chicken Cha Cha Cha – Excellent memory game. I played this with a few friends and they want to buy it for the kids in their lives.
* Capt’n John – Not much of a game.
* Buckaroo – Old favourite. More of a toy.
* Barnyard Critters – Stressful speed game. My daughter suggests this, but she nearly blows her top when she’s playing.
* Au Backe! – OK memory game, with lovely art, but a bit clumsy. Chicken Cha Cha Cha is better.
* Let’s Catch the Lion! – Lovely introduction to Shogi/Chess. My girl likes it, but it’s a challenge.
* Loopin Louie – Excellent dexterity game, but we lost all the plastic coins within a month.
* “Piccobello”: – Lovely little game for the youngest children. Highly recommended.
* “Wooly Bully”: – Played this a couple of days ago with my daughter. Not bad but better with four.
* “Villa Paletti”: – My kids enjoyed this very much. Jenga but more interesting.

Was Sticht

I played “Was Sticht?”:, from “Mü & Lots More”: last night with my in-laws and Duncan. It was a great choice. My in-laws are lapsed Bridge players. Everyone abused me for refusing to play Bridge, but they picked Was Sticht up really quickly and we all had fun.

Was Sticht plays like a regular trick taking game, but each hand you try to complete a goal. For example:
* take the last trick
* take no blue cards, but at least one trick
* take no tricks

At the start of the game you all pick four goals. The first to complete them wins.

Four suits, values 1-9. Trump suit and trump *number* are random each hand. Trump number outranks suit.

Each hand takes a while to play. Our game had only five hands in total.


# Dealer peeks at the trump suit and the trump number.
# Dealer lays out all the cards.
# Players take one card each.
# Dealer says which player would have won the “hand”, so players can deduce the trumps.
# Repeat previous two steps until all hands dealt.
# Dealer reveals trumps.
# Players select one of their goal cards. Dealer does not pick a goal card, but tries to make one of the goals of the other players.
# Play hand like a regular trick taking game, except that number trumps can be played at any time.
# All players who reach their goals discard a goal card.

First player to discard all goal cards wins.

The problem is that Was Sticht is too lucky relative to the complexity. The selection of cards and deduction of trumps is interesting, but actually doesn’t matter too much in practice because you don’t know which goals your opponents will pick. I would definitely play again, as the whole experience is fun, but explaining it to new player’s is not.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus-Ex: HR Trooper achievement for finishing game

I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution this morning. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a serious game with a serious point.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all about choice. You can fight, creep, hack or even talk your way through problems. The stealth gameplay was the best part of the game. The worst was the boss fights which cannot be bypassed but pretty much require fighting upgrades (cybernetic augmentations) to complete. My advice is to use the Typhoon augmentation wherever possible and read a “walkthrough”: without guilt.

The plot is very strong, building upon the original Deus Ex (PC Gamer’s best game ever). It can be hard to follow, but even the least engaged player will understand that Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s theme are the moral questions of cybernetics. Once you finish the game, or if you never intend to finish the game, read Kieron Gillen’s thoughts. He’s right – it’s all about DRM.

In my original reading, before I played the game, the word cyberpunk was not mentioned once – despite the hero having cybernetic arms and mirrorshades straight out of Neuromancer. Either the writers were too young to have read Wiliam Gibson or seen Bladerunner, or more likely it’s just an old-fashioned word.

If you have an Xbox 360, Mac or PC you owe this game to yourself. PC gamers should note that this is not a clumsy 360 port, if only because mouse movement feels natural.

Finally, why does a guy with cybernetic arms need weights in his apartment?


Two plays of “Thunderstone”: tonight.

Combined scores were:
# Duncan 15 + 32 = 47
# Iain 19 + 17 = 36
# Rafa 13 + 22 = 35
# Chris 15 + 19 = 34

It was fun, but I got a headache from reading small text at a distance in bad light.

I was impressed by the difference in feel between each play. There is very little waiting around for others as you always have something to think about. Thunderstone grabs me much more than Dominion, which felt very dry. The rules felt a little convoluted for the style of game. We printed out some revised rules from BGG, which seemed to help.

I’d like to play again. 7/10