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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Game Play: Neuroshima Hex! (Board game)

A small Game Night got organized and we got a chance to play a couple games of Neuroshima Hex!, a game I first wrote about two years ago after reading an excellent review over at BoardGameGeek.

The review does a fine job of explaining the game, but in short: hexagonal based strategy game where players draw from a shuffled deck of tiles and place them in turn. You can place units anywhere - there is no set "place, move, attack" phase setup so common in most games. Battles only occur when a player uses a battle tile and then the combat occurs across the entire board at once. Units with the same initiative point their guns at each other generally kill each other. The goal of the game is to cause more injury to the others' HQ than you sustain on your own

One of the more impressive aspects of the game is the army design. Each army is unique, has a set of special units, and feel. Your unit summary card even has suggested tactics. Balance is still maintained, though, with the real trick being learning how to play to your army's strengths.

Neuroshima Hex has a reputation for being confusing in some circles, but I think that's a little unwarranted. Now granted, the edition we have has some advantages some previous gamers didn't have. For instance, the rules are printed in English. Also, there's a section in the rules clarifying certain scenarios. I read the rules over before starting, we made a few mistakes the first game but more or less got the hang of it quickly.

This edition has some pretty fine production quality (it even takes some of the suggestions in the original BGG review into account). There are even baggies included to keep the army tiles together.

Highly, highly recommend. My only critique is that I wouldn't buy into the "30 minute" play time indicated on the box. Maybe with 2 experienced players it can get that fast, but plan on spending some quiet time plotting out your moves.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fallout 3: Retrospective

This post will be pretty much nothing but spoilers.

Finished Fallout 3 last night, which disappointingly ends the game definitively for the character. It's actually a bit jarring because for a game which prides itself on open ended designs and providing the player with choices - you really don't get many choices. Basically you can sacrifice yourself or be a jerk and have another character do it. Specifically one character, which doesn't make much sense since there's a decent likelihood that you have access to a character which could survive the radiation blast - Fawkes or Charon. Since ghouls are healed by radiation, Charon could have possibly turned into some kind of superghoul from the blast...

It's an annoyance because I know there are locations in the game I haven't found and I'd like to wander some more - so I'm probably going to pick up an old save to do just that. It's just a nuisance, not to mention a bit of an unsatisfactory end to the story. First, Dad didn't have to die. Sorry, but I could torn every Enclave soldier to pieces with my Fisto! before breaking a sweat. So Dad dies in a kinda falsely martyr like way - and then I kinda get forced to do the same? Gip.

Especially taking into account that the MC in FO3 is what - 18? 19? I know the Wasteland is harsh, but wouldn't somebody have thought of stopping me from certain death?

I don't have any real interest in playing the game over as a new character, though part of that is having been forced to restart it three times. As some point it might be interesting to try the "stealth" or "barter" approach, just because I'd see it as a challenge. I ended the game more or less as a tank. I think I had something like 20 DR before armor, and with the Ranger Armor fully repaired I could walk into a room full of plasma fire and it would cost me about a stimpack. I began and ended the game with Fisto! as one of my most effective weapons - The Girl was pleased to see Col. Autumn's head pop off with a single punch.

I do wish Sony would get the DLC packs - but considering the hours I've spent so far in the game, and the hours I could spend just finishing up exploring, I'm more or less OK with it. FEAR 2 is coming up, Godfather II is coming up, I still need to play more LittleBigPlanet and I'd like to try Resistance 2 at some point as well - so truth be told the Fallout 3 DLC is in about the same camp as the GTA IV DLC. It would be nice, but its not like I don't have other stuff to play.

All in all though, such a fantastic game. I know some Fallout fans would disagree, but some Fallout fans complained about Fallout 2, so what can you do. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a brand new turn-based more traditional RPG set in the universe as well, but Bethesda has added a very welcome addition to the franchise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Microsoft and Sony, feeling the burn

It seems both Sony and Microsoft are making cutbacks in the billions, with Microsoft slashing jobs and Sony probably eyeing whole divisions with a bit of stink eye. A gaming perspective would suggest that this is probably because they're both getting spanked by Nintendo, but that doesn't seem to really fit reality.

It seems that both fates are more tied to recession related downturns to other consumer products. Microsoft has had a PR nightmare with Vista and that has been coupled with the recent trend to smaller, cheaper computers (name Netbooks) which run better off XP even when Vista's having a good day. Unlike the previous generation, the 360 is actually something of a bright spot for Microsoft's bottom line.

Sony's big problem is the slow adoption of HDTV's, something I've talked about to length as a factor in demographics for both the 360 and the PS3. So in some ways, the PlayStation 3 is more involved here - but it's a little complicated. One might suggest that a more popular console would result in better upselling of HDTV's. If everyone wanted a PS3, everyone would want an HDTV (if they didn't already have one). But that doesn't mean they want a Sony HDTV. More people want an Olevia, not a Bravia.

And both of these items - Vista and HDTV's - are huge investments for the companies. Sony at least has the diversification to change focus if they want, Microsoft has to deal with Windows 7 no matter what.

For gamers, though, I think the story remains pretty much the same. Sony needs to fix their software, Microsoft needs to fix their hardware and Nintendo needs to stop trying to sell me white plastic things.

TV Watch: Lost, The Lie

Lost is at interesting crossroads. The show should be setting up the closing acts at this point - but this isn't something that Lost is particularly good at. Lost is a show which has gotten a lot of mileage teasing the audience, although in recent seasons it was running out of gas with that tactic.

Bringing the story lines out of the flashbacks and into the flashforwards helped bring fresh ideas into the plot, so what we should be watching for is whether the flashforwards will likewise run out steam and the climax will feel something like a cymbals clash, or if we're going to get a tightly group ending which will bring the entire show together.

After seeing The Lie I'm not entirely certain which I'd place a bet on.

For one thing, the flashforwards already feel a little weird. Three years is a decent chunk of time, and one one end we have Locke and company time jumping around and on the other we have Ben and company trying to get the band back together. Where until this point we had a basic question - why does anyone want to return to the island, now we ... well we have the same question but about half the characters seem sold on the idea anyway.

This doesn't really concern me too much, as the concept of a general pull back to the island for Hurley and Jack isn't much of a stretch in the overall scheme for the show and the writers have given us some pretty good material for fleshing out the characters a little more. I'm even good with Jack just wanting to go back because he's a sad drunk and Hurley because he won't feel as insane.

It doesn't go far in explaining as to why if they all won't make it back, "God help us all", but that's the tease the show is still building anyway.

Our time travelling island crew gives us a decent amount of fan appeal and gives the writers to start splicing that three year gap pretty much how they want. Faraday is rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters on the show. He's appealing but flawed and gives the viewer a kind of advocate that they sorely need.

I mean damn, someone finally stopped in the jungle and explained something. I nearly cried.

I wonder where Jacob went on all this, but I kind of wonder if Locke hasn't been somewhat "Jacobized", and I'm guessing we'll know more as we get closer to his "death". We seem to have a kind of backhanded explanation to the "whispers" from previous seasons - people being displaced in time creating a kind of temporal doppler effect. My guess is that will slide into explaining the problem with say, Kate's horse, or a Sahara polar bear. Or even Adam and Eve (which two Losties do we think that might be?)

A thumbs up from me, looking forward to the rest of this season. I'm still afraid that the show will leave huge swaths of details by the wayside - but I think they're heading for an ending that is at least interesting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Katharine Fletcher Signs Off

This hasn't been the greatest start to a new year. Work crazy, getting sick, broken PlayStation 3's.

And I finally catch up on my podcasts to find this:

That's the tribute to ChannelFlip's Katharine Fletcher, who was hands down my fave gaming video personality on the planet. There was no doubt that she was the real deal, a gamer at heart and - I say this as a compliment ... a huge dork. Anyone willing to dress up as various characters to spice up a piece deserves a spot in the pantheon, if you ask me. Katharine got into the meat of the games she reviewed and I enjoyed listening to them even if they were games I had played, finished and already put away.

Hard to find out much information, but it seems she's off for higher learning. I wish she'd fire up a blog at the very least, because if I can't see her enjoy these games - I'd at least like to know what she thinks about them.

Good luck, Katharine. Drop us fans in the states a line if you ever get a chance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For Sunday: Ninja Cat

Remember, cats aren't just jerks - they're sneaky jerks.

TV Watch: Leverage

We were big fans of Hustle when it first kicked off, but suffice to say I wasn't too sad to see the show go after Adrian Lester left season four. I have yet to see this mythical season five, so maybe it redeemed itself.

Fortunately I don't really have to wait. Leverage is an American flavored Hustle with a dash of A-Team thrown in for color. The premise is altered, although only slightly since cons in either show were generally done against "bad" people. The music is the same, as well as many editing riffs to perform reveals to the audience. Both shows, when they're at their best, pull off the concept of a heist movie in the sense that the viewer is always being a little conned as well.

There is some artful dodging of plot holes at times, but the cast and writing keeps the show extremely solid. Angel fans will enjoy seeing Christian Kane getting some work (he also provides music apparently) and Coupling watchers will recognize Gina Bellman.

Easily recommend, even if it's unlikely to sport a Bollywood scene.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Game Play: Flock (PS3)

I don't remember when I first heard Flock being mentioned but something about alien abduction is generally going to perk my interest when it comes across my desk. Flock is an upcoming PSN title which has you stealing animals with your spacecraft. The concept is more or less a puzzle based herding game. Animals are scared of your UFO's beam and need to move them towards your mothership for delivery.

It's a great premise, but the implementation was a bit so-so for me. Maybe my expectations for the game were different, thinking that being an alien abductor might involve a sense of power - but for the most part the game seems to focus on being somewhat powerless. You can add romance your sheep's lives to make little sheep, which I found kinda entertaining until I accidentally dumped the entire family into a large whole oddly left on the farm.

The graphics and overall presentation are wonderfully cute and cartoonish. There's a lot of quality production here, but I'm not sure the core game mechanics sold me. It wasn't like The Last Guy or PAIN in that sense.

Still, grab the demo and tractor beam a few sheep to see for yourself. If the puzzles grab you, you'll like it.

Game Play: FEAR 2 Demo (PS3)

I loaded up the FEAR 2 demo last night and am going to frame a brief review by saying that I was in one of those "tired but can't sleep" kinda modes, which frankly probably wasn't the best introduction into the game.

There's a lot of good to be had here, and I can definitely recommend at least trying out the demo. I understand there were some frame rate issues with the first FEAR and the PS3, but what I saw was a downright gorgeous rendering of a broken down world filled with murderous soldiers. Since this is FEAR we're talking about, quite a few spooky scenes will pop up at you as well and whether you'll be scared or not is probably a personal matter, the effects are quite well handled and fun.

Short version: this is one of the most graphically impressive titles I've seen on a console.

And this world is dense - rooms are filled with items as a whole squad of goons will kick over tables to get you. At times, I kinda felt like it was almost information overload. Am I supposed to react to that flickering light or was it just a spooky sideshow?

The demo makes it a bit hard to catch the drift of WTF is going on, and I never saw the ending of the first FEAR - so I'm not sure if that will be mandatory reading to get the plot or not. I want another go with the demo when I'm good and rested (which might not be until March), but the game is certainly either a buy or rental for me right now.