Thoughts on Tomb of Annihilation

Tomb of Annihilation is one of the other games I was gifted around my birthday, and I finally got around to trying it this weekend. It released fairly recently and I recall seeing it in my discovery queue on Steam and adding it to my wishlist. That was all I really knew about the title — it was based on a D&D campaign/board game, and it appeared to be fairly standard isometric RPG faire. It turns out that my original assessment was fairly spot on, but I would add that it is a turn-based strategy game, so I’d compare it more closely to something like Final Fantasy Tactics rather than Baldur’s Gate. Instead of freely roaming or clicking to move, you will be restricted to moving within a tile and then passing turn so that new tiles can be discovered. You move more freely as things begin to open up, but some cramped corridors littered with traps can prove to be time consuming. As you begin the game, you’ll pass through a tutorial as with most games.

This is pretty straight forward, but the tutorial does a good job of explaining the nuance of the game, which includes a set of phases between each characters’ actions. Villains move during their phase. One of your heroes will move per Hero phase. The Exploration phase happens after you end a turn with a hero, at which time if they are standing next to the edge of the current tile, a new adjacent one will be discovered. Lastly, the Encounter phase is a random dice roll after each turn that will either help or harm you. These can be avoided with Adrenaline or certain spells. You can only perform one move and one action per turn, or move twice the normal distance, so you have to think through your strategy as you go, and it becomes a pattern of rhythmic button clicking similar to the likes of Diablo, though much slower paced. Leveling up happens across all four characters, though you don’t have access to them all immediately. As you level you earn chests and materials to craft new gear for the crew. It’s nothing too drastic, and there isn’t any RMT factored in either, though the DLC packs give a nice chunk of gold and a few legendary items to make the beginning of the game pretty easy going.

After the tutorial you’ll head out on new missions. Some are story related, and others a little side quests. All follow the same fashion, you’ll open up the map piece by piece and complete objectives at which point the mission will end and you will return to the map. You’ll fight bosses along the way and things will get messy. If you don’t have the legendary items boost, I imagine you’ll have some difficulties with certain encounters. Each map comes with separate difficulties, so I imagine later on you’ll want to play them again on harder levels to get increased rewards. The map is fairly big, about two times the size of this photo:

The main quest appears to head south in a straight line, with the side quests (in blue) sprinkled about, though they appear to be completely optional. There seems to be quite a bit of area that isn’t being used, but that means one of two things: There will be some sort of additional content added to the game at a later date, or perhaps more is added later on as you progress. I guess there’s a third option too, where it just is what it is and that’s okay too. I feel like you’ll enjoy the game if you like this sort of turn-based endeavor, are a fan of D&D or simply like slower paced RPGs. If taking your time and strolling through this title doesn’t sound appealing, then maybe look elsewhere. Either way for the money being asked ($16, $12 on sale right now) it’s worth taking a look.

Early Access Gem: Shardbound

Games that combine multiple genres into one are becoming a trend, don’t you think? We’ve had plenty of CCGs developed over the years, both in physical and digital form. Tactical, turn-based games are also nothing new, with various iterations spanning multiple generations of consoles and PCs. We can come up with many examples of genre-bending or melding just in the last few years, with standouts like MOBAs and the new Hero Shooter genre taking center stage. The free to play model itself has also gone through various iterations, though the lockbox has taken precedence, and despite these differing costs to speed up progress, typically you can play the full game without spending anything at all (at least with the fair developers).

Enter Shardbound. A free to play title that has a cash shop, that is a combination of CCG and tactics, that sounds like it would be a little on the weird side but works fairly well. In the above picture you can see a bit of everything, and that will allow me to explain. So, just like Hearthstone and other CCGs, you’ll have a deck of cards to take with you into battle. You also have a Hero unit. This unit will have its own special ability, along with being a representation of your life total. They start with 25, and if they die it’s game over, no matter how many minions you have left standing. Like Hearthstone, you’ll get one mana per turn. More like Magic: The Gathering, cards have various effects and you can play from your graveyard. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force et al, you’ll be using turn based tactics to eliminate the enemy. That’s the main gist of it. The tutorial will do a better job explaining things than I just did, but if you’ve played any of the games I’ve mentioned here you will likely understand things rather quickly.

Deckbuilding looks like fun. You’ll use a hero and their color cards (think class specific cards) and then flesh out your deck with various neutral cards. I rather enjoyed the purple deck, being graveyard focused. Some of the Heroes feel better than others, but their decks tend to make up for their own shortcomings. As of now the game is in Early Access so it has a bunch of temporary artwork and is definitely not complete but it is very playable in this state.

The game provided me with 30 chests right off the bat. In them, I received cards of different rarities, and that seems just about the norm. Buying chests seems a little steep and probably unnecessary at this point, but the welcome pack comes with another 30 chests for $5, so that’s not bad. I’m sure you will have ways to earn or craft the cards as well as the game is further developed.

 The interface is nicely done. Rather than having a series of menus, the devs decided it would be cooler to have your character represented by a space ship, and a series of floating islands represent the various menus. You have a home base of sorts, where you can train, build you deck, buy stuff and form a “house” which I assume is just like a clan. From there you fly to other “shards” where the PvP battles take place. I did well in my first couple of fights but there is definitely a learning curve as to how all of the mechanics work. Overall though, I think this one is worth checking out!

Codex of Victory

Another gem to come out of left field, Codex of Victory melds several different strategy game elements into a fairly successful formula. A low poly, semi-anime style romp, the campaign boasts 20+ hours of gameplay, of which I’ve experienced a handful of missions, but the core gameplay has made itself known.

Combining three core game modes, there are elements of Real Time Strategy, 4x, and Turn Based Strategy rolled into one game. The majority of your time will be spent on the field of combat, which will be different configuration each time, but will encompass the TBS and RTS portion of the game.

You’ll find yourself on a grid based landscape, where action points (or AP) will be spent to both build units and to perform actions with said units. You’ll capture additional points of interest to gain more AP, and with that AP you’ll decimate the enemy. From there, you’ll spend some time building your base along with upgrading your units between battles.

After sufficiently preparing for the next battle, you’ll jump on the mission screen and fly to the next tactical strike point, completing missions and earning resources to build more stuff along the way.

Clearly the latter two portions of the game cover the 4x strategic requirements by picking up new territories and plotting attacks for various resources. The latter two portions also remind me the most of games like XCOM, but still feel right at home mixed with the other portions of the game. Honestly I’m surprised it works due to the various directions the dev team decided to go in, but it does feel just right. It’s not overly convoluted, not overly focused on graphics or storyline, is easy to pick up and feels appropriately difficult. For fans of really any genre of strategy games, you’ll find something to like here. It’s a $15 price tag on Steam unless you catch a sale (current sale is for $12) and is definitely worth it, should you be looking for something easy to jump into for a cheap price. That’s my two cents, anyway.

Civ + Magic = Warlock

In case you are living under a rock, the Humble Bundle Store is having a sale. Well, actually they’re not the only ones, GOG.com is also having a sale, but they’re for different reasons. GOG is turning 6, while Humble is just using the end of summer as an excuse to discount items, and that’s great for anyone who uses the services. I’m highlighting the Humble Store Sale though, because as a part of the promotion they are also giving away a free game each Monday until the 22nd. Yesterday the free game was a title from 2012 called Warlock – Master of the Arcane. The time limit has expired for getting the game for free, but you can still get it for 80% off at $3.99, and by my count it’s worth that. Was even better for free. There’s still two more Mondays to go, so mark your calenders and get free stuff!

So what is Warlock all about? In short, just like this post title: Civ + Magic = Warlock. It’s Civilization in a high fantasy setting. Those of you who have played it, bear with me, there’s more to it than that. That’s just the easiest way to describe the game so just about anyone would understand.

For starters, the game setup. It’s basically what you would expect from a Civ game. Pick your character (in this case, Mage, but small variations on the same sort of leader theme from Civ), pick your world size, pick the difficulty, and that’s about it. Once the game is loaded, you’ll have a starting city, a territory ring around it, a couple of units to move around and a couple of buildings pre made. Rather than having the buildings as part of the main city, this game utilizes the hex spaces for building placement, so no workers are needed to build improvements. Improvements for existing buildings come in the form of building a more advanced form of that type of building. Units are created in the same way as Civ games. Resources you manage are gold, food, mana and research. The first two should be obvious, while mana is for casting spells and the research is used for researching new spells. Units come from buildings, not further research of technology. Spells can be used in a variety of ways, for healing or damage, buffing, etc. As long as you have mana you can cast spells, but it is a finite resource and also relies on a cooldown from what I’ve seen. So it’s a strategic resource to say the least. Look at this picture and tell me you aren’t instantly reminded of Civilization games:

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I know that there are multiple win conditions, but honestly it feels like a simplified Civ 5, if you include all of the systems from that game’s expansions. It really feels made for the type of Civ player I am, the warmonger. There isn’t happiness to worry about, so before I knew it I was building new towns and capturing neutral ones. That’s another feature that is different, where Civ has barbarians, this game has monsters of varying types and strengths. Their burrows/dens/etc can be captured for gold, so that is the same. The neutral towns serve the spot of city-states, but it doesn’t matter if you take them over, the other mages won’t bother you (at least, they haven’t to this point). The only interaction I’ve had with another mage was that he keeps demanding I give him gold, and for whatever reason there isn’t a way to negotiate these terms. You’re literally give the option to either pay up or declare war. There’s no “no thank you” decline option, or “yeah sure I’ll give you some gold in exchange for…” which is rather annoying. Thankfully once I declared war and didn’t actually attack, he made peace in a few turns.

So far I’ve just been researching and expanding, and clearing out the monster camps that spawn. I see myself just trying to kill everything in sight while continuing to build an empire, so I’ll let you know how that goes. As of right now, my empire has expanded to this point:

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I actually built the two to the right, and the one to the left was a neutral town that I captured. The red outline on the right is my rival, and I haven’t seen any others just yet. I had fun with the game from what I’ve played so far, but the lack of depth is a good and bad thing. Like I said, it caters to my warmonger side, and that’s all well and good, but some of the subsystems from Civilization 5 along with some of the polish would have been nice. However, for a change of pace 4x game, it’s rather good. There’s a sequel that released earlier this year, and I think I’ll pick that one up as well when the time comes. It’s on sale too for $14.99 via Humble, if you want to get both at the same time.

If you managed to get it let me know and we’ll get a multiplayer game going. I think it would be fun to try out.

#warlockmota #humble #4x #turnbasedstrategy

 

My 5 Tips for Hearthstone

A few days ago, J3w3l of Healing the Masses wrote a piece on Hearthstone, which you can view here. This was obviously a satirical piece, so the tips therein aren’t exactly tips rather than her observations about the depths of multiplayer depravity. Or something to that effect; you can read her post for the lulz. I am taking some inspiration from it though, and writing this post giving you my 5 cents as it were. So here are my top 5 tips for those interested in jumping into Hearthstone:

Card Advantage is Key

Initially while building my decks, I was focusing on packing in the best cards, but not really paying attention to much else. Sometimes that meant passing over cards that didn’t seem very powerful because all they were was a weak creature or damage spell that allowed you to draw a card. I suppose part of the problem was that I started playing the Warlock and so I always had the ability to draw more cards. I underestimated the power of these kinds of cards though, because despite only being a 1/1 creature who’s battlecry is “draw a card,” this not only gives you a minion or spell advantage, but also extra cards in your hand. I started having bad luck with the Warlock because many of his cards required you to discard. Soon, you have no cards in your hand, and you can’t counter with spells or put minions out if you don’t have the cards. When I retooled some of my decks keeping all of the cards that allowed for the drawing of more, my win percentage increased dramatically. I’m sure there’s other viable ways of building decks, but as a new player, this is a huge benefit. Card advantage is when you have more cards than your opponent. This is maintained by drawing more cards, and managing your hand, which leads me to my next tip:

Be Patient

Having a card advantage is good for when your opponent tries to snowball and plays a large combo leaving them with fewer cards in their hand, allowing you to control the tides of battle. This will be further skewed when you are continuously drawing more cards than them, and maintaining table control. This is when most people will concede, or the game will play out in your victory. But, before getting to that point when the tides will be swayed in one direction or the other, you have to be patient. Throwing everything you have out there too soon can leave your opponent with the card advantage, and can leave you with little option for countering or combo-ing. Prioritize damaging your enemy early on with hero powers and cost effective spells/creatures, save the good stuff for later.

Balance Your Deck

To prioritize early damage to your opponent, you will need a balance in your deck, but also a balance in your initial hand. If you initially draw a hand full of cards that require 4+ mana to cast, you won’t be able to use them for a while, so it’s best to put those cards back and draw new ones. You only get one mulligan, so choose wisely. A good way to ensure that you will get some low cost cards in your starting hand is to make sure that you have several cards that are low cost, from 4 mana down. About half of the 30 cards in your deck are going to be class specific, and the other half +- are neutral cards. Most classes have cards that are low cost, and high utility, so these will help, but often times they are only spells and not creatures, so you will need to balance those out as well with neutral cards. Most of my decks have a theme (hunter has mostly beast creatures, cleric/druid have creatures with heal or procs from heals, etc) but I won’t hesitate to add something to the deck that doesn’t go with the theme for the sake of filling a need. I’m sure further iterations of the game will add in more cards so that you can keep strictly to a theme, but for now this is what we have. Basically, you don’t want to front load your deck with too many low cost cards because towards the end game you won’t have the big minions/spells to finish off your opponent (or their big ass minions). You also don’t want to have too many of the high cost cards because then you’ll never have the mana to cast them, because you’ll already be dead ten turns in.

Know When to Concede

After following the above tips, you should be able to win more games. However, you will still face adversity, and many games you will seemingly know that you are doomed to fail. Let me give you an example: You are playing as a Paladin against a Hunter. You have two cards in your hand, a 1/1 creature that with charge, and a spell that does 2 damage to a target. You have one creature on the table, a 5/6 with taunt. You have 7 health remaining, your opponent is sitting at 15, with three creatures who’s attack total more than 13. You can’t prevent death in this scenario, so you can concede, or let your opponent kill you anyway. This is an acceptable time to concede, and I would encourage you to do so. Some games are over before they start, and most of the time it’s due to your starting hand. There are going to be times where it is impossible to know whether or not you will win, but the above “obvious death” scenario isn’t staring you in the face, and yet you feel like you are on the losing track. Some people have decks that speedily whittle down your health, and it seems like they will continue, but other factors will come in to play, and sometimes dumb luck will hand you victory at the last second! So remember, unless the obvious death scenario is in front of you, don’t concede, your luck might improve before the game is over! This doesn’t always work though, and here’s a shot from a game where I was over ten health points ahead with a minion advantage and luck was on my opponent’s side:

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The closest game I’ve participated in

Level all decks to 10 ASAP

The only way to earn all the basic class-specific cards (those not found in expert decks) is to level each deck to 10. After that, it seems that you only earn golden versions of cards. You also earn a free expert deck (100 gold) by getting each to 10. This is easily done through practice mode, or you can test the waters of PvP, but it needs to be done to open up the possibilities for deck building, but to also learn the strengths and weaknesses of each class.

So there you have it, my 5 cents.