Tag Archives: Strategy

Orions 2 Review: a Deep and Engaging, if Somewhat Derivative, CCG

Orions 2, published by Chillingo, plays like what would happen if a bunch of Magic: the Gathering cards somehow combined their DNA with a deck of Tarot cards and a Risk board-game, and then spliced in a dose of resource management mini-games on top of that. Although Orions 2 boasts some multi-faceted gameplay, with quite a few different modes and options, it is a collectible card game at its core… So as a caveat, obviously if that’s not your type of game, this probably isn’t for you.

Orions 2 features a campaign mode, which adds on a lot of upkeep and planning to the gameplay, in the form of managing resources, capturing new territories (through card battles), acquiring new cards for your deck (which contains limited quantities of each card, each use counting for one copy out of your stash), and ultimately trying to beat your CPU adversary (again, in a card battle). It’s fun, but it can be quite lengthy, and some of the resource management bogs down the speed of gameplay. Campaign mode is a nice option, but not the best way to learn the game. Thankfully, Orions 2 can be played in single-round sessions that focus solely on the card game aspect of the gameplay. These can be enjoyed either versus the CPU, or against human opponents either with pass-and-play games, or in online matches over the Game Center or Crystal networks. In the campaign mode, however, you fight for territories on a game board, with an added element of managing and investing mana points to acquire new cards for your deck.

If this makes the game sound a.) pretty complicated, b.) a little derivative, or c.) pretty damn fun in spite of those faults– well, that’s because Orions 2 is all of these things. Overall, Orions 2 does a good job of providing different methods of gameplay, and in having a solid game mechanic for the card-on-card combat. While it won’t win any awards for originality, and it is not without room for a few adjustments I’d love to see in an update, the good far outweighs the bad, and for fans of the genre it will probably be worth picking up.

Likes

Good Card/Game Design: A collectible card game is only as good as the design that goes into the cards it features (although to be technical, this one eschews collectibility, since it gives you all the cards when you purchase the game). And this is one area where I feel that Orions 2 gets it pretty well right. As someone who plays a good bit of Magic: The Gathering every now and then, I can say without a doubt that the card design owes a lot of inspiration to Magic. And this is not really a bad thing in my book.

Orion 2’s card battles are essentially creature-heavy slugfests, and all of the non-creature spells in the game are either enhancements for your creatures, ways to gain life or add various-colored mana (your resource for playing cards) to your supply, or ways to kill or weaken your opponent’s creatures. The card battle rules are fairly streamlined and simple: Your objective is to reduce the opponent to zero life; you lose if you are reduced to zero life. Each player can play one card per turn, as long as they have enough mana for it. The mana for that creature or spell is then taken away from the player’s mana pool. There is no ‘hand of cards,’ each player may play any one card from their deck during their turn, provided they have enough mana. Many creatures also have abilities, which come in two basic types. Active abilities may be used once each turn (and sometimes require mana or some other payment), whereas other creatures have passive abilities such as giving their owner health or mana each turn, healing ally creatures, etc. At the beginning of each turn, a player gains one mana of each color. Creatures are played onto the playing field, which has five slots for each player. Each creature occupies one slot, so the most either player can have at any time is five creatures. At the end of each turn, the player’s creatures that have been in play for at least one turn attack the creatures in the slots opposite to them. They assign damage according to their power, either to the enemy creature or the opponent if there is none, and damage permanently subtracts from enemy creature’s health total. If it reaches zero, the creature dies…. And that’s basically it.

Although this sounds simple, the cards are really well-designed, and all of them have an application (although as always, some are clearly on a higher power level than others). Games tend to fluctuate fairly regularly, and it’s possible to pull out a victory when you thought you would be crushed… Or to have the rug swept out from under you by the opponent’s clever maneuver. Overall, the gameplay encourages fluid analytical thinking in a fun way, and the cards are pretty well balanced overall, so it doesn’t feel like there are really any brokenly unbeatable cards.

Game Center: Yup, it’s got it. Oh yeah, and Crystal too… if anyone still uses that.

Universal App: Yay!

Online Capabilities: Without a doubt, the game mode that I keep coming back to is the online player-vs-player matches. I do have a couple gripes about the online mode, which I’ll save for the “Dislikes” section, but overall I’m very happy that they included it. Online play is what gives Orions 2 its replay value, and I’ve found that with a couple minutes patience, I can pretty much get a game going with someone at any time of the day or night.

Smooth User Interface: Overall, the UI of Orions 2 is easy to use and intuitive… although there is one slip-up (namely the placing of buildings on the minimap in campaign mode, which feels pretty clunky). The game uses a tap-and-drag mechanic for nearly every action, from deciding which slot to play a creature in, to activating your creatures’ abilities. If you need to re-read a card, you just double tap on it. This kind of simplicity in the controls lets them slip into the background where they belong, and allows you to focus on your strategizing.

Dislikes:

Campaign Mode is a Little Clunky: I mistakenly tried to learn the game from playing the campaign mode, which can be a frustrating way to begin. There are just too many factors that are extraneous to the central card-game component, such as choosing which cards to buy for your deck, how many mana points to invest into building each turn, how many territories to try to claim each turn, how few cards you can get by on spending mana points on for your deck, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the option of the campaign mode included, because it really does challenge the player with a lot of different things to think about… but I find I don’t end up playing it much.

A Few Gripes with the Online Matches: These are all fairly minor, since I still really enjoy the online versus mode, despite a few flaws. I’m just going to put them in list form:

-To me, the biggest problem with the online mode, is I want to be able to use the decks that I’ve built to fight against human opponents. For each online match, the game assigns a random assortment of cards of each color for each player’s deck. While this adds a fun element of chance, and I think it should still be an option, I’d really like to be able to use my home-brewed creations for online matches. After all, it gets a little old only being able to play with user-created decks either in pass-and-play mode, or against a CPU opponent.

-Another quibble with the online matches, is that it feels that no bragging rights are really at stake, since the game doesn’t track win-loss records. I can see how the designers might have left this out on purpose, since not receiving a loss for a match is usually as simple as rebooting the app when you see that you are too far behind to pull out a win. But still, somehow I feel like I’m missing out on the glory when I crush an opponent, only to be rewarded with… well, nothing really.

-A third, slight problem with the online matches is that you only get one minute per turn. This is usually enough time, but there can be particularly tough decisions where you want to reread a few cards to decide what to play. And there is nothing more soul-crushing than having the timer run out on you, and therefor missing your chance to play a card that turn because you were reading cards and analyzing what was on the board.

-Lastly, although the game gives you the option to do draft games against an online opponent, I’ve never ever been able to find anyone else trying to match up for a draft match. But I suppose this isn’t really any fault of the game designers on this one… I just thought I’d mention that it was an option, so hopefully someone reads this and we can get a bit of a draft game playing community.

Lack of Graphical Panache: Overall, the look of Orions 2 is clean and well-designed. But it’s a little bland and unexciting. The artwork on the creatures and spells is fairly small, and while it’s not bad, you can tell they didn’t invest too heavily in getting top-notch illustrations. The menus and maps are also not going to cause any eyesores, but they’re not exactly what anyone would call graphically stunning.

The absolute bottom line is that Orions 2 provides an engaging and entertaining experience for fans of the collectible card-game genre. I do hope that they add more features to the online gameplay (most importantly being able to use user-created decks). But this is a really good title at the end of the day, and the solid game-play mechanics, creatively designed cards, and the carefully weighed balance among the power levels of the various cards all make this a winning choice in my book.

Orions 2 was developed by Chillingo Ltd. and I played through version 1.0 on my iPod Touch, 2nd gen. The price is $2.99.


Neuroshima Hex! Review

The original Neuroshima Hex! is a Polish tactical board game based on the Neuroshima role-playing game, which draws inspiration from post-apocalyptic titles such as Mad Max, Fallout and Terminator. The role-playing game is available only in Polish, so unless you’re a Polish-speaking, tabletop RPG buff, you will be forgiven if Neuroshima Hex! for iPhone is the first you’ve heard of the franchise.

Neuroshima Hex is played on a hexagonal board. Each player periodically draws from a deck of hexagonal cards called “tiles.” Tiles symbolize different types of military units, or special actions that may be played on the board. Annotations on the tiles denote the combat strength and initiative of each unit. Each player has one special tile called HQ (headquarters), which is placed on the board at the beginning of play. Each round the player chooses which tile(s) to play from their hand, where to place the tile on the board, and which orientation the tile should have, as most units may act upon adjacent tiles in a limited number of directions.

With several exceptions for special action cards, units do not act when placed on the board. Periodically a tile is played that initiates combat. At that time, military units act in sequence according to their initiative rating; cards are removed from the bored according to the outcome of combat between pairs of nearby opposing cards, and each player’s HQ takes damage from attacking units. The game is concluded either when all tiles from the deck have been exhausted, or when a player’s HQ has been completely destroyed. If all headquarters remain intact, then winner is the player whose HQ has suffered the least amount of damage.

And that is a very lite summary of a very complicated game. Luckily, the game provides a full orientation via video tutorial and a comprehensive reference section, without which players would surely be lost. There is definitely a learning curve to Neuroshima Hex, and it’s not a game most players will be able to come to terms with on their first play, or even their second. But the curve is not insurmountable, and given time Neuroshima Hex can be very rewarding. Just don’t go into the game expecting a casual game of Monopoly or UNO; Neuroshima Hex is more in the neighborhood of Settlers of Catan, and maybe still a bit more complex than that.

In which the scene is set:

The world Neuroshima Hex is that of a post-apocalypse world torn apart by a war between humans and machines. The remains of humanity took shelter in the ruines of cities and organized in small communities, gangs and armies. Conflicts between such groups are not uncommon and the reasons of such are numerous: territory, food or equipment.

What is more, the ruined cities are constantly patrolled by machines sent from the north, where a vast cybernetic entity, call MOLOCH, appeared. Great wastelands that surround what was left of the greatest cities are home to another enemy — BORGO — a charismatic leader who controls an army of gruesome mutants. One of the last hopes of humanity is the OUTPOST, a perfectly organized army which wages a guerilla war against MOLOCH. Nevertheless, most human settlements, including the HEGEMONY, are not concerned with war until it comes banging at their door. Such is the world of Neuroshima.

Players choose to take on the role of one of four factions — the MOLOCH, the BORGO, the OUTPOST or the HEGEMONY — each of which has its own unique tile-set, or army. Also, the HQ of each faction confers different benefits upon adjacent allied units, making the player’s choice of faction a strategic decision, and not simply one of aesthetics.

Likes:

Presentation: As board games go, Neuroshima Hex! has great atmosphere. Everything — including the tiles, the game board, the interface windows and buttons — feels post-apocalyptic. Even the music and sound effects are suitably moody. The game goes for the gritty wasteland aesthetic and pretty well nails it. The only aspect of the presentation that I find questionable is the use of the Indiana Jones font for the game’s text.

Strategy: Benefiting from its roots in tabletop role-playing games, Neuroshima Hex is a very strategic title that should appeal more to hardcore board game players, and less to casual players who favor games like Scrabble or Monopoly.

Diversity: Four unique armies with headquarters granting different strategic benefits help to keep the game interesting.

Dislikes:

No Achievements or Scoreboards: Sadly, Neuroshima Hex keeps no record of your previous games. There are no scoreboards and no achievements, leaving the game short on goals and with little single-player replay value. Your only goal is to defeat the AI, and once you’ve done that there is little reason to return to the game’s single-player mode. The value of the single-player mode could be easily extended with the inclusion of achievements.

Neuroshima Hex! should appeal to fans of tabletop role-playing games, or those looking for a board game experience heavy on strategy and apart from the norm. It’s a great game that may not appeal to all players, but will definitely strike a chord with plenty.

Neuroshima Hex! is developed by Big Daddy’s Creations; reviewed at version 1.01 on an iPhone 4. App Store Link: $2.99.



n

Crystal War Review: Fantastic Fantasy Warfare

Crystal War, by South Korean developer GNC Interactive, is a real-time linear strategy title belonging to a defense sub-genre typically called “castle-vs-castle”. It’s a genre that’s become rather crowded — like most genres on the app store — with titles like Battle of Puppets, Cartoon Wars, Armageddon and Ancient War, to name but a few. Of all these titles, however, Crystal War is the only castle-vs-castle game that’s managed to arrest my attention and hold my interest for more than a few minutes. Despite my hithero disinterest in the genre at large, Crystal War is a game that’s kept me coming back for days on end.

The game is played on a two-dimensional field, with the player’s commander and the enemy commander occupying opposite sides. Players mine the field for crystals, which may be spent in deploying units to the field of combat, the goal being to overrun and defeat the opposing army and bring down their commander.

In addition to your commander, there are fifteen unit types to be unlocked and upgraded during the course of the game, up to seven of which may be brought into any given stage. Finding a combination of units and a strategy that works for each stage is a part of the fun. There are many different enemy types and several types of enemy commanders, each of which poses a different type of threat during combat. For example, goblin swordsmen are easy enough to dispatch, but goblin bombers and boulder-throwers can quickly dismantle your frontline, leaving your rear guard and commander vulnerable to incoming units.

In addition to your soldiers, you may also purchase and upgrade four magical spells to wield during battle. Used properly and at the right moment, these spells can often turn the tide of battle in your favor, or save your being overwhelmed by powerful foes.

The campaign mode features twenty stages, and completing the campaign unlocks an endless play mode.

Likes:

Artwork & Graphics: Crystal Wars is a visual feast. Stage backgrounds are beautifully drawn on multiple layers, with parallax scrolling effects. Looking at screen captures of the game does the artwork no justice; you have to see it in motion, see the background layers scrolling to really appreciate the beauty of the environments. The units also are quite lovely, pixel-based sprites animated in an almost cell-shaded style, each distinct and with personality of its own. The game is worth picking up for the artwork alone!

Player Involvement: Crystal Wars does an excellent job of keeping the player active and involved in each battle. In many castle-vs-castle games, it seems the player simply purchases units and then watches the game play itself. Crystal Wars engages the player by having them not only manage the deployment of their units, but also gathering coins and harvesting mana, supervising mining operations, and casting spells to support your army. And as the enemy rolls out different unit types of its own, it’s important to effectively deploy counter units.

Overall Presentation: Not only is the artwork fantastic, but the menus and interface are slick and attractive, and easy to use. The shop interface is elegant and intuitive. And the music and sound effects really help to support the ambience of the game. When it comes to presentation value, Crystal War delivers the entire package, and even includes OpenFeint support.

Dislikes:

Star Ratings & Achievements: GNC Interactive missed the mark in implementing star ratings for stages and OpenFeint achievements. The way the system works, a star is awarded for completion of a stage. Stages may then be replayed, and stars earned for each completion to a maximum of three per stage. Earning stars unlocks OpenFeint achievements. Here lies the problem, however.

Achieving three stars simply requires that you play through the stage three times. There are no additional conditions to be met, no new challenges to be had. The developer could easily have enhanced replay value and have provided a boost to the game’s difficulty level and last appeal by implementing simple conditions such as completing the stage under a give time threshhold, completing the stage using only specified unit types, or completing the stage only using no more than three different unit types.

Because the star system adds nothing new to the experience, it feels as if it were tacked on to artificially extend the length of the game. There’s no real challenge or incentive for playing through the game three times under identical conditions unless you’re just an OpenFeint junkie trying to boost your score. GNC Interactive really dropped the ball here.

There’s definitely room for improvement in Crystal War, though nothing wrong with the game that could not be addressed in updates. I’d like to see the system of star ratings and achievements retooled to include additional conditions, bringing new challenges to the game and extending its lasting appeal. The first star should be granted for stage completion, the second for completing the stage in a given time limit, and the third by imposing limitations on your unit usage. This change would significantly improve the title.

Of lesser importance, other fun ideas might be a second campaign mode played from the perspecitive of the goblins, and then a multiplayer mode in which two players face off online or via WiFi, choosing to play either as the Human-Elf Aliance or Goblin Army. And while the game already plays fantastically on the iPad in 2x mode, I would love to see Crystal War released as a universal app or in an HD version. The artwork definitely deserves the HD treatment!

All wishing aside, however, Crystal War is a beautiful, highly entertaining castle-vs-castle game, and one that I heartily recommend.

Crystal War is developed by GNC Interactive; reviewed at version 1.2.1 on an iPhone 4 and an iPad. App Store: $0.99

Bloody Fun Day Review: Cute Must Die

Bloody Fun Day is a bloody fun game in which you — The Grim Reaper — dole out bloody death to adorable muppets, because it’s just bloody fun. Cute as the muppet-like creatures may be, however, Death himself is cuter still. If he had any cheeks, you’d just want to pinch them grandma-style, he’s so bloody lovable. And maybe that’s why he’s so keen on on killing the muppets:

“I’M NOT LOVABLE,” he screams into the night. “I’M DEATH!!!”

Aw! Of course you are, dear. Would you like a cookie and a glass of milk? Yes, there’s a dear. Munch, munch, my little reapy-poo.

Ahem.

Blood Fun Day is the iPhone port of a Flash game that’s been around for some time, and free to play on the Internet. Play Bloody Fun Day online.

The game takes place on a grid of hexagons. The reaper leaps from space-to-space, killing four colors of muppet-like creatures — red, yellow, blue and black. When the reaper kills a muppet, any adjacent muppets of like color will chain together and will also be killed. For every kill made, Death will reap the muppets’ souls, feeding his powers.

Death has six powers at his disposal, allowing him to leap, shoot lasers, double his soul intake, strike any position on the board, and more. Each power is fueled by either blue, yellow or black souls and must be charged by reaping a requisite number of souls before it can be used.

Death begins the game with 20 hearts, and loses one heart for each move he makes. When Death runs out of hearts, he himself will die. Killing red muppets will replenish some of Death’s hearts. Managing your heart allotment — thereby extending your lifespan — is the key to building high scores.

Bloody Fun Day becomes tricky, however. First of all, Death cannot retrace his steps; where he walks, the earth dies and cannot be tread upon again. At least, not for a while. Because of this, it’s important to think several moves ahead at all times, lest you trap yourself such that the only available moves are undesirable.

Secondly, slain muppets will leave eggs behind. Cracking eggs will penalize your score, so you should avoid them as well as you can. After a set number of turns, the eggs will hatch into new muppets, ripe for slaying. When eggs hatch, any dead earth will be revitalized and occupied by new eggs, which will hatch on the next cycle. A turn counter allows you to easily see when eggs will hatch, when the level will increase, or when your reaper will expire. As levels increase, eggs will take longer to hatch and the board will refresh less frequently, forcing you to move more cautiously.

When 10 kills are chained together, a golden egg will appear somewhere on the grid. You will want to get to this egg as quickly as possible, before it hatches. While you should generally avoid breaking eggs, cracking the golden egg will net you a cool 5,000 points.

Likes:

Strategy: Bloody Fun Day is a very strategic game. The combination of dead earth and eggs forces you to think several moves ahead. Meanwhile, you must also contend with your ever-depleting heart supply, while managing soul collection to fuel the use of your powers. Collecting black souls grants you Fire Blast, allowing you to strike anywhere on the board; it’s great when red muppets or golden eggs are out-of-reach. Blue souls allow you to perform the Harvest, doubling your soul intake; use it to quickly replenish your hearts when slaying groups of red muppets, or to quickly stock souls for one of your powers. Yellow souls power Vampiric Touch, allowing you to drain hearts from groups of any color.

Presentation: Adorable, colorful characters. Catchy tunes.

Dislikes:

Cramped for Space: Sadly, Bloody Fun Day has suffered a bit in being translated to the iPhone’s small display. Due to the lesser screen real estate, it can be difficult to select spaces on the grid with precision. The icons for your powers can be difficult to make out or discern meaning from until you become more familiar with them, and the powers do not have textual descriptions as they do in the Flash version of the game. You’re basically left to figure out through trial and error what the powers actually do. Much of the visual flair of the Flash game has also been removed in order to size-down the game’s interface.

What’s Missing: Originally, the Flash game offered a tutorial mode, five-level mode and unlimited mode. The iPhone port maintains only the tutorial and unlimited game modes, with the five-level mode having gone missing. Played on Kongregate, Bloody Fun Day also had achievements. The iPhone version does not. I’d love to see these things restored to the iPhone game, with achievements being integrated via OpenFeint.

Overall, Bloody Fun Day makes for a bloody fun casual strategy game. It’s easy to pick up and play in short bursts, and difficult to put down when you really have time to play. I am sorry that the game has lost a bit in coming to the iPhone and gained nothing in return — the Flash version remains the definitive version — but that’s certainly no reason to pass the game by. I will say, however, that I prefer playing the game on the iPad in 2x mode, as the larger form-factor makes the grid easier to manage. I would love to see Bloody Fun Day updated to become a universal app, making use of the iPad’s larger display to restore the UI elements that were sacrificed to accommodate the iPhone.

All wishing aside, though, Bloody Fun Day really is a bloody good game and deserves your attention. The Flash version is free to play, so you owe it to yourself at least to try the game. And once you’ve fallen in love with The Adorable Reaper, you can keep him in your pocket for just $0.99.

Bloody Fun Day is made by The Binary Mill, and was reviewed on an iPhone 3G and an iPad. App Store link: Bloody Fun Day / $0.99.

‘Battle of Puppets’ Updated with Open Feint and More

One of the suggestions I made for Battle of Puppets was the implementation of Open Feint, one of the best and most popular social platforms on the iPhone.  I love Open Feint for its achievements and leaderboards, and Battle of Puppets was a game that I thought was perfect for that social platform model.

And you know a developer is solid when they update their games due to community feedback, and they’ve implemented most of my dislikes with Battle of Puppets.  Along with implementing Open Feint, the difficulty has been raised a bit so that you have to start producing some higher level soldiers.

The AI has also been retooled, and while I didn’t have much trouble with the AI, it’s definitely a welcoming tweak.  If you haven’t played or heard of the game before, be sure to check out our review.  Please keep in mind that the difficulty has been increased and Open Feint has now been implemented.