I have managed to find the time to play a few games over the last 12 month. Here are some capsule reviews of those I remember…
Fort Sumter: A computer card game about the start of the American Civil War that feels like a simplified version of Twilight Struggle. I like the mechanic that cards can be used multiple ways, but the most powerful ways will also help your opponent. A clever little game that does not require extensive study to be competitive (unlike Twilight Struggle). Although, I have not felt the need to return to it since the first hour playing even though it has been on my desktop for months.
Redshirts: Competitive social media game set among the lower deck (expendable) workers of a Star Trek like universe. Despite the rough production values, it is a nice idea told with a tongue-in-cheek comedic style. However, I don’t like social media in real life, so this was not enough to engage my interest beyond an hour.
Guards: This game works better than expected. It is a series of turn-based tactical battles on a grid as the player builds a band of warriors to take on various monster enemies. It feels to me like a PC port of a F2P mobile game (but with no extra money required, everything is available from just playing).The production values are definitely well into the cheap indie zone and the gameplay is not special in any way, but the game is inexpensive and fun for a couple of hours. Perhaps because it makes extensive use of progression mechanics and powers.
Bad North: I wish I had made this game, but then I wouldn’t have the fun of properly playing it. You play as a small force of soldiers defending equally small islands from Viking pillagers in a realtime with slowdown game that plays like a series of micro total war battles. Each battle takes only a few minutes, with a long line of (interesting) randomly generated islands promising increasingly powerful enemies, and power-ups to help meet the challenge. Some thought (and luck) is required to win each battle and then still have enough resources to win the next - giving the game a rogue-lite feel similar to FTL. It also has an interesting and distinct art style. Well made and addictive.
Dark Future: When I was young I loved the idea of the Mad Max style boardgame of vehicular battle, Dark Future, but never had the money to buy it. So now that Games Workshop is turning everything from their back catalogue into at least one computer game (or often way more than one) I was keen to play the PC version. While the board game is turn-based, this is a realtime but with the ability to slowdown or pause. I enjoyed this game for the 9 hours or so I played, although tactically it became a little repetitive.
GTA5: One of the best-selling games ever, and obviously contains a staggering amount of detail. For me it seems too packed full of different mechanics - it felt too thin. Also, I’m also not a big fan of driving (in reality or games) and there is a large amount of driving for the story missions. On the plus side: the radio is awesome; and just looking around the incredibly detailed map is a great way to waste time. In the end the story and gameplay just didn’t grab me - there was no improvement over GTA4 in those respects. So I stopped after running into some clumsy controls causing me to restart a mission so many times I rage-quit. Impressive game, but too big and not focussed enough for me.
Nuclear Throne: I am not coordinated enough or fast enough to play twin-stick shooters successfully, which is a shame for this game, because it seemed well designed apart from that premise. It uses randomised maps and some other rogue-lite progression features with 8-bit style graphics. Nice, but not my thing.
Surviving Mars: It is a rare citybuilder that breaks me out from a standard pattern of play. This game while very well executed, does not manage it. It feels like a very standard example of its genre, with the hook being that the city you are building is an early colony on Mars. At first it is fun trying to create both a pretty and functional city (and I always make a mess of it at first). However, eventually the fine placement of powerlines in positions that will not block later expansion, just becomes busywork. It is feels like the only goal is just to make a bigger city. Eventually (after a good 10 hours or so) it becomes clear how the system works and I want to start over, but I can’t bring myself to go through the early stages again - it just doesn’t seem like a good use of my time. So with nothing pushing me forward, I just stop. Perhaps my levels of OCD is just enough to start and enjoy these games, but not enough to continue. I think I need a citybuilder where the level of gameplay or simulation detail changes with the size/complexity of the city. Then again I sometimes find myself considering downloading the game again so I can just play one more game, but I haven’t yet.
Banished: another citybuilder, but more in a medieval survival style. Fun at first, but the trajectory was exactly the same as Surviving Mars (above) and I stopped around the 10 hour mark.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown: from 2012 sat atop my list of shame. It is a game that seems designed for me: a turn-based tactical team shooter (like Frozen Synapse) with a strategic layer on top and a story about defeating an alien invasion in the modern world. For the first few hours I loved this game, the turn-based part is just the sort of thing I enjoy and here it is done very well (just a few small camera annoyances) it also seemed to lean towards my standard way of playing these games, slow and steady. However, after about 20 hours I started becoming disillusioned with the game, and stoppped playing after 30 (with just the last mission to complete before finishing). The missions become repetive and the game outstays its welcome. Also there are a couple of game design issues that make the experience less enjoyable. Firstly, there is just enough randomness in this game that a run of bad luck will wreck your game and you might as well restart - a huge problem if the player is 20 hours in (I wrote more about my thought on this in my Tharsis review). Secondly, it is possible to make a bad decision in the strategic layer that will completely screw the player’s chances of finishing, but this will not be evident until many hours of gameplay later. You just need to know the “right” way to play in advance. Incredibly annoying and not a good use of my time. Despite this I would still give a warm recommendation for the game, just read some strategy guides before starting.
The Outer Worlds: A sci-fi RPG set on colony worlds in various stages of collapse around a distant star. Works mainly as a shooter with a nice tactical slowdown mechanic, but also some stealth and limited story choices. Decent writing, very pretty and smooth, but started becoming repetitive a bit over halfway through. Interesting, but just too long and I didn’t finish it.
A Short Hike: A gentle exploration adventure game. Took me about 2 hours to finish (with some backtracking). Surprisingly charming and pretty with a decent story about taking time along the journey to enjoy life. Not normally the sort of game I enjoy, but playing this was a pleasure - flying around was particularly cool.