I Love Super Smash Brothers: Brawl

super_smash_bros_brawl_smallI was able to play in the GameStop Super Smash Brothers: Brawl tournament today. While other GameStop stores are holding the tournament tonight at 10:00 PM, the local manager here decided to hold the tournament a few hours early so that younger kids could enter.

Although I was eliminated in the first round, I really enjoyed playing the game. After the tournament was over, several of us played for a while longer, and I finally started to do well, winning several games in a row.

The game, which I’ve been anticipating for more than a year now, is as good as I had hoped it would be. I can’t wait to get it tonight when the store reopens at midnight!

Where I’ve Been This Time: Starcraft

I’ve recently discovered an old classic RTS game, StarCraft. I had never played this before I saw the trailers for StarCraft II. Once I saw the trailer, I headed to the video game shop in the mall and bought the StarCraft Battlechest. I’m playing through the first game’s campaign now.

I had heard of people getting addicted to this game and dropping out of college back when it was first released. (Now that title has been passed to World of WarCraft, made by the same publisher, Blizzard.) I know that StarCraft is a huge part of the Korean professional video gaming scene. And I can see why, on both counts. This is an amazingly good game.

Of course, since this is an old game, the graphics are nothing special. But the core of the game is spectacular: the three races look and feel entirely different from each other, but they’re evenly balanced.

And the plus side of it being an old game is that I can play it on my tablet PC, which can’t handle modern games at all.

My only complaint: I can’t zoom in and out. I really want to be able to get a birds-eye view of the battlefield.

The other cool thing is that there’s now a StarCraft board game, which is as good as the video game. A friend of mine has bought it, and so my brother and I have gotten to play the game. Like the video game, it’s well-balanced and challenging. (And I’ve actually managed to win this game a couple of times, unlike most of our previous games.)

Blizzard Entertainment must have made a deal with the devil: everything they touch turns to crack cocaine. And I’m going to enjoy it while I can, the little junkie that I am.

MiniReview: Portal

Portal is the best computer game I have played in ages. You play a research test subject who uses a portal gun to navigate through a bunch of different levels, with the reward of delicious cake (and grief counseling) at the end. It’s fun and challenging, and it’s got this lovely streak of dark humor running through the whole game.

And at the end, there’s a great song by the incomparable Jonathan Coulton.

My only complaint is that I wish there was more of it. The main storyline will last 2-4 hours at most. But considering that it is only a $20 standalone title, its entertainment-time-to-cost ratio is about the same as a really good movie.

You should definitely see the trailer for the game if you haven’t already.

March Upstate Board Game Day

Jesse and I went back to The Command Post for another Upstate Board Game Day. Jesse was especially looking forward to this since he missed last month’s game day. I wasn’t sure if I would go to the whole thing this month since I had stayed up really late last night playing sneaker hockey with a church group, but I decided to go ahead and get up in time to get there from the beginning, and I’m glad I did. I got to meet several people I hadn’t before: Melissa, Kevin, Charlie (who I’m almost certain I sat next to in chapel at BJ once). Hannah, and Lydia.

The first game we played was Ra. In this game, you are bidding on different kinds of tiles: artisans, monuments, Nile River tiles, and others. These elements are worth different amounts of points: For example, there are five different types of artisan. If you have no artisans when the points are scored, you lose five points; if you have three different types, you get a bonus of five points; if you have 4, you get ten, and if you have all 5, you get 15 (if I recall correctly). And so there are different strategies of things you might want to bid on.

The thing is, you only get three point tokens to buy these things with, with values that range from 1 to 16. Once you win an auction, you trade that token for the one in the center of the board and place the new token face down. Now you can only win two more auctions. Once you’ve spent all three of your tokens, you’re out for the round (aka “epoch.”). So, since you can’t break the points into smaller units, you can have a situation where you have two low-score tiles and one really high score tile, which means if you really want a particular lot of tiles, you might have to sacrifice a lot for it.

After we played Ra, Jesse and I learned how to play Puerto Rico. In this game, you play the part of a plantation owner in Puerto Rico. You are trying to ship goods–corn, coffee, indigo, sugar, and tobacco–from your farms to the mainland. Each turn, a player takes one “role,” such as a trader, a builder, or the mayor. This affects what all the players can do next. If he takes the builder, for example, everyone can build one building (if they have enough money). Each of these buildings have different effects that give the player that builds it a special bonus, such as additional victory points when they ship out goods or extra colonists when they build plantations. Players take turns playing these different roles until eventually there are either no colonists or no victory points in the pool or until one player’s building area is completely full of buildings. Whoever has the most victory points wins.

This game was fun because there are a ton of different strategies you can try to follow. I think I enjoyed last months Caylus slightly more, but this one was also very good. I might have to pick this one up online.

After that, Jesse and I went to lunch. When we came back, we played Mutiny!, a pirate themed bidding game. This game is not nearly as much fun as the other ones we played today. I won’t bother going into how to play; just avoid this one.

We then played Incan Gold. This game involves hunting treasure in an Incan temple. Each turn, all players decide at the same time whether or not they will leave or stay. If they leave, they keep all of the treasure they have already collected this round, but can’t collect any more until the next one. If they stay, they have to face the next card on the stack. This can be either more treasure (split evenly among the remaining party members) or a trap. If they face the same kind of trap twice in a round (say, two sets of large poisonous spiders or two huge snakes), then they are so scared that they run out of the temple without any of their treasure. So it’s really a “push your luck” game, as the review I linked to says. It’s a light, fun game without a lot of deep strategic thinking. Not a game I would buy, personally, but fun.

Then we played Poison. This is a pretty basic numbers-based card game. There are three pots, into which you play different-colored potion cards. Each of these cards has a point value; if the card you play brings the point total above 13, you have to take the cards in the pot. You can also play poison cards, which count as two cards in the final scoring. The goal is to have the lowest number of cards at the end of the round. This game is sort of fun, but, like Incan Gold, not one I would spend money on.

Finally, we played Wits and Wagers, a combination trivia and betting game. There are seven rounds, in which an obscure question that can be answered in numerical form is asked, such as how many paintings by Picasso were sold for more than one million dollars. Each person writes down their answer on a little dry-erase card. These guesses are arranged from smallest to largest; the one that is closest to the right answer without going over is the correct one (sort of like The Price is Right). But before the correct answer is revealed, all players get to bet on which one is most likely to be correct. Once you find out which one is correct, players who bet on that card are rewarded according to the amount listed on the board. The player with the correct answer also gets a ten point bonus. Whoever has the most points at the end, wins. (I ended up winning with 190 points). This was a lot of fun, and a great party game. It takes about fifteen minutes to play.

So, thanks to everybody for bringing their board games! See you all next month!

February Upstate Board Game Day

Today was another one of the Upstate Board Game Group’s Game Days. This time, my little brother was at a friend’s house, so I ended up going there by myself. Although I was sorry he missed it, I did get to meet several other board game enthusiasts: Allen, Karen, Robert, and “Scooter.” I also got to learn about four games I had never played before.

We started off by playing Colossal Arena, a game where you place bets on up to eight mythological creatures, betting on which will survive five rounds of combat. The earlier you bet, the more points you get, but the greater risk you take. Also, if you have the most bets placed on a given creature, you can control that creature’s special power. For example, one lets you draw additional cards, while another lets you remove a power card from another creature. These power cards each have a number, from 0 to 10. Each round, players take turns placing bets, playing power cards, and drawing cards. Once each of the surviving creatures has a card on it, the creature with the lowest number dies. After five rounds, only three creatures will be standing, and whoever bet the most on these creature wins.

It took me a few minutes to understand exactly how this game worked–mostly as a result of the pace at which the game was explained to me–but once I did, it was a lot of fun. I might have to buy this, as it’s only $15 at Board Game Geek.

The second game we played was Caylus. This one took forever for Scooter to explain, but once he did, the game moved along quite nicely. The game is set in medieval France. The king is building a castle in the town of Caylus, and you and your opponents are master-builders. Each turn, you hire workers to work different tiles along a winding road, and each of these tiles has a different effect. Some give you money, some give you one of the five resources (cloth, wood, stone, food, and gold), and others let you build different kinds of buildings. I won’t go into a full explanation of how the game works, but I will say that it was a lot of fun to play. There are a ton of different was to get prestige, from building buildings (with still more new effects) to building parts of the castle to earning the King’s favor to selling off gold and other resources to building monuments and other prestige buildings. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but it’s a blast once you get into it.

The third game we played was The Downfall of Pompeii. In this game, you try to get as many of your people as you can to escape from Pompeii. The game begins a little slowly: you place people in the various town buildings, placing them as near a town gate as you can. Eventually, the volcano erupts, and lava tiles start to appear in the city. From that point, you try to move as many of the people in the buildings out of the city as you can. It’s a fun little game, although not worth the $45 retail. I might have to find this one used.

The last game we played was Management Material, in which you play an office worker trying to avoid getting into management and losing your soul. It doesn’t have the strategic depth of the other games, but it’s fun and a little silly.

Overall, I had a really good time. I’m looking forward to next month. I want to learn how to play Battlelore and/or Battlestations, so I hope that someone brings one or the other. Even if they don’t, I’m looking forward to next month!

Guess what my dad bought?

This is so cool:

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My dad bought us a Wii. It’s been running almost constantly since about three this afternoon.

It’s awesome–and not just the games, either. The Wii also has a news reader, a weather channel, and a photo viewer, all of which are brilliantly designed. You can even download a web browser for it! The browser is a variant of Opera, and so it supports stuff like Flash and Javascript. We watched a Homestar Runner and a couple of YouTube clips on our TV, which was really cool.

And the games are fun too. Nintendo’s goal with this Wii was to get the whole family playing–not just the 18-24 year old males. And it worked! My mom and dad spent some time playing the Wii Sports bowling game–and my Mom scored a record high score, beating scores that my brothers and I had set.

One other fun thing is the little “Mii’s” that you can create. You can design little avatars that look like you or your friends, and then use those Mii’s to play some of the games. I hope that more games–not just Wii Sports–take advantage of this feature. At some point, I’ll have to post a photo of my Mii.

I love the Wii. It’s beautifully designed and fun to play with, whether you’re watching the news or playing games. (Thanks, Dad!)

Upstate Board Game Day

On Saturday, my brother and I made the long journey from Spartanburg into Greenville to a store called The Command Post. They were hosting the Upstate Board Gamer Group’s monthly Game Day. No Monopoly here; this was a day to play some of the less main-stream games out there like Settlers of Catan, Battlelore, Silent Death.

I’ve always loved good strategy games, and now my brother is getting to the point where he both likes strategy games and is good at them. I remember being in the same position that he’s in now: He wants to play games with people, but no one else really wants to play.

So this was really a fun time for both of us. We didn’t get there until later in the afternoon, so we ended up playing with each other, but we did get to find out about a couple of interesting games. We played Ticket to Ride, which I had heard was really good, but had never had the chance to play before. Yes, in fact, it is really good. It’s simple to learn and only takes between a half-hour and an hour to play once you know how (much better than an average game time of two hours for Settlers of Catan). We bought a copy on the spot.

We also bought and played a game called Starship Catan, a two-player game where you and your opponent fly a space ship around trading resources, developing colonies, and fighting pirates. This is also a fairly short game, though much more complicated to learn than Ticket to Ride. We’ve already played the game twice in the past couple of days. It’s a lot of fun.

You can see a list of all the games that were played at the event or you can find out more about the Upstate Board Gamers group. I’m definitely going to get there earlier for the next game day!

EVE Online

EVE Online Screenshot
For the past several days I have been trying out a game called EVE Online. It’s an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), which means that instead of playing the game by yourself on just your own computer, you log into a server and play with all the thousands of other people who also own the game.

As you can see from the screenshot, this is a very pretty game. That’s what first got me to download and play the game under a free 14-day trial period. The graphics on this game are phenomenal. The style of the game reminded me of Homeworld, an excellent 3D space-based real-time strategy game I played several years ago. It’s obvious that the developers have taken a lot of time to make this game look as good as possible.

Like most MMORPGs, there is no real goal to the game. Rather, you choose your own goal. Players can become better fighters, miners, researchers, CEOs, or even artists. Alternatively, they can work to improve their company or even just make friends with other people in the game. It’s very deep; there’s a lot of neat stuff to explore.

The problem with this game, as with other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft and Everquest, is that the games are huge time sinks, much more so than with traditional computer games. It’s easy to get obsessed with completing just one more mission or learning one just more skill. Also because the games encourge players to build communities with other players, people can end up spending much longer in the game world than they would if they could just save and go do something else.

The other problem with these games is the financial cost. Traditional PC games cost between $40 and $50; MMORPG’s generally operate on a subscription model. EVE Online, for example, costs $15/month. It’s not a bad deal necessarily, because you get both constant updates to the game (both bug fixes and new features) and high-quality connections between you and other players, but it’s still much more expensive than a traditional game.

EVE Online is a fun, high-quality game with few bugs and excellent graphics. However, because of the high price in both time and money, I don’t plan to renew past my 14 trial period. Life’s too short.