Friday, April 25, 2014

Board Game Review: Forbidden Desert

Do you like cooperative games? Are you interested in a game that will appeal to your extended family, your children, and your serious gaming buddies? Do you like dying miserably in a hostile, unforgiving desert? If you said yes to any of these questions, then you might be interested in Forbidden Desert, a cooperative survival game designed by Matt Leacock (of Pandemic and Forbidden Island fame). 

In Forbidden Desert, two-to-five players team up as a group of scientists on a mission to excavate a fabled ancient city that's been lost to the desert sands. When they arrive at the site of the buried city, a powerful storm wrecks their helicopter, stranding them at the mercy of the blazing sun and a raging sand storm. To survive, the group will have to work together to unearth the city in search of ancient technologies and, in the process, rebuild a legendary flying machine before succumbing to dehydration or being swept away by the storm. 

Forbidden Desert is a deceptively simple game -- so simple that kids and non-gaming adults will be able to grasp its mechanisms and quickly contribute to the welfare of the group. Beneath that first layer of sand, however, lies a fiercely difficult game that will challenge even the most veteran of gamers. It's a game that strongly promotes teamwork and careful strategizing, and its theme shines through the gameplay so strongly that you'll feel genuine tension and desperation as you attempt to escape the forbidden desert.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tearaway: The Vita's Iconic Killer App

If anyone's been waiting for the emergence of a "killer app" to justify buying a PlayStation Vita, then Tearaway is your answer. It took a while -- nearly two full years, practically a lifetime for a fledgling console struggling to find its feet -- but the Vita finally has a game that takes full advantage of its unique hardware and which provides a gaming experience unlike any other on any console. Tearaway is the singular game showcasing what the Vita is capable of, and it's the singular game for which it's worth owning a Vita.

Tearaway is, essentially, a 3D platforming game set in a world made entirely of paper. You take control of an anthropomorphic envelope, known in this world as a "Messenger," on a mission to deliver a message to the mysterious face that's suddenly appeared in the sun -- your face, as captured by the front-facing camera on the Vita. You are technically not the Messenger in this game; you are yourself, a sort of godlike figure peering into its world, literally holding the world in your hands. Using your special godlike powers (ie, your fingers) you're able to physically reach into this world and manipulate it, shaping its appearance and helping the Messenger on his (or her) quest to deliver a message to You.

The concept of being a "god" overseeing a world and altering it to your liking has been done many times before. So has the concept of the player being a real person whose computer screen is actually a portal to another world. Tearaway is not entirely unique in this regard, but I've never played (nor heard of) another game that gets you so personally involved in the experience. You're an on-screen character in this game, and every input has you reaching through the fourth wall to physically touch and interact with the world. It's unique, wonderful, and immensely charming, but what's perhaps more surprising is that it's actually a pretty good platformer, too.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Board Game Review: Eldritch Horror

For the second time ever, I'd like to talk about something other than video games. The last time I diverged from the chosen topic of this blog was to complain about that one really disappointing Batman movie; this time I'll at least be sticking to the general topic of gaming while I review my recent purchase of the narrative-driven, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Eldritch Horror board game by Fantasy Flight Games.

My friends and I all enjoy playing video games, and whenever we get together there's a strong tendency for us to setup a multiplayer game to pass a couple of hours. After a few years of playing the same games over and over again, I was getting a little tired of it and made the radical suggestion that we try playing a board game instead. Being completely unfamiliar with board games, the difficult part of that suggestion was narrowing such a wide selection of interesting games down to one. After reading through lists of popular games, I decided to go with Eldritch Horror because of its Lovecraftian subject matter and its blend of strategy and role-playing elements.

In Eldritch Horror, players assume the roles of up to eight investigators as they attempt to solve mysteries across the globe in order to prevent one of four "ancient ones" from awakening and ravaging the earth. Each investigator has their own unique stats and abilities; during encounters, investigators draw a random card from the deck, which describes each scenario as the story progresses, and resolve skill checks by rolling dice. As they travel the globe, investigators acquire arcane spells and artifacts, battle other-worldly monsters, close gates to other dimensions, and deal with horrifying supernatural encounters.