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    Five Crowns (Other)    by   DarkMagicianBob       (Feb 6th, 2016 at 20:42:46)

    Here I am going to analyze the card game Five Crowns. I will be listing some of the pros and cons and meta-mechanics about this game and how they contribute to the overall experience. This will be done by describing two different playthroughs of this game that happened and could theoretically happen.

    First, I will be explaining the rules. Five Crowns is a simple rummy-esque game where your goal is to get rid of all of your cards. There are five suits (correlating to five crowns) which have all symbols that are normally part of a deck's suit in addition to the star symbol. The cards go from 3 to King (13), and these have one duplicate each, and there are also six Joker cards. Each round, a new number is considered the wild card (in addition to the always wild Jokers). Wild cards can be used to fill in the spot of any card of any suit and value in a set. You start from 3 cards all the way to 13 cards. And every round you start with 3 all the way to 13 random cards (to correlate with the currently wild card).

    In order to get rid of your cards they must be sorted into sets that are at least 3 card's in size. The sets can either be 3 (or larger) of the same number or a straight of the same suit. For example, if the round calls for 4 cards you must have 4 cards in the set or else you can't go out. The person who's currently "it" can either pick a card from the face-down deck that can be used to replace one of the cards they currently possess or select the current face-up card from the stack of discarded cards. The player doesn't have to use the card they pick up but that's an option. The player must have the same number they start out with as in the beginning.

    As soon as somebody goes out, they have 0 "bad" points to add to their score and the players that come after them have one more turn to help keep their roundís score to a minimum. Any cards that are not part of a set get added to their score. In addition to the obvious scores of 3 to 13 for the regular cards, the currently wild card (i.e. card with value 6 for round 6) is worth 20 points, and Jokers are worth 50. Some players (my family included) only count the temporarily wild card as its face value only. The game goes in a similar fashion until the Kings round is over. The person with the least amount of points at the end of all rounds is the winner.

    One playthrough that I played with my family ended with me winning the game. For starters, I went out on the very first turn of the first round, much to the chagrin of everyone else. The somewhat bad thing about the first round (the round with 3 cards) is that you either go out or you don't and you have to add all of your cards. There is no in-between. And if you have two wild cards (which is something like a 4.3% chance of happening) you go out immediately no matter what third card you have. You also have to get rid of your Joker card (which can be used to the next person's advantage) if you can't do anything with it (since itís worth 50 points). When I go out right out the bat like that, I usually ask the person in front of me if they want the card I have or not. Some players (like my mom) also wait a turn before declaring themselves out to give someone a fair chance. Hence round 3 is probably the harshest round.

    Round 4 and 5 are about the same no matter what playthrough you are in. Sometimes you are lucky enough to get out early and make everyone get points but, more likely than not, it's more of a slog that requires more turns than round 3 (you have to get a set of size 4 or 5 in these rounds). Round 6 allows you to have two sets of 3 this time which is marginally easier than the previous two rounds. I believe my brother got upset over the fact that my dad went out during the second turn of that round and he had rotten luck with starting cards. My brother in this instance got what my grandparents call a Chinese straight where you have numerous sets of 2 matching cards but no third one to complete the set (and no Wild cards of course). You have to eat your points then.

    I suppose that leads to my one minor complaint about this game: it is more luck based than strategy based. You have to bend to the whim of the cards and you can't really create luck from thin air. And even if you follow a certain strategy that normally helps you, sometimes it can backfire horribly. For example, a strategy that I normally employ (and did employ in the mid-game of this particular game) is to hold onto the Queens and Kings that are dropped by the other players. Because the Queens and Kings are the highest valued cards (barring Wild cards) most players get rid of them unless they have a good number of those cards to begin with or they're Wild. I subvert this strategy by instead "collecting their garbage". Sometimes it works like a charm (like it did in a couple of rounds in this game) but sometimes it will increase your score by 20 to 30.

    As you progress through a game you have more options with how you can arrange your cards, which allows for more flexibility and a tiny bit more strategy. On round 10, my mom miraculously had a straight consisting of six cards (with no Wilds) and a single 3 card (with 3 Wilds to finish the set). Holding onto a three card especially when things are looking tight or the round has been going on for a while is a particularly useful strategy. Except for going out with zero points, three points is the lowest amount of points you can get in a round. Because of this, it is probably the most common score to get in the game and feels about as good as going out. Unfortunately, my mother had consistently terrible luck for the rest of this game and firmly cemented herself in last place after the Jacks round.

    I am not sure why this is the case but it seems as if players go out relatively quickly in the later rounds in the game despite having more cards into play. For example, in this playthrough, I went out after two turns in the Jacks round, and immediately in the Queens round. It could be because of the heightened flexibility of how you can use your cards later in the game (contrasting to how you're forced to have 3, 4, or 5 cards in the set in the beginning). It could also be because you are much more likely to have more wild cards in your deck with which you can create sets with relative ease.

    During the last round, I was going strong in this game and was ahead of second place by 40 points. That all could change, however, because since there are more cards in play, you have a higher chance to get a disgustingly large score. That even happened to me in another unrelated playthrough where I was in the lead but was forced to eat 54 points during the Kings round because someone else was lucky enough to go out turn 1. Obviously, I was devastated. But in this game, I had only fifteen points worth of unmatched cards in the first turn, so I was guaranteed to win no matter what. My mom went out but it was a little too much too late. Although there is such a thing as redemption in the late game, my mom couldnít benefit at all from her win. Mom was behind everyone by nearly a hundred points when I won the game by 32 points.

    The scores tend to fluctuate more depending on how many players are actually in the game. As an example, I had like 79 points whereas most were in the mid-hundreds, and mom was at 250-ish. The game recommends only having a maximum of 8 players but we have managed to have 9 at one point. You can theoretically play the game with 2 people but I feel as if the game becomes incredibly boring at that point and the scores tend to be more equal and similar when you have less people. I will be describing in less detail a game where it was only me and my mother playing.

    I find that the rounds take even longer when you have more people even though this is probably not exactly the case. It's probably because it feels much more repetitive and less competitive when there are only two people playing. It felt like a shorter version of War at that point (where one person simply draws the top card of their deck and wins the round if theirs is larger). War, in my opinion, is the most boring card game in existence and should only be played by people who don't have the cognitive abilities to play better, more complex card games (six-year-olds as an example).

    In contrast to the first playthrough, it took about seven rounds for one of us to go out with three cards. This isn't exactly the norm by any means, but it does show how drawn-out games with less people can be. Rounds continued to have more turns and this allowed someone to craft a better deck to get out with. It seemed as if each round the loser would only be stuck with points values that were under ten (quite underwhelming). Only during a couple of rounds did anything exciting happen and someone went out immediately. And even during those rounds, only one round gave me more than 10 points (23 to be exact).

    And even though the rounds felt like they were longer and the game more monotonous, this game in reality lasted much shorter than "normal" games. It took us about 38 minutes to complete the game, when on average it takes almost an hour to do so (sometimes more if there are more players involved). Surprisingly, out of all the games that I have played, nobody has ever gotten to the bottom of the deck. Even when we had a group of nine people playing that didn't happen. I suppose that's an aspect of good game design (you don't break the game by causing everyone to forfeit and eat whatever points they had).

    Even though I have been listing off a litany of what can be perceived as cons, there are good aspects of this game. Because it doesn't require complex, "serious" strategy like chess, players can just relax and have fun with it. And even though my brother and father can get enraged when rounds don't go their way, at least the player can know it was mostly luck that led to a loss and not their terrible strategy. It can be played by nearly all ages (the game box recommends the age of 8 at a minimum) and it's simple enough that even my somewhat autistic brother can play it. This game leads to good conversations generally and can lead to laughter when someone does egregiously poorly or does exceptionally well. It's a family game, through and through.


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    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 6th, 2016 at 11:40:47)

    I so wish I had waited to complete Skyrim before starting The Witcher 3. This game feels fresh and exciting, but I also wish that after playing Witcher 3 for a while, Skyrim will also feel a bit more exciting. Anyway, can't turn back the clock and un-know the Witcher.

    The immediate thing I love about it is that it treats you like an adult, like an intelligent human being who is controlling a complex character (Geralt) in this incredibly gritty world. This game doesn't care about holding your hand. An elegant tutorial, encyclopedia entries if you need to know anything else, and you get dropped into the world with an immense number of options at your fingertips.

    I played like 4 hours yesterday and have a great sense of the world, its people, its politics, its history, all its wonderful complexity. I don't even think I gained a level. But I found so many neat things, died a couple times to monsters many times stronger than me, completed some interesting side quests (track down an arsonist who was motivated by racism, help a man and his dog find his brother in a battlefield riddled with corpses and flesheating monsters). So far, side quests are never as straightforward as they seem. There's some twist, some lesson, something that illuminates interpersonal relationships among the game's characters. Like the guy's brother you go help to find, you find him huddled in a shack with an enemy soldier. Although you are previously exposed to the great tension between these two groups of people, seeing these two laughing together to stave off the depression of knowing they will die alone in a shack from war wounds is heartening. You realize that maybe the occupying soldiers aren't all bad, that perhaps the occupied people have their own prejudices too.

    The Witcher series has always excelled at exploring gray areas of morality and my time with the Witcher 3 is promising this exploration on a grand and deep scale. It is so refreshing to play a game where there aren't "bad guys" versus "good guys" and a little good-to-evil meter for your character. This world just IS how it is, and Geralt and everyone else are just doing what they have to to survive in it in the context of all the larger events shaping their lives.

    I am going to take my sweet time and savor this game, and hope to have some good stories to tell about it.

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    Mount & Blade (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 5th, 2016 at 15:27:02)

    I did not realize this game was so old (2007!). I also didn't realize that there was a sequel (Mount & Blade: Warband) that is supposedly everything Mount & Blade is and more. Come to think of it, I think that I thought I was playing Warband because I remember reading about Mount & Blade's great multiplayer. Well, the first thing I did was look for multiplayer but there wasn't the option. Sadface.

    So what did I unknowingly get myself into? A medieval action-RPG with big battles. Definitely neat. Definitely piqued my interest. You start with a tutorial where you run this awful looking (and naked?) man through a building learning how to attack with a sword and a bow, and how to block with a shield and a weapon. Then you learn how to mount a horse and do those things while galloping. Then you get dropped onto a giant map with 100s of locations that all seemed available for exploration. A little overwhelming right there.

    But it's okay. I've played overwhelming games. Let's see...Looks like I'm a leader of an army, but I have no army. I'll go to this town. Ok, I can walk around the town and all the villagers tell me the same thing. Oh, there's a village elder. He gave me a quest. Train 7 peasants. I trained 7 peasants and then bandits attacked! They slaughtered most of the peasants! So I hired some villagers to come fight with me. My army now has like 10 people! Let's go to the next town. Ok, more villagers. Oh, there's the elder. "Bring me 7 wheat." Ok...Let's go to the next town. More villagers. Then the elder. "Bring us 7 cattle." Ok...Let's go to the next town. More villagers. An elder. "Bring us 7 fish." Ok...

    I finally went to a castle, which was more interesting. You can fight in an arena for some gold, see the ruler of the castle, get a slightly more interesting quest, and wander through more villagers who all say the same thing. I got a quest to kill some guy, so I left the castle and looked for the city where he was on the map. It was pretty far away, so I clicked to move my army. A minute later, we were attacked by bandits! We killed them all, and I only lost a few men. Then we were attacked by bandits again. Not so good this time. I lost most of my men. Then we were instantly attacked again, and outnumbered like 14-3. Ok. Surrender.

    "You break free!" Yay! I walked myself to that city to kill that guy again, and didn't get ambushed. I killed the guy. Ok...I went back to the castle and reported my good news. I got some gold, then was told to go collect a lot of taxes. I collected a lot of taxes and upset the local population. I guess I should recruit some more men for my army. Great, let's go to another city. Ambushed. Captured. Lose everything again. Maaaaaan...

    I see the big picture. You're supposed to build up an army and gain fame and riches in the land. You can ally with various factions in the land, betray them, fight a lot, gain better and better equipment and horses, and I guess you're just supposed to become a badass. But it's hard to start off, and there's no real story, so I can't bring myself to care. I was looking forward to playing online because the fighting, although sort of clumsy feeling, is fun. I can imagine a battlefield full of players mounting and blading. If people even play it anymore since Warband is older now too. Anyway, I've played too much really old stuff lately. I need something newer.

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    Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jan 31st, 2016 at 21:19:14)

    Fooled around long enough in Civ IV. I don't remember sinking too much time into earlier versions of the game, not like RTS games such as Starcraft or Age of Empires. I know I'm 10 years late to this one. There have been two whole new Civ games since 2005. I bought this probably like 5 years ago too and just never booted it up because I assumed it would eat my time. Well, I guess I'm not 14 anymore and Civ isn't as appealing. "Just one more turn..!" "Ok. Click. Exit." I wonder how much of it is due to just feeling old.

    Anyway, I really don't have a lot to say about it. So many people have played a Civilization game before. I think I'd last played Civilization II or III, whichever one led to a couple friends of mine failing out of college. I was wondering while playing what political responses to the game were in other countries. The game is totally biased toward Western social democratic styles of economy and governance. Those are the penultimate selections on the various progression trees. What do countries like Thailand or China or Russia think of this? Turns out that another city-building game, Tropico 5, is banned in Thailand for hitting a little too close to home!

    The Thai media censorship board said the game might threaten order in the country, and this after a 2014 military coup. Ironically, Tropico 5 models a humorous type of pseudo-military dictatorship (think Cuba). Apparently the Thai government didn't want anyone else getting any bright ideas from role-playing a corrupt politician. That's part of why I stopped playing Civ IV after less than 10 hours. I couldn't look past the biases in the design. I mean, I agree with the biases, but they're so clearly biases for certain institutional arrangements and against others. Sure, slavery and mercantilism and polytheism have their benefits, but the progression trees end with environmentalist economies and free religion (is that freedom *of* religion or freedom *from* religion? not sure!).

    The only other city builder or 4X game on my wishlist is Crusader Kings I think. I hope it's less deterministic feeling than Civ IV. It sounds cool from reading about it, but I suppose we shall see when the price with all DLC drops!



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    This war of mine (PC)    by   simba1337       (Jan 28th, 2016 at 14:47:23)

    Having managed to survive for only 15 days on my 1st attempt I was more determined to succeed on my second attempt. This time I started off with 4 people in my shelter, 2 men and 2 women, one of whom was sick. Having learnt that food was a daily requirement, I started to plan/prioritize the items I would scavenge for during the night. During the day, I ensured I made sufficient beds and gathered all the resources available in the shelter. I also, built my metal workshop sooner and built a crowbar as it seemed like an essential commodity.

    The game does not give you time to settle down. One mistake at any stage of the game could have dire consequences on individuals and effectively on the group. Once again, I ensured I spent several nights looting the safest locations, until I had squeezed them of all the resources. Somewhere during the 4th day, I had this feeling that managing 4 people with such limited resources was becoming really hard. As a group trying to survive, should you get rid of the weakest link? This question also opened up another interesting thought. The individuals should not in any way get overly attached/ dependent on another as you may never know when something could go wrong.

    During the 8th night though, I had no choice but to steal from the supermarket in search of food, but I ran into other scavengers who were armed with guns. I ended up losing Pavle and all the resources I had managed to collect. Having lost a member, the remaining survivors were in low spirits but luckily, one of the individuals was able to bolster spirits and I had books and cigarettes to rid them of their worries soon enough.

    I installed a radio the next day, which helped me make several decisions regarding locations for scavenging. Boris was the new addition to the group on day 11 and it was funny how in my mind, I had already set him apart from the core group and was willing to risk his life for dangerous missions rather than one from the core group. Luckily though he was strong and had a large baggage space.

    All in all, I must say I'm impressed with the game. I wasn't sure what to expect at the start but once I was able to get a hang of things, I was able to find a lot of interesting features in the game, which seemed like a mix of a simulation but also with a very captivating narrative, which sets it apart from most games I've played. The game also gives importance to little details like the animation changes with the changes in the state of the characters, making the experience realistic.

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    Contract Killer: Zombies (iPd)    by   fanwar3

    I found this zombie game one week ago on the app store; it was called Contract Killer: Zombies. It is the second installment in the Contract Killer franchise. Although the original Contract Killer was based on the world of crime, espionage, and sniper rifles, this new installment takes those same concepts but throws it into the world of a zombie apocalypse. This is called theming, which involves taking a set of rules and giving a different set of context. The concept of this game is simple; I play as the main character Shooter, a loner who picks up the sweet girl next door. Her name is Evelyn. Together, the main character and her scavenge for supplies and rescue survivors who are looking for a way out. Although Shooter is in a wheelchair, during each level while someone runs around collecting supplies or running to a helicopter, I am positioned to shoot incoming zombies and must remain there for the duration of the level. The goal is to survive while protecting Shooterís fellow survivors. His disability impinges on the action that I canít really move during missions. In other words, I have to pivot about on a single point, like a stationary turret. Missions involve assisting survivors during their escape or in their efforts to find necessary supplies. Survivor Evelyn often accompanies me on these missions but she will run into difficulties if I neglect her. These missions are displayed on an aerial map of the deserted city, which gives an impression of the scale of chaos inflicted it since the apocalypse. The helicopter missions are not that difficult, but shooting distance may prove a point when the zombies arenít effectively killed. But I somehow manage to beat the helicopter levels, depending on the difficulty. The levels have a range of difficulties marked by colors. Red represents expert, orange represents veteran, and green represents novice. The veteran levels feel kind of normal at times and can sometimes be outright difficult. Since this game makes incredible use of the touch screen, I use one finger to adjust the view, scoping out any undead zombies. There are three buttons on the screen: one left button that zooms in, one right button allows me to fire the weapon, and the button above this button allows me to switch between weapons. Additional buttons may appear if I have bombs and other power-ups. Since the screen is clutter free, I can focus the task at hand. There are boundaries in each level that limits the playerís actions and movements to a specific space. They create functional zones for gameplay. Shooter can carry two weapons: one small firearm and one large weapon. I have a choice of various revolvers, automatic weapons, or shotguns, but each will cost me. Completing levels will earn my dollars, varying from hundreds of dollars. I can also pay out of my pocket to get the gattling gun that I wanted. There are also gold tokens in the game, which allow me to buy weapons that require these tokens. I can complete offers to get free gold. But I also hate the fact that I have to pay or complete offers to get more powerful weapons to beat harder levels. Sometimes, I have a feeling that the game makes it difficult to the point where I canít shoot so I could buy gold or cash!! Money takes a long time to earn. This game is a scam!! In fact, I receive small amounts of cash as I progress through the game. I feel like there should be a way to sell weapons to get money to buy more powerful weapons. For most of the game, I have been using the Dual MP-643, which are light weight compact sub-machine guns with extended stocks for increased accuracy and comfort while killing zombies. This weapon proved well for most of the levels, even those that involve shooting from a helicopter. It is effective for missions that require killing hoardes of zombies. I donít need to concern myself with finding ammo, as tis unlimited. But I have to account for the time it takes to reload a weapon. The weapons store appears on the city map. Types of rifle, shotgun, and pistol are restricted by level and each costs an amount of normal currency or the gameís premium currency, which you acquire through in-app purchases. Another problem arises once I played an assortment of levels. Levels begin to become repetitive, and the sound of a zombieís skull cracking can keep me playing for so long. I still play at the same areas in many of the missions. These same areas involve roofs, football fields, and the same other various areas. Sometimes, I grow weary of shooting zombies and not doing other activities. When it comes to production values, the game shines. The environments look wonderful and the city maps are amazing. There isnít much story development in this game, but the monologues of Shooter give me an idea of the grizzly world. But I donít really praise the graphics since the game uses many polygonal 3D graphics. With these graphics, the game just looks flat out ugly. The graphics are not even on par with Dead Trigger, which is another zombie shooter I am playing on the iPhone. While the guns and hands of the protagonist animate great, the same cannot be said of the zombies and survivors. The boring zombie models actually impede my ability to play effectively as they blend into the backgrounds. However, itís easy to overlook these complaints because the game is just plain satisfying to play.

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