Tag Archives: Gaming

Finding Joy in Your Leisure

This might sound obvious, but… it can be easier to lose track of than it seems.

It can be easy to confuse an activity that you tend to enjoy, with always enjoying that activity no matter what you’re doing.

I’ve had to confront this concept several times lately. First up was in video gaming.

I wrote a while back that I was trying to decide on a game to play, because I was feeling the itch to play some video games and had not played much in a while. I had beaten Deus Ex Mankind Divided and then played a good amount of Mass Effect Andromeda but not much since. I toyed around with a lot of thoughts, but finally decided that my best option was probably just to power through Mass Effect Andromeda to beat it.

However, after playing a bit, I realized that I was really just going through the motions. System-wise, I’m so powerful every fight is just blasting through things. I’ve already turned up the difficulty once. By allowing you to learn all the abilities in the game, it lets you become just so good that the fights aren’t the point.

So then, the point is the relationships and conversation, right? But I’m continually amazed at how shallow some of the relationships have ended up, as in I just expect more conversation topics, more things to pop up. I started a relationship with Vetra, and it has been thoroughly bland. For a game with a ton in it, honestly it needs even more. At least my twin is finally awake…

I’ll get back to the game at some point and beat it, I imagine. Knowing that there won’t be any DLC – when the DLC in the previous Mass Effect games were some of the best parts, is disheartening. And knowing there won’t be a sequel. Those were the sorts of things that kept me going and kept me re-playing before, but now I just don’t know.

Basically, playing the game felt like it was me just playing to play a game at all, the action of which is not where I find joy. I don’t just play video games – I play video games I enjoy. Sometimes we have to push ourselves to get through parts we don’t like, things like that, but the game at its core needs to make you happy, or else why are you playing?

To answer the question what to play, I bought XCom 2 as the price dropped to a great spot. I’ve been loving it – they captured the feel of the first game, with some good improvements and changes both in system and thematically. It’s also a good one to pick up for a bit, do a mission, and put back down – fitting my life nicely at the moment.

The other thing I had been doing was some mobile gaming, in this case Magic the Gathering: Puzzle Quest. I don’t think I’ve fully written up a review, but it’s a pretty fun one. It’s free to play but they would love to sell you the in-game currencies, which you can use to buy both Planeswalkers – your avatar – or card packs. You also get cards slowly over time, and the currencies over time and from playing. There was definitely some learning curve; there are some elements that are automated and ordered for the computer to handle, so then you have to figure out control of the interface so that things play out like you intend. This is also the computer AI’s weakness in the game, as it tends to let things flow and there are several types of actions it does not take.

If I were to give a new player advice, it would be that there is a set of tutorial games in the Story section, not as the first option in those but by swiping to the side. Play through those, they not only teach you a lot of things (some of which I had learned or looked up online by the time I found the trainings, and some which I learned then), but they give you some free cards. If I were to give a second piece of advice, it’s join a coalition.

I actually started thinking of this post a while back when I was realizing that what I had reached a point of doing in this game was grinding dailies. There are Events which come up on a continual basis, you play games to gain rank, get currencies, get booster packs, and rank against other players for top rewards. The rewards are all great, but the continual basis of these coming up means you could just every day have a ton of this to play. I had fallen into playing every possible game in these Events (there’s a limiting factor of how many games you get to play, and which color of decks), and was staying up late playing the game like crazy, basically not realizing how much time I was putting into it.

Into grinding dailies.

I was getting close to cutting myself off completely, when the friend who got me into the game invited me to join a coalition he was joining. It’s a group of up to 20 players, who get a chat channel, and who have access to the occasional coalition events. These have great rewards, and you get rewards both from how you do and from how your coalition as a whole does. Some other events also include coalition points, but not all of them.

And this has helped me to cool down on my playing, to slow down. To not just play all of the dailies. I can focus instead on the events that include coalition play, but not stress myself, keep myself up at night, or just generally get distracted and play the game like crazy. Mobile games can do that, and it’s important to temper yourself. Many are also built to be a time filler that you can pour too much time into. I think I’ve found a good balance, by doing some stuff that’s fun and has a group feel to it, and to skipping some of the solo stuff that was just me feeding the game my time.

Because it’s not just about the act of playing, it’s about enjoying playing.

There are plenty of other things I could talk about. Quitting listening to podcasts that I don’t like, just because they’re on the topics I’m interested in. Really, I haven’t been reading enough lately to have an example here – though I will say, MtG Puzzle Quest is a decent game to play while listening to an audiobook!

But let’s just go with one other topic.

It’s been a bit since I’ve written a long form post here on the site, which maybe that fact alone ties back to my topic here. A lot of what I do, and have been doing since we moved to the new Comparative Geeks last year, is back-end work on the site: scheduling posts, putting podcasts together, these sorts of things. Those take up a lot of time where I could be creating instead, and they’re just plain not as fun as creating.

And it’s important to remember that something like this site is a side-project for us, not a job or a money maker. It’s a labor of love, and therefore it’s important that you love doing it. Holly and I have made it through by helping each other as we’ve waxed and waned in interest, we’ve kept the dream alive.

So while we’re about to take a long hiatus, I think that absence will do a lot to make the heart fonder. We haven’t taken a break this long before, but I think we’ll be back strong. We also have been planning on moving back to WordPress dot com, where there would be less behind the scenes management to worry about.


Remember that your leisure should be fun. I’ll try to do the same!


Are we doing more than playtesting?

I mentioned a while back that for the wargame I play, Warmachine & Hordes, they have opened up playtesting to their community. They’re a few cycles in now, and it’s interesting to reflect – especially given how much it’s getting talked about on the podcast circuit. Like normal, I’ll try to talk broadly about the game so you can follow along if you’re interested!

The first thing they put through the testing paces was a whole new faction coming out in July, so that got everyone interested/excited in checking out that many new rules at once, and got everyone playtesting as well on either the side of the new army, or playing against them.

Then, after a short break, they started testing the new scenario & tournaments ruleset, which they change on an annual basis so that they can keep the game changing and shaking up without having to redo the core rules and model rules constantly. Just changing the rules of engagement, so to speak, can do a lot to shake up the game. With this testing, they invited everyone to join in, and to even run tournaments using these playtest rules, so that they could get a large amount of playtest data.

Then (and concurrent with the end of the last test) they put through testing the Battle Engines in the game, which exist in every army. These are the large engines of warrior, so chariots and siege engines and such. So once again, they got everyone theoretically interested and involved, following the rules changes on models in their army, and in other armies as well, and playing test games where maybe both players had a Battle Engine, but maybe just one player did.

Last week, again after a bit of a break, they’ve finally begun what they have billed as the “normal” sort of playtesting cycle. This is the testing for the first of their new Theme Books, so it’s centered around a subset of one single army faction, with a number of new thematic releases, as well as testing for the existing models in that theme. It’s bled over a bit to the rest of the faction on a few things, but they’ve still kept a pretty tight focus on what they want people playtesting/talking about.

However, by this point – and especially if you listen to some of the podcasts – people are beginning to feel exhausted by the playtesting cycle. For the last several, we’ve all been engaged and paying attention, and so I imagine at a whole lot of game stores around the world, people were playing playtest games and not “real” games of Warmachine Hordes.

Many people consider those game night games to be their practice for the few tournaments they get to play in every year; maybe a bigger number locally, and then a lot of people seem to make their way to a convention or three a year and play in bigger tournaments. Stuck in Alaska, that’s a lot harder for us; the people who get to road trip for a weekend to do it obviously have a much easier time of it.

Which brings me to us playing, locally. We really liked the new scenario rules in playing them, and the shift it brought to how the game progressed. However, most of the guys at game night are headed to the big Privateer Press convention in July, Lock & Load, and they found out that they will still be playing the “old” scenario rules there (in fact, it’s the last hurrah for those rules, and the new ones start the Monday after the con). So we played our playtest games, started to wrap our heads around the changes, and we’ve had to try to snap back to the “real rules” and play games so that they can practice before they travel and compete!

And I imagine this is the sort of thing that others are experiencing and feeling. There’s a time and a place for playtesting, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of not playing the core, “real” game. Changes have been coming fast at times in the playtest realm, and so the things you play might not remain at all for future games.

Indeed, the last lingering doubt we all seem to have is that we have not seen any “final” models out of the community playtest yet – the first ones will be out next month. So we’re assuming that this is progressing well, but the proof will be in the “real” rules that come out at the end of it.

Meaning it feels like there is a bit of a backlash against playtesting right now, right as they get into full swing of doing “normal” playtesting. Luckily, it’s a narrower focus with it being just one army involved (and whatever opponents they can rope into playing a playtest game), and by all expectations it’s my army, the Trollbloods, next – but again, still just one army). So we can all take a breather now and play more normal games.

So maybe they just did a bit too much full-community-engagement playtesting right from the get-go. Or maybe it has to do a bit with the old Privateer Press forums going away – so now the interesting forums to go to are the playtest forums.

Maybe it has to do especially for the podcasters with them trying to keep up with the news. The news used to be, hey we saw this art, or they announced this thing coming soon, or oh hey a whole new book is out with tons of legal rules (even though the models wouldn’t be out/legal often for a year or more) to go over. Now, all of those sorts of news items are happening through the playtesting – so trying to give the news and talk through rules, when they then change the following week and you’re about to podcast on them again and go through the minute changes and details… it’s perhaps a little disheartening. The podcasts very quickly seem to have dropped going into details about the changes and playtest model details – but with that, they’ve kind of generally lost the ability to talk about the news in a detailed way.

More than anything, this feels like growing pains. We’ll have a better sense of this all in about a month, when we see final rules after playtest. And then we’ll see if there’s something new to be concerned about!

Trexels – Star Trek Casual Gaming

I don’t mind saying I’m a casual gamer. In fact, I just did a few weeks ago when I reviewed High School Story. When I browse through Star Trek games, a description listing “explore new worlds, fight battles, assign officers, build your own ship,” and all that can actually put me off. I still want to play those games, but they sound like work when I want relaxation, or a huge time commitment that I can’t make on a daily basis. So, when I found Trexels, I knew I wanted to give it a try — It’s basically a Star Trek version of simple sim/building games like High School Story or Farmville, made by YesGnome LLC.

Trexels ship building

The game is very clear and guided at the beginning, and you mostly choose from options rather than completely designing from scratch, but there’s some flexibility in your assignment of officers and order of missions. (Plus it’s a mobile game, so of course it’s designed to be relatively simple, easy to pick up and put down). Your time is split between constructing rooms in your ship, which give you resources and abilities, and going on exploratory missions. There’s a pretty interesting game mechanic where battles, negotiations, and scientific studies all involve quickly tapping on glowing cubes randomly strewn across the screen in order to power up your weapon/diplomacy/research. It gets more complicated as the game goes on and you accumulate more abilities, although the mechanic stays the same.(And I should mention there’s an option to battle other gamers’ starships, but I don’t play that much because I’m not good at it.)

Those quests/missions are my favorite part, because they most closely resemble Star Trek episodes, and I love the way they incorporate original series sound effects and incidental music (plus occasionally the voice of George Takei). The interface has a colorful Next Generation feel to it, though. The whole game is an odd but fun conglomeration of all the shows, beginning with TOS-style characters and slowly incorporating those from later eras, including your own choices and VIP characters from the shows. The characters show a variety of Star Trek races and human skin tones, and “dating” isn’t a concern, so I’m satisfied with the diversity available.

Trexels TNG characters

As the game progresses it takes a lot of grinding for resources between missions, so that’s my least favorite part, but it’s certainly doable without spending real money. There are also too many screens for each activity, specifically reward screens showing how many resources you just got that seem to take forever. And despite the general guided quality early in the game, I would have liked a little more instruction on how to use officers. You need a bridge crew, but then you also have a list of unassigned officers you can send on away missions, and each officer has their own advantages and disadvantages plus skill points.

I definitely wish I could get resources more quickly and do more missions, but on the whole, I’ve very much enjoyed Trexels and the style of directed gameplay it offers. It’d be a great choice for anyone wanting a casual Star Trek game. I think it’s whetted my appetite for the more advanced Trek games though, so leave any title recommendations in the comments!

Looking Again at Scribblenauts

In the early days of having smart devices, I used to look at the App store far more often to look for interesting things. In doing so, I grabbed a number of games that – while available in other ways – seemed like a nice addition to my mobile devices. Since then, Katamari DamacyScribblenauts, the early Final Fantasy games, and others have gone largely unused – but I’ve kept them on my devices just in case.

Over time, the games that have been the main-stays for me on my mobile devices have been board and card game adaptations, a growing field of game apps. For travel, especially, being able to bring a number of full-size board games with you on a tablet is pretty fantastic, and compared to their non-digital counterparts, the value is amazing.

Flash forward to recently, and the Geek Baby Toddler. I’ll avoid any long discussion of screen time just to say: there is some. The most common screen time is usually with my phone, and looking through all the photos and videos I’ve taken. Other great apps have included ones for drawing, as the cleanup is easy! However, when looking for something to interact with already on my device, and scrolling through all these board games that aren’t a good choice yet… I went back to some of these older games.

The first one I tried was Katamari Damacy, but that quickly proved to not be a good choice yet. The Geek Toddler is far more interested in pressing buttons and getting feedback from her actions that way. So then I tried Scribblenauts.

Scribblenauts originally came out in 2009 for the DS, and made use of the stylus with that system for gameplay – thus the “scribble.” It is a puzzle game but also a sandbox sort of game. You have an avatar, you’re trying to get the star for the level, and there are various challenges in your way. Then you have the power to draw or write the name of something and have it appear in the game.

Like, anything.

I mean, probably not anything but items from a book or a ball, to an elephant or a dragon, to a lasso or a pair of angel wings… to my personal favorite for any number of challenges, a black hole.

The game is programmed with all sorts of fun interactions, like some animals being aggressive, lots of vehicle riding and rope attaching antics… Cthulhu…

It’s a fun game, and does a decent job if I remember right of leveling up the difficulty as you go. The star can’t be destroyed or you fail, so often you’re left trying to get it out of danger or having to come up with a gentle solution when you can’t just bull-in-a-china-shop your way through. You also have a limited number of items you can have out at one time, so it’s often about both thinking of a way to solve the puzzle and about how to do it without needing too many elements.

If you missed Scribblenauts, there’s a couple of flavors of it now on mobile, as well as in-app purchases, because of course. Because of the stylistic art design and fun gameplay, this game has aged just fine and will I think remain just fine for the foreseeable future.

Which brings me back to opening this game up with the Geek Toddler. The main hub screen is also just a sandbox, with your avatar standing there, and the ability to create things. I have been able to get the Geek Toddler to request things, and to write them in and voila! There’s an elephant!

You can ride the elephant, summon other animals, do all kinds of things. We tried out some of the early levels, as well, and she stayed interested. The early ones are a bit tutorial, with things like creating items to give to working professionals. Then again, something like that sounds a whole lot like a puzzle or book for a young one – what does a doctor use? A fire fighter? These things.

So while yes, I have to read the puzzles and put in most all of the work right now, that’s a starting point. And sharing in the activity on a device is a great way to do it anyway. And over time, there are elements of the game that she’s going to be able to pick up – like manipulating the objects on the screen, brainstorming solutions to the puzzle, and eventually even the reading and the writing (on the iPad it seems to mainly be writing to create the items).

With a toddler in the house, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of levels to a lot of toys – which feels like its own separate discussion for another day! But it’s great to find another thing like this where we can level up her engagement and learning with it over time. I’m looking forward to more Scribblenauts!

Chrononauts: The Card Game of Time Travel!

CHRON.Box-S_0What would YOU do with a Time Machine? Would you stop the sinking of the Titanic? Prevent the assassination of JFK? Kill Hitler before WWII? These are just a few of the possibilities in Chrononauts, the award-winning card game of time travel. To win, you must change history at key points called Linchpins, so that history transforms into the Alternate Reality your character calls home. You can also win by collecting a specific set of Artifacts, such as a live dinosaur, the Mona Lisa, and an unpublished Shakespearean play. But be careful – if you create too many paradoxes, you could destroy the entire universe!

We’re big Munchkin fans in my family — we have roughly a thousand expansion sets and we play almost every holiday when we’re all together. This past Christmas we decided to change it up a little with something new to us — Chrononauts, an award-winning card game from Looney Labs, first released in 2000. It’s basically a simpler Munchkin for history and time-travel nerds. Like Doctor Who? You’ll love this!

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