December 2009


Games December 23rd, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Pokemon Rumble

On December 2, 2009 Pokemon International released the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG): Rumble to coincide with the release of the Pokemon Rumble game on WiiWare. This game combines TCG strategy with a board game presentation, is fully compatible with all of your existing Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) cards and can be played with two to seven players.

The box contains 16 cards (same in every box), a set of energy dice, a targeting die, a Battle Royale Playmat, 14 player markers (two per player), and rules. The 16 cards are from an exclusive Pokémon Rumble set that can only be acquired in this box and each card has a foil Pokémon Rumble logo imprinted on it.

The game begins by laying out the Battle Royale Playmat and placing Pokemon cards (one face-up and one face-down) on each of the seven slots on the playmat. Players then take turns placing their player markers (max of two per slot, can't double up your own marker) on the playmat. The player markers have either a three or a five on the back side and these numbers come into play when the game ends for scoring purposes.

On a player's turn the four energy dice are rolled. The dice are six-siders that have a dash on one side and various energy symbols on the other five faces. There is also a special energy symbol that can be used as any type of energy. After rolling the dice the player scans the Pokémon on the playmat (not just ones with his/her marker) and chooses which attack to use. For example Rattata can use Bite for 20 damage at a cost of two colorless energy and Pikachu can use Volt Tackle which can cause 60 damage to another Pokémon but also causes 10 damage to Pikachu for a cost of one electric and two colorless energy. If both of these Pokémon are on the playmat and a player rolls enough energy they can use either of these attacks to injure or knock out other Pokémon.

After choosing what attack to use from which Pokémon a special red target die is cast. This is another six-sided die that is numbered from one to three (three ones, two twos, one three) and decides which Pokemon is hit with the attack. All attacks are made in a clockwise direction and the Pokémon launching the attack can not attack itself.

After rolling the target die and seeing which Pokemon is hit weaknesses and resistances are taken into consideration. This part of the game works exactly the same as the standard TCG system. When a Pokémon is weak or strong against an attack they suffer more or less damage. If a Pokémon is not knocked out from an attack, damage counters are placed on the card. If a Pokémon is knocked out from the attack the attacking player takes the card and flips the remaining card face-up. If that was the last Pokémon in that slot then the slot remains empty and is ignored for the rest of the game.

There are two ways for the game to end: If only one player still has markers on the playmat or if only one pile of Pokémon still has player markers on it. When the game ends any remaining player markers on the playmat are given back to their respective players and the number on the back is added to their score along with one point per Pokémon defeated. If a player knocked-out four Pokémon then four points would be added to their score. If this same player had their three point marker on the playmat at the end of the game their score would now be seven (four Pokémon + three point player marker). The player with the highest score is the winner.

The cards in the game are 100% compatible with the existing Pokémon TCG cards but not all Pokémon TCG cards can be used in Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG): Rumble. Any Pokémon that requires more than four energy for its attacks can not be used due to the number of dice in the game. Also special effects are not used in this game so Pokémon who rely on such things will be less powerful.

All in all I have to say that we played the game and found it enjoyable. The game is weighted more towards luck than strategy (dice) but some basic strategic skills will help. The learning curve is very low and even though the game suggests players be 10 or older this game can easily be played with younger players who enjoy collecting the Pokémon Trading Cards but are not able to play the game.

Put this one on your holiday shopping list for your Pokemon fans!

As an added bonus Pokémon International has also released a new collector tin for the holiday season. The Arceus tin is available now and includes a special foil Lv. X Arceus card and four booster packs from recent sets.

You can purchase this game through Funagain Games.

This is cross-posted on PokeFarm

video games December 5th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

I've begun to notice something in my gaming life; misery loves company.

I know what your thinking, “that's an old saying Steve so what are you talking about?” If you give me a few minutes of your time I'll try and explain it.

As a child of the American 70's and 80's I grew up with the likes of Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Avalon Hill, and in later years Nintendo. Most of the board games I played were player vs. player. The only exceptions would be role playing games but even when I played those games I more often than not ran the games as opposed to being a player in them. For all practical purposes I was always playing single player against the game (in the case of video games) or against a group of others (board and RPG games.)

In recent years more cooperative board games have appeared on the market and I've tried a few. It can often be hard to get a group of players together once you advance in years and move into family life. Yes, you have your family to play games with but you can only play so many games with children before your head explodes!

For me the only real outlet for group gaming has been video games. It is also an outlet that has only recently moved me into the world of cooperative group gaming. Whether it be an FPS or a rhythm game I have found that as fun as these games are when you play them solo the fun factor increases exponentially with each additional player.

Let's take the Rock Band franchise for example. I can do a pretty decent job playing the game on medium difficulty by myself but it's not really fun to play it solo. It is much more fun to have a group of friends (or in my case kids) over and jam out as a band, switching instruments between songs. Even though I can't carry a note in a bucket I still have fun making noise into a microphone while the others jam out on their instruments. It doesn't matter whether we five star the song or barely squeak by, as long as we live or die together we all have fun. Yes, even when we lose we still have fun.

Which brings me to the world of FPS gaming, something I do with my older (though still not as old as me) friends. Last night I got a chance to play Borderlands in co-op mode with a friend of mine who lives several states away. We had our crappy 360 wired headsets on (why most the wireless one be so expensive?) and we were chatting back and forth as we played.

Now I have some friends who play the more realistic war themed FPS games but I never noticed them having a lot of fun. What I would notice is a whole bunch of yelling, screaming and passing the blame around after a mission would start to go wrong. Because this was my main exposure to the genre my interest in it was always lukewarm at best. It all changed last night.

We started off on the wrong foot when both of us chose the same character to play as. Having two skinny guys running around with sniper rifles did not make for a very balanced game. While we were very good at killing things long range we were not so good at killing things at close range. I'm not sure how often we died or how many times each of us died but we re-spawned a lot.

This is when I had my little epiphany. When you play a group game against the game (as opposed to other people) it's not that stressful. Neither one of us were complaining about the other player's complete lack of tactics or ability to coordinate attacks. In fact just the opposite was true. As we were getting our asses handed to us by a guy with a bunch of bones on his head we were laughing and cracking jokes. When one of us would go too far ahead and then come charging right back followed by a pack of angry critters there was no name calling or other abusive behavior. Even when healing packs would appear on screen both of us would quickly look at our health bars and quickly decide on who needed it most. Due to the shared XP system of Borderlands neither one of us complained when the other would steal our kill. Well, except for one time when one of us was trying to kill someone for a Second Wind and other did him in but, we don't talk about that anymore.

My point is that it was not just our shared victory that kept us playing but also our shared misery. No one wants to feel like a third wheel and because our skill levels were very close neither one of us felt that way. When one of us died the other was soon to follow.

It was this simple reality that made our game fun. We were losing miserably but we were losing together. Neither one of us was dragging the other down just as neither one of us was consistently saving the other.

It is this shared misery that is often missing from many games. Nothing is worse than going to your friends to ask them about a boss battle only to have them tell you it was a cakewalk and that there must be something wrong with you if you can't defeat the bad guy. When you play single player it is you against the game. When you play co-op it is us against the game and for some reason when you lose as a group it doesn't sting nearly as bad as when you lose on your own.

video games December 4th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Borderlands

I recently picked up a copy of the game Borderlands for the Xbox 360. When I first heard about this game I was excited. Shortly after reading about the game I began to become skeptical. What at first looked like pure awesome had begun to look like only partial awesome.

What made me change my mind about the game? It was the fear that it would be too much like Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. While I do enjoy playing Sacred 2: Fallen Angel I have to admit that as a single player game Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is bad. What is fun with a friends is not so much fun when played solo. It was this fear that kept me from pre-ordering Borderlands when the opportunity arose.
Now that I own and have logged several hours into Borderlands I have to say that it is not entirely fair to put this game in the same group as Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. While games have similarities (random loot generation, single and multi-player modes, set classes that are customized as you level up, quests, and weapon mods) they also have a few things that make them different (FPS vs isometric, local split screen versus local shared screen, fantasy vs futuristic wasteland). It is these differences that keep my interest level up.

I admit to being a fan of wasteland games. My love of the Fallout series of games is proof positive of that! As much as I enjoy fantasy games there is just something inherently cooler about shooting a shotgun than shooting a bow. Is it the noise? The way the blood spatters in artistic patterns? The satisfaction of lining up a sniper kill that takes out the guy on the platform mounted autocannon?

Guns

You can't talk about Borderlands without bringing up guns. In fact the procedural system used to create new guns on the fly is one of the game's big selling point. To paraphrase Forest Gump, "Borderlands is like an unmarked weapon crate, you never know what you're going to get until you crack it open!"

In the game weapon crates are scattered all over the world. When you first open them they contain a random assortment of randomly generated guns. You might open the crate and find a selection of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, or any combination thereof.

These weapons even vary in how effective they are. Some are scoped (not just sniper rifles), some have melee bonuses, some bullets that split, some have distinct shot patterns, some have elemental effects that can cause them to set your target on fire, and sometimes they just suck.

You read that part right, sometimes they just suck! I have pulled rare (color coded) weapons out of crates only to find that my common weapon of the same type is better than the rare one. Even worse is when you complete one of the "find the parts to my gun" quests and find out that the gun you get is no where near as good as the one you already have!

TKs Wave

There are also times when you find a gun that is good but only in certain situations. T.K.'s Wave (a shotgun that shoots in a wave pattern) is a good example of this. When it comes to knocking flying critters out of the sky this weapon is great. When it comes to taking down ground based enemies it's not that good. Because it is a rare weapon you don't want to sell it but because you can only hold a small number of items (not weapons but total items) in your backpack you often find yourself selling the rare guns due to space considerations.

A similar problem arises when you find something that is totally kick-ass but you are too low level to use it. Do you keep it? Do you sell it? If the level requirement is more than one or two levels from where you are you have to wonder if keeping it is worth it. You might find something even better an hour from now that you can use and that item is taking up space in your backpack!

Unlike Fallout3 there is a limited amount of ammo you can carry for each weapon. You can purchase ammo upgrades as the game moves along but these are very expensive. The most cost effective thing to do is to hold on buying the upgrades until you can buy the last one (they do not stack). I don't recommend this approach because even though you are saving money you are also going to find yourself leaving a lot of ammo unclaimed as you explore the world. As a looter myself it causes me pain to leave things on the ground that should be in my pockets! From a game design standpoint it makes sense. I never did understand how my Fallout3 character could carry all that ammo as if it weighed nothing!

The game allows for four archetype characters. You have a stealth character, a hand-to-hand character, a sniper character, and a generalist/support character. For my single-player foray I decided to go with the solider (generalist/support).

The soldier can spawn a small defensive shield with a machine gun (Scorpio) as a class ability. As you level up there are three fields you can put skill point into to customize your character (true for all characters). Because I knew this was going to be a single-player character I avoided the support tree (provides benefits such as healing and rearming allies) and instead focused heavily on the combat skills that allow me to cause more damage with my weapons.

I am currently level 16 and climbing. I have focused mostly on sniper rifles, repeaters, and shotguns. Early on I only kept weapons that included scopes but as my FPS skills improved I moved away from scopes and moved towards weapons with significant bonuses. Currently I use a revolver that is very effective against shields, a sniper rifle that occasionally fires exploding shells, and a vicious shotgun with no special powers other than a very high damage rating and a fast rate of fire. I keep these three weapons equipped
at all times and cycle through them as needed.

I'm no where near completing the game yet (only defeated two bosses) but I'm still having fun. I occasionally find myself outgunned and that is where the ingenious Second Wind part of the game comes into play. If you get gunned down you start to bleed to death. If you manage to kill an enemy while in this state you get a Second Wind (quick health boost and you are no longer dieing) that gets you back on your feet. This has saved my butt many times over the course of the game!

I'll try and provide a more informative review of the game after I get in some multi-player action and complete more quests.


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