Archive for November, 2014

The Wolf Among Us

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

In the Telltale game “The wolf Among Us” you play Sheriff Bigby Wolf, aka B. Wolf aka the Big Bad Wolf from the fairy tale. All fables from the fairy tales now live in a rundown quarter of New York City.

I recently bought the game for half price in a steam sale and I was not disappointed.

The game (like the well-known walking dead game from the same company) is more an interactive movie than an actual game. Most of the time, the story flows automatically. There are some minor puzzles like click on this, click on that, use item etc. There is no hard puzzle, where you have to think a lot, though. In some cases you may select a prepared answer or you may remain silent by not selecting an option before the allotted time runs out.

In some danger situations a quick time event pops up. If you fail to react, you may die at that moment and have to restart a few seconds earlier. There are three types of quick time events.
Q – here you have to press the Q key repeatedly. Usually this is a feat of strength
ASWD – here you have to press and hold one of the movement keys, usually to evade an attack
aim – here you have to click with the mouse cursor on or near a red circle

Feat of strength quicktime event

Feat of strength quicktime event

The game is published in five episodes, like a TV series. Since it’s already been released for some time all episodes are immediately available for download (automatically installed if you use steam). When it was newly released you had to wait with future episodes until their release date (one per week or such). An episode takes maybe 45 to 90 minutes to play through. I recommend playing through an episode in one go and not interrupting. Since the game saves automatically you never know for sure if you have to repeat a dialogue or something when you quit the game before the end of episode. Also the dramatic works better if you handle it like you would a TV series. At the end of an episode there is usually a cliffhanger. You also get a glimpse on what lies ahead in the next episode. At the beginning of the episode you get a quick recap on what happened previously (again like in a TV series).

At the end of each episode you also get a list of five crucial decisions during that episode and how you reacted as opposed to the majority of players. Something like: you and 5% of the players chose to give the pig Whisky. Some of those decisions will have an influence on details in future episodes. Overall there are apparently no dramatic changes to the story based on the decisions you take. I can however not confirm that from my own playing experience, because I played it just once. Since it is a story driven game I don’t see why I should play it twice anyway.

What I would have liked

Commercial breaks (just kidding).
I would have liked it if there had been some real puzzles in the game. It would also have been nice if the dialogs would have led to critical endings (like if you chose the wrong words you get shot or something).

Typical options during a conversation

Typical options during a conversation


If you haven’t got the game already, you are probably not the biggest fan, but if the above description sounds somewhat interesting, I recommend putting the game on your steam wish list. You will get an email next time it is on sale. I found it as entertaining as a good (but short) TV series and that’s what you can see in this type of game.

Tough as nails – Gears of War the Boardgame

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

Gears of War the board game is an adaptation of a video game. Since I haven’t played the video game I’m just writing here what I gathered from the board game. The players are heavily armed human commandos which have to complete a specific mission while fighting of hordes of so called locust enemies, which emerge now and then from holes in the ground. Gears of War is a cooperative game for 1-4 players. It is a sci-fi dungeon crawl without a game master. The enemies are activated by cards which are usually like this: activate all monsters of type y – if enemy in range attack – if not advance – if no monsters of type y in play, spawn one at map exit etc.

As usual Fantasy Flight Games has delivered a high quality product. There are a handful of missions included in the game and each mission plays very differently due to different enemies, different victory conditions and different map board elements. A mission will always have the same map board elements which are assigned to the mission stage. Typically there are 4 maps per stage and 3 stages per mission. The sequence of map boards in each stage is randomized by cards making a mission highly replayable without becoming boring. This is an important feature, because the game is really difficult.

Near the end of a mission. Only few locust are still standing

Near the end of a mission. Only few locust are still standing

After I bought it at the Spiel in Essen some years ago I played it once or twice in a two player game and we were beaten by the AI. Many months later we tried it again and again until we completed the first mission. We found out that:

You shouldn’t spread up your team to far, because if one player gets shot down and there is no one around to heal him, losing his turn can be critical
As in computer games you shouldn’t advance too quickly, because you will spawn and activate new monsters which soon become too many for you to handle (although your grenades sometimes help)
Always use a dodge card when you are attacked (unless you are in full cover and attacked by just one die)
Conserve your ammo (you may empty your pistol though)


Why do I like this game?

Once you get used to the difficulty level of the game it actually becomes quite tense and thrilling. If you can live with a bit of setback the challenge is actually rewarding since winning a mission means so much more than in other cooperative games. I also found that you just need to find the right tactics for each scenario to significantly improve your chances of winning.
As with Death Angel, I can almost hear the hammering of the assault rifle’s burst fire and the clinging sound of the empty brass jackets falling to the concrete floor. Very immersive.


Single Player

I played thw game with two players and solitaire. In both cases I recommend two heroes. The scaling calls for too many enemy figures if you play with three or more characters and playing alone just gives you two few synergetic options, like drawing fire with one character or boosting the other or even heling him if he is shot down (although you usually have few chances of winning if that happens to you).


Tips for playing (if you already know the game):

The miniatures are of the typical high quality, which is to be expected from FFG. The players minis are red and the enemies grey, so far so good. While the enemies (locust) are quite different in looks and size and can therefore easily be distinguished, the four player miniatures all look very similar. Although I own brush and paint for miniatures, I only have a limited amount of time available and I can’t be bothered to paint the minis for board games. What I did instead was putting some color stickers on the mini and the respective card thereby identifying who is who.


 Two of my minis and associated cards, distinguished by color stickers

Two of my minis and associated cards, distinguished by color stickers

Zombies again

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

We now finished the fourth season of the Walking Dead. I do like the show. It captures the survival horror feeling quite well. Whenever there is some harmonic scene, you tense up because the next moment several things go wrong at the same time and the heroes have a hard time surviving.
And sometimes they just don’t. In each season there is a substantial staff rotation, as new characters become members of the group and old ones get killed. This is on the one hand bad, if you liked a certain character, but on the other hand it causes a lot of tension.
In a way it is the same issue with tabletop roleplaying games. If the game master is too nice and never lets a player character die, the players soon realize that their characters are in no real danger. The game becomes a Disneyland experience. If on the other hand sometimes a character dies because the GM doesn’t fudge the dice too much, players become more careful and aware of the surrounding dangers. The haunted house becomes frightening once more.
In the show that means whenever a character is in danger you really fear that he or she may die in the next scene, something that doesn’t happen in most shows, where only the red shirts get killed.

Here is what honest trailers have to say about the walking dead:

As I said, I do like the show and I’m looking forward to the next season, especially since the series usually ends with a big cliffhanger. There is however one thing that tremendously annoys me about TWD. In this series whenever someone nice appears you know beforehand that this person is evil, because most humans just are in this series. The zombies (or walkers as they are predominantly referred to) are just and environmental danger. They are out there and you have to be careful. The real danger comes from other humans who just want your gear, your weapons and ammo, your canned food supplies or even your flesh as meat. Why is that so? Of course it somehow adds to the tension. And no one can know for sure before they have been in such a situation for real, but it is my belief, that this is not realistic. In a situation where not just the individual survival but the survival of the species is in danger, cooperation rather than conflict will be the norm. Also since the apocalypse came about very quickly, there should be enough canned food in depots for the few survivors for a very long time. Same goes for weapons and ammunition.

World War Z (the book not the unrelated movie) is much more realistic in that sense. But I suppose that reduces the horror element significantly and the Zombies become an enemy like some alien invaders in other Sci-Fi stories. It becomes less dirty, at least in the second part of the book. That is what I miss in the Walking Dead. Maybe the series evolves that way. I don’t know that much about the direction prescribed by the comic books.

Beyond Earth

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This weekend we played the new Civilization Beyond Earth. Firaxis’ fresh approach on the Alpha Centauri game concept. Since the original Civilization from 1991 one way to win the game has always been the space victory. By assembling a spacecraft and sending it to Alpha Centauri you finish the game. One early spinoff was Alpha Centauri where you played a Terran colonist faction on an alien world.

The newest incarnation of the Civilization series is Beyond Earth. It applies the Civilization V engine on the exploration and colonization of an alien world. I really like the cinematic trailer of the game.

Beyond Earth plays very much like Civ5 (i.e. hexgrid, single unit per hex, culture trees). Some things are just labled differently. Gold is now energy, happiness is now health. There are also some additions to the game, which in most cases are improvements:


Quests and random events from Civ4 are back in the game. Sometimes you just have to do something (like kill a specific alien life form, build a new city, research a technology etc.) to get a reward, while sometimes you are faced with a decision. Depending on how you decide specific future events may be triggered. This makes for interesting gameplay, at least until you have encountered all random events. Most of the events are triggered once you build a specific building for the first time thereby each building has a small additional benefit which becomes available at that time.


There are still the flyer types from Civ3-Civ5 (i.e. based in a city with an operational range of some hexes).There are however also few flying field units. While Civ5 had the helicopter gunships, they were no real flyers. They needed to get aboard a transport (which is included in every unit in Civ5 and CivBE once the seagoing technology is researched). In CivBE flying field units can directly fly across sea hexes making crossing of seas quick (no embark/debark movement required) and independent of the naval movement technology, as well as allowing to attack naval units and transports at sea.


The aliens in CivBE replace the barbarians from previous editions of the game. There are much more present from the beginning of the game on and some (like the siege worm or the sea dragon) are very powerful. There are some ways to tame them however which can grant you a significant boost to your meager starting forces.

Orbital Infrastructures

You may build satellites, which stay over designated areas and provide some benefit (like +1 energy in covered hexes). How the orbital mechanics are supposed to work is not exactly clear to me, since geostationary positioning should only be possible at the equator, but anyway. There are units like the missile launcher which can attack the orbital infrastructure.

Technology Web

The new way how technologies are linked feels much more realistic. Up to Civ5 technology is arranged in a tree. Now it is a web and you may choose any technology that is adjacent to a technology you previously developed for research. Technologies also have up to three sub-technologies each, which may be researched once the primary technology has been developed.
In previous versions of Civ unit upgrade became available once respective technologies were researched. Now it develops according to your progress in harmony, purity or supremacy (new concepts of CivBE). Unit upgrade is then free and automatic.

Alien Artifacts

Not only are there resource pods from earth, which are the equivalent of the ancient ruins from civ but there are also some places where you can start a dig with an explorer unit. Digging takes a few turns but the rewards are often larger than the energy, research etc. you gain from the pods.

Other things which changed

Trade routes to your own cities now not only yield food and production at the same time but also boost the economy of the sending city. Unfortunately it does not highlight the previous trade route for caravans that have to be reassigned.
Cities do not spawn instantaneously when the settler is activated. It takes a couple of turns until the new settlement has expanded to the six surrounding hexes. Only then the city becomes available for production etc.
Spies are handled very differently. You perform operations beginning with setting up a network
Some terrain improvements like oil wells have upkeep costs, not just the roads as in Civ5.

What I would have liked

The icons for the wonders could have been more clear. Sometimes, especially in your first game, it is difficult to see which new improvement, associated to a technology you are researching, is a wonder and which is just a building.
In multiplayer hot seat the completion of the excavations appears very briefly only screen after you press the finish turn button. That way you don’t have time to read it.
With all the new tile improvements a canal and an airfield (like in Civ3) would have been useful.
Flyers like the drone can only attack naval units once they fly across the sea, currently it seems you can’t attack directly from land, which seems to be an oversight.
The tooltip doesn’t show if you have researched the required technology for building terrain improvements, so unless you know the required technologies you may move your worker to a specific hex only to find out that you can’t build the improvement yet.
I miss the great persons, especially the great general, which was always useful if you wanted to extend your borders to some critical resources without founding new cities.


I like the game very much and give it a solid recommendation for all fans of the Civilization series. What I don’t understand is Steam’s pricing policy. If you can wait a day or two for the Amazon delivery or go to a retailer you can save

EDIT: In the meantime the first patch has changed a few things. Previous trade routes are indicated better, some changes to abilities etc.