Know More About Santorini

Santorini is primarily a two-player game, first developed by mathematician Dr. Gordon Hamilton back in 2004, that was just released by Roxley Games after a successful Kickstarter campaign that takes this very simple pure strategy game and gives it the art and packaging of a Euro title. At heart, however, it feels like a classic game, a little bit like chess and a lot like last year’s Tak, games for two players that involve a few pieces on a square board and eschew all randomness.

In the basic game of Santorini, each player starts with two Worker tokens on the 5×5 board, and the first player to get one of his/her tokens to the top of a 3-level building on the board is the winner. On a turn, a player moves one token, then places a new building level on a space adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to that token. If the space is empty, the player places a bottom piece; if not, the player places a second- or third-level piece, or, if the space has a building with three levels on it already, a dome piece that prevents anyone from standing on top of it. You don’t own the buildings you construct, so one player can add to a building the other player started. Your tokens can move up one level when going from one space to another, but can jump down any number of levels. The goal thus becomes setting up a situation where your opponent can’t stop you from moving a Worker from a two-level building up to the third level on an adjacent space—and to ensure your opponent isn’t doing the same, setting up a three-level building to which s/he can move on the next turn. (It’s also possible to lose if you can’t move a Worker and then build on your turn, but we haven’t had that happen in a game yet.)

The basic game is entertaining enough on its own that I could see it becoming a classic of abstract two-player games without embellishment or packaging, but it also would be tough to market—it’s a game you could easily replicate on your own using different coins as the various building levels. So Santorini comes with additional variations in the box, using cards that grant players additional abilities for their moves, as well as a third variant that reserves one space on the board for these abilities.

The game comes with two decks of cards that give players God Powers or Hero Powers; God Powers apply to the entire game, while Hero Powers apply just once per game and are then discarded. The Gods themselves are divided into categories of simple, advanced and Golden Fleece gods (for the third variant mentioned above), and can grant powers like allowing a player to build two levels on one turn, allowing the player to win just by moving down two or more levels, preventing an opponent from building on spaces next to your tokens, or giving you the win if there are five complete (domed) towers on the board. Hero cards amount to giving you one extra move on your turn, or let you sabotage an opponent once (like removing a block from underneath a worker token or moving your opponent’s Workers to corner spaces). The game even suggests using these in concert to redress an imbalance between players, giving the more experienced player a Hero card and the rookie a God card.

The Golden Fleece variant places a special token, called the Ram, on one space on the board, and then has one God card available to both players during the game. The God power is available to any player whose Worker token is in a space next to the Ram figure.

Santorini is a two-player game at heart, but the rules include options for playing with three or four players, both requiring the use of God Power cards. The three-player game is crowded, while the four-player game has the players divided into two teams of two, with each player getting his/her own God Power card. I think it’s all a bit forced—imagine trying to shoehorn additional players into chess or Othello—and unnecessary, as the boardgame world needs more pure two-player options.


Some Ways to Survive the Wave At Splatoon 2 Salmon Run

Now that Splatoon 2 has landed on the Switch, people from far and wide have begun to embrace their primal need to spread their inky residue to every imaginable corner, leaving no crevice uncoated. Naturally, this extends to Salmon Run—Splatoon 2’s own take on the popular wave defense mode. But with so much inky essence flying across the place, it can be difficult to score big as you fight against the salmon hordes, which is why we’ve come up with several tips to help you become the bane of salmon everywhere.

1. Keep the map splatted

Just like the rest of the game modes in Splatoon 2, making sure that your surroundings are sufficiently coated in your own juicy substances is the key to success. Every salmonid has its own way of spreading enemy ink trails, and if you allow this to build up over the course of a round, you and your team will start having trouble getting to and from the egg basket as your range of movement becomes severely restricted. To makes matters worse, these ink trails will also remain on the level for the remainder of the match

To combat this, you and your team should make it a habit to splat as much of your surroundings as possible as you navigate your way across the map, just as you would in Turf War. There is also a short period of time at the start of each round where no salmonids have spawned yet. Try making the most of this time by building up a healthy layer of squid sauce across key areas on the level, the most important being around the egg collection basket and any major ramps and pathways in the surrounding areas..

2. Communication is key

This might sound a little strange considering how poorly implemented the Switch’s online communication tools are, but bear with me. When playing a round of Salmon Run, each player has two contextually sensitive automated chat commands they can send out, alerting the other players that something important is happening and that they should stop gunking up a wall for a few seconds and pay attention to their allies.

In lieu of an actual voice chat, these commands are vital to making sure you and your team knows exactly what’s happening across other areas of the level. Ignoring the important, if inessential, “Booyah” taunt for a second, the two main commands are “ This Way” and “Help.” The first can be used when you are upright, and can be helpful when trying to signal to your team that a boss salmonid is at your location, or that there are golden eggs waiting to be collected nearby. The second command can only be used when you have been downed, either by enemy ink or by taking a regrettable dip in the nearby waters, and serves as a beacon to let your allies know you need them to come and shower you in their inky ichor.

3. Prioritize boss salmonids

Left to their own devices, any one of the boss salmonids can pose a serious threat to the success of your team. Not only do they coat the surrounding area with enemy ink at an alarming rate, but their special attacks can also target unsuspecting squid kids from across the map. Since they drop the coveted golden eggs required to complete each round, taking down these salmonid bosses should be at the top of every player’s priority list.

Luckily there are a couple of ways to look out for these nasty blighters as they appear. For starters, a notification will pop up at the top left side of the screen whenever a boss salmonid spawns, although this can be easily missed when you’re in the thick of the action. It’s also worth knowing that a loud foghorn will play whenever a new boss shows up, which makes tracking them much easier during combat. Just like regular salmonids, the boss variety will always spawn at the coastline, regardless of whether they are able to fly or not, so make sure to cast an eye over the shoreline whenever you suspect a new boss has surfaced.

4. Stay close to the egg tank

One of the most common mistakes in Salmon Run is that players gets overzealous in their salmon splatting and end up venturing too far away from their allies. Alone and outnumbered, it’s very easy for the salmon hordes to overrun unsuspecting squids, cutting off your escape route with their inky droppings as they batter you from all angles.


To solve this, players should try and stick to the immediate area around the egg collection tank. This isn’t always possible when boss salmonids with high range appear, but for most occasions the enemies will come to you. Not only does this give you and your team a central point to gather around, but it also makes depositing golden eggs a lot easier if you kill them within spitting distance of the egg basket.

5. Remember to use your special abilities

When you’re out there slathering salmons in your silky syrup, it’s easy to forget that you have more than just your firearm at your disposal. Along with the weapon that you are randomly assigned at the start of each round, you’re also given two charges in a special ability, and remembering to use these super powered payloads can easily mean the difference between success or failure.

While you might think holding onto your special for a particularly nasty boss spawn is a good idea, it’s almost always better to activate it whenever things look like they are going south. Specials can be great for clearing away large buildups of enemy ink, reviving multiple teammates at once, and even just creating some breathing room so you can regroup and gain control of the situation.

6. Don’t forget about your squid form

When playing Salmon Run, it’s very easy to get carried away with your trigger finger. There’s a lot of salmon to spray with your sticky serum, after all. And whilst it’s not necessarily a bad move to make sure you thin the horde’s numbers, you should try to remember that you’re not just a kid, you’re also a squid. Not only does slipping into squid-form grant you a much faster way to navigate around the map, it also opens up access ways and shortcuts that you can exploit to make ferrying golden eggs much more efficient.

To make the most of your cephalopodic agility, try inking up some of the nearby walls connecting lower and upper areas. These often don’t get inked over by enemy salmonids, and offer you quick access routes that may otherwise be blocked off by the enemy. You should also aim to use squid form exclusively when ferrying golden eggs. Not only can you avoid enemies much easier, but being in squid form also gives you the ability to jump across larger horizontal distances, which can help clear obstacles and avoid incoming fire.


7. Cash in your golden eggs immediately

Speaking of golden eggs, one of the worst habits players pick up in Salmon Run is the idea that they need to collect every golden egg that drops. Of course, it’s important to meet the quota set in each round, but target number is almost always easily achieved, and you and your team should never need to sacrifice a member for the sake of extra eggs.

By waiting around and guarding dropped eggs, you are also risking the egg that you yourself could be cashing in on. The important thing to remember here is that there is no shortage of boss salmonids throughout each round. If the rest of your team can’t make it over to the drop site in time, you shouldn’t try and hang around to protect them.


Know Fastest Ways To Level Up in ARK

There are lots of activities to get involved with in Studio Wildcard’s ARK: Survival Evolved. You can build bases, explore a vast open world and pet dinosaurs, among other things. The world is your prehistoric oyster. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Arguably, the first thing you should do is to start leveling up your character. Leveling is incredibly useful in the game. It allows you to increase how much weight you carry, the amount of damage you take and how much you give out. It also gives you engram points that you spend on unlocking brand new recipes to craft. This means that you can build more impressive stuff the higher level you become.

There are multiple ways to acquire experience in ARK: Survival Evolved, but some methods are better than others. Below I’ve listed some of my best tips for speeding up the process.

6. Collect Explorer Notes

A great way of leveling up early on in ARK: Survival Evolved is collecting Explorer Notes.

Explorer Notes are found throughout the map near stone ruins inside chests. They inform you about different creatures you’ll encounter in the wild, and tell you more about the survivors that came before you.

They also give you tons of experience and double the amount of XP you earn for a brief period of time. This makes them worth seeking out fairly early on in your play-through, to take advantage of this temporary boost.

Each explorer note can only be found once, but don’t worry. There are many to find out in the world and they’re relatively easy to spot. They stand out from player structures and the rest of the environment, so always keep an eye out for them.

5. Punch Dodos

Another useful technique for obtaining XP quickly is killing dinosaurs and other creatures.

At the start of the game, try to pick on smaller prey like Dodos and Lystrosauruses and mash away on the left mouse or the right trigger to beat them to death. They won’t fight back, but they’ll attempt to run away. If they do this, hunt them down and finish them off.

When you get access to better equipment, like spears or bow and arrows, then you can move on to targeting the bigger creatures like Dilophosauruses, Oviraptors and Iguanodons. These dinosaurs will retaliate, but they shouldn’t give you that much of a challenge. Just strafe behind them and attack.

Keep moving up the food chain like this, and you’ll soon make some hefty progress. Just be careful not to target any of the larger predators too early, as they’ll make mincemeat of you.

4. Tame a Dinosaur

Taming dinosaurs won’t give you that much experience, but it will enable you to take on some of the stronger dinosaurs that you won’t be able to tackle on foot, helping you to grind.

Aim to tame something like a Raptor. Then use it to kill a bunch of Stegosauruses. Stegosauruses usually spawn near water sources and on the south of the Island map, so head there as there’s bound to plenty you can farm. Keep repeating the process and you’ll be surprised by how far you’ll progress in a short space of time.

3. Join a Tribe

One of the easiest ways to progress in ARK: Survival Evolved

More importantly, they’ll grant you bonus experience, if you’re within 100 metres of another member while they’re earning XP. This means you can ascend levels fairly quickly, if you coordinate with a bunch of other tribe members. Reach out on chat and see whether anyone’s recruiting. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

2. Farm Resources

Collecting resources is another activity you can do for leveling up. You just need to build a bunch of chests and keep filling them up with wood, stone, flint and fiber and any other materials that are easily farmed from your surroundings.

There are a couple of benefits to this approach. Not only will it give you adequate resources for crafting in the future, but it will also boost your XP quicker. It may not be the most exciting way to level up, but it pays off in the long run.


1. Always Be Crafting

You can also exploit crafting to earn experience. Certain equipment you build will earn you more XP than others, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of this.

Craft items like sparkpowder or torches in bulk early on. These are both relatively low cost items and give you large amounts of XP over time.

Alternatively, another method is to build tons of thatch or wooden foundations. This is a good system, as you can then demolish these once they’re placed to get a fraction of the parts back and then make them again anew.

Repeat either tactic and pretty soon you’ll earn more points to spend on new engrams and attribute boosts.

Know More About With the Switch, Portable Isn’t Always Practical

Last week I was packing for a work trip, and I had to make a decision I always make when I’m about to fly: do I bring any videogame stuff with me, or should I plan on reading and sleeping? In the past I’d probably just throw the Vita or 3DS in my carry-on, and maybe spend an hour or two of the plane ride on Spelunky or an RPG. This is the first time I’ve flown since Nintendo released the Switch, though, so those other handhelds stayed home. It was the perfect chance to exploit the Switch’s portability, so I packed the tablet (with Joy-cons attached) into a padded carrying case covered with Super Mario emblems and slid the whole thing into a shoulder bag alongside my laptop, a pair of headphones and a Ziploc bag full of toiletries.

That shoulder bag had way too much stuff in it, and the Switch was the tipping point.

This is the same bag I’ve used for over a decade whenever I travel. It’s the same work laptop I have to take with me whenever I leave home. The same headphones, without the hard-shell protective case they came with. I’ve flown with a Vita or 3DS (sometimes both) in this same bag with the same other objects tucked into it a dozen times or more and it was never an inconvenience. The Switch, though, especially in its padded zip-up sleeve, made the bag just a little too bulky. It made it an annoyance to slide the laptop in and out of the bag in the security line at the airport, and it made the bag take up just a little too much foot room beneath the seat in front of me on the plane.

I played Breath of the Wild for maybe twenty minutes, during a flight that was just under three hours? And had no time to play anything at all once I made it to my destination.

That portability isn’t always practical, though. Obviously I know the Switch and its case take up more space than the Vita or 3DS. And if I had a slightly roomier shoulder bag I probably wouldn’t have felt as inconvenienced. But my first attempt flying with the Switch, my first experience bringing a Nintendo console with me on a cross-continental journey that plopped me down in another country, convinced me that, as far as my needs and concerns go, the Switch isn’t really practical for trips like this. And this doesn’t even factor in the system’s relatively short battery life.

This is not to say that the Switch is a bust as a portable, or that it was a bad decision to turn it into a home/handheld hybrid. This is just one easily annoyed fool sharing an opinion forged by experience. I flew with a Nintendo Switch. It was kind of inconvenient. It wasn’t really worth overstuffing my carry-on for. Now it’s up to you to decide what works for you the next time you have to catch a flight somewhere.

More Information About Hitman: The Accidental Agatha Christie Game

It was while I was hurling yet another pipe wrench at the back of a security guard’s unsuspecting skull that I had the thought, “Why aren’t there any good detective games?”

IO Interactive’s Hitman (2016) isn’t a detective game, but playing it now reminds me of the classic mystery stories I read years ago. I devoured Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genre-defining Sherlock Holmes tales, but Agatha Christie’s fussy little Belgian super-detective Hercule Poirot would quickly become my favorite. Poirot was an obsessive through and through, from the points of his waxed mustaches and starched shirt collars to his analysis of each case he took on. It was always exciting to read as Poirot explained, in the denouement of each book, who the murderer was and how they’d done it.

Writing about Shadow of Mordor, Mike Bithell (creator of Thomas Was Alone and Volume) said games are essentially magic tricks. “An incredibly mundane reality exists, a finessed sequence of hand gestures, trap doors and misdirection,” Bithell wrote. “But in the audience’s mind, something incredible, impossible and impossibly real has occurred.”

Classic mystery novels are magic tricks too, in some of the same key ways. Through masterful writing and stage-setting, the reader is drawn into a believable world that feels chock full of potential suspects. Clues are found, and it seems as though these are uncovered naturally through sleuthing—when really what’s happening is that everything we’re shown is relevant to the author’s design.

But one of the magic tricks Agatha Christie used to make her star detective come off as the consummate genius is one that doesn’t really work in videogames. It’s the same trick Conan Doyle used in his Sherlock stories. We’re never placed in the shoes of the master detective; instead, the reader watches the master at work through the eyes of his long-suffering sidekick. For Poirot, there was Captain Hastings, and for Holmes there was Dr. Watson. We could depend on Hastings and Watson to ask the questions that prompted the detectives to reveal their brilliance.

This misdirection doesn’t work in videogames because when we’re playing games we want an active role in unraveling the mystery. But think of the times we’re given the chance to become the detective, and it’s a series of disappointments, even when it’s an element in an otherwise successful game. In Assassin’s Creed Unity, a series of side-quests has Arno investigating murders in Paris. Arkham Asylum has Batman working out where Killer Croc’s hideout is, and in The Witcher 3, Geralt routinely has to analyze scenes of carnage to track down monsters.

These scenes have always felt a bit embarrassing to me, because they invariably give you a button to press that makes your “clues” light up like neon. This of course is to keep the flow of the game moving, and to avoid the tedious random item-combining of adventure games, which is a problem that has plagued most prior Hercule Poirot games. This essentially is the exact same trick mystery novelists pulled in genre classics, but it feels dumb in games because it has to ruin the magic trick Bithell described by making everything important overtly important. The star detectives always appear brilliant in the novels, but that’s because they’re noticing the things the author put in the story specifically for them to notice. Watson and Hastings don’t have “detective vision,” but in an important sense, Holmes and Poirot do. We don’t get to see it because we’re reading from the perspective of the sidekick, and the story is better off because this kind of blatant signposting is concealed. As Bithell puts it, “[J]ust like a magic trick, once you see the edges, once someone points out the false compartment, the magic disappears, and so does a lot of the interest.”

Hitman shifts the perspective of a mystery story not to the continuously baffled dogsbody, but to the object of the investigation: the killer himself. As Agent 47, you’re not following someone around the way Watson or Hastings must, and you’re not looking for obviously-highlighted gameplay nodes, the way you do in Arkham or Assassins Creed games.

Instead, you’re given carte blanche to create a murder as straightforward or bizarre as you see fit. As the guys at Cool Ghosts pointed out, this often works as dark comedy while you’re learning each environment—when things don’t go according to plan, sometimes it’s just funny to throw a marble bust at a man’s head. Even the more deliberate mechanics can be ridiculous: Agent 47’s ability to instantly disguise himself as anyone he has recently, for example, knocked out with a marble bust, is frequently hilarious. 47 also has magical Witcher-vision that lets him see the location of his target, he can instantly identify which guards will see through his disguise, and he knows the exact moment he’s been recorded by a security camera.

But these videogame-y elements don’t disrupt the narrative or suspension of disbelief the way they do when your perspective is the detective’s. Miss Marple was looking for the slightest item out of place, and Holmes scoured ashtrays for evidence of particular cigar brands, because when you’re solving a crime, these things are important. When you’re committing the crime, you’re focused elsewhere and these points of interaction don’t spoil the illusion. And the settings—Paris, Marrakesh, Sapienza—are all marvelously vibrant stages for these murders to unfold upon.

Whether intentionally or not, Hitman manages to create a terrific mystery game by completely subverting the format and having the action unfold from the perspective of the killer. The only thing that keeps it from being groundbreaking is the fact that it’s already been done, and by Agatha Christie herself, more than 90 years ago. In what is arguably her crowning Poirot novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot returns from retirement to take the titular case of a dead businessman. Where Hastings had usually filled in as narrator for Poirot’s adventures, this time the story is told by Dr. James Sheppard, who also acts as Poirot’s assistant for the case. In one of the best twist endings of all time (and I’ll put a spoiler warning here, despite the fact that the book was first published in 1926), it turns out that Sheppard was the murderer, and had been carefully concealing incriminating information from the reading audience throughout the course of the story.

But where Christie’s readers could only shake their heads and marvel at this subversion of expectations in Ackroyd, now we have as many attempts as we want to create a mystery of our own in Hitman.

Know The Best Boardgames of 2017

Saturday marks the annual International Tabletop Day, a celebration of the extended boardgame community. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of the best boardgames to come out this year so far, giving you a solid batch of new games to look into during this festive event. Grab your dice, pick your local get-together, and dive into these wonderful titles.

5. Yamatai

Days of Wonder, now under the Asmodee umbrella, has one of the best track records of any boardgame imprint, and their latest title Yamatai seems likely to extend their streak, especially thanks to the brand’s consistently excellent artwork. Players compete to place ships and build palaces on a brightly colored board, while using resources to acquire specialist cards that grant the player a special power for future turns. The key is building routes that enable you to place a tower or palace of the same color on the space where you want to build. Yamatai will be officially released in the U.S. in May.

4. The Blood of an Englishman

Pure two-player games are becoming more popular, but I still find most entries lack the elegance and simplicity that many people (myself included) want in such a title. The Blood of an Englishman is an asymmetrical title, with one player playing Jack and the other the Giant, competing to manipulate a tableau of 50 cards. Jack has to remove cards in numerical order to create three beanstalks, each topped with one of three treasures – gold, goose eggs, and a harp – while the Giant tries to line up the Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum cards on the table, or simply to prevent Jack from building his third column.

3. The Colonists

The Colonists is the game for you if you thought Le Havre was too easy to set up, that Android: Netrunner’s rulebook was too short, or that Agricola didn’t focus enough on storage. It’s long, it weighs nearly seven pounds, and it presents you with more decisions than any modern boardgame I can think of. But despite – or perhaps because – of all of that, it’s a very clever, playable game, one that wisely gives players a choice of game length. The Colonists combines engine building, resource management, and worker placement in a surprisingly balanced way, and if you can deal with the long setup, the number of choices you get over the course of a game becomes a challenging puzzle.

2. Mole Rats in Space

Matt Leacock, the superstar designer behind Pandemic and Forbidden Desert, has taken his signature cooperative-game mechanic to a new level in a game that is appropriate for younger players. Two to four players are mole-rats trying to collect four artifacts and get to the central escape pod while avoiding the snakes infesting their spaceship. Moves are dictated by random card draws, but the players get to choose how to move their own tokens and the snakes, so a little planning can set up a move that shoots a snake out into deep space (and off the board entirely).

1. Forged in Steel

This brilliant, complex strategy game, released late last year, pits players against each other in a Colorado boomtown, developing lots, building houses, factories, offices, mines, and more to collect points and potentially block opponents. The real meat of the game comes in the cards, which players can use for their point value to build new buildings or to seize buildings from opponents. Some cards are Headline cards, styled as newspaper stories that alter aspects of gameplay as long as they’re still active, so players can build a strategy around such a card and then milk it for everything it’s worth until it’s pushed off the board.

More Information About Nintendo Switch Games

Yesterday I discussed some of the finer points of Nintendo’s upcoming console-handheld hybrid, the Nintendo Switch. Today let’s look at the games that I was able to play at last Friday’s press event in New York. I wasn’t able to fit all of them into that busy morning last week, but I did spend solid time playing through nine games that will be out for the system either at launch or shortly thereafter. (Sadly, Super Mario Odyssey was not playable in any capacity.) It’s crucial to actually play some of these games to fully understand them, as words struggle to do justice for 1, 2 Switch or ARMS. For others, you’ll already have some idea of what to expect if you’ve played the older games they’re based on or spun out from. And if you’re looking for something that’s a true surprise, something that wasn’t publicly known about before last week and that isn’t a direct sequel, remake or revival, you’ll have to make it all the way to the bottom to find out what my favorite game of the day was.


9. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

The latest version of this 26-year-old game adds two new characters, Evil Ryu and Violent Ken (because a professional punch-and-kick man wasn’t already violent enough), and the ability to team up against the computer. You can also alternate between pixels right out of 1991 or smoother and more cartoonish HD graphics. Otherwise this doesn’t really change much about the original, or at least the 1993 update Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, whose expanded roster is shared by this Switch game. I played this on the Pro controller, which felt as fine as playing any Street Fighter on a non-fight stick feels, and could see the relative flimsiness of the Joy-Con Grip becoming a hassle with a game that practically requires manic mashing and squeezing to excel at. There’s never anything wrong with rereleasing or updating Street Fighter II as a nostalgic benchwarmer that adds depth to a software library, but it’s also not the kind of game that would convince anybody to buy an entire new system in the year 2017.


8. Puyo Puyo Tetris

It’s two puzzle games in one with Puyo Puyo Tetris, which combines Sega’s cult match-four with, well, maybe the most beloved videogame ever made. Available in Japan since 2014, this hybrid lets you play either game alone, competitively or cooperatively, with various modes that will keep you all tense and wound up as the best puzzle games tend to do. I played two head-to-head modes last week, one where I played Tetris and my opponent played Puyo Puyo, with our more elaborate matches dumping garbage onto each other’s playfields and generally just complicating everything. Later on I took on a fellow member of the press in a mode where my game would flip between Tetris and Puyo Puyo every thirty seconds or so. Keeping the two straight was a challenge at first, as they don’t have the same goals despite their visual similarities; if you haven’t played Puyo Puyo, or aren’t familiar with the term “match-four,” imagine a game like Dr. Mario but where you have to connect four units of the same color instead of three. Switching between that way of thinking and the thought process required to succeed at Tetris took some acclimation time. It’s like doing a crossword and every so often your friend will swap it out with a sudoku puzzle.


7. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

I have never cared much about Mario Kart, which is why my quickly-flowering love for Mario Kart 8 shocked me back in 2014. It’s been a couple of years since I last played the Wii U version, but the two rounds I played of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch last week immediately reawakened that dormant fixation. (Indeed, I spent an hour playing the original on the Wii U before going to bed last night.) The mode I played on a Switch tablet is one that wasn’t on the Wii U version, one that harkens back to the earlier days of the automotive sensation: it was a true Battle Mode, with karts sprinting around an arena and trying to blast balloons off of each other without having to worry about also winning a race. Battle Mode remains a classic, and Deluxe fully captures the speed and thrills of the older games. Deluxe will include the DLC from the original game, new power-ups, and five additional drivers, including the inklings from Splatoon. It’s far from another new Mario Kart, but for anybody who skipped the Wii U or Mario Kart 8’s original release, the Switch version is certainly worth trying out.


6. Super Bomberman R

One of the bigger surprises of the entire Switch press event was the fact that Konami had a new game on hand. The long-running Japanese game designer has largely focused on mobile games, pachinko and other forms of amusement of late, but will be releasing a new version of Hudson’s venerable Bomberman series as a launch title for the Switch. As an old Bomberman acolyte who still occasionally plays it on the TurboGrafx-16, new renditions of this old favorite will always be welcomed by me. Super Bomberman R nails the classic look and feel of Bomberman, but updated with lush details and 3D characters within its two-dimensional grids. I only played the story mode, which promises 50 stages of varying goals, and which ramps up in difficulty rather quickly, but the game will also support two-player co-op and a competitive mode with up to eight players. If I ever actually find seven other people who both love Bomberman and plan on buying a Switch, those eight-player match-ups would be hard to deny.



I don’t think anybody expected motion controls to make up such a significant part of Nintendo’s presentation, but after playing a few rounds of ARMS, I can see why Nintendo is doubling down on the Wii’s defining feature. There’s more here than an enhanced Wii Boxing rehash. With multiple characters with various skills, and a variety of gloves and other fist-based weapons to choose from, there’s a level of customization that can impact your pugilistic approach. With a colorful visual flair and a design aesthetic that’s straight-forward but not necessarily simple, ARMS reminded me a bit of Splatoon, another game that was greeted with tepid and quizzical reactions, and one that went on to become a legitimate breakout hit for Nintendo. I can’t say the same will happen with ARMS, not after only playing it for ten or so minutes, but if the full game reasonably expounds on the good impression it made in that short time, it could certainly be a success.


4. 1, 2 Switch

There’s a huge disconnect between seeing something and playing something, and I can’t think of a videogame more prone to disappearing in that gap than 1, 2 Switch. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a Joy-Con and actually played 1, 2 Switch yet, you might be extremely dubious about the motion-controlled minigame package. Yes, it looks ridiculous when two adults sit down and rapidly pump their arms up and down like they’re milking an imaginary cow. It’s also about as purely fun as anything else I played at the Switch event. Between the various eccentric technologies bound up inside the Joy-Cons, the novel ways in which 1, 2 Switch interacts with them, and the sheer power (and awkwardness) of the basic human connections necessary to play these games (again, you’re not looking at the TV here, but directly into the eyes of another human being), 1, 2 Switch is the most fascinating thing about the entire Switch project so far. It could wind up being a disaster or a Wii Sports-style cultural phenomenon.


3. Splatoon 2

From the three rounds that I played on a tablet, Splatoon 2 doesn’t do much to overhaul the fundamentals of Nintendo’s paintball shooter. The main “turf war” battles are still between two four-person squads trying to paint as much of an arena their team’s color as possible before the time expires. You still get points for taking out enemies directly, and a number of familiar weapons from the first game return. I used a new weapon, the “splat dualies,” throughout; these are two revolvers that shoot out short-range but easily aimed paintballs ideal for eliminating your rivals. They aren’t quite as useful at painting the ground, so it’s a weapon that should be reserved for whatever you’d call the Splatoon equivalent of a striker. Perhaps the main selling points here are the new music and new fashion for the inklings, or perhaps the simple fact that it is another way to play one of the best games of 2015. And with the ersatz LAN party mode of the Switch tablets, you can finally play true Splatoon locally, which is a proposition that shouldn’t be underestimated.


2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I played roughly twenty minutes of Breath of the Wild, and what struck me the most is how quickly it let go of me and trusted me to explore its world. Now, I don’t know if this is the very beginning of the game, or a small slice that comes after whatever kind of introductory period is kicked off by the title card. All I know is within minutes of pressing start I was roaming freely through Hyrule, which feels more alive than ever, with small animals scurrying about and trees I could climb to pluck apples and other health-restoring foodstuffs. There was a dedicated jump button and more extensive voice-over work than typically found in Zelda games, although the dialogue between Link and a helpful old man was still text-only. Instead of waiting to find a sword, I could pick up tree branches to use as weapons, and use whatever I knocked out of the hands of monsters during battles. At one point I knocked a sword and shield out of a Bokoblin’s hands and picked them up myself; the now defenseless beast ran up a small hill a few feet away and started throwing rocks at me. Near the end of the demo I used an in-game item to uncover a tower that burst from the ground into the sky and pointed the way to my next objective; that aspect felt like a Zelda version of Assassin’s Creed or any number of other Ubisoft games. The demo ended shortly thereafter, right as I was approaching what could’ve been either the first major enemy or an entrance to an underground dungeon. It’s hard to get a true handle on a game as epic as Zelda from a short demo, but from what I’ve seen, there might be more freedom in how we can explore Hyrule, and more depth in how we can interact with it. As it stands, what I played felt like the least formulaic Zelda game in a very long time, while still looking and feeling like Zelda.


1. Snipperclips

Snipperclips is the kind of surprise I basically expect from Nintendo at this point. I knew nothing about it, and it has no clear nostalgic antecedents within Nintendo’s library, but it wound up being my favorite game of the entire event. It’s an adorable puzzle game that focuses on partnership and cooperation, as you and a friend control two papercraft buddies who are trying to arrange themselves in specific shapes or perform certain actions in order to move on to the next screen. You can rotate and tilt them freely into the necessary positions, and even use them to cut each other into different shapes in order to accomplish whatever goals are before you. That might mean perfectly filling an outline on the screen, or snipping one character into a point that they can use to pop a balloon, or even just balancing a basketball or pencil as you carry it from one edge to the other. A lot of co-op games barely require you to acknowledge your partner, but Snipperclips practically forces you to talk through each scenario, like you’re working together on a jigsaw puzzle or at an “escape the room” style event. It may not be the kind of big name, big budget extravaganza that compels customers to drop hundreds of dollars on a weird new Nintendo thing, but it’s the best game I played at the press event last Friday, and the kind of niche product that could easily develop a passionate cult audience.


More Information About Card Game Unlock

Unlock! Is a new series of card-based puzzle games from Asmodee and Space Cowboys that tries to port the concept of an escape room into a boardgame, using a free app that gives the players 60 minutes to solve the clues in the cards and win the game before time runs out. The general structure works well, and the stories are all tightly written, but some of the critical clues are so abstruse that I think the puzzles would be too difficult to solve without using the Hints function in the app. There are currently three scenarios available plus a downloadable fourth module, The Elite, available on the official Unlock! site; for this review, we played The Elite plus two of the three scenarios for sale, The Formula and Squeek & Sausage.

Each Unlock! box is its own self-contained puzzle, comprising a unique deck of cards that players will turn over as they solve riddles or discover new clues, with the eventual goal of finding four-digit codes that advance them in the game or finish the entire module. Players enter those codes into the app and will either get an instruction to reveal another numbered card or will get a loud buzzer for entering an incorrect code and lose three minutes off the timer. Some cards represent rooms and direct players to turn over a handful of additional cards. Some cards represent partial clues that can only be combined with other cards of specific colors—red cards with blue cards, exclusively, and only if you can add their card numbers to get a sum of 99 or less, which sends you to another card in the deck. Some cards are “machines” that ask you to figure out a visual or logical puzzle, add up certain figures on the card, and then treat the result as a red card with the sum as its value, which you then get to combine with the value on a blue card to get to yet another card in the deck.

The puzzles are mostly linear—there is one solution to each, meaning you can’t go around any clue you can’t solve, and by and large have to hit the clues in order. If you get to a clue that stumps you, you have two options (other than just continuing to work on it as the timer counts down): you can enter the card number into the app’s Hint feature to get a sentence or two to get you unstuck, or you can pause the damn timer and take as much time as you need. I suppose the latter is cheating, but once the timer hits 0:00, your phone doesn’t self-destruct, and the app still functions to allow you to solve the game without scoring points for it. Since it’s a co-op game, though, I don’t see how the points matter; because you can only play each module once, it’s not like you can try to beat a previous score.

Unlock! has two flaws, one minor and one major. The minor one is an error of accessibility. Many cards in the game have “hidden objects,” card numbers that players have to work to find on other cards, often printed in tiny text, or in a color very similar to the background, or in a strange font. Once we figured out that looking for those numbers was essential—you can’t solve any of the cases without them—we found most of them in a minute or two, but doing so requires good eyesight; my wife, the only member of my immediate family who wears glasses, didn’t see any of them. Adding an accessibility mode to the app or designing the numbers so that they don’t blend so well into the cards’ backgrounds would help make the game better for all players.

The major flaw, however, is how obscure some of the clues are, a function of game writing that isn’t self-contained. Difficulty is in the eye—or brain—of the beholder, but each of the three modules we played had at least one clue that I thought was too difficult, and in all cases it was a clue that required knowledge or recognition of something from outside of the game itself. Solving “Squeek & Sausage,” the goofiest and most fun of the three we’ve tried, requires players to recognize a pattern that has nothing to do with the remainder of the puzzle, something from the real world that feels non sequitur-ish, and even after we got the Hint from the app still didn’t seem like a good enough representation. (If you get to that clue and are stuck, but don’t want the Hint to give the whole clue away, here’s my half-hint: Look at the pattern of spaces under the microwave. I only know of one common numeric code that goes 1-6-6-1 the way those spaces do.)

Unlock! says it’s for players aged 10 and up, and my daughter, now 11, enjoyed playing along but was at a disadvantage in the logical aspects of the game—she figured out several of the clues herself before we did, but was frustrated by the seemingly random decisions of what extra-game factors she could consider and what factors she couldn’t. We also would have needed more than the hour given for these modules had we eschewed the hint function, so either you accept you’re going to need some hints or you budget about 90 minutes per module. I think the core structure here is bang on for a puzzle game, but the puzzle masters have to hone their writing to make the games challenging without relying on players recognizing patterns or symbols that have nothing to do with the rest of those modules.


More Information About New Monopoly Gamer

Monopoly is no stranger to themed boardgames, and Hasbro’s latest iteration, Monopoly Gamer, is just that but with a sheen of everyone’s favorite crimson plumber, Mario.

The concept is still the same—you’ll duke it out with your pals, running around and around the board to buy property and get those coins, but here’s the twist: special powers and boss battles. The player at the end of the game with the most coins and points wins.

During your trek as Mario, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach or Yoshi, each character will have a special power to call their own. For example, Princess Peach has the “Super Star” power, which allows her to collect rent from the bank when she lands on the corresponding space. And did we mention power-ups? There’s a whole new die for that. Fire flowers, anyone?

If the original cast isn’t enough for you, you’ll be able to add to your repertoire of characters with power packs featuring Luigi, Boo, Rosalina, Wario, Diddy Kong and more. These will be sold separately for $2.99.

The standard version of the game will be available everywhere starting in August, but starting today, you can catch the collector’s edition with an exclusive Bowser character token at GameStopfor $39.99.


Know Best Boardgames Based on Videogames

Among the harshest of childhood life lessons is that franchised board games are rubbish. They look so enticing, favorite films and videogames made flesh in your quivering kiddy hands. Then, when you get it home, set it up and play it’s all cheap plastic and a thin skin over what’s basically Ludo or, at a push, Risk.

Well we’re here to help you unlearn that lesson, because toy manufacturers have been lying to you. It’s perfectly possible to make fantastic physical versions of digital games. The secret is simple: you need to get a talented designer who loves the source material instead of trying to make a fast cash-in.

Here’s a seven-step process to finding videogame nirvana in the real world.

This War Of Mine: The Board Game

If you haven’t had quite enough of watching innocent people die in the ruins of a bombed-out city on screen, now you can do it on a board. This is a cooperative affair that mimics the mechanics of the original quite closely. By day you’re working on your shelter. By night you’re venturing out into the ravaged buildings to scavenge for supplies.

What makes the whole thing come together is the included book of stories. It’s a little like a choose your own adventure affair that garnishes play with a rich level of narrative. The result is a unique experience, but not always a happy one.

XCOM: The Board Game

Just as the original heralded a rebirth of popular strategy on screen, so this launched a whole new genre of board games driven by mobile apps. While the players work together training soldiers and managing resources, an AI in the app dictates alien plans and movement.

What turns the game into a thrilling pressure cooker, though, is that the app also puts a timer on all your activities. So instead of carefully measured planning, everyone ends up screaming at each other to make decisions before the clock runs down. In a neat twist the player controlling the app can waste precious seconds to “scan” for alien activity and get clues as to what’s coming next.

Gears of War: The Board Game

At this point, we’d forgive you for thinking there was a theme going on in the way publishers title these games. And there’s another, too: videogame licenses are expensive and board game publishers are poor. So when the license expires, the game is no longer in print and prices skyrocket. Such is the case for this Gears of War game, which now fetches three figure sums.

You might think that’s surprising, given that the slow pace of board gaming is anathema to an action game like Gears. Yet this is a startling and brilliant re-creation which focuses on the tactical use of equipment and cover. In yet another common theme, it’s a co-operative game with players controlling individual Gears against the Locust horde.

StarCraft: The Board Game

Real-time strategy is a much closer fit to the board game strategy and this 2007 adaptation didn’t disappoint. In addition to innovative combat and resource management, it framed everything in a high-level campaign. Players competed with their factions for control of a modular map of interconnected planets.

Unfortunately it’s been out of print for some years and now sells for eye-watering sums. Fortunately you can still experience much of its brilliance with a different theme. The publisher re-used a lot of its ideas in the Forbidden Stars game, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. That is now also out of license and out of print so if you like the sound of it, grab it now before prices go interstellar.

Mechs vs Minions

Strangely, this League of Legends board game didn’t come from an independent publisher but direct from Riot Games. And it’s a labor of love, arriving in a colossal box full of gleefully overproduced components. There are metal coins, plastic gems, painted Yardles and exactly one hundred minion miniatures.

It’s another co-op affair, but with a twist. Players don’t move their pieces directly but instead assign them a program of orders before a timer runs out. Then it’s general hilarity as the unexpected consequences of mistakes play out like a line of dominoes toppling over. Print runs are limited, so invest now if you fancy it.

DOOM: The Board Game

As if the rules to tabletop games weren’t confusing enough, publishers like to confuse you with editions, too. There’s a 2004 board game version of this, which is okay. There’s also a 2016 reboot to go with the reboot of the digital version, which is a whole lot better.

One player controls the demons while all the others work together as marines against the hellish horde. Combat is fast, fun and tactical all at once. And a variety of objectives for all the different players ensures replay value with no two games playing out the same.

Dark Souls: The Board Game

The source game presents designers with a problem: how to re-create the learning experience that characterizes the series? Well, this game went with the grind. It’s a tough challenge. But players can gain an edge by practicing against repeated waves of underlings before trying it on against the boss.

When they do, they’re in for a treat. Although the characters and enemies are all drawn from the original game, boss fights literally take it up a notch. Half way through the fight, they get a “heat up” card giving them a whole new slew of abilities. It’s down to players to handle the sudden change as best they can, otherwise it’s the dreaded “YOU DIED” text all over again.