Tuesday 25 October 2022

One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards

If there’s been a theme to my recent gaming it would seem to be cards. Well, cards and stealth. I forgot about stealth; I was going to include it at the start but then it crouched in some bushes for 30 seconds and just popped clean out of my head. Desperadoes 3 was in the same Humble Monthly as the Legendary Edition of Mass Effect, got good reviews, and I like a bit of real time tactics now and again so I fired it up. It’s very stealth-heavy, much more Commandos than Close Combat, and though I enjoy silently crawling around as much as the next chap I usually like to mix it up with a firefight or two. That’s not entirely out of the question, you can always pull out the trusty old six shooters, but limited ammunition and weight of enemy numbers tend to make stealth the preferred option. I’d played through the first few levels, but then like a guard hearing a coin being thrown within earshot I got rather distracted and wandered off to investigate something else: the current headline Humbly Monthly offering, Deathloop.

I was aware of the time loop premise (the title’s a bit of a giveaway) and intrigued at release, but had avoided too much further information to experience the story fresh. It’s proving most interesting so far with elements of other media that’s right up my street, things like STALKER, Memento, Lost, Bioshock, and of course time loop classics such as Source Code, Palm Springs, and Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat/Saving Private Groundhog. Presumably there’s a dollop of Dishonored in there as well as it’s from the same developers, but for some reason that never clicked with me, I have an hour and a half of play time back in 2013 that I can’t really remember at all (thank heavens for Steam data). The design of Deathloop is very stylish, and while stealth is certainly an option and well catered for through awareness systems, silent weapons/takedowns, the ability to hack cameras and cause disturbances and such, it feels more forgiving if you prefer to let your fists (and machine pistols, shotguns, and grenades) do the talking. A minor irritation is the lack of a mid-level save option; game-wise it certainly makes sense, to allow the looping mechanics to take care of that side of things (a neat reflection of the way Edge of Tomorrow and its source All You Need Is Kill were influenced by the idea of saving and reloading in games to keep trying different things), but not ideal if you get called away. At least it can be paused in single player mode; there’s obviously some sort of PvP possibility in the future, telegraphed on the starting screen, but I haven’t got that far yet, as I managed to get distracted again…

Another current Humble Monthly offering is Monster Train, a roguelike deckbuilder, another genre I have some fondness for. I thought I’d take a quick peak, and have ended up playing it more than anything else recently. Slay the Spire is the obvious comparison: various factions to select from, some specialising in brute force, others magic; a set of basic cards augmented with new drafts and upgrades; merchants; random events. It plays differently enough to be its own thing, though, with a tower-defence-ish twist of assembling your forces over three floors. I’ve really been enjoying mixing the factions to take very different approaches, from having a really solid tank shielding glass-cannon damage dealers to throwing out wave upon wave of disposable minions before reforming them for another attack. Again like Slay the Spire the challenges are equally varied, one battle might be a complete cakewalk where you annihilate the invaders without them laying a finger on your champion, the next suddenly features foes with abilities that nullify your most important tactics. Very well worth a look, if that sounds like your sort of thing.

Also on the cards front I’m still enjoying a few rounds of KARDS most days, I’ve found a deck that really clicks for competitive play with good results, though is by no means invincible; I had one of those days last week where every opponent seemed geared up to counter it, but that’s the luck of the draw. I’ve also got a collection of other decks covering the various nations when daily tasks pop up, less effective but they keep things fun, variety being the spice of Second World War digital card games and all that. I didn’t think I needed another, but then Melmoth mentioned a Marvel CCG had just come out, so I had a look around. I’d seen a couple of headlines about Marvel Snap but assumed it was some kids game; it seems the simple matching game we call ‘Snap‘ in the UK isn’t really a thing in the US (cursory googling suggests similar sounding games go by ‘Slapjack’ or, weirdly, ‘Egyptian Rat Screw’), so it’s not just a case of shouting ‘SNAP!’ when Iron Man turns up twice (Iron Mans? Iron Men? Irons Man?) Probably for the best, that could get messy (“no, not ‘snap’, both cards may be Venom but this one is Mac Gargan and that one is Eddie Brock…”) Anyway, I gave Marvel Snap a quick try and it seemed pretty basic, I was ready to file it as a perfectly adequate but fairly uninspired cash-in. Just this morning, though, somebody retweeted one of the developers talking about how they’d dealt with mulligans, and it was rather interesting. The thread outlines some of the goals: small decks, quick matches, but keeping the variance high (a key reason for not including mulligans, instead making a basic low-coast card with the ability to always feature in a starting hand, thus addressing the underlying complaint of not always being able to do something in your first turn). It made me take another look at the game, and sure enough there is plenty of depth to it. Deck building in a game with a vast card library can be quite a headache; I can certainly throw something together in KARDS but my serious decks all started out from templates, albeit with tweaks here and there. A smaller deck without multiple instances of the same card is quite a refreshing change, if I can find the time I might well add it to the regulars.

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