Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guts of Glory: A Kickstarter Board Game

Too Long, Didn’t Read: If you like board/card games and are a fan of thematic/flavorful (hah, literally) games that are humorous and easy to pick up and play; check out the Guts of Glory board game on Kickstarter.  It’s a game about becoming the eating competition champion and is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Radical, right? The game’s Kickstarter has already met its goal, so you’ll know you’ll get a copy if you back the project. NOTE: The Kickstarter has just 15 hours to go, so click here to check it out and become a backer if this game sounds awesome to you.

Now, for the long version:

Kickstarter at PAX Prime 2012

It’s PAX Prime 2012, and I was walking into the Sheraton hotel where the Kickstarter area was and saying hello to a couple peeps at the Cards Against Humanity booth.  I also meandered around, looking at each of the Kickstarter booths to see if anything interested me. One booth caught my eye – there was a card game project! If any game, physical or digital, has a card-based component; my infatuation with the game automatically increases in at least the tiniest bit, regardless of whether I’ve experienced the gameplay or not. This card game I saw, and eventually played, is glorious – no, really, it’s called Guts of Glory.

Technically, it’s a board game, but it’s just as much of a board game rather than it is a card game as 7 Wonders is a board game rather than a card game. It’s got the necessary non-card components, but the meat of the whole game is within the cards themselves.

All the Glory Details

I won’t go too much into detail in how to play Guts of Glory here, as that is best explained by the creators themselves on their Kickstarter. With that said, in this game, you chew and spew (spit out) foods and condiments, competing with the other players to be the first to make it to the end of the “road to glory.” The world that this food-eating game takes place in, though, is a post-apocalyptic one – a great design choice, opening the doors for all sorts of card designs with fun concepts.

If this game were set in the modern-day world, imagine the kind of food and condiment cards you’d include in this game – the craziest you might be able to get are the tofu/veggie replacements and foods that are more unusual like frog legs (depending on your audience, this might not be unusual). Not as exciting!

Nay, with the post-apocalyptic theme, where food is scarce and meager, you then have liberty to not only be unrealistic; but, storywise, being hard-up for food means you’re masticating and swallowing some more unusual stuff.

Where this game excels – besides being a game that is more accessible to a wider audience than a complex fantasy swords-and-sorcery type of game like a lot of products out there – is its flavor. The food-eating flavor is baked right into the design of the game. Here’s what I mean:

Instead of an abstract row of three cards that each player must place more cards into at the beginning of each of their turns (like with some card games); you “refill the tray of food.” That’s so grokable (something that is easy to understand and “get” the concept of) for a player. Of COURSE you refill the tray of food – it’s an empty food tray with no food on it!

When you choose a food or condiment from the tray to put into your mouth, you “chew” it. And – get this – your mouth’s flavor (hehe) has also been leveraged into the game’s design. Your mouth has empty card slots laid out in a row: the sides (of your mouth) chew food while your tongue (in the middle of your mouth) handles condiments (because you taste with your tongue!). When you finish chewing, you swallow it and get glory.

You always have to chew something new every turn, but your mouth can get full, so you end up spewing something every now and then. That’s when other players can “catch” this spewed food into their own mouths to chew and swallow. Doing this is “more glorious,” so it becomes worth more glory points.

The foods and condiments themselves consist of cards like: the Hot Hot Hot Sauce, Dentures, and Snack Product (which looks like a Twinkie – and if you’ve seen Zombieland, you’ll know that the Twinkie, humorously, doesn’t expire and survives even through apocalypses).

Do, Do, Do, Do You Have It? GUTS!

I found out all about the game by having it demoed to me by Jesse Fuchs, one of the creators of the game. Even while I was running late for a popular panel at PAX I wanted to attend, I wanted to finish up the game session that Jesse demoing with me. I enjoyed the game and wanted to return at a later time to talk more about card games and the advice I was asking for regarding production of them. And he gave me a demo copy of my own before I left! Nice guy!

So, Guts of Glory: a flavorful game – in more than one sense of the word – that’s easy to pick up and light-hearted. Pick it up if you’re looking for another multiplayer out-of-the-box card game to enjoy that’s different from the usual popular card games you might find.

As of the time I post this, though, there’s only 15 hours left for the Kickstarter, and it’s already met its goal, so you’re guaranteed to get yourself a copy. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Super Retro Game Review or: How I Learned Something about Super Crate Box and Loved Super Hexagon

A couple weeks ago, despite being nearly broke; I decided that spending one dollar for the iOS app Super Hexagon is worth the investment.  And it was, as one dollar buying enough content for a blog post topic is quite cheap; compared to, say, a Borderlands 2 purchase! (Besides, you know, having a ton of fun. Though, it was not my intent to buy Super Hexagon just for the sake of writing about it.) When I purchased Super Hexagon and tried it out for the first time, I was visiting friends at their place at the time.  I didn’t expect this, but the three of us got sucked into passing around my iPad trying to one-up each other’s high scores – just like at the arcades of olden times I only hear about.

A few days after competitive Super Hexagon-ing with my buddies, I fired up Steam and re-discovered Super Crate Box. I played it some time ago on PC, and I remembered enjoying the game. I was in the mood to play it again, so I did; and I noticed something: it’s not as fun as Super Hexagon.

Why was this, though? Both games have much in common: retro graphics, simple gameplay, one-hit game overs, and the goal of getting as far as possible before dying. But I have MORE fun with Super Hexagon. Then I figured it out: Super Hexagon evolves the challenges presented to the player over time during the gaming session whereas Super Crate Box does not.

Super Fun Challenge

In the Super Mario games, you encounter koopas, goombas, and some platformer obstacles in each level. However, as you progress through Super Mario, you find that there are red koopas that are “smarter” than the green koopas you first encountered, flying goombas, different enemies such as flying cheep-cheeps and spinies, and more difficult and differently-arranged platformer obstacles. The challenges presented to the player keep changing as the player progresses further into the game.

Even with the matter-of-seconds gameplay of Super Hexagon contrasting with Super Mario’s lasting-quite-a-bit-longer-than-a-few-seconds play sessions, Super Hexagon still manages to increase and vary the obstacles over time. When you start up a game of Super Hexagon, you aren’t presented with the same challenge you find when you’ve passed the ten-second mark or thirty-second marks – and you DEFINITELY don’t experience what you find after you’ve survived 60 seconds. Instead, the game is at its slowest in the beginning, and you start off with some obstacles with multiple ways to get past them before being presented with a nearly-hexagon-ish obstacle with only one way to get past them – and so on and so forth. Super Hexagon’s gameplay changes up things and/or becomes increasingly difficult as you progress further into the game.

Even better, Super Hexagon doesn’t just throw the same obstacles at you at each point in time in the game – you might get Easy Obstacle A in the beginning in one game while Easy Obstacle B is thrown at you in the beginning of your next game. But this is like icing on cake, and I’m digressing.

In Super Crate Box’s case, the game doesn’t change up the gameplay as you progress through the game. It’s the same enemies doing the same exact thing – over and over again. The same map, the same open area at the top of the screen where enemies drop in from.

Wait! Don’t worry. I’m aware of Super Crate Box’s additional maps and the harder modes that have enemies spawn from other places other than the top of the screen. This is actually what I believe to be a mistake: you can only play on one map and in one difficulty mode with each session.

When you play Super Crate Box, it’s like you’ve got a D12 die for your weapons and another die for what and how frequently enemies spawn, and you just keep rolling and dealing with the results until you end up with an unfavorable outcome and lose. If it evolved its challenges like Super Hexagon does, then the metaphorical die rolled for challenges would change over time instead of being the same thing rolled over and over again.

Super Other Games as Examples

You might point out examples such as Pac-Man where the game uses the same map with the same enemies over and over again. However, as you complete each map, the ghosts become faster and the power pellets don’t last as long as before. The gameplay still evolves, just only in the difficulty manner.

Also, I consider Ms. Pac-Man an improvement over Pac-Man for the reason that it DOES add those additional maps for a player to play through within one play session. So, Ms. Pac-Man does have both “increase in difficulty” and “variance of obstacles” as part of the evolution of challenges presented to the player and this makes it more fun.

And why is having challenges that evolve important for a game (for single-player games, at least)? People’s brains like learning things. When you learn, your body makes sure that you feel good (“You’re having fun!”), so that you can keep on learning. When we play games, we have fun because we are trying to figure out how to solve the problems in the games – we’re learning. But once a player has learned everything there is to know about the game, the game becomes tedious and simply an exercise. This is why Solitaire is not as exciting as Magic: The Gathering when you’re looking to game (for those who like Magic, that is) – because you’ve already mastered Solitaire.

On a side note, Solitaire can still be enjoyable in the sense that it’s relaxing just going through the motions. It’s why some people bake or go for a jog when they’re stressed or need a time-out. Personally, when I just want a relaxing activity, one of the things I like to do is play the original Super Mario Bros. I already know how to beat the whole game and have saved Princess Peach multiple times – but it still feels nice to play Super Mario Bros. every once in a while.

So, with Super Crate Box, when I’ve already learned that two out of the three enemies simply, drop down from above, walk straight, drop down into the fire, then become faster and run straight until they die; I’ve stopped learning. When I’ve already figured out how to use each of the thirteen weapons in the game; I’ve stopped learning. Now I’m just going through the motions and dealing with random weapons and random rates of randomly selected-from-three-available-enemy-types enemies.

Super Crate Box is Still Super Fun

Don’t get me wrong: I still have a lot of fun with Super Crate Box. In fact, whilst writing this and stopping to check out something Super Crate Box, I ended up having stopped writing for quite a while and getting sucked into playing it. Gamers gonna game.

It’s just that it’s not as fun to me as Super Hexagon is – and I am fully aware that games can only be designed well enough to a certain point to achieve fun before the fun-ness of a game becomes based upon the player’s gaming preferences. For example, I’m not much of a fan of first-person shooter games, but I’m sure Borderlands 2 is a great game and does what it does well.

But even with Super Hexagon’s and Super Crate Box’s similarities, each game has something different to offer that can’t be compared with anything from the other game. Super Hexagon has simplistic controls and music and visuals that contribute toward a unique experience. Super Crate Box is a platformer, has more personality, and has as a deeper well of unlockable content that encourages you to play over and over again.

Super Crate Box could have been better. But, keep in mind that this game is still good, and it’s no slight against Vlambeer, the developer of the game, as circumstances and certain decisions determined the overall outcome of the game. And that outcome is a fun game with many fans; a feat that I have yet to pull off myself.

Until next time, may the challenges your players face during a play session of your game do what a Pikachu does when exposed to a Thunder Stone.