Strategy

Plague Inc.

The Anti-Pandemic

Type:
Other
System Requirements:
iOS or Android device
Developer:
Ndemic Creations

Most mobile games are little time-wasters, suitable for entertaining yourself while you wait for the bus; few are deep, involving, and require strategic thinking. Plague Inc does, however.

In Plague Inc., you play a disease, and your victory condition is the complete extermination of humanity. Experiencing fiero because you've just killed every man, woman, and child on the planet is... strange, but interesting.

The game comes with seven different plague types (bacteria, virus, parasite, and so on); only bacteria is unlocked at first. Each poses somewhat different difficulties; for instance, the virus mutates frequently, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can gain new abilities without requiring you to spend "DNA points," but you may also evolve in a way to alarm humanity more quickly than you'd like.


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Slapshot

Tabletop Tuesdays: Game of Chance/Strategy

Type:
Tabletop
System Requirements:
Tabletop and Literacy
Developer:
Tom Dalgliesh

Slapshot is a highly abstracted hockey simulation card game with a great amount of luck. The original edition was created in 1982 but reprinted multiple times, including a recent reprint and an iOS app. The publisher, Columbia Games is famous for making one thing -- block war boardgames. Slapshot is an odd game in long lineup of hard-core wargames from Columbia Games.

Slapshot's core gameplay is similar to Reiner Knizia's Battleline, because both games use lane-based "combat". Each player gets six cards that represent six players (suits): three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie. On your turn you can draft, trade, or play (challenge) a team. Drafting improves your hand by exchanging one of your low cards with a draw from a common pool of face-down cards. Trading is similar to drafting but you randomly draw a card from another player's hand and you must exchange a card of the matching suit. Thus if you draw a forward card from an another player, you must give one of your forwards in exchange.


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Caylus

Tabletop Tuesdays: Color Up the Cubes

Caylus Windows Screenshot
Type:
Tabletop
System Requirements:
Tabletop and Literacy
Developer:
William Attia

Caylus is a much-hyped game. The first printing sold out so quickly, people were calling it the second coming of Puerto Rico. Due to this popularity, Big Daddy Creations is releasing a universal iOS port this week. Caylus is a pure Eurogame, putting elegance over a rich theme. Although, you play a master builder constructing a castle in Caylus, France, you spend most of your time changing one color cube for another cube, which in turn will be converted into another color cube.

Caylus popularized the worker-placement mechanic whereby a player places a token (a worker) from a menu of choices, denying others that specific choice. Furthermore, the Provost and Bailiff mechanic is fascinating because they are neutral pieces (white discs) that any player can spend resources to move. You can use it to speed the game up as well shut down other player's buildings, and increase tension around their movement.

Caylus is also available as a Windows fanware by Jason Long.


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Atom Zombie Smasher

The Fog of Zombie

Type:
Shareware
Developer:
Brandon Chung

This is one of the best games I've played since maybe Minecraft. I was like, way into it. Oh wait, for a minute I thought I was writing for Game Informer.

This game put me in the mindset of Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the JFK and Johnson administrations. We burned to death 100,000 civilians in a night, men, women and children, but at least they aren't 100,000 zombies! There's also kitschy 60s music in the soundtrack, it really goes for a 60s aesthetic, which is a nice compliment to the kitschy 50s aesthetic that the Fallout series pioneered. After all, there is no nuclear war in this scenario, only Llama bombs, Zombies, and panicked civillians.


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Majesty 2

Dungeons and Keynes

Type:
Shareware
Developer:
1C

Majesty was a game that my brother and I played a lot over Easter about 10 years ago, because in my family, we got presents on Easter - resurrection trumps birth in material yield, my father used to say (he didn't). The game had a certain iconic magic to it, you played a king who had to run a D&D kingdom indirectly, creating the economic incentives for the various heroes to go out and explore, kill monsters, gather loot. The heroes then spend the profits of their adventures on better equipment, healing potions, or new spells. It was a process not unlike the engine that allows the US to conjur money out of nothing and scare the rest of the world into honoring it. It's fantasy Keynesianism, as opposed to the Keynesian fantasy we deal with in real life. But I digress, insulting two religions in the opening paragraph, and I haven't even talked about the religions in this game, which are comparatively more useful.


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Backyard Monsters

Puts the "Game" in "Facebook Game"

Type:
Facebook App
System Requirements:
Facebook Account (it's in the cloud maaaaan)
Developer:
Casual Collective

Finally a Facebook game that makes you feel like you're on Kongregate! See those blood splatters in the header pic? That's monster blood, the result of killing via explosives and projectile launches. See that array of buildings? That's a non-decorative arrangement I used to express myself, with concerns for both architecture style and radius coverage of my peremeter, which has been optimized - optimized! - to cluster AI paths into areas of maximum overlap. In this game I was allowed to make decisions which affected my success relative to everyone else in a matter that was challenging. Surely italics are better than quotation marks for placing "sardonic" emphasis?


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Backyard Monsters

Puts the "Game" in "Facebook Game"

Type:
Facebook App
System Requirements:
Facebook Account (it's in the cloude maaaaan)
Developer:
Casual Collectibe

Finally a Facebook game that makes you feel like you're on Kongregate! See those blood splatters in the header pic? That's monster blood, the result of killing via explosives and projectile launches. See that array? That's a non-decorative arrangement I expressed myself through, with concerns for both architecture style and radius coverage of my peremeter, which has been optimize - optimized! - to cluster AI paths into areas of maximum overlap. In this game I was allowed to make decisions which affected my success relative to everyone else in a matter that was challenging. Surely italics are better than quotation marks for placing "sardonic" emphasis?

Yes, the folks at Casual Collective, makers of really neat multiple experiences like Buggle and featuring the maker of Kongregate breakout-hit Desktop Tower Defense, have applied their hybrid of depth and accessibility to that "space" where traditional designers have feared to tread but where angels tread quite freely (the investor variety): The Facebook. Now you can open that book of faces and proceed to start breaking said faces by spawing groups of home-brewed monsters at the door-step of other folks' tower defense arrays. If you succeed in overwhelming you can raid resources in order to grow your tower-defended base even faster. They take the chestnut of setting a timer and coming back for a reward and granulate it to a wide spectrum of time ranges, upgrade this building for 20 minutes, this one over two hours, research this monster for a day, harvest some putty in an hour and a half of the collector will be too full to continue - somehow this juggling act, in contrast to the optimal appointment that games like Farmville or Cafe World offer, appeals to the epic-compulsive drive of the active competitor or manager-type gamer. However according to their chart, people burn out on that and the resulting ratio of daily to monthly players is lower than you'd expect from a demanding strategy game.

The PvP is pretty fun as you raid someone multiple times and they start hitting back, so you reflexively get into these petty rivalries with folks you've never met - would like to see more with my actual friends, structured local leaderboards, short-term races to a goal milestone, alliances and wars and tournaments. But maybe they can roll that stuff out, at 200k DAU they're pulling prolly like 5k a day so they're probably holding onto positive operating-margins with this thing and you're going to see some new stuff roll out over time.

As far as the early game goes, I admire their boldness in not folding to the mainstays of Facebook game design. The interface is kind of a mess from a "casual" (or is that casual) point of view, but they just trust you to deal with it. Most notably, the focal mechanic of the game, attacking other players, doesn't become accessible until after a few days of active play, they even give you 14 days explicitedly when you start up. This kind of commitment, as fickel as it may seem to those who have losts years to MMORPGS, is staggering for a social game.

But hey man, at least we have a game where you can post a newsfeed that isn't totally hokey, and maybe even inspire some badass admiration as you start unlocking that hardcore, high-level monster and warn your friends. I Like that.


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Samurai

Tabletop Tuesdays: Winner of both Video and Board Game Awards

Samurai Board
Type:
Demo Download
System Requirements:
Windows 95+ PIII Processor 500 MHz+, Mac OS X G3 Processor 233 MHz+
Developer:
Klear Games

Samurai by Klear Games is an electronic adaptation of the boardgame with the same name by Reiner Knizia. Samurai is a hybrid of a graph paper game, dots and boxes with a common Eurogame mechanic of majority control, and topped with interesting endgame scoring. This seemingly ordinary combination produces a extraordinary game of simple rules yet deep strategic choices.


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Battle of Tiles

Not There Yet...

Type:
Demo Download
System Requirements:
Win 98+/ 1GHz CPU/ 256MB RAM/ DirectX 9.0c
Developer:
Bimboosoft

Battle of Tiles was Gametunnel's Strategy Game of the Year for '08, which is a little like Robert Parker deciding that the wine of the year was a $15 Malbec from Mendoza. (As I may be the only gamer / wine snob mutant in existence, let me explain that some really good “value” wines come out of Argentina's Mendoza valley, but no-one expects them to compete with $200+ bottles from Napa or Bordeaux.) Gametunnel's review of the game says: “I had about four hours of fun and at $5 that seems more than reasonable.”

Four hours of fun for $5 isn't bad, but that's not game of the year criteria.


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Zatikon

Chess Meets Magic Online

Type:
Shareware
Developer:
Chronic Logic
Suggested By:
Katieskye

Zatikon is from Chronic Logic, who have produced a whole slew of interesting games over the years, including Gish and Bridge Construction Set. It's a bit of a departure from them, both for its business model and for its gameplay.


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