Category: Game Pile

My Game Pile is my stack of videogames that I’ve been working my way through over the course of the years, and writing about them. The plan is pretty simple: I talk about the game and I talk about the things that that game inspire. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long – and always, I try to give you an idea of who the game might be fore, or why they might want to buy it.

Let’s use Games to talk about Everything!

Game Pile: Fax Machine

Normally, when I write about games on Game Pile, I’m writing about games you can buy, or maybe games you can have for free. I’m not often talking about games that are more practice than they are objects. For some of you, this time of year is a time when you go visit people you kinda like but don’t like much and there’s inevitably, someone who wants to ‘play games’ so I want to equip you with a really good game so you’re not stuck in an hour long slog of trying to remember how mortgages work in a dusty copy of monopoly nobody likes.

Now, then, our basics. First, a fax machine was a kind of email machine that could send a complicated text message over a phone line to a specialised device. These machines are pretty outmoded now, but for a while there they were fundamental to businesses and even had people doing ‘spam’ calls by randomly sending faxes to different phone numbers in the random hope they’d be picked up by a machine and you’d print something in a stranger’s workplace. They were also slow – a fax could take ten to fifteen minutes to arrive when they were new, which means fax correspondence always had a sort of slow stop-and-start nature to them. They were faster than mail, but they still had a sort of asynchronous communication feel to them. That’s the core of this game: People communicating badly with paper.

Okay, with that in mind: Fax Machine is a drawing game. Some people don’t like drawing games, they don’t like being put on the spot like that. That’s fair. Don’t try and make anyone play if they don’t like this kind of game. In fact don’t try and make anyone play games they don’t like the sound of. It’s just a dick move.

Okay, so, rules.

  • Give ever player a way to draw (pen, pencil, texta, whatever) and a pad of paper or stack to draw on. They need to be able to turn the page, so whatever is on the previous page is hidden. You can make booklets using staples and typical printer paper.
  • Every player writes a phrase, word, or name on the first page. People can get hung up on this, so for the first round you may want to ask people to write their favourite movie quote or their favourite vegetable.
  • Then each player passes their work to the next player.
  • Each player turns the page of their work and tries to draw what they just read. This will almost always be hard because nobody went into this thinking they’d have to draw that.
  • Then, players passes their work to the next player.
  • Players turn the page and try to write what they think that picture was trying to describe.
  • Continue as long as you want.

Now I don’t mind drawing and I hang around with a family that are all pretty crafty so it’s not a game that goes badly for us. What it means though is that we don’t think of the same turns of phrase or the same ideas expressed by pictures, and so we get steadily more and more silly pictures. I’ve seen ‘All’s well that ends well’ concluding with ‘a microbe travelling through space and time.’

It’s cheap, it’s fast, it can be played with a big group or a small group and you’ll usually get a good laugh out of it, and if you don’t like it, you’re not out an expensive setup fee.

Game Pile: Shame Pile 2019

I don’t actually buy a lot of games.

Given that my job involves a lot of game literacy, that I’m constantly consuming games media on youtube and reading about it in books and articles and it’s just generally part of the media space that passes through me as I pass through it, it surprises me to track through a year and recognise just how few games I actually buy. My steam backlog for example is enormous but it’s also almost 50% complete, and that’s with my very rarely buying anything to add to it.

The fact is that the Game Pile is a sort of actual thing; for a time there, a friend of mine, who I now recognise struggled with anxiety, would buy me a game from my wishlist pretty often. If we had an argument, another game. If a sale happened, another game. My birthday? A few games. I didn’t really notice this pattern until I had a few hundred games stocked up in a library that once upon a time I hadn’t even considered something I’d keep running on my computer regularly.

What’s more, as an MMO player at various times, these purchases weren’t getting played. Some people talk about their game backlogs guiltily as if the person who they’re faulting is themselves, and I feel I should remind you that, no, in fact, that’s bullshit. You get to enjoy the experience of buying and owning the game and any time you treat the process as a sin that you have to exorcise by completing the game, you’re kind of doing the corporation’s job for you of putting control over things you bought in their hands. Buying a thing and having your interest change in it isn’t a sign you’re bad, it’s a sign that you enjoyed getting something.

In my case, however, the games I was being bought was by someone who loved me (and loves me!) very much and who was struggling with ways to show it. When I play my Game Pile games, it is in part to recognise that spirit in which the games were given, and in many cases, that’s led to me being more willing to consider a game for its best ideas rather than just lay into them for being bad.

(Not that I haven’t done that.)

Still, there are some games I bought this year explicitly looking forward to play them and I haven’t yet, not in a whole year, and that’s got me thinking as the end of the year draws up. Since the theme for this month seems to be games I didn’t actually play, let’s do a quick rundown of some stuff that I own, that is in my house and isn’t being played right now and what kind of reasons I have for that.

This is also something of a goal and a personal accountancy issue. After all, Christmas season is time to hang with family and maybe, just maybe get to play some of these boxes of cardboard I’ve bought. You might have seen me buy these, you may have seen me talk about how excited I was to play them, so consider this a followup.

I’m going to limit myself on this to stuff I purchased in the two big opening parts of the year: January’s Cancon and stuff I bought myself for my birthday. I bought Lanterns last month because it was cheap second hand, for example, and I’m not going to give myself guff for not playing that since it’s been a few weeks and I’ve played it before (just not my own copy).

Yamatai

I bought this game because I was at the time working on a presentation for DiGRAA about orientalism in board games and oh boy howdy did this game suggest it was going to be in that space. It was also however a big-box Days of Wonder hard euro with great production values and really pretty pieces, so I figured at least there’d be a solid enough game worth digging into there.

But when am I going to get a competitive hard euro to the table?

That presentation went off well in February, but I also went from having two people by my side on the project to doing it on my own (not complaining), which suddenly meant it just wasn’t as important, and that meant I just did not find the time to come in to the uni to play this.

I mean, I’m not going to feel bad if I never play it, I just would rather it be in the house of someone else who can appreciate this near-mint copy of a $60 game.

Korra Pro Firebending

I bought this at the same time as I bought Yamatai, for the same reason. This is a game about a – for lack of a better term – oriental theme with developers with actual cultural grounding in that space. That’s really cool.

Plus, I’m a big mark for Korra, believing it to be one of the many post-Avatar franchises that I like a lot more than I liked Avatar. This game should be an absolute breeze to get onto the table, right?

Well, again, the fallthrough on the paper meant that didn’t happen and this game is sadly a straight-up head-to-head one-versus-one sports game. My single most likely opponent for 2 player games is Fox, and we have something of a rule that it’s best not to play any head-to-head stuff outside of playtesting our games, just because neither of us handle losing all that well.

Now, sometimes I sit down at the table with other friends who are more for that kind of direct competition but that’s when I have three or more friends around and suddenly a 1v1 game means a bunch of people sit out. That’s a bummer.

Hero Realms

This is a game I got for Christmas last year, and I was so excited to get it. It’s a game I already knew I wanted, because it was basically a second edition version of a game I already liked called Star Realms. That game had a fast deckbuilding experience but lacked in individualisation in the base game, where both players started as tabula rasa and the resulting game that followed was all based on who picked what.

Hero Realms instead gave you character classes so your starting decks were different and you’d look at purchaseable cards differently. That’s great, I like that. And I was wonderfully gifted an amazing game that I know I like (I’ve goldfished it) and even gotten to play once, and then… nothing.

That’s because Hero Realms is again, a head-to-head builder. Fox and I don’t play a lot of games in competition with one another, like I said. But, I knew, there was a co-op expansion for Hero Realms, which meant we could sit down and play this game together.

Which I haven’t yet played, and I don’t quite know why. I’ve definitely had the urge, and it even handles larger groups? But the stars haven’t aligned yet for me to sit down with some friends and make decks as we fight an evil sorcerer trying to animate an undead dragon.

It’s a bummer. I’m hoping that my niblings will be able to handle this game soon because hey, it’s fully cooperative and that means we can help each other, but who knows how that’s going to go. I mean it’s a deck builder, I’m asking kids to shuffle a lot of cards.

Bloodborne

This game, ostensibly, was my birthday present from my parents, who gave me about the right amount of money that I then turned into a card game I knew I was really excited to play. Bloodborne has kind of haunted my 2019, a game that I couldn’t finish, informed one of my major creative projects in Hunter’s Dream and yes, sits on my shelf, wondering just why I haven’t gotten around to playing it.

It’s a co-op game! It’s about fighting monsters! It looks really cool! What’s stopping this one from getting to the table?

Wait for it…

Yeah, the minimum player count is three. I don’t tend to have three players. I usually have four (in which case we’re playing D&D) or I have two (me and Fox). And while Fox and I playing Bloodborne would be absolutely great fun, we are still ultimately two people, not three.

It’s a minor logistical thing, but it does mean I have to plan for who I’m going to play this game with.

Before There Were Stars

This is a game that got bought on its pure aesthetics. Fox liked how it looked and she grabbed it. This game is in that rare category of creative storytelling games that wants to be self-contained. Rather than a number of free improv games, though, this one builds itself around a number of really beautiful props made to set the tone of the game.

It’s not gotten to the table because… well, our main people who might want to play a storytelling game about mythologies are a little young to grapple with the idea of improvising a story on the spot with the idea of symbolism in cards.

This one I don’t feel too bad about being on the backfoot. It’s not my normal kind of game but I really want to play it with people who might want to enjoy sitting around in a circle telling stories, but not a story they already had in mind, nor a story that’s about getting a laugh.

It’s a little mystical, and I do love game experiences that take me to places I rarely go on my own.

Mystic Vale

I did an unboxing thread for this, so you may remember it. The basic idea is that this – well okay no the basic idea is you’re all nature druids trying to heal the land and build powerful connections to sites of sacred importance, but the way you do that is by getting points and prizes. It is a game where the cards are made up of transparent plastic with a few things on them, in sleeves, and when you buy powers, you add them to one of your cards, meaning that your deck never gets bigger but the cards in it still change over time to match your changing position in the game. Technologically speaking it’s a deck builder that never changes the size of your deck and it has all sorts of other cute mechanics, like a catch-up mechanic for the player who can’t buy anything.

And…

Yeah.

Never got it to the table.

I don’t know why. It might just be that it’s the kind of crunchy builder game that currently only appeals to me. I know I love deck builders a lot, and my go-to builder game at the moment for new players is my beloved copy of Century: Golem, meaning that the more ornate, more complicated Mystic Vale has to wait.

It’s a beautiful game, I even got a replacement card from AEG when I pointed out there was a slight mangling of one, and I really do like what this game promises, but right now? I just can’t find anyone to play it with in my friend circle. It’s always going to be competing with other games, which makes me a bit sad.

That means it joins the other games in this part of the list where I’m going to make a concentrated effort to play them with other people going forwards. Trying to prioritise these suckers!

Game Pile: Doki Doki Literature Club

Gosh, hasn’t the visual novel been brought up a bunch of late?

It seems like only yesterday we had Dream Daddy getting conversations going about religious abuse, trans bodies, fatness in media, and gay dudes who knife-fight going. There was the Kentucky Fried Chicken Visual Novel that produced an eruption of conversation about ironically engaging with marketing and the way that our landscape of critics and reviewers is still ultimately a wing of advertising. Steam banned a Visual Novel (good) this year, there’s been a whole range of talk about where and how to get and market them, and all the while, the Visual Novel as a genre has just trucked on while discourse happened.

These past few years have basically not gone more than a month or two where someone in a position to pay writers has had their money return an article about The Visual Novel and the impact this one’s having or what this means.

The Visual Novel is even a weird phrase because just describing it, I know I’ve written about the way that the format can describe both a kind of game and a kind of amateurishly-constructed video. I’ve also compared them to mazes, where one of the most basic kinds of game challenges is made engaging by making the passages you travel down more interesting for their own sake than just the idea of ‘beating’ the maze. They’re mazes and they’re puzzles and they’re management games and they’re kinetic novels and they’re all these things.

But they’re also, definitely a thing called a visual novel, and we know what a Visual Novel is.

Right?

Spoiler And Content Warning: I talk about Doki Doki Literature Club; there’s a discussion of self-harm and suicide, and I’m pretty open about admitting I think the game is shit. You can just skip on if you don’t wanna see all that.

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Game Pile: War Wind

They see the outposts being built; the lines of communication falling from the the weapons of war moving slowly into position, the empires’ weapons being simultaneously sabotaged and subverted. Mystics preach to the mercenaries and the common folk doctrine about the fall of an old order, while that same old order strives to shore up what remains. What it has must be kept, what cannot be kept must be destroyed.

Chaos reigns. Tumult rises. The winds of war roll across the land of Yavaun, and there is no escape.

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Game Pile: Kingdom Hearts (But So Not Really)

I guess as a disclaimer up front: I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts. The research for this video kinda means I wound up wanting to, even though it would be a kind of hate-play. But it’s about games, it’s about using Kingdom Hearts to talk about something in games, and it’s a chance to put forward some work I like.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I know when I say this I’m going to be giving voice to some academic idea that someone in my circle either knows better than I do or that I’m going to come across sometime months from now and I’ll finally have it crystallised by people who are more focused on, more marinated in the field. Or maybe I’ll relisten to a podcast and find the quote – probably by Michael Lutz – explaining it.

For now, I want to get this out.

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Game Pile: Bloodborne

 What is there to say about this, the longest night?

Bloodborne, for those unfamiliar with it, is a 2015 PS4 exclusive videogame by From software, the makers of Demon and Dark Souls, and joins those games as part of the genre we hamfistedly call ‘Soulsborne’ games, because videogames are a space where it’s very important to constantly reinforce brand loyalty, I guess.

The game starts with you as a hapless person dropped context-free into some space or other whereupon a game kills you repeatedly and gives you infinite chances to avoid dying again. It is largely considered to be one of the greatest videogames ever made, which doesn’t seem to be wrong per se but as I played it, seemed more and more to be an insult to videogames in general as a medium.

I took notes as I played the game, which is a transformative thing with a From software game. The experience of these games often melts away so you don’t really know – you don’t know – how many times you try things, how difficult a game experience is until you really look at it in a numerical context. I did, so I have a very reasonable measure of how much of my life I was spending on this game, and whether or not the progress I was making made me feel good enough to merit that exchange. It’s very easy when you don’t quantify these experiences to think a game is ‘hard’ and just let that one word cover all your sins, as opposed to having clear information about how many days of effort it took you to deal with boss monsters that, amongst other things, do behave semi-randomly.

I also haven’t finished this game at this point. I got the game in January of 2017, and haven’t finished it as of October 2019. I don’t think this colours my opinion of the game at all, and I think it’s actually very important to look at the game from this position, rather than from the perspective of someone who having finished the game, is able to dismiss all the time spent as being ‘worth it’ in the end.

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Game Pile: Tides of Madness

Tides of Madness is a drafting game for two players by Portal Games that retails around $15. In the interest of not just being mean to this game, it’s made of very pretty parts. Each card is fully illustrated in postcard orientation with a full-art depiction of some generic Lovecraftian thing. Additionally, each card has a set it’s from, and a mechanic that says what set it rewards. This is a basic kind of set collection mechanic, where you get X, but it rewards Y. This divides your incentives, and you’re limited you to five choices each round, presenting the game’s tension.

I am personally pretty pleased by the challenge of making a game with such deliberately narrow constraints. I’ve made other games with eighteen cards, including drafting games, and conceptually, it’s an exciting design challenge. It’s not like ‘X feeds Y’ is a bad game mechanic, asking you to track the pieces. The puzzle then is what to pick, to force your opponent’s hand and deny them potential points. Of course, a problem that follows there is how obviously separated or clearly presented those pieces are. The set symbols are ambiguous and small, making it hard to keep tracking them during the game.

The first time I played this game, my opponent and I immediately complained about its generic feeling. Not just the Lovecraftian monsters theme – though you can bet I’ve got views on how that’s handled. We felt that all but three cards were very obviously just permutations of cards in other sets. When the art is so indulgent and the cards so large, this lack of depth stands out. This game retails for very little so it can seem reasonable to be charitable about its failings. I’m not feeling charitable, though, and you should buy my cheap drafting games instead, like Winston’s Archive.

Game Pile: Time Fcuk

You’re walking down the street, when a cardboard box opens, and you step out. You immediately impress upon yourself that you are, yes, you, and they need you to get into the box because that’s how the time travel that brought them here works, that you will appreciate it, that you will enjoy it, that you will understand such amazing things when you get in the box.

Get in the box.

GET IN THE GODDAMN BOX.

Time Fcuk is a game about time travel and being in a box.

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Game Pile: Pokemon Go

Pokemon is a rich vein of hashtag content for hashtag content hashtag creators, who are trying to hashtag drive hashtag engagement. For that reason I’ve largely left the subject alone except when the tumult has grown so tempestuous I find myself driven to shout about it. I think most of my reviews of Pokemon main games would be a little tedious – I’ve talked about the difficulty of talking about them in the past, where these games are largely just really good, and critically engaging with them in any way is a matter of picking over a game that’s 99% positive finding the 1% that’s got something interesting enough to talk about.

Not so Pokemon Go, though, which is probably the most successful and widespread alternate reality game that exists in the world right now, at least as far as I, someone who speaks only English, am aware. Remember, there are more mobile phones in China than there are people in America – if it turns out there’s some amazing thing happening on the other side of the Great Firewall, I wouldn’t know about it. Anyway, point is, Pokemon Go is a big deal, and it’s not a sequel in a meaningful way and it’s not a refinement of a nearly perfected formula.

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Game Pile: WitchWay

There’s a model for how the Game Pile works. When it started, it was almost a sort of penitence diary, a way for me to talk about the games in my Steam Library as I committed to play through them, with the idea that it would be a long process where I could eventually ‘finish’ my Steam Library. It was almost done as a sort of deliberate demonstration of engagement – hey, people who bought me these gifts, here I am, playing them, please have your money and time and belief in me respected.

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Game Pile: Wonder Girl!

Years ago now, I, on a whim, wrote an article talking about a little-known Master System exploration platformer (what you may call a metroidvania), called Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. I wrote about it because it was a rare gem, it connected to my childhood and in all my time of watching a SNES-dominated game landscape, I never saw anyone bring it up, even in conversations about the entire genre of exploration platformer. It was a curiosity, and I tied it into a conversation about transformation and becoming, and how the different dragons, perhaps coincidentally, mapped to interesting themes of the world we live in and the way dragons represent power.

Then, about a week? A month? It feels like almost no time at all, but very much after I released that, a teaser dropped from Lizardcube showing that not only were they remaking this game, but they were doing so with a level of aesthetic devotion and purity that seemed too good to be true.

And then it came out, and it wasn’t too good to be true.

This was purely a coincidence, a completely unintentional and unexpected alignment between my random whims and the intentions of a group of other people who very clearly had not forgotten this delightful gem of a game. I wish it’d come from some place of insider knowledge, that I’d been able to guide this along or build hype, but it really was nothing but a coincidence.

It launched in 2017 and I haven’t goten around to talking about the remake.

First, I just waited; it didn’t launch on the PC at first, starting on the Switch. I was waiting to buy it on the PC, but it turns out Fox had gotten it on the Switch, in the hopes of luring me to play it (a thing I don’t really do much). Then as I got my life in order to get around ot playing games on the Switch, I finally got into playing it, and then something interrupted me. Then I went back. Then I hit a wall. Then I went back. It has been nearly two years of stop-and-start work getting to the finish of this game that was, once, a lofty ambition for me, a game I so wanted to say I had finished that its incompleteness haunted me for decades.

I still haven’t finished it.

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Game Pile: Enclosure

Enclosure is an indie adventure game, made by the stunningly under-documented Femo Duo entertainment, who based on their website’s domain I think are from the Netherlands. Thanks to their website being the way it is, I’m not sure when Enclosure came out, but one source said 2004, so we’ll go with that.

Enclosure is an AGI game – the engine Sierra used for their first wave of narrative adventure games, games like Space Quest 1 and 2, Kings Quests 1, 2, and 3, and the first Leisure Suit Larry game. It’s the one with the weird wide pixels, and the text parser that doesn’t pause when you type. The last AGI game released by Sierra proper was in 1989, which means this game came out fifteen years after the AGI was done with.

And it’s a corker.

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Game Pile: Apollo Justice

Is it boring now to hear that I love the Ace Attorney games? Is it? I don’t know, I don’t know if you tune in for everything here. I don’t know if it’s getting tedious to hear that I find these visual novels extremely charming or like tracking their evolution through interface technology or their constant desire to try new and interesting things or their charming characters, or their laugh-out-loud out-of-context comedy. I hope it’s not boring because I’m about to bang on about it for god-knows-how-long.

Apollo Justice is the fourth game (kinda??) in the Ace Attorney series, which are made in Japan with Japanese sensibilities, about a stylised version of the Japanese justice system, and localised in one of the more comically ham-fisted ways. These games are great and inventive and funny and charming and all that good stuff, and this one is, well, it’s one of them.

There’s going to be some mild spoilers, because some characters are surprises introduced after, like, the first case.

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Game Pile: Simon The Sorcerer

Simon the Sorcerer is a Narrative Adventure game made by Adventure Soft in 1993, and it’s weird. It’s weird in the way that a lot of British-made games were weird, weird in the way that British pop of the era was weird, weird because it was simultaneously very much its own thing made by people who were very confident you knew what they were talking about like a swaggering cultural coloniser but at the same time strangely desperate to follow a leader it definitely didn’t quite get.

Now, I’ve talked about Simon the Sorcerer in the past, and I want to set aside the sequels (there were five of these things?!) because they became their own thing as well, their own slightly worse thing. Instead, I want to focus on the first game, when Simon is something of a generically quippy British arse, maybe as young as twelve years old voiced by Chris Barrie, as opposed to the character who was desperately trying to crawl into Chris Barrie’s voice and take on some of his power.

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Game Pile: Handsome

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to talk about this game, because I feel that it’s almost like a big tweet.

Handsome is a Button Shy wallet game. Sometimes we get these game terms where you might be a bit lost by what we mean, like a hidden identity or bluffing or secret identity or whatever, but this one’s about how big the game is. A wallet game is a game you can stick in your wallet. It’s tiny, it’s so small you can carry it around with you everywhere. This is something Button Shy do really well, with regular kickstarters for very small games.

I keep a copy of Sprawlopolis in my bag all the time now – it just lives in the little section of things I never have to check because odds are I’ll always want one, and it’s proven to be a wonderful tool for introducing people to my particular genre of game.

Anyway, Handsome is the next game by them and it’s almost a kind of roll-and write, a game that scales up deftly to any number of players.

Handsome is a card game where there are community cards, your own cards, and you’re trying to build words out of them. It’s elegant in its scoring and its system – you get as many vowels as you want, but then you have to make as long a words as you can, involving as many of the different suits of letter on the table, and that’s it. That’s the whole cycle. You see who gets the most points, then you can play to more letters or not.

There’s no intense tension about the word play here. You don’t need to do a lot of interconnected play, there’s no board, it’s this tiny little thing, and there’s not a lot of rules to learn. It’s very pure little game, and that’s why I feel like praising it is almost just… y’know. A tweet.

Hey, it’s another Button Shy game. I bought it, because I thought it looked good, and I played it, and it’s great. There, tweet sized greatness.

I think a real measure of a game’s quality is how quickly after playing with you, someone goes and gets their own copy. I don’t know about you but I’ve always had a tense relationship with games, with my friends, because even when I’m having fun and enjoying the experience, there’s a part of my brain that’s still the damaged little church kid knowing that they’re putting up with my weird little interest as an act of kindness and the second I’m out of sight, they’ll breathe a long sigh of relief.

I showed this game to my sister on a Saturday.

That monday, she bought the Print-And-Play and was playing it with her class.

Game Pile: Yoshi’s Crafted World

Yoshi’s Crafted World is, well, it’s a Yoshi game. It’s a Yoshi game, made by Nintendo, and that means that there’s a part of my brain with a groove worn into it where this game locks a strange mechanism that means that I’m constantly in mind Yoshi’s Island, one of the best console games I’ve ever played. As I write this, I’m hearing the music from the game – but not Crafted World, the music from Yoshi’s Island. It’s part of me.

I’ve talked in the past about how much impact Yoshi’s Island had on me as a player, but I also know that being A Yoshi’s Island isn’t enough to pollute my common sense and leave me unable to rationally examine a game, because the game Yoshi’s Island DS annoyed me a great deal for Not Being As Good as Yoshi’s Island.

Any given Yoshi’s Island game is going to be judged then in terms of how well it delivers on the platonic ideal of the first Yoshi’s Island game that I love the most. Yoshi’s Story gave more visual depth and less fluid flow. Yoshi’s Island DS offered larger levels but they weren’t as good.

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Game Pile: Century Golem

First up, if you like light economic euro-style games, where nobody is actually trying to attack one another, and where the goal you’re building towards is just something nice and wholesome, I wholeheartedly recommend Century: Golem Edition.

It’s a great game, particularly because it doesn’t have tons of mastery depth to it; you’re not going to have an advantage over the player who plays it three times when you’ve played it twenty times. Everything you can do in this game, you learn how to do in the first turn, and after that, it’s just a matter of reacting well to what’s happening in front of you.

Players getting ahead put themselves behind, and even the last card flipped can change the fate of the game without feeling unearned. It is a game so quick that you’re rarely left waiting for your turn, but it’s still a game where it’s worth having a think about what you want to do.

Century: Golem Edition is an excellent economic trading game, and if you want this kind of game, this is a fantastic example of it. It is a fantastic example of the kinds of things this hobby can do.

It is also beautiful for its mechanics, and its base assumptions.

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Game Pile: Diary of a Spaceport Janitor

I picked up this game on the recommendation of my friend Caelyn, and the game’s own descriptor refers to it as an anti-adventure game. The game advertises itself with about as much story as you’re going to get: You play as the Janitor, an Alaensee girlbeast with a municipally-subsidized trash incineration job, who dreams of leaving Xabran’s Rock far behind her. In case you were wondering about whether or not she does, she does not, and the game instead focuses on the narrative of that being.

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Game Pile: Billionaire Banshee

Videogames do a lot of work automatically, which means that there’s a lot of ways that two very similar games can be meaningfully different, and so exploring them is challenging. What’s more, communicating that difference can be challenging, too; I could tell you that Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2 are both followups to successful games with alternative movement schemes and a buddy that becomes part of your mission flow, with a setpiece level including alternate timelines, but if you know videogames, you know those points of similarity are way less obvious than the points of difference. After all, in one of those games, you’re running around with a gigantic mecha and the other is a steampunk stealth game.

This is because there are layers of systems and hardware that sit between you, the player, and the game you’re playing, layers that are not only not under your control but are very specifically developed and defined by someone who isn’t in the room with you. This means that videogames get to be very complex in a way tabletop games aren’t when it comes to the immutable, consistant set rules of the game. Tabletop games get to be way more sophisticated on all the levels of players playing them, though, because the rules are dynamic, and under the control of the players all agreeing to play the game the right way, together.

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Game Pile: Dixit

Been a while since I just straight-up gushed about a good game I liked, hasn’t it?

Dixit is a 2008 card game where players take turns trying to connect a chosen word by the active player (the storyteller) to one of a number of cards with dreamlike images on them. Complicating things is that the storyteller starts by picking their card in secret, then announces the word, then each player contributes a card of their own in secret. The cards are shuffled, then revealed, and the players have to choose which of these cards they think is the storyteller’s chosen card to represent the chosen word. If you’re the storyteller and everyone picks your card, they all get points and you don’t; if you’re the storyteller and some but not all the players pick your card, you get points and they do too.

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Game Pile: A Swindle Apology!

Hey friends! I’m really sorry about this! There was going to be a video here, but thanks to Audacity being Audacity, I lost two and a half hours of audio that was going to be the foundation of our video. That’s a super bummer, and maybe we’ll get it next month.

For now, here’s a video. It’s not much, but it is an apology, an explanation, and a game!

(The game is the Swindle)

Game Pile: Steamworld Heist

I talk about games a lot. Sometimes, I use games to talk about books. Sometimes, I use books to talk about games. Sometimes I use games to talk about culture and about art and about poetry and about history. Games, in essence, get to be a lens through which I can talk about all sorts of other things, even as I talk about the games.

Make no mistake, though. Just because I find games interesting as lenses for other ideas doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes play games because they rock socks. And you know what rocks socks? Steamworld Heist rocks socks.

Steamworld Heist is a squad-based turn-based tactical shooter game. You know your high-profile X-Com style games? Well, take that basic idea, and make it in a 2d platformer game. You’re commanding a rag-tag group of thieves – though ‘thieves’ is kind of the wrong term. You’re more like bandits and rebels, opposing an oppressive state but also your heists are less about stealth and avoidance and much more about boarding an enemy vessel and shooting them in the hat.

I think Steamworld Heist is a really good game, and it’s definitely a videogame videogame – this isn’t something that could be implemented better in some other way. It’s available on Steam (haha), the Switch, iOS, and PS4, and it’s priced very reasonably for the amount of game you get for it.

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