10 Awesome Gateway Games to Get You Into Board Gaming

Here is a list of some of the best games to get you started in the wonderful world of board gaming.

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Read the full list at Playboy

 

We are living in a Golden Age of board gaming. Exciting indie Kickstarter projects bring innovative new concepts to the market. Big publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games successfully produce new high quality games every year. Board games come in all kinds of wonderful shapes and flavors, from deck-building card games to miniature wargames, and I truly believe there’s a great game out there for everyone.

Of course if you haven’t played a game since getting your ass kicked by dad in Monopoly all those years ago, you may not be aware of all these great games. Or worse, you may be intimidated by hefty rulebooks and boxes filled with dozens of pieces. Thankfully the industry is full of “gateway games” that are intuitively designed to ease you into this wonderfully social hobby. Here is a list of some of the best board games to get you started.

Read the full list at Playboy

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Review [iPad]

The 2004 3D entry in the series is effectively ported to mobile devices with new touch screen controls and same great gameplay.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

rollercoaster tycoon 3

The RollerCoaster Tycoon series was one of the most beloved simulation games on PC. It gave players control of an entire theme park, tasking you with the simple but fun jobs of building rides, keeping your visitors happy, and making enough money to build more rides.

Originally released in 2004, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was the first to take the series 3D. Its big new feature was letting you ride your own custom-built coasters from a thrilling first-person perspective.

In a growing trend, the original developers have now created an iPad version of RCT3. The intuitive design meshes well with the new touch screen controls. However newcomers may be put off by the low-resolution graphics and somewhat slower pace.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Unepic

An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses

Publisher: Ninagamers Corp.

Release Date: October 2, 2011

rogues adventures final thoughts

Unepic has the unique quality of reminding me of a game I’ve never played. It feels like it utilizes a classic gameplay formula of meshing together elements of Metroid and Diablo in a 2D dungeon crawl, but I’d honestly never played a game quite like it. So while I lack any nostalgia for the gameplay, I found it inventive and interesting, despite some annoying difficulty spikes, immature, reference-filled writing, and a boring art style.

As you can quickly surmise from the banner image, our snarky hero is a modern day 20-something transported into a fantasy dungeon. He spends the entire first half of the game convinced that he’s taken some hallucinogenic drugs, and constantly spouts not-so-clever nerd-culture references at every opportunity. It grows tiresome a few hours in, and this is a 20 hour game.

rogues adventure

The one saving grace with the trite story (besides the surprisingly great finale and ending) is the shadowy creature that possesses the hero early on. Dubbed Zera, the shadow fails to possess our hero (who probably has a name but I don’t remember it at all) and winds up trapped within his body, becoming an unwilling companion to our adventures in the castle.

Zera provides a nice foil for our hero to play off of, as he’s constantly trying to get the hero killed so he’ll be freed. In one of the better nerd-references, their relationship is compared to X-Men‘s Xavier and Magento. Their respect for each other gradually builds over the course of the adventure, and by the end I grew to love Zera – murderous tendencies and all.

While the story isn’t exactly as captivating as even the relatively simplistic tales in Castlevania or Metroid (or even Diablo), the gameplay makes up for it. The dungeon is made up of individual rooms that take up a full screen. Each room is darkened and made up of multiple levels filled with ladders, platformes, and enemies. Lighting the torches along your way becomes critical, and a neat way to gauge your progress through each zone.

rogues adventure

The castle is divided up into over half a dozen areas, each with around a dozen screens, creating an impressively large dungeon. I actually found it just a bit too long as the overall gameplay and tactics grew repetitive toward the end – not to mention some rough patches where enemies grew wildly in strength and numbers. Damn the skeleton-filled catacombs!

Unepic leans heavily on the RPG aspects of the genre. Leveling up awards 5 skill points that can be pumped into various weapon and magic skills. The system isn’t very user-friendly, and it’s designed for those that want to min/max their characters by dumping everything into only a few skills to get the best abilities and wield the strongest weapons. Of course you won’t know which skills and weapons you’ll want, so it’s a stressful bit of planning ahead in the early levels. There is a side quest about halfway through that allows you to reset your points – a very helpful feature.

Each area has its own major quest that results in learning a new piece of magic. While some of the quests are fun and take you to different areas of the castle, it also leads to lots of backtracking. It also downplays the latter magic skills (Alteration, Protection) as presumably you’ve already put points into the early ones like Fire or Frost.

By the way, I went with a rogue/ranger type build, focusing on daggers, bows, and axes. A unique dagger I earned from a side quest carried me far, but eventually dropped them to focus on bows and axes. I found a late-game unique bow that absolutely decimated everything, and became my weapon of choice, along with some support from Fire and Healing spells.

rogues adventure

Backtracking is alleviated with an admittedly great fast travel system. Especially coming from Ori and the Blind Forest, which didn’t have one at all. Gates are scattered around the castle, usually 2 per zone, and teleport you to a central room filled with other gates.

In addition you can buy scrolls and spells that instantly take you to the merchants in each area. Quickly moving around the relatively large dungeon wasn’t an issue at all, though trying to remember which merchants sold what ability tomes was a bit annoying.

Limited animations and pixelated graphics are more than fine for a one-person indie project, but I was disappointed at the very limited palette selection throughout most of the castle. The individual room designs are nice, but so much of the castle is brown and gray that it grows repetitive after a dozen hours. Enemy types are also repeated to a high degree, with skeletons, snakes, and goblins making up a bulk of the foes I killed.

rogues adventure

Bosses fare a little better, taking a cue from the large, area-defining bosses of other metroidvanias. Oddly enough despite my haphazard skill management and character planning, I found most of the bosses quite easy. Zera helpfully warned me about each one, and most were slow with easily dodged attacks.

With better writing and a tighter, more varied focus Unepic could’ve been something really special. It’s still an impressive collection of genre parts all working together to produce a fun experience. By the final few areas I was definitely ready for it to be over, though I did very much enjoy the twist ending and interesting gameplay mode they introduce for the final battle. An interesting indie RPG experience that rewards persistence, exploration, and careful character planning.

rogues adventure

 

Pros

  • Solid 2D action-platformer gameplay with lots of loot and side quests
  • Rooms are well-designed and fun to explore and lighting mechanic works well
  • Fast travel system works incredibly well, minimizing backtracking woes and death penalties
  • Neat twist ending that introduces a last minute gameplay switch

 

Cons

  • Immature writing filled with references that are more miss than hit
  • Each area has the same basic structure, which quickly grows repetitive
  • Not enough enemy or art variety for the 20 hour length
  • Bosses are mostly slow and easy, while certain areas are annoyingly difficult

 

Final Say: An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness.

Heroes of the Storm Review

I’ve always hated MOBAs but leave it to Blizzard to craft the most enjoyable team hero brawler I’ve ever played.

Read the full review at CG Magazine

heroes of the storm

I hated MOBAs. These weird games that called themselves Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas have all but supplanted my beloved Real Time Strategy genre. Requiring minute micromanagement, synchronized teamwork, and a critical familiarity with dozens of heroes and hundreds of abilities, MOBAs are not exactly known for their accessibility.

Leave it to Blizzard, the masters of gameplay iteration, to create by far the most accessible and enjoyable “Online Hero Brawler”. By leveraging their famous stable of larger-than-life characters and streamlining every single aspect of the genre, Blizzard have crafted one of the most enjoyable team multiplayer games I’ve played in years.

Read the full review at CG Magazine

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Ori and the Blind Forest

With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: March 11, 2015

rogues adventure

In many ways Ori and the Blind Forest has become the new standard for typical indie games; gorgeous 2D art, hardcore platforming, and a whimsical, faerie tale-like story. It also helps to be published by a giant like Microsoft. Thus it’s easy to initially dismiss a game like Ori. I know I initially felt a been there-done that vibe, even when the great critical reviews started rolling in.

I finally decided to take the plunge when it went on sale during the Steam Summer Sale, and now I’m ashamed at myself for dismissing it so quickly without ever having tried it. With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

rogues adventure

The story centers on the titular little spirit creature that becomes lost from its parent tree during a great storm. In searching for Ori, the great tree ends up burning through the forest, and the giant owl named Kuro fights back by stealing away its light source. It’s up to Ori and little tree spirit companion Sein to gather together the other elements around the forest and restore the tree’s light.

I’ll understand if that little story causes a hefty amount of eye-rolling. It’s difficult to convey how well the relatively simple tale is effectively told using poetic narration (translated via text on screen by the tree spirit – who sounds like an operatic Jabba the Hut). There’s very little dialogue; Sein is the only one that really speaks to explain about new abilities or tasks, while Ori’s journey and Kuro’s backstory are told via beautiful cutscenes. The presentation is just fantastic.

The gameplay is pure metroidvania. The beautiful forest can be easily navigated thanks to the lovely in-game map, probably one of my single favorite feature of the game. It’s a really great map. If you’re game has a great in-game map, chances are I will love it.

rogues adventure

Ori steadily gains new traversal abilities, allowing it to climb walls, float, bash through rocks, and stomp through the ground, gaining access to new areas and previously unreachable goodies. Collectibles come in just three flavors, life and energy cells that give you more…life and energy, as well as ability cells that are essentially big experience point boosters. These can be spent on three different skill trees to grant Ori various passive buffs and help, like revealing secrets on the map or granting double and triple jumps.

Without any loot or weapons, Ori’s sole means of attack is through the spirit Sein, a constant hovering point of light that fires off a rapid burst of fireballs at the nearest target, not unlike Dust’s companion in Dust: An Elysian Tail. Enemies are auto-targeted once they’re in range, allowing you to focus on avoiding their attacks as well as the many traps and pitfalls that remain a constant threat.

The game is challenging as hell, and it knows it. The biggest innovation comes from the ability to expend energy to create manual save points called Soul Links. In the early game I was quite nervous about hoarding this ability, but by the midpoint I had so much energy it was never an issue. Good thing because creating constant Soul Links becomes imperative if you want to minimize redoing a particularly difficult section over and over. The stats screen ominously keeps track of your deaths; by the end of the game I had over 150.

rogues adventure

Though the gameplay is metroidvania, the actual structure is more akin to The Legend of Zelda. Each of the three main areas you travel to after meeting the tree first has an object you must acquire, followed by a dungeon that must be completed. Each of these dungeons has a unique hook that utilizes a certain ability or feature in all its puzzles and platforming challenges, like the shifting maze of the Misty Woods or the gravity-defying orb of the Forlorn Ruins. It made each area have a really unique spin on top of its lovely aesthetics.

Pretty much the only complaint I had while playing was the complete lack of fast travel. Most metroidvanias have some sort of limited fast travel between certain areas, allowing for some quicker means to backtracking and gaining previously missed collectibles. Ori and the Blind Forest has no such convenience, and the world is just big enough to make me really miss it.

Ultimately it prevented me from going back to some of the more remote areas to gather the last few pick-ups I had missed (I left most areas at around 95% completion). At least one area you were prevented from returning to after beating due to story reasons – an aspect I wish we would’ve been warned about.

rogues adventure

The story ends up being predictably sappy and sentimental but it’s wrapped up in such a beautiful package that I couldn’t help but be swept up in Ori’s plight. The scripted and challenging gauntlet sequences with Kuro are the right mixture of stressful and fun, though the shine wears off when you have to repeat them more than half a dozen times. The final one is especially brutal, allowing little room for error. I found it annoying that I was simply prevented from using a Soul Link to at least create checkpoints for myself.

At around 10 hours Ori and the Blind Forest never wears out its welcome. New abilities come quickly and the world is a joy to explore, discovering new secrets and gameplay mechanics. Wondering how the hell you reach an unobtainable goodie, only to smugly return later armed with your handy new ability is par for the genre, but Ori really creates a satisfying experience with its intuitive map design and streamlined experience.

rogues adventure

Pros

  • Beautiful artwork and world design
  • Perfectly balanced and steady ramp of challenge and difficulty
  • Effective story-telling and presentation
  • Streamlined experience focuses on all the best parts of the genre
  • Soul Link mechanic is brilliant

Cons

  • No fast travel or teleportation system
  • Numerous scripted chase sequences are especially difficult, and offer no checkpoints or Soul Link usage

Final Say: Beautiful, poignant, challenging, and fun, Ori is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

New Article – LEGO Jurassic World Review

By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

lego jurassic world

Platforms: PC, Mac, 3DS, PS3, PS4, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
We played on: Wii U

LEGO Jurassic World is the latest in a long line of franchise-ready tie-ins crafted in LEGO form.  LEGO Jurassic World continues the trend of breaking and building objects, unlocking and using a wide variety of characters, and offering a large amount of replay value through hidden items and puzzles. By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

My Top Five Games of the Year (So Far)

I rank my top five games from the first half of 2015, and also list my five most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

I’ve done a Top Ten list at the end of each year for the last four years, but this is my very first Top Five for the first half of a year. It’ll be a fun way to highlight some games that may be pushed out by year’s end, as well as reminding me of their greatness when it comes time for the final ranking. I’ll also list My Most Anticipated Games for the second half of 2015.

For reference, read my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 (written in January 2015).

 

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2015

 

5) Evolve

evolve

I’ll admit that overall Evolve was a disappointment in total staying power, but for a good month when it came out it was all my friends and I played and talked about. Made by the Left 4 Dead developers, it was the closest game I’ve played that emulated that great co-op and survival aspect of those classic zombie games. Unfortunately the emphasis this time was on PvP, and the asymmetrical style and game modes made the experience grow a bit repetitive.

 

4) MASSIVE CHALICE

massive chalice wallpaper

I was a big fan (and backer) of MASSIVE CHALICE’s Kickstarter campaign, and absolutely loved how Brad Muir and Double Fine handled production. Bi-monthly live streams were fantastic and the Early Access beta was superb. Now I’m finally playing the final release and couldn’t be happier with this unique XCOM meets Rogue Legacy’s Traits. The breeding metagame is fun and challenging and the tactical combat scratches all the right itches. A real treat that perfectly delivered on its promise.

 

3) Splatoon

splatoon

Splatoon wasn’t even on my Most Anticipated list and really came out of nowhere for me. I’d only just recently aquired a Wii U and wasn’t sure about this quirky team shooter from Nintendo. Fear not, as Nintendo really struck gold with an amazingly simple but brilliant concept of covering arenas in paint. The short three minute matches ensure a steady stream of fun, and the post-game free additions and updates have been impressive. The only thing keeping this one from being nearer the top is the terrible local co-op mode, where it loses out big time to last year’s Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

 

2) Heroes of the Storm

heroes of the storm

Another game that sprung onto my radar. I’ve hated MOBAs for as long as they existed. Even when my friends were super into DOTA 2 I just couldn’t get into it. Leave it to Blizzard to draw me in with their streamlined gameplay, much shorter match lengths, and awesomely familiar characters. I’m super addicted to HotS and my friends and I practically play every evening. I easily see it as becoming this year’s Hearthstone (which I sunk over 140 hours into last year).

 

1) Pillars of Eternity

pillars of eternity

It took me 70 hours and two and a half months but I finally completed Obsidian’s latest Mangum Opus. I’ve always been a huge fan of computer RPGs but only just played and finished the highly revered Baldur’s Gate II last Summer. Pillars of Eternity is both a lovely spiritual successor to the golden age of cRPGS (late 90’s/Early 2000’s) and a great game with tons of wonderful innovations in its own right.

The intricate yet accessible combat system is wonderful, and the writing is absolutely top notch. For someone that went back to back to back with 70+ hour RPGs (Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition), Pillars still managed to completely enthrall me. Another title I was super proud and satisfied to have backed on Kickstarter, and a tough one to dethrone in the second half of the year.

 

Both Batman: Arkham Knight and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were on My Most Anticipated List, but I still haven’t played them. Neither was probably going to be a Day One purchase; my gaming plate is consistently full and I have the luxury of waiting for most games to be deeply discounted before jumping in (and patches/updates to fix the game).

I definitely see myself playing both games before the end of the year when I have a bit more time. I’ve heard great things about both games. I’ve also recently acquired a few indie darlings in the last Steam Summer Sale, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Ori and the Blind Forest that I still need to play.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2015

(alphabetical order)

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

The only game on here without a definite release date, Cosmic Star Heroine is another Kickstarter game being made by a developer I love (Zeboyd). Zeboyd understands old school JRPGs like no one else, and crafting a game in that SNES-era style using their subversive and funny writing and innovative mechanics sounds just peachy. Everything I’ve read and watched looks like it’s shaping up wonderfully and I hope we get a chance to play it this year.

 

Fallout 4

fallout 4 dog

Fallout 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and the franchise in general is one of my most beloved in gaming. Fallout 4 was an inevitability but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. I already know I’m going to love it and drop dozens (hundreds?) of hours into exploring another post-apocalyptic wasteland.

 

Just Cause 3

just cause 3

Just Cause 2 was an amazingly fun open world action game that eschewed any real characters or story-telling for pure mayhem and freedom of destruction. I especially loved the fun ways Rico could traverse the world, using his infinite grappling hooks and parachutes. If JC3 is just JC2 but more, I’m totally on board with that.

 

Super Mario Maker

super mario maker

This one has kept me attention for a while but it wasn’t until E3 and the Nintendo World Championship that I really set up and said, “Whoa.” My wife said we had to get this game and I swiftly agreed. The ability to make your own Mario levels sounds simple on the surface, but the incredible amount of tools and freedom to manipulate each object looks astonishing. I trust Nintendo to make it incredibly user-friendly and fun. As long as the online and sharing components are up to snuff, this could be a huge hit.

 

XCOM 2

xcom2 announcement

Despite being a big fan of tactical strategy games, I was late to the party with XCOM. I jumped on with Firaxis’ excellent remake back in 2012 (my #4 game of that year). Since then I’ve put 150 hours into XCOM over several playthroughs. I adore XCOM: its brutality, its emergent story-telling, its trend-setting UI and turn-based combat. My wife even bought me the XCOM board game for an anniversary present. To say I’m super excited for XCOM 2 would be a pretty big understatement. GIVE ME MORE XCOM!

 

There you have it! Can’t wait to revisit this list when it’s time to make my final top ten list at the end of the year. Will my anticipated predictions hold up? Will these Top Five make it to the final round? Stay tuned!