Category: Reviews

A World Unready (Final Thoughts on Atom: The Beginning)

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The ending of Atom: The Beginning is left so that further adaptation of its ongoing source material can be made; this is not the complete conclusion of the story, and knowing this context now rather sets my initial observations about the series in context (that it was taking a very laid-back and almost uninterested approach to its worldbuilding and the ethical questions raised). It is an adaptation of a small part of a longer, ongoing work. Of course it will not provide all the answers. Before moving into the meat of this consideration of the series, it is worth considering something else. I was initially perturbed, or at least surprised, to see that the series was raising and ignoring questions about machine sentience and robot ethics. It felt like a failure of science-fiction to studiously avoid taking a stand while raising allegorical and philosophical questions.

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Tabletop Game Review – Test of Honour

Warlord Games’ Test of Honour is best described as a pseudo-historical or pop-history wargame, a kind of midpoint between “serious” historical wargaming (focused strongly on accuracy over balance, and often breaking rules of what is considered “fun” in traditional miniatures gaming senses) and pure fantasy or speculation. Its mission statement, according to a Wargames Illustrated article was to “evoke samurai movies rather than a slavishly historical view of feudal Japan” (Graham Davey, quoted in WI354) and in this respect it achieves its aim. The rulebook is wholly free of historical context, the painting guides are genericised and do not even provide a list of historical coats of arms to imitate for historically-minded players.

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Video Game Review – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (Version Reviewed: PS4)

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a game I was eagerly looking forward to playing for no reason other than the flawed original’s immensely enjoyable gameplay; the first game offered something interesting and different, a first-person acrobatic platforming game which offered minimal combat. It was not perfect, and felt underdeveloped, but the sequel seemed to offer a fuller and more developed experience. I am thoroughly enjoying Catalyst as a game; its mechanics are more polished, it has a large amount of missions to complete and its aesthetics are excellent (and Solar Fields’ soundtrack, readily available to purchase online, is well worth buying for any fans of ambient music). But it is a game I am enjoying despite a lot of flaws; while there is a well-made game there, it is dressed up in a lot of superfluous and questionable design decisions.

Note: This review discusses in some detail the plot of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

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Series Review: Nekketsu Saikyou Gosaurer (1993)

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The Eldran super-robot series is arguably less well-known than the Yuusha series, in part owing to a lack of translation available before the licensing of Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh. Before I watched any of the shows, I was aware of them only as younger-skewing adventure series which had largely interchangeable designs and often large casts of principal characters. However, after seeing that Nekketsu Saikyou Gosaurer (1993-4) (according to ANN translated as Matchless Passion Gosaurer) was receiving ongoing subtitles – and having seen a few episodes of the fully translated Ganbaruger – I decided to try it. The series proved highly enjoyable, standing out within a crowded and largely interchangeable genre as being among the better examples.

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Board Game Review – Pandemic Legacy Season 1

As I come to the end of playing a campaign of Pandemic Legacy, I feel it is time to review the game; it is the first “Legacy” or permanent campaign-based game of its kind I have really played (apart technically from Time Stories and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, which have a similar limited-plays nature but are a series of discrete missions to complete one at a time rather than a narrative campaign), and I was interested to see if it was as good as the reviews suggested. I have always had reservations about the idea of a board game with limited opportunities to be played, but I entered the campaign with an open mind.

Now the campaign is all but complete, I have thought about what I made of the experience; I enjoyed the game a lot, but at the same time a number of issues meant I never felt it was a truly great game. The potential is there for the Legacy boardgame model to do interesting things (although I still feel much of the design space it opens could be replicated with non-destructive alternatives such as apps), and I am eager to see how later games develop the ideas seen in Pandemic Legacy‘s first “season.”

Note: This review will discuss the development of the Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign, including details of hidden information and scenarios.

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Tabletop Game Review – Dropfleet Commander

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As much as Battlefleet Gothic was an often entertaining game, it suffered from a number of issues that I feel show its age, and show how wargame design has developed; while its factions have numerous flavourful rules and are very distinct, most of these rules do not work particularly well to create a fun game. There is absolutely a place for a game which focuses on flavour and narrative over strict statistical balance, but BFG never, I felt, committed enough to doing this and what was left was a game with two well-thought-out factions balanced against each other and a number of strange, often very thematic but not fun to play or face factions. There were numerous other mechanical idiosyncrasies that got in the way of it being a good game; small ships were unviably weaker than large ones and the special order system added far too much unnecessary variation to games by requiring a leadership test on often randomly-generated leadership.

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Closing Thoughts on Trails in the Sky

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Having now finished both halves of Trails in the Sky I feel it is a game that does very little new, but does almost everything incredibly well and with enough charm and character that it is consistently enjoyable to play and highly engaging. I have explained in previous articles how its escalation of scale from small personal problems to an ultimately nationwide threat is well-paced (over around 60-80 hours of gameplay across two games) and turned into a key piece of character development. What is more, the personal aspects (which are what make the game memorable) are very well-woven into the main plot; characters appear in sidequests and then become plot-significant, for example. In a game where a good amount of the story is about trying to work out from zero information what is going on, having the NPCs feel like they are people living lives and carrying out plans that intersect with the party’s travels is a good, immersive touch.

NB: This review touches on plot details from Trails in the Sky SC and FC, and discusses the game’s themes and storyline in some depth.

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Thoughts on the new White Dwarf Magazine

I have not played Games Workshop games for quite some time; the latest rules revisions of both Warhammer Fantasy Battle (now rebranded Age of Sigmar) and Warhammer 40,000 were not to my taste. It is fair to say my initial negativity towards Age of Sigmar has softened somewhat as subsequent updates and revisions have added more to it and addressed my initial complaints – however, while it has become a solid, basic wargame with a quite distinct aesthetic it remains a game I would not choose over the various competitors on the market (and I do question whether it being introduced as a wholesale replacement for the very different WHFB was the best course of action). Nevertheless, I have been following GW‘s shifting strategy as a company and I think they are going some way to improving; while their prices remain comparatively high, they are introducing bundles like the “Start Collecting” sets which seem sensibly put-together and represent a significant discount over buying things individually. Similarly a return to boxed games and the rumoured return of “Specialist Games” ranges like Blood Bowl seem to be reflective of what consumers have asked for, and so it is heartening to see a positive shift in direction.

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Further Thoughts on Trails in the Sky

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Image by “Shikei”, found here

Note: This article contains details of the ending and story of Trails in the Sky First Chapter, and should probably be read only by people who have played the game or do not mind knowing its story.

When I began playing Trails in the Sky FC I was impressed by its small scale and sense of unwilling, unusual escalation; it was a game that, I felt, very well justified its game mechanics of levelling up and gaining rewards through diligent searching for secondary objectives by framing the entire story as an extended examination. The two main characters were being tested, sent on a series of journeys to cities which as a quest was completely secondary to the main plot. A lot of games have their heroes put into the main plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or through a mission which changes parameters as the “real” villain shows themselves. In many ways, Sky does this, but does it in a subtle and charming way that, I feel, quite credibly justifies why the unlikely heroes continue being heroes.

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