Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Traffic Racer iPhone game review

Review of Traffic Racer

I'm taking a break from my tabletop boardgaming to talk about iPhone games. I love all kinds of games, and I like to look at what works and what doesn't.

There's a lot that works in Traffic Racer. It looks great. You have your choice of cars you can access pretty quickly with the money you rake in from illegal street racing. And what it's all about: the action is smooth, fast, and intense. Have a look.

On the phone, you press the gas pedal with your right thumb, and brake with your left. If you brake at all of course. Steering is with the tilt sensor and it works with remarkable sensitivity and smoothness. I never felt I was struggling with the controls. I did feel I was struggling to control a low performance vehicle of course, with the pickup truck the game starts with. Now that I'm driving a tricked-out sports car the controls fully match the vehicle's capabilities. Oh, and above the brake pedal there's a headlights button. I don't know the purpose of flashing your lights.

There are four modes.

  • Endless one way
  • Endless two way - deal with head-on traffic!
  • Time trial
  • Free ride

"Endless" means you drive until you have a hard crash. You can bump lightly, but if you hear breaking glass and crumple zones, game over. It's the touch of realism that adds excitement. The time trial puts you back on the road after a hard crash. It's just 90 seconds of all-out driving. Free ride just lets you drive, with no limits. It's not as fun and exciting, but a good way to learn the controls.

All the levels tend to ramp difficulty as you play. Traffic gets thicker. The pace of change is appropriate, so it feels challenging without being frustrating.

You even have some freedom of choice as to how you can score. You can drive safely just above 100kph, to get bonus points for "high speed." You can redline your ride and get bonus points for distance. And you can pass close to slower cars for "close overtake" bonuses and combos. It's subtle but it lets you win with your own driving style. Well, at least, your personal variant of "complete jerk." Don't drive like this on my highways!

The game was $0.99 US on the Apple App Store. You can advance to better cars and different driving conditions faster through in-app purchases. But you know me. I'm cheap. So I just stayed up 'til midnight running time trials. I would have been happy to support them with another buck or two. But I also was satisfied I didn't feel wedged in a corner and unable to advance without shelling out cash. You will earn game money on every run, so it always feels like you're making progress.

If I have to say something against it, you're not actually racing, in the sense of competing against other fast cars. You're just dashing at dangerous speeds through traffic. There's no explanation of how you earn "money" from this activity. But I'm okay with that. I'm not playing this one for storyline.

My rating: five stars. Great value and lots of fun.

Final tip: a reliable way to earn money within the game is the time trials. I found myself averaging 1,000 per 90 second game. Pretty soon you're in a sleek import or a colossal SUV, cutting people off in traffic. Here's the first leg of my quest for the perfect time trial: Traffic Racer time trial on Everyplay.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wandering Monster, with more malicious monsters, part 2

These are the final two monsters for the core set. There are eight in total. If you missed them, the others are:

Ogre, OozeTroll, Lepus, Owlbear, and Jumping Spider!

Today I would like you to meet Fungus and Triclops.

Fungus: "Want... meatfood..."
What I like about mushrooms is just when you think you understand them, they turn and get all weird on you. You might think of common mushrooms as vegetables, but they are really more the fruiting body of a vast, hungry organism living invisibly beneath the earth. That's kind of how it is for Fungus. He's hungry. Additionally, his special ability guarantees some of that mushroom unpredictability. When you play Fungus, you will start the game with a random, zero-cost ability from the deck of Powers. Plus, this is the one monster whose prototype sketch actually frightens me. What unknowable intelligence lurks behind those soulless eyes?

At the other end of the spectrum is the Triclops. He -- or they -- are pure flesh and blood and pounding aggression. So far he, I mean, they, have proven quite popular in playtesting. Where most of my monsters move 4 and have a starting attack of 3, Triclops gives you move 3 and attack 4. Movement can be challenging on the big 10x10 map, but also satisfying when you consistently wallop adventurers that are just out of reach of the other monsters, power-wise. Slow and steady wins the competitive eating race.
Triclops challenges trespassers to poke out his eyes with a sharp stick.
For his special ability, Triclops works around one of the big problems players encounter in Wandering Monster: the Choke card from the Antagonism deck. Just when you've enjoyed a square meal of honey-glazed gnomes, somebody throws this down and you spend the next turn gagging and gulping. Not so for Triclops. He can pay a couple of Sauce and ignore the effects of that Choke, leaving his other mouths to deal with the next fine-dining opportunity.

That's all for the core monsters. They're all ready now for the next playtest, which happens to be this Thursday. I'll write all about it when it happens.

Wandering Monster prototype tokens

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wandering Monster, with more malicious monsters, part 1

One thing I kept hearing from my playtesters was, "more monsters!" They also tend to say "more chocolate," in which I am happy to oblige. The original four monsters (ogre, ooze, troll, and lepus) are still on the job. Now there are four more, with interesting combinations of attributes and their own special abilities. Here are the first two with prototype illustrations for playtesting.

An early favorite is the Owlbear. As in legend, and every tabletop roleplaying game worth its salt, Owlbear is all fight. He doesn't have much capacity for bonus cards so his player doesn't bother with lots of finesse. His special ability is Rage, so when you spend more than four Sauce on your attack, you gain even more attack. This fellow can take even rather formidable adventurers head on, in a game that's all about assessing your prey's strength and approaching from their blind spot.

Owlbear: what blind spot?
In fair warning to the 30% of you who experience some level of arachnophobia, the second monster on the agenda today was specifically designed to make professional spider wranglers shriek and wet themselves. You have been warned.

The Jumping Spider is unique in the starting lineup of monsters you can play. It has a terrific movement rate and low attack, which means you'll have to make excellent use of Sauce. On the other hand, you'll beat other monsters to the initial caches of sauce more often than not.

This monster's special ability is jumping, which helps you get past other monsters who otherwise would take advantage of your low attack value and insist on a lopsided throwdown. Instead, take a flying leap and keep pattering through the dungeon on those long, hairy legs.

Jumping Spider might make you jumpy
You might be asking why the spider doesn't have a special ability more like, say, webs. It's a fair question. Just hold your questions until all the supplements and expansions roll out, and you can pair off this Jumping Spider against Daddy Longlegs and the sticky web tokens he spreads across the map. That should make things interesting. Actually I think it will include two sets of web tokens and a bonus Powers card, so any monster can add its own Web Slinger power. How about a Web Weaving Wabbit to dominate the dungeon? Or a Hasty Ogre with Ceiling Crawler and his own set of clinging webs? I look forward to all these insane combinations in play.

And you can look forward to more new monsters in my next update.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wandering Monster: Saturday morning faceoff

It was a fine day for Wandering Monster. The game has convulsed a bit over the past couple months but definitely came out better. Today it came through an important field trial: the spouse test.

Here's how it went down. As we wrapped up breakfast, she announced, "Let's play your game. Only be quick about it or I'll give up and move on." As you can imagine, this particular playtest scenario is valuable for several reasons. One, the audience is not strictly a regular gamer, so I get to explain familiar concepts in a new way that makes the most sense. Great practice. Two, her expertise as a proofreader make her adamant about clarity and accuracy, so my action cards get a thorough exam. Three, she arrives bloodthirsty and ready to chomp through some adventurers.

All in all it was a good game with no major problems. Given the recent changes it was a bit of a learning game. There were some new things you can do with Sauce, the strategy points, plus a whole new model of action cards. A single deck now includes actions that influence the moves of adventurers, others that mess with your opponents, and powers you can attach to your monster and make it more awesome. This approach came out of a bit of a personal crisis. First Magic the Gathering and then Dominion hit my household and demanded the full attention of all my captive playtesters. This included myself, and led to the crisis, if all I want to play is the endless quest for Estates, Duchies, and Provinces, how can the trolls, ogres, and oozes of Wandering Monster compete?

Side quest. We didn't just want to play game after game of Dominion, we wanted to answer a burning question. Can one, in the course of a normal game, score two of the high value victory cards, the Provinces, in a single round? We started devising hypothetical ways, but wanted to see it happen in action. It actually wasn't that hard.
Now I seek the greater glory: a single round that brings the player three of these Province cards.

But I'm content to return my attention to my own game. A fresh look at MtG and Dominion has helped me refine the card play in Wandering Monster. You can string some impressive combo plays now, and they interact quite well with the monsters, adventurers, and the map. For example in today's game, my wife was falling behind after I picked of a few easy adventurers at the start. She was faced with clusters of adversaries facing all possible approaches. You can't take these guys head on. They will give you a painful and embarrassing schooling. However she managed to put a good string of cards together. One party went packing and another turned down a side passage, presenting it's vulnerable rear quarters, and became an easy meal. This is the kind of dynamic and creative play I love to see.

Still, there are some problems to work out. The main one is traffic jams. The new, simplified method of having the adventurers shuffle around the labyrinth is definitely working, mostly. But when they bunch up, things just get messy. Here is an example, when the party on the left plows into the groups toward the middle and right of the view. I've tried deflecting them out of the jam, or having them bypass it, but the rules start getting unruly.
If you are somebody with ideas about rules for movement and collisions, let's talk!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Games at Wednesday Game Night

I took a break from playing my own project to try some other new games. It's always a pleasure to try something new, and not have to worry about rewriting the rules if something doesn't quite seem perfectly balanced.

First I joined a five player session of Tokaido. There are numerous special spaces and card combination goals, but movement is simple and the game moves at a comfortably quick pace. The mechanics of the game are well-suited to the purpose of enjoying a journey across Japan. The visual design as you can see is understated beauty. You earn points toward winning by making sure you take in the scenery, move as slowly as practical, and enjoy a wide variety of delicious dishes. (Of course I am reminded of the tasty adventurers in Wandering Monster!)
I placed somewhere in the middle in final scoring, and agreed with the group it was the perfect length for the style of play. I would readily play it again.

Next I followed one of the Tokaido players to another table, for a three person match of Ginkopolis. Wow, this is a complex game.

The vast array of pieces, options, and strategic choices was simply overwhelming. I took a guess at the type of strategy that would give me a shot at glory, and just tried to follow along. Procedurally, I definitely was able to follow the draft-based turn sequence, and help move the resource counters, and collect my score. Mentally it was the equivalent to taking a final exam I had not studied for. But of course, since I wasn't being graded apart from final scoring, this intensity made it a satisfying and memorable experience.

Not too surprisingly I came in dead last. But it felt right for a learning round. My main lesson if you're considering the game: build up your combo stacks of cards and start running them like a machine. That certainly seemed to work.

Next time I'll be sure to fit in more of Wandering Monster. There are some new monster powers, including Fire Breath and Dog Breath, to go with the classic Acid Breath. Also I'm toying with some creative ways to condense distances on a nearly empty board near the conclusion of the game.

Are you going to a game night at Endgame? Let me know and I'll look for you there.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

First Wednesday Game Night

I have been meaning to make it to Boardgame Night at Endgame for some time. I'm glad I finally did. If there is a local game shop in your area that does this kind of open gaming you really owe it to yourself to go. I've been so enthralled by my own four monsters, this was a good reminder to get out and throw some cards and dice. Next time I'll be sure to sample some of the other games (that means you, King of Tokyo!) But for this Wednesday, we had some fresh blood in Wandering Monster.
Boardgame night

For a "fast food" round of Wandering Monster, we set out eight parties of adventurers for four monster players. Our goal was to finish a game in 90 minutes. I believed it could be done, and with the full faith of two players who had never seen a Lepus, plus one who knew his ways all too well, we set to it. Competition was fierce; here were some of the highlights.
Will Fearsome Claws win it for me?
Ooze was a first time player. He made a bold move against a party engrossed in inspecting a locked door. But without taking the time to inspect them himself, they proved more than a match. He lost his initial power of Sprinter, and the burst of speed it afforded, but respawned at his own starting space. By a stroke of luck, those stalwart adventurers wandered toward the ooze again, but turned their backs at the last moment, ignorant -- as always -- of their fate.
Now apprised of their strength, Ooze threw down some cards for their combat value and overwhelmed these adventurers' formidable defenses. They became our first of many casualties, and Ooze claimed first blood!
Our next confrontation came as the other three players vied to sink their mouth parts into Party #3. My troll was on the far side of the dungeon looking for some mighty powers, so I never saw how savory a morsel this was. The others seemed to really want some though.
"If party #3 survives this round I'll eat my hat."
Lepus got himself into position, risking all in a Monster vs Monster throwdown with the superior Ogre. A good roll put him on top, forcing the Ogre to sit out one round. Ooze meanwhile played a Dungeonmaster card, Wizard Remembers the Way, sending the adventurers in a random direction. Whatever the outcome, they would no longer be facing conveniently away from the bunny. There was a one in three chance they would swing back and face the ooze himself, but he took the chance because he had already been deprived of his starting power, and really had nothing left to lose! As you can see above, it went well for him. They showed him their backs. However, it was the Lepus's turn, and he deployed his Ceiling Crawler ability to sneak up, over, and past the adventurers to the Font of Slime. The slime granted him the dreaded Acid Breath, which he immediately put to use to clear Party #3 from the dungeon. The rabbit perhaps could be heard to mutter, "If I can't have them, nobody can!"
There were plenty more ploys, some more monster on monster grudge matches, and a few adventurers turning the tables on us hungry monsters. I for one had adventurers turn on me and send me back to a Spawn Pit. It keeps the action fresh though, so I don't mind.
The end game as often is the case was a close showdown. Ooze was across the board having carefully and effectively dealt with a crafty group whom I had sent through a difficult stone portal. The rest of us were angling for the last couple of groups. Ogre got the second to last one, only to be slowed by a Choke DM card. My troll and the Lepus raced for last bite.
End game at Endgame
Lepus had the legs for it, and having previously inspected this wayward bunch, played enough DM cards for the bonus and final feast! All in about 90 minutes, as advertised.
Now it was time to show our eatings and declare a winner. Although still gagging on that last bite, Ogre came out on top, with ten in total of two parties, beating Ooze with eight. And that last mouthful? "Almost Seven Dwarves." No wonder he found it a lot to swallow.
I'm sure to make Endgame a regular if not weekly event. If you're in the Oakland area, I hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wandering Monster in the Windy City

My day job took me to Chicago for the Code4Lib conference. When I heard there was going to be a game night for coders in libraries, I knew what I had to do. I loaded my four friends into the carry-on and signed up for a table.
Chicago in February
After I played two games of Tsuro, there was a break in the nearby Zombie Dice game, and I found a couple of players willing to try Wandering Monster. We made an accommodation to their inexperience and the limited amount of time we had, throttling the game to a single course of six parties of adventurers. I'm calling this, along with the pre-printed map board, the Fast Food edition. I still had a full tutorial of turn actions to do but we got up to speed. The game itself took about 90 minutes and had a few classic encounters.
The game set out in Fast Food mode
There was a fine moment when the Ooze player gained a power from one of the Glowing Orb rooms. Then the "room service" roll cleared it, and he got to just sit there one more turn and soak up the power. It doesn't happen very often -- it's not supposed to -- but it sure feels good when you quickly become, for example, a massive, leaping blob with acid breath.
Right at the end both of my opponents had a chance to gang up on me. You can see my ogre above, on one side of a sealed stone portal. There was a party of adventurers on the other side facing the other way. They were positioned perfectly for me to ambush and eat them. But the ooze played a Dungeonmaster card and turned them to face me. Then the Lepus player brought out a Lockpick card and my party stepped through the portal into my space. They went from savory snack to deadly peril in a moment. Fortunately, I had been saving a Critical Fumble DM card for such a case, and I got them in the end. But it cost me the card, and just possibly, the game, as I was still on the other side of the portal from the last group, and those portals do nothing if not slow you down.
In the end, the Lepus simply positioned himself a safe distance behind the last party, moved in, and took them with his Fearsome Claws while they meticulously searched an unexplored room.
The bunny digests his winnings
To top it off, by ending his move on that Throbbing Orb space, the Lepus gained a third monster power. But since it was the end of the game, he had to settle for total victory. The final score when we showed our adventurer cards was Ogre: 2, Ooze: 4, and Lepus: 8.