Card Hunter

I am going to promote a game that, judging by the server status, needs absolutely no promotion… you fuckers are going to try it and make it harder for me to get online to play >:(.  But oh well.

Card Hunter is a free to play browser based game that I suppose you could call an MMO.  I’ve only been playing the single player content because I am anti-social like that, but there’s a multiplayer aspect as well where you go PvP and get extra goodies.  The game is a callback to old school basement board games, to the degree that the whole background narrative is an amusing… tribute?  parody? of those days.  The gist of it is that you’ve gone over to your friend Gary’s house to play the game.  He’s a novice GM and using his brother Melvin’s game set, so his brother hangs around in the background trying to “teach” him how to be a good GM (while also making sure his precious game pieces are not abused, no doubt). It will be amusing to most, nostalgic to some, possibly insulting to a few… but those few will probably be too busy analyzing the rules of the game itself looking for flaws.

The actual game is well presented.  You have a three character party and you complete modules to collect loot which gives the characters more cards to work with.  Having no weapon equipped means you get shitty attacks, but when you find a nice axe or club you get some appropriate slashing or bludgeoning cards.  Better weapons give you better cards.  Same for armor and accessories, and then things like boots which give you more movement cards to work with.  On top of that, your characters get experience for completing a module and levelling up gives them the standard +HP, but will also give them some more basic cards, as well as more slots to equip items in for a different array of cards.  Each module is pretty straight forward… you go, the GM goes, and you try to kill each other.  Matches are won with victory points which so far means “kill each other”, but some modules do add in some twists like victory squares which award a point for controlling it at the end of a turn, so there’s potential for modules that aren’t just same-old same-old.  There are a lot of mechanics like LOS squares and squares which have attributes (acid attacks can lay down damaging acid squares, which you can cleanse with the right cards), or you can get levitate style abilities and just float over them.  It’s a bit frustrating to draw a fistful of armor cards and have to sit there passing while the enemy has its way with you, but that’s due to shitty gear/card selection and should improve as the characters do.

I do have a few complaints about the UI that will hopefully be ironed out eventually.  One of the complaints is just that it’s pretty laggy right now, which is something that will improve with time.  It does mean sometimes you sit around waiting for an action to take place, though, which highlights some redundancies in the UI that probably won’t be as annoying when it’s fast.  Whenever you play a card, it zooms that card so you can see what it is.  Makes sense right, you should know what card the enemy is playing.  The problem is, it doesn’t show it very long, so even when you don’t know what card it is, you don’t actually have time to read it… which means we’re just kind of wasting a couple seconds pausing the game to flash cards around.  And it does this for every card, even yours, and even when it’s something you’re going to do a lot like “walk”.  Every single time you walk, you select the card, you select the square to walk to, it pauses, it shows the card, it puts the card away, and then your figure moves.  Again, probably only annoying because the server lags a bit and makes each of those things take a few extra seconds, but it feels like it could be trimmed a bit to make it speedier.  It seems like the purpose of this is so that when a card counters what is played, it can pop up and show the counter, but it would be nice if they could show that when a counter occurred instead of every single play.

My next complaint is that the isometric view actually makes selecting the figures difficult sometimes.  When they’re close together, the figure it front will hide the health indicator of the one behind it.  The health is displayed elsewhere, so it’s not a huge deal, but you have to be very careful when trying to shoot the really injured guy behind the not so injured guy.  I’ve wasted a lot of attacks on the wrong target because of misclicks.  Worse is when you misclick a heal because the bad guy was standing in front of your about-to-die character /facepalm.

Worse than that (because at least misclicking is totally my fault…) is that the game tries to “help” you.  It’s mostly an issue with LOS.  So many times now I’ll click a heal intending to save the wizard or warrior who’s moved up around a pillar, only to realize I’m actually one step out of LOS of him.  But the game goes “There’s only one target in range so you must mean this one!” and uses my heal on whatever is in range, instead of letting me try to cast it on the thing which was not in range to realize it is not in range.  If it hadn’t done that I could have backed out of the heal, used my move card, and then hopefully saved him on the next round… but now my heal card has been wasted because the game is “helping”.  It may seem ironic to complain about streamlining immediately after complaining about how the card-showing process is not streamlined, but at least waiting for the card to show doesn’t result in a loss.

I’m finding it pretty fun so far and I hope there’s plenty of content to go through still.  I am finding I quickly reached a point where the wizard is the most important character in the party, just because all the monsters now attack from two squares away which makes my warrior completely useless unless there’s plenty of pillars to pin them on.  I just bought him a rapier that can attack at two squares so we’ll see if that helps, but wizardly OPness might be a balance issue to watch out for.  I haven’t taken a close look at the microtransactions yet… I saw some cosmetic stuff and I know if you sub you get an extra loot item at the end of a match, so those are both cool but not “Pay to win” and I approve of that.  I glanced at the cost of subbing and didn’t really find it appealing, though (I think it was like 10 bucks a month which isn’t too ridiculous, I guess).  We’ll see how much fun I continue to have.  I do like to support F2P games, but only if the prices seem reasonable for what I get.  I mostly dislike the idea of paying for benefits which immediately dissolve as soon as I stop paying.  The game appears to have optional “treasure hunt” missions which offer better loot, and if they can be unlocked and stay unlocked I might donate some cash that way.  Then again, you only get the loot once, and it doesn’t seem to be a random item… so it’s kind of like paying for an item that you have to do work to access.  Nngh we’ll see how this goes I guess.

A Dark Room

This is an obscure one, but part of the reason I wanted to babble in a blog is to point out the obscure gems I trip over from time to time.  It’s a browser game called A Dark Room.

There are no fancy graphics here.  This is text, and on a good day some ASCII symbols.  You start out in a dark room (as perhaps you gathered, from the title) and your only real option is to start a fire and keep it going by clicking every so often.  After a bit you can go outside and start gathering wood to stoke it some more.  Every time you click it counts down, so impatient people probably roll their eyes and quit here, but the fun is just starting.  Soon a bedraggled traveller stumbles in and offers to start making traps and buildings for you.  Eventually you will have a whole village built up, with up to 80 people hanging out.  All the resource gathering is a bit slow in the beginning, but once you attract some people they’ll be doing the work for you.

Which frees you up to go explore the countryside.  At this point the game becomes something like a roguelike… there’s an ascii map and you have to watch your resources, making pit stops so that you don’t pass out.  “Dying” results in waking up in camp sans all the equipment you took, so it’s a setback but not the end of the game.  It’s more devastating when you find a haul of awesome goodies and then don’t make it back to camp.  Your exploration progress is not saved if you ‘die’, so a retreat back to camp to ‘save’ is often a prudent option.  You run around, clearing out nests of bandits who are holed up in abandoned towns, go spelunking in some caves, and explore old mining sites.

Then you find the spaceship…

I really enjoyed messing around with the game for a day or so, just leaving it running when I had to leave and coming back to find 35000 wood lying around in my stores because wolves killed all my people and then a bunch more migrated in to replace them and were set to the default wood gathering.  Good times.  It’s too bad I couldn’t make an account and log in from other locations, but the game isn’t really deep enough for a feature like that.

Probably my only complaint about this little time-waster is that I “won” (I think??), and there was no fanfare.  It just faded out and there I was, back in the dark room, stoking a fire and waiting for the builder to wander in.  All my progress erased, nothing to show for it, not even a blurb telling me if I actually did win or if I fucked up, or maybe this is New Game + and I should have kept going to see what was new?

I know nothing about this game.  I don’t know if it’s still being developed, I don’t know if it’s been sitting here for 20 years and I just found it now, I don’t know anything about its past or future.  I DO know it’s an interesting waste of a day or two, though, and you should probably check it out.


Powerplay Manager (sort of)

This isn’t so much a review of a game as it is a rant about the current status of certain things. I ended up tagging this both “I like it” AND “I don’t like it” because there are elements of both, I guess.

I’ve been playing “Powerplay Manager” which is a browser game where you manage a hockey team.  I started playing it because there are absolutely no worthwhile hockey manager games on the market right now, and the ones that ARE available via being propped up by the fan modding community (like Eastside Hockey Manager) all use current rosters of teams and players.  I’m keeping an eye on the Hockey manager game being produced by OOTP… but it looks like they’re going for the current roster deal, too, since they’re basically trying to make a modern Eastside Hockey Manager.  I’m not interested in simulating the NHL, I just wanted to play with fantasy teams and players where the “stars” are not based on real-life reputation.  I want to build my own unique team and play against opponents who are not modelled after existing teams, so that I can learn their strengths and weaknesses as I go, rather than try to figure it out based on real history.  It’s actually kind of amazing to me that there aren’t more fantasy sports games available which aren’t just trying to emulate reality.
I actually REALLY want ‘Football Manager’, except Hockey, not Football.  I wonder who I can send letters to in order to accomplish that…

Anyway, PPM is kind of cool in that every player and every team is either player controlled, or computer controlled waiting for a player to make an account and take over.  They’re not based on real teams or players at all, it’s all generated with RNG.  Half of your job as manager is to take your roster and tell them how to train and delegate the players into the best position for their stats.  Each player has a ‘quality’ rating which dictates how well they learn in each stat, and each position values certain stats over others.  At the same time, an offensive player with a higher defense stat will still contribute to preventing the other team from getting scoring chances, and stuff like “shooting” isn’t necessarily tied to any one position but will dictate whether your scoring chances actually turn into goals.  You set “tactics” for the team too which can take advantage of the way you’ve designed their stats – if your defense is high in offense as well, you can go for an aggressive approach, or if your offense is high in defense, go for a shutdown approach… and there are some other, more subtle options, as well.

The other half of your job is to upgrade your arena (making room for people to sit so they can come to your games, buy your shitty food and souvenirs, and give you $$$$$ to provide more capital to upgrade or hire players), upgrade your facilities (if you have better training facilities your players learn better… medical facilities for injuries… yadda yadda), and hiring and training staff to man those positions.  Periodically you have to review applications for new staff or players, and decide if you want to take them on or just reject their resume.

Of course, it’s a browser game.  Which means your team plays one hockey match every two days, and everything happens at pretty much a real-time pace.  I’ve been playing for over a year now, logging in once a day or so to check up on my game schedule, see if any players need to switch to training a different stat, and deciding if I have enough cash to start a new arena upgrade (upgrades take upwards of 45 real-time days to complete, usually).  It’s taken a year, and I’m still not anywhere near in contention for any sort of playoff position or even winning any sort of trophies, but my stars are actually starting to score goals, and my prospects are getting to the point where they’re starting to move into the line-up and bump out the low-quality losers I started with who just sort of take up space.  I kind of want a not-browser based version just so it doesn’t take over a year for my team to start winning a game every now and then; There is a certain appeal to being able to hit “next day” and have it immediately jump instead of literally waiting 24 hours.  Sadly there is no game like that which exists.

Which brings me to my next rant.  I’ve been playing this game for a year… and I’ve been reasonably enjoying it.  They (like most browser games) offer perks if you throw money at them.  In the case of this game, there are a couple “one off” purchases like designing a custom puck you can trade with teams, or customizing your arena, designing a goalie mask… lots of little neat cosmetic things.  There is also a Pro Pack which brings a lot of features, such as designing a jersey logo, assigning numbers to your players, automated training so they can train a number of stats at once without having to micromanage it, and access to a lot of in-depth stats which might help you decide how to train your players (on top of just being kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing).  I thought to myself “It’s probably worth supporting them… let’s see how much a pro pack costs”.

The pack only lasts for a limited amount of time, and works out to about 15 bucks a week.  Seriously?  Seriously?
If you buy in bulk you get a huge discount, so you can buy a year for 50 bucks, but seriously?  I’ve been playing this game for a year but my actual playtime is only a couple of days worth.  Is it worth 50 bucks to get some nifty stats I can look at for 5 minutes a day?  Fuck no.  Especially not when it expires.  If it were a permanent account upgrade maybe, maybe I would consider it… but even then I would be thinking “eeennnghhh…”

Not quite as egregious as playing 65 fucking dollars for a mine in Mine Things, but the mines don’t fucking expire at least. (unless you rent them… and then you get two weeks for 7 bucks or so, instead of one for fifteen.)

Why do these companies feel the need to be so greedy?  I was perfectly willing to support them because I like the game they’ve set up, but the moneygrabbing is so disgusting that I’m not even sure I want to continue logging in.  According to the statistics screen, they have 4000-5000 people logged in at any point in time, so it’s not even really a question of volume.  Have we learned nothing from the age of Steam Sales, where games fly off the shelves and make a killing at 2.50 a pop simply because people are like “fuck it, it’s 2.50” even if they never bother to get around to installing the damn thing?  If it was a year of Pro Pack for 10 bucks I would probably talk myself into it, even with the expiry.  4000 people talking themselves into it is 40,000 dollars.  Is 1/4 of the current player base going to talk themselves into dropping 50 bucks on a year of pro pack?  It’s possible I suppose, but I can tell you I’ve seen maybe two opponents who weren’t on their introductory free week of pro who actually had a logo.  And if they weren’t so greedy with the pack fees I’d probably be more willing to design a puck for my team, or buy in to some of the other cosmetic fun stuff.  Instead, I continue to pay zero.  Which is actually more likely to be a negative number because of bandwidth costs (although I probably don’t use THAT much bandwidth logging in for 5 minutes a day, I guess).

Ugh it’s a shame.  I guess I should have expected it, though… I followed a link to one of their associated games once, which turned out to be a “Mafia-Wars-Esque” style game where you have X number of action points and you try to fill up the little bars and unlock the boss at the end of a stage, collecting money and items as you go.  Mindless and pointless, but progressing is kind of fun to do since it only takes a couple minutes each day, right?  Except every time you went to do an action it would pop up a window saying “Gosh if you gave us money this window would go away!  But since you haven’t given us any money you will be able to play in 3…… 2…… 1……”

Guess what game I’M not playing!

Mine Things

I have been playing a browser game called “Mine Things”.  Maybe I should put “playing” in quotes.  The premise of the game is that we fucked up the Earth, left, then came back in the future and started mining on the ruined Earth (pretty much the same setting as WALL-E, without the search for life).  As a result, you mine things like umbrellas, clothing, weapons, ships, vehicles or, uh… camels.  The setting is basically an excuse to mine things, as opposed to the components to make things.  (Because seriously if we’re from the future, why am I putzing around on a camel I dug out of the ground instead of a god damn space ship.  So yeah, don’t worry about the plot making sense!)

Each player receives a starting mine, which has a little worker robot that digs up items.  It does this very, very, slowly.  It’s measured in buckets per hour, and they are real-time hours.  You get one item maybe every 8 hours or so, but of course there is an RNG element to it.  You can also get more equipment that improves the number of buckets per hour you dig up, which can help a bit.  So you don’t really play Mine Things, you log in once or twice a day and see what’s up.  There’s a linear progression of rarity, with yellow items being pretty common and you’re guaranteed to find one or two a day most likely, but then finding much rarer items is a fraction of a percent of a chance, and could take months or a lot of luck.  There are a number of orange items (the rarest) which are still listed as undiscovered because no one in the game has dug one up yet.

The “goal” of the game is to create melds of items.  The melds are largely nonsensical combinations of things that can be dug up.  This gives a purpose to the non-equippable items, and makes finding the rare items exciting.  The number of melds you have corresponds to your level, and unlocks new professions to try.  Items can be bought or sold automatically to whoever has the highest/lowest bids, so you can try to complete your collection of melds even if you haven’t found the proper whatsits for it yet.  Players set the market, so obviously rarer stuff, or things used in many different melds, tend to have much higher value than say, the toothbrush everyone digs up 80 of despite having completed the one meld it’s used in on probably your first day.  (Fortunately you can also set mines to auto-trash an item if you are never ever ever going to use or sell it.  Fucking toothbrushes…).

Up to this point, the game is basically a mining version of ProgressQuest.  And honestly, I really liked it.  There is something satisfying about logging in to see what your mine has uncovered.  It could be rare! It could be valuable! It could be exciting!  Slow but steady progress and an appeal to the horrible completionist within me.  And at higher levels of melds you can try professions like fisherman, instead of mining, and even some more complicated systems like setting up factories that other players can work in.

Now comes the tricky part.  The starter mine is just one of many kinds of mines.  The mines are spread over a number of different cities within the world.  You, as the player, can pop to any city you want (once you’ve sent a vehicle out and discovered it, anyway.  Discovering a town is literally selecting a question mark from a dropdown list and waiting for the vehicle to arrive, so don’t get too excited about the “exploration”) and buy and sell things.  To actually create a meld out of those items, you need to transport the items back to your home town.  So even if you buy up mines all over the world, you’ll still need to transport the goodies back home.

Which is where the conflict comes in.  One of the professions a higher level player can choose involves pilfering items from vehicles/ships enroute.  The combat system is…….. not great.  The most common defense a player uses is to send out a bunch of empty decoy vehicles to tie up would-be attackers, so that their goods make it through.  Which means the would-be attackers amass an army of vehicles to counter the decoys and dig down to the treasure trove.  Not only does owning that many vehicles take a lot of cash, but at that point they probably have inventory expansions to hold all the vehicles that new players can’t really compete with.  And since it’s an online game, you just have your standard dicks who destroy vehicles and make you lose your goods because they think it’s funny to ruin someone’s day.

I’m really not interested in this sort of conflict.  The game is pointless enough in the first place… getting lucky and finding a super rare item just to have it *yoink*ed is not appealing to me.  (Losing items by taking a risk and failing is one thing… losing items because you have to travel along routes is entirely another.)  I’ve avoided all transport of valuable goods so far because I’ve had enough not-valuable goods stolen to see that it’s common.  Fans of the game will argue that you should set up an alliance with a powerful guard who will travel in front of you and waylay the pirates, but that’s not appealing to me either.  I just want to find treasure and complete collections without combat being mandatory.  I did try the guard professions to see if I could make a dent in the pirate threat, but found that my ship was eluded by much faster ships or the crew was outnumbered sometimes 2 to 1 and didn’t even attempt to fight, despite having a decent stash of weapons.  It suggested to me that I need much better vehicles/weapons to even attempt to compete, much less transport valuable things.  Meanwhile, I’m not making any cash…

Adding to the annoyance is that you must set a specific profession for each kind of travel.  While moving goods by land, I can’t move them by sea, and vice versa.  While hunting pirates on the sea, I can’t move goods anywhere, nor can I do any guarding on land routes.  You can still buy/sell in towns, but nothing is going home to make melds until you set your profession back to the right kind of transport.  It’s clunky and artificially limiting.

And then there are the mines.  The only way to acquire a new mine is to buy it from a player who no longer wants it… or buy it for real money from the game site itself.  Therefore each new mine must enter the game via real cash.  Therefore players who forked out real cash for mines want a healthy gold return on their obsolete and now unwanted mines.  Everyone starts with a starter mine, and even those go for 6000 gold (hint: 6000 gold is still a lot).  To get the most expensive kind of mine in the game will cost you 60,000 gold, or 675 credits.  You get 50 credits for 5 dollars.  The most expensive mine in the game costs 67.5 real dollars to purchase.  You can buy brand new AAA titles for less than that mine in this browser game.  The cheapest mine – the starter mine that everyone starts with – costs 75 credits.  So the cheapest (and most useless, since you already have one) mine costs 7.5 dollars, and it is substantially cheaper than the rest.

If I were really enjoying the game I would probably drop 5 bucks on a new kind of mine, but sixty dollars what.

And then after I dropped cash on the mine, I’d probably be unable to move my valuable goods from it back home without heavily investing in armed forces to protect them.  Ugh, I just… why isn’t there a god damn game where I can collect and trade things and have some sense of progression without an extensive leaning on combat or player vs player conflict?  And no, I don’t mean Animal Crossing.  I want there to be some kind of point to the progression, and I also don’t want the game patronizing me and filling up with cockroaches if I take a break for a couple days.

The game itself is certainly unique and there are some neat ideas in it, especially if you like the social aspects of working with strangers and coordinating things (the player run banking system is especially neat), but I’m not sure that I can recommend it.  If the pirating/griefing appeals to you you’d probably like it, but then that’s probably why the game is filling up with pirates and making it hard for peaceful traders to actually enjoy it.

Back to my search for a decent trading MMO…