My Favorite Element: Nier Automata

Uncle Geekly finished one of 2017’s best role-playing games Nier: Automata. Come to think of it 2017 was a great year for Japanese Role-Playing Games with Persona 5 also becoming available worldwide six months after its initial release. But we’re going to discuss Nier: Automata in this writeup and how it takes a novel approach to storytelling that I haven’t seen too many video games attempt.

To say Nier: Automata is off kilter would be an understatement. I enjoy that every weapon has its own unique backstory that players can dip their toes into. Weapon Stories are a recurring element in the Nier and Drakengard series as are multiple plays of the game revealing new potential endings. Nier: Automata takes the latter element and makes it work—alternate endings don’t always pan out that well in Nier and the Drakengard series—by showing the game through the eyes of its two protagonists.

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Nier: Automata is broken into two parts and two main characters: 2B and 9S. There are moments through the first playthrough where 9S disappears for long periods of time. He explains most of his absences but showing what 9S goes through offers a lot to the overall experience. As soon as I saw that I’d play as 9S during a second playthrough I shuddered. There are moments that I’d rather not experience first-hand, but at the same time, I played on because I wanted to see them out of morbid curiosity.

Not every story can be enhanced by a second telling by another character, but Nier: Automata makes a great choice in showing 2B’s and 9S’s story. It’s obvious that they’re co-protagonists and it would’ve been a falsehood to not show 9S’s journey.

What are your favorite elements of Nier: Automata? Are there any other video games that do a great job of showing two protagonists’ stories. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanics: Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock

There are so many things I could pick as my favorite mechanisms for Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock, but I’ll try to stay on task with the one I chose for this article: artificial intelligence.

Cooperative games pit the players against the game itself so almost any cooperative game has some version of artificial intelligence. Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock just happen to be two of my favorites in terms of AI.

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Gloomhaven has a leveled system for its creatures, so players can adjust the difficulty to match their tastes, and each creature type has its own action deck. The action cards within these decks dictate how quickly each creature moves, how or if they attack that turn, and who they target when they do. It’s a simple but elegant way of making each creature unique. Players won’t know what the creature will do from turn to turn, but if they’ve faced a similar creature, they may know its habits and that does a lot for characterization.

I also like Gloomhaven’s card-based combat. Usually I don’t like it when a player gets knocked out when they run out of cards in their deck, but this game is so balanced that it works. Okay. I promise that’s the only time I’ll get off topic—with Gloomhaven.

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Assault on Doomrock has a similar system for its creatures, but it adds a threat level for each player’s character (or hero). Typically, the hero with the highest threat level will draw more monsters and that allows for a mechanism in the game that functions a lot like a tank in MMORPGs—a tank is a player with a lot of health that serves as a punching bag for monsters to attack, while their teammates wail on the distracted monsters.

There are more things that may affect a creature’s aggression in Assault on Doomrock, but the inclusion of a threat system gives the game more depth. I also like Assault on Doomrock’s addition of time as commodity. T.I.M.E. Stories has a time system too, but Assault on Doomrock’s use of time made me more concerned about wasting the time I had and that increased tension. Alright. I won’t discuss Assault on Doomrock—that much.

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I’d be remiss to not give a quick mention to Sentinels of the Multiverse. The villain decks behave differently, giving each character personality. Pandemic almost made this list for artificial intelligence and how the viruses behave, especially how the epidemic cards function with location cards that had been played (currently in the discard pile) go back on top of the draw deck, so diseases can get worse in cities already affected.

Like I said, most cooperative games have some form of artificial intelligence, and there are many other great examples. I could go on for another five or six games at least, but good old Uncle Geekly would like to hear from you.

What do you like most about Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock? Is there another game that uses AI in a great way? Error Code 220: Service ready for new user. Let us know in comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanisms: Dinosaur Island

Yes. Uncle Geekly picked up Dinosaur Island this past Christmas, and I’ve had some time to get in several plays. For the uninitiated or the ones who don’t remember what I said about Dinosaur Island in the past, it’s a tabletop game where players compete for visitors by building their own Jurassic Park. The premise is solid gold.

Each individual game mechanism has been seen in other games, but Dinosaur Island does a fantastic job of combining mechanisms that mimic what they’re supposed to mimic. The research and development section functions like the players exploring which dinosaurs they can recreate. Players can take a risk—increasing the dinosaur threat level—by taking a die that yields larger research results or they could take a safer route and set a foundation for gaining research points over time. It’s slower, but more reliable. The building of dinosaur pins and dinosaur husbandry—is that a thing?—functions the way one would think they would. Does one build the pins and reproduce dinos to get more visitors in one’s park before building adequate security? Players can, but is it wise?

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The dinosaur figures don’t hurt the fun factor, but the resource management of where to place workers to get the best effect and where to place visitors so they yield the highest reward are other moments where Dinosaur Island shines. There’s just enough luck introduced so there’s a chance for players to catch a runaway winner, but Dinosaur Island is first and foremost a strategy game. A player who deploys a better strategy tends to win more often than those who don’t.

Each game mechanism—worker placement, tile placement, set collection, and an action point allowance system—behaves like its own mini game. Dinosaur Island could even be viewed as a series of mini games. But Dinosaur Island’s whole is far greater than any single part. That makes describing the game difficult or zeroing in on any specific part as a favorite tough. I like how Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis combine these elements, so they make a tasty blend.

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There are plenty of other games that throw in a lot of mechanisms (First Martians comes to mind), but the individual pieces feel like a board game version of doing your taxes. Dinosaur Island doesn’t feel that way. The elements make sense for what the players are doing and the strategy, while difficult to master, is easy to see. Players will know why they won or lost and how they may be able to improve. Plenty of games offer hodgepodges of gaming mechanisms, but few of those games deliver a great experience like Dinosaur Island.

What are your favorite elements of Dinosaur Island? Have you ever played a game without humming the Jurassic Park theme? Uncle Geekly hasn’t, even when I play a solo game. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

My Favorite Elements of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and What I Hope Will Happen in the Series Finale

Your uncle Geekly started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this past summer, so he’s getting to the show during its final season. It’s too bad the show is ending after four years because I’ve enjoyed most episodes, but sometimes the best shows end after short runs. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is both the CW’s most over-the-top show and its most grounded. Yeah. It’s the oddest mix. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical comedy, so ridiculous dancing and singing abound, and while its main character Rebecca obsesses with love and romance, the show focuses on mental health.

The most recent episode aired a couple of Fridays ago and it had a musical number about antidepressants and how more people take these medications than one might think. Seriously, this show is about destigmatizing mental health issues and making sure folks who suffer from these ailments seek help and know that they’re not alone.  This is a far different message than what most CW shows present. The majority of CW shows devolve into who is with whom as in dating or bedhopping. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has had its share of Rebecca bedhopping, but these acts feed into her mental health issues. Plenty of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend watchers subscribe to Team Greg or Team Nathaniel or even Team Josh. But I hope, for the sake of Rebecca’s wellbeing, that she ends up with no one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against love and romance, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a higher calling than shipping (as in the slang for matchmaking) the main character with a specific beau. The show would betray its serious message about mental health and undercut a lot of good it’s done. I’ve seen just as many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans talk openly about mental health and reach out to others in need. But Rebecca choosing any of these men would end up a poor choice.

She moved to West Covina to obsess over Josh who was dating someone else and may have a touch of Peter Pan Syndrome (that’s unhealthy behavior), rebounded with Greg who has his own demons with alcoholism (another unhealthy choice) and eventually plotted revenge with Nathaniel who suffers from abandonment issues and poor social skills (yet another unhealthy choice). It’s okay if Rebecca ends up alone. Or she could leave the door open for romance if she works on her issues first. There aren’t enough episodes remaining for Rebecca to get well enough to focus on romance.

To the show’s credit, it looks as if Rebecca will choose to work on her mental health first. Sorry, folks. We’ll probably get one more push for romance between Josh and Nathaniel, but it appears as if Rebecca may go back to her first love, theater, and that’s something else Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does so well, they suggest that love comes in many forms, not just romance. Other CW shows should take notice.

What’s your favorite element of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? If you’re a fan, what do you hope will happen in the series finale? If you disagree with me, you can have Nathaniel order a hit on me, or you could leave a comment. I could be moving to Venus or Mars soon, so leaving a comment would probably be more effective.

My Favorite Gaming Element for Apex Legends

Your uncle Geekly has tried out the latest battle royal craze Apex Legends and I like it despite loathing the genre. I’m more of a solo experience video gamer. Give me a story and characters I can invest in and I’m happy; multiplayer games don’t usually do a lot for me. Battle royal games and the chaos they bring do even less for me, but I’m surprised by Apex Legends’ focus on teamwork.

Everything about Apex Legends screams that the players must work as a team. When players jump into the map, they do so as a team and that shows the emphasis on team play at each game’s beginning. I’ve heard on some message boards that Fortnite players dislike being forced to jump as a team, but Fortnite is every player for themselves. Sure, there is a squad (or team) option for the game, but it pales in comparison to the every person for themselves game mode. Apex Legends’ squad play outshines Fortnite’s most likely because players jump as a team.

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The communication system, or ping system, works like a charm. The Gears of War series may have instituted a ping system, but Apex Legends gets it right. Players don’t need to use mics if they don’t have them. Heck. Even if they do have them, they may prefer to use the ping system. If you see a shield or gun a teammate can use, ping it so the item shows up on their map. If you see an enemy on the next ridge, ping the location so it shows up on your teammates’ map and you can converge on the enemy. Players can even ping one location for their teammates and another for themselves—you go here, I’ll go here—and a team can formulate a pincer attack in near real time.

Can Apex Legends be played by oneself? Yes, but not well. I’ve had teammates drop out because of server issues—of which there have been a lot since the game’s launch—and ended up in a solo team. I’ve made it to the final three squads in several of these instances, but when the game gets tight, more firepower is needed, firepower that won’t exist if a player is by themselves. The closest I ever got to winning a game as predominately a solo squad was second place with one other combatant standing. That’s not saying that Uncle Geekly’s good at Apex Legends, in fact, I strive for mediocrity, but my point is that one can’t win the game that easily going solo.

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More than any other battle royal game—on the market today—Apex Legends focuses on a team dynamic and if I’m going to play a multiplayer game, I prefer a team atmosphere. I could carry this team mentality further and discuss Overwatch at length and how the character selection screen breeds discontent while Apex Legends has a more relaxed feel, but let’s say that the concept of team shines through most of Apex Legends and that’s where players will find the fun. If you prefer team based multi-player games, you may enjoy Apex Legends.

Do you agree that Apex Legends is a good team battle royal game? Do you have a character that you prefer to player more than another? Let us know in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanics: Pit Crew

Many people won’t like Pit Crew. The real-time aspect of the game can get players flustered and dampen some of the fun, but that’s what I like about it. While most real-time games have players dashing to play cards or some other game device to a common area, Pit Crew has gamers play solitaire.

The rules are simple, but I won’t go into them in detail here. Players assume the role of a pit crew during a stock car race. They play cards numbered 1-10 in either white or black numbers (there’s a bonus if a player uses all of one color) on areas where they must place a pair of the same number, go up or down in number (with 10 and 1 being adjacent), and reach a specific sum. The first ones to do so begin rolling a die. For every 6 they roll, they move their car one space on the track—and that’s where it gets interesting.

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Geoff Engelstein has created a psychological game with his players. The impulse is to start playing your cards quickly as soon as you hear someone roll a die. But Pit Crew is more concerned with gamers playing a clean game of solitaire. Your opponents will gain more spaces with the penalties incurred by messing up a pattern, than any spaces gained on a die.

Roll. You may forget what total your on for the area that needs a specific sum. Roll. Did I play a three and then a four or a five and then a four? Roll! I don’t care if the color on the numbers match, I’m placing those two ones in a pair spot.

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What’s worse is that gamers may feel more impowered to give their opponents bonuses rather than take a penalty. This is another psychological trick Pit Crew uses. If my car went backwards on the board for every one of my mistakes, the penalty would only affect me. With all my opponents (it may be a 3-player game) gaining a benefit from my mistakes, my mistakes are multiplied, but in an odd sense, a lot of gamers would prefer giving other players a bonus instead of accepting a penalty.

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Pit Crew poses an interesting question. Is it better to be punished or rewarded?

What do you like most about Pit Crew? What are the things you don’t like about Pit Crew? Heck, is it better to be punished or rewarded in games?

It’s a good thing I’m a glutton for punishment, let me know what you really think in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanics: Marvel Heroes

I don’t care too much for Marvel Heroes, the miniatures game published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2006. It’s a little fiddly for my taste. There’s even a system in place to prevent a runaway winner, and while it does a good job of keeping the game close, it makes players feel a little less super.

I do like the game’s combat system. Leave it to a superhero game that depicts four superhero teams (X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Marvel Knights) and their arch-nemeses to deliver the goods for combat.

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Hi, it’s your uncle Geekly here and if you lasted long enough to not rage close this article, I’ll let you know how Marvel Heroes made Rock, Paper, Scissors interesting and fun.

I’ve talked briefly about Marvel Heroes in the past. It plays out well enough. Villains cause trouble in various places in New York and the various players (in charge of superhero teams) send their heroes to deal with said trouble. Usually, this means combat.

Each hero and villain have attacks—heroes always have three, but villains range from 1-3 attacks—they can make and each of these attacks has a value for attack, defense, and intelligence (intelligence equates more to initiative or speed than actual intelligence). Every attack is assigned to one of three tokens that a player can choose from and each player in the battle chooses which of their attacks they wish to use.

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If you want to deal more damage, pick an attack that’s high in damage. If you’re worried about accepting damage, choose one with higher defense. Or if you don’t think you’ll get much out of a character (usually a low-level villain), pick one with a high intelligence so you can get in a quick shot before that character’s discarded.

The numbers indicated on the cards relate to the number of specialty dice you roll, so there’s always an element of luck added to the equation. It all boils down to an intriguing and layered take of rock, paper, scissors, but it’s done well. I just wish the rest of the game excited me as much as the combat. Still, with a few house rules it can be a great play.

What do you like most about the Marvel Heroes Strategy Board Game? What are the things you don’t like about Marvel Heroes? Maybe I’m a zombie to all things Marvel and just want to hate. You can chew my ear about it in the comments.