Introducing my family’s latest card-game obsession: Unstable Unicorns. The inscription on the box reads “Build a Unicorn Army. Betray your friends. Unicorns are your friends now.” Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate description of this game, actually. Starting out with one (adorable) baby unicorn, you work to build a stable full of unicorns–and sabotage other players from beating you to the goal. If you’ve ever played Exploding Kittens, there are a number of similar elements in the gameplay, although I think this game is a bit more complex. The art on the cards is fabulous, and the text is amusing and often punny. Generally speaking, this is quite a nerdy game, in the best possible sense of the word. Personally, I particularly enjoy the combination of strategy and chance that comes into play–it’s entirely possible to play the long game and have strategies planned out for numerous turns in advance. It’s also possible for another player to spring something on you and put all that planning to naught. . . . Of course, you can turn the same thing back on them, as well. The game is also quite adaptable, accommodating anywhere from 2 to 8 players with ease. There are also a number of expansion packs for added fun. Highly recommended.
NOTE: If you’re interested, you can find out more here.
You’ve stumbled upon a mad scientist’s lab and been exposed to his experiment–the one that caused him to turn into a werewolf. Lucky for you, he did create an antidote as well, but it’s not that simple. . . . The antidote is locked away, and you only have an hour to solve the clues around the room and unlock the box, or you’ll be stuck as a werewolf yourself!
The basic idea of this is the same as for an actual escape room . . . only you have everything you need in a single package that you can take home and play for the cost of about 1.5-2 tickets into your average escape room. I was actually quite impressed by this game. The scenario was interesting, and the puzzles were appropriately themed. Moreover, the puzzles managed to be challenging while still manageable. You have a lot of that back and forth of one answer tying into another puzzle, plus the whole going through everything you’ve got just trying things to see what works. There’s even a blacklight! We played with 6 players, which worked well, but you can have up to 8 at a time. And bonus: although it would be kind of pointless for the same people to play over again, since you’ll know the answers, you can save everything in the box, print out new papers, and re-set everything for a new set of players (find instructions and more information here). Highly recommended for those who love escape rooms or puzzle games, or for those who are looking for an inexpensive, easy way to give the whole escape-room thing a try.
I recently got to try out this super-random card game with a group of friends, and I’ve got to say, it’s surprisingly catchy. It’s marketed as a game for people who like cats and explosions, and . . . well, that may be accurate, but it’s more for people who like fast-paced games that combine elements of both chance and strategy–along with lots of weird goofiness. The game is basically an adapted version of Russian Roulette–everybody takes turns going around the table drawing cards until something explodes (you draw an “exploding kitten” card). But then, there are cards you can use to defuse this (basically putting it off until later in the game), as well as a number of other cards that have different effects on the game. (You can find out a lot more about the rules and such on the official website, https://explodingkittens.com/.) Like I said, the game’s catchy and involves a nice balance of chance and strategy–more or less depending on the group of players, obviously. It’s also pretty easy to learn, and each game goes quite fast. I do also have to note that the art on the cards is just plain strange; like, there’s all kinds of randomness on them that’s totally not necessary for playing the game, but it’s kind of interesting to read . . . also, slightly disturbing and very strange. But overall, I enjoyed Exploding Kittens and would generally recommend it.
Hosted by Escape Experience in Chattanooga, Tennessee
This weekend, my brother and sister-in-law dragged me to an Escape Room–something I’d never tried before, although they are obsessed with them. Turns out, it was actually a pretty fun experience. Basically, it’s a game that’s played in a locked-room set with a time limit, rather than on a board or with cards. Your group of players are dumped in this room and set free to explore. There are clues, puzzles, and challenges throughout the room, and you have to beat them all within the allotted time in order to win. It’s actually pretty intense, as well as a good mental challenge.
We did “The Inheritance,” a mystery game in which your scientist uncle has passed away, leaving behind some sort of treasure which you have to find and escape with before your uncle’s dangerous enemies show up. I thought that both the premise of this plot and the execution were well done for this sort of game. The detailed set was thoroughly immersive and conducive to a good gameplay experience. The puzzles were varied and challenging while still being accessible to the average individual. I do think that some basic math skills, science, and geographical knowledge would be helpful for this particular game, but mostly just some solid teamwork, problem-solving, and logical skills are what you would need the most. There were a lot of puzzles in this particular game; it’s theoretically one of the more difficult ones, and we didn’t even finish it (although we were on the very last puzzle when we ran out of time!). Our one complaint, honestly, was that any hints we were given were displayed on screens in the room . . . which is nice in that you can refer back to them, but not helpful in that several were given in two parts, and the first part disappeared way too quickly, with only the second part remaining on the screen. On the whole, though, this particular Escape Room was a good experience that I would recommend.
By Japanime Games
Support a princess in her race for the throne–just be sure to choose wisely. Build up your economy and infrastructure. Go to war against rival princesses and their supporters. And gain the succession points needed to win the throne.
Heart of Crown is a very cute but complex and challenging game that I was recently introduced to. So I should note that this isn’t a full review–more like an impressions post, really. This is a deck-building card game, which is a pretty different style from most of what I’ve played before, since you build your playing deck as you go. Once you get used to the concept (or for those of you who are already familiar with this style of game), it’s not too difficult though. The challenge is to build the best deck to win, and this is a challenge that is constantly changing. As in games like Sushi Go, your set of cards that you’re working with can change based on what you choose at the beginning of the game. And different sets require different strategies. To add to the strategizing, each princess provides unique bonuses that affect you’re gameplay. And of course, the other players you’re working with will change how you have to play as well. With the base set, you can have 2-4 players, and that number seems to work well with the flow of the game. Basically, I found this game to be challenging but in a good, interesting way. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into each card and into the system as a whole, and it all works well together to provide a good challenge for players. On a side note, this game has some of the cutest anime-style art I have ever seen in a card game. I really love it! So yeah, Heart of Crown is a lot of fun and I would recommend it for basically anyone who likes deck-building games, strategy-dependent games, or just plain cute stuff.
Note: You can find out more about this game at https://japanimegames.com/pages/heart-of-crown-resources.
Ok, so this is totally not story related in the slightest, but my brother just recently introduced me to this absolutely adorable and slightly geeky card game that I’m just dying to share, so. . . . I should also note that this is not a full review; more like a first impressions post, since I’ve only played this a few times with the same group of people. But I think I’ve got the gist of the gameplay, and I can say with complete honesty that this game is a lot of fun.
Sushi Go Party! is a card game in which you are trying to assemble a group of cards (posing as adorable sushi and other edibles with super-cute faces) to get the highest number of points. Different combinations of cards yield different point values, and everyone’s competing against each other for the limited high-point combinations. The catch? You only get to play one card from your hand, then you pass your hand on and get the next person’s hand to play from instead! Sounds confusing, but it’s surprisingly easy to catch onto the rules once you get going. Much more difficult is actually amassing reasonable points, which involves a good bit of strategizing and adaptability. This is a game that would be great for teaching kids about statistics, probability, and strategy, but it’s also challenging enough to make adults have to think. There are a lot of choices as to which combinations you’re trying for, allowing for different difficulty levels as needed. Gameplay is pretty quick as well, making this a great party game. Theoretically, this is valid for 2-8 players, but I personally think it would work best with 5-6 (we played with 6, which was perfect). Oh, and have I mentioned that this is adorable?! The art style and the way the whole concept is framed as though you’re crafting a lunch with sushi, appetizers, desserts, etc. is just too utterly cute–and the style is very Japanese. Definitely recommended for those of you who like card/party games.
Author: Yuu Kamiya/Translator: Daniel Komen
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Urban legends speak of a gamer with an impossible record of zero losses, a player who goes simply by “ ” or Blank. What the legends miss is that Blank is actually two players, a brother and sister pair who are as awful at real life as they are amazing at games. So when the two get sucked into a world where everything is decided by playing games of one sort or another, Sora and Shiro don’t do the expected and try to get home. They set their sights on the throne!
I really enjoyed reading No Game No Life, but I have to admit rather mixed feelings when looking at the light novel objectively. There are some things about it that are really well done and interesting; others, not so much. The concept, for instance, is brilliant–an alternate world with a fantasy flair that’s run entirely on games rather than wars and such is just remarkable. And the characters that Kamiya chose to stick in this setting are just perfect–I seriously think Sora and Shiro as a pair are about the most interesting characters you could possibly choose for this setting both because of the dynamic between them (which is intriguing in itself) and because of their mindset when it comes to games. The overall writing style is pretty average, I’d say typical for a light novel if not stellar. And I’m not even going to complain about the fanservice because 1) No Game No Life is just that kind of story, and if you want to totally avoid the fanservice, you’ll have to avoid this sort of story entirely, and 2) the fanservice in this volume is actually not that bad. What did bother me in that regard is the mild lolicon/incestuous verbal insinuations that were scattered throughout–they never amount to anything, but they’re kind of creepy still. Also, the fact that Sora uses a command that can’t be disobeyed to make a girl love him is kind of wrong, even though the author makes a point to show all sorts of ways the girl could have gotten around the command without directly disobeying. (And I know, I’m making this sound like a totally hentai story. It really isn’t that bad; I just feel the need to point out these parts since they bothered me personally.) The other notable negative is that at points (whether this is the original style or a mistake on the translator’s part, I’m not sure), the text is a series of somewhat disconnected phrases posing as sentences. . . . You can understand what’s going on, but it kind of catches you off guard and looks weird. But in spite of the negatives listed above, I would recommend No Game No Life for anyone looking for a fantasy/gamer light novel (who doesn’t mind some ecchiness); I’m planning to continue reading the series in any case.
Author: Christopher Keene
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Noah and his girlfriend Sue find themselves increasingly concerned and frustrated as they seem to be losing their friends to the new VR game Dream Engine. But when the two are involved in a terrible car crash, Dream Engine becomes Noah’s only link to reality and consciousness as the doctors in the real world work to help him heal. Noah finds himself trapped in an astonishingly realistic virtual reality world–complete with monsters that could kill him in-game and send him into a coma in real life.
I very much enjoyed reading Stuck in the Game. It appeals to the gamer in me, but also to my love of sci-fi and fantasy stories. I know the concept of being trapped in a VR game is not exactly original (think Sword Art Online), but I do think that Keene’s use of the idea was both creatively and interestingly executed. Also, the whole idea of using VR in medicine–cyberpunk, original, and thought-provoking from both a scientific and an ethical standpoint! The balance of game mechanics and descriptions against Noah’s very human plight works. I actually really enjoyed both the characters and the plot; both were quite engaging. I do have to note that this book would be . . . not necessarily inaccessible for non-gamers, but more challenging for them to get into perhaps. The writing style flows well and is easy to follow, however; the writing style has almost the feel of a good-quality light novel. I would definitely recommend Stuck in the Game, especially for gamers and those who love science fiction and fantasy adventures.
Note 1: I received a free review copy of Stuck in the Game from Future House Publishing in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.
Note 2: You can check out the author’s blog (including more information about this book) at fantasyandanime.wordpress.com.
Hey, this is just an FYI for anyone who’s interested. Steam is holding a pretty significant sale on a lot of games through 12/1/15. Personally, I don’t care about the actual games so much, but they’re starting to get a nice selection of visual novels, several of which are included in the sale. 😀