Thoughts on The Exploding Kittens Expansions

If you aren’t familiar with The Oatmeal, you should correct that. His webcomics have been great and going strong for nearly a decade. I’ve followed him on social media for years, and I’ve always enjoyed his wit, sense of humor and intelligent discussion throughout. I remember hearing about a Kickstarter for some game that he was creating a few years back, but didn’t look into it further until more recently.

My girlfriend and I spent some time last year playing various board and card games with our son and it has become a fairly regular event in our house. After playing the games Oregon Trail, Boss Monster, and the Super Mario Card Game (as mentioned in the previously linked article) we looked into other family oriented games we could play with him that would also keep us adults engaged. Exploding Kittens was on my radar, and at some point he brought it up too. So we picked up a copy of the base game for him around Christmas time last year and played on a few occassions. It’s fun, and funny to boot. The game is played with cards, and is essentially Russian Roulette but with exploding cats instead of bullets. All of the cards feature art and jokes from The Oatmeal, along with having some ridiculous designs. The base game includes a deck and instructions, and it’s pretty easy to jump into. You’ll get a hand of cards and some special ones that allow you to defuse exploding kittens. Each turn you can pass and then draw a card, or play as many cards from your hand as you want. It seems holding onto some cards is a better idea than immediately dumping your hand, but in some cases you’ll need pairs of cards to have any moves. You’ll do things like peek at the top few cards of the library or shuffle it, attack other players (forcing them to take extra turns), or steal cards from them. It has just enough variety to not get boring too quickly but it is fairly simple and limited. We had some fun with it but it was clear that we were going to move on sooner than later until we discovered that there were expansion packs for the game!

Our son’s birthday just passed a couple of weeks ago, and we picked up the two existing expansions for the game for him. Imploding Kittens added a handful of new cards that shuffle right into the deck, and this means some new mechanics were introduced into the game. As a bonus, there is a pack-in “Cone of Shame” that is a hilarious addition. You know when you take your pet to the vet and they have something done and they have to wear those cones around their neck so they can’t lick their wounds? Well, this is the human version of that, and I laughed my ass off when my girlfriend had to wear it. Basically, if you forget the turn direction (they did add a reverse card, and just like in Uno, it can confuse people) you get to wear the cone of shame. The big addition was the imploding kitten itself, which is resistant to defuse cards, but it doesn’t kill the first player to draw it — instead they get to put it face up into the library as they see fit.

Streaking Kittens is the secondary expansion, and its big addition is the “Streaking Kitten” which allows you to hold an exploding kitten in your hand as long as you also keep the other card, but if it gets stolen you’ll still go boom! There are some additional cards that I can’t recall off the top of my head but it adds a bunch more variety and makes the game feel more complete. If you’re into card games and like explosions, I’d recommend these! I’m pretty sure you can get them all for under $40, so it’s a good value for up to 5 players.

Zeal Goes Live on Kickstarter

I gave my first impressions of Zeal not too long ago. It’s a game that’s in Early Access on Steam and as of right now you can download and try it for free. It doesn’t seem to have that big of a playerbase at the moment though, as I didn’t have much luck in finding matches when I tried it out. There are some basic arena and training areas to test and the game is being updated frequently with new tweaks and balances. Apparently the developers are aiming higher though, and have just started up a Kickstarter for the game. The video above will give you an idea about what to expect from the game, as can my impressions post. It’s basically a PvP arena with predetermined character builds with a smidge of customization options. It does sound like the developers have more in mind though. From the description:

Zeal is a 3rd person Action RPG where you don’t need to level up and gear up your characters, you just pick a class, make a build and jump right into the action!

Depending on the success of our campaign, the game will feature:

— No more placeholders, 90% of the assets will be replaced and graphics, animations, optimization and effects will be greatly improved.
— Up to 16 playable classes 
— Arena mode of 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 with ladder system
— Battlegrounds, big scale fights that ranges between 5v5 to 20v20 depending on map with interactive objectives such as Capture The Flag or Defend The Base.
— Dungeons: An action-packed PvE mode with different difficulty levels.
— Conquest Mode: A massive map with 35 teams of 2 players fighting for dominance until a last team is standing.
— Story Campaign which can be completed alone or with up to 2 friends.

One of my early complaints was that the game looked kind of crappy and the animations were pretty wonky. Apparently they are planning to update their assets, which should definitely be a step in the right direction. There were already 8 or 9 characters to choose from when I played, but looks like they are shooting for 16. I also only tried the arena mode, but they aim to add Battlegrounds, Dungeons, Conquest and a Story Campaign. So they are trying to have some PvE content as well, which is good for people who care, but I would think that if they stretch themselves too far you might get lower quality in each. They also aren’t promising all of this for their original asking price, some modes are only part of stretch goals.

As of this morning, their crowdfunding efforts have brought in $8638 of their $102,691 goal. There are 29 days remaining, but that probably doesn’t bode well. $100k isn’t that much to ask for games these days, but I don’t know that this is exactly what people want. Some players actually enjoy the grind and many don’t want a predetermined character. This mixes some of the elements of MOBAs and MMOs in my mind, where you get the MMO style gameplay but you get more of a predetermined MOBA character with which to do so. I don’t see it as being detrimental, because I don’t really enjoy the grind and I would prefer to just jump into a MMO-like PvP experience without it. It’s definitely a to each their own kind of situation, but I have my doubts they get funded without an explosion of pledges soon.

I’ll keep an eye on this and update when the campaign is over.

Thoughts on The Banner Saga 3

I’m not a huge Crowdfunding/Early Access fan, but I have participated in both gaming ideas. I’ve purchased somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Early Access games, and have seen most of those actually make it to a released state (whether or not I actually kept playing it that long). In that sort of light, Early Access sounds pretty great despite the fact that you can find plenty of terrible tales about money hungry devs that don’t finish their work. On the other side of the coin, I’ve only participated in Crowdfunding twice, using Kickstarter to back the upcoming MMO Crowfall, along with the title we’re talking about today, The Banner Saga 3.

The first two games in this series, created by indie devs Stoic Games, were also Crowdfunded, and though I bought and played through both of them, I missed out on being able to back them, so I rectified that this time around. I backed the game back in 2016 I believe it was, and it has finally released!

I started up the final chapter of the journey the other day, and I’ve already enjoyed it thoroughly. Your mileage may vary. I said it best on Twitter:

That’s really all that can be said. The game still has amazing hand drawn art, it still plays like The Oregon Trail. There are still choices, there’s still tactical combat in between the lulls in action. And the story is still intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. But if you didn’t care for the original nothing has really changed so you should probably skip it. Here’s some screens of my initial session, which could contain some spoilers.

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If you are a fan of the series, The Banner Saga 3 is on sale now on PC and Console. It’s totally worth the asking price!

Hero’s Song Kickstarter Cancelled

photo-originalHero’s Song is the new game in development from the studio created by ex-SOE/Daybreak CEO John Smedley: Pixelmage Games. Most of you probably know about the history of Smed and his dealings throughout the years, but it’s still something of a new topic so it was a fitting time to jot down some of my thoughts.

Flash back to a year ago, and Smed was still the CEO of Daybreak Games, which had recently been rebranded after being dumped by Sony and purchased by an investment firm. Their new title H1Z1 was entering Early Access, and I was an early supporter. It seemed like an MMO I could get behind, with a focus on PvP and survival. It turns out it wasn’t much of an MMO and more of a survival sandbox, and it hasn’t really turned into an MMO at this point either. I’m not disappointed by this fact, but I haven’t really played it much since the early days and even then I spent more time with the Battle Royale mode than anything else. My policy with Early Access titles is to check them out periodically to make sure they are still steadily developing, but with server wipes I don’t see much of a point in really investing the time until the game is done (or the wipes cease).

Later in the year Smed parted ways with DBG after a very public meltdown. It’s not so much that he came across as a shithead on social media, because I can totally relate to his reasoning for his outburst, but as the head of a company, unless you own it outright, you’re not going to get away with that behavior. He was cavalier about his parting ways, and I’m sure Daybreak will be fine without him (H1Z1 development seems to be trudging along, and EQ/EQII have seen some mild success with progression servers). It wasn’t too long before he announced that he had started a new studio, and that they were working on something new.

Soon, there was a Kickstarter announced for the game in question, Hero’s Song. When I first learned of the game, I took a look and was instantly interested. Naysayers were skeptical, and anti-Smed folks surely boycotted any second thought. I saw discussions on how “crappy” graphics were a turn off. No one seemed to understand the scope of the game either, but that’s partly due to the fact that not all of the information one would desire was entirely clear based on what we knew so far. This seems typical of a Kickstarter campaign, as I don’t remember knowing a whole lot about Crowfall before I backed it, but was sold on the “dying worlds” and PvP focus. I saw enough from the campaign to know that I was interested though, and I had been planning on backing it sometime before the 30 days was up. I happen to like pixel art. I love isometric action RPGs. Adding some sandbox and MMO elements would surely sweeten the pot.

In its first week, the Hero’s Song campaign raised $136,849. That’s pretty decent for a week’s worth of funding, considering there was no marketing cycle to hype the game before the campaign started (which was probably the biggest mistake made by Pixelmage). However, the company was asking for $800,000 and it was already starting to look like it wasn’t going to happen. At least, the company itself thought so:

After looking at our funding levels and the reality that we aren’t going to reach our funding goals, we’ve decided that the best thing to do is to end the Kickstarter. We sincerely appreciate all of the support we got from the backers and the Kickstarter community. This was our first Kickstarter and we made mistakes along the way. I want to acknowledge that right up front. We put a lot of time and effort into the Kickstarter, but it’s obvious missing things like physical goods hampered our efforts. It’s also fair to say because we’re early that we didn’t have enough gameplay to show the game off enough to get people over the hump.

It does appear that independent investments got them to where they want to be though, so it doesn’t really matter that the Kickstarter campaign was cancelled. They had already said that they had $1 million at their disposal before the Kickstarter went live, and estimated the 800k to be enough to finish up the game. They also had said the game would be released late this year, and though it sounded like a possibility, it was likely that goal wouldn’t be met since the likelihood is that development only started very recently. If you’re churning out a game that sounds like it is going to be this in depth in under a year, it’s probably going to be shovelware.

Wilhelm has a great break down of the reasoning behind why the Kickstarter failed and the shortcomings of their decisions leading up to it and during the process. He goes into a lot more depth than I did, but I definitely agree with much of his assessment. Syncaine just laughs at Smed doing Smed things, and as predictable as that is, I still don’t sit on the anti-Smed side of the fence. I agree with Wilhelm in that he would be a cool guy to drink a beer with and talk about games. I share Syp’s love of pixel art, and too hope that the game sees the light of day so I can try it out, because it still has piqued my interest. Good luck Pixelmage. Give us something worth playing.

Talkback Challenge #2: Early Access and Kickstarter #NBI2015

For the second NBI Talkback Challenge, the committee poses the question:

Early Access and Kickstarter: Do you support unfinished games?

A couple of years ago, my answer would have been a resounding “NO,” but times have changed. Back then I would have told you that throwing your money away was pointless. Either the project wouldn’t deliver and you’d be out your money, or you’d get access to a broken game — never to be fixed. Full of negativity, I was.

These days I have embraced both platforms, but I am picky with what I will support. I still feel like the general trend of games coming out in Early Access and then staying in perpetual Alpha or Beta stages for years is sort of ridiculous. We used to get Alpha/Beta access for free, now we pay for it. Probably the most memorable Early Access debacle for me was the $150 Landmark Alpha, but there are many more examples to choose from.

There are pros and cons to each program, and here are a few off the top of my head:

KS/EA Pros:
-Support developers making projects AAA studios won’t
-Support indie developers who can’t get big time funding
-Get access to a game before launch
-Gain backer rewards that can be worth much more than the asking price
-Provide feedback that can help shape the project

KS/EA Cons:
-Just because you backed doesn’t mean the project will be successfully funded
-Some developers tug at nostalgia strings to get your money
-Some projects are scams
-Some ideas will never come to fruition, even with successful funding
-Devs can sometimes go MIA after cashing your paycheck

Kickstarter is seemingly a safer choice because if the project isn’t funded, you never get charged. However, there have been projects like Godus and many others that were funded and then the developers go missing and/or stop updating the game. Sometimes small teams will finish these games up, or they will just release in a broken state, sad and disappointing.

My personal experiences with Early Access games are many, while my experience with Kickstarter is still on-going. I chose to back the upcoming MMO Crowfall on Kickstarter a couple of months ago, which is supposed to come with Beta access and a “free” copy of the game. However, development is barely off the ground and we probably won’t see the game until 2016 at the earliest. So I will have to get back to you on that one. Either way I’m still hyped for Crowfall, and look forward to seeing how it changes the stale MMO gameplay that has plagued us for years.

When it comes to Early Access, I believe the first game I purchased was Nuclear Throne. It’s a rogue-like shooter, and it’s a blast to play. It was a great game the day I got it, and it’s been consistently updated week by week since I purchased it a year ago. I’ve made a few videos of the game over the past year, but here’s a good run too give you and idea of what it’s all about:

I love it, but I don’t understand why they’ve let it stay in Early Access for so long. It felt done when I bought it, and it feels done now — but the devs keep adding weapons, characters, and tweaking things. Perhaps they are close, but it seems weird to be tagged as an EA game at this point.

Another game I picked up around the same time was The Forest, and longtime readers will know that I’ve gushed about that game time and again. It’s another survival game with various elements, and though they added in multiplayer, there isn’t any PvP to this point. It’s basically a more realistic looking Minecraft, with cannibals occupying the same Forest. I recommend it, as development has been steady and improvments have been great. I just hold off playing it too much because I’m waiting for it to be done, which is my policy with most Early Access games.

H1Z1 is the Early Access game that I jumped into headfirst that is probably the most controversial in my collection. For some reason it split the MMO community right in two. I was super hyped for it because I have been a long time SOE (now Daybreak) fan, and the initial hype surrounding the game made it seem like an MMO designed with me in mind. I love Zombies. I love survival horror. I love PvP. I bought it when Early Access came to Steam, and I wasn’t disappointed. But then they started wiping servers and making big changes, so I decided I’d let it sit for a while. I don’t like progress that is taken away, which is why most Alpha/Beta testing hasn’t been too appealing to me. Anyway, I’m still a fan of the game and I will continue to watch its progress.

There are a handful of other games I have on my Steam list that are tagged as Early Access, though I haven’t put much time into them:

Delver is a first person pixel-art rogue-like that Doone gifted me last year. I like it, but then a bigger team put out Ziggeraut, and it completely takes the cake. Still, Delver is a great game from a one man team, and with Steam Workshop integration, people can make mods for it. I look forward to seeing the finished product.

Broforce is a game from a developer that supported the NBI last year (Free Lives), and gave us a bunch of keys to distribute. I got my hands on one and some of us NBI folk got together to play some co-op, and it is a blast. The bros are great, the nostalgia is great, the art is awesome, and there are so many EXPLOSIONS. A fully destructible environment means each playthrough is going to be different, and multiple modes add replay-ability as well. A limited free version called the Expendabros is available on Steam as well.

I won a contest run by Isey of I Has PC earlier this year in which I gained a copy of Project Zomboid, which is another zombie survival game presented in a different way. It’s isometric and pixellated, but has a deep crafting system and some brutal difficulty. I haven’t played it as much as I would like, as I need someone more experienced in the game to give me some pointers, but it’s still a game I think would be worth supporting. There is a free demo on Steam that you can try if you’re interested.

In one of many Humble Bundles I have picked up, Prison Architect was part of the package. It wasn’t one of the games I was after in the bundle if memory serves correctly, but it is a pretty well designed game. If you are into building and management sims, this game would be right up your alley. For me, it was a bit of a learning curve because the tutorial is a little light and I haven’t played too many games in this genre, but the developers are consistently updating it, and it’s worth a look if this is your thing.

Lastly, the newest addition to my Early Access library is none other than Darkest Dungeon. Many of the people on my blogroll have picked the game up, and I haven’t read a single bad thing about it, save for not being finished. Apparently there is a portion of the game that has yet to be added, and some funny quirks about the gameplay that need to be addressed. In my couple of hours playing it, I had a blast and didn’t run into anything game-breaking. I have sort of left this one to collect dust though, as I had too many other additions to my gaming library right at the same time and it’s been on the back burner. I don’t feel so bad as it’s an unfinished game, so maybe by the time I dump more hours into it, it will be closer to done.

So I guess my answer to the original question is Yes, I support unfinished games. But as you can see, I don’t have that many of them, so I am selective with those that I choose to support. There are probably quite a few other alphas and betas that I have taken part in, but I’ll leave it at this. I don’t have the inclination to dig any deeper into my media/post libraries.

Here’s some random screens from some of the above games, just because:

#NBI2015 #talkbackchallenge #earlyaccess #kickstarter