Video Gaming in 2013 – 37 Titles I Recommend

January is historically the best time to buy video games. The following is a list of games I played in 2013 and recommend as great bang for the buck, regardless of release date, ordered from least expensive to most expensive as of 1/10/2014.

As a side note, many of the accompanying videos I’ve selected are by YouTuber Northernlion – check him out if you like reviews or let’s plays – he’s pretty entertaining.

1. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft $0 (Free to Play)

Still in beta – Blizzard – PC/MAC/iPad – World of Warcraft Themed CCG

I love collectible card games (CCGs). In table form, they can often be expensive and fiddly and tough to play with other people. Some of the most popular games (Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh) have been translated to video game form with mixed results. I haven’t really enjoyed a digital Magic title since the original Microprose version from 1997. Yu-Gi-Oh has had some decent entries, although the vast card collection and complexity of combination plays can be a little overwhelming at first. Pokemon had one Game Boy Color CCG that was ok.

Hearthstone blows them all away. It’s fast-paced and visceral. Monsters thump against each other with an audible clang, and each round offers an unavoidable escalation in play. There are different classes with unique abilities and cards that all seem pretty well-balanced. Creating decks is fast and easy. The Arena mode offers a draft tournament which is unique in my experience of digital CCGs, putting this already enjoyable card game even further ahead of its digital competition.

Also Recommend: SolForge (PC), Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Tag Force (PSP/PS2)

2. Realm of the Mad God $0 (Free to Play)

Feb 2012 – Wild Shadow Studios – PC/MAC – Online 2D MMORPG with Retro Graphics 

Realm of the Mad God is a unique entry on this list. In addition to being a roguelike, it offers fast and furious online multiplayer gameplay, quick progressions, a variety of classes, and a fun visual style. Plus, it’s completely free, so there’s really every reason to grab this on Steam and give it a shot.

3. Cursed Loot $1

Aug 2011 – Eyehook – XBLA – Roguelike Dungeon Crawl with Retro Graphics

A nice little retro-inspired indie dungeon crawl, Cursed Loot is a great value at $1. It’s tough as nails, but the gameplay is very satisfying. This one really stands out in the XBLA indie market, where it can be tough to wade through so many awful games. A gem.

4. Square Off $1

Dec 2009 – Gnomic Studios – XBLA/OUYA – Twin-stick Shooter, Multiplayer, Aliens

A fun visual style and satisfying medium-paced twin-stick shooting makes Square Off a game that I choose from my XBLA list surprisingly often. Play with or against friends as you fight off wave after wave of aliens in fun environments.

5. Wizorb $1

Sep 2011 – Tribute Games -XBLA/PSN/PC/MAC/OUYA – Arkanoid-inspired RPG-lite

If you’re a fan of iconic games like Breakthru or Arkanoid, but might enjoy a fantasy twist (kind of what Pinball Quest for the NES did to Pinball), then Wizorb might be for you. An extremely well-produced and polished indie title, Wizorb combines fast and surprisingly difficult gameplay with a fantasy setting. It’s available on almost every platform for an amazingly low price of $1.

6. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure $1

Jul 2012 – sparsevector – XBLA/PC – Hilarious and Irreverent Retro Roguelike Shooter

I love everything about Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. It’s Oregon Trail if it were produced for the Atari and were a fast-paced 2D action shooter. The randomly generated scenarios are amazing and constantly left me laughing and shell-shocked as I defended myself from a horde of hungry bears or faced the difficult decision of stealing from a group of sleeping travelers (who may or may not turn into vengeful, invincible ghosts later).

Just as you’re getting used to a scene, things will shift in confusing and exciting ways, leaving you to fend for yourself in your trek across the frontier (possibly on the back of a dinosaur). Don’t let this game’s look and humor fool you – it’s not easy and you’ll find your adventurers getting picked off one by one by the game’s many obstacles more often than not. This is a must-own at $1.

7. Dungeons of Dredmor $5

Jul 2011 – Gaslamp Games – PC/MAC – Turn-based Dungeon-crawling Roguelike

Unlike the other roguelikes on this list, Dungeons of Dredmor offers a deep, more methodical turn-based experience when diving into the depths. It has a good sense of humor, is absolutely bursting at the seams with gaming and pop culture references, and has a fairly extensive crafting system the belies the game’s simple appearance. Much deeper than it first appears, Dungeons of Dredmor is a very satisfying and fairly difficult experience at a fantastic price. You can often find it for sale on Steam for about $2.

8. The Binding of Isaac $5 + $3 Wrath of the Lamb expansion

Sep 2011 – Edmund McMillen – PC/MAC – Horrifyingly Cute Roguelike Twin-stick Psychological Dungeon-crawl

My single favorite gaming experience in the 2010s, Edmund McMillen brings to life a terrifying (but horrifically cute) story of a child’s battle with his internal (and external) demons. While the art and story may be a huge turn-off for many people, I found its dark cartoonish style to be extremely fascinating.

Regardless of how you feel about the style and story, the underlying gameplay of Isaac offers endless replayability as you explore randomly-generated floors, discover new items and item combinations, fight one of the game’s many terrifying bosses, and uncover the game’s many references, quirks and secrets. Inspired by the dungeons in the 2D Legend of Zelda titles, I just couldn’t put this game down. Be warned though, it’s tough and definitely NOT for kids.

There is a remake of this game coming to PC and consoles later this year, but the original is absolutely worth owning.

9. Hack, Slash, Loot $7

Jan 2012 – Gooey Blob – PC/MAC – Roguelike Dungeon-crawl, Retro Style, Fantasy

Hack, Slash, Loot is another roguelike dungeon delve, but is a much faster-paced, simpler version that has a fun pixelated style. I don’t recommend this quite as highly as some other games on this list, but it’s still a fun romp.

10. FTL: Faster Than Light $10

Sep 2012 – Subset Games – PC/MAC – A Turn-based Roguelike in Space, Aliens

FTL is great. Randomly-generated levels, encounters, and scenarios offer almost endless replayability as you explore space, improve your ship, and protect your crew – it’s easy to forget how long you’ve been playing FTL. It has a simple, top-down visual style, but it’s simple exterior hides a very deep and fairly complex game where you’ll often find your back against a wall.

With its myriad alien races, technology, ship designs, and weaponry, there’s much to do and see with FTL, all in about 1-hour long sessions.

11. Awesomenauts $10

May 2012 – DTP Entertainment – XBLA/PSN/PC/MAC – A fast-paced 2D Cartoon Space MOBA

Awesomenauts is, well… awesome. It also wins the “Wait, how long have I been playing this again?” award for its ability to make me lose track of time. If you like League of Legends or Dota 2, or think you’d like them if you could get past their rather large learning curves, Awesomenauts might be for you.

It’s a team-base tower defense game where 3 members of opposing teams are trying to break into the opposing base and destroy the power core. The art is fun and cartoony, the combat is fast and satisfying, and the classes are varied and balanced, with each class having multiple viable loadouts. The online matchmaking works well and the single-player AI bouts are just as fun, if a bit on the easy side. This is an extremely underrated title, and easily one of my favorites.

Also Recommend: Dota 2, League of Legends

12. Jamestown $10

Jun 2011 – Final Form Games, LLC – PC/MAC Bullet Hell Space Western for 1-4 players

Jamestown is a great entry in the long list of bullet hell shooters, and holds its own with some of the genre’s heavyweights. Set in 17th Century colonial Mars, you can blast your way through a horde of enemies using a variety of steampunk weaponry. Fair warning, what Jamestown lacks in length, it more than makes up for in difficulty. This game is HARD.

Also Recommend: Ikaruga

13. Nuclear Throne $13

Oct 2013 – Vlambeer – PC – 2D Roguelike Shooter, Apocalypse, Mutants.

Set in a nuclear wasteland, you play as one of several adorable cartoon mutants vying for power as you collect modern weaponry and lay waste to anything and everything. Randomly-generated maps and a fun skill tree system makes the experience different every time.

14. Darksiders $14 new / $5 used

Jan 2010 – Vigil Games, THQ – X360/PS3/PC – God of War meets 3D Zelda

And finally, the first ‘AAA’ console game on the list. Darksiders marries the weapons and combat of God of War with the dungeon puzzling and items of the 3D Zelda titles, while doing neither very originally. While in some places it feels like a blatant rip-off of those very similar titles (boomerang or hookshot, anyone?), it does blend them in what I thought was a pretty satisfying way. War as a character is pretty uninteresting, and that holds the story back a little, but not enough to prevent me from enjoying the game.

I enjoyed playing this one through and trying to find all the secrets. Overall, a game with some flaws probably not worth its original price, but a deal at $10-15.

Also Recommend: Devil May Cry Series, God of War Series, Bayonetta, 3D Zelda Games

15. Spelunky $15

Jul 2012 – Derek Yu, Microsoft Games Studio – XBLA/PC/PSN – Roguelike Platformer

Ah Spelunky. In my mind, Spelunky is the epitome of ‘more than meets the eye’. On the surface, Spelunky is a simple cartoonish platformer, that while functional and a bit challenging, might not seem that deep or interesting. Boy, that could not be more wrong. Spelunky has layers and layers of strategy and secrets revealed through emergent gameplay and experimentation. It doesn’t hold your hand, and its ridiculous depth will leave you scratching your head when you learn about everything this game has to offer. A must-play.

The original freeware version is still available, but the updated graphics and gameplay really add a lot to the experience.

16. Rogue Legacy $15

Jun 2013 – Cellar Door Games – PC/MAC/PSN – Generational Roguelike Platformer

You may have noticed there are a lot of roguelikes and roguelike-likes on this list, but I’ve really come to appreciate the depth and replayability of these kinds of games. Rogue Legacy is unique among those others in this list in that it offers a 2D metroidvania experience while also allowing you to carry your progress from one run to future runs in the form of upgrades and equipment that are passed on from generation to generation.

In addition, each generation offers its own selection of classes and positive and negative genetic traits, so it’s quite likely your paladin suffers from gigantism, will be colorblind and shout obscenities every time he/she is injured. Great game and well worth the price of admission.

17. The Stanley Parable $15

Oct 2013 – Davey Wreden, Galactic Cafe – PC/MAC – An Imaginative First-person Experience

The Stanley Parable is a tough game to qualify. It’s a clever first-person experience that you will either love and appreciate or immediately hate. I’m in the former category, enjoying every bit of the 5 or so hours it took me to find most of this game’s twists and turns. A dapper narrator takes you on an incredible journey as you explore the world of Stanley, a boring office worker charged with doing a very repetitive job.

One day everything changes, and Stanley is tasked with finding out what’s happened to his coworkers. What follows is one of the craziest, scariest, and downright fantastic experiences that has come out in a while. If you don’t want to pay full price, at least download and play through the standalone demo, which is worth playing in and of itself, even if you have the full game already.

18. Dishonored $15/$11

Oct 2012 – Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks – X360/PS3/PC – A Heavy, Stealthy FPS

I’m a big fan of the original Thief games, and aside from Batman: Arkham Asylum or the first Metal Gear Solid game, I haven’t been very satisfied with stealth in a console game, – certainly not in an FPS. Dishonored got things mostly very right with this title, allowing you to choose stealth or combat in most situations, and allowing for multiple paths to success in each scenario. I loved lurking in the shadows listening to conversations the guards were having, or using one of my Bioshock-like abilities to sneak around. This game seemed to fly by. A steal at less than $15.

Fair warning, the plot is a bit depressing – I needed to cleanse the palate with some Viva Pinata (see below) before I could go back to another heavy-handed game.

Also Recommend:Thief: The Dark Project

19. Dust: An Elysian Tale $15

Aug 2012 – Humble Hearts, Microsoft Game Studios – X360/PC – Beautiful Metroidvania

Dust is very, very pretty – a vibrant and completely engrossing world that I really got caught up in. It’s all beautifully hand-drawn, and the fluid animations really bring Dust and the other inhabitants of his world to life. A combat-centric metroidvania that stands up to games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Dust is a fun game to explore and fight in. My only tiny complaints are the voice-acting of the two main protagonists, which for some reason kind of irritated me, and a pretty limited crafting system.

Also Recommend:Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metroid, Super Metroid, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

20. Super Meat Boy $15

Oct 2010 – Team Meat – X360/Wii/PC/MAC – Fast, Difficult and Irreverent Platformer

Super Meat Boy is a balls-to-the-wall, ultra-difficult, irreverent, gross, and refreshing modern platformer that somehow makes it ok to fail at something a million times in a row. I love playing through this game, and there was so much to do and see that it seldom got old. Yeah, failing is tough, but this game puts you right back on your feet with no time to worry about it. A very challenging but rewarding game.

Also Recommend:I Wanna Be the Guy

21. Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit $15

Sep 2012 – Arkedo Studio, Sega – XBLA/PSN/PC

Hell Yeah got a bit of a bad wrap when it came out, but I really liked its quirky sense of humor and satisfying gameplay. A metroidvania with a few twists, Hell Yeah focuses on finding creative ways to dispatch boss monsters while progressing/backtracking through it’s various creative environments. I enjoyed every minute of it.

22. Demon’s Souls $17/$12

Oct 2009 – From Software / ATLUS – PS3

23. Dark Souls $20/$15

Oct 2011 – From Software / Namco Bandai Games America – X360/PS3/PC

While not technically the same series, From Software’s two Souls games have garnered a large following and earned reputations as two of the most difficult games ever made. While fairly different games, they both share a very similar style – minimalistic (yet detailed) storytelling, a complete lack of player hand-holding, detailed and interesting environments, huge and difficult bosses, intricate combat, and gobs and gobs of style and lore.

I absolutely love these games, and while they can take some getting used to, sticking with them until you start to uncover their depth and complexity is supremely rewarding. Dark Souls in particular was, in my opinion, the best game I played this year.

24. Valkyria Chronicles $19/$14

Nov 2008 – Sega – PS3

The second PS3 exclusive on this list (after Demon’s Souls), Valkyria Chronicles took the turn-based overhead strategy of games like Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics and turned in into a full-blown gorgeous 3D strategy game with interesting characters and immersive gameplay.

Also Recommend:Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle Series, Fire Emblem Series

25. Recettear $20

Sep 2010 – EasyGameStation, Carpe Fulgur – PC

What is it like being the owner of a shop in an RPG? Recettear explores that world and more in this PC-only title. While it feels a little unpolished, this game provides a neat spin to the normal dungeon-crawling RPG. Don’t worry, aside from managing a store, you do get to explore dungeons for more loot, providing two distinct and interesting gameplay experiences.

26. The Walking Dead $25 + $5 for 400 Days

Dec 2012 – Telltale Games – X360/PS3/PC/OUYA

27. The Wolf Among Us $25

Oct 2013 – Telltale Games – PC/MAC/X360/PS3

If you like an immersive, riveting story, than either of these series from Telltale Games could really appeal to you. Both are no-holds-barred looks into the world of Zombies and downtrodden fairy tale characters, respectively, and the twists and turns in each story are shocking and incredible. Scary, dark, and exciting, I’m looking forward to Season 2 of The Walking Dead and the rest of The Wolf Among Us to come out during the rest of 2014.

28. Bioshock Infinite $35/$20

Mar 2013, Irrational Games, 2K Games, X360/PS3/PC/MAC

Ah, now we’re getting into a few more current AAA titles. As a big fan of System Shock 2 and the original Bioshock (I have yet to play Bioshock 2), I was looking forward to this game for over a year. I don’t often get too excited for new releases, but this was a clear exception.

There are a lot of mixed feelings out there on this game, but even with my high expectations and year-long anticipation, Bioshock Infinite really delivered for me. I was completely immersed in the world of Columbia, and the floating city never ceased to capture my imagination and not let go. Yeah, maybe the story is a little convoluted, but that didn’t stop me from being completely enthralled the entire way as I ricocheted from skyline to skyline with glee. A steal at $20 or less.

29. Diablo 3 $43/$30

Sep 2013, Blizzard Entertainment, X360/PS3/PS4/PC/MAC

I’ve been playing the Diablo series since it first came out, and it remains one of my favorite series (if not my favorite) to this day. While I enjoyed the PC release of Diablo 3, I was a little underwhelmed overall, and after one playthough as a Monk I let it sort of fade into the background.

The console release changed all of that for me. Suddenly design decisions that I thought were odd on the PC made perfect sense on the console, and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to keep exploring and looting the world with other character classes and find out what secrets the higher difficulty levels may be hiding. Getting this for around $30 is a no-brainer, although I happily paid full price (which I don’t often do).

30. WindWaker HD $48/$40

Sep 2013 – Nintendo – Wii U

31. Super Mario 3D World $60/$52

2013 – Nintendo – Wii U

I’m grouping these together, since I think most people know what these are at this point. I bought a Wii U last month, and I have no regrets. These two titles, along with Monster Hunter 3, Tank! Tank! Tank!, and Earthbound on Virtual Console have made me happy that I’m along for the ride, and many quality titles are coming out in 2014. The Wii U gets a bad rap (probably deservedly so), but I’m having fun with mine.


The Best of the Backlog:

Paranautical Activity ($10, Sep 2013, CodeAvarice, PC/MAC)

Papers, Please ($10, Aug 2013, Lucas Pope, 3909, PC/MAC)

La Mulana ($15, Jul 2012, GR3 Project / Asterizm Co., Ltd, PC/Wii Ware)

Don’t Starve ($15, Apr 2013, Klei Entertainment, PC/MAC/PSN)

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons ($15, Aug 2013, Starbreeze, 505 Games, X360/PS3/PC)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($16/$10, Oct 2012, Firaxis Games, 2K Games, X360 PS3 PC/MAC)

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch ($20, Jan 2013, Level 5, Namco Bandai Games America, PS3)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds ($40, Nov 2013, Nintendo, 3DS)


Special Bonus Section – Xbox 360 Blasts From the Past:

32. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts $20 used

Nov 2008 – Rare Ltd., Microsoft Game Studios -X360

I already wrote about this game here, and I still stand by it. A great, kid-friendly game that will get the creative juices flowing. It looks to have gone up in price a bit since my last review, so you may want to wait until it gets back in the $10 range.

33. Viva Pinata $5-10 used

Nov 2006 – Rare Ltd., Microsoft Games Studio – X360/PC

I picked up a digital version of this over Christmas break for $7.50, and it proceeded to consume almost 2 full days of my vacation. A unassuming title, Viva Pinata combines the Sims with Pokemon to create a fun and organic world that seems to live and breathe on its own. A nice change of pace to some of the heavier games on this list, but no less enthralling.

34. Alice: Madness Returns $20

Jun 2011 – Spicy Horse, EA, X360/PS3/PC

A dark and pretty twisted take on Alice in Wonderland, Alice: Madness Returns had some of the most amazing settings I’ve ever seen in a video game. It was a real pleasure to jump around the environment, exploring for hints about the story and characters. My only complaint was that the game seems to constantly set up epic boss fights, only to disappoint with a cutscene that resolves itself instead on all but the final level. I get the impression these boss fights were scrapped due to time constraints, but it wasn’t enough to detract from my experience.

35. Earth Defense Force 2017 $15 used

Mar 2007 – Sandlot, D3Publisher – X360

One of my all-time favorite games – a B-movie sci-fi adventure in a disc. Go it alone or with local co-op, this game allows you to fire rockets at UFOs and light gigantic spiders on fire in a chaotic, glee-inducing frenzy that will keep you coming back for more.

36. Lost Odyssey $16 used

Feb 2008 – Mistwalker, Microsoft Games Studio – X360

Unlike most modern RPGs, Lost Odyssey sticks with the tried and true traditions of turn-based battles and many other classic elements, but makes stunning improvements to the graphics that those games usually have. A real throwback to the days of retro-RPGs, this is the best (but hopefully not the last) modern turn-based RPG.

37. Nier $20 used

Apr 2010 – Cavia Inc., Square Enix – X360 PS3

While I long for the days of turn-based RPGs, once in a while a new one will come around that experiments with (or even tosses away) the formula for the better. Nier is one such game. While an RPG, there are elements of bullet hell shooters, rhythm games, and other non-traditional genres here, making Nier one of the most creative RPGs I have ever played.

Soup and Duck Play: FlowerFall

The Game

FlowerFall is a card-dropping, garden-building, physics-defying throwdown by Carl Chudyk and published by Asmadi Games. We’ve played the 2 to 5-player version (the pre-release copy printed for Origins 2012) from Asmadi Games but until 11:59 PM on July 20 you can Kickstart a 2 to 7 player version for $15.

Germination

In FlowerFall, you and your opponents drop flower cards onto a playing surface consisting of four randomly placed starting gardens. By strategically (or luckily) choosing to throw either flowers in your color or green flowers, you grow gardens and contend for control of the rapidly expanding greenspace. A game can be as long or short as the players make it, but the average game plays in less than 20 minutes, even with 5 players. Scoring can sometimes take longer than actual game play. The winner of the game is the gardener who has control of the most green flowers (1 point per visible yellow center) at the end of the game.

Full Bloom

The Setup


Setup couldn’t be easier – just fling the four starting garden cards anywhere. On the floor, on the table, on the beach, on the dog – wherever. For our simple game, we’re standing up and using a knee-level ottoman to make things tougher. This way we can adjust the difficulty later using our ceiling fan and add random cat interference.

Duck will throw first (she’s pink), while I’ll toss second (blue).

Round 1


Duck: So that could have gone better.  I blame it on the ceiling fan…
Soup: Not quite what I was going for, but a solid start controlling 7 plants. I’m feeling ok about this so far.
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 7

Round 2


Duck: My second throw is a little better.  I’m barely holding on to four points but it’s still enough to get on the board this round.
Soup: Trying to break up Duck’s little floral empire, I miss my mark, but end up with some hope of controlling the west later. Didn’t really help myself with this throw, but feeling ok.
Current Score: Duck 4, Soup 7

Round 3


Duck: I, ahem, actually… um, meant to do that.  Yup.  (Not really.)  This game is going swimmingly and Soup’s starting to pick up speed.  I’m sticking to the whole ceiling fan thing.
Soup: Now we’re gardening with fire! Duck’s throw ends up in the void and I take control of westgardenland.
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 11

Round 4


Duck: If I can’t get the pink flowers to stick, maybe the green ones will magically float the way I want them to.  I wanted the card I threw – the near center card of green flowers – to actually make friends with the three-flower garden I had in the back.  You’re welcome in advance for those points, sweetie.
Soup: Duck covered one of my blue flowers with a normal green flower card, so I try to get it back while cutting off her other pink flowers from the main garden that’s forming in the center. Feeling good about life right about now.
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 15

Round 5


Duck: I’m frustrated.  Soup’s running away with the points and I’m, well, not, so I’m actually just chucking cards at the big garden developing in the bottom of the picture.  Thankfully, I cover two blue flowers – a fleeting moment of victory.
Soup: Duck flops another point card over my flowers, taking two out of the equation – so I try to get then back and succeed with a gardener’s fist-pump.
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 18

Round 6


Duck: At times like these, back up against the wall, I try to rely on crafty strategy to get out of a tight spot.  If you believe that, I have a lovely bridge and some land to show you too. In all honesty, this was just a throw that landed well.  I was really trying to get away from the mess and start a new garden.
Soup: Duck flops a nice card in the middle of the big garden, so I stupidly try to land exactly on her card and miss – absurdly covering up 5 points in the garden I controlled. D’oh!
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 11

Round 7


Duck:  So far, one garden has remained untouched.  I’m trying to get control of those points so I at least have something to work with.  My misjudged throw doesn’t exactly help me on that front, but it does add some confusion to the growing middle garden.  I think I may have tied it up.
Soup: DISASTER! After Duck lands a money card smack in the middle of the garden covering up my flowers, adding three of hers to the mix and evening up control (no one gets the points), my card lands in the middle of nowhere in the top-left. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach now.
Current Score: Duck 0, Soup 1

Round 8


Duck: I really want to get out of the mess in the middle so, of course, that is exactly where my next card lands.  I’m starting to think this game is going to be won by the mysterious third player: Ceiling Fan.
Soup: Duck is starting to exert some control and makes her own garden, so I try to fling more flowers and keep the huge central garden going. I’d imagine this is just like real gardening.
Current Score: Duck 3, Soup 6

Round 9


Duck: Two cards left.  It’s close.  I’m torn between trying to break away in a small garden or to keep fighting for control of the middle.  Apparently, my cards want to fight.  (And I should have paid more attention in physics.)
Soup: Duck eliminates another of my flowers while I somehow manage up to cover up two more of my own with more points. That hurt. I’m starting to think Duck has destiny on her side. I try to lure a cat over with a treat in desperation, but it doesn’t work.
Current Score: Duck 3, Soup 1

Finale


Duck: I’m going all in, with a Hail Mary drop to hopefully win it all.  Based on the meager gains I make (only covering one flower) it’s going to come down to the final drop.
Soup: As the final card falls to the ground, it of course lands in the worst possible location, covering up what little hope I had, and connecting the gardens together in one very green pile of defeat, narrowly avoiding the shutout. I am humiliated as a gamer and a florist, and may never recover.
Final Score: Duck 22, Soup 1

Sunset

Soup Says: This particular play with Duck was rough, but I still highly recommend FlowerFall. It’s cheap, fun, and with the new version can play up to 7 players of all ages. My only gripe is that the scoring can get a little thorny, and can take longer than the actual game itself, but it wasn’t annoying enough to overcome the fun I’ve had with it every time. It’s a breath of fresh air for me and would be a great addition to any collection. I also can’t help but think it would make a good drinking game somehow.

Duck Says: In real life, I don’t have a green thumb at all. I’ve killed kitchen counter herb gardens, an African violet, and even a shrub in our front yard (who knew shrubs didn’t like being repeatedly front-ended by the car?). Apparently, this carries over to real life. I’m no good at this game. In the handful of times we’ve played, I’ve won twice (including this game) and I can’t tell you how I did it either time. I can’t play strategically – laws of physics and aerodynamics will inevitably get in my way – so I’m left with luck which also doesn’t always turn out in my favor.

I struggle with the balance of strategy and luck in this game. If I’m going to lose to Soup, I’d rather it be because I did something ridiculous rather than because I misjudged wind speed or something like that. At the same time, I love the chaotic scoring and the ability of the game to change so quickly. Yes, I might drop cards badly but there’s no guarantee anyone else will drop well all ten times… I haven’t had a disappointing experience playing and every group we’ve played with has had tons of fun and been pleasantly surprised. This is an awesome quick game, a great game for young gamers, and a funny game after something thinky. There is a significantly challenging and delightfully refreshing experience in this little box.

We Say: If FlowerFall sounds rosy to you, hop over to Kickstarter and pledge your support.  The campaign ends on July 20.

A Soup Quickie – Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

I’m not 100% sure why I’m writing this – I can’t say I’ve ever been compelled to write anything about video games before, and certainly not about Banjo freaking Kazooie. This time, though, I was watching a video game review on YouTube (This One), and it’s the first time I’d seen a negative review that actually made me want to try a game. I know that sounds weird, but the whole time the reviewer was making fun of it for not being enough like the first two games, I noticed how the game looked like fun. It let you build your own vehicles, Lego-style (cars, boats, planes, rockets, hovercraft, a rock w/springs stuck to it – whatever), and had a strange Super Mario 64 meets Crazy Taxi meets Lego Racers feel to it.

To cut to the chase, I eventually found this game for $7, brand new, and it’s completely caught me by surprise. The story is stupid, but who cares – the environments are breathtaking, original, and surprisingly vast, the challenges can get pretty creative, and building your own cars (complete with engines, guns, paint, and bling) is amazingly fun. I can’t stress how fun the vehicle making can be – while maybe a little advanced for small kids, it inspired such creations as the KillDozer, the Jingo-Flingo, the HeliFort, and Tank-o-mid – which are exactly as amazing as they sound.

The game is surprisingly robust – it starts off pretty simple, but quickly ramps up as you find new vehicle parts around town or in the shop. As you collect MacGuffins (Jiggies in this case), more and more levels and challenges open up. Some are straightforward races by car, plane, or boat, while others function more like puzzles and can get pretty wild. The hub world offers it’s own challenges with finding hidden part crates and unlocking new levels as you explore every nook and cranny in the town. It’s a perfect game for me because I can play for 15 minutes, pass a few challenges or build a blimp, and then save and go do something else. It’s a little refreshing after being buried in 100-hour game after game (Skyrim, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, etc).

This game isn’t without a few flaws. It can be a little frustrating at times if you don’t build the right vehicle or have enough parts right away. It’s easy to get lost in some levels (especially the Terrarium of Terror), and a few of the challenges are REALLY hard. It can be difficult to find some part crates or treasures that are well-hidden without a FAQ. Some of the levels, because they are so big, do feel a little empty – there are only a few characters to talk to in each world. But I consider these pretty minor gripes for a game that allows you to build a Batmoboat.

So forget the negative hype – this game is a ton of fun and is family safe (which is rare enough on the XBOX as it is). It’ll keep your wheels turning and the creative juices flowing, and it’s way cheaper than even most XBLA games these days ($7!). If you like Legos, newer Mario Games, racing, flying, or just exploration – check it out!

Revolver: The Wild West Gunfighting Game – A Duck/Soup Board Game Review

We’re not receiving any compensation for this review. It’s the Wild West, pardners, and it’s every game for itself!

Welcome to the inaugural Duck/Soup Game Review! We hope our perspective on gaming for two can help you decide what to bring to your gaming table.

Who We Are

Soup is an experienced boardgamer and fledgling playtester while Duck is a novice gamer who prefers cooperative gaming and never likes anything on the first play.

The Game

Mark Chaplin’s Revolver is a 2011 release from Stronghold Games that we discovered at Origins 2012. It goes for $25-$30 and plays in around 20 minutes once you have the rules down.

The Scuttlebutt (Quick Take)

Revolver is a crazy back-and-forth 2-player shoot-em-up that will keep tension high as wild swings occur between the ambiguously good lawmen and the sympathetic band of villains. It has a high punk factor and severe unpredictability – give this one a few plays on each side before deciding if it’s for you.

The Whole Kit and Caboodle (Components)


The 2 decks, 16 character cards, 7 battlefield cards, tokens, turn marker, border blocks, and rulebook are packaged in a tin.

Duck Says: We love a well-organized box! It can take a minute to learn to read the cards but the iconography is generally clear and the flavor text, particularly card names, is rich with the best of the Old West.

Soup Adds: The tin is pretty awesome, and stores everything perfectly with a great hinged lid. The well-drawn cards are easy to shuffle, play well with the theme, and feel like they’ll hold up to some abuse.

Theme

We Agree: This game really does play like you’re in a good ol’ fashioned gunfight. It’s chaotic, unpredictable, and there is a lot of luck involved. As the outlaws, you really feel like you are on the run, doing everything you can to delay the lawmen as you make your way to the train and watch fellow gang members fall one by one. As the sheriff, you feel like a hunter, breaking through the outlaws defenses while picking the gang off.

The art is great, the characters have backstories in the rulebook that make you question which side is actually good, and there is a ton of flavor.

Ease to learn

Soup Says: Setup is quick and easy, although you need a decent amount of room as the outlaws. It’s almost best just to jump right into a game with the rulebook and just start playing, learning as you go. There are some specific cards that need clarification, but the rulebook does an ok job with most of them, despite some flaws. The game definitely takes a few plays on each side before you can formulate any real strategy, as the two sides play very differently (and almost oppositely).

Duck Says: I have an extremely low tolerance for rules-learning, something that, as Soup has pointed out, is contrary to learning a new game but the rulebook satisfied even my demanding threshold. That said, it was much harder for me to learn to play the Outlaws– aided, I think, by the caveat that the Outlaws have only three spots to place cards in each battle while the Law has unlimited places. But it seems that the Outlaws can develop a specific strategy and commit to it while the Law is incredibly dependent on the luck of the deck.

Game Setup

Setup for Revolver is really easy. Five unique battlefield cards are placed between the players in a specific order. These cards serve as the game’s timer, and provide changing benefits to the Outlaws. Finally, the Derail the Train card is placed near the train and the Mexican Border card, which starts off buried in 12 wooden blocks, is placed on the Outlaw’s side of the table.

The Law and the Outlaws each receive and shuffle a unique deck and the Outlaws keep track of the Colty gang using 16 unique character cards played in front of them.

The Lawmen win if they can kill the entire gang before they reach the final spot on the train or if they kill the Outlaw Cortez before the train departs. The Outlaws win if either Crow survives the final round on the train or all blocks are removed from the Mexican Border card. Play begins with the Outlaws and goes back and forth until one of the win conditions is met.

Gameplay Example

This game, Duck is playing the Outlaws and Soup is playing the Lawmen. Each player draws 5 cards.

Example Round 1: Repentance Spring Bank

Outlaw Turn

Duck Says: The last time we played, Soup theorized that the key to winning as the Outlaws is knowing when to keep cards back, so I’m going to test his theory. My primary goal for this game is to win by surviving the train battle.

After drawing cards, I have two I know I need to hold onto – The Jackson Clan (a +5 free play on the train) and a card that will remove a blocker played by the Law. I need to keep these, and enough additional cards so that if I’m forced to discard, these two will be safe. I play a Yellow Boy Rifle (bring the Outlaws power to +2), discarding a card. I also play a card to advance the clock one round. Not the start I was hoping for…

Lawmen Turn

Soup Says: After drawing two cards, the pickings are a little slim. I have 2 blockers, but I only need to have three total power to kill an Outlaw this turn. I play both blockers, one at each of two future battlefields. Then I play a Deputy (+2) and a Bounty Hunter (+1 and draw a card), giving me the 3 power I need.

The turn ends, and since the Lawmen are up 3-2, one of the gang members at level zero dies. Sorry, Bullet…

Gang members are killed in order from lowest to highest, with the Outlaw player able to choose which member is removed and taking the appropriate penalty or bonus as instructed on the Outlaw card.

This particular game ended up being very close, with the Outlaws eventually narrowly escaping with the loot.

Duck Adds: Hand management was particularly important for both sides, perhaps slightly more for the Outlaws, but having the right cards to counter Law actions helped me. Like an Old West gunfight, the game became about knowing when to make a move and when to concede a lower-level gang member in order to help advance the game.

Will this gunfight leave your partner giving you the mitten?

Soup Says: You bet your saddlebags it will. Almost every card you play will affect your opponent negatively in some way. Thematically, this makes a lot of sense, but it can be pretty stressful, especially as the outlaws. Go into this one knowing that the punk factor is severe – it can be tough to stay cool when you feel threatened.

It takes a few plays to get the hang of the back and forth nature of the game. It moves fast and doesn’t pull any punches, but each new setting provides a sort of soft reset for each side to gather its bearings. The game can feel pretty unfair at times, but stick with it, as extreme swings in momentum can occur with every shot fired.

People with short tempers or who are sore losers are better off playing the lawmen, as it’s easy to feel cornered as the outlaws.

Duck Says: As a competitive 2-person game, the only other person to target is your partner and, depending on the luck of draw, it can really feel as if the other person is single-handedly ganging up on you (no pun intended). But the game can also turn on a card, so stick it out (up?): commit to the shoot out theme, and to the possibility of the next card being the one you need to turn the battlefield in your favor.

This is definitely easier said than done, though, in a game driven by luck. In one of the two games we played to actually make it to the train, I really thought I had the Outlaws cornered. But a few well-pulled plays, and a subsequent drop in my own luck, meant Jack “the Crow” Colty was safely headed out of town and Ned McReady was dead twice over.

An early-ending game can be as much about the cards you draw as the strategy you use, so don’t be discouraged and just reshuffle, redraw, and replay.

Is Revolver a game to ride with river with?

Duck Says: I think it will be. Admittedly, it’s kind of a downer to reach a point in a game where you know you don’t have the cards to prevent the other side from running away with the win but repeated play has given me the opportunity to see the value of a good strategy (and that uneven games appear to be rare). I can definitely see this on the table when we want to play a game put don’t have a ton of time to commit. It’s becoming more fun as we both become more adept and is much more fun when the game is close, as it was the last time we played, than when one side runs away with it all.

Soup Says: Heck yes! Just go into it with the right disposition, and this game is a blast. It’s not really made for the sensitive, overly thinky, or angry, sore-loser types. But if you want a wild, luck-of-the-draw, violently swinging shootout that plays very quickly, then this might be right up your alley.

The State of Games, Episode 22

Check me and Jacki out on Dice Hate Me’s podcast, The State of Games Episode 22 – The One About Two Pairs!

The blurb:

Sometimes when you’re gaming, it’s better to be sitting back with an easy pair than dealing with cleaning up after a full house – if you know what we’re saying; and if you listen to this podcast you’ll certainly get the reference. So grab your significant other, pour a glass of your house finest and let The State of Games bring you closer together. You’re welcome.