Giant Bomb Unplugged - Part 2: Deadly Diseases, in Space

Giant Bomb Unplugged, a.k.a TheBeast's Introduction to Board Games is a blog series intended to introduce the Giant Bomb community to board gaming. I'll try to introduce a couple of games in every edition, hopefully there'll be something that interests you somewhere. Enjoy!

For this board game post, I tried to pick a few games out of my collection that are more likely to appeal to the video-gamey audience here on GB. We've got outbreaks of deadly viruses, and spaceships, what more could you ask for?

Pandemic

Designer: Matt Leacock, Publisher: Z-Man Games

Pandemic is a little different from what you might expect from a modern board game in that it’s entirely co-operative. Working together with up to 3 other players, your team tries to beat the ‘board’ by eradicating the world of four diseases which are constantly spreading, causing outbreaks and general creating chaos all over the map.Each player starts by being given a role which give that player a special ability; from the Medic’s ability to quickly heal a country of all disease, to the Scientist, who has an easier time discovering cures for each disease. While this doesn’t limit what each player can ultimately do, you’re probably going to want to play to everyone’s specialities.

Every turn, a player will draw new cards from the player card pile and take a certain number of actions, ranging from moving around, treating disease, or discovering a cure (as long as you have the right number of cards matching the diseases’ colour) - which will make it easier to treat, and eventually cause the disease to stop reappearing altogether. If you end up depleting the player card pile before you’ve managed to complete your goal of finding cures for all four diseases, you’re defeated.

Players will end each of their turns by playing as the board - drawing a number of infection cards and adding the disease to the cities shown on each card. If at any point a single city has more than 3 disease cubes, an outbreak occurs, resulting in the disease spreading to each adjacent city - bad news not only because it’s more to clean up, but because it puts you one step closer to the end of the outbreak track, once you hit the end, you’re defeated.

One final hurdle thrown in the mix is the ‘Epidemic’ cards mixed in to the player cards (You have the option of using up to 6 Epidemic cards, depending on how difficult you want the game to be.).

When these are drawn, a major outbreak of disease occurs and all the cities that have previously been infected are added back to the top of the infection card pile - meaning you’re going to have to be extra careful that these cities don’t outbreak. Not to mention that every two Epidemic cards that you draw, the game gets more difficult by ramping up the amount of cities that are infected each turn.Pandemic is an absolute blast to play - you’ll have to plan carefully, discuss (or argue) tactics with your group, and still end up feeling panicked about the imminent chance of an outbreak. Each game plays differently - sometimes you’ll lose control of the situation and get completely overwhelmed, at which point the game turns in to a chaotic rush to cure diseases before they take over. Other times you’ll be in perfect control the whole way through and feel like a total badass by the end.

Expansions: Although Pandemic has enough re-playability to last you quite some time, the ‘On the Brink’ expansion adds more roles and more challenges that you can mix in to the game for a different experience. There’s also a variant in which one player plays as the ‘bio-terrorist’, trying to spread disease while the others try to stop him.

Players: Between 2 and 4 players with the base game, On the Brink adds support for a 5th player. The game works great with any amount, although I’d say that 5 might be a bit too many. Seeing as there’s no hidden information in the game, it’s also a relatively decent solo game, although you do miss out on the banter of playing with others.

Recommended for: If you like co-ordinating strategies, working as a group and don’t mind a slightly stressful experience at times, this is an excellent choice. It’s also a good option for families that want to play a great game that doesn’t end in someone sulking by the end of the evening.

Alien Frontiers

Designer: Tory Niemann, Publisher: Clever Mojo Games

As small a market as board games are at the moment, there’s still room for ‘indie’ games that aren’t published by the larger game publishers (Days of Wonder, Rio Grande, Z-Man). Funded by a Kickstarter project which tripled its funding goal, reaching almost $15,000 in June 2010, Alien Frontiers is an indie success story which turned out to be a pretty great game too.In Alien Frontiers, each player has a set of coloured die symbolising your fleet of ships. On your turn, you roll your die and place each one on an ‘Orbital Facility’ around the beautifully designed board. Each Orbital Facility has different requirements for what die rolls can be placed there to activate their unique abilities. For example; the Shipyard allows you to purchase a new ship (dice) as long as you have enough resources and can place two die of equal value on it. The Raider’s Outpost requires three die of sequential values (e.g. 2, 3 and 4) but allows you to steal resources or Alien Technology cards from other players.

Using each facility will gain you resources, ways to trade those resources for valuable skills, and ways to just get in the way of your opponents. Whatever you do, they’re all there to serve to help you get colonies on the planet in the middle of the game board. The player with the most colonies on a planet segment (each named after a Sci-Fi writer; from the Asimov Crater to the Heinlein Plains) earns that segments’ special ability - usually the ability to exert some influence over an Orbital Facility, making their use of that facility more efficient.

Each colony placed, each segment controlled and each special Alien Monument card owned gives the player a victory point - the first to reach the end of the victory point track wins the game.The simple yet creative mechanics, along with the excellent art, design and production quality of Alien Frontiers make this a really easy one to recommend.

Players: Works well with 2 - 4 players. The game scales depending on your player count - so a 2 player game will only use certain slots at each Orbital Facility to make sure there’s still competition over who can use what facilities.

Recommended for: Fans of Sci-Fi will particularly enjoy the theme and artwork, but it’s really a game that anyone can enjoy.

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Are there any board games you like to play? What would you like to see covered in a blog post? Let me know!

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Giant Bomb Unplugged - Part 1: Ticket to Ride, Dominion

Giant Bomb Unplugged, a.k.a TheBeast's Introduction to Board Games is a blog series intended to introduce the Giant Bomb community to board gaming. I'll try to introduce a couple of games in every edition, hopefully there'll be something that interests you somewhere. Enjoy!

You’ve played Monopoly. You’ve experienced the seven hour campaign to take over Mayfair, that one perfectly nice person that turns in to a raging lunatic when confronted with the opportunity to deprive you of fake money, and the moment the game ends when your dog decides the only way to return some civility to the group is to go Godzilla on your Chance cards.

Chances are, you’ve not played a board game since then. Video games are way better anyway, right? Why mess about with cardboard and plastic when you can get way more engaging content on your TV screen? If all you’ve ever played is Monopoly, then I forgive you, that opinion is probably warranted.

The reality is, there’s a whole load of board games out there that are just as engaging, interesting and more social than any video game - and you owe it to yourself to tear yourself away from your TV for a few hours, crack open a few beers and sit around with your friends/family and give them a go. Here’s a few you might want to start with.

Ticket to Ride

Designer: Alan R. Moon, Publisher: Days of Wonder

This is one you might have heard of before; perhaps from a past TNT, from the Tested crew or otherwise, unsurprising considering this is one of the most popular modern board games around.

Having been dealt a set of Destination Tickets at the start of the game, your goal in Ticket to Ride is to place your own-coloured trains so that they create a link between the cities shown on your tickets. Your opponents are trying to do the same (with their own set of tickets) - if you’re keeping an eye on them, you might be able to guess where they’re going next and foil their plans.

Playing trains requires revealing a set of coloured cards that match the section of track you’re playing to, so you’ll need to be building up a good hand of cards as you play, deciding which cards you’re going to need both now and later.

All you ever need to do on your turn is one of three things; draw a new coloured card, place a new train section, or draw some new Destination Tickets - making Ticket to Ride an extremely easy game to pick up and teach. That doesn’t mean it’s simple though; there’s a whole wealth of strategic choices to make, and a different combination of Destination Tickets every time to keep things varied.

Recommended Versions/Expansions: You US people might prefer to pick up the original Ticket to Ride as you’ll probably recognise all the locations. I personally prefer Ticket to Ride: Europe because it adds a few twists to the base game that make things a little more varied. There’s a few other versions and expansions around if you’re interested too, but I’d recommend sticking with the original or Europe to start with.

Players: Between 2 and 5 players. I usually play with 2, which makes for a relatively easy-going game without much conflict that’s more about out-planning your opponent. With 4 and 5 players, you’ll have a very competitive game with lots of conflict where trying to block your opponents becomes a much more valuable tactic.

Recommended for: Ticket to Ride doesn’t really require much of an investment in the theme; it’s very lighthearted and easy to get in to, so you don’t need to be a train nerd or a strategy enthusiast to enjoy it. It’s the sort of game you can break out on a night in with your friends/family and show them how to play in minutes.

Dominion

Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino, Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Another game you might have heard mention of from the Tested crew, Dominion is a so-called deck-building game in which you build up your own deck of cards representing your Dominion. The player with the most valuable deck (most Victory Points) at the end of the game is the winner.

You’ll start the game with a few cards representing money and a few Estates (the lowest value land card you can own - land is the main way to earn Victory Points). On your turn, you draw 5 cards from your deck and play out your turn. Usually, this will involve purchasing a card from the Kingdom decks - 10 different decks laid out on the table in front of all players. The base game includes 25 Kingdom decks, from which 10 are selected for each game (that makes something like 2.3 million possible combinations).

Each Kindgom card has a cost, as well as some associated action. This action, when pulled in to your hand from your deck, can be used to perform a whole load of different things, from attacking your opponents, through obtaining new and better cards, to improving your chances on later turns. As you build up money (you buy this too), you’ll be able to afford better Kingdom cards and better land cards.Once 3 of the Kingdom decks are depleted, or all of the most expensive land cards (Provinces) have been bought up, the game ends. Each player counts the Victory Points in their deck and the winner is declared.

Dominion is an exceptionally simple game to grasp, but with the variety of Kingdom cards available, you’re never likely to have the same game twice. Each combination requires different strategy, different thinking and a different approach - some cards can even change the way scoring works at the end of the game.Recommended Versions/Expansions: If you’re just looking to get started with Dominion, you can either get the base Dominion game, or Dominion: Intrigue; both of which come with all the cards you need - the latter just has different Kingdom cards and can also be used as an expansion. I’d suggest the original Dominion, just because it’s a good starting point.

Once you get addicted, you have 5 expansions (with one more coming this month) to keep you busy - each offering between 12 and 25 new Kingdom cards to throw in the mix (that should give you around 1 quadrillion, 360 trillion, 705 billion, something something combinations of cards to try out), as well as new game mechanic to keep things interesting.

Players: Between 2 and 4 players with the base game, Intrigue adds enough cards to go up to 6. This game is a blast with 2 to 4 players, offering loads of interactivity and lots of variation.

Recommended for: Everyone I’ve introduced this game to has become quickly addicted, and although the theme doesn’t seem that interesting at a glance - everyone quickly looks past it. The cards have enough variety that you never feel stuck in a dull medieval style game. Highly recommended to absolutely everyone.

Thanks for reading - I hope you find something of interest here. I'm hoping to write some more of these if there's enough interest, so reply, let me know what you think and I'll keep doing them.

Thanks to various BoardGameGeek users for the pictures.

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Unordered List: Ordered Edition - Games of the Year 2010

Firstly, hope you all had a great christmas - and all the best for the new year! 
 
As much as I put off writing these things, I'm glad when something comes along to convince me to get on with it. In this case, it's my Best of 2010 list. 

TheBeast's Best of 2010     

10. Game Dev Story

When I set out to write this list, I never imagined I'd be adding this game to it, but then I looked down at my iPad at the game I had open to see how well Call of Dirty 4 was selling. It hit me, that I'd never really considered Game Dev Story as an actual game... despite the countless hours I spent playing it, despite that day I had to recharge my device three times after playing so much... It still seems odd to consider it in my top 10 games of the year.  

I'm still not sure it belongs here... but it certainly deserves to be. 

9. Limbo

More than anything, it's Limbo's design that appeals to me - minimal shapes, sounds and environments combine to create a distant, detached atmosphere that feels almost as dreamlike as it is eerie. Reducing the game to very basic elements seems to trigger some sort of subconscious necessity to 'fill in the blanks' - playing through you find yourself, somewhat disconcertingly, interpreting complex stories from where there is so little. 

8. Costume Quest

A delightfully fun, quirky and enjoyable little RPG which engaged me in a totally different way to most of this years games. Despite the combat's simplicity, the game was short enough that it wasn't too repetitive or boring, with a decent variety of locales and new costumes thrown in to keep things interesting.  

There's certainly something to be said about short game experiences, and Costume Quest's charm and easy-going gameplay makes it one of the best I've played. 

7. Rock Band 3

Yes it's another Rock Band game. Yes it does exactly the same thing as every other Rock Band game before it, and yes, it's probably the last Rock Band game I'm ever likely to care about. Why? Because it's everything now.  

The addition of keyboard, pro instruments (although I haven't tried any of these) and vocal harmonies, along with the minor tweaks, such as the interface improvements, the improved progression mechanics and song filtering, all serve to make Rock Band the most epitome of fake (and pseudo-real) instrument experience around, and who can say they don't love fake-rocking-out?

6. Dance Central

There's something about having to move more than your thumbs to play games that makes the average gaming enthusiast inexplicably angry - I think that might be due to the disconnect that these motion control systems create between actions on a screen and your physical movement.  

However, when the game is there to merely provide feedback on your movement, that disconnect is no longer an issue, a design choice that makes Dance Central feel really good despite the limitations of the hardware and of our own predisposition to dislike motion games. On top of that, Dance Central is an outstanding rhythm game, a lot of fun, and in my mind, a successful attempt at making motion controls really work. 

5. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Pac-Man was never my thing, I was too young to play it at its peak, and every remake/emulation I ever played just served to show me how useless I am at any game with a real challenge to it. As a result I never even considered looking at this game, yet alone adding it to a top 10 list. Without the GB crew's euphoric exclamations of joy at this game, I don't think I'd ever have even given it a chance.  

But holy crap I'm glad I did - this isn't Pac-Man! Rather than punishing you for every little mistake you make, this game sets out to make you feel like a total badass. A single five minute game with the energetic soundtrack, gradually increasing in tempo, coupled with the blissful chain-ghost-eating-pitch-increasing sound effects culminating in a aural and visual climax will leave you both breathless and energised. That's a quality you don't find very often.

4. Red Dead Redemption

Sure, Rockstar's open world formula is tried and tested by now, but that doesn't make Red Dead Redemption's world any less compelling. Redemption manages to not only tell the tale of John Marston, but of the people he meets, and of the land on which he rides - turning the world in to as much of a character as the various eccentrics you meet on your journey.  

While there's certainly a degree of monotony in the mission structure, the variety of gameplay; from hunting, through scavenging, to playing dice games means the game rarely feels overly repetitive or stale.

3. Minecraft

Ignoring the arguments over this one; as far as I'm concerned, this game was released in 2010. Minecraft is an outstanding achievement - a simple concept, developed by one man, catapulted to popularity by its ability to capitalise on our imaginations. I would never have believed that in the age of technical and artistic beauties like Uncharted, I'd be staring at a jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape generated entirely by my computer made up of pixelated blocks.

2. Halo: Reach

Obligatory clichéd entry description: I was never a big fan of the Halo games, yet somehow, the big ol' Microsoft marketing machine had me eagerly chomping at the bit even before Reach's release. Before I knew it, I was absorbed by Bungie's beautifully crafted Halo swan song.  

While the campaign was a blast by itself, the multiplayer offerings were what kept me coming back to this game. The flexibility of multiplayer Halo is something I'd never experienced before, sure it's slow paced and relatively simple, but that's why I like it.   

1. Mass Effect 2

To me, the Mass Effect fiction is quickly becoming one of my favourite sci-fi universes with its extremely rich history, locales and characters, I find myself craving more and more tidbits of information. Mass Effect 2 delivers this in more ways I could count; from the engrossing storyline, through exceptional dialogue, to the astoundingly detailed codexes and documents.  

This is a game that despite being released at the start of the year, has remained in my mind ever since. Now I'm salivating over the thought of the third installment. Damn you.    

 

Honourable Mentions  

Games I couldn't decide whether they belong on the list or not but I loved anyway:

Super Meat Boy 
Monday Night Combat 
VVVVVV 
Angry Birds: Seasons 
Civilization V
 

Games I didn't get a chance to play but I really wish I had done and would probably have a good chance of being on this list had I done so 

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood 
Call of Duty: Black Ops 
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 
Bayonetta 
Fallout: New Vegas 
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West 

(I'll definitely be playing these excellent looking games next year!)  
 
So, what do you think? Do you agree, or disagree? Am I a terrible person for not listing your favourite game this year? 
8 Comments

Unordered List: Fires, Kinect & 'Real' Games

My prose can be somewhat unwieldy at the best of times, the primary reason my attempts at blog posts never get past the first sentence. 
Here's my attempt at solving that while potentially making for a more confusing reading experience by distilling this blog format in to a bulleted list of vaguely associated thoughts. I'll let your own creative minds weave them in to whatever format you can best parse.

Fires

  • Our dishwasher caught fire. No idea why - we were just sitting eating breakfast when we heard a strange popping sound. On entering the utility room, we found the dishwasher aflame, so we promptly dialed the fire brigade and got the hell out.
  • Two fire trucks, a paramedic and a police car later, the fire was out and the majority of the smoke had been cleared out. What we saw inside is pictured below.     

  • Luckily, the emergency services responded really quickly, and had the fire out within about 10 minutes of the call, so it didn't spread too far. The majority of the stuff we kept stored in the utility room was burnt, the kitchen was all badly smoke damaged and the rest of the house was covered in ash and stained from smoke.
  • We've spent the last few weeks between temporary accommodation and home, trying to sort out insurance, and starting to replace things. We're very lucky to have an excellent landlady who replaced the kitchen and had the whole house re-carpeted and re-painted. It all looks brand new and shiny now.
  • We're finally starting to get back to normal - still waiting for a few of our possessions to be returned from the cleaning and restoration service, and we're still waiting on the insurance cheque, but other than that, all is well.
  • Important lessons learned: Keep an eye on your appliances. If we weren't in when this happened, this could have been much worse. The things your parents tell you aren't all scare stories, this shit really does happen.

Kinect

  • I picked up a Kinect on launch day here in the UK - I openly admit to being something of a useless-gadget aficionado, as well as a bit of a motion control fanboy, so I considered the investment worthwhile regardless of how much I enjoy it. Besides, I passed the Wii on to my younger siblings when I got bored of that, so it could always serve as a nice gift should the thing start collecting dust.
  • After a few days of playing with it in various conditions, with various people; it's an extraordinarily impressive bit of technology. Surprisingly enough, it works as advertised - latency is barely noticeable, it's oddly accurate, and most interactions with it seem uncannily natural.
  • It absolutely does require a lot of space to use. Not necessarily because the camera can't see you if you're too close, but because you're going to need a lot of room to move around in. We've had an 8 year old play some Kinectimals without any issues while being right up close to the camera, but when me and my girlfriend are playing Kinect Adventures, we need as much space as possible so as not to murder each other while playing Rallyball.
  • Our living room is 3 walls of almost full-height windows (almost like a conservatory). When the sun shines directly in, Kinect throws a wobbly and won't work at all. Granted, our living area isn't exactly standard, neither is it surprising that it doesn't like direct light. We still haven't had blinds fitted since the fire, so that should solve it.
  • The games feel quite proof-of-concepty at the moment, generally lacking in substance. Saying that; they are a lot of fun - there's a decent amount of variety, and the few I've played work (technically) very well. I've found a lot of the games feel a bit slow; long cutscenes, awkward menus, etc., but I get the feeling this is because I have to be standing all the time - not something I'm used to.
  • Kinect Adventures is your standard pack-in fare; a bunch of concepts thrown together in some loosely associated manner. It's a great way of showing what the hardware can do, how well it works when it does work and how fun these type of motion games can potentially be, but it doesn't necessarily have much lasting appeal beyond popping it in for a couple of rounds at parties.
  • Kinectimals really is a kids game. It's reaaalllyyy slow, and it holds your hand pretty much all the time - you really don't get much chance to mess around with your pet. Some of the toys and challenges can be fun to play with, if a bit simplistic. I think we both spent way too much time playing with the beachball last night. Graphically, it's great - the pet animations are incredibly endearing, and the world is colourful and inviting, beyond that, I wish this was more Viva Pinata and less Kinect 123.
  • Dance Central is probably the most important of the Kinect launch line up. Harmonix knows how to make a decent rhythm game, and they've succeeded with Dance Central. It's enjoyable, tiring, frustrating, entertaining and addictive all at once - this is really what Kinect needs to become a really worthwhile peripheral.
  • So it's a great little add-on for those who want something beyond your standard controller-gaming affair. In the end though, it all games down to what the future holds for it. Innovation in new games for the device is absolutely the key to its survival, and how long it gets to stay in front of my TV.

'Real' Games

  • For those that can't be doing with this namby-pamby flailing motion-control nonsense, there's still a whole lot of decent games you can only play by waggling your thumbs.
  • Costume Quest, an enjoyable, very simple RPG with some good humour, some interesting mechanics and a fun little world to explore.
  • Super Meat Boy, arggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
  • Halo: Reach, still playing this - probably my favourite recent multiplayer experience, if only because I can sit back, shoot things and watch myself die in most amusing ways. I'm still fairly sure this is the only online shooter where dying is just as enjoyable as shooting things.
  • Minecraft; yep - still playing this.
  • Lots of iPad games. Ok, maybe they don't fall under the 'real' games heading, but this thing might as well be permanently attached to my body I use it so much - there's also some quality little games available for it.
  • That's it - I haven't really had much time to play after the fire unfortunately.
 
So that's a wrap for my first edition of Unordered List. Maybe I'll do another one some time, or maybe I won't.
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Red Rings & Gadget Things: Down But Not Out?

Red Rings  

I knew it was coming when the other half started complaining of distortions and tearing when she was playing Kameo; not that knowing made it any easier when I heard a shout of "The Xbox isn't working!" across the house on Saturday evening.   

Yeah, so the glowing red ring showed its face. I was annoyed, as one would be, but at the same time somewhat proud that the thing had survived 3 years of service - two of which were served to a friend from whom I purchased the black box of imminent failure, although the last year that I've owned it, it's seen more than its fair share of hammering. My girlfriend tends to use it for watching various TV series' while she works (all day) and then we spend the evening gaming or watching films on it.

For those that have experienced the issue, you'll know that 3 years is the cut-off point for repairs. Knowing that, I set out the next day to buy a new one; Game happened to have an Elite bundle in-store for £200 bundled with Just Cause 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2, on which I loyally drained my bank account in order to take home. 
I very almost managed to immediately return the two bundled games for a neat £80 (knowing I'd be able to get them cheaper somewhere else/later on), but the store manager turned up at an exceptionally inappropriate time, preventing the unwitting sales assistant from completing the return. 
 
We got the new one home, put in the old hard drive, did a license transfer and everything is working as it was. Great when a transfer goes that well. 
 
What was the fate of the DeadBox you ask? Well he's sitting right next to me at the moment, in various states of indecency, as we await a set of Torx screwdrivers (T6, T7 and T8, if that interests you), so my girlfriend can continue ripping him apart in an attempt to resuscitate the poor fellow. She's in to pulling apart electricals, so when presented with these instructions for a potential fix, before I knew it, she had a screwdriver in her hand.  
We're waiting for the screwdrivers because there's a few tiny black screws which we can't get out without them; here he is, waiting: 

Hopefully we'll get it back up and running - if anyone has any suggestions as to what else we should try once we get it open, let us know.
 
I know I'm going to get a bunch of 'should have got a PS3' comments, to which my pre-emptive response is: 
  • I will. I want one.
  • We've already made an investment in Xbox games, and I do genuinely think the Xbox is a fantastic console for multiplatform games.
  • The Xbox gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, it has a soul, it's comfortable, it's my friend. The PS3 makes me shiver, it's cold, it could stab me while I sleep.
  • My girlfriend's really in to some of the exclusives; Viva Pinata, Kameo, to name but a few.
 

Gadget Things

I went to the Gadget Show Live at the NEC (Birmingham, UK) last week. It's basically a show with lots of companies showing off their latest technology, arranged by a TV channel over here which runs the 'Gadget Show' (a TV show about technology) - which I don't actually watch. Anyway, the show was fun, absolutely packed full of people but lots of interesting things to see. These, for example (excuse the awful picture quality, they're mangled by my iPhone): 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Some crazy environmentally mapped video: 
             
 
And strange robotic flying creatures, inspired by nature: 
   
 
So that was fun. 
 

Wrap-up

Quests are awesome. They're making me do things I wouldn't usually do, like post this blog. You guys are all great for helping us out with spam, playing along and giving people clues, and just generally being part of this awesome community. 
 
This editor is absolutely terrible for doing any sort of serious editing, sorry ethan. We love you.
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TheBeast's Best Games of 2008

It's a phrase that's been overused and misused to the point where it's vacant of any distinct meaning, but I'll go ahead and use it anyway; this year was a good year for games. Publishers like EA and Ubisoft pushed out more quality titles than we've seen for years and new releases from acclaimed developers such as Rockstar and Valve shot up the charts.

With the continuing popularity of 'casual' gaming platforms such as Nintendo's Wii and DS, gaming is appealing to a much larger audience, brought to realization over the Christmas period when the horde in gaming stores is no longer young men with their copy of the new Call of Duty, but parents, children & grandparents, clutching Lips and Guitar Hero.

The NPD suggests that the growth in sales of video game software and hardware in the US between 2006 and 2007 reached 2.1 billion dollars. That's more than it's seen over a period of 8 years prior to 2006. The industry is growing, and it's going to keep on growing.

So yeah, I've played a lot of great games this year - picking favourites is hard. Deciding why they're your favourites is even harder, but here's my shot at it - in no particular order:

Me, posing for L4D reference shots

Left 4 Dead

With the advent of FPS' came a realization which has stuck with us for decades; shooting things in the face is fun. Multiplayer FPS' came along and we developed that realization a bit; shooting things in the face with friends is fun.
So perhaps Valve didn't need to come up with such a brilliantly executed, entertaining, polished and well balanced game to keep me entertained. But they did anyway.

It's hard to put a finger on what makes this game what it is, whether it's the thrill of being charged by a horde of rampaging infected, the delight of running in to the group of desperate survivors as a boomer and vomiting all over them, or the fact that the co-operative play is so well designed that you are not only at the mercy of a thousand zombies, but of your friends too. It's a perfectly rounded package that's going to keep me coming back for years.

Professor Layton & The Curious Village

Only with blind luck shall I prevail!
Shooting things is all well and good, but there's an equally, if not more satisfying genre of gaming which is oft missed by seasoned 'gamers'; the puzzler. Professor Layton's entertaining adventure takes us through St. Mystere as he and his sidekick, Luke, attempt to solve its mysteries by talking to its inhabitants, who don't like to give up information before you help them solve a puzzle.

In a manner reminiscent of point and click adventure games, there are plenty of beautifully busy environments to click around to find their hidden secrets, puzzles range from easy to very taxing - giving me reason to pull out a pen and paper on more than one occasion - all brought together by an interesting and compelling storyline making for a great experience if you're looking for something new on your DS.

Note to self: Don't inquire about horse armour again.
Fallout 3

I'm a big Fallout fan, so you might think I'd be huddled in a corner crying about how Bethesda stole its name and stuck it on an Oblivion sequel. I'm not. I'm too busy exploring an epic wasteland dropping mini-nukes on super mutants, chatting with the inhabitants of Megaton and getting way too irradiated for my own good. Fallout 3 totally is 'Oblivion with Guns', and it rocks.

While the Oblivion engine is showing its age compared to that in free-roaming games like GTAIV and Far Cry 2 it's easy to look past thanks to the engaging characters, missions and overarching storyline which make it a thoroughly enjoyable and long-lasting game.

EVE Online: Empyrean Age & Quantum Rise

Yes, I know, EVE Online was release 5 years ago in 2003 - but CCP's latest additions to the ever-expanding universe of New Eden, Empyrean Age and Quantum Rise give me a nice excuse to throw it in the mix.

In the grammatically correct words of the internet: "Pew, pew, lasergunz."
EVE Online, as the name suggests, is a sci-fi MMO which, in contrast to the typical MMO formula, is devoid of walking avatars and instead concentrates on a massive player driven economy, confining players to their spaceships. Everything in the universe is controlled by player corporations (the EVE equivalent of guilds), from the manufacturing of items and spaceships to be sold on the market, to the ownership of massive sections of space. As a result, you might log on one day to find the price of a certain ore has shot up due to a war between corporations in a distant part of space. It's all very exciting. The explosions are cool too.

"Gulp.", said Cpt. Picard.
Sins of a Solar Empire

One of the most overlooked titles of the year, Sins of a Solar Empire is a space-based RTS on an epic scale. Sins' slower pace provides a nice change from the typical RTS, supporting tactical thinking as opposed to twitch based micro-management so the game never feels formulaic, providing a different experience each time, even against AI.

Even though the game lacks a single player campaign (that's not to say single player skirmishes aren't great fun), as with most RTS', the gameplay really shines in multiplayer, whether you play cooperatively, or versus. The nature of the game means a single match can last many days, which is where the useful ability to save in-progress multiplayer games comes in handy. It's a game I've been coming back to over and over again and I still haven't hit the fleet size limit...

Spore
Rated W for 'WTF?'

Perhaps a controversial choice, Spore was a letdown for many, so much hype, such little delivered. Just another 'The Sims' perhaps - exactly what EA and Maxis was planning for, no doubt. It's paid off - eclipsed only by The Sims 2 and World of Warcraft in PC sales charts, Spore has proven to be a massive seller. We'll be seeing expansions for many years to come - you have to hand it to EA and Maxis - they know how to breed a cash cow.

Personally, I think it's great. I love making stupid creatures and sending them out in to the wild. I enjoy terraforming planets in to a weird and wonderful shapes. I admire the amazing ease and power of the editors. I could spend all day making fat insectoids and making them dance. But I'm strange.

"Fancy bathroom..."
Mass Effect

I only bought it on the PC so for me, it was a 2008 release. Bioware have always been one of my all-time favourite developers - if there's anyone that can prove games can work as 'interactive fiction', it's the team that brought us Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights. Mass Effect highlights this forté by bringing us yet another epic tale, this time with a third-person action twist.

From the moment I set foot in The Citadel (the games' main hub ship/city), I couldn't put this game down - it constantly feeds you new locations to explore, new side quests to unlock and a whole host of characters with unique and interesting personalities to talk to. The action is nothing special, but it doesn't need to be when the narrative is so strong.

Far Cry 2
Shoot things, set things on fire, repeat.

Understandably, a lot of people hated this game, with it's large barren landscapes, constant attacks from hostiles (i.e. everyone) and repetive missions. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the start of the game, after playing through an extended tutorial sequence, you are simply presented with a message telling you that your target is out there somewhere, find him. From then on, you take up missions from one of the two factions' leaders, or do side-quests for friends. Typically, these aren't anything special - find documents, destroy something, kill someone - the usual.

So why did I enjoy this game? Because no other game has matched the experience of driving through an enemy checkpoint, only to have them jump in a car resulting in an epic chase across beautiful African landscapes - often resulting in a knife fight as you dive out of your burning car to find your rusty guns have jammed. There's something about this drama that makes this game what it is - it was just great fun to play. Oh, and you can open the editor and make giant chains of explosives. Which is nice.

Apparently I unlocked the "Played too much Warhammer" achievement.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Why, you ask, is this MMO on my top games list, but not Wrath of the Lich King? Warhammer may come across as 'just another WoW clone' - which it might be, to a certain degree - who wouldn't want a slice of the WoW pie? But it's more than that - it's taken the WoW formula and added more fun to it - epic battles to control keeps, great PvP combat and the best invention in any MMO ever, The Tome of Knowledge, the sole reason I haven't got much work done recently...

It's not perfect. Some mechanics and ideas are broken, it has some stability and performance issues, and there's a definite problem with zone and server balance - these can and no doubt will be fixed - hopefully before it loses too much momentum.

Grand Theft Auto IV
Pedestrians + Taxi = Party

It's a 2008 top games list. How can I not include it? You've no doubt heard the praise the game has received all too many times. Rockstar have once again pushed the boundaries on what a free-roaming game can be, bringing Liberty City and its inhabitants to life right in front of your eyes as you complete missions, making friends, making enemies, and losing both. The exploration, drama and action all blend together in to an experience which is really hard to fault.

Honourable Mentions

The World Ends With You - Yet another compelling, intriguing world in a mini package.
Deadspace - Creepy, dark, gory, fun.
Rock Band 2 - It's more damn guitars 'n drums - which is so much fun with friends.
Prince of Persia - Beautiful visuals and smooth platforming brings this franchise back to where it should be.



9 Comments

"This is why we can't have nice things!"

Tree's appear a lot in games. Somehow, the Giant Bomb community seems to have acknowledged this fact.

Clearly, the most important element of Superman Returns.
Apparently, if I wanted to see a tree in a game, I could play Virtual Bart on the SNES, or I could just reinstall my copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon - but is knowing that important to me? No, not really.
Do I want to spend 30 seconds loading a list of every game in history which contained a tree in one form or another? Not necessarily... and I certainly don't want to be looking under Objects when reading that great Call of Duty 4 page to see if I can use rocket launchers only to find 'Tree' or 'Grass' listed.

On the other hand, finding out about how trees have been used in games, or what technologies have been used to make really awesome trees over the years could be quite interesting - in fact, what would a gaming encylopaedia be without something like this?

This is a dilemma. If we, as a community, want to read a bunch of really fun articles on all the intricacies of games and gaming, we should be able to right here on Giant Bomb - but if we're restricted to what we can let through because it's no doubt going to be attached to every game, location and character in our database - we won't be able to do that.

I've been going through submissions a lot over the past couple of weeks and as such I see a lot of strange things - requests to link 'Rake' with 'Episodic Content' - while I understand the connection, and also understand you desperately want those points - does it actually make any sense? No. Of course it doesn't.

I implore you all, when you make a submission, think it over. Think, if I visit this page, is this the information I want to see? Does it even make sense that I'm doing this? I realise you all want your points, and we're more than happy to let you have them, but in the end, your contributions should be to make this site better, more interesting, more complete, not full of link nonsense and general irrelevance.

If you don't, who knows, we might have to chop down Giant Bomb's ever-growing forest. Could you live with that on your conscience?

P.S. The title quote is from Brad on the 5/8/08 Bombcast - Let it go down in history.
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IT'S UNDER NINE THOUSAND!

Beautiful!









Yes. We did it.
The wiki submission queue is now below 9,000 submissions - we've been working at it for days and it's finally dropping, quite signifcantly at that!
The staff cleared out a load of duplicate submissions which cut the queue down to about half - so expect to see your turnaround decreasing rapidly very very soon!.

Forgive my inarticulate writing, it's early, I didn't sleep much, and my head is full of Katamari cousins, Megaman bosses and Wikipedia content.

TheBeast
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