I got a lot of painting to do…

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I suspect this is by no means unique to me: getting into a new system to me means buying way too much and painting way too little. This is most of my assembled Bolt Action stuff (plus some partially assembled bits and bobs) and there are probably at least 50 more Soviet infantry chaps left to make. Yikes! Given that I want to repaint both of the Soviet vehicles I’ve tried, this makes for a lot of painting to do.

Progress to follow!

Hello! I am back again.

So, it’s been about 2 years since I updated this site. I’ve been really very lazy haven’t I?

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Well, as well as starting a full-time history degree this year, I’ve jumped back into the world of miniature wargaming, as well as board games and card games. I still like videogames too, don’t worry! I just have less time for them now that I am often painting an evil robot soldier or a Soviet Lieutenant.

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So what exactly have I wasted so much of my money on recently? Well, I’m glad you asked. For miniature games:

  • Bolt Action (a 28mm world war 2 game), having purchased sizeable Soviet and German armies (also have a few Americans too).
  • Warhammer Fantasy Battles. So I know this game is officially dead as of a few months ago when Age of Sigmar came out, but I honestly much prefer it to it’s newer iteration. I’ll talk in detail about my feelings about Age of Sigmar at a later date most likely, but suffice to say that I like old Warhammer and am keen to give the community-made 9th-Age a try. I collect Skaven and High Elves.
  • Warhammer 40k – not gotten too much back into this, but I have a large amount of old Space Marines and Necrons in my cupboards that I’ve painted a few more of and bought a few more minis for.
  • Dropzone Commander. This is a 10mm sci-fi wargame that I really like and have bought a little bit of, but have been unable to find anyone willing to play as of yet. Oh well! Hopefully that will change soon.
  • Star Wars Armada. A disappointing lack of painting (although I do plan to paint my squadrons eventually) and fairly huge price-points: but by God it’s a fun game. This has also been the easiest one to get other people interested in playing, probably because it’s a bit simpler than most miniature games and the theme.

2015-12-20 21.01.59What else? Oh yes there are lots of board games. These are much simpler and easier to get people to play, and also most of the time allow for more than 2 players, which is nice. I won’t list everything I own or have played, but particular favourites include Machi Koro, Galaxy Truckers, and Betrayal at House on the Hill. Board games are just a nice way to spend time with friends!

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Also card games! I got into Android: Netrunner due to a lovely friend who introduced me to it, but I’ve also gone back to Magic: The Gathering. It may or may not be an amazing game, but I love making decks and opening booster packs. It’s an expensive habit to be sure, but one I like to indulge in.

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So yes, hello, I am here again. I will probably talk about videogames too at some point. Glad to be back!

Videogames of the year.

Here are some games what I really liked this year, in no particular order.

  • Dota 2

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Yeah, this again.

Dota is insane. It’s a world-devourer. It’s too much for a single person to learn, far too much. It’s arcane and inaccessible and has a community that runs the full gamut from scum-of-the-earth to nicest-folks-around.

And you never stop learning. And because there is so much stuff, you’ve never seen it all. And it’s free. And it has a free-to-play system that really works well. And it’s really the most fun with friends.

Essentially, dota is one of those games you can just keep playing forever and ever amen. I just had a bad game a few hours ago and I’ll still play another thousand hours. Yikes.

  • Dark Souls

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Sometimes a game clicks with you instantly, and sometimes it doesn’t. Dark Souls took me three attempts to really get into. Now I’ve spent well over 100 hours with it, and I want to play more.

For all that people go on about Dark Souls’ difficulty, the appeal isn’t really in that. The appeal is the atmosphere to me. The fact is, if you move forward carefully, very carefully, then you can get through the game without dying. People have done it – not many, but people have done it. The world of Dark Souls is a world where everything is out to get you and noone is out to make your life easier. You aren’t given an objective marker, a bit of floor that’s going to set a trap off isn’t glowing red in front of you, and that first boss you face with a broken sword and no shield seems like a pretty tall order. But when you look closer; maybe the morose man at the firelink shrine can give you some information about where to go instead of just talking about how awful you look when you’re hollow, perhaps that raised bit of flooring with an opening in front of it will result in a poisoned dart being fired at you, and perhaps you don’t need to fight that first boss so ill-equipped, but run into a passageway that’s far too small for it to chase you.

Dark Souls is a subtle world, where the lore is more implied than narrated, and mechanics are learned by error instead of by unskippable tutorial. To be honest? I’m a big fan of both approaches. But in a world where the way round Dark Souls does it is a rarity, I’m so glad it exists. And I’m so glad Dark Souls 2 looks amazing. And sooooon. March-soon.

  • Cook, Serve, Delicious!

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I’ve talked about this one before; but I’d really never expect to like this game. It looks like a “casual game” (for all that term is worth, which is to say not a lot), but my goodness it’s anything but. It’s a simple management sim meets a hardcore rhythm game. You better learn how to use two dozen keypresses with a dozen different permutations in order to make the type of soup being ordered. You’d better not get one out of place or God-forbid wrong. You’d better do that 40 more times per in-game day. You’d better do about seven at once during rush hour! This game is madness, and it makes you relieved every time a day is over. But it feels so rewarding. Who needs to know how to cook really?

  • Tomb Raider

I think this is one that divided people a fair old bit. Personally, I really liked it. I think it was a totally solid third person shooter with a story that kept me compelled enough to finish the game in a scant few days. I don’t finish many games, even short ones, so I think that’s an accomplishment inandof itself. I think the new Lara worked fairly well, although I could have done without the ridiculously gratuitous death scenes where she gets impaled on everything that looks sharp and painful, and the character did seem to get over her qualms about killing people very quickly in a way that I think could have been handled a little more gracefully.

However, at the end, when she’s unabashedly turned into a warrior and saving the damsel in distress (by the way, as far as I’m concerned – undeniable lesbian subtext between those two. Really had to have been intentional), I found myself practically punching the air. Real fun.

  • Mortal Kombat

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I’ve never really done fighting games apart from Soul Calibur 2 back in my Gamecube days. The amount of time needed to learn the characters strengths, weaknesses, special moves, how to avoid ’em – it all seems a bit much (although you are talking to someone who plays entirely too much dota so maybe I’m just crazy now). I tried Street Fighter 4 not too long ago and found it unable to hold my interest.

Mortal Kombat does a couple of things amazingly; firstly, it has the best suite of single-player features in a fighting game I’ve ever seen – decent tutorials, a compelling (if cheesy) story mode to go along with the traditional ladder you get, a whole graveyard of unlockables, a skill tower with hundreds of challenges – it really goes a cut above any other fighting game I’m aware of for the single-player experience. Secondly, it’s really quite accessible; I’ve had a few people round to play this game and after a handful of matches we can get very close, down to the wire fights. Really satisfying.

Now, the game is not without it’s flaws for sure – the netcode for online play is balls; don’t buy this game if you want to play a good online fighting game. It suffers from the traditional fighting game disease of having almost all it’s female characters being practically naked. The ludicrous-hyper-gore may put people off. But underneath all that, the core is a great fighting game which beginners can really get into and has a whole lot to offer for single player folks. Also my multiplayer game of choice when people are in my house in real life.

  • Europa Universalis 4

I played so much EU3. So much. Hundreds of hours at least – and when it’s a game that has had 4 expansion packs and was pretty dang big to begin with, you can see why. So really, EU4 has a lot to live up to. And I think it does. It’s a bit overloaded with pointless DLC, but the new additions to the formula – such as a much more interesting trading system, new systems for national ideas and technology, a better way to handle advisors and just the general bits of polish really help make the 4th EU a worthy successor. The first expansion coming in January which is going deeper into native American states and colonies (as well as having the option to play with a fully randomised American hemisphere) is hopefully going to amazing – I can’t wait for it!

  • Crusader Kings 2

I never really got into the original Crusader Kings, which makes it unlike most other paradox grandstrategy games – I’ve enjoyed at least one entry in Hearts of Iron, Victoria, and Europa Universalis, but the original Crusader Kings never really grabbed me at all. But people started raving about CK2 – people whos opinions I really respect. So I bit the bullet and I’ve not looked back since. Numerous great expansions later, numerous playthroughs later, I haven’t regretted it a single bit. CK2 is a game that just generates amazing stories. It’s a Game of Thrones simulator (also there’s a Game of Thrones mod that’s pretty well-regarded), making you point your characters towards awful acts of depravity to just make sure your kids inherit another county. It’s really evocative of the time it’s set. I just love it.

  • Trials Evolution

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Another game I didn’t really expect to get into – Trials is basically stupidity combined with really well balanced game mechanics. The concept of making a game inspired by dirt bike trials isn’t really too out there, but the courses they’ve made are totally bananas, especially the further into the game you get. The thing is though, the controls are perfect (with a controller, naturally you need analogue controls for a game like this) to the extent that I’d say every error made is the players fault in this game. It’s a game where if you fail you want to just start again and get it right.

  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within

I loved XCOM last year, and the expansion this year made me love it again. Enemy Within adds a whole lot of stuff which is almost all really fun to mess around with, along with more enemies and challenges to screw you over.

  • Total War: Rome 2

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When this game came out, it was pretty buggy, and lots of people really didn’t like that. I agree, I didn’t like the bugs. However, I think this games reception is a classic case of the internet going overboard; at the core of Rome 2 is a solid entry in the Total War series, and if you buy it now it’s stable and polished. A wonky launch is bad, but what’s worse to me is people getting drenched in hyperbole by the screaming maniacs who seem to dominate areas of the internet. I spent dozens of hours in Rome 2 and enjoyed them.

  • Civilisation 5

Similar story to XCOM; I loved Civ 5, and I love it more with it’s new expansions. It’s a game I keep coming back to.

  • Dwarf Fortress

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Another game I keep coming back to. Dwarf Fortress, I wish I knew how to quit you. Actually that’s a lie – I wish I played more really. DF is the pinnacle of ambition, and that peak keeps getting higher as time goes on. The game is richer in mechanics than almost any other I can think of, and those magnificient crazy brothers who make this game are really heroes of mine. I’ve been playing this game for years, and I’ll keep playing for years more.

  • Bioshock Infinite

This was a game where the opinion seemed all over the place. It comes out, everyone loves it – a few weeks later, everyone hates it. I’m grossly oversimplifying of course, but the discourse surrounding this game was weird. Well anyway, I loved Infinite, despite several caveats. It was a really fun shooter, it had a story that I found compelling (albiet one that didn’t go where I expected it to at all), it had art design which was beautiful, and it had masterfully executed musical choices.

Personally, I think lots of people were expecting a discourse on American exceptionalism, racism, and classism, whereas Infinite ends up being a commentary on game design and those things which were previously seen to be big important themes of it were really just flavour to it’s world. I think I’d have liked it more if it focused on the former, not the latter – especially because it treads on some pretty dodgy territory by doing so – but I still loved Bioshock Infinite a lot.

  • Gone Home

I really like linear games with a narrative I find compelling – I may have mentioned that before. This really gave it to me. I’d suggest the initial price is a bit costly for an experience that lasts maaaaaaybe 3 hours at a stretch, but it’s a condensed and meaningful experience. I think at least some elements of the story will resonate strongly with anyone who’s ever been a teenager too.

I liked lots of other games, too!

Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Well here’s a change of pace for me; from the slow pace of many of the games I prefer (from the turn-based to the tactical) here comes a game that makes me move my fingers so fast that my mind can’t keep up. And I love it so hard.

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It’s billed as “gaming’s first hardcore cooking simulator” and I’m going to let them have that. Because it may not be a simulator insofaras it doesn’t really do anything realistically, but boy is it ever hardcore.

When you first load up you’re going to be given ownership of a run-down 1-star restaurant inside an office tower. You get a bit of cash and then you go shopping. So far, so much like your average XYZ-tycoon game. I’m almost certain there have been plenty of games where you managed the running of a restaurant, set the prices, buy ingredients, train the staff, buy the best footballer, etcetera, etcetera. I’m sure of it even if I’ve never heard of these games existing. But here’s the thing; you don’t set the prices, you don’t have to buy ingredients, you don’t even have any staff. You are the boss, but you are also the only staff member. You’re going to be sweating it out in the kitchen, making all these bits and nutritious bots for your hungry customers.

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So you’ve bought your food, you’ve set your menu, and then you click “start day”. Now the real game begins. Every dish has a specific way to prepare it; pasta must be boiled before you put the sauces and other ingredients on it, making it a two-stage process. Salad is a simple case of popping the stuff that your customer wants on it; no cooking, no fuss, no time wasted. Sodas must be the right size, the right type, and have ice (or not) and have a flavour blast (or not). Pizza? You gotta know your toppings.

And it doesn’t seem too complicated at first glance. Each ingredient has a keyboard button associated with it, they are all displayed on the right side of the screen. Press the button, get the ingredient put into the dish (with some exceptions; some soup ingredients gotta be chopped, for example). But as time goes on, you make enough money to upgrade your foods, they get more ingredients and recipes. More stages to prepare the dishes. You become a 2-star restaurant; you can serve more customers at once, you can have more dishes on the menu at once. More people come into your restaurant at the same time. And that’s to say nothing about Rush Hour. Between 12:00 – 13:00 and 18:00 – 19:00 you get a big influx of customers; typically all your serving slots will be filled with impatient customers. It’s really quite difficult to get to everyone in time, and as your dishes get more complex and your restaurant becomes more popular, it only gets harder.

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But goodness me; it’s fun. There is something satisfying about it; and the feeling is doubled when you’ve managed against the odds to serve 50 customers exactly what they ordered without ignoring anyone, without neglecting any chores, and without making a single slip of the keyboard finger. It’s on Steam. Check it out.

Crusader Kings 2 is the greatest

This game. This flipping game. It’s a masterpiece, there’s no other way to describe it. It’s quite simply one of the best games I’ve ever played in my entire life.

“But why? How can this possibly be possible? It’s a game about maps, Fiyenyaa! I know you like maps, but this is just hyperbolic insanity.”

But ah, how you’re wrong, rhetorical-Fiyenyaa. Aside from the fact that actually maps are really entertaining and cool and fun in their own right without even needing some video game attatched to them, well, this game has so much to it. And here’s why;

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Here we have a screenshot. My character is the Emperor of the Arabian Empire and the Caliph of Sunni Islam. I control the Middle East, North Africa and am making inroads into Spain. So naturally, Crusades ensue; here we see the Pope (the next Pope really needs to be called “Hilarius”) leading troops against me in Lisbon. This pope appears to be a bit of a rogue. Look at those little icons in his character profile; he’s a just and gregarious man, but he’s also quick to anger, envious and overly proud. Don’t worry though, I sent him packing.

That’s an interesting bit of geopolitics, but there are all kinds of stories that result in this. A muslim ruler is expected to have a certain amount of wives as befit his status (2 for a Sheikh, 3 for an Emir, 4 for a Sultan or higher). This naturally tends to result in a lot of children from several mothers (assuming of course that your character isn’t gay, or believes in chastity, or has some illness which resuts in lower fertility). This means that if one of your wives is particularly scheming, she may decide that killing your heir is a good course of action so her son can inherit instead of your son by another woman. Is she found out? Do you kill her, lock her up, or breath a sigh of relief because you were trying to kill your son because he was a useless layabout and your second son is a go-getting young lad any Sultan would be proud of.

Essentially, this game is a set of systems which tell procedural stories. The traits the characters have, the actions they take for themselves and for (or against) one another mean that every character has a unique and appropriate relationship with every other character. The framework of medieval feudalism means there are neccesarily complicated relationships and power-plays going on; it’s entirely possible to begin the game as an emperor and end as a lowly count (and indeed the other way round) – and the reason this works so well is because you don’t play as a state or a country; you play as a family.

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Here in this screenshot we can see a very large Byzantine Empire (borders of which are lovingly put in by me with a big red marker pen) which has utterly fallen to bits due to the way the game works. This is a major civil war which ended with me (playing as the Emperor) as a Duke in Anatolia after having been master of an ever-growing chunk of the known world for the past 400 years. The previous Emperor ruled from the age of 17 til he died at the ripe old age of 83 – he lived so long his son died, and the Emperor’s crown was put on by his grandson. However, a new ruler means opportunities for ambitious men and women to make their move. They can scheme to become independent, to depose you in favour of another claimant to the throne, to reduce the power you wield within your own domain. It turned out that no-one really liked the Emperor’s grandson, and they wanted to put his much more capable daughter onto the throne. It also turned out that if the entire empire falls into revolt, I can’t really fight against it successfully. So I was knocked off the throne, destined to live out the rest of my days a vassal to my auntie. Then they revolted against her to reduce her power. Then she got invaded by the Hafizid Caliph and lost Jerusalem. Then she died. I’m not saying I’d have done better, but I hope those bloody nobles are happy. Especially the Despot of Jerusalem, who languishes now in the capital, landless and disgraced.

So yeah, this game is basically a historical story telling engine.

Oh, also a word about it’s DLC practices. This game is basically a textbook example of how to do it right. The DLC you can get are either cheap and cosmetic (and therefore completely-totaly-fully optional) or substantial and compatible. When I say compatible what I mean is when the big DLCs came out (and there have been a few; originally you could play only as Christian monarchs, there were DLCs for Islamic rulers (The Sword of Islam), trade republics (The Republic), Pagans (The Old Gods), and some extra flavour for the Byzantines and Orthodoxy in general (Legacy of Rome)) they patched the base game so they were not only compatible (for example, adding the extra lands put in with the Sword of Islam DLC), but actually included all the mechanics added by the DLC. The only major restriction is if you don’t got the DLC, you can’t play as the people who it’s about (other than the Byzantine one, where you can play ’em anyway, just without some of the events and mechanics being enabled). Means in multiplayer any mix of DLC is fine (although the multiplayer, at least for me, does require some third-party networking software and is liable ot de-sync very easily).

This game is a monsterous medieval masterpiece.

So DotA 2 is a video game that I like.

Well, we all do things we think we’ll never do.

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Yeah, that’s me as of today. I remember, roundabout a year ago an online chum of mine said he had some beta keys for DotA 2. “Man, I probably won’t enjoy it; give it to someone else who’ll like it more.” I said to him. Well, eventually I took it anyway because he had bags and bags of them, and we started playing.

Starting DotA 2 is tough, and I’d never ever played that kind of game before. Luckily I started playing with some friends who were as new as I was, and we also had a few people who knew a little more to teach us – although that included at least one tutor who was rude enough to (I think anyway) push one of our group away from playing the game in the long-term. That’s the crazy thing about this game; it has a big community, some of whom are lovely helpful types, but the average experience of playing a match generally isn’t great from that angle.

If you’re bad or unlucky, then chances are you’ll be the loving recipient of racial epithets, swearing, creepy-weird-stalker-abuse, and general unpleasantness. There are nice people for sure, but the horrible ones are much louder. So really, I don’t know why I like this game; it’s not easy and I tend to enjoy easy games, it’s not persistent and I tend to love levelling up or gaining something from playing games, and it’s really easy to cause other people misery through playing badly (me) or abusing them in game (some other people). So what the heck is wrong with me? Am I some kind of masochist? Well no, not as far as I’ve found out in life. Here’s the thing; when you get a good game, when you’re facing a balanced team, when you come through adversity and work together, then if you win or lose you’re having a good time.

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Oh, and play with people you know. I’ve actually never once played a game with less than 2 other people who I’m talking to who I’ve played before. I hear playing solo ain’t great.

Video games?!

Man, I ain’t updated this thingy in a little while.

Well. Some games have come out since I last jotted some thoughts down here, so why not jot again? Why not eh? What possible reason could I have? It’s not like I’m supposed to be doing some assignment for a degree right now or anything…

I’m just going to spew a few random thoughts before I move onto a few actual substantive posts in the next few days.

1: XCOM expansion/DLC coming out. Man. This thing looks sweet as a treat. Mechs, techs, genes, stuff. I lovedlovedloved XCOM Enemy Unknown, but I always felt that the progression through the tech and soforth was a bit shallow; maybe missing a layer or a branch or two. This is certainly adding a couple of branches at least. I cannot wait.

2: Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 may well be the best/worst thing to ever happen to me. The save-game convertor actually works quite well and by God, I now want to make about fifty-thousand alternate scenarios to start EU 4 with. Those games are awesome.

3: I dunno if anyone’s ever noticed, but people on the internet are really negative. See, look, I just did it as well. But it’s been kinda getting me down lately, and I may throw some ill-considered musings about it up, specifically related to how people talk about games online (spoiler; the word “hyperbole” will be used. A lot.).

4: I think that I now hate 2d platformers. There have been a fair few interesting, highly-rated games which also happen to be 2d platformers in the past few years. I’ve not liked any of them, most recently including Dust: An Elysian Tale and Mark of the Ninja. I’m not really sure why, but this genre seems to be a bit buggered for me. Which is weird; I used to flipping love Mario Land 2 and Bionic Commando on the Game Boy – but then that was around 15 years ago.

5: Rome 2 Total War is coming out in about two weeks. It’s gonna be great. That is all.

6: I really like the look of Saint’s Row 4, but am wary that I’ll get bored of it having completed Saint’s Row 3. I’ll probably get it. Probably.

7: I actually like and can sorta play a fighting game now. Mortal Kombat may have bad netcode and a ludicrious art design, but man it’s the first fighting game I’ve actually clicked with in terms of it’s systems ever.

8: Oh yeah, and DotA 2 happened to me. I’ve played over 600 matches, over 600 hours. I never even considered playing a MOBA before, and now look at me; up to my neck in one. Disgusting.