Chris Ingersoll

unplugged_TEK2

The “4X” (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) genre is one more familiar and accessible to PC gamers (e.g., CivilizationStarCraft) than it is to the cardboard crowd. The most well-known 4X board games are usually epic, sprawling affairs like Twilight Imperium, Age of Empires, Eclipse or even Civilization: the Board Game. These games have their devotees, but turn away many with their intensive session times, excessive number of pieces, intricate rules, or any number of other factors.

Combining traditional 4X gameplay with the recent design trend towards “micro-games” — games with minimal components that can be played in under 20 minutes — has resulted in Scott Almes’s Tiny Epic Kingdoms, published by Gamelyn Games (Dungeon Heroes). TEK actually has a play time of about half an hour, but that’s still at least one-eighth the time commitment of a normal 4X so the “micro” label still fits. But can you really condense 4X gameplay into a box the size of about two DVD cases stacked on top of each other? READ MORE

bayonetta2b

Bayonetta 2 is a direct follow-up to the 2009 original, in which the title character had to shoot her way through wave after wave of angels to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of a resurrected Creator. Taking down a god was bound to have some repercussions, and that’s where Bayonetta finds herself when one of her summoned demons misbehaves, inadvertently killing fellow Umbra Witch Jeanne and sending her soul to Inferno. READ MORE

GUpairs2

Pairs is what co-designer James Ernest calls a “new classic pub game.” It’s a dirt-simple game that can be played anywhere at any time, and requires nothing more than a single deck of specialized cards and a knowledge of the very basic rules. And yet it is so much more; more than anything else, Pairs is an illustration of how many different ways a simple design can be used by creative minds. READ MORE

unplugged_kingoftokyo2

One of the more widely-disliked game mechanics available to designers is player elimination. Nobody likes being forced to the sidelines early while the rest of the players continue the game, especially if that game still has a while to go before it finishes. Sitting around and doing nothing while everyone else is occupied is the epitome of “not fun.”

Some games can make player elimination work, though. As a general rule, the shorter the overall run time of a typical game session, the less of a drag being eliminated early has on the experience. The other main way to overcome the elimination factor is for a game to be as fun to spectate as it is to participate. With that criteria in mind, how does a half-hour king-of-the-hill kaiju battle royale sound? READ MORE

hyrulewarriors4

Do you remember the end of Skyward Sword? When Link had to plow through wave after wave of bokoblins as he made his way to the center of the Sealed Grounds? Wasn’t that an awesome change of pace for the Legend of Zelda series? Well, if you liked that, you will absolutely love Hyrule Warriors, which takes Koei Tecmo’s successful Dynasty Warriors franchise and applies Nintendo’s world of Hyrule and its storied history. READ MORE

unplugged_ageofwar2

Risk is one of the all-time classics and is probably among the first five games the general populace thinks of when they hear the term “board game.” It’s also, to fans of modern board gaming, right up there with Monopoly as a horrible game design that just kills fun. That said, conquering the world with military force is still an attractive theme, so it’s no real surprise that “improved” versions of Risk have cropped up from time to time. READ MORE

theatrhythm1

The original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, despite its ridiculous title, was one of the best early offerings on the 3DS. It made several of our year-end top ten lists, was a runner-up to our Best 3DS Game award that year and was a virtual lock to make our 3DS Best to Own Forever list earlier this year. And it would have, were it not for the fact that a sequel, Curtain Call, was about to be released.

Curtain Call takes everything that made Theatrhythm great and adds more of it: more songs, more characters, more titles from which to draw those songs and more of the original’s “Dark Notes,” now turned into the new Quest Medley mode. It even removed some of the minor flaws, like the pointless (if optional) tap-fest Intros and Epilogues and restricting the characters’ skill slots to a specific type. READ MORE

unplugged_sorcerers2

Hades has recruited minions of evil in an attempt to obtain Merlin’s magic crystal, which would allow him to take over the Magic Kingdom as his own personal summer home. Merlin can’t fight them off alone, so that’s where you come in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to intercept these baddies via magic portals and use your spells to thwart them.

This is the narrative behind Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, an interactive experience that can be found in the Disney theme park in question, first introduced in 2012. Sorcerers is a curious variation on a collectible card game, in that there is no actual purchase to play other than entry into the park itself. Those interested in playing simply need to visit the firehouse in Main Street USA (or the outpost behind one of the shops in Liberty Square) and talk to one of the cast members there. READ MORE

gu_trajan1

It’s easy to see why Ancient Rome is a fertile inspiration for many game designers. The Romans’ interest in politics, military tactics, art, architecture and religion all offer different elements that can be mixed together into an interesting whole. Stefan Feld’s 2011 title Trajan mixes six aspects of Roman culture, but ties everything together with a mechanic that is decidedly African instead of European. READ MORE

PLvAA1

When Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was first announced, the respective fan bases of both franchises were sold almost immediately. The two camps have a significant overlap, and those fans had just been exposed to something they knew they wanted very badly yet had never even imagined could be possible. Even fans of only one half of the mix were intrigued by the possibilities of the two worlds colliding. READ MORE