Edward Pollard

In typical “designer” board game fashion, Goa is a game wherein the players compete to build some archaic and ridiculously themed contrivance using far too many pieces of cardboard and wood. Or to be more specific, in Goa you compete to construct colonial era spice trading empires.

You’ll obtain both plantations and colonies that produce the pepper, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. You will then use those spices in a number of ways to increase the power of your empire obtaining better abilities in the game, as well as coveted victory points.

Goa is very iconic of modern board gaming as it represents the best and the worst the industry has to offer. The game play is deep and delightfully subtle while the theme is dry, disinteresting, and clumsily implemented. You’re left simultaneously challenged by its complexity while disgusted by the large collection or arbitrary cardboard that litters the table by the end of the night.

The anal retentive amongst you will delight in the opportunity to keep everything straight and tidy. Fans of other RA

Mario Party 8

June 5, 2007

Looking back to its humble roots on the Nintendo 64, one would be hard pressed to expect a series like Mario Party to make it all the way to eight editions. But here we are: a new console and a new Mario Party game. Who could have imagined it would have the staying power to have come so far? Well, many gamers would question if indeed it does, and instead accuse Mario and his Parties of having overstayed their welcome. What is unquestionable is that the Mario Party series has continually declined in average review scores as the series has progressed.

But amidst this reasonable skepticism was a current of anticipation leading up to Mario Party 8. The innovative Wii controls and the openness of the Wii experience seemed to carry a lot of potential for revitalizing the series. The Wii has already seen more than its fair share of games that revel in the minigame experience, a vernacular the original Mario Party helped establish. Mario Party 8 then could be seen as the heir to the throne in a certain respect.

The actual experience of Mario Party 8 is thus a conflicting one. It is without a doubt an extremely solid rendition of the tried and true format, but it is not ambitious or daring as you might have expected it would be. This perhaps was an unreasonable expectation as few series can claim the sort of conservative stick-to-your guns approach of Mario Party. But the Wii is a vibrant and radical new way to game, and it is mildly lamentable that Mario Party 8 is so very similar to the previous games in the series.

To be sure, the new motion-activated minigames are a welcome addition, but it is a bit surprising how many minigames avoid motion controls and instead serve as retreads and rehashes of the same sort of games we’ve seen before. Sure, some of the boards feature dramatic game-changing effects, but winning is still just as much luck as it is skill. And, just like all the games before it, Mario Party 8 still features a boring, unforgettable, and best avoided single-player experience. When you look on the game as a whole you are overwhelmed with an impression that they have played it extremely safe with Mario Party 8 and some will undoubtedly find that disappointing.

Some will also feel there is a conspicuous omission in the multiplayer features due to a total lack of online play. Of course this is unsurprising for Nintendo who have been timid, perhaps overly so, in exploring online play. But while some would criticize, the decision has an undercurrent of wisdom. While online play is often refreshing and invigorating, the experience of Mario Party is one that would be sold short without 4 players in the same room. Disembodied internet presences would be disheartening and only marginally more interesting than the single-player game.

So while modest in its ambitions, Mario Party 8 is exactly what you’d expect of it, and if you’ve played any other version of it you already know what you’ll find here. There is a new Wii spin on it, and it works well, but Mario Party 8 faces a competitive field its predecessors mostly didn’t. Your own purchase of Mario Party 8 is a decision based on how much you want another group-friendly minigame title. While you might have already exhausted your interest in the genre, Mario Party 8 is a solid entry in the series that should, even if skeptically, considered.


May 30, 2007

Catan represents the first of a number of announced board game to Live Arcade conversions, and as such has an enormously wide range of first reactions amongst the players. Those with a background in video games are finding a totally different style steeped in patient strategy and moderate game speed. Those with a board game background are, in some cases, taking a first step into a bright and terrifying modern world. Caught between the two audiences is Microsoft, hoping their choice to license one of the best selling german board games of all time will round out their library of offerings and establish the Live Marketplace as a source of diverse gaming for the whole family. Does this brave step forward represent something great for both sides of this unusual coin?

For those who have no idea where Catan comes from, it is a digital incarnation of the board game The Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games. It is a game of settlement, trade, and negotiation, with conflict being limited to competition for resources. Social atmosphere dominates the game as scratching the back of the competition may be key in trade interactions later in the game. Is this the first game where it is important to be nice to the competition? It very well may be. There is not shooting, no death, no quick wins or losses. A game of Catan that lasts less that 45 minutes is exceedingly fast. You income of resources depends on the probability of two six sided dice, and your fortunes lie only in how you can convert the five simple resources into victory points.

First one to 10 points wins.

A game could be no more dissimilar to something like Gears of War or Crackdown if it tried, and the best part of reviewing Catan was observing the Xbox Live audience react to how alien a world it is. It took 2 whole games of Catan to be called a vulgar and derogatory name, and occurrence so damn amusing that I couldn’t help but grill the offender if he had any idea what he was doing. He failed to see the irony in accusing me of “biting” something that rhymes with “rocks” for constructing a port in a specific location. Perhaps this is a sad meditation on the state of the industry, but I think it really only represents some growing pains. Kids with dads credit card tied to their Live account will buy anything, but there is no value for them in playing a game like this. There is no visceral thrill. Soon they will fall by the side, but until then there will be problems with random matchmaking in a game like this. This is an inevitable truth of the philosophy behind a game like Catan. I can see where Microsoft wants to go with this, but it is going to be a bumpy ride. Players take heed.

But setting aside abstract soap-box philosophy, how does the Catan translation fare? The game is a remarkably tactile experience, staying extremely close to the idea of translating a board game experience to the screen. There is a fancy “3D” graphics setting, but it does nothing but detract from the experience and is best ignored. The interface, controls, visuals, sound, all present the notion of a board game exquisitely well. The music makes one feel like they are on an elevator, but you can just turn it off. The Artificial Intelligence is delightfully competent as well, especially on Hard, but it is still a pale representation of a social interaction: Catan is designed to be played with people.

Which is where the crux of the review lies. If you had an audience of friends to play Catan with, this could possibly be the best expenditure of Microsoft Points ever. Its a fantastic way to connect distant friends for a mind-bending strategic game that supports idle conversation during the course of play. Hell, I’d recommend anyone without OCD at least try it, I bet most of you will like it. But, and this may be the most important use of that conjunction in the history of my reviews, the network code behind Catan is plagued with connectivity issues. I’ve been disconnected from ranked games, unable to invite ANYONE to private games, and been told I wasn’t on the internet when I obviously was. This has improved since the launch of the game, but is still a grave concern. Catan is a shadow of itself if played against the computer.

Should they resolve the issues completely, this game is a must buy, or at least a must try.

Konami has announced that actor David Hayter is set to return to once again voice the iconic Solid Snake (now old and decrepit) in the upcoming PlayStation 3 release Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Hayter will be joined by other returning voice actors Quinton Flynn, Paul Eiding and Christopher Randolph who will continue their work as the voices of Raiden, Roy Campbell and Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, respectively. Kris Zimmerman will also return to the series to direct the voice acting sessions for the game.

“I couldn’t be more excited about this game. What I’ve seen of Metal Gear Solid 4 has absolutely blown me away. To bring the focus of the story back to Solid Snake, and to work with Kris Zimmerman and many of the amazing actors that provided iconic voices for the previous games, is like coming home,” said Hayter. “I’m so proud and grateful to have been involved with Mr. Kojima as the voice of Snake, for nearly a decade, on this legendary video game series. This game is going to plunge players into the ultimate Metal Gear experience. And personally, I can’t wait to play it.”

David Hayter is also serving as a special guest on [url=http://www.konami.jp/kojima_pro/english/]The Kojima Productions Report[/url] podcast today to discuss his involvement with the Metal Gear Solid series and his approach to portraying a very different Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4.


Aksys, which owes much of its roots to Atlus, has confirmed plans to bring the strategy RPG [i]Hoshigami Remix[/i] to the Nintendo DS this summer. The game represents the company’s first Nintendo DS offering, and is a remake of Atlus’ terribly tedious PSone original. We’ll see if it’s any better the second time around, or if adding a touch screen makes the game’s laborious menu system any more palatable.