Tag: Gift Idea

It is Christmas Eve and many of your are begging to gather with family to celebrate! In honor of that, our last two posts are going to center around things you can do in groups. Today we focus on some family friendly board games you can get at the last minute for your family get-to-gethers.

For tomorrow, I will say, you will want to have some of your favorite holiday drinks available as we put a new twist on some holiday classic movies: but, today we will focus on:

Day #11: Family-Friendly Board Games


Telestrations is a lesser-known game, but still just as fun, if not more so than others out there. One of the best aspects of this game is that it is accessible for younger kids to play along with and draw on the cards, but still versatile enough to be hilarious with all of the adults playing.

The gist of the game is a mixture of Pictionary and the elementary-school game telephone. Each player draws a card with a list of topics on them and a dice roll determines what needs to be drawn. That player then picks up the white-erase notepad, writes the word on the first page and then draws a picture representation of it on the next page. The pad then passes to the next person, who in viewing the drawing, needs to guess what it is and write that on the third page.

The next player then looks at the last persons guess and needs to draw a representation of that on the following page. The game continues until all players gets his/her pad back. Each player then takes turns going around in a circle to reveal what the topic was and then the evolution of that topic, to usually hilarious results.

Players get points if they guess the clue or their picture is correctly guessed from the original clue. Ultimately, this game is more fun the more people you have, and supports upwards of eight players. I can vouch that every time I have played this game, be it with friends or family, it has been a blast. The one downside is the markers do tend to dry up fairly easily, but all you will need to do is purchase more dry erase markers and the fun continues.


This game is another fun classic from my family’s gameplay sessions, though it is not very accessible to younger than teenage kids as there is some writing that is involved.

If you are unfamiliar, the basis of the game is trying to be the best at coming up with explanations for odd things. As you can see on the game box above, there are five different categories to choose from. The “dasher” as the game calls it draws a card and rolls a die to determine what category they are using that turn. They then read the topic to the players and they must explain what that actually is, trying to make it sound either as hilarious or as legitimate as possible.

For example, on the above card, say that “Laughable Laws” is the category. Each of the players must write down what it is against the law to hang in St. Paul, Minn. They turn these sheets in anonymously and the “dasher” then reads them aloud along with what the actual answer is. The rest of the players must then vote for the one they think is most likely the law.

Once again, depending upon who you are playing with, the game can get quite funny and inappropriate pretty quickly and can be just as good once all of the children are asleep.


Straight out of the Old West comes Bang, a multi-player card game that can work for teenagers and above, but can be played with younger kids if they have just a bit of help. The game, based off of Italian Spaghetti Western style movies, is all about looking out for yourself (and the sheriff if you are a good guy).

Each player, face down, draws the role they are, which range from the Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw, or Renegade. Depending on the type of player you are changes the victory conditions for the game: if you are the Sheriff or Deputy, you win if all of the bad guys are killed; if you are an Outlaw, you win by killing the Sheriff; if the Renegade, you win by killing everyone else (which is much more difficult than it seems). The only player who reveals what role he/she is will be the Sheriff, everybody else must not let on who they are.

Then, each player draws and selects a character card, which determines the amount of life and special ability that you have. Then, the players start drawing other cards to gain weapons, armor types of items and action cards, including the BANG! cards, which allow you to shoot others within range of whatever weapon you have.

This game takes a bit more up-front to pick up the mechanics of how it plays, but once everyone gets the hang of it, it can be a really good time. I know I have played this with groups of friends and family and have enjoyed it quite a bit.


Quelf is pretty basic in that your main goal is to get from the start of the game board to the finish of the game board quicker than everyone else. What sets this game apart from the rest is just how crazy that journey is.

Each person, to start the game, selects a character they want to be, from Queen Spatula to a super ninja monkey or a platypus. Once started, you roll a die to determine how far you get to move and then need to draw a type of card and perform a task. These can be anything from answering trivia about movies or basic knowledge to balancing or acting something out. Pass the test and you get to move, fail and you fall backward.

Where the game really starts to get crazy is with the “Rulez” cards, which add different elements to the game. These put into play rules that stay in the game for prolonged periods of time and can affect individual players or everyone. The group rules tend to add a step into the game, either forcing you to say something when the die is rolled or clap at specific times.

The individual ones are what make things even more crazy. In one game, I definitely had to hold a plunger in the air like a sword for the entire rest of the game, waving it from time to time as if I were a knight. Others challenge you to make a mask out items in your surroundings and wear it until another rule replaces it.

This, ultimately makes the game a crazy hodge-podge of everyone remembering the group rules and playing out their individual rules while still trying to complete the tasks on the other cards as they come up. I can honestly say, I don’t think I have laughed harder while playing any other board game.

So, these are a few of the games that I have played with family or friends and thoroughly enjoyed. Do you have any other games I may have missed? Are there any games your family plays during the holidays? If so, throw them into the comments below.

Thanks and have a Merry Christmas! And don’t forget, stock up on booze for tomorrow’s exciting finale…

After walking through the nine best games of the year that I haven’t played yesterday, today we’ll jump back into one of my favorite games of the year (even though it came out last year). Coming back down from the cosmos, we find ourselves entering a lawless world where violence is the name of the day and success means you’ve found a rarer, more elaborate gun in…

Game #10

Borderlands 2 is one of the most fun and action splattered first-person shooter games that has ever been made. It advances the scope of the original game by taking everything and ramping it up another few notches, including the action, the difficulty and especially the humor.

Whereas Gearbox Studios’ original title in the franchise introduced us to the world of Pandora and the lawless, wild west nature of the world, the sequel brings us into the gold-rush, with vault hunters scouring the planet and battling each other to find the biggest vaults and all of the treasures within.

One of the first innovations you will uncover in this game is the change-up of the four main character classes in the game. Whereas the first game created character classes with the basic sniper, heavy support and other typical online game classifications, Borderlands 2 takes the classes and develops them a bit. The focus seems to be on making it so character classes aren’t tied to specific types of guns as much as ways to play the game based upon their special class ability.

The characters you play aren’t the only thing that have abilities – the guns you find throughout the game also add special effects you can utilize at the right times to get you through some of the more difficult battles.

And there are plenty of difficult gunfights, early and often. I hadn’t played the game more than five minutes and I was  struggling to take down a group of baddies. We quickly learned that we couldn’t play the game the same way as the beginning of the last game. And after only two of those battles, you also learn that ammo is scarce and needs to be managed well to succeed in the game.

You may have noticed that I mentioned “we” there. That is because Borderlands 2, similar to the previous game, is best experienced in co-operative (co-op) play with one to three extra players joining you in the mayhem. Journeying with just a second player to assist makes Pandora that much more interesting and exciting. And unlike other FPS games, the experience with co-op is seamless with the single player action, not some tacked-on mode that is not as in-depth as the main game.

Ultimately, I have only played about four hours of the game so far, so there is still much more of the world of Pandora for me to discover. But, I can already tell that the game is a much more enjoyable and rewarding game than its predecessor. I am definitely looking forward to journeying through with some friends and taking out wave after wave of psychos with my exploding-bullet loaded assault rifle.

Have you played Borderlands 2? If so, let me know if your experience is similar to mine. Also, let me know what character class you enjoy the most and why.

Where to Buy

Borderlands 2 can be found pretty much anywhere for about $25 – $30. It is available on the PC, XBox 360 and PS3. Currently, for the month of December, Borderlands 2 can be downloaded for free for all PlayStation Plus members, which is well worth the subscription cost alone.

The game is also available for 75% off, including all downloadable content on Steam for the holiday sale (thanks for the heads-up Dale).

Sticking with the space theme of the past two days, today we move on to the war for survival and salvation in one of my favorite games of the year:

Game #8

The key to great game design is creating a game that is simple enough in concept, allowing the player to  just jump in and play while still being complex enough to keep them interested, immersed and coming back for more. Sony second-party developer Housemarque, with games like Super Stardust and Dead Nation, has proven their design mettle.

Resogun is a remarkable example of old school game design, throwing storytelling out the window, choosing to players into the action, giving them incentives to push deeper into the game. It is no surprise that this “little” indie game is widely regarded as one of the best games available on next-generation consoles.

Resogun is all about gameplay. All you get for a plot is an annoucement, delivered through the speaker on the DualShock 4 controller, to “Save the last humans” at the beginning of each level. In this day and age, this may seem like this is a key mistake.

Things can get pretty hairy pretty fast

But it is quickly realized what Housemarque’s goal is: make a gameplay experience that is fun and difficult and let nothing get in the way of that.

The first time I loaded up the game, I looked around at the options and thought to myself, “is this really all that there is in this game?” There are three different ships to pilot through five worlds. And that is it; there are no secret levels and no unlockable extras.

Starting playing with the average ship on the first world on easy difficult, the game seems simple enough. Use the left stick to maneuver the ship and the right stick to shoot. Going through the level, text overlays explain the other special functions – boost, overdrive and bombs – that the ship has.

The waves of enemies keep scrolling from left and right at you, creating some basic, but fun, gameplay, hearkening back to arcade classics like Defender and Galaga, only with vibrant and crisp graphics and a frantic frame rate that never stutters one bit. This is what distinctly defines it as a next generation game; there is no way the PS3 could handle the amount of action and enemies occurring on screen without melting down its innards.

Getting to the end of the first world, I face a boss and easily figure out, thanks to onscreen clues, how to defeat it. Sounds totally simple.

The first boss battle

But continuing forward, the difficult ramps up, leading to the fifth and final world where, even on “easy” difficulty, it is a challenge to complete without losing all of your lives. Finishing the game, the player starts to think, “is that it? That can’t be everything that the critics are raving about?”

But, that is where Housemarque’s skill in giving nuggets of motivation to players reveals itself. Having beaten the game, as in those classic arcade games mentioned previously, you see your high score and how it compares to the top of the leaderboard and your friends for that difficulty level. Incentive number one to play through again.

The level select screen deftly displays the high score list, taunting you to do better.

Incentive number two is trophies, where a nice balance is struck between trying cool things – like juggling humans to try to save two in one second – up to more game maximization based incentives – saving all humans in the different worlds or beating the game on each difficult level – pushes players back into the game.

Speaking of saving the humans, this also becomes a motivator. There were many times where finishing a level, I would notice that I missed saving the a couple of humans. Saving all humans, other than unlocking trophies, also helps to boost your score. This pushes you to go back through, focusing on which keepers release which humans and trying to save them before abduction or death. Saving each human also gives you an instant bonus, from an extra life or bomb to boosting your overdrive, which then helps continue deeper into the game.

Starting the game at another difficulty ramps the action up even more. Finishing the fifth world on easy is harder than all subsequent worlds, but jumping into the first world on intermediate ends up building upon that difficulty.

If one gripe could be made, it is that the game does become ridiculously hard. The fifth world on the second of four difficulty levels is an insanely difficult challenge, especially with the end boss, which is near impossible to beat without losing at least one life, if not all of them.

But this ramping  of difficulty pushes you forward and alongside the high score rankings, makes you want to go through again and again to topple all of your friends or everyone else in the world.

The last piece of the puzzle are the different ships. There are three different ships to choose from and you will find that each one changes the strategy used to go through the game and how best to complete the objectives at hand. One is more nimble and has some auto-locking lasers, while another ends up being more of a gunship, using high powered weapons to destroy more foes in less shots. But, playing through the game with each of the ships ends up being a different experience and challenge.

As you progress through the levels, power-ups add more laser streams and other add-ons to each ships weaponry. And you will need these advances to combat the difficulty moving through the game. If there is one opportunity that the developer missed out on, it would be allowing you to control or customize the weapons or creating power-ups that changed the way the ship fired for the time being. This change could have helped to add a little bit more variety and personalization into the game.

As you can see, what starts off as a very simple concept and gameplay experience evolves the more you play into a frantic shoot ’em up, forcing the gamer to think about multiple things while playing through the level. This fully immerses him/her into the gaming experience unlike almost any other game out there today. It may only take a bit over an hour on the first play through, but with the number of variations and difficulty levels, as well as the outside motivation of high scores and trophies, it is very easy to spend fifteen hours or more.

Too many games these days get themselves lost in their own convoluted storylines or fall down a rabbit hole of control issues or frustrating gameplay sequences. Keeping it simple but including layers of immersion is what makes Resogun a fulfilling experience as well as one of the best games of the year.

Rating: Six Stars out of Seven – Great

What are your thoughts on Resogun? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Let me know in the comments below.

Where to Buy

Resogun is a PlayStation 4 exclusive game and can be purchased for $15 on the PlayStation Store. Resogun is also currently free for PlayStation Plus subscribers, so you have no excuse to not download it and play it right now if you own a PS4!

Today’s iteration of the 12 Days of Christmas will stay in the stars. Although it has been in beta for three years, today’s game is one of the most ambitious and technical games I’ve played in a long time. So, without further ado…

Game #7

On December 13, Kerbal Space Program celebrated its 3 year anniversary of being released to the public in its beta stage. The game is still in beta.

In many instances, this would be a giant red flag; in the case of Kerbal, one of the more ambitious games in recent history, all one needs to do is play it to find that entirely acceptable.

Kerbal Space Program‘s goal: to be a realistic simulation of rocket science while remaining fun and accessible at the same time. Kerbal has developed a decent-sized cult following among hardcore PC gamers. I must admit, I haven’t sprung for the beta as of yet, but after playing the demo, I can see why folks are flocking to this game.

In the game, you are tasked with running the space program for the planet Kerbal. Your first goal: landing on the Mun. In the Demo, you only have access to building fairly simple rockets, but within the purchased beta, you are able to run all aspects, science and development, construction, flight and consistent operations of the space program.

At its core, Kerbal is a variation of a sandbox game. Whereas true sandbox games, like Minecraft, give you a sandbox to build, explore and play in, Kerbal gives you all of the tools needed to build spaceships – you just need to figure out the best way to make them fly where you want them to fly.

Early on, you will spend the main portion of the game jumping between the launch pad (seen above) and the design area, where you work on putting your craft together.

This makes the building phase sound simplistic, but trust me, this isn’t just sticking Legos together to make your dream ship. It isn’t even your junior high science class where you built rockets.

This is a trial and error version of rocket science. You must determine the type of fuel to use, the type of rockets to attach to the main ship and what kind of capsule to use. Along with this, you also determine the different phases the rockets will fire in to add the correct amounts of propulsion at the right time.

I’m not sure if even Jebediah Kerbal wants to ride in this ship…

Once the build phase is complete, now its time to take your ship for a test drive. Once out on the launch pad, you have control of navigating the ship and putting it through the different pre-planned phases of the launch and flight.

This is where the fun and skill comes into the game. The moment you launch, all the decisions you made in the building of the vessel are now realized in (as far as I can tell) realistic aerodynamic physics. And let me tell you, it isn’t very easy to handle all that propulsion deftly.

Its all in your hands now!

My first ten flights (at least) ended up in sheer and utter disaster. The first time, I didn’t decouple it from the launch platform and the ship veered into the tower and exploded. Next, I positioned the wings on the ship incorrectly, throwing the aerodynamics out of whack and creating a weight imbalance, causing the ship to uncontrollably veer right back into the earth after rising only a few hundred meters. After that, I didn’t have my separate rocket tubes stabilized enough and they flew apart, smashing into each other, exploding and leaving the main vessel to fall back to the planet without any propulsion to slow it down. And always, I was able to watch the sheer horror of my Kerbal pilot in the bottom right of the screen as he flew towards his doom.

It will go really, really bad early on…

Even though I encountered failure after failure, I still enjoyed the game, which is a testament to its design, allowing the player to get back to designing quickly. Slowly, I figured out how to improve on my design. Soon, I made it through the atmosphere and into outer space. That progressed to me getting the ship into a shallow orbit, and eventually achieving a near synchronous orbit. Looking at the bottom-right of the screen, the awe and happiness in the Kerbal pilot’s face was an additional reward for a job done better.


We made it to space!

Accomplishing that much came with a massive feeling of accomplishment. And it pushed me to want to try more variations and tweak with my design to push the boundaries even more. I started to feel what it must have felt like to be in the 1950s and 60s, pushing constantly for the next achievement and learning from and improving on previous flights.

The demo is fairly limited in the tools you have to experiment with. In the full beta, you have much more at your disposal: you can send up satellites, larger space ships, and eventually a space station. As this is a beta, the developer, Squad, is continuing to add more on a regular basis. Their most recent edition is the science package, which allows you to develop more technology and progress more through the game.

Space Stations are one of many advancements in the full beta

I really cannot recommend playing the demo enough. I bet that once you give it a shot, you will become quite hooked by the experience and want to be able to do more and more with the game. Additional appeal lies in joining the game at this pivotal point in development and watching it continue to grow into a more sophisticated experience leading up to its full release.

Hope to see you on the Mun sometime. God speed!

Where to Buy

Kerbal Space Program can be purchased for you or as a gift code for $27 via the game’s website. The game is also available on Steam and is currently priced at $18.99 until January 2nd in the Holiday Sale.

From one dystopian universe to another- today in the 12 Games of Christmas, we take to the stars to visit one of the most beloved franchises in history with…

Game #6

The Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game is a tabletop dogfighting experience to be reckoned with, doing its best to represent the complexity of space battles and the beloved nature of the franchise in an accessible package. And Fantasy Flight Games, for the most part, succeeds brilliantly.

For me, some of my favorite parts of the movies are the massive space battles. This love of space combat was amplified with the classic space battle game X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, which still goes down as one of my favorite games of all time. Its ability to encapsulate the difficulties of space dog-fighting with the graphics of the late ’90s was phenomenal.

In the X-Wing Miniatures Game, you create a squadron from either the Empire or Rebel Alliance’s array of ships – from the classic X-Wing’s and Tie Fighters, to larger ships like Boba Fett’s Slave One and Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon, as well as the more obscure Imperial Lambda-class Shuttle and Kyle Katarn’s HWK-290 from the Jedi Knight series of video games.

Each of these ships comes pre-assembled and pre-painted and look quite impressive both up close and in action on the table-top.

A few of the Rebel Alliance ships in detal
A few of the Rebel Alliance ships

Along with the ships and their bases, you also receive a set of four cards with each ship, signifying the level of pilot operating the craft. Each one of these pilots is worth a varying amount of points – which add up toward the total points limit you are allowed for your squadron for the given game.

The lower point-cost pilots start with the generic “Yellow Squadron Rookie” and increase in cost to named pilots who have special abilities. An example is the X-Wing from the core game set – you have the option of two generic pilots and then Biggs Darklighter or Luke Skywalker; Biggs’ ability attracts fire to himself from friendly ships near him (as in the movie) whereas Luke’s special allows him to change defense die results to help him evade attacks.

Each of the different ships, as in other pieces of the Star Wars universe, are good for different uses: The X-Wing is your all around attack fighter, the Y-Wing resides in more of a heavy support role, the B-Wing brings large amounts of artillery to the party, while the A-Wing adds speed and missiles to the squad. The varying amount of Tie Fighters fill similar roles on the Imperial side while the large ships give you different bonuses and larger amounts of fire power to utilize against the enemy.

Is Slave One running away? No, just firing with its rear attack.

Each player then chooses their squadron to fit within the agreed-upon point limit, selecting combinations of ships and pilots along with adding upgrades that each ship type can add. This system adds variation to the game, using different combinations to craft the play style of your squadron towards your taste and tactics. If you want to out-shoot your opponents, take a B-Wing with some major artillery along with an ion cannon equipped Y-Wing and an X-Wing; if you want to maneuver your way around the opponent, then use a duo of A-Wings with an X-Wing or maybe even the cheapest Millennium Falcon option.

The gameplay then happens in simultaneous turns. This may seem like an oxymoron, but it is the best way to explain it.  Each ship comes with a movement dial, which includes each of the possible maneuvers you can make with that ship. The number is the distance you can move, the arrow shows the direction of the movement and the color is how taxing the effort is on your pilot and if it causes stress – which limits additional movements in this and subsequent turns.

The movement dial for the B-Wing – Very slow and plodding.

Each player chooses the movement for their ship on that turn and flips it upside down. Those movements are then revealed in reverse initiative order and the ships move according to the movement templates included with the core game set.

A Tie Fighter reveals its movement.

If the ship makes a red movement, the pilot is stressed and cannot make additional actions in the next phase until he makes a green movement to remove the stress in a subsequent turn.

Once all ships have moved, they are now able to determine secondary actions, which differ based upon the ship type and player card. These range from “Evade”, if they know they will be targeted, to “Focus”, which allows the pilot to change a focus role to a result of their choosing.

The battle now reaches the attack phase. In initiative order, each pilot receives an amount of dice per their card to roll (usually 2-3) to see the effectiveness of the attack. If the targeted ship is at close range, the attacker receives an extra die; if at long range, the defending ship receives an extra defense die.

The different possible rolls for attack (red) and defense (green).

As seen above (in order), the defender can roll to evade, focus or no result. The attacker can roll a hit, a critical hit (worth two damage) or a focus. The focus rolls are meaningless unless the pilot chooses the focus action. If selected, the player is then able to change the focus result to whichever die result they choose. Aside from doing extra damage, critical hits can also add handicaps to the pilot or ship hit with the attack.

The game then moves forward in these turns until one side claims victory by destroying all of the other ships or completing some form of objective determined at the start of the game.

The most interesting dynamic in the game is choosing your movement and then revealing that decision. Because you do not know how your opponent’s ships are going to move, you have to anticipate where they will be in order to maneuver your ships into the most advantageous position. Revealing movements is fun  and unpredictable – sometimes a ship will end up right in front of you, while at other times, one of your ships may end up far away from the action.

You can expect the first game or two to be pure learning experiences; you will make mistakes and forget different rules, phases or abilities. In those first few games, I would highly recommend trying a range of ship combinations to figure out what options out there fit into your tactical tendencies.

Once you figure out the rules, a moderately sized game (60 – 75 points) will usually not take longer than a couple of hours, making the game fairly accessible for its level of complexity. 100 point games or battles with more than two players will ultimately add to the game time, but it still feels manageable (I guess most things do compared to Warhammer).

There are a few aspects of the game that do cause difficulties, however. At times, especially once you start playing in higher-point contests, the actual movement of the miniatures on the table can get quite difficult to carry out cleanly. Precise movement is paramount in this game – even the slightest extra rotation when placing a ship onto the table or slightest nudge while moving another ship can alter whether a ship is within line-of-sight or not.

There were a few times in some of our games where ships would be crossing on top of each other and you would have to alter the initiative order of the movement to fit ships into place. Even doing that, at times the table looks more like a game of bumper cars than a space battle as ships end up  stuck to each other for a round.

This is only made more difficult once you start playing with the larger ships. This is because the penultimate battles will send your smaller fighters towards those ships. Their smaller movements through the larger bases of the ships sometimes causes one big jumbled mess. Granted, part of that simulates how hairy and discombobulated dogfighting can be, but it can be at times a hindrance to the gaming experience, as you can end up spending more time measuring and futzing around with the positioning of the ships than actually playing the game.

One particularly messy exchange, with the Falcon at its center.

There are also a few combinations in the game that seem overpowered. For instance, an X-Wing with R2-D2 – which can help regain shields each turn – is a nearly unstoppable force for the cost of only four extra points. Granted, it makes sense per the films, but from a game-balancing perspective, it can be problematic. I could see this always being selected in a Rebel army at a tournament.

Aside from those issues, it definitely is an interesting spin on tabletop wargaming. The startup costs are relatively cheap, by wargaming standards: A basic starter set of the core game and two expansion packs of a ship for each faction will run you approximately $60 – $70 at full retail price; utilizing internet deals could drop that cost by at least a third. This gives you enough models to play simple but enjoyable games with both sides – which is perfect for learning the mechanics and rules.

Fantasy Flight Games is soon expanding the game by adding larger class ships to the fray, in the Tantive IV Rebel Command ship and the Rebel Assault Transport. These new ships are ushering in the new Epic Play style to X-Wing, which is starting to encroach into the levels of battles seen at the end of some of the original movies.

So, if you are a life-long fan of Star Wars like me or are just looking to test your tabletop general skills in a galaxy far, far away, you cannot go wrong picking up this game. May the force – and the dice – be with you!

Rating: Six out of Seven Stars

Have you played the game? What ships do you most want in your collection? Share your opinions in the comments below.

Where to Buy

Quite possibly the best place to buy X-Wing Miniatures are from Miniature Market. They always have discounts on items (when they have them in stock) and if you order $99 or more of products from them, it is free shipping.

Amazon will also have deals from time to time on some of the different expansion packs.

You will also be able to find X-Wing miniatures at many comic/game stores and also at the Fantasy Flight Games Online Store or in person at their Event Center.

Yesterday, we focused on the huge, modern day open world adventure that is Grand Theft Auto V. Today, we’re going to change gears, drastically. Instead of the massive fictional world that Los Santos, we will now be journeying back in time to the Cold War era in the fictional world of our next game:

Game #5

Papers, Please takes place in a fictionalized version of Cold War era Eastern Europe/the U.S.S.R. You play a character who just received a job via the labor lottery on the border checking passports of those attempting to enter your country, Arstotzka. Your job, to determine if the people are entering your country legally or illegally by validating their passport and other (increasingly complex) immigration information.

Just another day on the job…

As you can see, Papers, Please uses a simplistic art style. The gameplay mechanics are also nothing new; you review the information the prospective immigrants present and determine whether to approve or deny their request. You get paid for each correctly processed person. Make too many mistakes, and you get demerits (or even fired, arrested and/or executed).

“What is the point? This game looks like work. Why would I want to play a game that is about working?”

Although the gameplay mechanics are simple in a Diner Dash sort of way, the storyline and the overarching concept of the game adds more to the experience than any other game I have played in a long time.

As I mentioned before, you make money for each immigrant you processed correctly. This doesn’t just go toward buying a better passport stamp or nonsense like that. Instead, you need to be able to pay for rent, heat, and food for your family of six.

This alone becomes motivation to do your best to avoid being a dead-beat dad (or son or spouse). However, making enough money is not always within your control and when times get tough, you need to decide what is more important, heat or food. If this happens too often, your family gets sick and needs medicine and you need to decide which family members receive the medicine and which ones don’t. Neglect family members for too long and they will die.

Which family member gets the medicine?

This use of RPG=lite elements help to make the “grind” of the office a bit more interesting.

Speaking of the job, the game does a fantastic job of ramping up the complexity from beginning to end, starting you off with checking basic passports but then building to adding work visas, diplomatic papers and other sorts of identification. Directives will be passed down on a daily basis adding these new paperwork restrictions as well as other decrees from on high (such as not allowing anyone through the checkpoint from specific countries).

You must check all information with your guide to validate the authenticity of documentation and notate any discrepancies before denying entry.

As you advance through the game, small story events will come up that force you to make decisions. Do I allow the director’s buddy into the country without the proper credentials? What will happen to me if I don’t? Should I assist a secret order with their attempts to infiltrate the country and perform attacks on the government? If a person attempts to use falsified documents, do I arrest them or just deny their passport? These decisions help to build towards the 20 different endings within the game.

While performing your job and making these difficult decisions, the game continues around you. Every now and again, a terrorist will attack the checkpoint, causing destruction and closing the border early that day – which makes it that much more difficult to earn the money needed for grandma’s medicine. Eventually, you are even given access to defensive weapons (a sniper rifle or a tazer gun) to take care of attacks before they are entirely carried out.

What is most intriguing about this game, however, are the parallels that the developer Lucas Pope draws between the dystopian world of the game and present-day complaints and issues in America.

One parallel drawn is the price of terrorism and its affect on personal freedom. Similar to the TSA agents at all American airports, you gain the ability to scan people with revealing X-Ray scanners to determine if they have any weapons on them. After scanning, you are presented with a naked, front-and-back image of the person to inspect in order to see if any weapons or contraband is on their person.

Clearly, the most blatant subject the game covers is immigration. No matter how different the world may be in the game from the world we live in today, the game characterizes those immigrating and how their ability to enter the new country may (or may not) make a huge difference in their lives. The game plays with these concepts, showing all sorts of different people seeking entry and gives the player a unique perspective on the immigration debate in American that not seen in any other game (or any other fictional work for that matter). My guess is, based upon your discussion with some of the characters in the game, you will think twice about following the rules blindly and give their passport the green stamp.

The ways that this game is able to broach some of the most integral and serious topics in our world today within this simplistic looking game is a testament to solid story telling and game design.

Possibly this is why when I started playing the game – only planning to toy with it for about an hour – I became engrossed to the point that my short play session was in actuality five hours long. And I wanted to keep playing. Why? Because in its simple mechanics but complex, branching story, I just wanted to experience more of the world that was crafted.

The game succeeds in doing everything it set out to do and so much more. And that is why no matter how mundane this game sounds to you, I implore you to play it for just one hour – a few hours later, I believe you will feel the same way I do about Papers, Please.

Rating: Seven out of Seven Stars

Where to Buy

Papers, Please can be purchased at the game’s website via paypal or on Steam for $9.99.


Yesterday, we ventured into how inappropriate a card game can get with Cards Against Humanity. Today, we will look at how inappropriate a video game can get with:

Game #4

Now, the chances of a loved one being a video game player that hasn’t purchased this game already is probably pretty slim (it did make $1 Billion dollars in its first three days on the market). But, if they haven’t and they are old enough to play Mature-rated games (17+), you have to buy them this game.

The fifth installment in the series isn’t just more of the same; it is bigger, badder and online-ier (?).

That is right: the game’s storyline branches between three different characters (seen above in order: Trevor, Franklin and Michael) and includes 69 direct missions with nearly as many side missions, races and other unique quests that add up to a far longer experience  than that of GTA IV. And it is also a much more cohesive story, with characters that are unique and make sense doing the things they are doing.

The world of Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) is also gigantic – at least triple the size of GTA IV and probably larger than all GTA games combined since GTA III was released on PlayStation 2 in 2001.

The world of GTA IV (inset) compared to GTA V

Other than being larger and more extensive, this game also does tend to take the content to the extreme as well. I will say it again, this game IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. The game includes large amounts of swearing, many instances of characters making questionable actions or comments, a strip club with partial nudity, and one unskippable interrogation scene that draws many similarities to an early scene in Zero Dark Thirty (it may also be taken from Dick Cheney’s dreams). This game pushes the envelope, intentionally, so make sure the person you are buying it for is ready for a game with these types of experiences.

The other major addition in this iteration is Grand Theft Auto: Online, which acts as a separate always-online, open world experience. The player creates their own character and then plays online with up to 15 other people, both friends and foes, facing off in deathmatches, races, missions (both cooperative and competitive) and unorganized hi-jinx.

Having logged about 12 hours, there are always things to find in this mode, though it is quite a bit less directed than the single-player experience. It is ultimately best traversed with a buddy or two to add to the enjoyment. The most fun moments have been just tooling around town, trying to break into different areas with a pal in tow, something that is much more rewarding than “going solo” in the single-player game.

And the game’s developer Rockstar is planning on adding to the already existing content with online heists, new game modes and possibly even new cities (Vice City anyone) in the future, which makes it another gift that keeps on giving the whole year round.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous games in the series, this is a no-brainer of a buy. If you played the previous games but tended to get bogged down in the story as it progressed, give this version a go as it does a much better job of keeping it interesting with set-piece moments and switching between characters. If you didn’t like GTA before because of control issues, many of those are resolved, so I would also recommend giving the series a second chance.

Check back after Christmas for our full review of GTA V and our thoughts about GTA Online thus far.

Have you played the game? If so, what are some of your favorite parts of the game? I know the heists are probably my favorite. Let know what your favorite things are about this game in the comments below.

Where to Buy

This game is available for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 and can be purchased at all retailers that sell games.

Purchase online at Amazon here (it currently is discounted by $20, so pick it up now!).

The holidays are the time for friends and family to enjoy time-honored family traditions. Some of these may be caroling around the neighborhood, serving soup at a local homeless shelter or going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. If your family isn’t this straight-laced or politically correct or are looking for a new tradition to spice things up, look no further than our next Game of Christmas:

Game #3

My guess is you are familiar with the large-group card-based game Apples to Apples. If you aren’t familiar, that family-friendly game has players draw up to seven cards of specific and non-specific nouns (a birthday party, Einstein, World War II, beer). Then, each player takes turns flipping up a descriptive word (peaceful, risky, touchy-feely) and the other players need to submit face-down a noun that plays off of that topic – either because it is a good example of that description or is in some way comedically related. The player chooses a winner and the game continues until one person has won in a pre-determined amount of rounds (usually 3-5).

As the graphic above describes, this is Apples to Apples only in the most horrible, inappropriate and politically incorrect way.

Instead of q descriptive word, the setup for each round’s topic is usually a tad more elaborate.

Examples of Topics in Cards Against Humanity

As you can see already, this game has the trappings of being fairly inappropriate. The playable “noun” cards are also quite a bit more elaborate than in Apples to Apples and are almost always ranging from strange to completely inappropriate.

The fairly appropriate end of the spectrum
The more inappropriate end of the spectrum

As in it’s goody-two-shoes predecessor, the real fun comes in the combinations that are laid out for all to see.

As you can see, this game is not quite as PC…

The one innovation that this game brings to the table, other than totally inappropriate humor, is the addition of Pick 2 and even Pick 3 cards. When these are drawn, players must complete phrases with multiples of their white cards. This usually leads to some of the more hilarious combinations in the game.

An example of a Pick 2 at its worst (or best)

Ultimately, this game isn’t for everyone. If any of the above images offended you, it may be wise to pass up this game and stick with Bridge.  And similar to Apples to Apples, if you play it too often with the same group of people without buying more cards, it can become repetitive (there are currently four expansion packs that have been released).

But if you are looking for an entirely cathartic experience by ignoring your inhibitions and allowing your politically incorrect creativity to run wild, you will definitely have a great time with Cards Against Humanity.

Rating: Six out of Seven Stars

Have you played Cards Against Humanity? If so, throw me some of your craziest combinations into the comments to help give others a bit more of a feel for the game.

Looking for more ridiculous and terrible examples of combinations from the game? Check out this story from Buzzfeed:


Where to Buy:

One other positive of Cards Against Humanity is that you can download the beginning version of the game for free from the creator’s website. Then, all you have to do is print out the cards, cut them and laminate them and you have a fully functioning version of the game.

However, if you are lazy like me and 95% of Americans, there is a link to purchase them from their site as well at  http://cardsagainsthumanity.com/ for only $25.

Or, you can just cut out the middle man and go straight to the game on Amazon at the following link (and please note the description states that “0% of proceeds will be donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation”):



Yesterday we started off the 12 Games of Christmas with a program that allows subscribers to download multiple games for free. Today, we are getting down to a specific game from a widely recognized franchise that is quite amazing. Well, enough waiting, here is:

Game 2 of the 12 Games of Christmas

The Walking Dead is based in the same world as the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman and the AMC Television series created by Frank Darabount. However, it is a completely original story within that universe and other than a couple of cameos from a couple of characters popularized by the TV series, it stands on its own.

The game, created by Telltale Games, was built as five episodes released incrementally over time that tells the story of Lee Everett, a college professor on his way to prison for murder when the zombie outbreak began, and Clementine, a child separated from her parents and alone in the world.

The story, similar to the series and comics, focuses around these two characters and the people they meet (both friend and foe) as they attempt to survive a zombie infested world. The one difference is you as the player have the ability to alter the chain of events in the story as well as the relationship that Lee has with other characters.

The Walking Dead hearkens back to more traditional interactive adventure games. Within each environment, Lee is given basic interactions with objects and individuals to find a way through that area. At each level, you have a basic problem to solve. One may be how to escape a room while avoiding zombies, while another can be deciding which characters plans are right and which ones are wrong.

To give you a better idea, here is a walkthrough of the demo for the game, which pulls pieces of the first episode and visualizes what I am describing..

While the gameplay itself isn’t revolutionary, the branching story that changes as you go through the episodes feels new. For instance, in Episode 1, A New Day, you have to choose one of two characters to save, which affects who you play alongside through a majority of the game. Also, in the early parts of the game, you will decide which characters to support in their decisions for the group, which has an impact near the end of the game as to which characters will help you through to the end.

It is a very interesting concept and makes it feel like the experience is something you played a part in creating. Along with that is a phenomenally well-written and touching story.

Season 1 along with add-on content 400 Days, are widely available now. Season 2, which picks up the story where it left off in Season 1 Episode 5 No Time Left, will be available on Steam and XBox Live Arcade on Tuesday, December 17.

I cannot recommend this any more highly as it is an incredibly touching game.  You cannot help but become invested in both Lee and Clementine and some of the other supporting characters.  Which makes it that much more crushing when bad things happen. A full review of the game will be coming in the near future, so keep tuned in.

Have you played the game? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments below.

Where to Buy

The Walking Dead: Season 1 is available for the majority of gaming systems. It is purchasable for download for gaming consoles on XBox Live Arcade (XBLA) and PlayStation Network (In fact, the full game is free currently on the XBLA, so you should definitely download it!) . It is also available on Steam and Amazon for download on PC.

The game can also be found at most game retailers in its entirety in disc form. Prices for all of these options range from $25 to $35 for the entire game.


‘Tis the season to be merry! It also ’tis the season to be out and about, braving the cold and the crowds to shop endlessly and tirelessly for your loved ones. Either that, or you’re looking to take a break from thinking about others and want to purchase a gift for yourself.

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a difficult time determining what to buy for other folks or even sometimes for yourself when deciding to “Treat yo’self!”

Have no fear! Over the next twelve days, I am going to be giving you twelve game related items or ideas that you can stuff into other people’s stockings or use to spice up your holiday celebrations. This also will serve as my “Best of 2013” gaming rundown.

So, without further ado, let us begin the The 12 Games of Christmas!

Game #1

If you have anyone on your shopping list that owns a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 or PlayStation Vita, I am going to save you a ton of time: This is a Must Buy!

I know what you may be thinking, it seems kind of lame to buy them just a card to open up on their Christmas celebration, but this ends up being much more than just a card.

PlayStation Plus (PS Plus) is a subscription that comes in lengths of three or twelve months. With this subscription, gamers receive access to download games for free each month on the PlayStation Network Store (PSN Store) and receive increased discounts on downloadable games from PSN. These discounts range from 10% to 75% in some instances.

How Good of a Deal is this Really?

In actuality, this is an amazing deal. For the price of only $17.99 for 3 months or $49.99 for 12 months, players receive immediate access to what Sony calls the Instant Game Collection for each PlayStation System. If the code is entered today, here are the games that could be downloaded and played on PS3:

  • Borderlands 2 (Game of the Year Nominee for 2013)
  • GRID 2
  • Uncharted 3 Single Player (Game of the Year Nominee and Winner in 2012)
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Game of the Year Nominee in 2012)
  • Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2 Classic Remastered in HD)
  • ICO (PlayStation 2 Classic Remastered in HD)
  • Hotline Miami
  • Zen Pinball 2: Star Wars Pinball
  • ibb & obb
  • Poker Night 2
  • LittleBigPlanet Karting
  • Galaga Legions DX

That’s a lot of games! And I can attest that both Borderlands 2 and XCOM are amazing games.

Add to that every month, one to two more games will be available to download, and you can see how this can be an insane amount of value.

And that isn’t even including the six games available for Vita and two games available for PS4 at this time. And each of those is scheduled to get at least one new game a month as well moving into the future. That increases the value that much more for someone who owns multiple Sony systems.

As an addition, if the person has purchased or is looking at purchasing a PS4 in the near future, the system requires PS Plus to play games online, so that adds to the benefit of having a membership.

What if the person is already a PS Plus member? No worries – whatever subscription amount you give them, once they enter the code, it just adds that to their already existing subscription. So if they had seven months remaining and you get them a three month card, they will have ten months of gaming goodness before they will need to renew their membership.

And what happens if the PS Plus membership lapses or is not renewed? The only downfall is any game downloaded from the Instant Game Collection will cease to work without an active account, so those games will not be available until a new subscription is purchased.

Worried about not having enough space on your PS System’s hard drive to download any or all of these games as they are available? Have no fear.

All you need to do is go to the PSN Store and begin the download. What this will do is add the item to your account as a “purchase”. You can then download these items later at any time from the PSN Store’s “View Downloads” area. This means that if you are like me and only have a very small amount of space on your PS3, just “purchase” all of the games and download them when you clear up space.

Here is another interesting trick if the user only has one system but plans to buy other systems in the future and wants the free games available now to be waiting for them:

One other item to consider: if your system only has a 4GB hard drive, you will most likely not be able to play some of the larger games from the Instant Game Collection. For instance, Borderlands 2 is a 5.3GB download. The largest game I have seen has been around 13-14GB in size, as an FYI.

If you are shopping for someone with only an X-Box system, you can still never go wrong with buying them a membership card for X-Box Live Gold. This is required for all online access on Microsoft systems and has also begun to give users access to downloading some free games, though it isn’t as complete as Sony’s service.

Where to Buy

PS Plus Membership cards should be available at all major retailers that sell video games.

PS Plus codes can also be bought from Amazon.com at the following link:


Are you already a PS Plus member? Let me know your thoughts or send me any questions in the comments below. And don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for the 2nd Game of Christmas 2013!