On Pillowfort, I’ve been writing a “video game diary” where I write mini-reviews of video games I’ve played recently (or watched my husband play). This diary is the inspiration of a few of my articles, including “Bugsnax’s twofold queerness” and “Practice and sight-reading in video games“. Since Pillowfort has been down for an extended period, it seems like a good time to try importing the feature here. I’m just calling it “game diary” because I might occasionally include a board game.
I may or may not decide to continue this feature on this blog, so let me know if you like it.
A Monster’s Expedition
A Monster’s Expedition Through Puzzling Exhibitions is a sokoban puzzle game, taking place on an archipelago. You chop down trees, roll around the logs, and use them make bridges to proceed to more islands. This takes strong inspiration from Stephen’s Sausage Roll, in that there are many “hidden” mechanics which emerge naturally, but which don’t become apparent until later in the game. Stephen’s Sausage Roll is near the top of my list of puzzle games, but I would sooner recommend this one, because it has a far gentler difficulty curve, and makes difficult puzzles optional.
My main criticism of A Monster’s Expedition is that, at least on the surface, puzzles are very same-y. Although a puzzle might require entirely new mechanics and insights to solve, on the surface it just looks like the locations of the trees have been shuffled around a bit. My second criticism is that I think some of the optional multi-island puzzles are not enjoyable. The search space is just so large–you can waste a bunch of time on an island trying to find a secret, only to find that the correct solution starts on a totally different island. I opted to skip a lot of the optional puzzles
Eastshade is an open-world walking sim–there aren’t many of those! The “hook” of the game is that you can paint anything you see. But I think this is a less important mechanic than the trailers would have you believe. It’s basically an exercise in finding a good vantage point–more like photography than painting. The good thing about painting is not the painting itself, and more that it requires the developers to have made a game worth painting.
The real focus of the game is on the numerous story-based side-quests. And I’m afraid I find most of the stories a bit irritating. The stories reflect a sort of naive secular humanist value system, blended with scooby-doo skepticism, and colonialism. Did I really need the story of an Indigenous character bringing me back to visit his hidden tribe? No, no I did not.
Snaliens is a sokoban puzzle game. Keeping in mind that I come from the perspective of being extremely good at puzzle games, I would call this game easy, but enjoyable. The most unique puzzle mechanic is that you can collect pieces that follow in a trail behind you, snake-style. And the pieces can contain wires, which you use to connect switches together. I declare this puzzle mechanic to be adequate–nothing mind-blowing, but sufficient to make the game more than just another sokoban. If you’re looking for puzzle game recommendations, this would be far down my list.
Terraforming Mars is a strategy board game about what it says in the title. Players draw from a deck of hundreds of unique cards, building engines and advance Mars along three tracks: temperature, oxygen, and water. It is an excellent example of a game with a lot of “meta”—the strategy changes significantly depending on the biases of the players. We’ve looked at strategy advice online, and it’s all over the place because different play groups seem to have very different meta.
I don’t really need a board game to have a theme in order to enjoy it, but I appreciate that it’s more than just another “colonialism in space” game. My husband and I have been describing the game’s setting as a crony capitalist utopia, where private corporations compete for rewards from the government—and sometimes explicitly manipulate the government for their own benefit.
Astroneer is a sandbox game that lets you freely manipulate the landscape, kind of like Minecraft but with polygon meshes instead of cubes. A combination of base building, mining, exploring, and even sculpting if you’re into that sort of thing. It has survival elements and can be punishing if you’re not prepared, but there’s no time pressure, so that’s nice.
I enjoyed the game, but I initially found the controls and tech progression to be obtuse. And I wish there was more payoff for exploration.
Alt-Frequencies is a short story-based game where you switch freely between radio frequencies, and sometimes interact with the radio show hosts. All the radio shows are in a loop, and said time loop is the central focus of the plot.
The plot is overtly political, but I felt like the game just didn’t have anything to say. The neat part of the game is having fictional representations of various radio show archetypes. And of course it has to include a talk radio show host, although that character is a lot more sympathetic and less dangerous than the real thing.