Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pixel Tactics 3

Pixel Tactics 3 is, as the name suggests, the third in the Pixel Tactics line of player-vs-player tactical card games from Level 99 games, using characters from their fictional world of Indines.  If you're already a fan of the Pixel Tactics games, you'll find some nice new features... if you are new to the games, you can start playing right away - these decks work on their own or combined with their predecessors.

There is a lot to like about Pixel Tactics 3, but I will get my one caveat out of the way right off the bat.  There is a lot of text on the cards and the cards are not large.  This means a lot of reading and reasonably sharp vision will be required.  The artwork is highly stylized to appear as old fashioned 8-bit computer graphics.  This will be nostalgic to some, annoying to others.  I happen to own (and occasionally use) a collection of 1980s-era computers, so it's right up my digital alley.  But a painter I tested the game with couldn't understand why a game would intentionally make artwork MORE blocky.  Your mileage - as with any game - will vary.  This is a gamers' game.

Now the good stuff.  Pixel Tactics is a head to head game of commanding a force of up to nine characters against your opponent's up to nine characters.  Each of your heroes is a card you play from your hand, and the one you play first is the "Leader" - this one has an over-arching passive game effect that continually modifies all your other characters (and thus, directs your strategy.)  The regular heroes can be played in a variety of ways.  Their capabilities depend on where you place them - each hero has a front line effect (melee attacks on the other unit, intercepting incoming ranged attacks etc), a flank effect (maybe giving you extra actions, etc) and a rear effect (ranged attacks, healing, etc etc).  You may also choose to discard a card to use its "Order" effect, which is powerful but will remove that card from play for the rest of the match.

The game is fun in both the short term and the long term. Discovering how the cards work together is very fun.  You can bide your time to see what cards come out, then build a strong strategy, or you can try and go for a quick kill - as the instructions warn, you'll likely do better if you go the former route.  Once you know all the cards you can have even more fun since you now know what you're doing.  Essentially, the possibilities unfold and then begins the battle royale.

The synergy between the cards is effective and multi-varied and there are always interesting decisions to be made.  The Leaders have interesting and powerful effects - one lets you use 14 heroes instead of 9 in your unit; one lets you play heroes out of turn (usually you play from one row at a time, front to back), one lets you switch leaders mid-match.  Here are three cards as an example.  The Leaders are used by turning the card upside down, so each card can be either a Leader or a Hero. Click on the image below for a larger scale image.

Pixel Tactics is designed to be a relatively quick game, and it is.  The package says 30 minutes - the web site suggests 30 to 60 minutes - my games were longer, but my testers and I were being leisurely about it.  Once you and your opponent understand the game and know all the cards, the game will play quickly - so you can knock out a game whenever convenient, unlike those strategy games that take hours - you know the ones!

Playing the out-of-the-box game means you and your opponent will have identical decks, which means you'll know what cards each other have and be playing the same cards on each other.  This is mitigated by all the different card effects.  Because cards behave in different ways depending on how they are used, the cards stay interesting longer.  Expert players can combine cards from Pixel Tactics 1 and 2 and even play with card drafting to create their own decks.  Some special cards are included - I was amused to see Tom Vasel, game reviewer, in pixel form - and there's a blank card so you can make your own.

As with films, my test of a good game is - was I thinking about it later after it was over? - and with Pixel Tactics 3, the answer is yes!  If you like tactical games with lots of options - be sure to check it out.   There's a video showing how to play it at Level 99 Games' web site.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview with the creators of "Krackades"

I had an opportunity to sit down (virtually) with the folks behind the new game KRACKADES (Charades on crack) and get a few questions asked about this new game that does for charades/drawing/sculpting games, what Cards Against Humanity did for Apples to Apples - bust the game wide open into a much more risque, less uptight topical space.  Here's what they had to say. Learn more at

1)  How did the idea arise for "Krackades"?

We wanted to create a game for our generation that's all about unadulterated raunchy fun.  It started nearly a year ago at a Christmas party after playing a round of Cranium.  We really wished it had a little more edginess and over-the-top aura similar to Cards Against Humanity but without extremely sensitive non-politically correct subjects.  So we decided to make our own game and play it with friends.  It was an instant hit on a conceptual level and a bunch of people started chiming in asking us to include even more outrageous and raunchy cards to our current deck of act, sculpt, and draw.  It started to grow from there and we threw in our unique twists to the game mechanic with Krack Attacks.

In fact, we actually got strong encouragement from one of our friends from undergrad and co-creator of CAH, Josh Dillon, to keep developing the game and pushing the envelope.    

2)  The theme of the game is a bit risque.  How have people reacted to the game?  What's it like playing it with strangers for the first time?  Have you introduced it to your families?

We noticed an interesting pattern: people who are generally timid to join in the game on the first round sit on the side lines, then when they see how much fun everyone is having trying to guess something like "Dick in the Box" as someone frantically tries to sculpt it under 60 seconds, then they end up joining in too.  Generally, ethanol speeds up this process.

Overall, we've received pretty positive reviews from people except for one time a girl playing the game literally started laughing and crying because she had to draw "Gerbil up the butt."

Our families know of the game.  They have still yet to play it.

3)  In "Krackades Mini" you have a proof of concept and can generate some buzz.  How many copies did you make?  What's the plan for the next version of Krackades?  Are you going the Kickstarter route?

We sold out our original batch of Krackades Mini, roughly 100 copies, in about two months and this was with virtually close to zero publicity.  We currently re-stocked it on Amazon in order to quench growing demand and generate greater awareness before launching another Kickstarter.  Krackades Mini is simply a portable version of the game that people can put in their pocket and take to any party anywhere.

Our goal is to create a complete game with larger cards (featuring fan-favorite's from act, sculpt and draw cards that optimizes fun and difficulty level), more outrageous Krack Attacks -- all included with clay and a paper pad.

4)  Your video on is really impressive, the production values and visual graphics especially.  What software did you use to create it?  Did you hire a professional (or is one of you a professional)?

One of our friends is a motion graphics artist with insane skills. He used Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite to pull it all together.  We paid him with pancakes and syrup at a local diner for brunch.  We also gave him the inflatable blowup doll "Dolly" as a token of our appreciation, I'm sure she has her own channel now on Snapchat.

5)  What do you do with your spare time?  What other games do you guys enjoy?

We enjoy playing chess and sometimes playing 2048 or even Flappy Bird.  In our spare time, we really enjoy game design and watching funny serials on Netflix, like Community or The Office.

6)  Got any advice for the aspiring game creators out there?

Try to get Jimmy Kimmel or Ashton Kutcher to sponsor your product -- it's more likely to go viral that way.  If that approach fails, hard work, creativity, and being smart can also pay dividends.  Also, playtest relentlessly and don't be afraid to modify things based on input you get from early adopters.

7)  What, to you, makes a game good / fun ?  

I think a hallmark of a good game is one where you willingly put your own social capital on the line and introduce it to new acquaintances and friends because you believe it's something that's really fun and fresh.  In terms of game mechanics, it's something that operates fluidly and is easy to understand while maintaing a certain competitive and/or challenging aspect to it.

I suppose you can also say a good game ought to be addictive too.

8)  Is Krackades your first game you've put together?  Do you expect to do more in future?

Krackades is the first game we put together.  We have other ideas in the works but we want to see Krackades blossom into its true potential first.

9)  What lessons have you learned in producing the game, that you'd pass on to other aspiring game creators?

It's a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun too when you share the experience with friends and strangers.  Always have an open mind to incorporate feedback during play tests.    Working out logistics and choosing the right producer for the game is also key for quality.  Creating a game for the first time is a continual process of refinement.  Also, it's not enough that you create a great game that's well playtested, conceptually sound, and fun -- you must find a way to spread it to the masses.  Growing your base of followers is probably one of the most critical challenges to overcome and it requires an intrepid spirit to get people to not only love your idea but also actively play and share it with others as well.

It's all too easy to give up and get depressed if your crowdsourcing campaign fails initially.  If you really believe in your idea don't give up or at least consider modifying your approach.  Altogether, it's an exciting process and we can't wait to share it with the masses.

Krackades Team (Cyrus)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

ApocalypZe: it's all about survival

Zombies are overrepresented in today's entertainment market.  Movies, TV shows, and all sorts of games feature these rotten critters.  But ApocalpyZe, a unique card game originally promoted through Kickstarter, is not just another brain-munching splat-fest.  Rather, the game presents a post-apocalyptic setting with real tension and make-or-break decisions.  The zombies are only a part of what you'll face as you attempt to survive - the most dire enemy being ultimate starvation, simulated by your ever-shrinking draw pile.

Each player gets a customizable deck of 60 cards (you may use 45 if you want a shorter game) including one "stronghold" card, representing your "home base."  Cards consist of scavenging locations (which give you an opportunity to replenish your deck), defenders (who you place on your locations), raiders (who you deploy to other locations) and weapons and equipment (which you "attach" to your defenders or raiders to assist them.)

Although there is a combat phase in the game, the essence of this game is resource management.  During the session I played in, I seemed to be doing quite well, and attacked my neighbor repeatedly.  Because I had so many defenders, I needed to consume more cards, while she hung on and I basically fought myself into starvation.  The decisions about how and where to do battle are more interesting than the battles themselves; the outcome of the game is often going to be close (and often surprising.)  

Don't dismiss ApocalypZe just because it has zombies.  This is a game with a unique feel and some very unique gameplay mechanisms.  The end of the world has never been this much fun.

You can learn more and purchase the game at the Nine Kingdoms web site.  Also be sure to see the updated rulebook.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Galactic Sneeze

I have a special treat for y'all today, an interview with Sara and Bryan from Galactic Sneeze, creators of SCHMOVIE (reviewed on this blog last December.)  Schmovie is available for purchase at Amazon.  Cheers!

How did you get the idea for SCHMOVIE?  Did other games inspire you, and if so, which?  Or some random event?
Schmovie actually started as a film-themed spin-off of an earlier game we designed called “Pitch King”, where players came up with names for wacky inventions. We were also working on writing a screenplay for an animated film at the time, and had been reading a ton of books about screenwriting and story structure. We applied the film theme to the other game and ended up liking it better since it was more replayable and had a universal theme... everyone likes movies!

About how many times do you think you play-tested the game before printing?  What was your strategy in finding testers? 
We tested the game a lot. We played with friends, family, our friends’ families, and our family’s friends. We started with people we knew since it was easiest to pull folks together quickly that way. We sent out testing/scoring sheets with the prototypes so we could get feedback.

Did the game change much over the course of development?  If so, how?  What was the game like when you first created it?
The core mechanic of the game has stayed the same, but pretty much everything around it has evolved: the name, the branding, the trophies, and the design. Schmovie was originally called “Screen Play”, but we realized pretty quickly that it would be hard to secure the URL for that name, or have the game come up readily in online searches. So we knew we had to come up with a name that was more unique and ownable. We tried out a bunch of different names, and Schmovie just sort of schtuck!
The original design of the game was black, white, and gold… pulling inspiration from Hollywood and the film industry. It made sense but lacked our current playfulness. Once we changed the name to Schmovie, we got a little sillier. It was actually through our play-along Facebook page that the Schquid Trophy (our reward system) evolved and ultimately became the face of our brand.

Why did you decide to go the "start a small business and do everything yourself" route, rather than "try and find a company to license and publish the game for you" route (or did you try that too?)  Are you happy you went this direction?
We originally formed Galactic Sneeze as a “fun stuff think tank” with the goal of pitching toys, games, and IPs to larger companies. And that’s exactly what we did… at first. One company was interested in Schmovie (when it was still “Screen Play”) and considered it for about 6 months. We grew increasingly excited as it made it to subsequent review rounds within the company. They ultimately passed, but the fact they had been so interested inspired us to pursue self-publishing. It has been a tremendous learning experience, and although bringing a game to market is a ridiculous amount of work, the reward is greater.

How much of a time and effort commitment is it to run Galactic Sneeze, on top of family and other work considerations?  What do you two do in your other lives?
Galactic Sneeze is 24/7. We talk about projects over morning coffee, while grocery shopping, on the subway, and while cooking meals. On weekends, we put our 2-year-old daughter down for her afternoon nap and then squeeze in a few hours of work. It is extremely demanding to run a business with your spouse and also have a family. You become partners on all levels, which is also uniquely awesome.
Up until recently, Bryan was a Creative Director at an advertising agency. He now focuses on Galactic Sneeze full time. I (Sara) still do freelance toy and game development for larger companies. I really enjoy the creative work involved and feel fortunate to be able to continue to do that in addition to Galactic Sneeze projects.

Is "Galactic Sneeze" a callback to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy books, one of which mentioned a competing theory to the Big Bang theory, in which the universe was sneezed out of a creature called the Great Green Arkleseizure?  If not, where does the name come from?
No… but we’re fans of the series. :) We wanted to come up with a name that felt big and fun. It captures the moment when you’re first struck with a great idea, as well as the energy of it growing and spreading. This lead to our tag line: Contagious Concepts.

What has your experience been in creating, publishing and marketing SCHMOVIE?  Was it difficult to find distribution and to get your game on Amazon?  Do you have any advice for aspiring game company startups?
It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to create, publish, and market a game. Bryan’s background is in advertising, and I come from the world of toys. And even with our experience, we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. There are several ways to get your game onto Amazon, so depending on your goals, that part isn’t too difficult. We’ve been working hard to get our game into retailers, and it’s awesome when they call us to reorder because they’ve sold out. We’re now working with a distributor to get Schmovie into larger stores... and we’re excited to announce it’ll be available at Barnes & Noble starting in April!

What other game ideas are you working on, if you can disclose them yet?  What sort of game would you like to do next?
We have a couple game concepts/prototypes currently being reviewed by larger game companies, which is promising. We’re not opposed to self-publishing future games, but we’re going to focus on growing Schmovie before bringing another  one to market on our own. All of our current concepts are in the Party and Family Games category. We also pitch toys, intellectual properties, and kids’ TV shows.

What is your favorite thing about making games?
Sara: My favorite aspect is the creative process, and the joy that stems from that “aha” moment when you figure out the solution to some creative problem that’s been plaguing you for weeks.
Bryan: I love watching people play our games. I’ve seen folks laugh so hard that beer came out their nose.
Sara: And they weren't even drinking beer. Ha ha.

Thank you so much! :)  Much success and best of luck in your continued endeavors!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Telestrations: the "telephone" game, sketched out

If you haven't been to a games party in a while, you may not know the game Telestrations has been taking the party game world by storm for a few years now.  Games magazine declared it the "best new party game," and pronounced it the "Party game of the year."  High praise - but is it well deserved?  Read on....

Telestrations continues the tradition of old surrealist parlour games like "Exquisite Corpse" and "Eat Poop You Cat."  With the addition of dry-erase boards and markers, plenty of drawing ideas on cards, and rules for optional friendly or competitive scoring, USAopoly has brought these old paper-and-pencil concepts to a new and very receptive audience.  The company deserves special kudos for listening to their customers and releasing the 12-player Telestrations Party Pack! This expands the game so you can play with more than 8 players.  Every Party Pack contains everything you need to play with up to 12 people.

The concept of the game is simple.  The roll of a standard 6 sided die determines which item you will write on the first page of your erasable booklet, out of six on a card.  (You and your group may also opt to make up your own wacky words or phrases.)  Pass your booklet to the player on your left, and receive a booklet from the player on your right which contains a word or phrase that player wrote down.  Now everyone flips to the next page in the book they currently have, and draws the item that was written, without using any letters or numbers (symbols are ok, as in Pictionary and other drawing games).  Then the process repeats, and now the person on your left is guessing what you drew and writing that guess, while you are guessing the drawing of the person on your right.  This continues until everyone has contributed either a drawing or a guess to each booklet.

The absolute brilliance of the game is that each player only has one piece of information to go on, and never sees the full evolution until the round is complete.  This causes some absolutely hilarious twists and turns along the way.  Though one may initially feel intimidated if one is not artistic by nature, not only does that not matter, it actually makes the game MORE fun if a drawing is incomprehensible or weird (a sand timer is included to keep things moving and to make drawing more challenging, and although clean-up cloths are provided to help in erasing, no erasing is allowed during the round.)

The result is a party game activity that almost anyone can participate in and enjoy.  Written clues can be made easier for the youngest players (for example, a young player can be given the option to choose one of the six items on a card, rather than rolling a die to choose one randomly) and if only adults are playing, the drawings and guesses can be of a more scatological or adult nature.  The game scales beautifully to the participants.  And it's fun with almost any number of people (more is generally better.)  The game is easy to tailor to the players - use the timer or don't; use the cards and die or don't; really the payoff is in the final reveal where you see what happened to the initial secret phrase along the way.  If you're like my players, you'll want to have the person revealing flip back to re-show an especially hilarious drawing just after reading the following uproarious guess.  The only improvement I can suggest is rigging up some sort of webcam system to show the final reveal on a big living room screen, similar to the old overhead projectors - this would be helpful in a big game where it can be a little hard to see the detail in the drawings.  That will be my next experiment.

It's easy to see why hundreds of customers have given Telestrations a perfect five-star rating on  For more information, check out the USApoly web site.

Here is an example of how things can change and morph over the course of a round - that's Barney Rubble on page 3, obviously:

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Open Up" to your friends with a new conversation game

Wiggity Bang Games, creators of the wacky-funny party games FURT and QUELF, have released an interesting twist on the old "Truth or Dare" type conversation game: Open Up is simply a colorful container of sturdy paper strips each with a provocative question.  (Unlike their earlier games, this one is strictly for the adults).  Good friends, brave souls or those who wish to know more about one another use these prompts by pulling them out and asking each other (or by handing them to one another to answer), or, if you insist on making it a more structured game, Wiggity Bang has suggestions on their web site for more game-like variants, including a "truth or dare" version, and one in which players guess if someone's response is true or made up.
Open Up Sticks
Elegant in its simplicity, Open Up provides many ways to play and will likely provide some memorable or eye-opening answers.  For example, I learned I was greatly in the minority in answering in the negative when it comes to "Have you ever photographed yourself nude or allowed someone else to photograph you nude?".  Apparently this is something everyone does now.

Another way to use the strips would be as subject matter for a game like Loaded Questions or Things, in which you have to "guess who said which."

I enjoyed my "Open Up" experience quite a bit, and look forward to playing again.

Learn more at the Wiggity Bang web site.

FURT Box Enlarged

Friday, February 7, 2014

Decisions, decisions.... Looney Labs introduces "Choose One"

Looney Labs, best known for the many versions of their card game Fluxx - a chaotic game of ever-changing rules and goals - have created something much simpler with their new game Choose One.  In essence, they have distilled the "Getting to know you" game to its purest form.

In Choose One the active player is asked to select a card from five in her hand, each of which contains two options (for example, Godzilla and King Kong), and do just that: choose one.  All the other players must then attempt to guess which one best suited the active player - using whatever means they can; intuition, knowledge based on a long friendship with the active player, getting a read or "tell" on the person, a wild-ass guess or just straight-up mind reading.  You'd think that it would be necessary to know the other players well to win this game, but I am here to tell you in a recent game I hosted, it was the newbie outsider who guessed most accurately and won the game.  Of course, it's possible random chance played some sort of role, but in any case, a party game is not about the points, it should really be about people's reactions to the choices, and the social interaction that follows ("What do you MEAN you'd choose evil children over an evil clown!"... "Well, an evil clown just seems more effective at doing evil.  The evil children are just kids.")

The choices on the cards are family- and kid-friendly and seem often to be geared to a geeky crowd; you may find yourself choosing between Spider-Man and the Hulk, for example, or in the limited edition promo pack, you'll find a card that asks you to choose between Kirk and Picard.  

The instructions make it clear that you must be honest in your answers - this is not a bluffing game.  The way to be tricky as the active player is to choose a card from your hand that won't give the others an easy guess.  For example, I would never play "Halloween or Christmas" if there were such a card - my friends would know instantly I will pick Halloween every time.  (And if they're at my house, people who have just met me will probably know as well, just because of my everyday decor.)  Instead, I might pick a card that had "Thanksgiving or Independence Day" which would be somewhat tougher.

One of the great things about Choose One is the game lets you dump and replace any or all of your remaining cards from your hand after you take your turn.  This is handy if (as with my newbie winner I referenced above) there are  things on the cards you are not familiar with or that would be too obvious a choice for you.  This rule lets you refresh your hand and find some good cards to choose from.  There are some interesting choices!

Something else my players loved about the game was the player tokens.  Like a modernized Monopoly, players represent themselves with a quirky assortment of cute tokens like a long blue wine bottle, purple brain, or shiny hardware nut - each in a different color.

Choose One is a simple and fun game that almost anyone can play and enjoy.  It's much faster and more efficient than Would You Rather or Consensus, while scratching the same itch (In Consensus, you are asked to read the mind of the group, rather than that of one player).  For a more risque or "edgy" experience, you could play using the cards from Would You Rather.

For more information or to purchase the game, visit the Looney Labs web site.