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    Top Of The Table – Gloomhaven

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

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    2017 has been a great year for board games, with tons of innovative designs and intriguing themes to discover on your table. But few games garnered the kind of intense and constant conversation among hardcore hobbyists engendered by Gloomhaven. A centerpiece game for any dedicated player’s collection, Gloomhaven is a sprawling cooperative dungeon crawler in a richly imagined and gritty fantasy world, playable across an interconnected campaign that takes many dozens of hours to complete. Mixing the story-driven fantasy focus, miniatures, and progression-oriented play first popularized by North American RPGs with the minimization of luck players have come to expect from Euro-style games, Gloomhaven is a complex beast of a project. But it’s also one of the most inventive and rewarding board games in a long time…if you’re willing to commit the significant time and energy it takes to uncover its bountiful charms. 

    You are a mercenary fantasy adventurer out on the edge of the world, exploring the city of Gloomhaven and its wild environs. Brought together by necessity, you must work with your fellow adventurers to survive the area’s many threats, build a fortune, and explore the area. Ultimately, your real goals are personal to your character, and tied into the loop of character progression. The bulk of gameplay is encompassed by tactical hex grid-based combat through a vast array of ancient crypts and ruins, represented on a modular tile-based board. In between adventures, the world map changes, Gloomhaven grows and changes, and players make choices that affect both their own fate and that of the town. New playable heroes emerge over time. The story branches and twists, and your version of the campaign might even include entirely different scenarios and sidequests from another copy of the game, all thanks to your decisions. 

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    Scenarios are played on a modular board that must be set up with various components ahead of play

    That’s the promise of fun waiting for you as you stare down for the first time at the imposing box that contains the game. Gloomhaven arrives in a beefy (but gloriously visualized) box that weighs in at a little over 20 pounds. Beneath the rulebook and scenario book are the hundreds of cards, tiles, miniatures, enemy standees, hidden boxes and envelopes (to be opened later in the campaign), and other components that will carry you through the campaign. Everything is high in quality, from the mini sculpts to the evocative art that depicts your heroes, and on through the sturdy cardboard tiles and the premium cards. The huge amount of “stuff” packed into the game is exciting, but even veteran gamers may balk at the sheer bulk of everything at hand, and trying to find a way to organize it all is a big challenge. That dilemma extends to the setup and pulldown of the game, which takes a long time. 

    For a game that has so many components to juggle, and such a complex setup for every session, I’m happy to say that the game design itself tends toward elegance, sensible and easy-to-learn iconography, and comparatively manageable turn speeds. I don’t mean to imply that the game is simple; Gloomhaven is a weighty affair of interlocking rules and systems, and it takes a good while to learn. However, everything fits together the way it should, and once players understood those systems, I rarely encountered concepts that weren’t solid and thoughtfully explained by the rules. Mechanics like line-of-sight, initiative, and even managing enemy A.I. are all relatively straightforward and clear. 

    World-Map-_2D00_-Some-Location-Stickers.
    The campaign map board gains new stickers over the life of the game and as you discover new locations

    With the first scenario laid out and the dungeon beckoning you forward, the real star of Gloomhaven makes itself apparent – combat. As you march into darkness and the many villainous beasties hidden within, battles unfold through a card-based system of movement and actions that puts tremendous control in the hands of the players. Players wield a hand of cards, each of which features a top and bottom action. On your turn, you play two of those cards, and complete the top action from one and the bottom action from the other (often corresponding to some variation of movement and attack). Attacks are modified by a blind draw from another card deck that might affect the outcome, lending a touch of random chance. However, the system is entirely diceless, and gives the player tremendous agency to shape their own strategy. The array of powers and other actions is significant, and does a phenomenal job of helping individual character classes feel distinct and relevant.

    Actions diminish your hand of cards over time, forcing you to eventually use precious time to rest, or else become worn out, necessitating a retreat from the dungeon and the likely need to replay the scenario. I adore this abstraction of slow exhaustion from the mental and physical rigors of the adventure. It lends thematic power to the dark dungeon delve, but it also leads to tension and immediacy around every action you take. There’s no room for dallying about in these dangerous locales; every action demands that you push forward and defeat your foes. Equally important, the cards themselves are a fascinating puzzle to consider, as you mix and match different abilities, attempt to set up powerful combos, and take big chances on plays that put your character at risk through expending precious cards, but might just save the party and complete the scenario. Gloomhaven’s most thrilling moments arise in these instances, as players pull a clutch attack at just the right moment. 

    [Next Page: An ongoing campaign of new playable characters, a changing map, and customized narrative]

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    Ranking The Top 30 Star Wars Games

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

    starwarsranked1.jpg

    In honor of The Last Jedi's release, we are republishing our list of the 30 best games that take place in a galaxy far, far away. This feature was originally published in December 2015.

    Game Informer's office is usually as quiet as a library; the sounds of keyboards rapidly being clicked is often all you hear. Today the office is filled with the chatter of anxious Star Wars fans. The conversations range from people huddling together to discuss their favorite Star Wars movies and moments within them, to Jeff Cork pointing a damning finger at every person on staff, warning them not to spoil the movie for him or else.

    apple1.jpg
    Image source: Platypus Comix
    apple2.jpg
    Image source: The Strong
    starwars1112.jpg

    Given this is a video game outlet first and foremost, the discussions also lead to video games and the prolific impact Star Wars has had on our favorite entertainment medium. Game developers saw the potential Star Wars had in the video games realm from the moment the film debuted on the silver screen in 1977. Some of these creators were so certain this science-fiction universe would transition to the interactive space that they didn't even get the rights for the Star Wars property, but still decided to release their games. In 1978, a year after Star Wars: A New Hope opened in theaters, the reputable Apple Computer released an unlicensed Star Wars game called Starwars on cassette tape for the Apple II. The game, which you can play in your web browser today, is an enjoyable little TIE Fighter shooting gallery.

    The first officially licensed Star Wars "video game" arrived a year later in 1979. Dubbed Electric Battle Command, this Kenner developed game prominently displayed an X-Wing, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia on the game's standalone hardware, but the gameplay didn't have much to do with Star Wars at all, and pushed the player to avoid black holes and locate the "Force-giving star."

    A true console Star Wars game didn't arrive until Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released on Atari 2600 in 1982 (two years after the film graced theaters). Like most games of the era, Atari shunned the movie plot and focused specifically on one action element: the Battle of Hoth. The only gameplay offered allowed the player to pilot a snow speeder and take out an endless stream of AT-ATs by shooting their glowing exhaust ports.

    As crude as it was, the success of this title made Star Wars a permanent fixture in video games, from popular RPGs like BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic to oddities like The Yoda Chronicles for mobile devices. In the decades that followed, there are dozens of Star Wars games every Star Wars fan should get around to playing, and dozens more that they should avoid like Jabba the Hutt's bathroom.

    Most members of the Game Informer staff have played more Star Wars games than they can recall, and are avid fans of the films, expanded fiction, and collectibles. We spent a few days bickering over the best Star Wars games to date, and spent a few more arguing over the order they should be arranged in on our Top 30 list. Why 30? That's the cutoff between the playable and fun games and the prequel-like missteps.

    We hope you enjoy this journey through video games' exploration of a galaxy far, far away. And for the sake of Star Wars fans everywhere, we hope The Force Awakens blows your socks off, and is so good and true to the original trilogy that it becomes the subject matter for another dozen Star Wars games for the years ahead.

    As always, we welcome all discussions, arguments, and personal Star Wars video game lists in our comments section below. Enjoy the read, and may the Force be with you!

    ---

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    30. Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles

    PlayStation, Dreamcast
 - 2000

    Few Star Wars games are as demanding of skill as LucasArts’ Jedi Power Battles, a lightsaber-focused experience that demands twitch reflexes to deflect laser blasts and hack battle droids to bits. Set during the events of The Phantom Menace, Jedi Power Battles shows the Jedi in their prime, allowing the player to suit up as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Adi Gallia, Plo Koon, and Qui-Gon Jinn. The Conehead-like Ki-Adi-Mundi is also available, but only in the Dreamcast version, which released a year after the PlayStation incarnation. Completing the game unlocks additional characters like Darth Maul (one of the best characters in the game), Queen Amidala, and her bodyguard Captain Panaka.

    Jedi Power Battles is best played cooperatively with two Jedi darting and flipping across Trade Federation encampments. Performing well in combat earns players currency that can be used to purchase additional attacks and Force abilities. Outside of the blistering difficulty, the game’s biggest drawback is its platforming sequences. Given the set camera perspective, it’s difficult to determine jumping angles and heights. This aspect of the game is made even worse through the preferred co-op experience, as movement by the other character can make the terrain scroll and up the difficulty of a jump. Regardless of this puzzling gameplay design, Jedi Power Battles is of the best Star Wars games based on the prequel movies.

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    29. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
    PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, Mac – 2007

    Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga is not your typical collection. Along with all of the content included in Lego Star Wars: The Video Game and Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Traveller’s Tales created a wealth of new material, redesigned levels that weren’t clicking, and went well out of its way to make this experience feel new again. The Complete Saga is a massive Lego game; consisting of 36 story-based missions, and 20 bounty hunter stages. Traveller’s Tales also went back and finished two levels that were cut from the original games.

    With over 120 characters and an extra layer of visual polish for the new-gen machines of the time, The Complete Saga was a no-brainer for Star Wars fans, and an experience that raised the bar for all Lego games moving forward.

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    28. Star Wars: Battle Pod

    Arcade – 2014

    The days of the hole-in-the-wall arcade are long behind us, but larger establishments like Dave & Busters appear to be flourishing, and game developers are releasing a surprising number of new games in these venues. From a new Batman racing experience to a new Jurassic Park shooter, some of the biggest licenses in entertainment are making big splashes in arcades. One of the most surprising (and entertaining) new coin-op games is Star Wars: Battle Pod, a 2014 release from Bandai Namco.

    Holding true to its name, Battle Pod is an egg-shaped unit that doubles as a cockpit for a variety of Star Wars vessels, including a X-Wing and speeder bike. Battle Pod recreates the famous battles from the classic trilogy of films, but in a way where the action never wavers from being absolutely insane. The vehicles are pulled along a predetermined path, but the gameplay still demands twitch reflexes to knock TIE Fighters out of the sky and trip up AT-ATs. The action is frantic, fun, but quick to the point that it feels like it ends just as quickly as it began. Battle Pod is as enjoyable of a rail-shooter as it is a Star Wars experience. If you’re near an arcade, poke your head in to see if they have Battle Pod. It’s well worth five minutes of your time.

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    27. Star Wars Battlefront (2015)
    
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC - 2015

    Echoing Battle Pod’s flighty experience, DICE’s multiplayer-focused Battlefront reboot delivers Star Wars authenticity like no game before it, but its content well dries up quick, and subjects the player to the same routines on the same maps. But those moments when Battlefront shines, it can be fantastic, making the simple exchange of laser fire with a squadron of storm troopers exciting and look every bit as good as George Lucas’ films. Just standing beneath a lumbering AT-AT is awe-inspiring. Getting the chance to mow down rebel troopers as Darth Vader or the Emperor are equally as thrilling moments.

    Although I only gave Battlefront a 7.5 out of 10, I admire DICE’s design and hope the year of content ahead adds the depth that is missing from the retail game. An excerpt from my review: “The Death Star hangs ominously over a war erupting on the forest moon of Endor. A cacophony of laser fire lights up the darkened tree canopy, drowned out by the clanking of an Imperial AT-ST on the march. The walker is clearing a path to a hidden Rebel base deep within the forest. If this stronghold falls, the war is over.

    The Rebels are outgunned and seconds away from defeat when Luke Skywalker’s iconic green lightsaber ignites and he springs to action. Luke bats away Storm troopers like flies, chops down the AT-ST, and the Rebels suddenly have momentum again. The tide of war has shifted to their advantage.
    Almost every conflict in Star Wars Battlefront unfolds with this level of intensity and drama – moments that often parallel the excitement from George Lucas’ original trilogy of Star Wars films. From the large scale of the battles to the spot-on animation of the AT-STs, DICE has created the most authentic Star Wars video game experience to date.

    The thrill of piloting an X-Wing fighter or soaring through the air as Boba Fett doesn’t last forever, however. Once the magic of stepping into the movies wears off, Star Wars Battlefront doesn’t give the player much to fight for. For developer DICE, the seasoned studio behind the long-running Battlefield series, Star Wars Battlefront is surprisingly light on maps, weapons, and progression systems. The feeling of extreme repetition sinks in early, and outside of enjoying the minute-to-minute Star Wars warfare, hardly any of the unlockables deliver a compelling reason to invest more time. You’re just hopping from match to match, recycling the same tactics and seizing the same points.”

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    26. Star Wars: Rebel Assault
 II – The Hidden Empire
    Sega CD, 3DO, PC – 1995

    Star Wars: Rebel Assault II is by all intents and purposes a terrible game, but it’s also a hilarious one that uses live-action Star Wars footage to tell a story that is as jaw-droppingly bad as the Star Wars Holiday Special. To put it another way, it’s so bad it’s good. If you haven’t played this game yet, track it down, Star Wars fans. You need to see the story of Rookie One, a Tatooine farmer who isn’t Luke Skywalker, unfold in horrible ways with some of the worst acting to ever grace a video game.

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    25. Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter
    
PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC – 2002


    The sleek Delta-7 Aethersprite-class light interceptor (more commonly known as the Jedi starfighter) is the centerpiece of this excellent space shooter from LucasArts. Serving as a side story to Attack of the Clones, Jedi Starfighter follows the exploits of Jedi Master Adi Gallia and a mercenary named Nym. Gallia flies the Jedi Starfighter while Nym provides bombing support in a Havoc.

    Although not developed by Factor 5 – the team behind the Rogue Squadron series – the influence of those games is strongly felt in the dogfighting mechanics and mission designs. Force powers are also sewn into the mix in a unique but befuddling way. At any point, Gallia can use the Force to deploy shields, lightning, shockwaves, or enhanced reflexes. These elements make the gameplay more dynamic, but don’t hold true to the Star Wars lore from the motion pictures.

    Another interesting twist are hidden mission objectives in each mission. Once discovered and completed, the player is rewarded with new spacecraft (including Maul’s Interceptor), as well as additional stages and bonuses. Jedi Starfighter is never talked about in the same breath as Rogue Squadron or X-Wing, but is surprisingly one of the classic Star Wars games Sony recently added to PlayStation 4. The game still holds up well today and is worth a look.

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    Lore Loose Ends: The Tale of Lyndon's Brother

    DiabloFans
    By DiabloFans,

    With rumors of the "Unannounced Project" and Diablo 4 circulate around the community, we have to stop and ask, 'What comes next?' We're going to take a look back at many of the loose ends and unfinished story lines within the games to speculate about where future stories of the franchise could go.

     

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    Lyndon's Brother and the Kingsport Thieve's Guild

     

    Lyndon, the Scoundrel, was the second follower to join the side of the Nephalem during the End Times and the fight against the Prime Evil. Throughout most of the story, Lyndon alludes to his life in Kingsport as a member of the Thieves Guild and the guilt he feels over the imprisonment of his brother, Edlin. Lyndon and Edlin were very close despite having took very different paths in life. Lyndon had a knack for stealing and Edlin joined the city guard. Lyndon wasn't entirely without morals, he'd slip information to his brother to disrupt the Thieves Guild's plans and make Edlin a hero. The brothers also loved the same woman, Rea, but she had no feelings for Lyndon and married Edlin.

     

    During a major heist Edlin showed up too early and instead of catching the Thieves Guild in the act was instead accused of being a part of it. Lyndon barely escaped, but left his brother behind to be locked away and the Thieves Guild has been chasing after Lyndon ever since. Rea convinces Edlin that it was Lyndon who had set him up. Due to his guilt, Lyndon never returns home to Kingsport, but instead sends all the money he steals and cons back to Rea to help pay off Edlin's debt and help get him out of prison.

     

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    Growing Fears

     

    Shortly into Malthael's attack on Westmarch, Lyndon decides that he must leave to save his brother. The Nephalem is able to talk sense into Lyndon that he'll likely die trying to leave Westmarch with Malthael's attack going. A nearby guard overhears their conversation and points out that they recently received a transfer of prisoners from Kingsport and that they're being kept in the guard's garrison. 

     

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    Restlessness

     

    The Nephalem and Lyndon break into the garrison to rescue Edlin, but it seems that the Thieves Guild had already infiltrated the prison and were moving to kill Edlin. After fighting their way through the Guild and the prison, the Nephalem and Lyndon discover they are too late. Edlin had already been murdered. All that was left in the cell was Edlin's corpse and a dagger.

     

    rea.jpg

    A Stolen Life

     

    After heading back to the Survivor's Enclave, Lyndon is inconsolable until Haedrig take a closer look at the dagger. Their was a note hidden in secret compartment in the pommel of the dagger addressed to Lyndon. The note was from Rea, saying that it was she that had Edlin killed and told Lyndon that if he wanted revenge, that he could come to Kingsport to find her.

     

    This cliffhanger leaves many questions unanswered:

    • Why would Rea kill her own husband? Is there more history between her and Lyndon that would cause her to lash out at him in this way?
    • What is Rea's connection to the Thieves Guild?
    • And the big question: Will Lyndon get justice?

    We ultimately don't how much more of the Diablo III tale Blizzard intends to tell. The storyline was pushed forward slightly in the Shrouded Moors with Patch 2.6, but we're left to wonder how many of these other minor stories within the game will be picked up and finished, whether it's in Diablo III or in a future game.


    Neinball (@NeinballGamer) is a content creator for Diablo Fans and a horadrim in training. Whether he's relaxing on Zegema Beach, fighting servants of the Corpse-God in the 41st millennium, or quelling Rebellions in the Outer Rim, his passion always brings him back to slaying Demons in Sanctuary.

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    uo'aXy'an Language Lessons

    RSI
    By RSI,

    Xenolinguist Britton Watkins goes over how your verb and pronoun choices can change how polite or impolite you come across to speaker of uo’aXy’an.

    Anyone interested in learning Xi’an is welcome to join us in Spectrum!

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    Shovel Knight Is Apparently A Weird Frog Man

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

    shovelnighthelmet_2D00_01_2D00_610.jpg

    We finally get a look at Shovel Knight's face and, surprise, he's an amphibian of some sort.

    While some files within the game hinted at this, developer Yacht Club games' tweet today showing off the First4Figure of helmetless Shovel Knight has confirmed that the shovel-wielding hero is a strange frog person. Considering the world has goat people, magicians, and flying rats, a frog knight is not hard to imagine.

    shovelnighthelmet_2D00_02_2D00_610.jpg

    Shovel Knight originally released on PC, 3DS, and Wii U, then expanded to pretty much every other system under the sun. The upcoming and final DLC, King of Cards, is scheduled for 2018.

    [Source: Yacht Club Games Twitter]

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    Never Stop Sneakin Review – Repetitive Mission Creep

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

    review_2D00_610.jpg

    Gamers have no shortage of indie games that tap into our love for the 8 and 16-bit eras, but developers rarely seek to emulate the first PlayStation generation, with its grainy textures and polygon-shaped heroes. Humble Hearts has embraced this outdated look with a stealth-based action game that pays homage to Metal Gear Solid. While you could probably count the number of polygons used to construct Never Stop Sneakin’s characters, it’s gameplay is what really needs more detail.

    Much like Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation, Never Stop Sneakin’ asks players to sneak through a series of secret military bases and avoid the vision cones and laser sights of patrolling enemies. Sadly, the gameplay doesn’t evolve past that. You have a limited supply of bullets and EMP grenades that save you if you get spotted, but these are all automatically used when you walk into an enemy’s line of sight. Because your only form of input is moving the character around with the analog stick, the action isn’t engaging.

    Never Stop Sneakin’ encourages you to move quickly through each level, sneak up behind enemies, and take them all out in an efficient manner so that you can build a combo. The higher your combo, the more resources you will collect from hacking the computer terminals (another automated process) scattered across each level. Because of this system, Never Stop Sneakin’ feels more like an arcade game than a true stealth-action adventure.

    (Please visit the site to view this media)

    Even when viewed as an arcade experience, Never Stop Sneakin’ is shallow. The game only has a handful of environment types, and despite their procedurally generated nature, I felt like I was repeatedly exploring the same space. Enemy behavior is also incredibly predictable. Most guards have simple patrol patterns where they walk back and forth along a single hall, and they don’t change that behavior even if they see a fellow guard take a bullet to the head.

    After infiltrating several levels of an enemy base, your operative takes a break, and you get to spend all the ESP they’ve collected to upgrade your FOB. Unfortunately, these upgrades don’t serve a purpose other than to push a nonsensical narrative forward. You can unlock several perks, and some of these let you scavenge more ammo on a level or increase the range in which you collect ESP. These don’t dramatically change the action either, and in Roguelike fashion, you must find them again each time you start a mission.

    Never Stop Sneakin’ tried to appeal to my nostalgia for the original Metal Gear Solid. Unfortunately, you can’t judge this book by its cover. Dodging enemy sight cones and building up a stealth combo is only compelling for a short while, and the lack of overall variety made me want to sneak away to play other games.

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