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United Front Games' Sleeping Dogs had a long and troubled development cycle before release. When Sleeping Dogs was first pitched to publisher Activision it was called Black Lotus. Activision thought it should be an extension of an existing franchise and decided to call it True Crime: Hong Kong. The game then ran into a number of delays and was eventually canceled in 2011. United Front laid off 120 employees and appeared to be heading toward closure. At this point, most games and studios don't get a second chance at life, but for whatever reason, Activision decided to release the publishing rights of True Crime: Hong Kong, and Square Enix swooped in to save the project. The game was renamed Sleeping Dogs and development continued with another 60-plus employees being added to the team.
In this episode of Replay, we show off the opening moments of play in Sleeping Dogs' Definitive Edition for PlayStation 4. This brief look gives a good snapshot of why this game is special and why you should play it if you haven't already. We dedicate the entire episode to this one game, and are joined by two guests that fit the theme perfectly.
Last weekend was all about shootin' and lootin' in The Division 2. And while that game will still be gracing our television screens, we now have From Software's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to sink our teeth into. For those of you who will also be roaming the frustratingly difficult landscapes of Sengoku Japan, we wish you the best of luck. Trust us: you're gonna need it.
Brian Shea (@BrianPShea) – I’m going to attempt to play Sekiro this weekend, but chances are I won’t last long and will want to go do something relaxing. Overwatch and Marvel Strike Force are always my go-tos, but I may fire up something like Anthem.
Kyle Hilliard (@KyleMHilliard) – Sekiro has made a strong first impression, so I plan on still going strong on that. I am also still dabbling with Crackdown 3 and Kingdom Hearts 3. Otherwise I need to watch the new episodes of Arrested Development and I have been making my way through One Piece. I might grill something, too. It’s still cold in Minnesota, but waaaaay less cold than it has been. It might be time.
Nathan Anstadt (@NathanAnstadt) – I finally finished Final Fantasy Tactics (which was amazing!), so now I’m onto the brave new world of Persona 5. Otherwise I’m going to try and find some good retro video game stores around Minneapolis, which is always fun.
Andrew Reiner (@Andrew_Reiner) – I am now into The Division 2’s endgame and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. I also want to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again on UHD with my family. Now that the weather is warming up, I may even go outside to exercise with a nice little run. As I think about the pain that will likely put me in, I’ll probably just play more Division 2 instead.
Ben Hanson (@yozetty) – This weekend I’ll still be in San Francisco after GDC 2019, so I’ll be seeing some old friends and hopefully playing some fun board games! Other than that, on the flight home I’m sure I’ll continue to stare at and be stumped by Baba is You on my Nintendo Switch. I like it a looooot. Have a good weekend!
Hunter Wolfe (@Hunter_Wolfe) – Jay and I will be starting The Division 2 together. It’s my first loot shooter, so I’m really excited to try something new. Play games outside your comfort genre – I promise you’ll find love you weren’t looking for!
Jay Guisao (@GuisaoJason) – The Division 2 for sure. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, if I have the patience for it, of course.
Daniel Tack (@dantack) – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!
At last year's Game Developers Conference, the industry seemed ready to pounce on the idea of forming unions. International Game Developers Association head Jan MacLean found herself cast in the role of the villain of the unionization story due to some seemingly anti-union quotes and a defensive posture during a roundtable. A year later, MacLean exited the discussion as a whole, bowing out of the roundtables and sticking to a script that avoided taking a stance on the issue. This left the developers now focusing on unionization under the Game Workers Unite banner, for better or worse, with little impeding their discussions on the subject.
While the discussion in 2018 was centered on anger at employers, at MacLean, at an industry that seemingly did not care much for its workers, that white hot indignation has seemingly given way to a number of fears. In two completely full rooms, developers talked about their various thoughts and feelings about organizing under Game Workers Unite or just organizing at all. Developers sat and spoke openly about retaliation from their employers, from the gaming community, and worries about specific situations like international emigration.
While the point of these roundtables was to address those concerns, the vibe in the room felt almost lost. Absent at this conversation were what the union could do to prevent what happened to Telltale or the administrative but massive layoffs from Activision. Half the group seemed to want to focus on the nitty-gritty details of what a localized union might be while the other half wanted to discuss broad strokes and it felt like these halves would exchange stances as the temperature of the room changed. One developer mentioned that they had concerns with moving from country to country for the job and having to pay multiple union dues, to which someone answered by floating the idea of an international union, which was met with gentle disapproval.
The second day felt slightly more organized, but it does seem clear that the will is there, but the logistics are still being figured out. Unionization seems to be an inevitability, but the anger that fueled it last year has transformed into a number of burgeoning questions and thoughts about the how of it all. Developers I spoke with today did not feel impatient about it, however, but there was concern that, a year later, there are some basic things still not figured out.
As a hypothetical, a developer who declined to identify themselves wondered aloud how company-wide unionization within corporations like Ubisoft could even work. The legality of recognizing unions with different labor laws becomes exponentially more complicated in a multi-national corporation with tentacles in different studios around the world. The general consensus appears to be that unionization might need to start with the foundations of a studio-by-studio effort, though it effectively trades away the ability to bargain collectively.
It does by all accounts appear to be void of easy answers, which is something it seems Game Workers Unite seems to understand, but isn't positive how to communicate that. Within five years, it is likely most of these questions will be answered, but progress feels incremental in the room. Right now Game Workers Unite appears to be toeing toward making a leap, though whether that should be in a different order is still being debated.
Lara Croft has tromped, pillaged, and plundered dozens of ancient temples and dusty crypts in her 20-year history. They’re often stunning places: palaces perched atop steep mountains or sunken beneath icy glaciers, inhabited by exotic birds and sneaky monkeys (and sometimes dinosaurs). Standing in one place to gawk at these lovingly crafted worlds can be deadly, though. As developers have pushed graphical performance further and further with each new entry, so too have they iterated on the traps and mechanisms that put Lara in her grave.
Here are some of the Tomb Raider series’ deadliest tombs – the levels that challenged our platforming prowess or had our palms sweating as we walked carefully through blood-tinged spikes and battled quickly dwindling breath meters.Click here to watch embedded media
40 Fathoms – Tomb Raider II
The level starts underwater. The mini-sub Lara hijacked has crashed into the sea floor, her breath meter is draining, and sharks circle around her. The player’s goal is to reach a sunken cruise ship, but thanks to some poor, late-‘90s draw distance, it’s unclear which direction players should swim into the surrounding blackness, save for an obscure trail of ship debris on the seabed dotting a subtle path toward the boat. It’s a far cry from typical Tomb Raider level intros that typically open with a stunning view before forcing Lara through a gauntlet of traps and puzzles.
The level doesn’t get easier. If players can avoid being shark bait and find the easy-to-miss ship entrance, they’ll have to sink some ammo into the shotgun-wielding cultists roaming the corridors, hunt barracudas slithering in shallow pools, and avoid catching fire from faulty ship tech. (How this vessel still has functional tech in the first place is beyond us.)Click here to watch embedded media
St. Francis Folly – Tomb Raider/Tomb Raider: Anniversary
This level has it all: grand spectacle, trap-laden puzzles, bloodthirsty exotic animals – even an Indiana Jones-inspired boulder trap! Lara travels to St. Francis Folly in Greece looking for a piece of an ancient artifact but gets a lot more than she bargained for.
The brunt of this level involves leaping and dangling from a series of platforms pillaring up the center of a multi-storied chamber. To explore deeper, Lara needs to survive a sequence of combat and platforming challenges across four rooms connected to the central hub – each themed after certain gods. Navigating to each room is a challenge in and of itself, but the true difficulty resides in each room’s traps. The Thor-themed chamber requires Lara to stand under a massive, falling hammer, dodging out of the way at the last second. The Damocles chamber requires Lara to avoid swords that fall from the ceiling as she passes under them. The level is Tomb Raider at its best and most challenging: an evocative tomb as deadly as it is beautiful (especially the version remade for Tomb Raider: Anniversary.)Click here to watch embedded media
The Hall of Seasons – Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness
In Lara’s PlayStation 2 debut, she’s on the run, framed for her mentor’s murder. Her quest to unravel the conspiracy and clear her name takes her to an archaeological dig underneath the Louvre, and deeper within, an ancient tomb called the Hall of Seasons.
The level evokes the design of St. Francis Folly in the way its central chamber branches off into four mini-levels that players need to conquer to continue down the main path. Deciding whether to bunny hop or perform medium or long-range jumps across swaying pillars in the Breath of Hades area is one of the series’ most difficult platforming challenges. Similarly, the area called Wrath of the Beast requires players to hurry across collapsing platforms before the floor gives out completely. It might not sound more difficult or challenging than other platformers you’ve probably played, but Lara’s controls were not as user-friendly in 2003 as they have been in recent years.Click here to watch embedded media
Jungle – Tomb Raider III
Tomb Raider III’s opening level pulled out all the stops to prove to players that after two games, the series could still kick your butt. Jungle, set in monkey-infested ruins in India, starts with Lara sliding down a muddy ramp riddled with spikes and a boulder that will smoosh you if you stand in the wrong spot. Players encounter traps like these numerous times throughout the level, making every step and jump feel weighty and tense.
The real threat here isn’t the boulder traps or the spiky pitfalls, though: it’s the quicksand. A misplaced jump will send Lara into the mud, forcing players to watch as her body slowly sinks below the surface and her breath meter runs empty. Jungle remains one of the series’ biggest slaps in the face. Hey, look at our cool, new environments! And hey, everything wants to kill you!Click here to watch embedded media
Howl of the Monkey Gods – Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Crystal Dynamics’ second reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise gave us a version of Lara Croft that was more action hero than ever before, but the series was criticized for how its tombs and puzzles took a backseat to combat. Shadow of the Tomb Raider righted that, giving us a game front-loaded with some of the best puzzles and exploration in the series.
Howl of the Monkey Gods is one of these tombs, released post-launch as DLC. Traversing the ravine leading up to the tomb is perilous on its own, requiring Lara to make some tricky, timed jumps, but this is just a warm-up for the platforming to come. Inside the tomb, Lara needs to re-tune an ancient, massive musical device in order to cross its instruments and reach the treasure at the end of the room. Activating each part of the instrument requires players to find and press levers that are positioned over spike traps. It’s easy to tell when the spikes will pop up, but having to stand on them still elicits a feeling of dread.
Once the levers are all pressed, there’s still the matter of crossing the active instruments to snag the treasure on the other side, avoiding falling drum sticks and platforms that give way underneath you if you cross them at the wrong moment. Howl of the Monkey Gods is Tomb Raider puzzle design in its purest form: a cross section between evocative atmosphere, tricky platforming, lever-pulling, and near-death scenarios.
Ask anyone who’s played a Tomb Raider game, and they can probably tell you what traps killed them before they could tell you what artifact they were hunting, or why. In that regard, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a return to form for the series, giving us tombs and traps that felt deadly again. With the game out and its post-launch DLC wrapping up, we can only hope that Lara’s next adventure dishes out just as much danger.
For many gamers, the allure of an ongoing story and setting is hard to overstate. By returning to a game again and again, with new elements of both story and gameplay introduced over time, we become invested in the world, enmeshed with its characters and events, and intrigued by the ways things are changing over time. This week, we’re looking at some of the excellent projects of recent years which offer deep campaigns that are best experienced when played from beginning to end, with each session offering new twists.
Unlike a traditional role-playing game, these are tabletop releases that are complete and functional in their own right, without the need for a game master or other guiding hand. Several of these offer cooperative experiences, even as others present a competitive affair with your ongoing story. Regardless, these games are all best experienced by the same group of players returning to the table for one session after the next, building on what they know. If you’ve got a consistent squad of players that meet up on a regular basis, you owe it to the group to try one of these ongoing campaign games at some point, as the sense of deepening investment is especially exciting.
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
You and your friends love Dungeons & Dragons, but no one wants to step up and be a DM? It’s a common refrain among tabletop enthusiasts. If that’s a familiar problem for your gaming group, the officially licensed Dragonfire offers a deep gameplay system and long-term campaign that might be the right fit.
The artwork, creatures, and overall setting vibe of Dragonfire do a remarkable job of emulating the D&D aesthetic, even if this is decidedly a deckbuilding game rather than an RPG. Nonetheless, like in a game of D&D, you’ll be selecting a character, venturing out on quests, leveling up with new abilities, acquiring magic items, and other trappings of the genre.
Dragonfire’s core game offers several fun adventures to get your party into the action, but it’s the game’s expansions that have the potential to keep you returning for dozens of game nights. From Dragonspear Castle to the Moonshae Isles, the different additional boxed sets take you across iconic locations in the Forgotten Realms, which should satisfy an itch for longtime fans of the property.
In terms of gameplay, Dragonfire is a challenging cooperative puzzle of a game. Its detailed rule system provides a lot of depth, but it’s unlikely to be a good fit for a casual night of gaming. Instead, look to Dragonfire when you want a strategic challenge to solve, and because you enjoy the way a gradual deckbuilding process helps you feel stronger with passing turns, and even over passing game sessions. The game offers a clever approach to assisting other players at the table, and over time, players will become attached to their uniquely customized hero – just like in a true game of D&D.
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Scythe deserves the many accolades that have come its way since its original release in 2016. This nuanced strategy game launches players into an alternate history of the early 20th century, where giant mechs helped to define a war across the scope of the continent of Europa. In the core game, players slowly build an engine of production and military might in order to control the board and win the day. The project has been repeatedly praised for its strategic flexibility and depth, including in my earlier review.
The Rise of Fenris expansion takes the challenging competitive spirit of Scythe and layers in a new campaign element that is rewarding, surprising, and great fun. While the individual included modules can be played as standalone additions to the game, the best way to experience them is part of an eight game story and interconnected adventure. New elements are hidden away inside tuckboxes within the Rise of Fenris package, so you never know what new elements are coming as the narrative (and new gameplay) rolls out. While I’m hesitant to spoil many particulars of those new elements, it’s enough to know that new minis are inside, paths to victory, and even ways to work together (selectively) with other factions. The included storytelling also dramatically deepens an understanding of the world of Scythe, a marvelous fictional setting that was due for increased fleshing out.
The other games on this list are core games that can be enjoyed as a campaign without additional purchases. The Rise of Fenris first requires that you own the base Scythe game. But that’s no sacrifice! Scythe is one of the most innovative board games of the last several years, and you won’t be disappointed to own a copy, particularly if you have a group of dedicated players eager to stretch their strategic muscles. The Fenris release dramatically expands the fun of the experience, offering a deeper insight into the setting, and a wealth of new twists that lend replayability and depth, but without actually making the game incredibly more complicated. My only caution? The Rise of Fenris is best enjoyed after you’ve already thoroughly wrapped your head around the ins and outs of the base game. With that said, if you already have an ongoing romance with Scythe, this expansion will only help you fall deeper in love.
Near and Far
Publisher: Red Raven Games
This charming and colorful game of competitive exploration and questing gets lots of points for originality and narrative engagement. Players take on the role of explorers ranging out across a map filled with secrets, opportunities for encounters, and fiction-rich quests. Moving back and forth between a town location and a large wilderness map, you gather points as you set up camps, explore new trade routes, investigate lost ruins, and fight dangerous creatures.
Near and Far’s campaign is especially engaging because of its approach to individual session locations. The game includes an atlas of maps that your characters range across, and each map and its secrets is unique from the last, so every session feels like you’re expanding your knowledge of this fantasy world’s geography. Each of the boards has read-out-loud story snippets to enjoy, even as you’re simultaneously building up a party of allies, trading in town, and even dueling other players. And even with the varied choices through which you direct the story, turns still move quickly and keep the pace of play brisk.
As the stories unfold, I think you’ll be surprised at the well-written and thoughtfully crafted narrative writing. The fun competitive mechanics are engaging in their own right, and the addition of the deep narrative elements should attract those who love a deep injection of storytelling in their board game nights.
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Looking for a little horror mixed in with your ongoing campaign adventures? Check out Betrayal Legacy. The original Betrayal at House on the Hill features a group of characters exploring a dilapidated mansion in one of a number of different unique “haunts,” in which one of the characters inevitably betrays the other, leading to a desperate struggle for victory.
The legacy version maintains the fun premise, but sees players return to the same haunted house over multiple generations of the same families. As more people die in its bloody halls, the mansion grows ever more dangerous, even as a broader narrative continues its slow-drip toward climax.
One of the best things about Betrayal Legacy is the how easy it is to sit down and play for the first time; the rules are quite simple as the game begins, and you don’t even know how to win that first session. Almost everything you need to know unfolds through the course of gameplay, and the designers do an amazing job of crafting some awesome surprises over the course of the campaign, even down to secrets hidden away within the physical box of the game.
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Surreal imagery and interpretive psychology take center stage in this clever campaign narrative game. Players take on the role of the titular comanauts, as they dive into the subconscious mind of a scientist who has the key to saving the world.
Like the kid-targeted game that is its predecessor, Stuffed Fables, Comanauts is a game played through an adventure book. Each page-spread of the book offers new art, spaces to explore, and ideas to uncover, even as the campaign’s story slowly reveals itself. You chase clues and hunt down malevolent idea entities that represent the traumas of the coma victim’s previous life and history.
The biggest draw here is the innovative and creative storytelling, which has a Christopher Nolan-esque quality likely to remind many players of Inception. It’s exciting to see how an individual’s history might shape their life and personality. Great art and unusual characters to control help Comanauts feel refreshingly different from other games on the market, and it’s a stellar choice for players looking for something off the beaten path from more familiar fantasy and sci/fi themes.
The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Shortly before finalizing the selections for this list, I had the opportunity to check out a near-final version of this latest Lord of the Rings release from Fantasy Flight. While I’ve yet to fully explore the reach of its campaign, I played enough to be confident in a recommendation, even ahead of its full release in the coming weeks.
Fantasy Flight Games has a strong track record with these sort of miniature-based cooperative campaign adventures. If they are a better fit for your tastes, I wholeheartedly recommend both Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition) and Star Wars: Imperial Assault; both are great, and each have a wealth of expansions already available.
The latest in this line of similar products is Journeys In Middle-earth, which sees players adopt the personas of heroes in Tolkien’s world, including recognizable faces like Legolas and FFG-created individuals like Beravor, and head out into adventure. A free digital app can be downloaded onto the device of your choosing, which runs individual scenarios, dramatically reducing the need for additional fiddly components, and instead shining a spotlight on great minis, gradually revealed modular maps, and cool bespoke encounters.
Journeys in Middle-earth uses a neat action mechanic, where you reveal cards from an existing hand that allow you to complete various skill tests, but those same cards can alternately be played onto the table ahead of time, letting you employ interesting abilities at the cost of having those options available for tests.
Action flips back and forth between a larger journey map depicting your trek across Middle-earth, and more micro-view battle tiles for strategic encounters. It’s a smart system that relays a genuine sense of epic adventure, and with a lot of potential for the campaign to continue its expansions over subsequent releases.
More Awesome Choices
In the interest of providing the most comprehensive recommendations, there are several other top-notch campaign games I want to point you toward. But in several cases, I already have completed extensive write-ups that describe them in detail. With that in mind, here are three other top recommendations, very brief descriptions, and links to more robust explanations.
Gloomhaven is one of the phenomenon releases of the last several years in the board gaming world. A physically massive (and expensive) box offers literally hundreds of hours of exploration, character progression, and battles across a vast dark fantasy land. Highly recommended, but only if you’re ready to really, really dive deep. Learn more here.
Pandemic Legacy encompasses two complete games, each a campaign in their own right, but it’s best experienced by playing through Season One, and following up with Season Two. In this thrilling legacy adaptation of the popular board game, players work together as researchers, doctors, and other health professionals to hold back the tide of a worldwide civilization-ending series of diseases. By the second season, the world has completely changed, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Easy to learn, and incredibly rewarding, both of these cooperative adventures rank among my favorite board games. Here’s more detail.
The 7th Continent draws inspiration from Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, pulp fiction of the early 20th century, and even video games, through its extremely clever “save game” system to hold your place in between sessions. Players cross the ocean to explore a mysterious new 7th continent in order to conquer a curse that threatens their characters’ very existence. If weird and secretive tales are your thing, this one is a winner. I don’t spoil anything important in my more detailed write-up.
Role-playing gamers know the joy of seeing an ongoing campaign slowly unfold the story of a group of player-controlled characters. But recent years have opened up that experience in the tabletop world beyond traditional role-playing releases. If you’ve always wanted to give that kind of thing a shot, any of the above will offer an engrossing series of game nights.
If you’re looking for something decidedly more contained for a single evening of entertainment, our Top of the Table hub has no shortage of great options, which you can explore by clicking on the banner below. If you need more personalized guidance to find the right game, feel free to drop me an email, and I’ll help you find what you’re looking for!