Category Archives: Video Game

Digital Cardboard: Mahokenshi

Those ninja turtles are in trouble now!

It’s been a few years now since video games cribbed big time from the realm of cardboard with Slay the Spire, the roguelike deck-builder that spawned a hundred copycats, none of them more compelling than the wickedly glorious Monster Train (CHOOT CHOOT). As someone who weathered the Great Deck-Building Imitation that followed in the wake of Donald X. Vaccarino’s genre-establishing Dominion, I’ve followed this outpouring with some interest. My expert conclusion: both hobbies seem to be operating on the “flinging spaghetti at the wall” model. And too often, the noodles have yet to be wetted.

The latest case in point in Mahokenshi, a lavishly animated deck-builder that sees one of four heroes roaming a landscape inspired by Japanese mythology, poking goblins and hiding in forests. Its closest cousin is Vlaada Chvátil’s supernal Mage Knight. Unfortunately, its consanguinity is thrice removed.

Read the rest of this entry

PBEM Forever: Dominions

This very nice pastoral landscape will have nothing to do with the actual game!

PBEM Forever is a series about the best play-by-email games that aren’t merely digital board games. And, in the final ouroboros-like turn of the screw, today’s subject happens to be about the very same game that started this site.

Dominions was the first thing I ever wrote about here on Space-Biff! No, I don’t mean Dominion, Donald X. Vaccarino’s inaugural deck-builder that spawned one billion imitators. I’m talking about Dominions, the series whose imitators were limited to its own four sequels. Of all the many PBEM games I’ve played over the years, this is the one I’ve invested the most time into. And it’s probably the one I still understand the least.

That’s a compliment, by the way.

Read the rest of this entry

PBEM Forever: Solium Infernum

It's me!

Continuing from last time, PBEM Forever is a series about the best play-by-email games that aren’t merely digital board games. Although today’s entry is remarkably close to a board game in its own right…

Here at least
we shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

—Satan, Paradise Lost

Read the rest of this entry

PBEM Forever: Frozen Synapse

This is my brain on drugs. Soma future dystopian drugs.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed anything different, but many of us are getting our pandemic on. With everybody stuck inside, it seems like a good time to talk about something a little different — that particular strain of video games that are like board games, including how they can be played asynchronously with friends and loved ones. In fact, these games were built from the ground up with that very feature in mind. PBEM Forever is about these titles, the finest play-by-email games that aren’t merely video board games.

In action, Frozen Synapse looks like a real-time tactics game. Little men in green and red — yellow, too, if you’re playing the solo campaign — gliding across the neonscape with all the fluidity of bits of data sliding into their proper places. When they stop, it’s to aim and squeeze the trigger, sending lashes of gunfire or ping-ponging grenades across the field. When struck, they spiral and spill, native color leaching to gray. If anything, it looks like a pain in the ass to control, even when you’re only commanding a small handful of units.

But what you’re witnessing isn’t actually Frozen Synapse. Oh, it’s part of it. But this is the resolution, no more “the game” than the numerical outcomes on a combat resolution table are “the game” compared to the units pushed across a board. Rather, all your decisions come before, orders delivered in five-second increments. An entire battle in less than half a minute. In resolution-time, that is. How long you actually spend deliberating over your turns is entirely up to you.

Read the rest of this entry

Digital Cardboard: Antihero

Ah! A man of MYSTERY and HOODIES!

If I were the Grand Emperor of Defining Things, in order to qualify as a digital board game — as opposed to qualifying as a digital adaptation of a cardboard board game — it would be a requirement that your digital board game do something that a regular board game couldn’t do sitting on my table. Yes, I just used the phrase “board game” four times in one sentence. That’s probably a world record.

To its credit, Tim Conkling’s Antihero is a digital board game that understands both the limitations of board games and how to stretch them when you place a screen between its players. Let me show you what I mean.

Read the rest of this entry