Way back in 2009, before the advent of Tabletop, we attempted to start a Friday night bible study with a couple friends that quickly devolved into Gamenight. We eat, drink, and play board games: usually pensive, Germanic, dominate-everyone type things. I might get it together enough to have a reoccuring post about these nights, but for now here are pictures from a few of our favorite games.

This is the stack we took for a weekend away with our Gamenight friends: Carcassone, Fluxx, Bananagrams, Apples to Apples, Settlers of Catan, Bezzerwizzer, Munchkin, Dixit, 7 Wonders, and Smallworld.

A Gamenight favorite that wasn’t mentioned above is being played here: Ticket to Ride. Everyone gets a certain color of trains and tickets for city to city routes. Everyone tries to connect the cities on their route, earning points as you fill the outlined paths with your trains. At the end of the game, you add or subtract points from your tickets, depending on whether you completed the route or not.

Settlers of Catan was our introduction to next-level board games. It’s tricky to explain, so I will do a mediocre job: You are trying to settle the lands of Catan. There’s trade, development cards, settlements, cities, roads, a soldier… many things. It’s fun, though my husband often angrily declares at the beginning of the game that someone has destroyed his chances to win. Of course, he jsut wins anyways.

7 Wonders requires a fair bit of space, as it comes with many cards that need to stay visible throughout the game. Everyone gets a large card with one of the seven wonders of the world. The game has three eras, during which your civilization advances and attempts to complete construction. You have money, resources, military, etc. It’s a little like Settlers of Catan, but you don’t have to worry about a map. Because the scoring at the end of the game can be tricky, I recommend using a 7 Wonders scoring app instead of tallying it up by hand.

Small World is another frequent choice at Gamenight. The map is similar to Catan, but you play with different races instead of roads and buildings. Each of the races has a special power which gives them a certain advantage. On your turn you try to conquer as many adjacent lands as possible, collecting points at the end of each turn. The person with the most points at the end wins!

Oh yeah, and the drinking! The beer flight glasses first used for Dovahfest have made subsequent appearances at Gamenight. We used to buy a sampler pack and just drink out of each other’s beers… so this is a definite step up.


My Candy Crush Saga

I kept hearing about this game, and after a two month gaming drought I decided to give it a try.

I was skeptical upon downloading the game. Everyone kept saying that if I valued my time, I should not download it. I thought these people to be amateurs. I have been playing puzzle games – real puzzle games on real gaming systems – for quite some time. I wasn’t scared by another Bejeweled imitator.

This is the story of my Candy Crush Saga, as told through screen shots.
. I breezed through the early levels with no trouble.

I was feeling pretty good. I had no trouble with the first set of mystery quests either. As the screenshot says, I didn’t need money or friends. I had SKILLS. Then I did a little bit of rough math.

 I looked up at how many levels there were, how fast I had done these levels, and how often I would need to complete mystery quests. It would take me no less than 72 days to beat this game.
Early on, I knew it was important to keep something in mind: they make this free game in order to make money. I vowed that they would not see a penny from me, no matter what. I had a senseless vendetta to steal money from them: to play this game successfully without even giving them free promotion on Facebook. I felt that I could do it. I continued on quickly.

I met new challenges with enthusiasm, feeling that my previous gaming experiences allowed me to better understand the unique challenges presented in higher levels. 
As if portals could slow me down! I wasn’t phased by their attempts to deter my progress.

But alas, my progress soon began to slow. New obstacles were introduced, and I was wise enough to be suspicious.

I was right.

Undeterred, I soldiered on with resolve. There were fewer screenshots because I had a lot less to say. Rarely, I would be motivated to capture my progress (or lack thereof).

 I was still advancing at a decent pace. I had surpassed the progress of all those who warned me to never start playing. Some of them abandoned the game once they surpassed triple digits, but I soldiered on. The challenges grew more fierce.

For the uninitiated, those brown squares are chocolate. If you do not crush candies adjacent to the chocolate, the chocolate expands one square at a time. Earlier in the game, once you broke all the chocolate pieces, it was gone. It would not return again during the same puzzle attempt. On the level shown above, those brown circles are chocolate generators. Those generators will create new chocolate blocks spontaneously. My Candy Crush Saga was getting out of hand.

The chocolate generators were the main antagonist in my most recent victory, which took nearly a week. Some feel that this game is mostly about luck. I disagree, but there is a small amount of luck involved. I had none. The board was divided into four quadrants, and the goal was to combine two special candies two times. Wrapped candies are created when you crush two intersecting lines of candies, and the striped candies are created when you crush four candies at once. It goes without saying that getting these events to happen twice  in a segmented board can be hard. Getting it to happen close enough that the special candies can be combined is quite difficult. Adding chocolate generators made it nearly impossible. I almost broke down.I almost logged into Facebook. I almost considered paying money for a few extra moves. But then…


The best gaming thing that I’ve done this year, by far, is Dovahfest: a weekend long Skyrim playing party. The idea spawned because our non-gamer friend from Gamenight started playing Skyrim (to our amazement). I invited a friend who lived out of town, who admitted upon arrival that he didn’t really know what to expect for something called “Dovahfest”. He thought perhaps we were playing and taking turns, or doing other dragon related activities like watching movies with dragons. He said he thought to himself, “Well, there’s no way they are just putting up a wall of TVs and each playing Skyrim.”

But that’s exactly what we did.

We already had two TVs and had planned to buy a third anyway, so Dovahfest was our excuse to get it. Our friends brought their TV and Xbox. We borrowed a fourth Xbox from my cousin, bought one extra copy of Skyrim and rented another from Redbox. As you can tell by the wall of TVs, we re-arranged our furniture on the other wall, blocking the back door to create a wall of couches.

We were ready to kill some dragons.

Of course, we had lots of food for the weekend. Most of it was something you could hypothetically find in Skyrim. Among our spread was jerky, shepard’s pie, fruit, cheese, and sweetrolls. We also had a couple mead and beer flights. I sorta drank mine before I could be bothered to take a picture.

The mead glasses were also used for our potions flights.From left to right, the potions were poison, health, stamina, and magic.

All the potions were made with jello, following the sparkling ice recipe. The poison one also contained vodka and blended berries, which gave it a perfectly poisonous color. I think the health potions were strawberry, the stamina potions were melon, and the magic potions were mixed berry.

There would be more pictures from Dovahfest, but we were rather busy playing. It was surprisingly helpful to have other people playing in the same room. We compared finished missions, words of power, and our gear. Honestly, If I had the space and the money, I would set up a gamer den with multiple TVs so that hosting such parties would be possible anytime.

I’ve got some secret plans to have an Assassin’s Creed weekend in the future…

Edit: I forgot! Here’s the chalkboard on the side of our kitchen cabinet, onto which I wrote out the Song of the Dragonborn. The title is in dragon script, the top half has the song in dragon language and the bottom is the same song translated into English. Writing all this took longer than it should have, and for that reason it is still on the chalkboard today. Good times!

Year of Fantasy: April and FFIV

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Luckily, I jumped into Final Fantasy IV while still sick last month. It seems to be moving along a lot quicker than FFIII. Perhaps that’s just because the story and gameplay is more engaging. I don’t think I’ll have much trouble finishing it before May, but I also haven’t played for the last few days.

I started playing on DS before I remembered I also had this game on PSP. Though the PSP version looked much better, I didn’t like the translation as much and missed having two screens. My favorite feature while playing on DS is seeing an overhead view of the map on the bottom screen as you explore.

Though the job system in FFIII offered flexibility, I prefer the predetermined jobs in FFIV. I also like how your party is dynamic, changing as the story progresses. Currently I am making my way back down Mt. Ordeals, which I’m guessing is about 1/3 of the way through the game. I’ve put in around 15 hours so far.

I’m hoping to get done with this one in the next two weeks, if not sooner. I played at least a third of FFIII while on the go, and I’ve heard the console games get pretty long. If I don’t try to keep ahead of the months, I’ll fall hopelessly behind when I get to the console-only games.  

Final Fantasy III

My hope dwindled as Refia, a Devout, stood alone in front of the cloud of Darkness. The lifeblood of the party, she had arisen her party members repeatedly, but they could not survive the onslaught of magic and physical attacks. The particle beam was making it impossible to drain the Cloud of that last 30,000hp. When Refia fell, and the party lay face down, I too fell face down into the couch. I knew what this meant. Six boss battles, four Ribbons, and a couple hours were wasted. I loaded the game just to confirm my suspicions: Arc was standing in front of the Crystal Tower again. The music playing was sorrowful, anxious, and apologetic. The game clock reads 50 hours, which doesn’t account for other resets I’ve faced after my party was defeated. Now I’m left debating whether I should bother beating this game. I have a week left in the month, but… going back into that tower is the last thing I want to do.

If I do try to finish this game, I’ll have to level up for a few HOURS before attempting the final boss again, which may also take a couple HOURS to get through. A conservative estimate would be another 8 hours, pulling my total time spent close to 60 hours. I told my cousin that, at the point I was at yesterday, I had simply put too much time into the game to not finish it. Now I’m trying to convince myself that it’s still worth beating.

My cousin asked me yesterday if the game was fun. I answered honestly:
“No. It’s not fun. I can’t save in the dungeon, so I’m walking in, grabbing items, then walking out so that I can save, over and over, and no. It’s not fun.”
The world is so expansive, and some of the areas so dense that not being able to save feels less like a challenge and more like a punishment. You are rewarded for leveling, but the process is painfully slow and quite boring. The story fine, but not strong enough to keep you sufficiently interested as you do the necessary work of level grinding. I had my party in the 50s when I took on the end of the game. The boss battles leading up to the end were a cinch, but the damage dealt by the Cloud in the final fight seemed unreasonable. I’ve already collected the most powerful items and equipment in the game, played for 50 hours and still the final fight was out of reach. After dealing about 70,000 hp I couldn’t keep everyone alive and fighting. Shurikens were the best bet, but with only one ninja the damage wasn’t dealt fast enough.

My favorite parts about FFIII are the music, Chocobos, and the Invincible (an air ship you get somewhat late in the game). The score for this game pulls you through the slow parts. It’s complex enough that you don’t tire from the melody, and changes for each new locale. Riding the Chocobos was one of the better ways to travel the large map. The ship has a place to rest inside, along with a shop and a storage Chocobo (which was strange…).

Sadly, I can’t say I loved anything else. The world map is essentially layered upon itself, giving you two full worlds to explore. If you aren’t focused on beating the game, I imagine it’s a nice place to wander through. When you are focused on beating the game, it’s annoyingly large and convoluted. It was tedious and unrewarding. It was big and unwieldy.

With such an expansive map, you would think that completing the story’s challenges would be enough to sufficiently strengthen your party, but this is not the case. The difficulty came not from the challenges themselves, but how long you were willing to run in circles, randomly encountering foes until you were strong enough to continue. You cannot buy phoenix downs, you can only save on the world map, and (until you get the Invincible) you must haul to the nearest town to be restored.

The job system is expansive, almost to a fault. There was a lone old man in a few inns who would tell you about the jobs you had. Otherwise, you had to just waste time, I mean, take time to figure out which ones worked best. Certain battles would call for certain jobs, which meant you needed to keep extra sets of equipment on hand just in case you needed to switch. The release of the jobs was staggered a little too wide throughout the game. By the time you are given the last set of jobs, it’s hard to justify switching from your seasoned positions to something new.

The variety of magic, items, and equipment to be found is extensive. However, most of it was job specific, and with only a party of four, I collected a lot of items that were of no use (but I had to keep it all in case I needed to switch jobs). These items are necessary to keep your aimless wandering somewhat interesting, as you are given very little instruction on where to go or what to do next in the story.

Many people told me that playing all the Final Fantasy games in order was a horrible idea, because they aren’t all good. They were right. I’ve already forgotten much of  FFI and FFII. I’d like to forget FFIII, but I know I can’t. I will remember that it was long, drawn out, and rarely rewarding. I will remember that the fun moments are drowned out by the incessant traveling about. I’ll remember that the triumph of becoming more powerful over time is trounced by the monotony of the encounters. I’ll remember that the variety of jobs is a poor exchange for the unnecessary length of this game. I’ll remember that all new mechanics and features came at the cost of engaging gameplay. I’ll remember, because FFIII is now the benchmark for the worst Final Fantasy game I have played.

Year of Fantasy

After Four in February, I was looking for another gaming challenge. I came up with the Year of Fantasy. I’ve been trying to play all the Final Fantasy games for quite some time now. I played the first two a couple years ago on PSP and lost steam. I decided to resume with the third game this month, and continue playing one Final Fantasy game every month for the rest of the year. I’ll skip 10-2 and 11, playing all the other main games in order. I’m a bit worried about getting burnt out, especially given the length of these games…. so we’ll see if I make it to the end of the year.

The Week Ahead

Last week I roamed about Polygon and Kotaku, cleaned up the home office, filed passports, did not read those library books and barely played Assassin’s Creed. Overall, the week ahead is looking a lot like last week.

One of my goals this week is actually a goal for the month, and by extension, the rest of the year. I’ll be writing more about it later.

Atelier Ayesha arrived from Gamefly today, so I’ll be trying that out this week.

Still have more cleaning to do!

And like I said before, I didn’t read these books either… but I do have an idea for a program I’d like to write, so that’s something.

This makes for lots of games this week, but I’m gonna try to squeeze in Assassin’s Creed again.

I’ve also got a few posts I’d like to write for this blog, but we’ll see how the week goes.