ink monsters

Ink Monsters Review

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Publisher: Albino Dragon
Players: 2-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Age: 6+

Card games can be tricky for younger kids. It can be challenging to hold very many cards in tiny hands, and privately manage their own resources.

Ink Monsters alleviates these issues by providing a streamlined set collection card game, themed around drawing kid-friendly monsters. The enchanting artwork and simple iconography helps sell the light-hearted experience, though end game scoring quickly grows complex and unwieldy.

Monsters, Ink

Ink Monsters is made up of two decks of cards: 48 monster cards and 57 action cards. In each of the three rounds, 12 monsters are randomly drawn into a circle. A magic pen card is place on the outer ring, indicating the next monster that will be drafted. Each round players play from their hand of three ability cards to rotate and move the pen to a more desirable monster before they select it. At the end of three rounds, the most victory points wins.

ink monstersEach monster has a point value, ranging from -5 to +5, as well as several trait icons, such as clothes, arms, and teeth. Monsters also come in five different colors, and almost all of them have either a once per round ability, or offer bonus (or negative!) points depending on the other Monsters you’ve drafted.

Once you start collecting monsters you have to start paying attention to their associated icons and powers, which can be challenging for younger kids who just want to pick their favorite-looking monsters.

I wouldn’t blame them; the card artwork is exceptional. These monsters would feel right at home within the world of Disney-Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. But what really matters are the icons and abilities each monster possesses.

For example, Alex gives you the ability to move the magic pen clockwise one to three spaces, essentially giving you a fourth card in your hand of ability cards. Lisa grants +1 point for each different colored monster you’ve collected. George lets you draw an additional monster from the deck. But that could be a blessing or a curse.

Some monsters are worth negative points, or have negative bonuses. Cary is worth 0 points, but his ‘bonus’ is that each other monster you own with hair scores -1 at the end of the game.

Juggling all these collection bonuses together becomes a bit too unfriendly with less players and younger kids, which is our typical family situation. The game doesn’t scale for the number of players, so less players equals more monsters per player. That means sifting through a dozen or more traits, bonuses, and abilities by the end of the game.

End game scoring is likewise a complete nightmare with that many monsters. It’s way more difficult than I would expect from a game aimed at 6+ kids. Thankfully Albino Dragon has released a free scoring app on iOS and Android that does all of the work for you. It’s a solid app and almost a necessity to determine final scores.

Pen is Mightier

The key to producing a great game for the under eight crowd is to minimize text. Ink Monsters comes close to succeeding but falls short with the abilities. The trait icons are easily identifiable, and all the action cards include a large visual aid indicating the action, such as a turned arrow and a +1.

Yet we still had to explain what most cards do with our six year old, and play with open hands to help her make a decision. Repeated plays helped, but there’s still just a bit too much going on. I would recommended the age closer to 8+.

ink monsters

On the flip side the game scales well for older kids and more players. Collecting less monsters lets you focus on specific strategies, such as monsters with hair and monsters who are pink and purple. There are also not a lot of cruel gotcha tactics. Instead players will often be left with really bad choices toward the end of each round. But there are enough negative-point monsters that everyone will have a few bad eggs in their collection.

Ink Monsters is a fun but flawed card game for kids. The artwork is absolutely amazing and every single monster card is unique, leading to an impressive replay factor that plays fairly quickly. But the gameplay is a bit too complex for what it offers, with too many overlapping traits, icons, and powers that players have to keep up with. With the amount of text involved I would at least bump the age to 8+, and I would absolutely recommend the free scoring app as practically a requirement to get through the complex end-game scoring.

Crossing Souls

Crossing Souls Review

Posted by | PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews | No Comments

Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC (Win, Mac, Linux)

My generation (I’m in my 30s) has an indomitable passion for the 1980s. The appeal waxes from fun nostalgia to tiresome and cynical. Sometimes you get brilliant results like Stranger Things, other times it’s a disastrous grab bag like Ready Player One.

Crossing Souls lies somewhere in between, proudly wearing its 80s setting on its denim jacket sleeve. The retro animated cutscenes help bring the surprisingly heavy story to life, but it’s dragged down by poor controls, repetitive combat, and strictly linear level design.
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dr. panda plus home designer

Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer Review

Posted by | Mobile, Reviews | No Comments

Available On: iOS, Android, Fire OS

At my daughter’s preschool graduation she confidently announced that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. She draws and colors every day. Her desk is a warzone of papers, crayons, paints, Play-Doh, and magic markers.

Like most kids she’s also in love with her iPad, an old hand-me-down. She watches videos and plays games. Nothing had prepared me for how well two of her favorite activities could intersect with the newest Dr. Panda product. Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer combines the creative joys of drawing with the magic of augmented reality to transcribe your creations into a kid-friendly digital playhouse.

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civilization

Civilization VI Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews | No Comments

Available on PC

The Civilization series of games is one of the most beloved in the turn-based strategy genre. They’ve helped send their creator, Sid Meier, to almost god-like fame within the gaming industry. But all of this is for a very good reason. The latest installment of the series, Civilation VI is on caliber with the previous games, and it’s probably the best game yet.

The Basic Gameplay

If you’re not familiar with Civilization games, here’s the scoop. The game is about picking a civilization and building it and evolving it over time – from the prehistoric ages to the modern day and beyond. It’s played on a tiled board that represents city size and citizen movement. Though it sounds simple, these games are amazingly complex and have levels of depth not seen in other games. You start off by founding your first city. At the start, you’ll also find yourself with a “warrior” unit that can explore the world and fight enemies if necessary. Once your city has been founded, you can produce different types of groups, like builders, scouts, and other military units. The type of military units you can make depends on how far you’ve progressed in learning different things.

civ-vi-screen1

That’s where the second aspect of the game comes in. There are multiple areas of study for you to pursue that can help advance your civilization in different ways. If you want to work on being a civilization focused on the power of its military, you can do that. Likewise you can focus on science or culture. None of these are mutually exclusive, though, so you can take your civilization in many different directions.

Finally, just like in the real world, you’re not the only civilization on the map. There will be foreign entities that you need to interact with. You can have peaceful deals where you share trade and open borders, or not-so-peaceful tactics, such as declaring all-out war. It can sometimes be difficult to read what the leaders of those civilizations are really thinking, so a large part of the strategy is knowing how to deal with each one individually.

civilization vi

So how does the game end? It doesn’t really have to if you don’t want it to. Adjusting a few options can let the game on indefinitely, but there are a number of win conditions. These include science, culture and military feats. If you’re able to complete them before any other player, then you win.

Due to the complexity of the gameplay, each game can take hours to complete. And I mean HOURS. You can sit down and start a game in the morning and might not even be finished by dinner time. I’ve done that quite a lot actually. It’s a game that’s really easy to get lost in. However, since it’s a turn-based game, you can save at any time, so that helps to alleviate that a bit.

The Difference Between Civilization VI and the Rest of the Series

Civilization VI is still a Civ game. The series has been great about incremental changes that take the gameplay in slightly different paths. In Civ VI, the difference comes in the expansion of your cities. Rather than the building being done for you by the game, you now have to build each segment of the city itself. If you want to build a library, you have to select a tile around your city to build it on. That means making the decision of where to place your buildings very strategic. You only have so many tiles to work with, so you have to prioritize what you build and where you build it. Your city expands a bit gradually without you needing to do anything, but you can also purchase additional tiles with gold.

I like this new challenge. I often found my cities filling up rather quickly and was faced with the decision to replace a resource tile, like a farm or mine, with one of the Wonders of the World that I wanted to build before someone else got a chance to.

civilization vi

That’s the biggest change. The game also includes changes you would expect, like better graphics and more civilizations to choose from. There are also different leaders and sometimes their dialogue can be quite amusing. For example, Teddy Roosevelt will ask you to sample America’s goods like “stuffed bears.”

The Rating

Civilization VI is rated E10+ with descriptors for Drug Reference, Language, Mild Violence, and Suggestive Themes. A big part of the gameplay involves units attacking each other. While you can see the battles happening, the units themselves are fairly small and there’s no blood. The language and suggestive themes come from interactions with other world leaders, some of whom will call you names, and some of whom are dressed in a provocative way. Finally tobacco is one of the special resources you can farm.

The Takeaway

Civilization VI is the perfect next step in the series. It’s got a great amount of changes that improve the gameplay, while still feeling like the same game at its heart. This is a must-buy for existing Civ fans. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into the turn-based strategy genre, you can’t really find anything better. Just be prepared to tell yourself, “just one more turn” over and over and over.

 

 

titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 Review

Posted by | PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews, Xbox One | No Comments

Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
We played on Xbox One

Titanfall 2 is the EXO-Squad video game I have wanted to play since I was a teenager and never could. Some people might read that and think I am bashing the game for being derivative or unoriginal. But, that just isn’t the case. Titanfall 2 is a game that manages to take what was, essentially, a lifeless shell, and breath life and personality into it. I loved every minute of it. Read More

gears of war 4

Gears of War 4 Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews, Xbox One | No Comments

Available on Xbox One, PC
We played on Xbox One

In general, shooters aren’t really my thing. Unless there’s something crazy about them, like being a plant or a zombie, they all seem to blend together. Gears of War 4 isn’t unique enough to make me rethink my entire feelings about the genre, but it has a good story and practically flawless gameplay. It should be considered a must-buy if the sci-fi shooter genre is your cup of tea.

In the game, you play as J.D. Fenix along with some friends.

In the game, you play as J.D. Fenix along with some friends.

The Story

Since this is the fourth entry in the franchise, the story for Gears of War 4 brings in a bit of the past and builds off that to make an interesting progression. After re-living some of the past events as a nameless soldier in a couple of prologue missions, you come into the crux of the story, which takes place 25 years after the events of the previous games. You play as J.D. Fenix, whose father is Marcus Fenix, the protagonist of previous games. J.D. and his friend have deserted the Coalition of Ordered Governments because they question some of the new policies of First Minister Jinn, namely the building of compounds with strict authoritarian rules over the people who live in them.

There are pockets of people known as outsiders who choose not to live in one of these compounds. But they’re strapped for resources that are kept under lock and key in the compounds. When J.D. helps one of these outsider villages, he’s launched into a larger plot that includes the involvement, of not only the compounds and First Minister Jinn, but also a hostile force of alien creatures.

The Gameplay

Gears of War 4, like its predecessors is a third-person shooter. You use a variety of weapons to shoot all sorts of enemies. And that’s basically it. You shoot. And then you shoot some more. And then you shoot even more. It’s honestly not my favorite type of gameplay, but it’s done so well and it’s so polished that it’s hard to find fault in it. The controls are intuitive and the on-screen prompts and heads-up display do a great job of giving you the information you need to know quickly and then letting you immediately try it out from within the gameplay.  Gears of War 4 also has an item called a fabricator, which can be used to craft weapons, which comes in handy when you run out of ammo for your equipped weapons.

gears of war 4

The campaign mode can be played cooperatively with two people either online or split-screen. There are also competitive online multiplayer modes and a cooperative mode where you face waves upon waves of enemies.

The Rating

Gears of War 4 is rated M with content descriptors for blood and gore, intense violence and strong language. When you shoot enemies, their deaths are very graphic with plenty of blood. Alien enemies will explode in a shower of blood and tissue that is quite gruesome. Except in cut scenes, you’re constantly in battle with little or no time to catch your breath.

The Takeaway

Gears of War 4 is an example of a game doing one thing and doing it extremely well. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a shooter that’s more polished than this one. The depth of the story was surprising to me and is actually more interesting than you’re standard sci-fi fare. Straight-up shooters aren’t really my thing, but I enjoyed playing the game. If you’re a big fan of shooters, then you’ll definitely want to give the game your attention.