Aven Colony – review

In a forward-thinking act of organisation that’s made my wife suspicious I’ve been replaced by a Pod Person, I’ve made a To-Do list for my week off work. Because nothing says ‘I value my free time’ like a To-Do list.

It ranges from the fairly important personal projects (‘write a pilot script’) to actual scheduled slacking off (‘knock off my Netflix queue’). I must confess that I’ve made the list partly to avoid the inevitable; checking out the No Man’s Sky update on PS4. You’d be amazed how long I’ve spent on this game since it launched without deciding whether it’s actually been worth my while, so probably best not to waste more time trying to find out.

So, to get my sci-fi gaming fix I’ve been playing Aven Colony, a modest city-building sim from Team 17. Early impressions give me a vibe that’s very much Tropico-in-space, so it’s fair to say I’m intrigued.


Aven Colony gameplay

Aven Colony takes place on what’s presumably a planet called Aven, a planet of varying climates and conditions. You play the leader of the colonising forces, as you rise through the ranks to oversee ever more difficult settlement situations.

Starting with the lander module, an outpost or two and some basic utilities, you’re tasked with expanding your colony to support a larger population, which starts to be shipped in once you’ve met some of the basic targets.

It’s pretty easy to get going, and runs just like your typical city-builder, as you adjust staffing levels, mine for resources and turn them into nanites – the currency which is used to have your construction drones 3D-print your base’s next addition.

Meet your colonists’ needs for things like Air Quality and Morale, with the appropriate installation of air vents and bars, and make sure their daily commute is easy with enough interlocking tunnels between their home and their work. (This is ridiculously important to them – but if you lived in a hermetically-sealed series of tubes on some alien planet you’d probably feel the same way too; a win for realism if not game mechanics.)


The planet has a few of its own natural defences which add some intrigue; time is divided into seasonal periods, including winters which freeze the ground and make your farms less efficient. If the food quality and quantity drops, so does colonists’ morale. On top of that there’s lightning storms, toxic gas emissions and even the odd space-plague to contend with.

And then there’s the Referendums – the 50% approval rate which you must exceed in order to stay on as the colony chief.

Step up your colony’s survival stats and you’ll grow enough to explore the rest of the planet – with ancient ruins to be uncovered and new colonists to rescue from their planetary problems.

Replay value

It’s all quite good fun and fairly immersive, but the main issue I’m having with Aven Colony is just how arbitrary it all is. Tropico 5’s far more complex system – one which still has me going back to tinker with the roads and distribution routes every now and then – offers high replay value. Here on Aven you’re presented with a set of overlays to denote happiness, air quality and commute times across the colony. Sad face? Add a park. Air quality alert? Build an air filter nearby. And that’s about it – random catastrophes aside, but even those are fixable provided you’ve got enough nanites to spare and some space to build in an affected area.


Having the resources to fix these issues as they crop up does admittedly take some degree of careful planning – to build on the colony you need nanite generators, and to open mines for which to fuel their generation. If there’s not enough workers and enough housing evenly spread across the complex then they stay closed. Conversely, you’ll be all out of nanites if you get too construction-happy, and that leads to various power outages, random blowouts and steep drops in morale. And so to that end, there’s a fair bit of juggling required before you can start shipping in new colonists.

However, if you’re at all familiar with the city builder you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, and disappointingly, as the story beats take their time to play out. The dreaded Referendum mechanic didn’t actually worry me at all (on Normal difficulty setting) – at this point of the game I’ve had no fear of dropping under even 70% just because I haven’t neglected any of the urgent pop-ups which…pop up to tell me there’s a problem with housing or air quality.

There’s little variety to proceedings – while the main construction objective is a staple of the city building simulation, be it a Space Program or in this case, usually an Expedition Centre, there’s usually more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. But here it’s a frustratingly endless extension of long-running tunnels, interrupted by the odd housing block and a workplace.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses – there’s alien secrets to be uncovered and some potential sabotage/espionage going on from within. And given the lo-fi indie value of the game I’m always impressed when a non-AAA title provides so much good stuff. Aven Colony provides some good game time, but it’s far from the best city builder I’ve played.

Switching back to Nintendo

My mate Matt Allen kindly agreed to voice his excitement for the upcoming Nintendo Switch console in the form of before and after posts. Here’s part one.

The Nintendo Switch launches March 3rd, and I could not be more excited.

I have been watching the unveiling, promotion and rumours since back before we even knew it was called the Switch. That’s when I used to spend about an hour every day on the NX Reddit page, poring over product patents and rumours. Instead of keeping up with my favourite TV shows, I now just watch YouTube videos about the Switch, breaking down the hardware, talking about the launch line up and discussing all the things that could be possibly coming in the future. I have stopped listening to true crime podcasts and now I just listen to video games podcasts. In a nutshell, I am obsessed.

(I’d recommend Filthy Casuals, Infendo, Nintendo Sushi, Nintendo Week and Radio Free Nintendo. I would be lying if I said I didn’t listen to around 10 more a week on top of these.)

There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about a product launch, or excited about a game coming out – but I am worried I’ve been completely swept up aboard the Nintendo Switch hype train, and I may go crashing off a cliff if the console doesn’t match my expectations.

nintendo hype train

A Nintendo hype train, yesterday.

I haven’t always been a huge Nintendo fan(boy). I didn’t buy the Wii U until late 2015, and play the vast majority of my games on my Xbox One and PS4. Growing up in England, I played a lot more Sega as a kid than I did Nintendo – as did all my friends and relatives. Most tellingly, I haven’t had the opportunity to play on a Switch. I am not a reviewer; I am not in the media; I am just a guy with a bit of an unhealthy obsession with a new console.

So what is it that has got me so excited, and why should I be worried? In true internet list style, here are my Three Pros and Cons for the Nintendo Switch.


Pros of wanting a Nintendo Switch

Pro Controller and Joy Cons – The versatility of the controllers for the Switch is great. The Joy Cons can be detached, so right out of the box you’ve got a console that two can play. Including a Share button has great hope for the future when it comes to streaming and sharing games footage. It also has something called HD Rumble; these controllers have a lot of tech packed into them. The pro controller has analogue stick positions like the Xbox, which is by far my favourite games controller.

In addition, I can tap my Amiibo on an NFC chip on the Joy Con without having to get off my butt and go to the console when it is docked – this will make it extremely easy for me to stay lazy and overweight, especially considering the controllers’ healthy battery life (20 hours on the Joy Cons, 40 on the Pro Controller). And yes, I have over 100 Amiibo, so it will be pretty great to actually get to use them for something.

The Line Up – Although the Switch’s launch line-up seems a bit thin on the ground Nintendo games are some of my all-time favourites. Within a year of launch I will be playing a new Zelda game, a new Super Mario game, a new Splatoon game and Mario Kart 8. Since this is the first hub world Mario game since Sunshine I personally can’t wait – throw in the 60+ indie games coming in 2017, along with new Sonic games and Skyrim that I can play on my daily commute, and it’s clear the console will offer a lot of game time in the first 12 months alone.

It’s a Hybrid – If for some reason you have read this far and didn’t know, this console is both a home console and a handheld. Drop it in a dock and it connects to your TV, pick it up and walk away, and you are playing on the go. This is perfect for me as I slide further into my 30s and don’t have as much time for console gaming as I’d like to.

Nintendo Switch

Cons of buying a Nintendo Switch

Joy Cons – Yes – I know I had this as a Pro, and no – this isn’t just here so I could make a Pros and Cons pun. With the added focus on motion control seen in the launch title 1 2 Switch, Nintendo seems keen to look back on the success of the Wii rather than take a bold step forward from the Wii U. Games like Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers comes with extra motion control modes that, frankly, look terrible.

Am I worried about motion control? No. I think it’ll have some clever uses and there will be some fun to be had, but it’s just not the image I hoped we’d get with this generation. I think the marketing focus should be on Nintendo Switch being a home console that can be taken with you. If the message of what this console is and who it is for gets even slightly muddled it may not sell well, which would be a shame as I don’t want another Wii U.

The Line Up – Although there are a bunch of great Nintendo games coming in 2017, I am actually a bit worried about what impression these give out to someone who isn’t following the news as obsessively as I am. Yes, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is coming at launch – but if you don’t like Zelda, you don’t have much to choose from. I’m excited by the idea of over 60 indie titles releasing this year, but a lot of them have already aired on other consoles or on PC. A portable Elder Scrolls title is amazing – but Skyrim has already been out for six years, not to mention its mod-friendly next-gen update last year.

Hopefully the games will keep coming, but if sales don’t look promising then developers won’t be as inclined to keep making the games. It feels like a missed opportunity for Nintendo – they had the chance to come out with a splash at the start, or at least to have all the dates for games in the future locked down.  Maybe another month or two of development would have helped. I feel like maybe it needed to come out this financial year more than they feel ready to launch it right now.

It is a Hybrid –  I can walk away with the likes of Zelda and Skyrim in my hand, and play it on the bus (or toilet) – that’s going to be great. However, there is a reason that games this big haven’t made it to tablet – they would kill the battery. And kill the battery the Switch probably will – it only has a battery life of between 2.5 and six hours. Six hours is not conducive to a session in Skyrim, I would guess.

Although you can get a larger replacement battery for the Wii U, there’s no such luck with the Switch. As a hybrid console, it’s got to be different things for different uses – possibly too many things. This console can’t be all things for all people, and is already delivering a mixed message on marketing. Is it a successor to the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS? The fact that it is portable and both handheld and console development teams have been merged would seem to suggest so, but that’s not the word we are getting from Nintendo, who understandably has to keep investors happy.

All aboard?

So where does this leave me? I have three things that excite me about this console – the same three things that I also am worried about. It leaves me at a Day One purchase. It leaves me pre-ordering the Pro Controller just in case I hate the small buttons on the Joy Con. It leaves me excited.

I have so many hopes for the console and have already heard exciting things, the launch line up has been beefed up on the last few days with some special E-Shop titles, but my hopes for a full Virtual Console on Launch Day are definitely not going to be met.

We will just have to see how it goes in March. I for one will be off Reddit and YouTube for the day and fully invested in Breath of the Wild, even when on the toilet if I so fancy it.

Matt Allen is a gamer and games collector who loves all consoles. He once accidentally ran a Pokémon Go event for 1000 people, after he invited a few friends to meet up and didn’t set the Facebook event to Private. He loves retro games and has an obsession with Fallout.

My inner child loves No Man’s Sky – but do I?

God knows I’ve put the hours in, but am I actually enjoying playing No Man’s Sky, or is it all a grip of nostalgia?

Over the course of my time with No Man’s Sky on the PS4, I’ve broken a fair few barriers. Not only am I referring to breaking the speed of light in order to warp between its seemingly infinite number of star systems, but also because I broke my Golden Rule of Outlandish Purchase Decisions: no games above £40.

So when I saw a brand new copy of No Man’s Sky on the shelves for just £25 today, I had pause to consider whether I was still getting any value out of my near-twice-the-price purchase – or even if I ever had.


In the run-up to its release last August, the No Man’s Sky hype was overwhelming. I’ve never been one to let myself get sucked into that sort of thing – it’s why I’m always so behind on the latest and greatest hits of pop culture – but the game had to really be something special to meet those expectations. And when it turned out in the eyes of so many to be so much less than stellar, the hype turned swiftly into massive backlash aimed squarely at the poor sods at Hello Games.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I first fired the game up myself, but suffice it to say I wasn’t underwhelmed…or overwhelmed even…merely…whelmed? With my hitherto unrealised need to have an update of Frontier: Elite II in my life, I was happy enough to play Pioneer here and there.

Sure, No Man’s Sky remains stunning to look at – I’m a sucker for an alien landscape – but outside of the artefact discovery and the annoying grinning creatures greeting me at every space station, there just wasn’t a whole lot to do besides the same old, same old.

So just as Hello Games realised they needed to put a hell of a lot more game into their game, I abandoned No Man’s Sky in favour of a second playthrough of Fallout 4.

November saw the release of NMS’ Foundation Update, with new modes of gameplay and just a little bit more to do during your visits to the stars beyond. I’ve only just made my way onto this update, and I think I’ve made a bit of an unsettling discovery.


After loading an old save file and debating whether or not to carry on in search of the Atlas Stones which I’d been gifted by some weird dome thing, I decided to start afresh – I needed to get to grips with the controls again, and wondered if there was anything I’d missed the first time.

I decided to start from scratch and try a different path – that of the two rebel explorers, Nada and Polo. This seems to be going well enough – and could have even started to lead somewhere but for the fact that it’s already feeling a bit repetitive.

So as I landed on yet another, albeit beautiful, life-filled planet and set off mining some Iron to boost my Pulse Drive and Deflector Shields, I realised that I don’t think I’m actually enjoying this much. But a small part of me would not admit it – my curious, sci-fi obsessed inner child.

It’s clear to me (and hopefully to even the most frothy-mouthed of its critics) that Hello Games has put together something very special from a design perspective. As the wide-eyed kid who couldn’t control his ship properly in Frontier, and the misty-eyed twentysomething reliving those same memories in Pioneer so many years later, I can honestly say that what I feel for No Man’s Sky now is something approaching a realisation of those childhood space-age fantasies.

Just as I used to ‘book’ my wrestling figures by filling notepads with fight cards, attendance figures and unimaginative, all-too-regular tournament brackets, I wanted my Action Force figures to visit strange new plants, record data on the atmosphere and encounter the planet’s thriving flora and fauna. My lack of knowledge when it came to the ‘science’ part of ‘science fiction’ didn’t stop me from imagining these epic missions into the depths of outer space – from cautious landing to desperate escape.

In a way, this beautiful but flawed game is everything my ten-year-old self would have killed to play. I can recreate that same feeling of discovery and adventure, and get official statistics to boot, thanks to the game’s recording of player progress. But just as you tend to lose 99% of your childhood passion for ice cream when you’re old enough to have it whenever, I’m no longer enthralled by the idea of giving up so much of my valuable free time to something that just doesn’t grab me the way it once did.

While for the moment I’m happy enough to continue my journey across the stars, in search of long-forgotten extra-terrestrial wisdom and the chance to fetch something or other back to my home base (a good, if not entirely absorbing addition from the Foundation Update, only because it’s a lame version of the tried-and-trite ‘fetch quests’ that RPGers have quite rightly had their fill of), I feel the time will soon come to end my latest run with No Man’s Sky. I’m rather fearful that my nostalgia for all things space travel will turn ugly when it dawns on me that there’s not a whole lot to actually keep me here, as my more grown-up sensibility for storytelling starts to take me away from the muddling, aimless wander among the stars.

Game retail stores are charging for Playstation VR demos

We all know how I feel about the chain of video game shops known simply as Game. (In case you don’t, here’s a quick refresher.) But their latest attempt to bring virtual reality to the masses is sort of taking the piss a bit.

Game shops Call of Duty

Per the Retail Gazette, branches of Game are offering customers the chance to try out the brand new Playstation VR suite; a pretty impressive bit of kit by all accounts. Even I’m intrigued after my own brush with the future at my friend’s stag go last year.

So what do you do in order to sample some Sony VR action? Simple: pay Game a fiver for ten minutes’ play.

Woah, hold up. They’re charging for this?

Yep. Five quid. Ten minutes. And probably some impatient taps on your shoulder, or else just the system shutting down before you’ve really had a chance to get cracking with some sweet tech.

VR in demand

Okay, I get it. This stuff is in demand, and at a hefty £350 (plus Playstation Camera, sold separately) there’s not a lot of people can expect to wake up with this in their stocking come Christmas Day (oh god, I said it). And with all their financial troubles of the past, you can see why Game themselves would be hesitant to back up the VR delivery lorry without some indicator of how many they’ll sell.

But asking people to part with (for me) a completely unreasonable amount of money for only ten minutes’ trying out the Playstation VR is just a bit too much.

Firstly, Sony themselves have been trialling the hardware at venues all over the country, and haven’t tried charging anyone for the privilege.

Secondly, we’re talking about a company which is now accepting pre-orders on a game that isn’t out for another whole year. One whole year for you to give them your money, knowing full well that their line of credit is drying up faster than the craft beer tent at Burning Man, and they might not be around long enough to honour it.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The age-old art of robbing Peter to pay Paul is something Game has excelled at in recent years, and having barely survived last Christmas is now back to the same old tricks. Other British retailers without the ability to get advance payments on product has seen the likes of Woolworths and Comet close their doors.

But being able to live through another trying Christmas period via something seemingly so socially acceptable as a video game pre-order is just a false economy. And again, it’s bad enough to be done months in advance, but Rockstar’s announcement of a ‘Fall 2017’ release means players are AT LEAST ten months away from seeing any return on their investment of right now.

game retail pre order red dead redemption 2 announcement

For their part, Game claims that charging players to sample Playstation VR is all part of keeping dedicated staff available and on hand to help you demo the gear. I’d liken it to taking a test drive at a car showroom; the guys are there to try and sell you the car in the first place, so why should you be saddled with the financial burden of taking it for a spin?

And while I admire Game members of staff for their tireless pursuit of a sale, I find it annoying enough to barely break the one-minute mark in a branch of the shop without being asked if I’m alright, and what do I play? (Unless I clearly don’t look to them as if I belong there, in which case they shouldn’t be making those assumptions anyway.)

But let’s not forget either that anyone who buys the Playstation VR following on from that demo will have the price knocked off. Thank god for that, my ludicrously-priced hardware will have a fiver knocked off!

Retail’s been going through some very tough times of late, and with the whole Brexit bollocks kicking off it looks like there’ll be even more to come. But with stunts like this, it’ll be harder for some than others once customers start voting with their wallets.

Pokemon Go, by a filthy casual

No intro necessary – you know all about Pokemon Go by this point.

Pokemon Go review

But if there’s one thing I can say about Pokemon Go, it’s that the sheer dedication displayed by some of my fellow local players is both tremendously encouraging and horribly frustrating.

Encouraging because, wow, absolutely everybody is playing it; from the surly teenagers outside my nearest supermarket to the surly adults standing in the town centre between two lures.

Frustrating because, as a thirty-something with grown-up responsibilities and…well, things I’d actually rather be doing than playing Pokemon Go, it occurs to me that I’ll never get anywhere close to achieving anything in-game.

(I held a gym overnight last week, not long enough to gain any XP but still long enough to feel somewhat accomplished. Oh, and this gym was in Mexico – I was on my honeymoon; my wife was only annoyed that she got booted from it sooner than me.)

In-game annoyances

I won’t even bother to get into an overview of the game, mostly because if you’re reading this you’ve either got no wish to know, or you’ve just closed the app down yourself when you came home for the day. Suffice it to say, for me there’s still a few niggling issues to be worked out. I cannot reasonably allow it to murder my phone battery as much as it does, and my GPS is quite patchy – though I realise these are both potentially caused by my smartphone as much as the app itself.

No, the real annoyances come in the game. The memes have done the rounds, but the best jokes are funny because they’re true – I’m sick of the fucking sight of Pidgey. Even when I drop a bloody lure, they’re there in their droves.

Pokemon Go Pidgey

Seriously. I despise it. It can’t be healthy how much I wish harm upon it every time the useless fucker pops up on my screen, and how it manages to escape the trap so much considering how bloody many of them there are. Surely rarer Pokemon than this shouldn’t be easier to catch?

Another issue I have – definitely mine and not the game’s – is that I feel like an absolute hypocrite every time I take my phone out and don’t watch where I’m walking, because I FUCKING HATE those people. At least now there’s a good cause for it, but I have never understood the need to do that before. It’s just an awful habit.

I’ve got to say though, once you can get past these things, the concept itself is absolutely amazing. Catching Pokemon out in the real world? Seeing so many great stories online of making new friends and – in some cases – even taking those scary steps outside to play? It’s a beautiful thing, and while the world continues to fall apart around us with Brexit this and bombing that, having this one beautiful thing in our lives right now is actually pretty great.

But seriously though, fuck Pidgey.






Tropico 5 is a delightful dictatorship simulator

The dictatorship sim Tropico 5 was another PS Plus offering, and one of my favourites so far.

I used to be obsessed with The Sims. Absolutely obsessed. I pored over every little detail of those guys’ lives – and I know that’s the whole point, but really.

And like Chuck Klosterman in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, I sometimes thought about how easy it was to be pure evil to these Sims, if you really fancied it. The ability to choose your own moral alignment was a relatively new feature in games back at the turn of the millennium, with limited work previously done by the likes of the Ultima games in exploring how the decisions you make can alter your path.

Making the tough choices is one of the biggest challenges you face in simulation games, which is why I really enjoyed playing Tropico 5.


Humble beginnings

Your job is to build a dynasty of rulers on your very own tropical paradise. Starting off in the Colonial Era, you’re tasked with constructing the various facilities, residences and industrial buildings on each island, while improving citizens’ happiness and quality of life. On top of that it’s your responsibility to negotiate trade agreements with other nations, and best your political rivals through canny use of your natural resources.

Aside from the Tutorial there are three game types to play: the Campaign game is a full single-player narrative involving international intrigue, considerable strategy and all-out war. As you move through the different eras from Colonial times to the Modern Age you must suck up to the right people and prove your prowess as a fearless island ruler.


The Mission (and I assume there was more than one available on the online store but hey ho) is a fun contained story involving the vital production of cheese, and your quest to defy the Crown in becoming the worldwide leader of said cheese production.

The Sandbox is the real test – and where it most closely resembles its forebears; Sim City, The Sims, Sim Hospital…anything with Sim in it basically. And just like these games, the tongue-in-cheek humour is one of Tropico 5’s most appealing features.

Making difficult decisions

But when you’re faced with some of the tough choices, that’s where things really get interesting. You can alternately piss off the Allies and the Axis; the USSR and the USA, even as far back as choosing what’s best for your citizens who are fiercely loyal to the King, or to the Revolutionary cause. When the King’s representative asks you on a whim to ship him all the milk you have available, rather than make it available for islanders, do you cut them off or risk the wrath of the Crown?


There’s always a workaround for these things, but as your island grows more sophisticated the logistical and strategic solutions can be costlier, more inconvenient or simply a massive pain to try and organise. That’s where the real challenge lies, and aside from the odd arbitrary blip the makers of Tropico 5 have managed to strike a pretty good balance in most aspects of the game.

Before this instalment I wasn’t even aware of the series, but thanks to the PS Plus scheme (which has boosted the popularity of many a title), I’ve found what could be my new favourite strategy game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out how to start a revolution.

Moneymaking Mobile Tap Games

Since I dedicated an entire post to reviewing AdVenture Capitalist – still the original and best for me – a few more moneymaking mobile app games have made their way onto my Galaxy S5. In the world of mobile gaming there seems to be quite the market for players to amass imaginary fortunes in a variety of ways.

Here in what’s becoming an ever-decreasing regularity of blog posts as of late (apologies!) I thought I’d take a look at a couple which have recently caught my eye.

Make It Rain – The Love of Money

This one’s actually been around for a couple of years now, and aside from the investment-based gameplay, its most endearing feature is the ability to make money by making that entirely classy motion of swiping dollar bills from your own fat stacks to ‘make it rain’ and watch the pixelated notes fly.

Make It Rain mobile game

Build up the value of your cash pile by investing in businesses, as well as increasing the value of your Bucket to add funds while you aren’t playing.

No doubt the game is fun – at first – and the thrill of ‘making it rain’ also lasts a lot longer than it really ought to. But there are a couple of non-negotiables here that do their very best to wreck the game experience.

First off, unlike AdVenture Capitalist, where you can start to see your imaginary purchases pay off over time and appreciate the finely-tuned systems, the equivalent effect in Make It Rain is rather off. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment in watching my empire grow because there was no sense of achievement – it was just all about that swipe.

Secondly, and extremely annoyingly, the ads. The opportunity to double the earnings from your Bucket once you log back in is quite tempting, and the option to watch a video to do so is a small price to pay. But then there’s the regularity with which an advert just starts playing, for no reason at all. I know it’s a free game, but here there’s a definite sense of a cash grab, and it can be very off-putting,

Once I realised just how often this game-ruining experience would pop up, not even the mimed display of wealth could keep the game installed on my phone.

Bitcoin Billionaire

Bitcoin Billionaire struggles to stay quite as flashy as Make It Rain, but that’s as much down to the more 8-bit feel and more honest portrayal of making digital riches from the comfort of your modest surroundings as anything else.

bitcoin billionaire mobile game

But where the game succeeds, far more so than in Make It Rain, is in giving you much more control (as in – any control) as to where the ads pop up. If you want to benefit from a quick cash boost or get some help to mine the elusive Hyperbits, you can choose between running banner ads for 30 seconds, viewing a pop-up ad or watching videos. Given that choice, it’s still unlikely I’ll ever watch a video but I am grateful to have the option rather than have it play regardless.

But there’s the rub with freemium games – given the choice between a finely-balanced playing experience and the opportunity to simply lob ads in willy-nilly, the developers have got to know where an otherwise fine game just descends into an unplayable mess – and while the more modest  Bitcoin Billionaire succeeds, Make It Rain fails spectacularly.

For that reason I’d be far more likely to recommend the latter game, but when it comes down to it neither are really a patch on AdVenture Capitalist.


Machi Koro board game review

I’m still relatively new to any board game which doesn’t involve having a top hat or a small yappy-type dog as a playing piece, but when I saw Machi Koro in my local branch of Travelling Man I knew it would make a great birthday present for my lady.

She really enjoys all things cute and kawaii, so I knew instantly with this cover that I was onto a winner – provided the game was fun to play. And we weren’t disappointed.

Machi Koro board game review

Since its unveiling on Sunday morning I’ve had a couple of two-player and four-player games, and found it to be just as fun either way; unlike Adventure Time Fluxx (another gift for the birthday girl) where the contrasts with the original version mean it’ll be more fun with more players, playing just one opponent works just fine here in Machi Koro.

Objectives and gameplay

Your job as the newly-elected mayor is to build your small town into a thriving city by completing construction on four major projects – the Landmarks. This is done by earning money from a roll of the dice and collecting the resulting funds from the Establishments you already have. Once you’ve earned enough money to pay for the four projects, you’re the winner.

You start off with two Establishment Cards and three coins; roll the dice, take the actions as described on the card(s) with the number you’ve rolled and then choose which new facility (if any) you’d like to build. As you amass more properties, you’ll become wealthier through the income your properties generate, and with certain cards are even able to tax your opponents – and be taxed yourself.

Machi Koro board game

As you get to spend more on the bigger and better properties, you’ll find that certain Establishment Cards like the Shopping Mall can be very favourable, as they can potentially multiply your income each time you roll the right number.

Game design and mechanics

Machi Koro is a beautiful-looking card game; everything from the box art to each individual card looks fantastic, and I personally felt a surge of pride each time I looked down at my growing town. The game system is very well designed too; for my relative newcomer status everything was easy enough to grasp, although it can get a bit confusing when there’s a lot of money changing hands at once.

Most appealing in terms of strategy is that as the game begins, everybody starts at the same level; it’s just a matter of working out the most financially viable system in determining how you spend your income from the bank, and of course hoping that the dice are always in your favour.

There was just one small issue with the game mechanics of Machi Koro. The Establishment cards are numbered 1-12 and you need to ‘unlock’ the second dice by building the Train Station before you can get any benefit from the cards numbered 7-12. However, I’ve found on every single playthrough so far that I haven’t needed to use that second dice – in fact, barely anybody bothered on any of the games we played last weekend. It’s no big deal though – I’ll just experiment a little more next time I guess, and see how it affects my winning record.

To sum up, I’d definitely recommend Machi Koro to anyone who wants a game that’s fun and quick; at only 30 minutes playing time, it may prove a bit too filthy casual for some, but for people who are just dipping their toe in like myself, it’s proved to be time very well spent in city-building mode.

Adventure Time – Love Letter board game review

Been a busy weekend playing some board games with family over this Bank Holiday, as you do when the weather outside is decidedly non-seasonal.

The first one I’ll write about takes a popular card game and adds some fun flavour with a popular cartoon theme. Adventure Time Love Letter is for two to four players, all competing to win the heart of Princess Bubblegum by making sure she reads your letters to her.

Adventure Time Love Letter

Rules of Love Letter

The game is quite simple really; players draw from a deck of cards with values from 1 to 8. The Princess herself is number eight, while Guards occupy the bottom spot in the ranks. With one card in hand, draw another and decide which of the two actions on the card you wish to play; these can range from seeing another player’s hand to swapping cards with them.

Players can be knocked out of each round in various ways, if you lose a one-on-one battle to reveal the highest-ranked card or if another player is able to guess what card you’re holding. From a deck of only 16 cards and three placed face-up at the start of every round, it takes some deduction and logic to be able to deduce what other players have.

Or, if you’re like me, your opponents just have to possess the ability to read minds, because that’s what seemed to happen every other round!

Adventure Time Love Letter

When the deck of cards has all gone, players compare their last cards and the one with the highest value wins – they are the one who delivers that all-important love letter. Alternatively, the last player left standing after eliminations is the winner, and takes one of the fetching jewels which come with the game. There are 13 stones, so it’s the player who collects seven in a two-player game, five in a three-player game and four in a four-player encounter.

Love Letter game design

While I’m not a fan of the tendency to reskin a traditional game and pass it off as new – the likes of Star Wars and WoW-themed Monopoly being two that come to mind – this particular take on Love Letter does have some great features. The deck’s designs are fantastically well detailed, with cards of our favourites Finn and Jake, plus the likes of Lemongrab and Gunter joining the fray.

Adventure Time Love Letter game design

In terms of the game itself, as I’m fairly new to any type of board or card game beyond the old favourites like, ahem, Monopoly, I really enjoyed this game. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master, as all good games are, and even the relatively small deck takes some time to get on board with in terms of strategy.

I’d highly recommend the Adventure Time variation of Love Letter to any newbie board gamers who are looking for something new and fun to play, and am myself becoming more and more intrigued about what else is on offer out there. This is a great place to start.

Nintendo’s Miitomo is fantastic fun…for precisely two hours

It’s only been on the app store for a couple of weeks, but Nintendo’s Miitomo game is already racking up some fantastic engagement.

The Japanese titan’s first foray into the lucrative market of mobile gaming and microtransactions – aka cash for hats – is apparently drawing more than a quarter of a million dollars every week.

But more than that, the game itself has so far proven to be a fun and engaging hit, with four million monthly active users logging on to change their costumes, take photos with Mii friends and answer each other’s questions about their favourite meals and what they’re up to at the weekend.

It is a great game, but if my own experience with Miitomo is anything to go by, this surge of success may not last.

nintendo miitomo

Nintendo’s casual appeal

In terms of the game itself, and as you’d expect from the all-time masters of video gaming, Miitomo is a beautifully-designed and cleverly thought out game with plenty of fun to be had by its users.

I said as much when I logged in myself for the first time. I set up my little character, gave him a jaunty (free) hat and let him loose on the Questions board, to tell everyone how much I loved season two of Daredevil and how much I love pizza. (That really seemed to come up a lot. Is that their design flaw or mine?)

There was plenty to keep me coming back for a whole weekend – more friends to add through Twitter, Facebook and in person. The face-to-face add is a particularly excellent idea, as me and my friend found out at a wrestling show a couple of weeks ago.

nintendo miitomo

There are a few niggling issues with Miitomo – the Miitomo Drop, a seemingly enticing mini-game with unique clothing to be won, is a frustrating experience and not all that fun a game to play in the first place. And I was getting a few too many randoms trying to add me too – without the benefit of a Twitter account or Facebook page to display, I was hesitant to accept any invitations.

Regardless, I tapped on and enjoyed the whole playing experience for a few more days. But then I just stopped.

No real reason, really – and whenever the mood strikes me I’m still liable to get in there and see what funny in-jokes my friends are sharing as their Answers to certain confusing questions.

But there’s nothing else really to make me want to go back. All of which is fine – I’ve talked before about how I’m never going to pay money to get special features on mobile gaming, for a start – but I’m at a bit of a loss.

Maintaining the mobile hype

Mobile gaming is a tough one; even with the most attractive titles, once you’re through the initial frenzied gameplay there’s really nothing to keep you going without heavy investment of time and money – neither of which I’m inclined to put in to most mobile games.

I am sure that this isn’t something Nintendo are too worried about – they’ve got 3,999,999 much more hardcore users to take care of right now. But for filthy casuals like me that are too easily distracted – or simply not that attached to their mobile – the magic wore off a little too quickly. And maybe that’s something that Nintendo should worry about six months or a year down the line, especially if they see mobile gaming as a major route to revenue as they’ve indicated previously.

By all means, download a free copy and give it a go – it’s a fascinating experiment and there’s certainly enough of a novelty to it. But the appeal wore off for me quite quickly, and considering that mobile is more than a passing concern for Nintendo right now, the next few weeks can be very telling for their entire mobile strategy. That is, until that VR Pokemon game comes out, then I’m right back in there.