Game Review: Spiritfarer

I’ve been playing a game on the Switch called Spiritfarer, which bills itself as “a cozy management game about dying”, and the couple of reviews I’d read (plus a suggestion from someone I follow) suggested it was right up my street.

Let’s start with the good bits. It’s got beautiful graphics, is adorably drawn, and it’s pretty easy to move around/do things. The first quarter of the story – the first four characters – is lovely; you’re led pretty easily through how to play, the base resources you can get, customising your boat, sailing places, all as you do tasks for the characters and make sure they’re comfortable… and when those character arcs are done, you can take them to the Everdoor, and usher them onwards. It hits all the right bittersweet notes, and one of them did make me cry. So for the first couple of hours, it’s a really nice, sweet, find-resources-and-do-quests game.

And then let’s move on to the things that made me repeatedly (over several gaming sessions) swear, want to throw the controller across the room, and finally actually give up on the fucking game.

First; whoever designed the plot/game mechanics apparently never even considered that someone might not do things in the “right” order. I actually had to restart after 5-6 hours gameplay because I got the “wrong” skill, and couldn’t progress; after I’d restarted and got past that same point, I then spent 8-10 hours almost running in circles, because what I needed to do to progress any of my quests was. Not. Fucking. Obvious.

I usually hate looking up answers, but I hit my limit. I accessed walk-throughs. I asked the same questions many other players had asked. I tried to guess and second-guess if I’d missed something. Each time, I did eventually manage to figure out what I’d missed – but when it’s several things, in different areas, and that had happened multiple times… I was done.

Constantly second-guessing a game IS NOT FUN.

Fun is knowing something is up there but not being able to get to it yet, or mashing buttons frantically because you just have to get that jump riiiiight oh fuck, ok, do it again. Fun is exploring and finding new things, new quest lines, and even if you can’t do one or two there’s still plenty that you can follow. Fun is being able to see what you can do and what your aims are, even if you can’t currently do it/don’t want to/feel like chasing comets instead.

Fun is not being led, gently, along a path, and then being pushed off it – and having no idea if you can’t do a thing because you don’t have the skill, or you missed something, or there’s a bug. Fun is not being frustrated enough to have to research every single character you can pick up in the game to figure out which one you should get now, with the (apparently limited) skills, and realising that the answer is “none”… which can’t be right. Fun is not HAVING TO FUCKING RESTART because the devs apparently didn’t even consider that someone might not follow the game with the plot structure they had in their heads, and then have no way to remedy it.

Place that alongside some decisions not to signpost resources or provide any help in-game, and to only signpost some access points and not others (eg. places where you can jump are sometimes obvious… and sometimes very not obvious) and it’s a recipe for a fucking frustrating game. There was one instance with a high ladder, where one iteration of it is relatively easy to jump onto; it just requires the right position/skill. There’s a similar iteration where I must have tried 15-20 times, no luck – so I assumed, not unreasonably, that it required a skill I didn’t have. Apparently what it actually requires is the stars to align and a pink elephant to fly past, and you can climb up this ladder – I have no idea what I did differently to get there, but it was annoying. Times that by about ten different things, and it’s infuriating.

The paragraphs above don’t really convey the sheer annoyance of all of this, but my partner will assure you that I was PISSED OFF. And I would also like to point out that it’s not me being stupid; the decisions were pretty obvious, generally, and the game definitely didn’t point to one being needed before the other, or to where I could find more information – it did really seem like whoever designed this had merrily trundled along, assuming you’d do The Right Thing and just… not thinking about if you, maybe, didn’t or couldn’t do That Thing.

I want to love this game. I want to say it’s sweet, and cute, and fun, and it made me cry (which it did, twice.) I want to say it’s a neat little game about collecting resources and taking your passengers out for dinner and talking to rude passers-by and delivering lemons. I want to say that it’s a thoughtful, gentle story about life and death, and friends making their way into the afterlife, and about how we deal with death and loss and memories, and that it tugs all the right heartstrings.

I want to love it.

But, honestly: it is all of that – it is sweet and lovely and heart-tugging – and that’s not enough to overcome the flaws.

My real takeaway? Don’t buy this. Don’t bother playing. You’ll make the wrong plot decision, or not be able to do something, or choose the wrong action, and frankly – unless you like aimlessly drifting around a map while frantically Google’ing to see what you missed and where you should go next – it’s not worth it.

Journey

Ohmygoodness my partner got me Journey on PS4 for my birthday!! I am ridiculously excited. It’s a game I actually picked up some of the concept art for back in 2016 (if not earlier – my computer isn’t too specific on dates for images) and every time I’ve seen it, it’s looked so beautiful. There were some gorgeous screenshots at the computer games exhibition in the V&A earlier in the year too, and the soundtrack is beautiful.

I haven’t played it yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to it!

Journey video game logo

Journey concept artwork images

 

Apotheca: modifications

apotheca-1 My housemate and I finally had a go at Apotheca, which is a game I backed in a Kickstarter earlier this year. We had one session of three games, and found it slightly unsatisfying; the games were very short!

For a basic review of the game; you have to match combinations of potions by moving them around the board, and then you place those combinations on an Apothecary. The first one to three satisfied Apothecaries wins. You also get gems from turning over potions, and can use those gems to buy more Apothecaries. The Apothecaries also have their own movement combinations, which are all individual. This is a game for 2-4 players as well, and 2 seems to be the ideal.

The major problem we found was that combinations came up too fast for us to a) collect enough gems to buy more Apothecaries, and b) use the Apothecaries that we already had. Essentially, we could get matches just by turning over and moving cards one or two spaces, and then we’d matched it so we lost the card – all three games were over in about 15 minutes each! The speed of the matches meant that we didn’t get to use the Apothecary’s special moves, and it’s a shame; we both felt that there could be some really good sneaky attacks, thwarting your opponent, trying to get cards into the right place…and because of the speed, there’s just no point.

So! We’ve instituted some house rules.

apotheca-2The first is the number of potions on the board. The rules state that you can only add potions from the marketplace (ie. add new potions to the board) if there are less than three unseen potions. As you can only turn over one potion per turn, this usually means that each player can only add one to the board, and potions get taken more quickly than they restock.

We’ve changed that to “each player may restock up to three potions on their turn” – so now, it doesn’t matter how many potions are unturned on the board, and you just keep going until the board’s full. This means that there’s more selection to turn over, more possibilities for thwarting or changing or moving, and more options for swapping.

The second house rule is to do with making combinations. In the rules, once you make a combination, you have to use it for your Apothecary – which removes your Apothecary from the game. As we felt we were lacking gems (you only get one per turn) the Apothecary is usually satisfied before you can buy another, meaning you’ve just lost the movement power!

We’ve amended the rule so that if you make a combination you can either use it for an Apothecary or get a gem for it, and then the cards go into a discard pile (or onto your Apothecary). This means you can make a combination to get a specific coloured gem or remove the combination from your opponent, and it also means you can keep your current Apothecary if they’re useful.

apotheca-3We’ve played one game without house rules to check what we thought, and then another two with these additions, and it definitely helped. We got more gems so were able to pick and choose our Apothecaries – so if we wanted a certain movement, or didn’t want one, we could be more selective. The increase of cards on the board also meant more opportunities for thwarting and shifting, and meant more possibilities for combinations.

We’ve also got two further house rules that we’re debating. The first is having more players – the rules change if you have three or four players, but we’re debating trying the two-player rules with up to four players just to see what happens! And the second is the colour combinations. At the moment, any colour combo satisfies any Apothecary…but we might add specifics to the cards, so that you have to get one particular combination! That would definitely add some length and complexity to the game, which would be nice.

We’re going to try playing with some friends now that the housemate & I have a grasp on the rules, and see how it goes!

As a crafty aside, I want to find or make some pots for the gems. I found it a real shame that the box comes with an insert that’s simply a square and plastic bags for the items; I want some small pots to separate the gems into that can then be used in the game (as otherwise they go everywhere!) and ideally some small boxes to keep the potions cards restrained when travelling. It’s on my to-do list, anyway!

Something a little more game-y…

I’ve gotten into board games over the past two years, so for something random today, here’s my opinion on a selection!

Forbidden Desert art Forbidden Desert is a co-operative board game. There are multiple ways to die and not many ways to win; you can get swamped by sand, die of thirst, get lost in a desert, get buried in a tunnel, die when the storm reaches its height… seriously, it’s great fun! Part of the charm for me is the gorgeous design; the concept artwork has inspired several of my stories and getting to play with the beautiful tiles is an additional pleasure. It almost makes the dying worthwhile…

The game mechanic is fairly simple; it takes a game to get the hang of it, and then you can start playing strategy! Do you stay in a tunnel to be safe from the sun, or make a run across the shifting sand to get the one piece of the engine you need to get out of the desert? Can you all get to that well, and will it be the mirage or are you saved for a few more turns? It’s one of my housemate’s go-to games, and it’s not unusual for one of us to say “So, want to die in a desert?” to the other! I’d highly recommend the game if you’re looking to buy something new – it’s definitely a favourite. (Ps. Waterstones usually sell it!)

Forbidden Island artForbidden Island is made by the same people as Forbidden Desert, but in the expert opinion of someone who has played both repeatedly, it’s slightly less fun. The game mechanic is fairly similar, but there’s less peril overall (seriously, it’s one of the fun things about Forbidden Desert!) and the game becomes more about “leave yourself a path and try to stop everything sinking” than any major strategic decisions. However, it’s got the same beautiful artwork and is still a very entertaining game.

Another card game I’ve recently been introduced to Saboteur, which I need to get hold of! Unfortunately for our first game we ended up with two saboteurs and two dwarves, who promptly lost when every single ******* tunnel kept getting blown up…it’s a misdirection and outright lying game in the theme of Avalon and Coup if you’ve played either of those. It’s also quite a lot of fun!

One of my personal favourite games is Cards Against Humanity; I’m aware that a lot of people have problems with it and I can understand that, but I personally love the juxtaposition of the mundane with the absurd, and the chance to let my incredibly sarky and dark humour out of its box. I do find with CAH that it varies by players; the answers will always be different depending on the humour of the people you’re playing with! I think my favourite answer of all time has to be “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…our chief weapons are fear, surprise, and [POWERFUL THIGHS]” which is just complete WIN!

Werewolf cardsAnother group game is Werewolf, which is a variation on the Mafia and Fox/Goose games. Someone, or several someones, are werewolves, killing people in the night…and it’s up to everyone to work out who they are before they kill all the innocent villagers! It can be adapted nicely to a wonderful variety of situations (Murder Town, Star Trek, horror movies, specific insults geared towards whichever friends you happen to have there…) and you can either play with the standard werewolf/villager combo, or add in special abilities. It does require a bit of drama on the part of the narrator, and I was really nervous the first few times I played – but it’s an absolutely brilliant way to break the ice, and I really enjoy playing now.

Exploding Kittens explodingExploding Kittens. We opted out of introducing this to my cousins ( we didn’t think “NOPE sandwich with NOPE ketchup” would go down too well with my aunt) but various friends have picked it up, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing! It’s very silly, fairly strategic, and generally based half on luck and half on screwing other people over with very cute cats. Lots of fun!

Apotheca coverAnd finally, one I’m looking forward to. I backed a Kickstarter for Apotheca last year; the artwork looks beautiful and the game looks like a lot of fun! It seems to be reaching a conclusion so I’m hoping I get to play soon.

 

Apotheca cards