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Indy Scrolls

Fresh on the heels of my considering giving up mainstream gaming, I've picked up a few indy games, and it only cost me a quarter as much as it did when I tried to get into Marvel Heroes and Neverwinter.

For a limited time this week, Indy Royale is offering something they call "The Arclight Bundle" which is the complete collection of games currently released by Arcen Games.  Ironically, the two best-received games of this batch, AI War:Fleet Command and Titalis, are the two I am the least interested in.  This is on the grounds of me being generally tired of 4X space conquest games and never much of a casual puzzler fan.  Still, it only cost me $8, so it's really hard to complain: I blow more money than that getting fast food.

So far, I only have made time to play one game from the Arclight Bundle, A Valley Without Wind, whose take to being side-scrolling roleplaying game is rather unique.  It's a small part of Metroid and a small part of Terraria thrown in a blender with a some weird Sci-Fi protein powder.  I can't say I am surprised it only managed a mid-50s score on Metacritic: the game feels somewhat crude.  Still, there is something oddly compelling about it... they are definitely venturing into some new territory here in terms of the way they handled the RPG mechanic behind it.

At the recommendation of the above TotalBisquit Let's Play video, I decided I liked the looks of Scrolls enough to put down the $20 to get into the beta.  Just like Mojang did with Minecraft -- did I mention that Scrolls is being made by Mojang, whose runaway hit made them richer than any other indy developer out there (and probably most mainstream developers)?   Anyway, so far, I've derived a rather entertaining 6 hours from Scrolls.

What I like about Scrolls the most is that it really makes you think.  So many games seem to play by the rules of Steve Krug, an Internet usability expert and writer of the book Don't Make Me Think.  Afflicted games seem to be designed around the idea of "satisficing," having players be able to "muddle through" them and not face much consequences for essentially bashing the most likely buttons.  Well, when it comes to computer games, I want to be engaged, and that's going to require thinking.
Here is how the gameboard looks in Scrolls: you're on the left, your opponent is on the right.
Scrolls is more of a collectable card game crossed with chess.
  • It's a turn-based game between two players (or one player and a CPU opponent). 
  • Though there are also "spell" cards, most of your scrolls (cards) are used to place pieces on a board, and some of those pieces can be moved each turn.
  • There are 5 lanes of 3 interlocking hexagons per side.  You stay on your side, the opponent stays on theirs.
  • Nearly every unit placed has a means to attack which is activated when the timer for that unit hits zero (it decrements by one per turn, some units have smaller timers than others and so attack more frequently). 
  • With the exception of "lobbers" (which lob attacks onto certain spaces on the enemy board) or "structures" (which typically don't attack at all) the placed units pretty much attack by running directly forward, attacking the lane directly opposite of them, hitting the first enemy unit they encounter.  If they reach the end of the lane (meaning that there are no enemies that stop them) then they damage the idol standing there.  
  • Take out three out of five idols to win.
Thinking is mandatory; Scrolls is brutal in how you will be utterly devastated if you just try to muddle through.  Every single move gives you some important things to think about.  This is chess taken to the next level.  I find myself having to count the amount of damage that will be inflicted next turn - whether it's my turn on the enemy's - and trying to anticipate how I can make sure that damage goes where I want it to by moving units to appropriate lanes.

Though it is generally possible to turn around rounds that are going against you, there can reach a certain point in Scrolls where the enemy has placed a ton of pieces and you have next to no pieces, in which case you might as well surrender.  Thus, I have found that it is a better strategy to go after the enemy's units instead of their idols, because it's a far greater danger to allow them to build up.

About the worst thing I can say about Scrolls is, due to the collectable card mechanic, it is somewhat luck-based.  There can be times in which you are simply dealt a string of bad cards, and that ultimately ends up losing the match for you.  Your opponent can just plain have better cards in his deck than you but, in practice, I have found that even the starter deck can put up a decent fight - particularly if the luck of the cards is in your favor.

While this looks complicated, it only illustrates that a card is either in your deck or it's not.  Deck building is simple: you must have at least 50 cards (scrolls) in your deck and no more than 3 of the same card.
If nothing else, Scrolls is a heckova lot different from most games I've played to (and beyond) death.  It's not a roleplaying game.  It's not an action game.  It's not a 3D game.  It's not a sidescroller.  It's not a 4X game.  It's not a grind - although you do earn gold every match that you can invest in getting random scrolls, in a collectable card game fashion.  Oh, I've played some computerized collectable card games before, but not for quite some time, and none of them were quite like Scrolls.

I do wonder if Poxnora may be a genuinely superior game of this type or not, but there's something to be said for avoiding over-complicating things when there's already plenty to think about, and Scrolls might be more  engaging overall simply because the smaller board allows for more interactions and more units to be relevant to consider at a given time.

On a final note, I have been watching a lot of My Bride is a Mermaid a lot lately, and I have to say that this is one of the true gems among romantic comedy animes.

Avoiding spoilers here.  It's sort of a shame they worked in the harem angle (multiple love interests) because there was plenty going on already between the two main characters (the boy and his mermaid bride) thanks in part to her not only being a mermaid but her fishy family being an organized crime family.  Her mob boss daddy doesn't like the groom, and so the male protagonist is regularly running for his life.

In this way and others, just about every episode goes just plain bonkers at some point, a situational comedy turned up to 11, and these moments are thoroughly amusing.  The fellow who wrote this one, Tahiko Kimura, really knew what everybody else was doing wrong with the genre.

I'm already up to episode 17 out of 26, and will soon reach the end of this series and that will be that.  I would have watched several seasons if they had made them!  But, for a series whose anime run ended in 2007, that ship has sailed, it's too much to hope for another season.  Apparently it was canceled due to concerns of copyright infringement?! I did notice they used a lot of parody, and I guess they pushed it slightly too far. 

Well, I will probably finish this anime series and then try hunting down the final chapters of the manga, which ended in 2010, and see how the story ended, but here's a thought: I think the boy ends up married to the girl he was supposedly betrothed to in the first episode and the whole series has been about them coming to grips with this!


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