Tiny Tower, five years later

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Last week, Nimblebit announced that it was giving its old classic Tiny Tower a major update for its fifth anniversary. This was personally fortuitous, as I had just returned to Tiny Tower to start anew. Having a beefy update with lots of quality-of-life features is extremely welcome.

Ever since Tiny Tower released five years ago, I have been playing one of Nimblebit’s pixelart games in some form. First it was Tiny Tower, then Pocket Planes, then Nimble Quest, then Pocket Trains, then Tiny Death Star, and most recently, Tiny Tower Vegas. And while each of those games has its charms, there’s something about the original Tiny Tower that makes it my favorite of the bunch.

It just hits the spot as a mobile game. It fits the vertical phone format well, has a metric ton of personality, can be played for mere minutes at a time if need be, and has a satisfying economic loop. I love looking at all of the details worked into each floor, even if they all are just set dressing.

I easily recall playing Tiny Tower in that first year late at night on mission trip or on a plane while going to visit my in-laws. The addition of costumes and missions have helped somewhat since then, and I think my wife probably got even more into the game than I ever have (hey, she maxed out her tower, a feat I have ever yet to accomplish).

Sure, I have a few suggestions that I wish would happen. The game needs more than three music tracks, for starters, and it would be great if the Bitbook posts would flash across the tower screen instead of making you go through the menu system to read what the bitzens are saying. But for the most part, it’s a terrific game and it looks like there are a lot of new floors and ways to customize a tower to come.

Can’t wait for the update to come out — and I really hope that Nimblebit has another game in that universe cooking.

Civilization fans, you gotta try SuperTribes

supertribesIt’s been a while since I’ve come to you with a strong mobile game recommendation, so hold on to your butts, because here it is. You got to pick up and try SuperTribes.

I saw some buzz circulating about this game last Friday, and when I took a peek, I thought the art was cute and the price (free) attractive. So why not?

Within a half-hour, I was absolutely grooving on this game. Heck, within 10 minutes. There’s no tutorial but if I can figure everything out within minutes, so can you.

Basically, SuperTribes is a pared-down Civilization clone that eschews huge, drawn-out games for a more accelerated and streamlined experience. You pick a tribe (there are four free ones and a fifth that’s the game’s sole IAP — for $0.99), each of which sports a different look and starting skill, customize a game (just the number of computer opponents and difficulty level), and then get going. Maps are always the same overall size and are randomly generated.

What changes the game here is that you start with 30 turns, no more, no less. Once you run out of turns, the game is over and that is that. So it’s very rare that you’ll end up conquering the world (although it can happen); instead, the goal is to grow the best civilization you can in that time frame and get the highest score (and there are many ways to boost a score).

Three design choices help SuperTribes be way better than it has any right to be. First, it’s got a really attractive art design that’s meant to play holding your phone normally instead of landscape. Two, it’s quite intuitive, with the more complex Civ features taken away or restructured to fit a time-limited game. Three, start-to-finish it’s never boring or requires tons of micromanagement. It’s a perfect mobile title for that.

Your currency is resources, which are used to build new units, roads, structures, and purchase tech advances (there are around 20 of those). Cities generate resources, so you want to build those up by increasing their population (through fishing, farming, mining, etc.). Every time a city levels up, you get a choice between two helpful features (such as an explorer who will uncover a chunk of the map or another +1 to resource generation). So every turn you can send your units to explore and spend resources to advance your civ the way you like.

Growing your empire is handled in an interesting fashion, too. You can’t create settlers and spawn a hundred towns. No, you have to find unclaimed villages and plop a unit on them for a turn, then they’re yours. Capturing an enemy city is pretty much the same, as long as you can get rid of its defensive unit (if any). You can only have one unit per square and there are only about a dozen or less types of units (from swordsmen to knights to ships), each with their own pros and cons. If you accomplish certain tasks — claim enough cities or defeat enough units — you’ll be given a free super-structure (think Civ’s wonders) that will not just help your empire but contribute greatly to the final score.

Interacting with other civs is streamlined as well. No diplomacy here: Most civs start off somewhat neutral to you (usually they’ll give you a free tech advance when first encountered), but sooner or later everyone starts fighting. There are no treaties, no suing for peace, nothing other than either trying to ignore them, turtle up, or go on the offensive. Happily, combat is pretty simple and the “only one unit to a square” rule makes Civ’s stacking a thing that doesn’t happen here.

I’ve played several games so far and can say that they usually last about 15-20 minutes each. Perfect for a quick break. The turn limit strangely works in its favor, encouraging the player to be more bold and not get too attached to a civilization, its towns, or its armies. Use it or lose it, really. Seriously, check it out and prepare to be charmed!

6 tips and tricks for Dungeon Boss

Got to say, Dungeon Boss has me well and hooked less than a week after picking it up for the first time. It’s hit this sweet spot with casual gameplay, collectables, dungeon running, looting, and a not-that-annoying business model.

I’ve slowly and gradually been picking up on a few tactics and strategies along the way, and wanted to pass them along to anyone else who’s playing.

(1) Click on sparklies in the background

Every so often when you’re running a dungeon you’ll see that a background item — a gate, vase, rock, what have you — is subtly sparkling. If you click on it before you move on to the next screen, you’ll get a bit of treasure. Usually it’s gold, but sometimes it’s an extra stamina point.

(2) Work on the three ways of leveling up your characters

Every character has three lanes of progression. The first is XP, as characters can level up to your overall level, allowing you to buy new levels of their skills and basic attacks. The second is to collect hero tokens to eventually give them a new star level, which exponentially increases that character’s power. And the third is to collect “evos” (the little blobby guys you sometimes see in dungeons) to ascend the character two more times for additional skills.

(3) Create a core team

There’s a lot of synergy going on between characters, and once you have more than five or six, you’ll want to start investing your time and money into a core team that synergizes well together. That core team should also be used to protect your dungeon, since those will be the characters you’ll have leveled up the most.

Every day I make sure to run dungeons that award tokens for my core team’s heroes. The easy way to do that is to open up the hero screen and click on the question mark next to their leveling bar. That opens up a panel with quick ports to dungeon levels with unclaimed daily tokens.

(4) Don’t spend gold on portal summons!

You will really need gold for skill training, which gets expensive as you level and get more characters. Besides, you can get one or two easy free summons every day just by logging in and doing quests. The gem and hero scroll summons are way better anyway.

Oh, and once you get your dungeon, make sure to empty your coffers a couple of times a day! You also complete a quest for doing that.

(5) Get friends — and use them

Friends in this game are actually really useful (and I’m “syppi” if you want to add me). Each friend gives you the ability to use their designated hero once a day in a dungeon run — it’s like an extra summons that not only helps you with a boss, but gives you 30 honor scrolls for using them. I try to use all of my friends’ summons every day to stock up on those scrolls.

(6) Read up on your heroes

The hero screens are incredibly useful fonts of information with lots of tooltips if you click on things. Finding out the nuances of each hero and how they work with other heroes is a key in creating an unstoppable team. Plus, the artwork and flavor text is often amusing.

My new iPhone obsession: Dungeon Boss

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The past week has found me really digging into a new iPhone title that was highlighted on the app store: Dungeon Boss. I hadn’t heard much about it beforehand, but now that I’ve clocked a few days of it under my belt, I’m really grooving on it as a “few spare minutes here and there” kind of game.

Dungeon Boss challenges you to collect a team of heroes and continually run very linear dungeons with (as the stilted title implies) bosses at the end. The game is a cycle: You run dungeons to get hero tokens to unlock new characters, and the new characters run dungeons. Each hero has a set of skills and traits that make them good in certain situations and with other characters, so there’s a strategy in assembling the right team for any specific run. In easy runs, there’s an auto button to have characters default attack their way through, but in most challenging dungeons I have to be handling the whole run to use abilities at certain times and focus firing on certain mobs.

The aesthetic is quite blocky, sort of a colorful Minecraft/Trove thing, with old school video game sound effects. It’s a free-to-play title, so there’s some of the trappings of that model — energy meter, a cheeky but noticeable push to buy some faster advancement. But it’s also pretty fun to play as completely free, because the challenge is to both unlock heroes and continually improve the ones you have.

Anyway, it’s a cute little RPGish thing with a few social elements (I like how you can use friends’ heroes as special summons in your runs, as well as set up your own dungeon for PvP battles) and a good style. Check it out!

Need a hit of MMO healing nostalgia? Try Little Healer

healerI’ve been downloading a lot of mobile games lately, mostly because there have been quite a few anticipated releases. However, there was one little free game that caught me off guard last week that is worth discussing — Little Healer.

The concept here is that you’re the sole healer for a 15-person raid that’s tackling a series of bosses. You don’t see the bosses at all or even your party — in true MMO healing fashion, all you can see are the health/status bars of your raid (along with your mana bar and the boss health bar).

You get a choice of four skills (healing, buffing, cleansing). There’s also a limited talent tree. And that’s it.

It’s an incredibly difficult game, let me tell you. Might not seem that hard after the first fight or two, but it ramps up fast. Knowing which spells to bring to a fight and how to use them is essential, and I still can’t crack the fifth encounter.

As someone who has healed in MMOs extensively in the past, I have to say that this is eerily spot-on with the juggling, stress, mana management, and battlefield triage. It feels unfair in a way that healing sometimes does, where no one else in your group is dealing with the pressure that you are, and if you mess up there goes the raid.

Anyway, interesting download to pass on today!

Fallout Shelter is kind of… pretty awesome, really

vaultI’m more than a little worried about the fate of Vault 255.

Despite growing to provide more infrastructure and supporting a pair of explorers that are looting the wasteland, the vault is dying from a lack of resources. To make matters worse, we just delivered our first child, and I’m starting to wonder if she’ll even live to see adulthood.

Make no mistake, Fallout Shelter is a tricky little resource builder game that actually has fail states (unlike many of the more modern tower/city builders/tapper titles on mobile).

So last night during its Fallout 4 presentation, Bethesda revealed that it also made a mobile tie-in game called Fallout Shelter — and it was going to release it to the iOS app store that night. Post-apocalyptic vault builder? It’s like they made this game just for me.

After playing with it a bit last night and this morning, my initial assessment is cautiously excited and quite entertained. The concept is that you’re the overseer of one of Fallout’s iconic vaults, charged with building it up while maintaining a tricky balance of resources and exploration.

For starters, the production values in Fallout Shelter are really well done. Even though it’s seen from a side cutaway perspective, the rooms are 3D, the art is spot-on with the franchise, and the vault dwellers even have full conversations with each other. There’s some substantial strategic depth here, as illustrated by the 21 pages of help tips.

But as I indicated, it’s not a game that’s going to hold your hand. Growth has to be handled slowly and carefully, because it’s incredibly easy to tip the balance between having resources and finding that your dwellers are starving to death, the power is shutting off, and there’s no water left. Plus all of the fires and raider invasions and whatnot.

There’s an element of risk in sending explorers out to gather more goods or to speed up production of resources, both of which could end in disaster or success.

What I’m liking is that the place feels a lot more alive than your standard tower builder. Stuff happens in the vault — babies are made, radroaches burrow up, and objectives, when completed, will shower you with rewards.

Anyway, that was a nice little surprise to get last night, and I’m hoping that it’ll hold up over time. The challenge is there, but I’ve yet to find the success.

iPhone: Knights of Pen & Paper 2 review

pp2For a couple of years now I’ve been a huge fan of a weird little mobile game called Knights of Pen & Paper. It’s a turn-based RPG in which you form a party and go on various quests and level up, with the twist that your party are roleplayers sitting around a table while a visible GM provides flavor text and runs the campaign. KoPP didn’t have the most engaging combat system or even the best spelling/grammar, but it made up for it with the variety of classes, the quirky humor (which was forever lampooning RPG tropes and geek culture), and the adorable pixel art.

Knights of Pen & Paper spawned a new edition (the +1 edition) and a Halloween DLC pack. I have yet to beat it all, but I’m still gamely plugging away at it.

So naturally I flipped my lid when Knights of Pen & Paper II came out a week or so ago. Let me tell you, if I have had my phone out since then, it’s probably to be playing this. Super addictive.

In my opinion, KoPP2 takes the formula of the first game and then vastly improves on it, starting with higher resolution pixel graphics (which I approve of except in the case of the character art — I actually prefer the original game’s look). Then there are tons more choices, particularly with character builds. This time around you can pick a combo of the player (jock, goth, exchange student, etc.), race (dwarf, elf, human), and class (warlock, paladin, etc.), each of which has their own strengths and utility. For example, I found a three-handed sword in my travels that had great stats, but could only be wielded by someone with three hand slots (which right now is the jock). So I rolled up a jock paladin just to use this awesome sword.

The story, such as it is, has the players investigating a land in turmoil after a “Paper Knight” from the second edition is causing havoc in a first edition world. Mostly, it’s just a good excuse to engage in countless battles against the weirdos of the world, including Fowlbears and algebraic formulas.

There is a lot of criticism being leveled against KoPP2 right now on the forums for being short and somewhat buggy. That may be, but it’s also so much more engaging than the first game. I love the added options to investigate areas for bonus loot, the occasional choices, the use of a three-stat system for die rolls, and especially the synergy. There is a ton of synergy going on between classes and gear, and a careful player can set up devastating combos.

For example, my thief throws out a multi-target fan of knives as one of her skills. But that will hit for double if the target has a debuff on it, so my thief and paladin both have skills that hit multiple mobs with debuffs. Then I gave my thief trinkets with more status effects, so she’s hitting double and causing burns and wounds. It’s awesome.

Combat is a lot smoother here too, especially as skill icons have been moved to the main screen instead of hidden in a menu. The first game more or less encouraged you to use AoEs extensively, which made every encounter identical. Now there are more valid skill choices, especially with combos and depending on the situation, and the fights seem to go faster. I like how much the choices of gear and weapons come into play, because you can really customize a character in a way you couldn’t in the first game.

While multi-room dungeons were sort of present in the first game, they are more prominent here. You basically choose a room to move to and experience an encounter (fight, treasure, trap, or something else). The trick is that you can’t rest while you’re in the dungeon, which can make it tough to beat if you don’t have healers and energy renewers.

Another cool addition with KoPP2 are the monthly “Modern Dungeon” magazines that can be accessed from the menu. Right now May’s magazine offers a read on the undead, but more importantly, some trinkets, a class, and a player that can be unlocked for with in-game gold. I’m anxious to see how the monthly magazines help to expand the game.

KoPP2 may be silly and irreverant, but it continues to do a fun job of recreating a weird tabletop roleplaying experience on the phone. I definitely recommend it.