Backlog: Opening a Fresh Deck Edition

This week's backlog has some kind of collectible card game theme that makes me wonder where we've all gone wrong in our lives. First off, after showing promise of being a useful member of society, Nick is now hopelessly addicted to some Blizzard-supplied nonsense; second, Spencer's fallen back off the wagon and gotten in with the wrong crowd playing Magic again. Geez. And when I try to do something respectable like play fighting games, I just get beaten like a government mule for the efforts. I guess that's what I get for trying to push back against this CCG tide.

Click through and see what these adventures entail this week. Without further ado, the Backlog!


All the fun of a CCG in the palm of your hand — and without the smell of stale Cheetos

All the fun of a CCG in the palm of your hand — and without the smell of stale Cheetos

It was all going so well. I’d finally established a measured and disciplined approach to working autonomously, regulating how much time I spent working, sleeping and having fun. I was productive; I was efficient; I was happy. Things were balanced just so. Hearthstonearrived on iPad a couple days ago. The universe laughed cruelly, and I resigned myself to a fate of never accomplishing anything meaningful for as long as I live.

Here’s what’s so weird about it: I don’t like Warcraft. I’m not a fan of the humor, the art style, the general aesthetic of Blizzard’s flagship series. Compounding things further, I’m also not even the target demographic for a collectible card game (CCG). But something about Hearthstone just clicked for me, and before I could gather my wits, its tendrils were already tightening around my limbic system. I exist for Hearthstone now; it’s probably going to be easiest if we all just come to terms with that now. I’m not particularly good at the game if my no-win Arena streak is any indication. I’ve barely dipped my toes into the murky waters of deck building, preferring instead to focus on the practice and quick-play modes while I figure out which play style (dictated by a player-chosen “class”) suits me best. I played a Rogue back in the dark days of my World of Warcraft episode, so I’ve been gravitating toward its high-risk, high-reward style in Hearthstone’s card-based iteration in turn. But it’s a credit to the game’s design that no one matchup feels unfairly stacked in either side’s favor.

Maybe the shrewdest thing Hearthstone does is eschew the energy-card aspect that so many CCGs like Magic: The Gathering rely on. Instead, each player’s mana pool ticks up by one point each turn until you reach a maximum of 10. This places more emphasis on tactics than strategy, which makes sense for a pick-up-and-play style of game, and it ensures that matches rarely last longer than eight or nine minutes. Toss in a smooth coat of Blizzard’s trademark polish and you’ve got a truly first-class production.

Oh, and it’s free.

So yeah! It was nice knowing you guys. I’m just gonna curl up with my iPad for the next forever or so.

One last thing! I also played through Monument Valley, a beautiful and wonderfully creative little experience built for iOS devices. It's coming to Android soon, thankfully, but if you've got an iDevice and a couple hours to spare, you can't go wrong with this one.


Okay, I know what the torches are. And the… cobblestone?

Okay, I know what the torches are. And the… cobblestone?


My friends have gotten me back into Minecraft, and I literally have no idea what I'm doing.

Let me be totally clear; I adore Minecraft. In my mind, it is the only true Lego game (the licensed titles lack a certain, shall we say, "literally everything"). But it's always been something of a creative release valve for me -- if I'm able to think of something cool to build, chances are good that I have no ideas in my head as to something to write, or produce, or what have you. Much the same way, with any ideas in my head for podcasts or stories, I'm probably not going to think of anything to make in Minecraft.

My play of the game has been intermittent over the past year, mostly checking out new features from time to time and otherwise letting it be, pouring my creativity elsewhere. I haven't learned simple redstone, nor enchating, nor horse breeding, nor even the basics of agriculture. My residences may involve a small arboretum, a library, a workshop, and a bedroom, and little more than that.

Meanwhile, my friends play a game that uses the Minecraft engine, but really doesn't resemble the one I'm playing. They've built grand sky cathedrals, nuclear reactors, unholy altars. They fly around on jetpacks in nano-armor wielding enchanted diamond multi-tools. Meanwhile, I try to follow the crafting instructions of my brother, who foists technology and magical knowledge on me like I'm the sorriest squib -- or the most pathetic Pakled -- on the server.

I've managed to learn a bit, and would like to perhaps expand my home a little bit -- as long as I don't lose steam on my other pursuits, it'll make for a nice side-pursuit.

Some other part of my brain broke and I ordered cards for a  Magic: TheGathering deck. My friends have, largely, moved on from my favorite format (Commander, meant only to be played in multiplayer), so my aim is to put together something I can play with them in the Modern format.

The complication is that my friends are, generally speaking, way better at building decks than I am. Mine are certainly clever if nothing else -- lots of duplication, interactions with other spells, various effects that are impossible to replicate in Hearthstone (no matter how hard I try) -- but I end up working way harder to win the game. Meanwhile, while my friends are also clever, they hold closer to the traditional archetype of "make big creature, smash enemy face with big creature." It'll be fun, but I'm not counting on winning.

Finally, it's a LAN weekend, which means Battlefield 4 is getting dug back out. I've played a little with the new Naval Strike maps and modes and they seem promising enough. But it's like my dad always says: "you don't really know a set of maps until you've spent a weekend drunkenly trying to navigate them."

Actually, that was me. I say that.


Soul Calibur V compared with the older titles isn’t quite as bad as New Coke compared with its predecessor, but it’s in the same general area

Soul Calibur V compared with the older titles isn’t quite as bad as New Coke compared with its predecessor, but it’s in the same general area

Remember last time out when I talked about fighting games, getting back into playing them, and finally buying a fighting stick? There was an ulterior motive to all of this preparation. You see, about a month ago, I was brought into a group Facebook messaging chat to discuss the possibility of a fighting game night. Despite being here for two years, one of the other teachers in the area had no clue there were so many videogame nerds around. What else could we do but oblige him, hang out, and break out the arcade sticks?

So there I went, picking up an arcade stick, and finally getting back into some of the 2D and 3D fighters I've loved in the past but never gotten truly good at, or spent much time with as of late. After driving down and finding my friends' apartment, we got my PlayStation 3 set up and the games began. What was on tap? Super Street Fighter IV, Soul Calibur II HD Online and Soul Calibur V, a little bit of Skullgirls Encore, and then eventually Super Smash Bros. Brawl once the night wound down. So many fighting games!

To talk about the games for a moment: I was most surprised by the two Soul Calibur titles. I hold Soul Calibur and Soul Calibur II in incredibly high esteem, they're two of my favorite games of all time, but the later sequels haven't held my interest as much. So to get some seat time with Soul Calibur V and note the changes was interesting. One of my friends also was a SC fan, and was taken aback by the changes to the Guard Impact system. Some things never change, like Maxi, but on the whole I preferred the faster pace and simpler systems of the older title.

So what was the end result? A whole lot of humble pie on my part. You see, this wasn't any ordinary fighting game night — nope, there were some serious ringers involved. Some of these guys apparently take things much, much more seriously than I ever have. When guys are talking about their preference in arcade stick button manufacturers, you know it's an elite crowd. I was way outclassed, and though it's something of a running joke that I'm not good at games, this was especially bad. My pride is still a bit wounded.

That said, it was great fun, and definitely a bit inspiring. It's amazing to see what level people can attain in these games; reading frames, throwing counters before moves are even finished. It's kind of jaw-dropping and scary.