In Review – June 2021

Data pulled from ManicTime – Total June gaming hours: 49.6

I am really glad I started June strong, because we have had contractors at the house almost every day since the ninth, and that has wreaked havoc on both my energy and my ability to focus on, well, just about anything. Stardew Valley still managed to be most played game this month, and that’s due almost entirely to my weekly game night with a friend, but I also managed to bang out a goal I’ve been working on for awhile:

I don’t know that I could have pulled all that off without the Stardew Valley Wiki and MouseyPounds Stardew Checkup tool. I abused the heck out of both of these tools during this entire playthrough. So while I’m not exactly done with the game for now, I think I’m going to take a break from solo play for awhile.

Community Game-Along

I did manage to play two games to completion for #FashionGameJune, but I ended up abandoning the Sims 3 project I wanted to do because I couldn’t get the game to start consistently with only the expansions I had selected. I put just over two hours into it, but everything felt janky and well … outdated, which I suppose it is, but I decided long ago I wasn’t putting any more money into the Sims franchise.

Steam Next Fest (Summer 2021 Edition)

I did manage to carve out a few blocks of time to try out some of the demos from the summer 2021 edition of the Steam Next Fest, but I’ll be honest – I really jumped headfirst into all the virtual cons when they first became a thing, but each time there’s a new one, it’s harder for me to get excited about it. I still managed to go through most of the demos I wanted to try, and I’m still really glad that playable demos are making a comeback.

My top five game demos were Let’s Build a Zoo, Bear & Breakfast, To The Rescue, Kainga: Seeds of Civilization, and Atrio: The Dark Wild. I’m noticing as time goes on, I’m getting more and more stuck in my ways as far as what games I gravitate towards, and I’ve gone so far as starting to remove games off my wishlist that have mechanics that make them difficult for me to enjoy, no matter how cool they might be in concept or art style. I have plenty of games in a wide variety of genres in my library already for when I need to mix it up more. These days, I’m mostly interested in simulation, puzzle and strategy games, with a smattering of shorter, story-focused titles, casual games, and simple rogue-likes. If I can’t finish a title in a few play sessions, I want it to be something that’s easy to pick up and put down.

Although I didn’t get as far along as I had hoped in my backlog project, I did play four titles from my list for at least 40 minutes or so, and managed to gets posts up about all four. I’m planning to keep fooling around with this, with a goal to try at least this many every month, and to keep adding to my custom category on Steam each time the choice starts to thin out.

I’ve still been picking up the free Living Stories chapters from Guild Wars 2, but I haven’t actually been playing it at all, even though I keep saying I’ll get back to it at some point. However, just yesterday, Patch 9.1 dropped for World of Warcraft, so I’ve re-upped my sub and am looking forward to diving back into that later today.

The only other game I spent any significant time with in June was Sun Haven, which released into early access this past Friday. I only messed around for a few hours, but it was enough to tell me that – at least for me – it’s not quite in a state just yet that motivates me to keep playing – major story quests are still incomplete, and some basic QoL features (like a map!) are still absent. I did drop in to the game’s Discord, and I can tell the developers are working pretty much around the clock to squash bugs and make small improvements, so it’s definitely something I plan to revisit once it’s a bit further on in it’s development.

Quick Look – Robothorium

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Robothorium is the fourth game I played from this project.

Robothorium – at least when you look at all its component parts – should be a really enjoyable game. It’s got a cool sci-fi plot, casting the player in the role of an AI fighting for robot independence from the people who wish to keep them enslaved. It’s got plenty of loot, and a decent variation in potential party members right from the outset. There are a handful of factions which will like you (or not) based on decisions you make throughout the campaign. There’s even crafting – or so I’m told, because an hour into the game, I haven’t unlocked the crafting system yet, although I’ve accumulated a whole lot of materials in my seemingly endless inventory.

My biggest problem is that it plays painfully slow. You will spend a lot of time moving from room to room, rolling the dice as far as dealing with traps & other interactables. The game lets you know the chance of success, but gives no real indication of why that percentage is what it is. While it’s possible I could have missed something, the game gives you a lot of icons indicating … something … but never really explains what they mean. This wasn’t really an issue for me, as I was playing on the lowest difficulty, but I could see myself being really annoyed by it if I were coming up against any real challenges.

I could even forgive that if the combat felt really satisfying, but it’s more of the same feeling of dragging oneself through molasses. Most of your available abilities add to your heat, and if you hit or pass 100 heat by using an ability, that party member will be forced to skip a turn to cool down. While this system is very effective at preventing you from just spamming each party member’s best ability, it also means that combat drags on forever.

It feels a bit ironic that I started this project because I was finding myself impatient with new games, and now I’ve played two back to back which were unusually tedious. I spent just about an hour with Robothorium, and I don’t see myself going back to it. An intriguing plot with interesting factions isn’t enough to make me push through overly long missions with unsatisfying combat, especially since there’s no way to save mid-mission.

Quick Look – Terroir

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Terroir is the third game I played from this project.

I know absolutely nothing about wine; I’m not even a wine drinker. But I do a bit about tycoon games & other simulations, and I’ve never really struggled with those even when I know nothing about the business they’re simulating. Not so with Terroir, but I’m not sure that more wine knowledge would have helped.

My first major gripe was that all the tutorials on offer are just text. While it’s great to have written information you can refer back to, there’s a reason most games teach you by having you do things, even if sometimes they hold your hand too much. I probably spent the first 10 minutes in game reading tutorials, and I retained almost none of the information contained within.

Thirty-one is a LOT of lessons before you’ve even started the game.

Going with the default settings, the game has a very very slow start indeed. You only have one field in which you can grow grapes, and during the growing season, there is very limited interactivity. Without any in-game guidance, you might miss your first harvest completely, but even if you don’t, your grapes are likely to be terrible. You start with extremely limited processing options, so bad grapes are really difficult to salvage, and unless you’re really good (or really lucky), your vineyard is going to be running in the red for several years until you manage to get yourself established.

It took a few years, but I managed to get a five star wine shortly before I would have bankrupted myself, but even still, I couldn’t see a point where I’d be able to turn a substantial enough profit to actually be able to do anything like improve my estate or accrue additional growing land. All of the figures seemed way off from a game play perspective, and when you add to that the fact that the actual game play loop wasn’t all that engaging, I knew my time with Terroir was just about done.

Still, I had to check out the chance & circumstance I earned from making a five-star wine – imagine my disappointment when I received less from this bonus than a single month’s maintenance fees! I do enjoy a very slow-paced game on occasion, but this one wasn’t just slow, it felt like I wasn’t moving at all.

Despite the fact that I ended my play session a mere five minutes short of my stated goal, I have absolutely no desire to fire this one up again.

Quick Look – Undead Horde

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Undead Horde is the second game I played from this project.

If you’re looking for a super serious, grimdark game about necromancy, Undead Horde is not that game. This is clear right from the beginning, when your character is broken out of his eternal prison by a wayward chicken, who you then kill, who you then bring back to un-life. It’s that kind of game.

In a world where all the undead have been imprisoned by the good paladins of the land, you are evil’s only hope for restoring the status quo. In the field, anything you kill is yours to raise and send out to do kill more things so you can raise more zombies. It looks like it should play like a fairly traditional ARPG, but the controls have definitely borrowed a bit from twin-stick shooters, which I found awkward using mouse and keyboard.

The graphics are more colorful than you might expect, but the game is also so silly, it works. The upper left shows your health, mana, XP, and a visual representation of how many minions you have in relation to how many you can have active at one time. There are fairly frequent portals which you can use to return to your crypt where you can endlessly summon minions from a series of statues that unlock as you kill enough of those types of enemies in the world.

There is also some loot, but it feels less impactful here than it does in similar games, because your undead minions are usually going to be the difference between successfully murdering a village, and having to run away, tail tucked between your legs. It’s sometimes awkward to make your way through the horde to stab a peasant or two, and at least in the early game, your mana is so limited it makes your non-resurrection magic feel nearly useless in a fight. It may get more interesting as the game progresses, as some of the early quests have you unlocking vendors for your sanctum which might open up more meaningful items.

Overall, Undead Horde is a charming little game that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of depth to it, but it did hold my interest for about an hour before I felt like I needed a break. I’m not sure it’s anything I’m going to return to with a eye towards completion, but as I picked it up in a bundle, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth from it.

Game Over – Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces (#FashionGameJune)

For me, one of the best things about casual game sequels is that you know what to expect, and that’s going to be more of the same. After all, most casual game developers just keep doing the same thing once they figure out what works.

Not so with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces, and as far as I’m concerned, the innovation here is definitely to the game’s detriment. Approximately half the levels function very similarly to the first game – you’re given styles, a few models, and a whole bunch of clothing, and you have the make the best outfits. Sure, some of the styles are even more outlandish than in the first game, but that’s fine.

The addition of male models & their associated styles was fine, for the most part. Most levels that had male models had them exclusively, so the game play was pretty much identical. It did get annoying in the late game when there were multiple genders of models in the same level, but without any corresponding increase in the amount of clothing available – more than once, I had to use multiple shuffles just to get enough pieces to fully dress a model, regardless of style, and I felt like the concept was cool, but it was poorly thought out from a play perspective.

What didn’t work for me was the new photo shoot levels.

No longer are you able to hover over the style types to get more details – you need to remember all the hallmarks of the styles and find the models that best match them. The timer on a lot of these photo shoot levels is super tight, and the models are often stacked up, meaning if you’re not careful, you may snap someone you didn’t intend. On the upside, the required scores aren’t too challenging, so you still rarely need to replay unless you’re going for perfect scores. I actually got irritated each time one of these levels cropped up, which they do far too frequently.

Overall, the second entry in the Jojo’s Fashion show series looks like an upgrade, but definitely wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to play. Every time I felt like I was getting into a groove, the rules would change, and it just wasn’t fun after awhile. Although my final play time was super close to that of the first game, it felt a whole lot longer, and not in a good way.

I know that I played all three games in the series many years ago, but my time with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces has discouraged me from even trying to track down the third game. I wish the developers had believed in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Quick Look – The Battle of Polytopia

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. The Battle for Polytopia is the first game I played from this project.

First session playtime: 56 minutes. I completed three rounds during this time.

I have played a lot of Civilization across the years (and the iterations of the series), but otherwise, I tend to shy away from 4X strategy games because of the time commitment they usually require. So imagine my surprise when I fired up The Battle of Polytopia and discovered that the default play mode gives you a mere 30 turns to do your worst. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised how well this game scratches that “small bites” gaming itch considering it was originally created for mobile devices.

There are twelve different tribes to choose from in the base game, with another four that can be purchased. Each tribe starts with a different advantage, and on a different type of terrain. It sounds more complex than it is – I chose the Hoodrick tribe for my first game because starting with a ranged combat unit sounded super helpful, but for my remaining games, I went for random tribe. It doesn’t take long to earn stars – the currency you’ll need for terrain improvements, additional units, and technology research, so you can quickly take advantage of whatever tech your starting area seems most suited to.

In my – admittedly limited – experience, other tribes you encounter are pretty focused on the e(X)termination, and once I realized that and also got aggressive myself, I started having far greater success. Every mechanic in the game is super simple, and it’s nearly impossible to lose on the easiest difficulty. However, a big part of what gives this title replay value is chasing higher and higher scores.

The Battle of Polytopia isn’t a game I’m likely to grind away at – chasing high scores has never really been my thing – but it’s fun in short bursts, and I felt like I was getting it a little more with each game I played. There are a whole mess of difficulty levels & game modes that will help keep things fresh, and it does offer multiplayer, although I don’t expect that’s something I’ll ever touch. I expect it’ll be my go-to game for a little while for those times where I don’t have very long to play.

Game Over – Jojo’s Fashion Show – #FashionGameJune

Okay, I know I’m usually scrambling the last week of the month on these, but man, I forgot how much I enjoyed these games, and I’m going to ‘fess up right here and now – I cheated because I started this one in May! I had a little bit of trouble tracking this game down initially, but you can play in browser on IWin, or purchase it from BigFishGames.

It took me just a little longer than I had guessed – just under four hours.

So, what is Jojo’s Fashion Show? It’s a casual game where you are given a style (or a list of styles), and you need to dress up your models in those styles to score points. You can’t take too long figuring out the best outfits, though, there’s always a timer going, and if you take too long, your model might be sent out onto the runway only partially dressed! You can access the style sheet from the model screen by clicking on the nameplate above a model’s head, which helps when it comes to some of the weirder details (like specific colors).

Some styles are fairly easy to figure out with common sense, like Bridal or Winter. Some, like Valley Girl or Flamenco Punk are a little less intuitive, but it doesn’t take too long to figure out which pieces of clothing are optimal and which others will do in a pinch. Scoring well on certain outfits will give you “power ups” which allow you to do things like shuffle available clothing or designate a model as a Super Model which will double that outfit’s score, and after playing a few levels, you’ll gain access to accessories, which can give you a little boost.

Another way to increase the score for your models is to follow the fashion dos for bonus points. Some of them are presented on level starting screens, but most you’ll learn by trying things out. Something that’s a fashion do in one style will still be something to look out for in every other style, so learning your fashion dos early and applying them often could very well be the difference between a four and five star show on some of the more challenging levels.

Which is not to say that the game itself is hard in any way – you never need more than three stars on any level in order to pass it, but if you’re looking for replayability, five star shows can be pretty challenging, especially in levels with several styles. Each level also has three signature outfits, which will then unlock in Dress Up Mode (which is an untimed alternate game mode that I skipped entirely). Beware though – Signature Outfits are frequently not great for your score!

I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much I still loved this kind of casual game – for the most part, I don’t play too many of these anymore because the cost to playtime ratio doesn’t feel compelling to me when there’s so many other options out there. Out of curiosity, I went looking and was surprised to see that Shockwave Unlimited is actually still an available service, and although it’s not likely to be something I use again, I’m glad it’s available, because it was a staple of my gaming life for several years.

Since the month is still young, I’m planning to dive into the sequel Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces for a few more hours of playing virtual paper dolls.

Nerd Girl Goals – June 2021 (#FashionGameJune)


Play to Satisfaction

For me, saying “Play to Satisfaction” gives me explicit permission to drop a game that’s not working for me, but also to grind away for nerd points if I’m really loving something. I’m trying to make it a policy for myself that I will always play to satisfaction – no more, no less.

The TBDs are kind of a lie this month. I don’t think I’ll be springing for either an MMO subscription or a subscription game service this month (unless, of course, we get a date for World of Warcraft 9.1 drop). Because I have a plan to start poking around in my library and maybe find the joy in games again.

This project involves fifteen games I haven’t gotten around to yet, and a minimum commitment of 45 minutes (unless of course, they’re utterly broken or really really bad), so this is probably going to gobble up most of my game time this month. Because of this, I’m going to keep my other goals light for June – there’s a lot here, and with any luck, at least one of them will suck me in.

Otherwise, I still plan on working towards perfection in my solo Stardew Valley save and playing my weekly co-op game. I never knew how dreadfully boring Stardew could be once you’ve completed just about all of your goals, and you’re just waiting on ten million dollars to get that last little thing. I’m currently sitting on about 8.5 million in late winter of year five, and expect to have this wrapped up before the beginning of summer year six.

The only other thing I have on my plate for the next little while is making sure to log into Guild Wars 2 at least once a week to pick up the Living World story chapters they’re re-releasing right now, since I never was a faithful player and have missed pretty much all of these. Any other ongoing projects I’ve been dabbling in are on hold for the time being – obviously, if I were still jazzed about them, I’d be putting in the time, and May proved I’m just not putting the time into much of anything else.

Community Game-Along – #FashionGameJune

I fully admit to initially being confused by this month’s theme, because I take things entirely too literally. However, I did manage to track down a copy of Jojo’s Fashion Show, a casual game I played forever ago back when Shockwave Unlimited was my gaming subscription of choice! It seemed like a perfect fit, and I definitely have more than a little nostalgia for the series. I’m guessing, end-to-end, it’ll be two or three hours. I don’t see any problem fitting that into my schedule this month.