Sep 192022
 

I haven’t played any role-playing games in a very long time. Part of it is that the games I am interested in rarely intersect the interests of my wife and friends. I like horror and most horror games that I like are about existential dread and doom. Games that were a little less doomy tended towards being shallow and I just couldn’t get into them. There is a popular genre of games that I call Supernatural Charmed which are more geared towards recreating CW style TV shows. I like those shows but I wouldn’t want to play in those worlds.

They Came From the Beyond the Grave is an rpg that goes in a different direction. It seeks to recreate 70’s Hammer Horror films with a dash of Roger Corman. The conceit is that every game is actually a movie that the characters are in. They get bonuses for acting in genre-appropriate ways like saying Quips, acting in a hammy fashion or adhering to movie logic. The plot and monsters lean towards witches, Dracula, mad scientists and the Devil Himself. There is something to be said for a game that says, “Fuck it, fight Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster and Benjamin Franklin if you wanted.”

I think I have fallen in love with the game. Other systems have tried the meta-gaming route of recreating movies but they tend to go too far into the silliness. Since a lot of the powers come from cards, it would be very easy to toss out powers you don’t think are appropiate. This kind of flexibility allows you to handle anything from Little Shop of Horrors to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The humor level is up to the players and it would not break this game to go full serious or full Elvira’s Haunted Hills.

Last night I played a game with my wife and it played out like an episode of Hammer House of Horror. My wife got in some great one-liners that aided her character. A piece of the set broke in a way that hampered the monster. It was thematically interesting and for us, extremely recognizable. It felt like something we could be watching on Shudder.

I do feel like the game might be a bit over-designed. The rule mechanics are straight forward, but there is a lot of extra stuff that can happen. My approach was to cut about 1/3 of the character generation for now and to make a list of which rules I wanted to worry about and which rules I will add later. This stripped down approach worked really well for us and it did not feel like we were missing anything.

On a personal note, it is a fun creative exercise to imagine what kind of horror movies a studio would make in the 1970’s. I decided that my studio was based in Wisconsin and would play on local legends and locals. Some sort of monster cow seems inevitable. I have spent too much time thinking about the history of the studio owner and what weird metaphysics he wants to make movies about. The game absolutely does not require you to do this kind of world building but the opportunity is too good to pass up. I am looking forward to what stories Twin Moon Pictures will be creating in the months to come.

If 50’s science fiction is more your thing, Onyx Publishing uses the same mechanics for a game called They Came From Beneath the Sea! If you prefer your horror to be more slasher oriented, there is a supplement for the base game of Beyond the Grave called, They Came From Camp Murder Lake. I have all three books and they are great reads, as well as being compatible with each other.

Feb 252022
 
Behold, the red triangle!

I like mazes. They were the first puzzle I would go to in an activity book when I was a kid and I still can’t resist poking around one when I see it. Mazes are my jam.

Mazescape is a solitaire game that might have been made just for me. It involves a maze that is laid out on a folding map. When you unfold the map once, you will see a starting point. You take your fingertip or the little pointer piece, and starting at the starting point, you trace your way through a maze. A dead end is almost immediately apparent and you will feel dumb.

But wait! Now you get to use the gimmick of this game. With your pointer on one part of the map, you will unfold the other part of the map. New paths open up. You can explore them, or continue to fold/unfold parts to the map before moving on. It is this process of folding, refolding and unfolding that parts of the maze open to you until you find your way to the elusive exit.

It is a clever gimmick and one that will make you feel truly lost. The act of revealing the map in segments also creates some dramatic reveal moments. Oh dear, what is that glowing skull doing there? This flaming tower certainly looks ominous. How exactly can I get all the way over there?

Each map comes with its own scavenger hunt list of sights to look for. There are also colored keys that you are meant to find before passing through colored gates. Some maps even give you tasks like find the coin and then take it to the wishing well. Because it is still just a paper map, nothing happens when you do these things but it is still a nice thematic touch.

Currently there are two versions of Mazescape, Ariadne and Labyrinthos. Each has seven different maps. It doesn’t matter which you start with but if you like this kind of thing, you will most likely get both.

Amazingly, there is a virtual demo of how the game works at their website.

Jan 212022
 
My map will never look this good.

Umbra is a solo game designed by Anna Blackwell. You are in charge of a base on a distant planet. Your primary mission is to find a powerful alien relic, but your secondary mission is to just stay alive and avoid losing everything you have ever worked for. All you need is paper, a pencil and a deck of playing cards. It is completely my kind of thing.

First all, this is primarily a map-drawing game. You will sketch your little starting base and using a deck of cards, determine what your planet is like. Then every turn, you will go mining for resources. You draw a card and consult the book. Half the cards are resources and money. Yay! The other half are aliens, traps, natural disasters, formations, treasures and terrible blights. Boo!

In between turns, you spend your resources and build onto your base. You hire marines, cyborgs and hackers. You draw everything you build and you also draw every disaster like when a frozen liquid river obliterates level four of your base.

That’s it, yet it is wonderfully compelling. I have been playing the same base off and on for about a year now. Being a writer, I spend more time writing journal entries than I do drawing a map, but that’s okay. It fills my need to make a base and endure problems and it lets me go at my own pace. Most of all, it gives me room to be creative and that is a treasure in itself.

If alien planets are not your thing, then you are in luck! Umbra has two sibling games. In Delve, you are Dwarves in a fantasy setting mining downwards. In Rise, you are monsters underground working your way up. Be sure to check them out as well.

Dec 032021
 
Vera the Gorgon is so cruel and ambitious which means she is instantly my waifu.

Monster Prom is a dating simulator for one to four people. The players are monsters at a high school for monsters, yet everyone is over the age of nineteen, and in some cases, are a couple of centuries old. Everyone is safely on the side of age of consent.

As you can imagine, there is a prom coming up and your goal is to get a date to the prom. There are six eligible students to woo, and some characters who are hidden. You spend your days and nights either at the auditorium, hanging in the gym, attending a rave outside, scamming money in the library, lurking in the bathroom or even going to classes. At lunch, you get to pick from different tables to socialize with students, teachers and occasional heroes.

It is a funny and silly game. The humor is interesting to me as it discusses sex a lot, but only in a vague way. This not a game about titillation, even when trying to research an obscure sex position to impress a ghost. In fact, it reminds me a lot of being young and knowing I wanted sex, but not terribly sure about the details of what they entailed.

I should also add that every character is effectively bisexual and one of the first things the game asks for is your pronouns. Yay!

What really sets this game apart is that you can play it with friends on the same computer or on a network. Players can compete for the same date, or stay out of each other’s way and maybe help each other. In multiplayer mode, the game gives you little mini games that are mostly prompts for social humor. It is the first video game in a long time that recreates the comradely you get from a tabletop game.

Speaking of which, this game is surprisingly deep. Each possible dating companion has multiple possible story lines. There is also a lot of random events not to mention a store that sells items that open other quests. The replay value is incredible and I think I will be playing for quite a long time. That is even before you get the DLC which opens up even more stories.

So yeah, if you want a casual slightly racy dating game with a lot of monster humor and satire of popular media, then Monster Prom is for you.

Oct 222021
 
This is why I don’t go camping.

Videogames about slasher films can be a mixed bag. Some games have you play the survivors, which means you are playing from a point of weakness against a vastly superior enemy. That can be a bit nerve-wracking. Other games have you playing the killer, which sometimes make me question if it is really healthy to be hunting down people for fun. The older I get, the less sure I am of this. This can make finding a good game about slasher films tricky.

Slayaway Camp does something interesting. You are the killer, but instead of bullying defenseless teens, you are navigating your way along a course only able to move in the cardinal directions and only able to stop at walls or living bodies. That’s right, you’re playing a puzzle.

It is that puzzle element that takes the feeling of predatory power away from the player. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still knifing people and severing heads, but it is darn hard to do. The puzzles are tricky and the addition of police men, armed officers and freaking fire pits have you sympathizing with your favorite masked killer you next time you see a movie.

Did I mention that the art style is done in minimalist cubes? The people look like early attempts at Minecraft. When someone gets their head removed, it looks like a Lego block being pulled off. It really takes the away from the horror when everything looks so cute and adorable.

Added to the puzzle element is a lot of humor. Slayaway Camp loves all horror movies and tropes and will gleefully play with them all. The trailer that plays before every campaign really puts a lot of the blame on the dumbasses who decided that it was safe to go back to the murder camp. As an added challenge, no animals are allowed to be harm in the playing of the game, which means you spend a lot of time making sure you don’t endanger a darn cat. The overall effect is this feels less like a slasher simulator and more like the goofiest b-movie you have found on Shudder.

Slayaway Camp is open all year long.

Oct 082021
 
I am a sucker for any game with a movie theater.

Zombies! They are a bit played out right now. Who wants to see another bunch of morose people debating whether they should kill sweet Sara now that she has been bitten? Or even worse, another zombie story where the real monsters are the living assholes? I deal with greedy assholes every day, let the zombies be the monsters!

Don’t worry about that in Zombie Night Terror because you play the zombies, not those depressing survivors. You control a group of mindless hordes as they try to break into fortified locations and eat all the delicious people inside. To help you, you will be able to mutate the zombies into various classes like crawlers, overlords and big muscle boys.

And the zombies are really going to need your help because they are dumb as lemmings. Seriously, zombies go in one direction unless they hit a wall, in which they will turn around and walk the other direction. These dumb asses will gladly walk into a machine gun, fire, electrical traps and elevator shafts. You have a limited amount of zombie DNA to guide them and a finite number of zombies.

This compelling arrangement turns every level in a puzzle. How can I get a zombie onto the second story to take out the cannibal? What kind of zombie am I going to need to take down the crime boss? Is there a way to trap these teleporting DJs?

As you can tell, this is not a very serious game although the puzzles can be quite hard. The level selection screen sets the tone by displaying the game as a movie marathon at a sketchy theater. Every mission has some sort of Easter egg or reference to television and movies. Heck, you get to fight a robot from the future while clearing out a polices station. It is the zombie/Terminator mashup you never knew you needed.

This is a fun game for people who like a lot of horror in their puzzle games. It is well wroth the low price.

Sep 242021
 
That accent card has ruined so many good players.

Someone has died. It is very sad. The players have gathered together to argue who should receive the estate of the deceased. Everyone draws cards that define their characters. One player will be the estate lawyer who will ask questions and make the final judgement. During play, Objection cards will be rewarded to players that can be used on others. Objection cards become facts that players must now incorporate into their characters and defend.

That’s it. That is the whole game. It is that easy.

Except it is not easy at all because the cards are BONKERS. Draw your first batch and you are playing a Whimsical Nanny Psychologist who loves arm-wrestling and knew the deceased from being in the same role-playing game group. Your fellow players are playing unfrozen cavemen who write children’s books and talking dog that dreams of being an actor. The caveman’s relationship is he once owned a bar with the deceased while the talking dog was his AA sponsor.

As you can imagine, this is primarily a game of improv. The lawyer player makes up questions and the players make up anwsers that correspond to the cards they possess. Objection cards inflict a negative thing the player has to improv like secretly poisoning the well at the children’s park. That gets a bit harder to argue you deserve a big fat inheritance.

What genuinely surprises me about this game is how much people love it. I have played this game with families and half-drunk smart-asses and everyone loves it. This is the game other people request that I bring. This is the game everyone talks about for weeks after. Out of all my games, this is the one people tend to buy the night of playing it for the first time.

You might as well it too.

Sep 032021
 
Surf that golden track, baby.

Audiosurf was a computer game released back in 2013. It created race tracks from songs in your hard drive and populated them with scoring blocks and obstacles. The difficulty and speed of the tracks was directly related to the beats of the music. The neat part was that if you played “Jolene” from Dolly Parton’s greatest hits album, and your friend played the same song, then it was the exact same track. This lets people play somewhat competitively against each other.

It was a very addictive game for me. There is something about riding along a track that is in sync with music that really immerses you into the music. I would often pick a favorite album and just lose myself for an hour. It was a meditative experience for me.

2013 introduced the sequel, Audiosurf 2. I was resistant to trying it because I adored the first one so much. 8 years later, curiosity won over nostalgia and I gave it a try. I am glad I did. The graphics are much improved and the pace has been greatly enhanced. There is more customization which helps tailors the experience you prefer.

But deep down, it is still a game about getting up and close with music. Whether it is a fast song with sharp turns and too many damn obstacles, or a slow thoughtful song that runs along a course that resembles a late nigh drive. AudioSurf 2 engages you with the music directly in ways that always feel intimate.

Mar 292021
 
Man, I want to taste the rainbow.

Leisure Suit Larry is a computer game franchise that had a huge impact on me as a writer and pervert. I played the very first game way back when I was a teenager and a bit too young to understand all the dirty bits. The puzzles were far too hard for me but I still loved it. It was a gamechanger ( pun not intended) for me as it never occurred to me that you could make games dealing with sex. I immediately started making my own computer sex game using BASIC. I didn’t have a computer, but I would fill notebooks with the code. These early programs were the ancestors to the interactive porn I write today.

Leisure Suit Larry will always have a soft spot in my heart and I have played every game in the series. Like most comedy from the 80’s/90’s, the older games haven’t aged well. There are way too many homophobic jokes and the less said about they treat transgender characters the better. The games are also guilty of the trope of giving the right puzzle piece to women in order to have sex. This is often alleviated by the fact that Larry’s objectification of women makes him the butt of jokes and a person everyone scorns, but still, quite problematic.

Which brings us to Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry. Published in 2018, this game starts with Larry waking up in a strange laboratory underground. He goes to the surface and realizes 30+ years have passed and he hasn’t aged a bit. This new world baffles him but he still wants to get laid. Aided by an experimental cell phone Artificial Intelligence, he tries to navigate the new world of dating apps.

This version of Larry manages two miracles. One, it might be the most woke of the entire series. The one transgender character is portrayed positively and several homosexual characters are depicted as real people instead of something to ridicule or be afraid of. The ethnic characters are real people and not stereotypes. It might be the first Larry game that I didn’t wince at.

The second miracle is that it is actually funny. Humor can be hit or miss and sexual humor is even harder. This game made me laugh out loud several times. The art is lovely and every background has great details that make studying the game worthwhile.

If you were ever curious about the Leisure Suit Larry games, then I can’t think of a better one to start with than this one.

Dec 212020
 
In space, no one can hear your bad joke about hearing in space.

Money Shot is a comic set in the future of Earth. Written by Tim Seeley and Sarah Beattie with beautiful art by Rebekah Isaacs, this book dives right into the action. Science is unpopular! The President is an anti-intellectual! We met aliens but our douchebro President tried to hit up the ambassador for a blowjob! The aliens decided they wanted nothing to do with us!

Christine Ocampos and her band of scientists have figured out a way to teleport into the cosmos, but they can’t get the funding from the government or academia. Desperate to raise money, they decide to fiance their space travels by performing sex with aliens and then selling the porn to their subscribers back on Earth.

Porn Scientists/Performers in SPAAAAAAAAACE!

Clearly, this is relevant to my interests. The book is always balancing between comedy and action, with some healthy sprinkles of personal relationship drama. Even porn scientists/performers have to deal with romantic triangles. The science fiction is much better than you would expect from this kind of book and the aliens they meet are really neat.

The book always walks an interesting line of how explicit it can be. Sex and performing sex is constantly front and center, without actually showing graphic sex. This is a softcore book and after years of reading graphic comic porn, it is almost quaint to read comic sex without genitals touching. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

On the other hand, this is a very sex positive book, which is something you don’t get a lot of. Every member of the team has sex with every other member of the team regardless of gender without playing it for laughs. The act of being a sex performer is never considered to be something to be ashamed of. There is no jokes about gender misidentification. This box prides itself on being sex positive by example and it shows.

Money Shot is a monthly comic that got out two story arcs before taking a pause. Both arcs have been collected into separate trades. If the series never returns, the second trade works well as a closer for the series.