Notre Dame lost again, I’ve gotten started on the next series for the YouTube channel, a game that I didn’t know existed yesterday, and my wife and the boy and I spent an hour or so playing a card game called Exploding Kittens.

Not bad, as Saturdays go.

Tomorrow I get to pet a giraffe, and I have a ton of grading to do, and then I have an all-day training on Monday, so no students. On Friday of next week I get to pick up my new iPhone. And there’s a chance that we’ll finally, finally play Gloomhaven tomorrow night, too.

Good day. And it’s gonna be a good week.

How’s everything going for you?

In which we escape

Okay, well, if you’re gonna be picky about it, technically we didn’t escape. By, like, under a minute, I think, and I’m pretty sure I spent at least a minute saying “Wait, we didn’t win? Explain why we haven’t won,” before the final clue and the final win condition was made understandable.

Lemme back up.

My wife and I have done two escape rooms– one with a bunch of her college friends where we were not successful, and one just with the two of us where we were. She’s done a couple of others for work things as well. She got me the game pictured to the right for Christmas, and we finally pulled it out and played it tonight on her birthday. Not like we can go out to dinner or anything, right?

(I know the exact date of the last time I was in a restaurant, by the way, and we are closing in on the one-year anniversary of that date.)

Anyway, Escape Room in a Box: Flashback is exactly what it says it is, an escape room in a box. It’s a one-shot play, basically, but at basically a buck for every three minutes of play I figure the time is worth it. I would say you’re looking for between one to four players (there’s no reason you can’t play by yourself, frankly,) mostly because more than four are going to get in each other’s way. There are three of what they call “paths” but are basically separate puzzles, and then clues from all three are necessary to solve the final puzzle at the end. The final puzzle at the end is more or less what cost us the game; I thought you had to just put three physical things together, and I did, and then precious time was wasted convincing me that no, there was one more thing needed. Anyway, small teams could work on the three “paths” individually, but at some point you’re making it too easy– if three teams are working on the three paths simultaneously you’re more or less guaranteed that you’ll finish in a fraction of the time you’re allotted.

There’s a werewolf theme, but it’s not that important. It’s also technically a sequel to another game (prequel? Is that why the word “flashback” is in the title? Maybe.) but no knowledge of the other game was necessary at all. I do think we’ll end up picking it up, though, because if it’s of equivalent quality to this one it’ll be a good time. The puzzles themselves are also pretty refreshingly clear of anything that can be looked up or Googled; you’re not going to miss a clue because you’ve never seen a movie or didn’t know the date something happened or something like that and knowledge of trivia will not save you. There are maybe a couple of clues that could have been worded a little more clearly but that’s about it.

Oh, and you’ll need a freezer.

5/5 would play again, but I’d win immediately, so I’m actually never playing it again but you get what I mean.

#REVIEW: The Surge 2 (PS4)

The PS5 hasn’t made an appearance yet, and I did a test drive by Best Buy earlier to see if it was reasonable to get the new TV brought out, and it … was not. I might take another shot at it after dinner, but I’ll probably just wait until tomorrow at this point. I did put The Surge 2 to bed last night, and it has the distinction of almost certainly being the last game I’ll beat on my PS4, since the PS5’s backwards compatibility is pretty universal so there won’t be a need to pull this console out of mothballs if I decide I want to go back to something.

Short version: 8/10, solid but occasionally garbagey. The Surge 2 takes the Soulslike tradition of losing resources on death, mild RPG elements, and punishing difficulty and sets it in a cyberpunk/nanotech future sort of world. As basically everything I play nowadays is a Soulslike of some sort (and the first game that graces the PS5 is going to be the Demon’s Souls remake) this was more or less right up my alley.

Strengths: weapon and armor variety is awesome, and the armor pieces in particular are interesting; each set has six pieces (two arms, two legs, body and head) and they can be mixed and matched, and each set also has a bonus if you’re wearing three pieces of it and a bigger bonus if you’re wearing six pieces, and the bonuses are different between sets– so you find yourself wearing three pieces of one set and three of another a lot. Weapons are varied enough that I never kept one for very long, although I definitely found myself gravitating toward the spear- and staff-class weapons by the end of the game, which both had good range and were fast. Nothing really looks like anything else, though, which is great.

The combat in general was one of the game’s strengths, although there’s a directional block mechanism built in that I never really got the hang of, and timing on blocks in particular felt sluggish a lot of the time. That may just be me, though as timed-parry mechanisms almost always give me fits, but I swear a lot of the time I’d hit block and my dude just wouldn’t. Sometimes that was due to being out of stamina, but by the end of the game my stamina pool was so huge that that was rarely an issue and I still had a hell of a time with timings.

The story is … fine. I never played The Surge and I never got the impression that I needed to; the sequel is completely standalone.

Less good: boss fights are challenging but repetitive, the game was buggy (I don’t remember the last time I had a game hard crash to the desktop, and this game did it six times) and level design was kinda samey and I had a hell of a time finding my way around. They did a good job of different levels wrapping around and connecting to each other in lots of places, with lots of shortcuts and secret passages and such, but the game’s color palette and overall look just didn’t really vary all that much from place to place, and there’s an event partway through the game that rips up the old map and throws it away, and after spending as much time as I had exploring and trying to figure out where everything was, having all that knowledge stripped away from me was really annoying. The trophies also seemed sort of buggy, and I’m convinced that I earned one of them that never popped for me at all.

The game also does a sort of cool thing after the credits roll where it shows you a bunch of stats that compare you to how other players did, both in terms of how many deaths and playtime in levels and to bosses. This was neat but I’d rather have had access to it in the game. There’s also a new piece at the beginning of New Game + where you pay through something that happened offscreen in the first playthrough, which was kind of neat.

This has been out for a while (every game I review has been out for a while) but if it slipped your radar and you are into this kind of game, it’s worth checking out.

Adventures in dungeonmastering

True fact: I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons off and on since I was in fifth grade and never once in that time have I actually been a Dungeon Master. Now, granted, my first outing was about as foolproof as it could get– my audience was my wife (inclined to forgive me any errors I might have made) and my son (who wouldn’t know the difference) and I was using a prewritten, off-the-shelf adventure that I only made a small handful of modifications to, but I still think I acquitted myself pretty well. I added a character who wasn’t in the original adventure to sort of guide them through everything and created a couple of encounters before everything got started to help them get their feet wet, and we were off to the races after that. The problem with D&D is that it takes so damn long– the adventure was two pages long as written in the sourcebook and the session took three and a half damn hours. The boy wants to play again tomorrow— he’s second level now, which is just unbelievably powerful, of course– and it’s going to be hard to convince him that Daddy is not going to have this kind of free time every single day for the rest of the winter.

The kid’s a frickin’ fiend with his dice, though– three natural 20s over the course of the session, which wasn’t super combat-heavy so that’s more impressive than it sounds, more than balancing out my wife’s two natural 1s, one of which left her flat on her back at the feet of a mimic that was doing its best to try and eat her face. I wasn’t super inclined to kill either of them, although I made sure the boy in particular knew that if he tried to pull anything particularly reckless or dumb during the session he was going to pay the price, and other than offhandedly suggesting that they kill everyone in the room during an early negotiating session with some gnomes he more or less did a decent job of reining in his more destructive impulses.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday. I look forward to doing this again.

Merry Christmas!

Raise our hand if your wife bought your 8-year-old son what is obviously a drinking game for Christmas!

(Looks around)

Just me, eh?