Changes

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Hello everyone,

I’ve recently been changing what I’ve been writing.  Consequently, my blog is going to reflect those changes.  While I still love playing games, given my other activities and interests, writing about games isn’t working for me when I don’t have time to play new games.  For now, I’ve shifted focus toward writing poetry and works of fiction.  While I’m keeping this blog up to continue to serve as a forum for discussing games of all types, I’m going to start having my wife look at my work and help me pick out which pieces are best for publishing for a blog, and start posting pieces on our new blog.  Our new blog will go live on New Years day 2017.  I thank you for your patience and assure you that what you’ll find is well worth the wait.  I’ll post a link then.

Best wishes,

Antony

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Dealing with the Fog

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The other day, I was driving back home in the early morning and a thick fog had come in between leaving home and returning.  The road looked so dramatically different in the fog due to my limited vision that I began to worry I had somehow ended up on the wrong street, even though I knew I was on the right street because I had the path memorized.  This event reminded me that what we know about the world around us is limited to our own personal perception and what we perceive immediately around us.  Had I not driven this street countless times before, I would have been convinced I was on the wrong road and could have possibly gotten lost.

Even in a world where the internet is readily available to us, we are subject to what information enters the infinitesimal space immediately around us.  We can look things up through a search engine, but only if we know what to look up and, even then, we are subject to the order that the search engine displays the results.  While the tools to share information are readily available, that information will only be shared if we make an active effort to share it.

Regardless of how much information we have, we tend to make decisions based on what we know.  I’ve worked in science for over a decade, and the best scientists I’ve ever met are the ones who realize that their understanding of the world around them is extremely limited.  It is that they understood that there were things they didn’t know, and not what they knew, that made them good scientists.

I believe that our current knowledge set tends to strongly inform our opinions, and that we as human beings form very strong belief sets over extremely limited information.  These belief sets, in turn, lead to our decisions.  This is why it is fundamentally important that we open ourselves up to ideas and information that exist outside of our own perception.  In life, seeing past the fog might involve calling someone outside of it.

Where have you been?!?: What I’ve been doing for the last 9 months.

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It’s been nine months since I’ve written a blog post, and I’m planning on getting started back up again and getting out one every month or so.  I’ve been starting a career change, so I’ve been a little busy.  In addition, I fell behind on my intended next topic of toys to life video games, and the next wave of products has been released.  I currently do not have the time or money to dedicate to giving each product a fair analysis, so that topic will have to be done another day.

So, what have I been doing?  First, I continued doing data analysis as a freelancer on Upwork.  Second, I’ve been doing a LOT of writing, just not here.  Right now, I’m working on a number of personal projects, and as I make progress with them to a point I feel comfortable sharing them, I might share a few of them here. Otherwise, my goal for this blog is to continue to have it carry out its original purpose and use it as a platform for discussing my favorite topic: games of all types, although given my current projects, there may be dramatically more discussion of writing.

See you soon.  For now, I must deal with the fact that I have the new Justin Bieber song stuck in my head.

Antony Athippozhy

Why the things you do for fun may be some of the most important things you do

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Wasting Time

 When I was extremely young (probably around preschool), I remember asking my mom why the dogs would “play fight” with each other.  She explained that out in the wild, they would need to be practiced for actual encounters with other wild animals, and that this was a way to practice.  While one needs to be productive with their actions, I have often been exposed to the idea that what people do for fun is a waste of time.  I’m doing this quick blog post to refute this idea using games, but most of the things I will say here can be applied to most recreational activities.

Development of motor skills

My parents got me a Nintendo entertainment system when I was five to help me with hand eye coordination.  While interfacing with electronics in solo activities at a young age might have negative repercussions when done to excess, running and jumping as Mario did improve my reflexes and served the intended purpose of developing hand eye coordination.  Most of the games I play now (both electronic and more traditional board and pen and paper games), tend to be much more slowly paced.  However, doing something I enjoyed at a young age that forced me to quickly react has paid off in adulthood.  (As a scientist, you wouldn’t think I need amazing reflexes, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to catch falling glassware).  So go ahead and play games that test your reflexes or dexterity.  (For dexterity, I personally recommend JENGA).  I knew a number of children who’s parents enrolled them in sports programs for this reason, and I suspect many of them would tell you about the positive impact sports have played in their lives.

Teamwork

I’m going to dedicate several of these sections to the development of social skills and interaction with other people.  One skill game-playing and other recreational activities improve is teamwork.  Not every game is centered around competition between individuals.  Some games are either competitive at the levels of teams or completely cooperative.  Some good cooperative games I’ve played recently are Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue.  Because players share a goal in these games, they develop important cooperation skills in reaching the shared goal.  Once again, sports also really help improvement in this area.

Social Interaction Skills

Most non-electronic games I’ve played throughout my life involve some level of direct interaction with other players.  This interaction occurs at two levels.  First, you have to be good enough company that other people want to play with you.  Sore losers/sore winners are going to find they play fewer games simply because no one wants to play with them.  At the second level a player needs to understand not only what their own goals are, but the goals of all other players.

The Settlers of Catan has become popular, and it is a game where understanding the actions of other players is important.   The game is a trading game in which players exchange resources between each other to build settlements and other structures which are worth points.  The game also involves purchasing cards which may or may not be worth points.  Because of the way the game is set up, players constantly evaluate, what they need, what everyone else needs, and how close players are to winning.  Therefore, decisions are made not solely on how they influence individual players, but several people at the table. Understanding these types of interactions is important in living in a society with other people, where each individual has personal goals.  Analyzing the decisions of other people also plays an important role in business, where understanding the decisions of competitors can influence your own decisions.

Problem Solving Skills

My favorite games, such as Agricola, Caylus, and Kingsburg, tend to involve heavy resource management.  In these games, players typically compete for resources, which they use to purchase/build structures which give them some sort of advantage.  As mentioned above, decisions are made in the context of what other players are doing.  However, these games also require constant evaluation of what a player has, what a player needs, and which possible plays offer the best advantages.

Not all games are centered on decisions based on resources.  Some games are very focused on spatial reasoning.  Chess is an excellent example of this, where players must evaluate how each piece can move and protect their own king while attempting to capture (put in checkmate) the other player’s king.  Another game I enjoy that is focused on spatial reasoning is Blokus, where players must place blocks on a grid, while their own pieces must connect only diagonally.  Players must figure out how to work around other player’s pieces and place as many blocks as they can.

Practice Makes Perfect

As long as you’ve been productive in a day, don’t be ashamed to sit back, relax, and do something you enjoy.  My only suggestion is that you think about how your entertainment can improve life skills. Sit back and have fun from time to time.  You’ll be happier and may even develop some new skills.

By the way, I’m hoping to finish my discussion of “toys to life” sometime this week.  I haven’t forgotten.

Potential

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I had something I really needed to say, so now I’m going to say it.  It falls a little bit outside of the entertainment theme of my blog, but this is my blog, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.  Also, there will be some very minor spoilers for the film, Ratatouille.

Yesterday, I took a quiz on Facebook under the name of “Which Pixar Quote should be your life’s motto”.  The result I got was “Anyone can cook” from Ratatouille.  While the phrase seems pretty trivial in isolation, in the film it bears the significance of meaning that a great chef can potentially come from any background.  In real life, the motto of the film is not limited to chefs, but every possible career and/or talent.  If someone is legitimately passionate about something, they will work hard at whatever it is they are passionate about.  This dedication will ultimately lead to skill.  While aptitude may play a role, someone who is passionate about something will find another way to address the passion in a way that is more in tune with their innate abilities.

The purpose of this post is twofold.  First, to encourage readers to follow their dreams, because dedication leads to mastery.  Second, is to warn readers not to judge others.  Unfortunately, in spite of everyone having nearly unlimited potential at several things, many people will never realize this potential.

Many people will end up remaining tethered to their social or economic status.  For example, someone with the potential to become a great doctor will never realize this potential if the funds for medical school are not available in any way.  (This is just an example, but I do believe that affordable education is a large concern).  We are human beings, and we all live in a society.  Consequently, we are all interdependent, whether or not we believe we are independent.  Therefore, it is in all of our best interests if we do not dismiss each other.  Many of us believe some trait yields one person to be inferior to another.  We might want to believe that either A) we are the exception to the rule and do not ourselves bear any prejudices or B) our prejudices are justified.  For example, do you see people of different social class, race, or gender differently?  Why?  We collectively need to start looking at who people are, and not by their outward appearance or by what they can’t do.

How does this play directly into our daily lives?  Simply by remembering that every person on the planet is a person, just like you.  Treat everyone with respect.  By treating people you might otherwise dismiss with the same respect as you would treat someone you would normally view as a potential friend, you may gain wonderful new friends with insights you would have never imagined.  “Anyone can cook” from Ratatouille can easily be translated into “Anyone can be a great (noun)”.

My next few posts will be a discussion of “Toys to Life” in video games and reviews of Fantasy Life for the 3Ds and Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U.

May you enjoy the company of all those you meet, even those who initially annoy you.

Out of Print Card Games: The Maple Story iTCG

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Introduction
While at the peddler’s mall here in Lexington, I happened upon the starter set for the Maple Story iTCG and a few booster packs, so I picked them up. I used to have the game while it was in print until the cards met an unfortunate end under a soda spill. The game still appears to be selling on Amazon, so I figured a review might help people who are trying to decide if they are interested in the game. The game is based on an online multiplayer RPG that I have never played.  Therefore, I won’t comment much on the tie-ins, and I do not know if the prize codes listed on the cards (which allow the player to have in game rewards) are still functional. The game has five sets, with each set adding something new to the game (boss monsters, pets, and NPCs for example). The bulk of my experience with the game has been with the initial set, so that is where my review is primarily focused. However, if you do enjoy the game, I would encourage you to look into the other sets.

I suddenly want to play Super Mario Bros.

I suddenly want to play Super Mario Bros.

Rules
The Maple Story iTCG (interactive trading card game) is a character based card game in which each player attempts to deplete the health of the opposing player. Each player chooses one character as a personal representative. These cards determine the players’ starting health and what innate abilities the characters have.

Characters represent the players and define their initial abilities.

Characters represent the players and define their initial abilities.

During a player’s turn, they are first allowed to use one card from the hand to level up. Cards have abilities written on them at the bottom, and the card is placed under the character so that the ability is visible under the character. Then, the player uses character abilities from the top to bottom starting with the top built-in ability down through the last card used to level up the character. Before the turn ends, if the any monsters are in play, the monsters attack and then the turn passes.

Almost everything a character can do is linked to character abilities. This includes drawing a card, which can lead to confusion for people who are experienced with other card games where the convention is typically to draw at the beginning of a turn. Whether or not abilities can be used depends on the cards that have previously been used to level up the character. Abilities have a number (which is a multiple of ten) to represent the level a character needs to be to use them. A character’s level is the number of cards under him/her multiplied by ten. Symbols may also be used to indicate that the character needs specific colored cards (the game has four colors) to be under the character.

The non-character cards that make up a deck consist of tactics (one shot abilities), items (cards that stay in play and have an effect on the game), and monsters. Being able to play a card means using an ability that allows you to play the appropriate type of card at the appropriate level (which can be found in the upper left of the card). Monsters stay in play, can attack the opposing player each turn, and prevent 10 damage (damage is also done in multiples of ten) to its owner.

Here we have the emerald earrings.

Here we have the emerald earrings.  I have no idea what a bubblefish is, nor do I know what Zeta Residue is, but since it has no influence on the card game, I just ignore that stuff.

Art

You’re either going to love or hate the art. It’s on the extreme end of cartoony and cute.

Now I want to play Dragon Quest.

Now I want to play Dragon Quest.

Gameplay

The game is well designed overall and employs its ideas in interesting ways. The mechanics capture the idea of leveling up a character and learning new abilities. Each color does an excellent job of representing its respective character class.  The cards are diverse enough to present a variety of deck building options, especially when you factor in that you can choose different characters and the game will play differently.  However, the difference in power levels between characters can make some feel obsolete, and with only 96 cards in the first set (24 in each color) the number of available cards can feel limiting.  (This problem can easily be fixed by incorporating the other expansions.)

The biggest problems with the way the game plays seem to be related to how damage is handled. Having high hp monsters on both sides of the field can cause the game to come to a halt, since each monster prevents 10 damage. Unlike many similar games, if either player isn’t killed, there isn’t a built-in end to the game, such as when an entire deck is drawn. This can result in a stalemate that drags on indefinitely.

Also, the individual characters seem imbalanced. The starter deck comes with two characters and suggests you break the deck in half for two players. The green half seems to perform consistently worse than the blue half. The blue deck has better monsters and an intrinsic ability to play them, while the green character specializes in direct damage. The green deck may not be able to deal enough damage to directly deal with blue’s monsters, which puts it at a disadvantage. Outside of the starter deck, this appears to extend to the individual characters. Some characters get quest at level 10, while others need to wait until 20. In card games, the cards represent your options, so if a character is short a card, they need a pretty impressive ability to compensate, which the characters with a delayed ability to draw do not seem to get. Also, mages (red) specialize in drawing and thieves (grey) specialize in discard giving them more options. Each non-green color specializes in a card type as well (red: tactics, grey: items, and blue: monsters), while green specializes in direct damage. Because of the importance of monsters, blue’s specialization in monsters works to its favor, but green doesn’t have much going for it. In other words, three of the four colors are balanced. While players can compensate by including other colors in their decks, the starting abilities of the characters can decide the game before it even starts.

Conclusion

The game is fun and makes use of the concept of leveling quite well. There are some balance issues, but as long as both players have access to cards of similar power levels, the issues can be circumvented by playing two decks of similar power levels against each other. If after looking at the art and reading a description of the game, you think it sounds like fun, you will probably enjoy it.  I recommend anyone considering the game to pick it up if they can get it cheaply. However, I wouldn’t recommend spending the effort and money to completely fill out a collection.

Pros: Fun execution of the concept of an RPG battle.

Cons: Characters are unbalanced.  Only 96 cards in initial set. 

Copyright for The Maple Story iTCG is owned by Wizards of the Coast and Nexon entertainment,  Super Mario Bros. is owned by Nintendo, and Dragon Quest is owned by Square Enix.

 

About me and my history with games

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Hello everyone. This is my first blog, and I figured I’d like to share with you a little bit about myself so that you understand why I’m writing a blog, who I am, and whether or not you want to read this. As you can tell from the author section, my name is Antony Athippozhy. For a living, I’m a scientist, but my biggest hobby is playing and designing games of all varieties. Therefore, I will probably focus this blog on game reviews and other game related topics, but I’ll put anything I think is particularly interesting up here.

My interest in games began with video games. When I was five, my parents got me a Nintendo in order to help me develop my hand-eye coordination. My first game was Super Mario Bros., and I loved it. A few years later, my parents picked up two different sixteen bit systems: the Turbografx 16 and the Sega Genesis. (I didn’t get a Super Nintendo until it had been out for a little bit). Military Madness was my first Turbografx game. I realized from playing that game that I prefer turn based strategy games to action heavy ones (although I always have and presumably always will enjoy all types of games).  For people unfamiliar with the game, it was a World War II themed military strategy game set on the Moon.

For a little while, video games were my only exposure to games. In the mid 90’s a computer game by Microprose based on the Magic: the Gathering Card game was released. This was my introduction to the collectible trading card game (and Magic was itself the first collectible trading card game). In 2001, I was looking for a new hobby, so I started to play the actual card game. When Pokémon and various other card games came out, I tried them and found that I enjoyed the genre of collectible trading card games as a whole. I regularly played Magic until about 2012, when I found that I had too many other interests, too much work, and too little money to regularly play Magic.

When I started my current job, I started looking for new hobbies again. That is when I found that a local game store had a board gaming group. I played there regularly and moved to a different store after the one I started playing in closed. I haven’t been able to make it over the past few months due to a dramatic increase in workload. (Sorry guys, if you’re reading this.) We play a variety of games, but many tend to have a strong resource management theme, which I really enjoy.

So, why did I decide to start a blog? First, I want practice writing on topics other than science. Second, I actually enjoy writing, and this gives me an outlet to do it. Third, I like the word “blog”. It’s really fun to say. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I want an outlet to express my love and enjoyment of games. Therefore, the primary things you can expect to find here are video game, board game, and card game reviews and analyses. However, I do not plan to specifically limit myself to those topics, so don’t be surprised to find an occasional film review, poem, or anything else that I was particularly moved to write. I will avoid the topics of politics, religion, current events, and work here, because my name is on this, and I want to do my best to avoid angering anyone. (Although, I might irritate a few game companies because I wasn’t particularly fond of their game).

This brings me to my first experience with the comments section. Feel free to leave comments, but try to keep them relatively constructive. I’m fine with things like “You need to use more action verbs like ‘explodinate’ and ‘destroyify.’” Just try to stay away from things that are genuinely negative like “I don’t like (person X).  He/she fills me with rage and makes me throw furniture.”

Please join me next time, where unless I change my mind, I’ll review the out of print Maple Story collectible trading card game.