Posts by Mike Smith
Miniature combat board games aren't exactly steaming up the charts these days, but there’s still a real joy in sitting down face-to-face with an opponent, pitting plastic army against plastic army as the dice go flying.
With that, though, comes complex instructions packed in dense rulebooks -- and good luck getting a novice to play with you. All’s not lost, however. Harebrained Schemes, a company best known for making video games, has just Kickstarted a new property that promises to combine the feel of a physical game with the approachability of a touch-screen app.
Meet Golem Arcana, a fantasy-themed board game that makes your iPad do all the work.
Golem Arcana’s box is crammed with plastic miniatures, heavy cardboard tiles, and little circular markers, but also something more unusual: a weighty gray stylus. It’s the least elegant component, a too-chunky plastic pen that seems incongruously cheap. Inside there’s a battery, a Bluetooth LE transceiver, and, at the tip, a tiny infrared camera. It pairs with an iPad or new-ish Android handheld, and comes with an accompanying app.
If you’ve stepped into your friendly local game store within the past few weeks, you can’t have failed to notice there’s a new edition of role-playing classic Dungeons & Dragons on the shelves. Or perhaps you might have seen it flying high on the Amazon sales charts: the core “Player’s Handbook” surprised just about everyone by topping the best-seller list for several days.
Even if you don’t know your dragonborn from your tieflings, it’s not hard to see that’s a big deal for D&D fans. The days when role-playing games were only played by basement-dwelling, Cheeto-fingered nerds are long gone: now those nerds are grown-up, have families, and are looking for a dose of nostalgia.
They’ll get it with the new edition, which is nominally the franchise’s fifth major release in its forty-year history, though in reality the game has undergone dozens of significant revisions and sub-editions over the decades. The Fifth Edition (5E) is a dragon of a different color, however -- and to know why, you need to understand where it fits into the franchise’s history.
What's hot: High production values; elegant rules; long-term support looks solid
We’re smack in the middle of summer, so any talk of education might seem downright unpatriotic. Still, the dark secret of many great games is that they can teach you stuff without your even realizing it. These winners are as enjoyable as they are edifying.
It’s a happy thing that one of the biggest breakout hits of the last few years is secretly teaching our children everything from geometry to resource management to teamwork. Admittedly, it may also be teaching them that diamonds can be turned into excellent swords and that riding a pig is socially acceptable behavior. Good, bad -- either way, it’s hard to play Minecraft and not learn anything.
Sony struck educational gold with the LittleBigPlanet series. On its surface it’s just a platform game where you can fool about with some level components; underneath it’s an engine for creating your own games, complete with a rich graphical programming language that’s flexible enough to make anything from racers to shooters. Keep your eyes out for the game’s third installment, due this November.
There’s one thing that’s almost as true of today’s Lego sets as it was of the sets of 50 years ago: once you’ve built them, they don’t actually do much. Unless you’re lucky enough to own expensive, high-tech sets like Mindstorms, actually adding life to your Lego creations is a tall order.
Today, Lego unveiled plans to change that by releasing a new range of toys that’ll interact with camera-equipped smartphones and tablets, allowing children aged 7 and up to snap pictures of their physical Lego creations and import them into virtual game worlds.
Four differently themed Lego Fusion sets will launch in August and September: Town Master, Battle Towers, Create and Race, and Resort Designer. Each will cost around $35, each will contain around 200 bricks, and each will interact with a different, free mobile app.
The accompanying mobile apps will be available on both Apple and Android platforms. They’re in development at TT Games, the British company behind the staggeringly successful series of Lego video games.
With his PlayStation 4 riding high in the sales charts, you could forgive Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO, a little swagger as he took the stage in Los Angeles Tuesday night for the company’s annual E3 press briefing.
That swagger was well deserved. Sony's console future looks bright.
House came out swinging and delivered a rare press conference trifecta: a visually stunning game, an accompanying hardware announcement, and one that we can all get our hands on in a matter of a few weeks.
Shared-world online shooter Destiny comes from the creators of Halo and isn’t a PS4 exclusive, but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the fuss Sony made of it. It’ll launch first on the PS4 on September 9, both as a standalone game and in a bundle with a new, glacier-white console and other extras. Best of all, current PS4 owners will be able to join the game’s beta-test beginning July 17.
If you know a young person aged anywhere between about 7 and 15, chances are you’ve heard of Minecraft. Indeed, chances are you’ve heard entirely too much about it.
A simplistic, low-budget building game that plays rather like a Lego set (but with monsters), its independent Swedish developer Mojang has sold over 42 million copies, making it one of the best-selling video games of all time.
But unlike so many other big-selling video games, Minecraft is eminently suitable for younger gamers. And they love it. When they’re not playing the game, they’re talking about it, thinking about it, or watching YouTube channels like the one made by “stampylonghead,” a British Minecraft fan who regularly ranks among the most-watched YouTubers in the world.
Chances are, then, that your kids are already playing it. But what are they getting out of the experience?
Cyberpsychologist Berni Good is an expert in the way technology affects our minds, and she’s convinced Minecraft is more than just a game -- it’s also a useful educational tool.
Special needs education
Girls like pink. Boys like blue. It’s a cultural attitude so strong it might as well be burned into our DNA.
Few things are more powerful than that -- and the idea’s never been stronger than it is today. But what appears to be a harmless-if-a-bit-sexist fashion statement is sending messages to boys and girls alike that parents may not intend. And I’m not talking about the time-honored way Barbie dolls teach kids that the ideal body is some sort of emaciated, stilt-legged freak. Although they do.
No, there’s worse out there: a growing trend of deliberately sexist toys that are conditioning our children to be defined and constrained by their gender well into adulthood.
This realignment trend continued through 2013. Among last year’s breakout girl-targeted toys -- new My Little Pony dolls, Barbie-themed makeup apps, and bracelet-making sets -- was a spin-off range of Nerf guns, “Rebelle.” Should we be happy that Hasbro can successfully make toy guns for girls? Or should we be ashamed that in order to do so the toys need to be done up in pastel prints and called names like “Heartbreaker” and “Pink Crush?”
Some toys are born to greatness, like the Slinky, say, or Barbie. And some toys are born to mediocrity, like Mr. Potato Head, or the rubber duck. And then some toys are born to just rub people the wrong way.
Be it due to bad planning, bad marketing, or just plain bad luck, every year there’s a set of toys that make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here are 2013’s biggest offenders.
Lego’s Jabba’s Palace
Key to the spectacular turnaround of Lego’s fortune has been the success of its Star Wars-branded toys. But this blocky rendition of Jabba the Hutt’s palatial residence earned the ire of Muslim pressure groups earlier in the year, who claimed it bears something of a resemblance to a mosque; specifically, to the historic Istanbul mosque-turned-museum, Hagia Sophia.
Army Force Automatic Rifle
It’s been a tough year to be a toy gun. Once an icon of American cowboys-and-Indians childhood, now it seems barely a week goes by without some poor kid getting suspended after bringing a plastic firearm to school or pretending to shoot someone with their finger.
Mike Smith at Plugged In 2 yrs ago
Keeping secrets gets harder every day. Your employer is watching you check your bank statements online during your lunch hour. That guy you met once at a party is following your every move on Facebook. And the NSA already knows what color underwear you’re wearing. Tomorrow.
Forget all those prying eyes, though: perhaps the biggest new threat to your privacy could be your own children.
At least, it will be if they get their sneaky hands on the latest range of spy-themed toys from Air Hogs creator Spin Master. After debuting to considerable acclaim at the New York Toy Fair back in February, they’re showing up in retail stores just in time for Christmas -- and they’re heralding the start of a dramatic shift in the toy market.
Axiomatic to computer science is the principle that technology always gets cheaper and more powerful, so it’s no surprise that intricate electronics are a common sight in even the cheapest toys these days. But part two of that rule is that the improvements keep on accelerating, and that’s not been so noticeable on toy store shelves.
Mike Smith at Plugged In 2 yrs ago
Classic board games are classics for a reason: they’re well-designed. But there’s only so many times you can pull out the Scrabble board before boredom starts to set in. Here’s a set of variations on six timeless family favorites that’ll make them fresh again -- and with no purchase necessary.
Scrabble – Lose the tile racks
So many great Scrabble variations exist that it’s hard to pick just one or two, but a simple tweak that’ll add loads more strategy is simply to play without tile racks. If you can see your opponents’ tiles, you may be able to predict their moves.
If you prefer a faster-paced game, try Take Two Scrabble -- the full rules are here, but suffice it to say that everyone plays simultaneously using their own Scrabble grid. Take Two is such a favorite that a commercial version, Bananagrams, was released in 2006 to considerable acclaim.
Monopoly – Shuffle up and deal
Jenga – Build down
Sorry! – More cards, more strategy
Trivial Pursuit – Ditch the board
Chutes and Ladders – Double the pawns