Might&Glory:Kingdom War (Nord Studios, published by My.com) starts out as an uglier more boring Clash of Clans. It has some terrible monetizing ideas, a few neat new things, and amazingly, has people playing it. I have no idea why.

Right off it’s got a link to one of those old pages where you can get gems by signing up for a credit card or answering a survey. Who knew those still existed? After the same some cannons and mortars, you get this new customizable weapon. Upgrades cost lots and lots of gems, with the dreaded “chance to fail and lose a level” mechanic. You can craft totems for various bonuses, but they’re tiny ones unless you pay a ton of gems to upgrade them.

Then there’s the bad gameplay. Air defenses are tuned way too high — nothing flying stands a chance. Wall breakers are very stupid, running to the nearest wall even if it’s right next to a hole they just made. It has 1 must-use super-troop. It’s like a wizard, except much better in every way. It costs “rare” Dark Elixer, but not much. Every army is these things behind either giants or, later, golems.

On to the neat ideas, you get a defense building that pops out 4 archers (and then wizards). Those are much more effective than the usual warriors which run and and die quickly. Your 2-5 heroes march around the entire base, and an end-game weapon spawns tiny spiders that also roam the whole base. This eliminates the “plinking” part of attacks (where you drop archers in safe spots around the base to “trim” it) which I never cared for.

There are some nice new troops. One is a clever ghost; fast, hits hard, goes through walls and runs around the building while attacking. That looks so cool and make it a tough target for mortars or even traps. The next is even cooler — an invisible beetle which runs at and kills traps for 7 seconds (at which point it becomes visible and is instantly killed, which is also pretty cool). Finally you get an expensive but long-range barbarian who freezes his current target. He’s useful, good, but not great.

On a neutral point, you get a building which can make tiny 8-hour boosts. You get it late and it’s very expensive to upgrade. Other games have done the “craft a limited time boost” much better.

I cannot figure out why people play this game. At first you want to unlock the weirdly-named buildings just to see what they do. Then you can’t believe a base with terrible air-defense still killed your flying army. Then you want to see what those freaking powerful goblins with rockets are. But after that? Sometimes the game rains down fireballs on every troop I place. Same spot or different spot, all get blasted. I’m a little curious what it is, but not enough to attack with the same army 100 more times to hopefully unlock it.

[Game]Battle of Galaxy

Besides a kick-butt name, “Battle for the Galaxy War Game” has got some great clashy inventions. And it mixes that with the most sneaky, inventive monetization tricks. I don’t mean bringing in old tricks from other games — this is “whoa, I never even thought to charge for that!”. First the good stuff:

This is minor, but a keeper. Troops are divided into People, Light Machines, and Heavy Machines. One building for each (but not all at once). They control unlocking new troop types, and troop upgrades. Other clash-likes have tried variants on this, but BftGWG finally got it right.

Next are the daily and weekly Events. For the daily, you and 9 other people attack 1 base with a pre-made army. You can try every hour, going for the highest percent destruction. You don’t get to keep the gold — just focus on killing. There are prizes for the top 6. Being able to use crazy high-level troops, that you don’t have to pay for, is pretty fun.

The weekend event is even more unique — a “speed-base”. Each weekend you start with nothing, everything runs at 20x speed, with special loot as you progress. For more fun, random Legendary troop equipment gives you different super-troops each time. The ultimate reward is a 1-of-a-kind Artifact (a permenent bonus) for your real base. There’s no possible way to get to the end without spending money, but… you can carry over points. If you play it a dozen weekends in a row, you might save up enough to finish one day. This is so cool — it’s theoretically possible to finish for free. But after 2 months, you’ll just spend $10 to finish.

The afore-mentioned equipment is used for another clashy problem — you get more loot from lots of weak “losing” attacks. To encourage going for a win, BftGWG wins give a random equipment card. Any troop or defense type or hero gets a small bonus. There’s no limit, but it slows down, so it’s a constant incentive to win a few.

Onto the monetization. You start with 4 builders instead of the usual 2. But after a week you’re down to one. It turns out 3 of them were temporary. Yowch! You need to spend gems for more, pronto! Item #2 is the hero hut. You’re allowed to build one right away, but it costs gems. Gems! Who does that? Even better, it’s on sale for the first week — there’s a little slash through it and “50% off” by the new price. After a few levels a second hero hut unlocks — more gems to get it.

The third currency — what would be Dark Elixir in Clash of Clans — is diabolical. You only get it from special events. There’s no way to steal or make it yourself. But right away you can build things with it. Your last cannon, and machinegun, and so on can only be bought with anti-matter. They glow bright pink in your base. But they’re a pathetic level 1. It costs even more anti-matter to upgrade them. You can also use it to buy a unique infantry squad that fights in every attack. You could wait until level a million, when you can afford it, or buy it now with a few bucks.

Now back to that equipment. It turns out you only win Common equipment. The game suggests otherwise, but it’s only Common. A tool-tip says you can create better stuff by merging. You can’t. Legendary equipment is only gotten from buying loot chests. Sigh. Everyone deletes games with loot chests. But if you can sneak them in like this, people might grit their teeth an buy them.

This last one is awesome for creatively and cruelty. Your entire army is managed through one Space Port building. Your army camps are inside of it (spaceships). You can buy more SpacePorts. 5 SpacePort buildings means you can have 5 armies trained up at once. That’s the creative part. The cruel part: since they’re seprate buildings, each spaceport needs to be upgraded individually. Your second SpacePort holds 20 troops when you first buy it. The very cruel part: you start with only one SpacePort, which means no back-up army, and the rest cost gems.

Despite the clever parts, good and bad, gameplay is staid. Defenses get too tough, too fast, the mortar is far too powerful, most units are weak, the giants pretty much disolve, the healers aren’t smart enough to look for wounded units. But the speed-base and 10-person competitions, and troop classes — really good ideas.

[Game]G.I. Joe:War on Cobra

The GI Joe clash-like (GI Joe: War on Cobra) actually has some nice ideas for base design. Ultimately the game isn’t great because troop upgrades come from random chests. Paying players have obviously better troops. But that’s not the base designers’ fault.

For the basic set-up: bases are attacked from the bottom, with the lighty-armed HQ across the top. A strip of usable ocean runs up the right side. The 2 resources, gems and oil, are at fixed spots on both edges. The base grows in only one direction, down, meaning attacks are up a wide path. Defenders have a few indesctructable, non-interlocking wall sections, but they can be fired over.

The fixed resource locations are nice because you get troop points for destroying buildings (not a new idea, but not common). Those oil rigs along your right shore can be destroyed by a cheap ship, giving a pile of troop points. The gem mines up against the left can be shot by cheap infantry hugging the mountains. You can spread out your defenses to cover them all, partly cover some, or just give the enemy some free points and keep a concentrated defense. For my money, the fixed oil and gem sites help keep it interesting.

Many buildings can be killed with a single area of effect spell. But there are lots of them. An airstrike can easily kill a mortar, or an air defense, or a cluster of resource buildings for the energy, or a soft enemy leader. Two airstikes will kill anything. Boom Beach has this style, and it’s nice — “here’s my defense, you can remove any 2 things from it before attacking”.

You’re allowed only 1 of each troop. I’m not sure if this was a design or practical choice, but it works pretty well. You start with a single ship. If it’s destroyed, you can pay the cost again for a new one, but not until then. An undefended ocean allows that 1 ship to sail up and attack the HQ (just barely, moving up the coast and firing inland), but even the HQ’s weak guns can fight it off. Likewise, you have one air unit. You can spell-blast both air defenses, but you can’t then launch a swarm of air units.

Something new that I’m not so sure about is how weapons need to be within a few spaces of a tough energy generator building. You have plenty of them — enough to have some guns connected to 2 in case the enemy targets your power supply. The main thing the energy requirement accomplishes is making it awkward to set one lonely gun guarding your oil.

Troops can be controlled pretty well. It’s clever, you drag the troop’s icon (which is free because of the “only one” rule) over the new target. You don’t need to use this often since troops are fairly smart, and prefer killing defenses. This makes the game somewhat un-clashy.

Altogether I can almost recommend this. There’s a certain amount of wonkiness and odd tuning (oil goes from hard to get, to being awash in it, meanwhile gems run boom and bust). The early bases are ridiculously easy. You’re punished harshly for losing a battle with massive, crippling repair costs. But once you get to other players, the fights are unique. Just don’t expect to have any fun watching replays. No one who you have a reasonable chance against will attack you. And if you’ve seen GI Joe as a kid, be warned; that characters here vaguely resemble the real ones.

Army Camp math

Some of the fun in clash-likes is how the rules use the buildings as explanations, which then influence the rules. Army Camps are a particularly neat example. Your army doesn’t need to be displayed on the base at all. It has no role in defense. But it’s so fun. We make little open-air army camps and show the troops wandering around. Freshly made troops walk into the camps. They walk to the new location when a camp moves. Donated troops walk out of the camp and off the map. That all looks just terrific, and then the fun starts.

Most games simply make a chart of what you get at each level. Reach level 8 and your army size is 90, and so on. We can do that with clash-likes, at first. Our one Army Camp uses those numbers as it upgrades. But tradition says players eventually get a second Army Camp. Tradition also says it has to work the same as the first. So if we go by our buildings, the army size has to double when we get that second camp. We don’t want to do that, but we can make it work, since we really like how buildings make the rules, or appear to.

An army camp, currently holding sorcerers and treants, from Castle Clash

The next is one where the buildings lose out. Suppose we have three 35-space Camps, 105 spaces total, and want dragons costing 25. Each camp can only hold one dragon, so we can have 3. But we can’t do that. Most people probably won’t even see why 4 is wrong. So forgot the buildings. Army size is one flat number. We’ll ignore the way the buildings say it should work

Then we come to the back-up army, where the rules get a big win over the buildings. The problem we want to fix is where you open the App, attack, then have to wait 10 minutes to play again. We like making them wait between attacks when they play for an hour. That sells training time speed-ups. But having that kick-in after the first attack seems brutal. It scares off new players. We want to let them train 1 back-up army, so they start off with 2 attacks in-a-row.

The thing is, we’ve established that troops are trained, walk into the camps, and it all stops when the camps are full. If you could keep training troops after the camps were full, storing them in some pocket dimension, the troop limit wouldn’t mean anything. We’ll have to invent some new type of building, or extension, or something to explain how we can have a back-up army. Sadly, we couldn’t think of anything. We’ll keep our backup army in a pocket dimension. So now our troop limits make no sense, you can’t figure out the rules from looking at the buildings, but the game is better, so who cares?

[Game]Caravan Wars

Caravan Wars is a clash-like with a new way of making your defense. That’s rare. Plenty of games play around with building types, where you can attack from, and so on. But making a completely new type of thing to attack is a tough nut.

In Caravan Wars, as you might guess, you attack other players’ caravans. They slowly, automatically, crawl through a section of windy road as you attempt to slaughter everyone in them. You have an army, plus some towers alongside. You’ll need both since the caravans are massive. There’s no special thing you need to destroy — winning and loot are based on percent destruction, before the caravan escapes.

The roads are 6 spaces wide and each caravan section is 10 spaces long. You can fill yours with 60 small troops, or larger more powerful units. Wagons, if you use them, don’t fight, but can hold a heavy weapon. As you level up, more 6×10 caravan sections unlock, with a small gap between. I currently have 3, for 180 slots total.

2 sections of a caravan make their way past an attacker’s mortar towers

You’d think that the caravan simply turns into a giant melee to the death as soon as it hits your army, making it all pointless. But the defenders tend to want to walk their route. Wagons never even stop — the weapons fires at everything in range, but they never stop. Distracted troops like to run back to their spots when done. Some battles are your army trying to catch up with the undestroyed part of the caravan. Further, caravans, though long and thin, have many more troops than you do. Attacking it head-on can be slow-motion suicide. One of the intro missions encourages you to wait for the first big group to pass, and ambush the second. 50% destruction counts as a win, so that’s a fine plan. Attackers also gain turret points as they go. You’ll be able to toss more towers up ahead and sometimes harass your way to a win.

Placing defensive units in the first caravan section

There also seems to be quite a bit of variety in caravans. Some like a horde of archers surrounded by tougher pikemen. Others put tough paladins only in the front and back. Some enjoy mostly weapon-carrying wagons, with lasers, mortars, or just powerful shingle-shot guns. There are even healers. On the other hand, troops level-up individually. You can simply use all of your best.

In order to have something to attack, other players need to send out caravans. The game does a nice job with that. You naturally get lots of the “cargo” resource. Cargo caravans turn it into gold. You’ve got a menu with multiple options for sending out caravans of varying durations, with quest rewards for sending enough. The reports even look good — they show a progress line with a dot for if-and-when you were attacked.

Now for the not-so-good part. You collect re-usable troop cards from chests. A common system and fun for a while. Later you find Epic and Legendary cards, at random. You can merge them for level 2+ cards. It quickly becomes obvious that gem-spending players have an army of Mega Legendaries, much better than anything low-spenders can grind for. Attack towers upgrade nicely at first, then their mega-upgrades unlock. You get tower tokens by sacrificing massive amounts of extra troop cards (massive as in: you splurged on chests for Legendaries, and these are the surplus commons).

Spells are strictly limited. You can’t brew them. The only way to get spells is buying 4-6 each day from the shop. That’s 2 battles. I’ve got 20 of each spell saved up from early on, but they’re going fast. Brutal as it is, I have to respect the cleverness. You could get more spells by checking the market at all hours, but the $5 hundred-of-each-spell pack is looking pretty good.

The amount they make you wait before attacking again is funny. After an attack you’ll need to wait for dead troops to heal. But winning a battle may activate a 15-minute “troops instantly heal” spell. It affects the troops you just lost, but you can’t count on getting it. So the best plan is fighting weak opponents until the insta-heal turns on. Then you can attack for real. It’s quite strange. You may plan to attack only once, but get the buff and decide not to waste it. Or you may spend 1/2-hour fishing for it.

There’s a steampunk theme, sort of. One wagon is a mini-zeppelin, and the healer is a tech-based artificer. But there’s also a skeletal lich, a rockman, and a charging knight (that stuns). And Griffons and so on. I suppose it’s fine.

SR:L isn’t boring enough

The collectable hero game Shadow Raid:Legends got me thinking about the complexity of mobile games, in two ways. One is the reasonable-seeming thing mobile games have gotten very good at — starting simple and gradually ramping up the complexity. The other is the total amount of complexity that players want.

I like to think I like complicated games — even where you have to take out a sheet of paper and plan. But I’ve quit games for having too much thinking. I open them up, remember I’d been trying to think of a team to fight the new boss monster, just wasn’t in the mood, that goes on for a few days, and I’m done with that game.

I’m fine with new features gradually unlocks — it’s good teaching. But we all know how it goes from good to bad. “I’ll let you play 5 matches with only these rules before I toss in new ones” turns into “I’ll force you to play 50 matches before you earn the new rule”.

Those two things combine in a weird way. Many games start out too easy, but we know that means nothing. Many stay easy for quite a while, but we know that means nothing. A month may or may not be long enough. There’s this weird situation where we never know the “real” game. Maybe it gets good later, or maybe it’s fine now and gets too complex later.

Shadow Raid: Legends is one of the most boring genres of mobile games — collectable heroes. It starts like them all — you have a Common hero, find more and better heroes, find better armour and weapons, unlock the “ring” slot and start finding better rings. Always growing in power. Pretty soon you’re watching them fight the same monsters 100’s of times, hoping for a helmet with at least 4 stars and a +defense stat. And that’s fine. It’s almost like a slot machine — today I killed monsters for only 14 minor force potions, and no major ones, but there’s always tomorrow.

The weird thing is, it does get complex. After a slow start, in a genre where the players never expect anything special, it gets complex. After a while you realize the red/green/blue color system actually matters — you prefer green heroes against red bosses, and so on. At first you were equipping just whatever you found, but then you realize it’s completely mix-and-match — you can make someone absurdly hard-to-kill, or all offense and extremely fragile. You start meeting boss monsters with special abilities requiring specially-made teams to counter them.

Here’s some paraphrased advice from the game: to beat this area it helps if you have one of these 3 super-rare heroes. Otherwise there’s an adequate one by playing a certain dungeon about 100 times. Then play these other areas 100’s of times for about a week for a full set of +speed equipment. Next … .

I was thinking back about other games like this, and realized how hard they worked to not have a strategy. For example, healing characters are tough, do pretty good damage, and don’t heal all that much. Special abilities tend to be minor and difficult to coordinate. Equipment is pre-set. Those game work hard to make nothing matter. You can always play a bit, win something that shows a green “this will make you more powerful” up-arrow, use it, and eventually be able to beat slightly tougher monsters. You never have to ask someone how to beat X. The answer is always the same — get bigger numbers. Those games never get complex, which is on purpose, and the point.

Plarium makes SR:L. To me, they’re known for copying mechanics from other games, scrambling them together in a “see what sticks” style. They’re original, in the sense of never having seen those particular things combined. SR:L seemed pretty well thought-out for them. Then I realized how insane it was: a game for people who like to plan, but are happy pressing the same button for an hour, every day for a week, for a chance to try that plan.

I have to mention the art department. I’m always surprised, even through I shouldn’t be, by how completely separate it is — like a movie with beautiful costumes and sets, but terrible dialogue.

The 100’s of 3D heroes are divided into various factions. The good guys are Telarians and the neutrals are the Gaellen Pact. That sounds like something. There are lots of knight heroes, but divided into the Sacred Order (not that interesting), the Banner Lords (banners? what kind of banners?) and the evil Knights Revenant (undead former-knights). We never learn anything more, but it draws you in. There’s an entire faction of rock trolls, and another of lizardmen. They did a really nice job with variety, but making them look related. The next is the Skinwalkers — whoa! — minotaurs, devil dogs, and other abominations. I think they had a ton of fun designing them, and it shows. The worst thing is the name — there’s nothing about Shadows or Raids in this game.

I can’t recommend it (well, if you’re never played a collectable hero game and want to try one, once, and have a high tolerance to electronic addiction), but if you see someone playing it, ask if you can look through the screens where it shows every hero in the game. Really pretty.

The Black Parade

The best part of The Black Parade, by Kyoko M, are the heroine’s feelings for her ex-boyfriend. He’s a Mr. Right who treats her well and wants a family. But she’s terminally poor, since her supernatural job pays nothing; an orphan – her mom died in an asylum – and drinks too much. He’ll eventually realize she’s not good enough. It’s sad when we find out that she’s the one who broke it off. The second best part are the 3 men fighting for her love: the ex-BF comes back and still wants her; she saved an Angel’s life and now he’s falling in love with her; and an evil demon, who originally needed to human-sacrifice her, is now sending her sex dreams to convince her to be his slutty eternal queen. Third best part: her platonic angel friend watches her put on a slinky black dress to go on a second date with Mr. Right. On the way she’s cut-up all over by a monster, forcing her to cancel the date and go back to the Angel. He’s forced to magically heal her by kissing and licking her entire body, during which time they realize they love each other.

So, obviously, the book is totally a paranormal romance. A later one in the series even has a cover from the “bare-chested faceless man” stock photo collection. If you care about a plot, or anything unique, skip this series. But it’s interesting since it seemed to start as a real book.

The jacket tells us she needs to help 100 ghosts find peace in two years, or she’ll be sent to hell. OK, it actually starts with her having 2 days left to save the final 3 ghosts. Even so, that could be fun – a tense 3 days. We see her scrambling to work at the diner, the manager with a soft spot for oddballs like her, her best waitress friend who knows not to pry and is mid-divorce anyway. It turns out ghosts are easy to save, but you need to be ready at all times, work quickly and be a good listener (you don’t get “Dead Like Me”‘s notes with the time and place). She meets an oddball ghost, who gets more and more mysterious… . Then we toss all that away. It’s like someone took over 1/3rd of the way through. The plot is now incompetent demons chasing her and her angel bodyguard, as they “banter”.

I’m going to say that the author isn’t trying for a genre – she’s just writing what she feels like, which is an urban fantasy for a few chapters, then a romance where the action jumps around much more than usual. I can’t even figure this one out: at the end of the book, after being only about her and her magically buff angel lover, the heroine goes to ex-boyfriend Mr. Right’s funeral. His mom never liked her, but his sister was always really nice. They catch up before the service, and make plans to stay in touch. That makes no sense in either genre. But it’s kind of fun.

[Game]Sky Clan: Clashes of Lords 3D

From the word-salad name you know something is seriously wrong with this game. That thing is that the mechanics are an exact copy of Clash of Clans, down to every number, building and troop type. Well, build times are doubled. But the art and design team did such a great job it’s worth mentioning.

It’s got a semi-steampunk theme. The clan hall is a round-topped greenhouse with wrought-iron for all of the delicate windows. Like all clan halls, it starts off to the side, broken. Weeds grow up the sides and half the windows are shattered. Beautiful. I can’t believe I repaired it before getting a picture. The liquid resource is Steam. It’s kept in fabulous iron-bound glass balls, filling with fluffy clouds of the stuff. Even the decorative peasants walking about your base are more and better than average.

Each building is a floating island in the sky, growing together if they’re not too far apart. The whole base is fully 3D and viewable from any angle. Lovely mountains are in the distance. The rubble is much nicer than usual – an old rusty windmill (on its own floating patch of dirt) a vibrant pool with flowers, the shattered rocks of a destroyed island, and more. Tapping a building creates a dangerous looking sand spill from the bottom (which, as you recall, is floating in the sky). But Clash of Clans still has them beat on building tapping sounds.

The wall drawing team clearly didn’t understand the game. The walls extend equally above and below the ground, with ghastly spikes. It’s just terrific. Except when they’re not at the edge of your base all you see is the stubby top part. Not even the spikes. And guess where the best place to put walls is in a clash-like? Not the edges.

All of the troops have a flying aesthetic. By that I mean they can’t fly over walls, but they can somehow fly up here and fly through any sky between buildings. The wall-breakers are cloth-wing gliders that fly in, bomb a wall, then fly away. The archers are lying down in floating bumper-cars with one mounted gun (they don’t look great). Giants are, obviously, floating robots. The regular grunts have barrels strapped to their backs, with huge arms on the sides. They mimic the two small arm-levers in front – seeing them smash is the cutest thing. It’s the most steam-punky thing in the game.

The new-ish feature that surprised me was a big grid, on an entirely different screen, that you explore with a ship (the same as Plunder Pirates). That’s where you fight computer bases and see the plot. You need to sail around and uncover hide-outs of the evil steam-robot king. The art department did so well. The islands you uncover look just great.

There’s one change from Clash-of-Clans, which you can probably guess: you get a hero much faster. It also levels up as you use it. But it’s not that powerful. On defense it crushes troops that ignore it – goblins and giants – but otherwise dies quickly enough. But you can spend a big pile of gems to buy a better one, or two more labelled as premium heroes. I watched one attack me on a replay. Not as bad as I expected, but definitely violates the informal “you can’t spend cash for a blatant advantage” rule.

Mercy Blade, Faith Hunter

Mercy Blade, by Faith Hunter, is the 3rd book in her longest “Jane YelllowRock” series. Her other is “Rogue Mage”. The book is a mess, like it was written by a hastily trained AI. Before making fun of it, the interesting parts:

The heroine, Jane, is a were-cat, but only sort of. She’s possessed by the spirit of a were-puma(*), which allows her to change into a puma(*) plus any animal she’s collected bones for, and may eventually turn her evil. Potentially more fun, the cat-spirit talks to her, in pidgin english. I say potentially since all it says in this book are things like “wolves bad”. But it does move the plot along, once, by yelling “mine” at the sight of her possibly ex-boyfriend with another woman.

In this world, vampires go insane for a decade after first being created, and frequently there-after. To make up for that, since ancient Babylon vampires have existed in symbioses with a rare shape-changing reptile who can cure their madness. And, for no good reason, these creatures also mercy-kill kill young vampires who never regain their wits. This is the “Mercy Blade” from the title.

In the series, vampires have been known to exist. In this book, to the general public’s great shock, were-cats reveal themselves. We find out that most were-creatures breed true, but not werewolves. They’re the lowest of the low, and can only grow the pack by biting humans. Other were-creatures ban this. To enforce it, they keep trained Scottish swampmen with super-speed and razor claws, whose only job is to instantly murder werecats biting humans for fun.

(*)The book calls her “skin walker” spirit a mountain lion. But it’s set in New Orleans (which we learn from the book is 90% bars and brothels, and no longer serves cajun food). Mountain Lion is more of a western term. She should be called a were-panther. Or a were-cougar. Puma, cougar, panther, mountain lion – all the same animal. But I digress.

The book has romance elements, but odd ones. We start with her and her boyfriend naked in bed, waking up. She drools over his abs and worries that she hasn’t told him her dark cat secret. In the last book, she rescued him in were-cougar form, but he got partial amnesia. But it’s only a matter of time since he figures it out, since he’s a human elite cop. We don’t see him for the rest of the book.

Next she meets a slim, sexy swordsman who saves her after he tricked her vampire boss into sending her to meet him at a werewolf bar (did I mention the plot makes no sense)? All of the werewolf clawing requires them to partly undress each other, tending to wounds. Sexy swordsman has powerful love magic, which she resists, but he’s still very mysterious and cute. But in later chapters he’s dropped as a love interest. I think the author forgot about it. He’s just a good guy who we think is a bad guy until the last minute, since he acts suspicious for no reason.

We next turn to her boss’s bodyguard, who Jane had a fling with before dating the cop. He begs her to let him hide out at her place, then makes sex jokes until she agrees to slow-dance with him, which gets her all hot. Then in a later chapter he sneaks into the shower with her, and she likes it. In the book it’s even more gross and rapey than I make it sound.

All through the book, she worries about her missing man. He’s been seen with a hot redhead, and isn’t returning calls, but he’s probably on an undercover seduction mission with the sexy werecat lady, or the werewolf lady, or both (it’s both). Jane can’t decide whether to wait, or to cheat on him (this is where her puma-spirit yells “mine”, letting us know she still wants him).

There’s a disturbing amount of, well, you decide: after most fights she’s described as bloody, dirty and stinky. She has to strip down and hose-off the gross sweat and dried blood, new blood; some hers, some not; out of all the crevices of her body. The shower scene actually happened when they both needed to clean off lots of blood at the same time. Later, her boyfriend was being turned into a werewolf. It involves biting, frequent sweaty sex with the she-wolf, and being kept covered in her sweat and saliva in-between. So, all of that is part of some sort of sex fetish, right?

Unlike a real UFDR, she doesn’t have female friends, or any friends, and very little inner life. Her best friend is her female roommate, but she’s out-of-town for the entire book. We get one brief phone call with her near the end. Sub-letting is a friend of her friend, a visiting witch, who Jane YellowRock dislikes and hasn’t talked to. The only two other women are the werecat and “werebitch”, who both rape her boyfriend, are otherwise huge sluts, and die horribly (by the Scottish lizard, and by Jane). Jane’s closest relationship is with her on-call all-male ultra-competent merc squad. Altogether, the book feels like more of a male sex-fantasy of the “she could beat me up anytime” type.

The writing is a awkward. My favorite passage, paraphrased, is “I loaded the Benelli M4 shotgun with seven 2.5 inch standard rounds”. This is part of the long description of weaponing up, including the many stabby hairpins she wears in her waist-length hair. She’s endlessly taking them out and putting them back in as she’s searched, or goes out dancing. She never even uses them. Back to the gun, as with every gun, we assume it has the normal amount of bullets of the correct size. In the movie version they can turn “I spent 15 minutes dressing myself in knives, leather, and guns” into a whole scene, which may require changing the type of shotgun for legal reasons.

Later on she’s chatting with her former lover about security (she works for the vampire who runs the city. Yawn). A page of techo-babble about cameras. In a book you can write “I told him about how security cameras have changed in the last 10 years, and he was so impressed he kept looking up to my eyes before going back down to my breasts again”. See how that tells us what we need to know? And now you have room for “I felt his hot breath on my neck as I described sliding in fiber optic cables”.

Rounding out this whole mess is the plot. The werecats of Africa are in town for a public high-level alliance with the vampires of New Orleans, to ensure their safety. Map check: New Orleans is in America, near Florida, which is nowhere near Africa. An alliance is pointless. Sexy elf swordman is the anti-insane-vampire creature, but was thrown out 50 years ago after an argument so bad they forgot he was vital to vampire ecology. As were the werewolves. They now have proof the head vampire committed murder and are pursuing legal remedies. But get bored and hire wizards to help them attack vampire HQ. Finally, the head vampire’s 2nd bodyguard has also been killing people and planting evidence to frame the sexy head bodyguard. Jane sums it up at the end: “there were so many plots no one could have figured it out”.

It’s not so much that it’s stuffed full of something for everyone. It’s the general incompleteness of it all. She’s multi-cultural – well, sort of. She’s more like a white man with a few scenes dropped in. But my biggest beef is she works for your basic city-running vampire. Those guys are supposed to be soulless and evil. You tolerate them, or work with them against something worse. It’s against the genre.

My ultimate beef is the deux ex machina of scent. At first her puma form can smell some clues. Then she turns into a bloodhound to really track one particular scent. Then we give up trying to explain. She can now smell werewolves in a moving car from 1/2 a mile away. From the scent of her boyfriend’s day-old blood she can tell he’s not dead. The last few chapters – she just smells everywhere she needs to be. Which is fine, since anyone who has a problem with that has quit reading long before now, anyway.

[Game]Fort Stars

The special thing about Fort Stars is how it makes a side-view base work. Usually these are boring single paths. Fort Stars makes it somewhat exciting. But the rest of the game — ug.

Instead of placing defenses in an empty castle, you place rooms. They go in several stacks surrounding your Throne Room. The attacking team of 3 heroes fight their way through. They prefer the bottom, but if lured onto an elevator with one of your “go here” spells, they’ll gladly continue along that level. The Throne Room is a mini-boss. Beating it ends the battle. The heroes have probably gone through 3 rooms out of 15. They haven’t even touched the other side.

Here’s where it gets good. Some of those skipped higher-up rooms held the gold. Oops. Some were “buff” rooms that made the ground-floor monsters tougher, or long-range catapults. But more than that, merely beating the Throne Room is worth only 1 victory star. For the full 3 you need to destroy about 2/3’s of the base (the game shows the count). You’ll need to use that “go here” spell to drag them on a route. Even more fun, the defenders get points for each hero they kill. You have to beat that or you lose. If you go for broke but lose your 2 weaker heroes, aborting back to the Throne Room is no longer an option — you’ll lose 2 to 2.

The fun of the game is pushing your luck to get more gold and stars. Besides the “go here” spell, you can aim the heroes special attacks, and summon various monsters and blasts. But otherwise your heroes just do what they want. Setting up a defense seems interesting — plenty of interesting rooms, a point-limit, and a variety of traps.

The bad stuff comes in 2 parts. Everything in the game advances by collecting cards from chests, mostly from grinding your dailies. There’s a direct correlation between how many days you’ve actively played and your overall level. The second badness is the completely new gameplay in a “crush your neighbors” world map. You have to join a guild and kick lesser guilds out of the choice areas. I’m not sure what that eventually gets you in the regular game, but it must be something.

And now the mandatory aesthetics complaint: the start of the battle shows spectators, cheering your guys as they run past fireworks. The characters are the Stars in a “Fort Stars” sporting event. It seems clumsy – I assume it’s to lower the parental guidance rating.