[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.

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn, is about an Asian female superhero team. But mostly about one member who fits the mold. It’s different, but the same.

Way back in Book One (this is Book Three) a demon army invaded earth. They’re like demons from the old TV show “Charmed” — the important ones have unique magic powers. The invasion was stopped and demon powers were flung into nearby humans — three young Asian women who become superheroes. Our main character got telepathy and weak mind-control. The backstory today is that the former invasion portals are being watched and rogue minor demons hunted down. This book follows a new demon trying to sneakily invade. So that’s fine.

Besides her powers, the main character is just a human 20-something. She has the self-control and attention span of a 6-year-old, driven by the insecurity of being the baby of the group. She’s also manic – every faint idea of hers spirals out into poster-boards, vague plans, imagining the universal acclaim she will receive; then a new idea an hour later. That’s bit much much, but it’s written well enough.

But, true to the genre, she’s devoted to her many friends. She has a meaningful conversation/cry with her older sister, makes up with an old frenemy, comes to respect a formerly aloof female friend, and, after many, many attempts, finds out why she can’t romantically set up her boss with anyone. Her boss has a small, ugly dog (named Pancake). Babby-sitting it will become an important plot point.

Romance-wise there’s one guy. She couldn’t possibly consider anyone else. There’s a full page where she fantasizes about him in the shower. Then we get two lengthy sex scenes detailing exact tongue and hand placement to bring her to ecstasy. I miss the old days where a vampire’s teeth sent waves of full-body tingling and we could move on.

The atmosphere is explicitly 3rd-generation. The super-hero team has a fan-site. The biggest demon portal is in a couples-friendly sex shop. The demon traps are explicitly based on the movie GhostBusters. The fights have time-outs for the heroes to argue about fashion — the bad guys wait. The main character works in an independent bookstore specializing in paranormal romance series. Made-up ones. The main character’s favorite is an out-of-print dragon romance series; the store’s biggest seller is a 9-book series about slutty were-porcupines, loved for the sex scenes.

The main plot is too fast. As readers we don’t get think we know what’s going on, only to be surprised. They’re investigating too many leads without enough people, accidentally landing in fights, going back over old evidence they forgot about while having shower sex, and in general being hit with bad-guy stuff faster than they can react. I think they defeat the bad guy. He was attempting to steal back all of the loose demon powers for himself, maybe?

Hopefully you’re distracted enough by everyone’s personal growth. The book ends with the main character satisfyingly realizing she’s been working too hard to impress other people, purposely avoiding responsibility. She decides to take more of a leadership role, doing what we’ve known all along was her true passion. And, seriously, that’s what these books are about.

[Game]Mad Rocket:Fog of War

The tag for “Mad Rocket: Fog of War” is that enemy bases are covered in fog, needing to be slowly revealed. That’s true, but undersells how original this game is. The mechanics are borrowed, but they fit together so well.

Firstly, the ground beneath bases is made from a dozen large tiles which you can arrange. Nothing exists outside of it. If they’re in an H shape then attacking troops need to walk down one leg and back up — they can’t cut across. Invaders are air-dropped inside this area, preferably directly on top of a cannon you want dead. Of course, you won’t know where that is until you clear the fog.

The little pieces of fog clear at the least provocation. Troops remove it as they move. Any spell clears the area underneath — the area-effect missile spell is great for this. If an unlucky drop puts your troops between 3 guns it’s not a waste — the guns are unfogged when they shoot you to death. That might seem too easy, but there’s lots of fog and you’re on the clock. It’s always a choice between clearing fog and guessing. You can even play without fog by using the Scout spell to clear it (which uses up a valuable spell slot, so is fair).

Now we get to the good part. Attacks are completely a race against the clock. You get 4 spells which can be cast over and over. Two are troop squads — regular soldiers and another squad of tough guys. Live or die, you get to place more every 45 seconds. You can cast a big missile swarm every 10 seconds, and a single-target rocket every 2 seconds. That’s just your starting line-up. Besides cool-downs, spells use energy. It regenerates quickly, but if you really need to fire 3 rockets in 6 seconds, some other spell will need to wait a few extra seconds while energy builds back up.

Clearly, keeping your troops alive for as long as possible, which is not very long, is the way to win. Your spells can destroy land-mines and guns, and uncover safe spots for the next group, while the troops shoot up the regular buildings.

Now we come to the really fun part. Every spell, including the airplane dropping your troops, can be shot down by air defenses. The basic air defense has a medium radius and fires like a machine gun. An air defense can easily defend itself against rockets, but it turns out that the tough-guy airplane is also pretty tough and can be used as a distraction. For the second or two it’s in flight it can distract an air defense, allowing another spell to fly in safely. Later you get an attack spell which does about the same thing (shoots up short line doing so-so damage but using a very tough airplane). Much later, you’ll get a unit who’s only job is to hover and distract air defenses. But by then the defenders have more types of air defense.

To give the defender some hope, all spells fly up from the bottom of the screen, which means bases tend to be attacked from the bottom up. A few sneaky people make a long, thin base with the air-defenses all in front, but after practice that just means you can distract and then kill them all-at-once. The best defenses have the attacker always needing to worry about spells being shot down.

The timing is frantic. You get 1 minute, 30 seconds for an attack, but destroying a building gives you a few more seconds. Destroying the HQ removes all fog, which is pretty nice, and gives you a larger boost to time. That system of adding seconds make battles more unpredictable. You can spend the entire last 30 seconds of a battle only seconds away from losing.

You might think the theme is modern military, but it’s science fiction. You’re on an alien planet, mining pretty green Eternium crystals for “The Scientists”. The bad guys are trying to get it before you do. For no reason, your reports are from young women wearing Sexy Scientist Halloween costumes. The troop models are a copy of Boom Beach: white male soldier, black tough-guy soldier, female sniper (actually called Laser Girl in this game. Yuck, especially when “laser ladies” is right there).