[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 and paying players have vastly better troops. But that’s not the base designers’ fault.

The basic set-up: you start at the bottom of the enemy base, going up a long semi-wide area, with the lightly-armed HQ at the top. A strip of usable ocean runs up the right side, giving the option to try your few naval forces. The 2 resources, gems and oil, are at fixed spots along both edges. Defenders have a few short indestructible wall sections, but they can be fired over. Otherwise they place the usual array of guns and defending leaders.

Placing your attack troops costs energy, which you get more of for destroying buildings. You’re allowed only 1 of each squad, but can place it again when it’s destroyed (if you still have the energy). It’s easy enough to completely destroy a few defenses with spells, but that’s expected — they have lots of defenses. It’s the Boom Beach style: part of your plan is “I could zap those 2, or those, or a bunch of those for extra energy… .”

Making it so you can’t move around your gem and oil mines works well, It encourages more spread-out defenses to avoid giving the attacker free points for destroying them. Troops can be controlled pretty well. It’s clever, you drag the troop’s icon over to 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.

I’m not sure this next thing really helps. All weapons need to be within a few spaces of a tough energy generator building. You get lots of those, but not one for each gun. It mostly prevents you from setting one lonely gun to guard your ocean-based oil wells.

This game uses the terrible feature where troops are always ready but need to be repaired when damaged, which is very expensive in this game. It really penalizes losing and encourages you to attack only weak bases. Luckily, the game does a bad job selecting opponents and you can often find suitable targets. In return, your base will only be steam-rollered by players far out-ranking you. Both of those get old, fast.

As a bonus, if you’re a big GI Joe fan the 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 is really just a number for how big it can be. Since it’s not used in defense, it doesn’t need to be displayed on the base at all. But it’s so fun to have open-air army camps with the troops wandering around them. Freshly made troops walk from the troop-making building over to the camps. Donated troops walk out of the camp and off the map. That all looks just terrific. It’s even fun to look at other peoples’ bases to see what kind of army they have.

At first things align just fine. But the rules of a clash-like say you don’t just make one army camp get bigger and bigger. Instead you should get more of them. So now our building logic is telling us the army size must suddenly double at some point. Our one army camp slowly grew from 20, to 25, to 30, to 35. But then adding a second jumps our total army size to 70. That’s a big jump, but it’s fine. We can work with that since we don’t want to break our Army Camp logic. But our visual depiction of the rules is now making the rules. Neat.

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

Here’s another fun one. Suppose we have three 35-space Army Camps, 105 spaces total, and dragons cost 25. How many dragons can we have? It’s 4 since 4*25 is less than 105. But it’s also 3 since only one can fit in each camp. Hmmm… . It turns out players hate doing complex math, so we get 4 dragons. How we’re stuffing in that 4th dragon might break suspension of disbelief, but the alternative is worse. The rules win over the visuals here.

Then we come to the back-up army. To be nice, the game allows you to train 1 extra army if you have time left from training the normal one. When you open the game after a long enough time you get to attack twice in a row, with no delay between since your back-up army trained overnight. That’s nice. But where is that entire extra army kept? Nowhere. But if we can keep troops nowhere, why is our army limited by how many fit into the Camps? Best not to think too much about it.

Final score: Abstract rules: 2, Army Camp logic: 1

[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 as it plods along. Caravan troops will stay and fight by like to run and catch up 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 single-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. Sending out cargo caravans turn it into gold, and gives other players something to attack. 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 — a progress line with a dot for when (or if) 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. 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. Another issue, attack towers upgrade nicely at first, but then their mega-upgrades unlock. You buy those by sacrificing massive amounts of extra troop cards (massive as in: you splurged on chests to get mega-troops, and these are the surplus commons).

Spells are strictly limited. You can’t brew them. The only way to get spells is by buying 4-6 each day from the shop (with regular gold). That will last you 2 battles, tops. The game front loads you with 40 of each spell, but when you run out, ouch. I have to respect the cleverness. That $5 pack for 100 of each spell pack is looking pretty good right now.

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, all you want for 1/4th hour. 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. The famous all-themes theme.

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 YellowRock” series. Her other series 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 are known to exist by the general public. In this book, to 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 were-creatures who bite humans for fun.

(*)The book calls her “skin walker” spirit a mountain lion. But it’s set in New Orleans (which we learn is 90% bars and brothels, and no longer serves cajun food). The thing is, Mountain Lion is more of a Western states term. In the South it’s a panther. Puma, cougar, panther, mountain lion – all the same animal. But I digress.

The book has romance elements, but odd ones. We start with she 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 (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, I’ll let 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, that, uh, stuff, is part of a real-life 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 who’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 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 “I’d let her dominate me” type.

The writing is a awkward. My favorite passage, paraphrased, is “I loaded the Benelli M4 shotgun with seven 2.5 inch standard rounds”. Mmmm… 2.5 inches of standard, shiny brass in that Benelli, over and over, 7 times. Oh, yeah. 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.

Later on she’s chatting with her former lover about security (she works for the vampire who runs the city. Yawn) — it’s a full page of techo-babble about cameras. I don’t want to tell the author her job, but consider: “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. I felt his hot breath on my neck as I described sliding in fiber optic cables”. See how that tells us what we need to know without putting us to sleep?

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, somehow. In unrelated news, the werewolves have proof the head vampire committed murder and are pursuing legal remedies, but get bored and hire wizards to help them attack vampire HQ instead. 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 herself at the end: “there were so many plots no one could have figured it out”.

Did I mention she’s multi-cultural? Well, she is. Her last name, YellowRock, is a family name, not just made up by flower-children. And I’ve now done more with her multi-racial background than the book does. My biggest beef is she works for a basic city-running soulless evil vampire. You tolerate those guys, and work with them against something worse. You’re not suppose to work for the evil monster.

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 she can smell werewolves in a moving car from 1/2 a mile away, and 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.

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).