Sweet Ships With Windows
The launch of a new Kickstarter campaign by Envy Born Games offers three tiny games, Sirens, Defrag and 16 Candies, featuring different themes with unique mechanisms for 1 to 2 players.
I’ve been enjoying playing two of these games both solo and with my partner in board game anarchy, otherwise known as ‘The Husband’, and am here to tell you why.
Life Before Solid State
As a Computer Science teacher with a software architect for a husband I was excited to get my hands on a game called Defrag. Distant memories of “can you help me, my computer is running really slow”; to a response of “when did you last run defragmentation?”; followed by a bemused response of “run a what now” still ringing in my head.
Whilst Solid State Drives negate this utilities requirement these days, for those of us still using Magnetic Hard Disk Drives the fear remains very, very real. Upon running this system utility software you might find you’re waiting an hour, two, or more likely more because who ever ran defragmentation anyway? Your patience rewarded with an organised hard drive and a tiny bit of extra speed.
Who Needs To Look After A Hard Drive Anyway?
This tiny little game really does instil how defragmentation works and can help you emphasise the time taken to run this age old task. I wish I’d had this game when I used to teach A Level IT to help my students understand what defragmentation does. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle aspects of the game and how it represents the process of moving and reorganising files. Taking around 20 minutes to play a game it’s considerably quicker than performing the real thing and, unsurprisingly, a lot more fun.
Defrag is described as a hand management grid puzzle game and that’s exactly what you get. This game involves some strategy mixed with a little bit of luck as you attempt to plan the moves you will make with the hand you are dealt.
The rulebook was a little long and in my opinion not always clear so I’m not 100% I’ve played it totally accurately however… You start the game by shuffling all the system cards and then lay 8 out on the table in a square shape leaving a card sized space in the middle. When laying the initial 8 cards you can place them in any orientation and you can flip them to whatever side you want, the more random the better!
Essentially, the purpose is to reorganise these fragmented files whilst attempting to score points for stacking different file types together. Gameplay happens over four rounds with you choosing one of each of the four file types to score per round, remember you can only score each file type once.
Running The Utility
Play begins by drawing two cards from the leftover deck, created from the system cards still unused. From the two cards in your hand you can choose one to place within your grid (this can be outside of the square next to another card, and doesn’t have to be the empty middle square). This card is always placed with the middle defragmentation text orientated so you can read the word Defrag left to right.
I’m still undecided about the cards and my copy did have 1 with an error on it which will presumably be sorted before fulfilment. On each face of the card it displays that side’s attributes but then also displays in a much smaller image the exact icons that are shown on the flipped side of the card. I found this a little distracting at first, then I found it useful when I wanted to perform a flip card action (which you can take when recycling a card) then I just stopped noticing them altogether. They made the card feel a little busy and I would have preferred a less obtrusive way to display this information, however, I can see the ‘utility’ in it.
Placing cards gives you actions, and options. When placing a card within the grid next to another card, or cards, first, look to see if there are any matching file types on any of the card sides. Any matching symbols will allow that card(s) to be rotated. But note you can not use affects on the card just placed, meaning you can’t rotate the card you just put in the grid when you first place it. This is something to consider when you are thinking longer term about how to bring all your file types together.
Once cards have been rotated, or not if there were no matches, actions can now be performed. The action is shown in the middle of the card next the recycle bin, because every card allows recycling. Actions vary such as being able to move a card up or down, to only being able to move a card to the left or to the right. Some cards even allow initialisation of special moves such as performing a network action which is super useful as it allows the movement of one card from anywhere on the grid to any location within the row or column where the network card was placed. This can be really useful when trying to stack rogue outlying files.
As you’d expect Defrag includes a rule book which, for my taste, was a little text heavy and could be clearer in some places. There is a change in type font depending on what you are reading and there are some anecdotal comments within, which computer enthusiasts may find fun. As I said I’ve been playing the prototype so the rule book may be tidied up but I found some text would refer to things like they were on the same page when in fact they were on the next page and I felt overall it could have flowed better. That said, I think I understand the rules and if I’m correct, after the initial hurdle of reading the rule book they are actually fairly simple to remember and get to grips with.
When a card is within the grid the file type showing at the top of the card is considered the ‘active’ file type. There are 1, 2 or 3 of these small images showing on each side of a card and each image is considered as 1kb of data, therefore scoring 1 point per image. For example, on a card you could have 2 notepad images, 3 notepad images, 1 graph image and 2 system images. It is this active file type and size that is used when scoring, therefore if the 2 notepad images were at the top then you would score two notepads within this stack. There is also an image representing a helpfile which acts as a wild file type.
Use actions to rotate cards and manoeuvre active file types together, eventually placing them on top of each other to form a stack ready for final scoring.
Blue Screen Of Death
Scoring points happens at the end of each round. A round ends when there are no more cards to place. It is possible to score 0 points in a round if you fail to stack all active file types together, as your drive remains fragmented. If this happens simply choose which file type, out of the ones not yet scored, to assign 0 points to. You can use a special file type, the tree to join two stacks together if they are on the same row or column and this can be really useful to maximise points.
The four file types available are Notepad, Paint, Graph and System and I quite liked the old school artwork of these. Simple yet nostalgically effective.
During round 1, 2 or 3 you could think strategically and set up file types you plan to score within the next round, even starting stacks if you want to, but remembering stacks can’t be rotated.
After the round ends remove the stack that was used for scoring a file type, choose a random card to be removed, add any recycled cards and shuffle to form the new draw deck. If for any reason you run out of cards and have none to draw at the start of a round then your game ends, your hard drive dies and you have instantly lost the game.
At the end of four rounds when all 4 file types have been scored add up your total and use the table within the rule book to see if you’ve made it to supercomputer status or if you are stuck using Windows M.E. There are tie-breaker options to choose the winner but given my Surface has an SSD I won’t be using the defragment your hard drive option.
Viruses & Trojans, Oh My
So, I really enjoy puzzling. I loved the theme and I do think there can be a lot of challenge in the game. However, after playing this game over and over again it can start to get a little bit boring as you develop a strategy that works best. So how do you get any replayability from this game and keep it interesting… an advanced mode and scenarios to achieve of course.
In advanced mode you could play with chains, which are simply adjacent cards with the same file type facing each other but giving you more freedom to move cards around your chain instead of flipping a card when performing the recycle action. This could be really useful if you have a file type quite far away from the stack.
Defrag also comes with a little scenario booklet including 40 different scenarios for you to attempt to achieve. One of my favourites was the Virus set up because it really instils the havoc viruses can cause on a computer system. Though I didn’t like the look of the Trojan horse, but this could be because I’ve preferred playing this game solo or co-operatively rather than competitively and to utilise this scenario you needed to game decks.
Each specific file type represents 1kb file size so the early scenarios which require you to stack specific storage amounts of a file type(s) were also really interesting and considerably harder to achieve giving that balance of making the game more challenging to keep you puzzling and wanting to play more.
Scenarios added a lot more to the game because you have a specific goal to achieve, for example, I found not using stacks and having to chain a file type to equal a specific storage size really challenging. The beauty of the scenarios is that there are 40 so they provide heaps of replayability. You can also have fun trying to come up with some of your own if you fancied. As Bill Gate’s once said: “It’s Wild”.
Of course, this game can be played competitively but this requires another deck meaning you’d need two copies of the game which I didn’t have so I didn’t get to experience this game competitively at the same time, however, the husband and I played a few solo games each and compared scores which I think is essentially what is happening during the competitive mode anyway so this really feels like it is just a solo game where you’re trying to score high or achieve scenario goals. But I’m happy with my own company and love a good solo game, so win, win for me!
Beware The Siren’s Song
Sirens is the second game of the trio that I have been playing. There is a solo mode where you play against ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ but I didn’t really like this mode, I didn’t win much on easy and hard mode was nigh on impossible due to the massively over powered scoring your invisible opponent gets. I also didn’t like that you can make choices in your favour. I mean, I guess this is where the highly generous scoring is supposed to even out the game win results but I didn’t particularly like this feature. That said, I found this a really enjoyable game when playing competitively.
Siren utilises the deal a hand, then pick a card to keep, swap hands, pick a card to keep, and repeat until all cards are picked mechanism used in other successful games like Isle of Cats and Zuuli. I quite like this mechanism because I find it works really well for adding a bit of extra tension, especially when you’ve got your eyes on a card but you’ve prioritised another card instead and you’re waiting to see if your opponent steals it on their pass.
Unlike Defrag I found that this game worked much better competitively and I really liked the challenge of seeing your sea scene come together over the two rounds.
Making Sweet Music
On initial looking at the rule book it can seem much more daunting than it actually is. Similarly to Defrag whilst looking complex to begin with the rules are actual quite simple and easy to learn. Scoring is also really clearly explained on the score help cards so after a few times of playing the game you can grasp some of the better ways to gain extra points.
It was particularly satisfying when despite being quite behind the husband on points at the moment we scored charms, boom… I’d prioritised correctly and beat him again and again.
There is a special rules card which adds an additional rule to follow and because of the randomness and amount of these it helps add to replayability but giving you something else that can affect gameplay.
There’s a lot going on, on these cards between the musical notes, the image of the waves, which don’t really impact gameplay, to the actual scoring mechanics of the hearts, charms, colours for flow and parts which can feel a little overwhelming the first few plays. However, it is really easy to get to grips with how these are scoring and the musical notes will have a super cool purpose that’s just for fun. Well until you fall under the siren song spell that is.
So what did I think… although all the games are 1 to 2 players and I did enjoy playing both Sirens and Defrag (I didn’t have 16 Candies to try out) I strongly felt that Defrag was better solo and Sirens was better as a player v player game. But hey, the Kickstarter literally markets itself on those different mechanisms and gameplay so you’re certainly getting that with these games.
When scoring in Defrag, despite achieving ‘supercomputer’ status I’ve not managed to get a massive amount of storage when stacking cards but 640kb ought to be enough for anybody.
I’m really looking forward to being able to find the app to play the music my Siren games made. This just seems such a cool little add on feature that took the enjoyment to a next level. Will I at some point get bored of hearing the songs being played at the end of the game. I mean maybe, but in the initial stages of playing the game and introducing other people to it, it is just something that really added an extra “this is cool” element. In fact, I may try to talk a music teacher into giving it a whirl on the piano at school.
Are the games worth Kickstarting or buying when they come to retail? I think if you like fun, little, quick, simple games I’d give them a go. I’ve Kickstarted them as I’m really interested to see the final products and components. They’re reasonably priced especially if backing the all-in game bundle deal that also comes with a sleeve.
Will I play them again? I’m already looking for ways I can bring in Defrag into my extra-curricular activities at school bringing together my two passions of board gaming and computing. Sirens I’m not sure I’d play as much, but for speed and ease it will most certainly come back to the table when I want a quick simple game. And 16 candies… well I look forward to seeing how that plays now that the the Kickstarter has fulfilled!