Friday, June 03, 2011


Kindle Games Roundup

l ended up buying the 2010 Kindle for two reasons:

See, the first time I used an iPod Touch, I couldn't help thinking, "This is the future of computers." It's just this screen that does things when you touch it. No keyboard, no wires, no mouse, nothing -- it's all right there. And yeah, maybe you'll want to connect a physical keyboard for word processing (no one who writes as much as I do could dream of a life of nothing but thumbtyping), but for most of the fun things you'll do with a computer, that's all you'd need. So when Apple came out with the iPad, it was like, huh, well that was inevitable.

The only trouble is, there's no way I could possibly justify buying one.

I already have a perfectly good laptop which is arguably as portable as an iPad and much more useful. I already have an iPod Touch which goes in my pocket and does all of the entertaining stuff an iPad could do, right down to the cheap touch-screen games. And these things cost hundreds of dollars! And then if you really want it to be useful away from the house, you need to buy a data package -- who the hell has all of this money?

Well, some people do, apparently, because I see them all the time in restaurants. And don't I just stew in jealousy, knowing they have this thing that I don't have a single use for, much less the money to throw at. I'm jealous because they're tapping zombie flowers and exploding birds on a MUCH BIGGER SCREEN. I want to be the person who does that! I'm a nerd! It's what I live for!

So the reasoning went, if I get a Kindle, maybe it'll trick the idiot caveman in my brain into thinking that I'm living in whatever image Apple has convinced me that I need to aspire to.

And taken on its own merits, the Kindle is an all right sort of thing. The web browser is, in some ways, better than what I expected, but it's still slower and clunkier than a proper computer. The 3G signal isn't flawless, but it's kind of neat to be on a camping trip, turn on the reading light, and check a website by the fire.

I wasn't expecting to be sucked into its stated purpose -- reading books -- but here we are. I've swiped a rich trove of public domain works for free, and despite my misgivings over the safety of digital content, I've even bought a couple books -- and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to buy more. It's really gotten me back into reading as a leisure activity. The text to voice has come in unexpectedly handy -- when you're laying in bed sick and you don't have the will to keep your eyes open, it's nice to have your computer read The Hobbit to you.

Of course, none of this was enough to mollify my technolust because the iPad has GAMES. Cheap games. Casual games. Games that thrill and delight you for a couple minutes at a time. What's the point of a tablet device if you can't play any GAMES?!

When I first got my Kindle, they were just starting to roll out Active Content. The selection wasn't exactly inspiring. Word scrambles? Word searches? Tic-Tac-Toe? People were paying money for these things? It doesn't help that Amazon's website isn't really set up to make searching through active content particularly easy -- if there's a "list all" button somewhere, I haven't found it.

But the content has been accumulating. Board games and interactive fiction seem to be the order of the day for a device with a visible refresh rate. One day, I stopped in the shop to discover that they were teeming with fun-looking game-oids, and everything was on sale for a buck. When the price gets that low, caution goes out the window.

Today, I find myself sitting on a fat stack of Kindle games. Here's what my virtual game cupboard looks like:

Fighting Fantasy

Oh my god. Yes. So very much.

I owned one Fighting Fantasy gamebook when I was growing up, The Citadel of Chaos. It was amazing -- a proper dungeon crawling adventure in a Choose Your Own Adventure format, complete with character stats, dice rolling, inventory, spells, the works. I played through it over and over again until I finally cracked all of the puzzles, found all the right items, and survived to the end.

Now the series is coming out on Kindle, and it's just so good.

Not only does it keep track of all game stats and run combat automatically, but it also features an automatic mapping feature that persists from one session to the next, so you can see at a glance which paths you've taken already and what you've found down them when you play through a second time. They try to jazz up the combat a bit with a "Full Roll" option that gives you the opportunity to stack the dice slightly, but you can also play it traditionally, and that works just as well.

These really are more than just CYOA stories; these are proper games.

Choice of Games

Another approach to multiple-choice interactive fiction comes from the Choice of Games folks. These games are more structured and linear than your typical CYOA fare; the emphasis is less on "which plot will I branch off to?" and more on "how will I approach the challenge presented in this chapter?" There are ways to lose, but not nearly as many as in most games of the type. There are puzzles to solve occasionally, but it won't kill the narrative if you fail them.

These games are mostly about pure roleplaying -- making the decisions each situation calls for. Stats are tracked that reflect your style of play, and at the end of every game, you get a rundown of the kind of character you were. You can play again and again to try and maximize particular attributes, or put yourself in the mind of a particular character and see what sort of outcomes you get. It's a really different sort of gaming experience, and one I'm very fond of.

Mahjong Solitaire

There are a number of Shanghai games for the DSi, not to mention a version on the Clubhouse Games game Nintendo released years ago, and not a single damned one of them gets it right. Where's the turtle configuration? The single most common and iconic tile configuration for a Shanghai game, and none of them have it. I haven't even looked at the iTunes games, maybe there's a good one, I don't know, but it still frustrates me.

So here it is. Mahjong Solitaire. Turtle configuration. I'm happy.


Board games, with their turn-based tactical nature, are well suited for an environment where you can't show a lot of movement and you have to pass the device from one player to the next.

So here's Monopoly, my favorite board game forever. There's decent AI, hotseat multiplayer, and it automatically saves a game in progress. This is simply as good as it gets.

EA Texas Hold 'Em

The boys at Telltale got me hooked on Texas Hold 'Em. While this game may not feature any witty mascots, the betting and bluffing gameplay is good enough to keep me happy when I can't reach my computer. And the tiered tournaments give you something to work toward.

And this version has hotseat multiplayer.

EA Solitaire

A lack of a true, two-deck Spider game makes this pack of 12 games a little ho-hum, but hey, what's a device without a Solitaire?


I thought I enjoyed word games until I played against a computer.


I feel sorry for the folks at Thinkfun (formerly Binary Arts). They come up with an idea for a thoroughly wonderful sliding block puzzle, and everyone steals the idea. I still need to do an Unplugged Dilintia post for the Rush Hour series. Hmmm.

But you know, I support them where I can. I bought all the expansions, and the Railroad and Safari versions. And I picked their iPod app over the copycats.

Ah well, Blocked is a sliding block puzzle for your Kindle. And that's a pretty great thing to have.

Triple Town

Interesting game, and probably the only thing on this list that I bought without being familiar with it in another format. You place objects on a grid one at a time. Every time you match three or more, they combine into one upgraded object. Grass becomes flowers, flowers become bushes, bushes become trees, trees become wood, wood becomes houses, houses become castles, castles become sky castles. From time to time, you also have to place marauders and wizards, who only serve to get in the way.

Honestly though? I feel like I've had my fill of it. For one, there's just way too many marauders and wizards. The grid is so tiny, it's really a bitch when you get a string of marauders that fills half of it up and you don't know what to do with them. For another, the playable pieces you get are typically really low level; it seems like it takes FOREVER to make anything from the upper tiers appear, especially if you're trying to match four or more to make higher-rated tiles. If you place one grass every turn and your plan always works correctly (which it doesn't), it'll take fucking 2187 turns to make one sky castle. Who's got that kind of time or patience? Finally, the name of the game is Triple Town. I'm supposed to be building a city, right? So why are all of the pieces grass and flowers and shit? It just doesn't fit the theme.


Wow, Solitaire and Minesweeper, now I can take 1995 with me wherever I go!


It is fucking Blackjack.


I'm sure there are people who know something about Chess and who could offer insightful analysis into the play style and limitations and challenge level of this AI, but I don't. I just bought it in case I want to get my ass kicked by a pocket calculator.

Checkers (Code Mystics version)

I used to think I liked Checkers until I played against a computer.

The good news is, it's worked. I can look at someone with an iPad and be all "Oh yeah, I got one of those. No big." My Kindle has gone past the threshhold from "something I carry around to justify having bought it" to "something I carry around because I find it genuinely useful". And that's pretty cool.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?