Zombies or Why I Love Tabletop Gaming

Over this past weekend, I volunteered at ChimaeraCon, a local convention that focused on tabletop gaming. There were some other fun things to do, like LARPing (Live Action Roleplaying), and there were some Cosplayers, but the conference really focused on tabletop gaming. I spent most of the weekend chatting up the special guests and doing my volunteer gig, but in my free time, I played some games. When I went to write down the list of games I played over the weekend, I noticed a distinct pattern in the games I chose to play and/or watch. See if you can spot it:

The Walking Dead
Zombie Dice
Zombie Fluxx
Munchkin Zombies

There were a couple of other games I popped into, like Frag and Blood Bowl, but I didn’t so much choose to play those as that’s what was available to play while I was free.

The funny part is, I don’t think I like Zombie stuff all that much! I don’t watch The Walking Dead (although that’s more of a ‘when the heck can I find the time to catch up on Season 1’ rather than a choice to not watch it). In most of my fiction reading, Zombies play a small role, if they are in the books at all. But when it comes to gaming, I adore ones where I can kill Zombies. My favorite arcade game of all time is The House of the Dead. I played Typing of the Dead and loved it (plus I’m a super fast and accurate typer so that helped.) Plants vs. Zombies-yes, please. I even like the shooter maps where someone gets to be a zombie (if I’m the one who gets to kill them.) Apparently, this love for killing  game zombies translates into tabletop gaming too.

After this weekend, my favorite Zombie tabletop game is Zombie Fluxx. If you’ve never played Fluxx-shame on you! Of course, I hadn’t played a Fluxx game until this past weekend, so it’s forgivable. I even got the game and brought it home to my kids. It’s easy enough that I can play it with a nine and six year old. The game begins with two rules. Draw one card and play one card. But the cards drawn will change the rules, like requiring that  more cards be drawn or played. Some rules are really crazy, like having to groan like a zombie every time a player draws a zombie creeper. The object is to collect the keepers (like a shotgun or lumber) and have those keepers match the goal cards (which will be ever changing). Most goals require the players to not have any zombies in front of them, so there’s ways to kill and get rid of zombies-my favorite part! There’s also some special cards that allow a player to ignore any zombies in front of them and still achieve the goal.

I wonder what the objective is in Stoner Fluxx...

For Fluxx, there’s also Pirate Fluxx (Arrr matey!), Monty Python Fluxx (which everyone would not stop talking about over the weekend, apparently if you are a Monty Python fan, this is a must have) and Eco Fluxx (which may or may not teach people about the environment…not sure.) It’s a great game and I’m looking forward to my next gaming event so I can get some adults to play more Fluxx with me.

My kids have been wanting to do Thrill the World, so perhaps I’ll get us Zombie costumes this year and dress as a Zombie. Maybe after I pretend to be a Zombie, I’ll have a better appreciation for the Zombies and won’t want to kill them quite so much. Or maybe I’ll just want to play more Zombie games, but instead want to be the Zombie.

Thrill the World is where people dress like Zombies and dance to Thriller.

Probably not.

So I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has a love for a particular theme in gaming. Does anyone else have a theme they just MUST play if the game has it?

‘Titan Attacks’ Review (PC)

“My life is hectic. Plain and simple - I’m busier than I can hardly stand to be. I’m always adding more to my workload and that leaves even less time for me to play games. I no longer have the hours upon hours to invest in developing a character in an MMORPG. I cannot sit and play a shooter, strategy or adventure game without being interrupted. Being a mother of a 4-month-old and a 3-year-old and having other work obligations leaves me very little time for my favorite form of entertainment. As such, I have to somehow get my fix in little ways. This is how I’ve become what I have heard termed a ‘hard-core’ casual gamer.” — Staci Krause

Casual games are defined by Wikipedia as “a category of electronic or computer games targeted at the mass audience, which are peculiar for their simple rules, engaging game design, require no time commitment or special skills from an end user as well as comparatively low production and distribution costs from producer.” According to an IGDA 2005 White Paper on Casual Games, “market research shows the majority of the audience today is women 30-45 years old.” The same white paper discusses how women are much more likely to play longer periods of time in casual games, although often not in marathon sessions, but instead broken down into bites of gameplay goodness.

There are so many casual games available to consumers, it is becoming an increasingly more difficult decision as to which games to try out and buy. Enter Casual Corner. In this feature, we will go in depth into a casual game you may (or may not) have heard about.

Today: Titan Attacks

My index finger is suffering from “phantom clicks” after intense gaming sessions with this game. Titan Attacks is that good.

Let me explain what I mean by “phantom clicks” - I use the mouse when I play the game, and that means constantly left clicking over and over to make your ship shoot the ever approaching enemies who are seeking to destroy you. I can tell myself to only play a couple of minutes, just something to pass the time while I wait for other things to cross my path and occupy my time, but then it ends up being thirty minutes later, and after I finally shutdown my computer, my left finger still twitches as if it is still going through the motions of fighting the aliens. I’ve never had this happen to me before with a game…and that is why I simply cannot get enough!

The story of Titan Attacks is practically non-existent except for the sales pitch that says “The Earth is under attack from evil aliens from Titan! Only you can save us all using a hired space ship.” I’m usually a stickler for having a story in games, but here…just don’t care. The story is really not a factor at all, because it strives to be (and wonderfully succeeds) at mimicking great arcade games of the past (and they never had stories) and yet, to this reviewer, surpasses the game it will mostly be compared to - Space Invaders.

As any seasoned veteran gamer can tell you, Space Invaders is about little aliens that constantly advance down to the bottom of the screen where your lone ship is trying to defend the world. You blast upwards, and as the invaders diminish in numbers, they start to speed up ever so slightly. That same gameplay mechanic is what makes up the bulk of Titan Attacks, but it does so much more to the formula than just merely copy it.

When you first fire up the game, you’ll immediately think, “Eh, Space Invaders rip-off but with better graphics.” You’ll think that, and you’ll be wrong, just like I was. You’ve got the enemies moving down the screen shooting at you, and you shooting at them, but the further along you move through the levels the more and more enemy types you’ll encounter and you’ll have to deal with all of their variations in pattern. Some enemies have the traditional go left to right and then down a row movement of Space Invaders, but then you’ve got the ones that just go left to right, and then you have the ones that move in the shapes of squares, and ones that move like waves, and then others that swirl like snakes, some that fall towards you, and some that just stand their ground and shoot. When you incorporate all of these enemies into the game, you’ll really have to stay on your toes and make sure you are always paying attention, as the game gets quite frantic later on. You’ve also got five giant boss motherships spread across the 100 levels (don’t worry if you beat them, cause the game will start back from the beginning with higher stakes and faster speeds), and they remind me of the ones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind…if those shot at you instead of just played Simon Says.

The ammo of the enemies comes in three forms: bullets that go straight down the screen, bombs that explode when they hit the ground (making you take damage if you hit the radius zone before it disappears), and then finally lasers, though you don’t see too much of them.

Titan Attacks also has a good amount of depth, which caught me off guard while playing it. As you advance through the levels of the game (Earth - Moon - Mars - Saturn - Alien Homeworld) the enemies will change and become harder, but the levels themselves also have a challenge about them. The Earth, Mars, and Alien Homeworld levels all play straight, but the Moon level features a lot of darkness (which means most of the time you’ll only see the glowing eyes of your enemy) and the Saturn levels obscures the top of the screen slightly with a smog effect to it. By incorporating these differing level effects, the developers manage to subtly make levels both interesting and difficult at the same time without ever sacrificing it for the gameplay. Also, if you are shooting for the high score, other instances of the gameplay depth includes such questions as “Do I capture this falling alien so I don’t lose any money and so I can buy upgrades, or do I let it go and lose money so as not to risk getting hit by falling bullets?”

The ship you use is what I find the most interesting, as you’ll be able to upgrade it with the money you collect for capturing parachuting aliens and for the destruction you cause. After beating a level, you are then taken to a shopping screen essentially, where you can use your money to either buy more shield strength (every hit takes away a bar of shield…lose them all and game over), stronger guns, more bullets (the number in a stream when you are constantly clicking), ship speed (move left to right faster), smartbombs (can clear entire levels of enemies when you are in a pinch) and then finally add-ons. The add-ons are what I loved the most, cause though they cost the most, they really make your ship change. The first add-on is a blaster on the left side of your ship that shoots occasionally (you have no control of any of the add-ons for that matter and when they shoot), and then you can purchase another blaster for the right hand side, but then things get more interesting. After you buy the right hand side blaster, you can then by a missile launcher that, upon explosion, can damage enemies in the resulting radius. After the missile launcher you can buy a laser, which works just like the enemy’s laser, and it does a lot of damage. All in all, considering all the upgrades you can purchase, the arcade shooter takes on a few RPG elements, and I really enjoyed the addition.

Titan Attacks also incorporates an online High Score ranking of the best 100 players of the game, and while I recently wrote an article looking at The Evolution of the High Score and how I think too much emphasis is nowadays placed on them, I can’t help but strive for that top High Score. I’m working on a massive gaming campaign now, and if I was to have a game over now I’d be the fifth ranked player in the world, but that just isn’t good enough for me. So if you find yourself enjoying this game as much as I am, then you’ll probably be equally in love with the pursuit of that top place among Titan Attacks players.

There are two ways to control the game based on the defaults (though you can change them), but I use a mixture of the two to fully dominate at the game. You have the keyboard method (left and right arrows control movement while Ctrl shoots your weapons and the spacebar uses your smartbombs) or the mouse method (move mouse left and right to control the ship, click the left mouse button to fire your weapon, and use the right mouse button to use your smartbombs). I use the mouse method for moving and shooting my weapons, but I use the spacebar when I want to use a smartbomb.

The graphics, though very simple and heavily pixilated, have a certain charm about them. The game goes for that retro charm of the old arcade games, and succeeds by mimicking them but yet also updating the game with brighter colors and better particle effects such as certain explosions during the game. The sound work is equally old school; if you think back to how old arcade shooters sound with their lasers and such, you’ll get an idea as to what Titan Attacks sounds like. A low techno track plays in the background, but mostly you’ll be focusing on and hearing the sounds of lasers and explosions. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

At a mere $9.95 (an insanely good deal if you ask me) Titan Attacks is a blessing to this reviewer. It’s relatively small screen (4 inches wide by 5 inches height when viewed in my resolution of 800 x 600 pixels) means that your screen is never taken over by the game, so that you can see other things happening on your screen such as if you have any IMs open. Titan Attacks makes for a great quick diversion whenever you find yourself at your computer with some downtime, but it is so well done and addicting that you’ll be making time just to play this game and will find yourself procrastinating other matters just so you can go through one more level. So I say buy this game, get addicted, and look for thankeeka on the High Score leaderboard. Here is a hint: I’ll be near the top.

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RATING: 5 out of 5
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More Titan Attacks screenshots