January 13th – 19th

Welcome to a brand-new Nerd Watch! That’s right, as described in the other news post pinned up top, we’re doing something new for 2020, something better.

This week, we encourage you to check out Start Playing Games at the Brass Cat [65 Cottage St, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027] at 7:00PM on Wednesday the 15th. This week the feature game is Arraial! It’s kind of Tetris-like, with the theme being a fast-paced game of grabbing the right tiles to spread out in the right way to win. We appreciate that theme is that you’re trying to throw the coolest party. It’s always fun when games are about something other than either trading or murder.

One of the best parts of Start Playing Games, for those of you who have not yet attended one of the events, is that the host will be on hand to help explain the games you’re playing and make sure that there’s always something to do somewhere. Every time we’ve been to an event we’ve gotten in at least one hour-plus game that’s brand-new to us as well as several fun interstitial shorter games. It’s all the fun of having a regular game night with none of the annoyance of wrangling your friends. Plus the crowd has always been top-notch, just friendly people in general.

Speaking of Start Playing Games: We’re really excited to try out the new Root (A game we got to playtest several times at a Start Playing Games event) expansion, when it finally arrives! We’re really excited to try out the new automatic factions. The two-player game is fine, but it really shines as a 4-player game and hopefully the addition of some decent AI will mean that we can give it a go every so often without having to gather friends. We’ll do a write-up when we get a chance to finally play!

And continuing to talk about games in Easthampton, this Sunday’s the only time for people under the age of 13 to head to Prodigy Minigolf & Gameroom [ 116 Pleasant St, Suite 018, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027], which will be having an ALL AGES Sunday Family Morning from 10AM to 1PM. Prodigy is a neat space! No better place to teach a kid to play Chess and NES Mario and Minigolf during the same brunch.

There’s also a big kickoff for NERDSummit 2020 this week at The Quarters [8 Railroad St, Hadley, MA 01035] at 6:00PM – 9:00PM. Attendees will get unlimited token wristbands! You can finally find out how quickly you can beat these old arcade games when money is no object.

NERDSummit is a thing at UMass where you can go listen to people speak about various technology topics. Usually there’s a bit of a focus on web development because that’s the key skillset for a lot of the organizers. It’s fun, it’s very cheap, it’s even helpful for anyone job-hunting in our experience! We know several people who managed to find places to work by talking to vendors. Also there are just a lot of interesting talks! One of our favorites was about how to do code review without being horrible to the person you’re reviewing, which is an under-appreciated skill.

It’s also a free weekend at the Smith College Museum of Art! It’s right downtown in Northampton, and from the 17th – 19th it’s free to attend so you have no reason not to check it out. On Saturday the 18th there’s even a free Community Day from 11:00AM – 3:30PM that will feature free refreshments, performances, and conversations about art!

Now let’s chat about a game we’re really excited about!

We picked up Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest recently and holy moley that is a heck of a game. If you enjoy turn-based tactics games at all we think you’ll dig it. It’s by the same studio that put out the extremely impressive old-school dungeon-crawl games Legend of Grimrock 1 and 2, though it’s not quite as much of a (very impressive mind you) retread of an old genre as those ones were. In it, you guide a team of three heroes through a variety of deadly scenarios while upgrading them in between encounters.

The story is a bit of a standard fantasy romp: evil sorceress, mysterious ancient ruins, destined saviors, etc. But our interest was maintained via some surprisingly sharp writing. Having a “comedy character” is always extremely dicey in games, but the little wizard that looks like a Tonberry – Oiko – has some sharply written laugh lines without becoming a bore. In general the tone maintains a decent balance between light and dire by acknowledging the funny bits without distracting from the fact that everything is on the edge of disaster.

But really the meat of the game is the tactical battles. And they’re so, so good. To us the measure of whether or not a game about tactical maneuvering is great is whether or not you can adapt to a new situation without just needing to restart and use your foreknowledge to avoid making any mistakes. And this game provides that in spades. We found ourselves just barely scraping through situations so many times by cleverly using all the tools at our disposal. Clever use of teleportation (you can use it to swap places with conveniently-placed dynamite barrels hint hint), knockback, armor, precise movement, and limited-use abilities can turn what seems like an unfair fight into a walk through the park.

Part of how you adapt to these scenarios is via a standard level-up where you pick a new ability, or by purchasing better equipment. But part of it is by the extremely good Power Gem system, where by completing quests and bonus objectives you get little gems that you can then slot into the abilities you’ve chosen. It can mean adding a status effect to a weapon, increasing damage, adding more uses to an ability, increased range… and that means you can take a look at a level, realize oh dang it’s all skeletons, and load up on Cures so that you can use them to do some reverse-necromancy.

It was made by like 4 people, it’s great, and it even takes a second or two to load which is always a plus. You should buy it if it sounds like your jam!

Thank you for reading, we hope you like the new format!

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