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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

I want Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine 01/02/2018

I never played Magic: The Gathering to win, because doing so would’ve meant lots of time studying. I made decks to amuse myself — I once had a green assortment that didn’t do anything but grow a giant Uktabi Wildcat. I once built it up to 20/20, and my friend Joe, who knew what was coming, played a combination that seized control of the giant cat and turned it against me. I was killed by my own giant cat.
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At South Park: Phone Destroyer, Cyborg Kenny and Mine Control have been most troublesome lately for the same reason. One well-timed Cyborg Kenny swings the match, I think — the character under the enemy’s control and your other characters beat the crap out of each other, and after the Cyborg Kenny effect wears off, the enemy has a line of fresh attackers rushing two or more weakened allies.

My problem is that I have no idea when to play Shaman Token to remove the negative effects (not only the mind control cards, but Program Stan annoys me, too). Play him too soon, and he gets killed before he charges usefully. Play him too late, and he’s a 127-health, weakling fighter.

What I really want is to sink Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine
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There were some cards in the 1990s NetRunner game that said: “Opponent, you have to do something about this immediately, or I will maintain certain advantages for the rest of the game”. One of those cards was Roving Submarine. If Purple played a strong card on the Roving Submarine, Green had to blow the submarine away, else it would submerge and its strong accompanying card was invulnerable as long as it stayed underwater.

If I could submerge Shaman Token — really, almost every card with universal effects when charged — in a Roving Submarine, and call on him when needed, that would be helpful.

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Procyonn’s Folly applied to South Park: Phone Destroyer 12/24/2017

During the late ’80s, I worked as a room host in an AOL freeform roleplay area. It certainly was freeform — if you could type it, your character could do it — but there was a game called Duel of Swords that had rules.
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Two players roleplayed/described their action while messaging one of 10 possible moves to a trusted third party, who consulted a matrix for the result of move-vs.-move and reporting the result.

Duel of Swords was great fun. For some, the roleplay aspect was key, while some also wanted to play the game as well as they could.

I got into that game years late, but I have this insane obligation to myself to find something new in the strategy or tactics of any game, even one as simple as compiling the results of a 10×10 matrix.

One of the fundamental aspects of Duel of Swords was that you couldn’t make the same move twice in a row (with one seemingly-insignificant exception), so players had to make this type of decision at every turn: My two highest-powered moves are A and B, but they’re both foiled by C. If I play A or B, and he goes C, not only am I losing a point (leader after 10 turns wins), he’s got a positional advantage on the next turn.

So what should one do on the first turn? All 10 moves are available to the opponent, so neither side wields the positional advantage of having more useful moves in store. I reasoned that the seemingly-insignificant move that could be repeated had to be a fair first shot.

The move — disengage — was seemingly insignificant because you were disengaging instead of fighting, and what’s the point of that, especially since the opponent could still whack you according to the matrix. But I figured even if I did lose a point at turn one, I had a slight positional edge — 10 possible moves to 9 — on move 2. (I called it Procyonn’s Folly, after the chess opening Santasiere’s Folly.)

This meant that my opponents had to play the he-knows-I-know-he-knows-I-know game at move one. Opponent knows I favor the move one disengage, which can be smacked by high cut or low cut. I know he knows that, and so on. The I-know-he-knows-I-know-he-knows thinking could drive one batty, but some people had a better intuition for anticipating an opponent’s move than others, and they were at the top of the game.

How does one apply this to South Park: Phone Destroyer, where any of five cards could be the best play against whichever five the opponent drew. Sometimes you get an obvious one — protective tank plus rugged fighter plus ranger in rear, or maybe a simple Hookhand Clyde. Otherwise it pays to see what the opponent lays down first, and then counterattack with the goal of stealing the initiative.

If you wanted to apply the logic “I’ll make the lowest-cost move fir, like Disengage, so if I get whacked, I lose less than if I’d lost with a higher-reward-higher-risk play”, then a good first move in South Park: Phone Destroyer is casting a low-energy character with a deathwish, because then there’s even a tiny gain after death.

Maybe Paladin Butters is the best of the Butterses for that. Among the Kennys, Princess Kenny could be ideal.

Again, this gambit is based on having zero information about what your opponent has in store, and having no concrete plan based on your initial draw. At South Park: Phone Destroyer, there might be a clue in the outfit the other new kid is wearing.

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Dogpoo is South Park: Phone Destroyer’s Tycho Extension

Days ago, I talked about the old NetRunner card Tycho Extension, which fueled a powerful deck so simple that a beginner could (and did) win a tournament with it.
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Tycho Extension took advantage of some NetRunner arithmetic. NetRunner was a race to seven points, while Tycho awarded four. That meant scoring the first Tycho enabled the player to sell one superfluous point in order to make the second, winning Tycho automatic.

Most of the good cards in the Tycho class had the same difficulty as Tycho, but were worth just three points. However, those cards conferred special abilities when scored, while Tycho had no special ability.

The joke was: “Tycho doesn’t need a special ability. Its fourth agenda point is its ‘special ability’.”

Dogpoo is the South Park: Phone Destroyer answer to Tycho Extension.

Dogpoo doesn’t have a special ability. It just deals huge damage, 80 points or more.

Dogpoo fits into SPPD decks the same way Tycho Extension fit in NR decks. Their special ability of having no special ability also makes them compact — if one wanted to play with 20 points in a NR deck, one could go with seven 3-pointers or five Tychos, and give the two free card slots to something else. Instead of two fighters that deal 40 damage, SPPD players play one Dogpoo and have another option.
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The top SPPD players sneer about Dogpoo the same way NR experts did Tycho. NR players used to say “live by the Tycho, die by the Tycho” (because while the Tycho player only had to score two Tychos, his opponent only had to steal two). SPPD experts believe Dogpoo moves too slowly to be useful at high levels —once I was in position to resign, but instead of standing still, I experimented by casting Dogpoo behind new kid, then Hyperdrive. Even a Hyperdriven Dogpoo stumbles along.

Next time I play NetRunner, I’ll stick to my opinion that Tycho Extension is crap, but call it dogshit instead.

I own the original art to Tycho Extension. Even if we hate the card for its training-wheel-simplicity, it’s a NR icon for the same reason, and moonscapes are just cool. When NetRunner the game was at death’s door, there wasn’t much to do as an enthusiast — I’d written every idea I ever had, and traveled to Virginia and The Netherlands just to play; buying original art was one of the last kicks to get from that game. The artist gave it to me for 1/5 his asking price — he could tell I was one of the few people who’d really like hanging it on a wall.

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Sorry to have judged a kid by his card art 12/16/2017

I’m binging on the 21st season of “Sputh Park”, and I learned today that the mustache I thought I saw on Marcus is a scowl, making him the opposite of what I sussed from his card.

I thought he looked like an adult drug dealer (and wondered why they’d put such a character in the game), but he’s an anti-opiate kid crusader.

I think Marcus is awesome — about to take on the whole prescription painkiller industry — and his card is back on the table.

Marcus is a pain to play against. I Bolt him if possible, and attempt to swarm him otherwise. I find myself surrounding Marcus with three fighters, and muttering: “C’m*on*, kill that fucker before he throws that shit.”

Players involved in the pirate weekend event surely used Barrel Dougie. Barrel Dougie is a great nuisane — an opposing leader might feel like he’s always got to keep an assassin and 2 or 3 energy in reserve, and then be quick enough to summon the assassin before Barrel Dougie arrives.

A well-placed ranger can pick off BDougie enroute. I watched Buccaneer Bebe stick BDougie while he was at top speed.

Buccaneer Bebe is the most fun to watch. After one or two kills, it looks like she’s shooting ducks in a gallery. I read some mathematical analysis jcdz2wasuggesting that Buccaneer Bebe is no bargain, but I love that card.

Pirate decks have great rangers, but there’s no themed tank to set in front of them. I’m employing Sheriff Cartman because he’s the cheapest tank — what the pirate player wants most is for Pirate Ship Timmy to be a tank instead of kid in a wheelchair.

I acquired Robin Tweek Saturday afternoon, who replaced Calamity Heidi, though it raised the average cost to 3.3, and the assortment felt clunkier. When the battlefield is bare, and your pirate choices are fragile assassin Smuggler Ike, plus back-line fighters Pirate Ship Timmy and Robin Tweek, immediate prospects are faint.

On the other hand, a pirate deck occasionally forms a wave of small fighters backed by a pirate ship and Buccaneer Bebe with a smoking gun.

The pirate event ends in a day, but I’ll continue to wield seafaring criminals.  Though I tossed the captain’s hat aside for the sleeker bandana.

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Powerful cards that are distasteful in the narrative sense 12/15/2017

layer-27Several cards in the ’90s NetRunner game put a bad taste in my mouth, like the Tycho Extension I mentioned a few days ago.

NetRunner was a race to 7 points, and while most players were aiming for three field goals or two safeties plus a field goal, Tycho was less interesting: a 4-point touchdown followed by a 4-point kick-after.

Tycho was boring, and some cards were even less charming, like Corporate War, which too easily afforded one player 3 points plus a pile of cash. Corporate War was tacky. In NetRunner’s narrative sense, Corporate War made it easy to tell who the evil corporations were.

In South Park: Phone Destroyer, it’s Marcus. I don’t remember Marcus’ introduction to the TV series — he’s a drug dealer in the  neighborhood with “friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation”.

Marcus’ weapon of choice is a bag of drugs. He throws bags of drugs, and they very much hurt (if Marcus gets loose, and lets fly with no defenders to meet him, it’s near-fatal).  Marcus is a powerful card, but a South Park drug dealer is distasteful. Say the card wielded the same power, but the character were Towelie, and he was throwing a joint. I’d play with that, for sure.

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It’s like NetRunner’s purple and green, but without the purple 12/14/2017

layer-69As I acquire cards and gain experience by the coffee spoon,  I’m seeing more green.

In almost every deck there’s an Angel Wendy. Gotta appreciate that Testaburger, who was the original significant visible girl at the beginning — is a rarefied and good card in blue and green.

Then there are Regeneration and Hallelujah. Throw in Zen Cartman, and that’ll win many games by attrition without serious handling charges.

I read that at PvP level 45 and higher, green makes up almost every deck, along with the typical arguments about overpower and sheer boredom because the green decks play themselves.

Decks playing themselves is a serious charge. If your card game truly has a build scheme that mostly wins without thinking, you’ve got to start talking about which cards to ban.

NetRunner — when I talk about NetRunner, I refer to the Wizards of the Coast game from the ’90s, which was brilliant and beautiful, not this decade’s NR game from Fantasy Flight, which sells — had such a deck. It was called Psycho Tycho.

The algorithm was simple:

1. Install Tycho Extension behind a Filter in a subsidiary fort. Don’t sweat the central forts. Advance it one time as your last action of your first turn.

2. Advance Tycho three times to score it.

3. Wait to draw another Tycho, ACME Savings and Loan, Project Consultants, Filtering the central forts when it’s convenient.

4. When those three cards are in hand, take these three actions: a) Install ACME, and accept the loan; b) install Tycho, c) Project Consult for the win.

I had a friend — he and his girlfriend were UC Berkeley grad students — who wrote some code to determine the best distribution of cards within that framework, and then he had his girlfriend play it in a tournament because he couldn’t make it that day. With experience limited to pitching batting practice to his decks, by following the script, she won all her Corporate games.

NetRunner gave its best players some meta difficulty that came down to an advanced case of rock-scissors-paper-lizard-Spock. If I know my opponents will play Psycho Tycho, I will build an opposing deck designed to beat it. But if he knows I know, and I know he knows I know, and so on.1405397321966

South Park: Phone Destroyer is still an infant, so while it’s been found what wins, it’s yet to be discovered what beats it. Of course, there are those who say they beat green decks all the time with their good idea that you can’t fathom, stupid newcomer.

The older I get, the more pejorative labels for inexperienced players I see. New players in a gaming community are like logical citizens in the state of Trump.

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Tall adults and other tanks in the South Park: Phone Destroyer neighborhood

layer-35I’ve been chasing the oremiering Buccaneer Bebe card in hopes of installing it by the end of the pirate event, but the only new gets were the Hercules Clyde (introduced the same day as Buccaneer Bebe) and Officer Barbrady.

Officer Barbrady is the same kind of pain in the neck as PC Principal (it’s fitting that PC and Barbrady deal very little damage, like you’d expect from authoritative adults in a kids’ game), a giant, sturdy slug diverting your new kid’s attention from smaller, deadlier enemies (diversion is Zen Cartman’s special ability).

It’s a common and effective tactic to combine three cards: one tank, one healer, and one ranger behind the blocker.  It also works in real life as shown in movies — in “Saving Private Ryan”, when the German troops arrive in Ramelle, infantry are seen crouched behind their tanks.

Some SPPD take it too far, maybe — if AWESOMO-4000, PC Principal, and Officer Barbrady are on the same team, that’s a huge lot of energy needed. I get the feeling that it’s Sheriff Cartman who instills a feeling of confidence in players — a rare card that seems to be in every starter pack, Sheriff Cartman is immediately found useful for his low center of gravity and hail of gunfire.

If the big unit itself is exceptionally dangerous, it often feels like a loss as soon  at it’s summoned — like Big Gay Al. At 335 health to start, he seems like a mountain to tackle, while he hurls headhunter glitter bombs in a fashion that reminds me of Curly Neal’s limited-animation “juggling basketballs through the hoop” in the early ’70s.

My answer to the tanks and Big Gay Al is Lightning Bolt plus a swarm of small, fast fighters. But this works for me because my deck is almost solid blue — is orange capable of swarming?

Even better than Lightning Bolt against the big guys, I think, is Pigeon Gang. Which makes sense in a real world way because it’ll take small flying critters to annoy someone who’s out of the reach of a pack of armed 4th-graders.

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It’s pirate week at South Park: Phone Destroyer 12/13/2017

layer-9Until Thursday, it’s Pirate Week in the “South Park: Phone Destroyer” neighborhood. My avatar looks menacing in a pirate bandana. I’m not as keen on the anchor tattoos, though in the game, they’re surely temporary because I’m a 4th grader.

I completed the pirate set with Pirate Ship Jimmy, who launches cannonballs from his wheelchair. I think that’s a great narrative touch — imagining a wheelchair as a bigger ship was a recurring gag in the “Bloom County” strip decades ago.

Pirate Ship Timmy was instrumental in winning a melee in the last SPPD duel I fought. He’s a fragile kid, so you can’t send him to the front — but if he sits behind you on the battlefield, it’s encouraging to watch cannonballs flying overhead and into the mob.

The pirate card I’m most appreciating  is Captain Wendy. When “South Park” was brand new, Wendy had the biggest female part, as Stan’s girlfriend who had littlelayer-4 patience with Cartman.

Captain Wendy is a cheap cast for 2 units, with a special ability of shooting three enemies at once. I feel like I’m off to a good start when Captain Wendy is in the initial draw — if the opponent sends a swarm, her “Triple shot!” comes into play, while her low cost hastens energy regeneration in case the opponent sends something big.

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Frisky AI on “South Park: Phone Destroyer” 12/09/2017

imagesIt is most advisable for one dipping into the new mobile game “South Park: Phone Destroyer” to watch “Freemium isn’t Free” (s18e06), an outstanding “South Park” episode in which Stan confronts his genetic disposition to addictive behavior (while dad Randy denies his with high-mindedness), Terence and Philip display integrity and conscience, Satan is shown to be  more helpful and rational than Jesus, and the insidiousness of the “freemium” game model is fully exposed.

Ubisoft/Red Lynx, the games company that partnered with South Park Digital Studios to build “South Park: Mobile Destroyer” was tasked with creating a freemium game that transcends “South Park’s” own satire, and I think they succeeded. “South Park: Phone Destroyer” is brilliant. I enjoy it immensely, and have not spent a dime. (I spent thousands of dollars on the card game NetRunner in the mid-’90s. If I still had that kind of spending money, I’d buy every SPPD upgrade that comes available. Instead, I recognize that building in-game currency without using real-world currency will be an arduous grind, and I choose to stay in.)

The “South Park” franchise has had countless opportunities to screw it all up in the 20-some years the TV show has been on the air, but in my view, they’ve done everything right:

The TV show took a drastic turn about 10 years ago, moving from situation comedy to social commentary, and stayed funny. By itself, that’s amazing.

The movie “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” could have gone as wrong as “The Simpsons Movie” or several of the “Star Trek” movies, which came across as padded TV episodes (and not especially good ones). Instead, the SP movie reached for more than the TV show, and delivered a terrific musical that stayed true to the core.

I haven’t been disappointed by any merchandise. I received a gift 6-inch Cartman figurine that perfectly captured Cartman’s essence, and I displayed it too proudly, because it was stolen. I wore out a talking SP greeting card, pushing the button until it died. I wore every shirt until washed beyond recognition.

“South Park” has never let me down, in any form, and the mobile game exceeded my expectations — though I didn’t know what to expect, really. Before “South Park: Phone Destroyer”, the only mobile game to keep my attention for more than a few hours was “Monument Valley”. (It’s most difficult to make a game that I want to play often, because every game that isn’t chess has to compete with chess for my attention.)

“South Park Phone Destroyer” combines three hugely popular things:

The mechanics, fantasy, and strategy-plus-tactics of the collectible card game “Magic: The Gathering”, along with its addiction fuel for acquiring cards and cultivating decks;

The characters, art, narrative framework,  and humor of the long-running animated comedy “South Park”, and;

The around-the-clock availability of oppoments, mobile gaming’s instantly-gratifying trickle of in-game rewards — accompanied by the constant temptation to spend tiny amounts of real money to make it rain. Every promising game inevitably breeds a community of dissatisfied users, dumb multi-player factions, and real and imagined cheaters.

In sum, “South Park Phone Destroyer” compounds one addictive element by another addictive element by one cartoon that’s been codifying tropes and generating memes for almost 20 years (for many, a TV show’s culture is a habit in itself).

For fans of “South Park”, “South Park Phone Destroyer” is a better whole than the product of its factors, because it puts them in the game. “South Park: Phone Destroyer” applies the feel of “Magic: The Gathering” to a mobile game, but instead of dueling wizards, the contestants are characters in the South Park universe.

Players — “New Kid”, we’re called — are introduced to the neighborhood  with a cartoon. The SP kids are in disagreement over which of their many fantasy live-action roleplay scenarios, and they invite the new kid to join them as the team captain, controlling creatures (for instance, Cartman’s identities include “Sheriff Cartman” in the cowboy theme, his own “A.W.E.S.O.M-O” robot in the science fiction mood, Zen Cartman in the mystical setup) and spells.

For each type of imaginary combat the South Park kids play, the “Phone Destroyer”  game provides character cards with familiar abilities: attacking strength, hit point values, plus the special abilities that set one card apart from the others. Because SPPD is meant to stand in for a cosplay in the South Park neighborhood, the mobile player can build theme decks.

I read that SPPD is like “Clash Royale”, but I don’t vouch for that. I think the player vs. player gaming within SPPD is like the still-thriving collectible card game “Magic: The Gathering”. The mechanic is borrowed from “Magic: The Gathering”, where dueling wizards tangle with creatures and invocations, applying their deck of cards’ strategy to tactics dependent on energy available. In the SPPD game, the player’s avatar controls his side with a phone, which makes it a more accurate representation of the real world (in game. since everyone’s on the phone, they trash talk in typical South Park style).

The feel of a collectible card game is imparted by spectacularly-illustrated character cards, with typical icons for casting cost, health and attacking power, plus special ability text. To improve one’s rank, players can upgrade their cards by accumulating theme-based artifact cards and duplicate character cards.

The cards are won from winning duels, or purchased from Butters or Cartman with in-game currency. The in-game currency is gained by cards or by real life, cold, hard cash. The cards even come in foil packs that must be zipped open (“hope I get a rare card, hope I get a rare card, hope I get a rare card”).

An insidious feature is that one free pack is available every four hours, butif you miss two free packs in a row, you don’t get the next. (Crack dealers would love to make themselves invisible to buyers who weren’t buying regularly.) Once you’re logged in, it’s hard not to play. Gain experience points and upgrade artificats. Which improves cards. Which wins more cards.

The duel itself is on a three-minute clock, while each player’s life is segmented into three portions (There’s an unsatisfactory “sudden death” clause: If both players have lost an equal number of portions at the end of regulation, winning the next bar wins — punishing the stronger players over the long run, who stand to lose a greater number of leads in regulation, while risking a loss by a bad draw in a 1-minute OT)  .

The game field generates South Park characters fighting with characteristic war cries, fists, bombs, mind control, dog poop, bags of drugs. The first healer one meets is Stan’s mom Sharon.

Timing is critical. The swift, small assassins (kindergarteners Ike and Sally, swarms of rats) can’t take much punishment, so are best reserved for weary opponents. Tackling Sheriff Cartman requires hitting him before he’s angry, or after he’s been angry.

Advancing through the ranks by defeating real-time opponents or programmatic scenarios figures to be a very long grind for players who don’t want to spend actual money. (I have my heart set on a keen astronaut helmet that cyclically comes available at Butters’ shop for hundreds of  tickets earned by winning duels, so I could be there for a while.)

The in-world beauty of this is that “South Park” the show dealt with this in the episode “Freemium isn’t Free”, where Stan downloads the free Terence and Philip mobile game, finds the first challenge to be stupidly simple (with satiric screens of congratulations), and nothing of note happens until he invests 39 cents for enough game energy to help “rebuild Canada!”. He gets hooked, growing a pay-to-play addiction that’s probably widespread (and profitable for some people who have lots of time on their hands).

I read on the Internet that players are unhappy about cheaters, and the “pay to win” aspect of “Phone Destroyer”. I get the feeling these unhappy customers have wide experience with other mobile games, and were hoping for “Phone Destroyer” to meet those expectations. It seems that Ubisoft’s customers are used to being pissed off — at the least, I would’ve expected better involvement in the community forums (software companies with less money than Ubisoft, I reckon, hire people to do no more than that), while the experienced customers are enraged over the widespread cheating.

“South Park Phone Destroyer” players are cheating by hacker means and in less-sophisticated ways (I’ve encountered three opponents who didnt put up a fight — losing on purpose to sandbag down to lesser opponents; I submitted a feature request for a resign button so those assholes don’t have to waste so much time dying).

I’ve been cheated by a hacker one time that I could identify. It was impressive. While my avatar teetered on the brink of death, the opponent cast a crowd of creatures — enough to finish me off about 50 times — followed by five fireballs for 200 more. People at the higher levels who are taking the game seriously don’t deserve to face cheaters. I’ve played chess online for 20 years; if I’m not cheated once a week, I miss it.

 

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We never thought we’d see Monument Valley 2, but here it is 11/11/2017

screenshot_2017-11-11-04-36-46Despite 5 million paid (and 21 million free) downloads of Monument Valley, its developer — Ustwo — said there would be no more work on its award-winning mobile game.

To me, this meant Monument Valley was another “Firefly” TV show or NetRunner card game or Lone Justice rock band — something that was much better than anything else in its class, but died prematurely and somewhat inexplicably.

While Ustwo worked on its virtual reality game Land’s End, a couple of things occurred. One, the game designers spun off their own company from the graphic design firm; and two, women at Ustwo Games had babies, which inspired talk about a Monument Valley sequel with a mother and daughter exploring the impossible architectures.

So Monument Valley 2 happened, and arrived on Android last week.

It’s prettier than Monument Valley, which is remarkable: Ustwo sells 11×14 prints of Monument Valley images because the game is that lovely. The mother and daughter characters give Monument Valley 2 more feeling than Monument Valley had.

Monument Valley 2 even provides a greater number of puzzles, but the single disappointment about Monument Valley 2 is that the puzzles are easier to solve.

Monument Valley had one puzzle that required correctly timing the movement of a crow before Ida could successfully move herself. The expansion Ida’s Dream had one great puzzle with many red herrings, many false turns.

There are almost no false moves in Monument Valley 2. It seems that the developers intended to put the story and the graphics before the problem-solving.

Chessplayers know that when there are two candidate moves, and one of them leads to disaster, then they don’t have to think about the other. At Monument Valley 2, there weren’t always a fork in the road. The annoying crows are gone, while the friendly totem pole is also limited by the scope — “there’s one move to try with totem, OK, I’ll do that”.

When do we get Monument Valley 3?

If Ustwo Games gave us one new puzzle per week for 99 cents, I’d be among the first to buy a subscription.

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