Monday, December 11, 2023

Game Review: Rise of Cultures

 By Bixyl Shuftan

I haven't done any game reviews in a while, partially because I haven't spent as much time playing games as I used to. But I do play a little. One I've been playing is "Rise of Cultures."

Rise of Cultures is a browser/mobile app game from Innogames, who also made Forge of Empires. The game has much the same aspect as Forge, a history-themed city builder, and plays much the same. But it does look a little different, and will appeal more to some players. 

You start off in charge of a tribe of stone-age folk. You help them develop the start of their settlement, and with a little guidance from a couple advisors continue to help the place grow in size, technology, and culture. Research points, which slowly accumulate naturally over time, can be used to develop technologies. There are also quests to take care of, which both encourage you to progress and some are needed to advance. Many involve your two city advisors who give you objectives to accomplish. Others are challenges by enemies and allies. 

There are occasional random happenings on the city map. This may include fruit to collect, a broken-down cart to repair in exchange for some gold, dealing with a wild boar guarding a treasure, and more. Sending workers to deal with the happening takes a few minutes, but will get you rewards in the form of food, gold, and occasionally crystals (more on those later).

Technologies help you in some way, such as unlocking certain buildings, improvements of them, or allowing you to build more of something.  The first ones are simple, such as tribal settlement, cultivation, firemaker, and the wheel, and cost just a few research points and maybe a few coins and food. Further up the tech tree, technologies will cost more. Eventually, they'll start to cost some goods as well.

Your first building is the Great Hall, which later on becomes the City Hall. After the first couple technologies, you'll be able to build small homes for workers. Later on, you'll develop the ability to build medium houses which house two workers. You'll soon be able to build farms, which come in two sizes, the larger ones taking more time to grow food but when they do produce a lot more of it. You'll also soon be able to make military barracks buildings. The first ones are for regular infantry, but later you'll be able to build more kinds. Ranged units can fire and hit units a distance away. Calvary can charge and bypass light infantry. Starting in the Bronze Age, you can build goods buildings for some materials you will need. You can also build some small cultural sites, which help cheer up people in nearby homes and workshops, resulting in more gold revenue and more productivity.

Military units are used to gain control of enemy areas on the strategic map in campaigns. For the first few places of the Stone Age, you'll fight only animals. But as you go on, you'll end up fighting bands of cavemen. And once you finally beat their leader, the campaign is over and new areas open to explore and start another. As the campaigns go on, the enemies become more advanced. In battles, you can enlist the help of up to three military leaders to help you in your battle. Some are mercenary leaders of which you get tokens to enlist the help of for one battle. Rewards for conquering territory can include food, gold, and occasionally city expansions which you can use to grow the size of your city. Sometimes after you beat a leader he or she joins your forces as a new leader. 

Staring in the Bronze Age, players can also build world wonders. Upon unlocking this feature, you get one for free: Stonehenge. To get more, you need blueprints. Go get those, you need gears, which you get from Treasure Hunts, solving city events, completing quests, and special event rewards. With 200 gears, you can make an orb. Opening one gives you a chance at a blueprint, or resources for improving wonders. If you don't get a blueprint after opening nine orbs, you get one on the tenth. Wonders provide benefits from extra gold and research points, bonuses in trades, extra rewards when doing the Treasure Hunt, extra military units, and others. Wonders can also be improved, which takes research points, food, gold, and usually resources. You can have up to four wonders active. Any more, and you'll have to pick and chose which work best for you while the others are inactive.
Also starting in the Bronze Age, players can join an Alliance. Joining one has benefits. You have access to the Alliance City, in which once a day you get some extra goods. Members of the Alliance can work together to improve the city. You can also do the Treasure Hunt. At each step of the way, there's a group of pirates. You can either negotiate with them or fight them. Negotiations have three tries and take amounts of resources, which increase further along the hunt. Fighting will take military units. Once you beat the last group of pirates, the team has to work to make the next level available.

Progressing will take you to difference eras, the Bronze Age being the first, "It's good to get out of those animal hides!" After the Bronze Age comes the Minoan Era, then Classical Greece, then the Roman Republic, then the Roman Empire. Following the Antiquity eras comes the Byzantine Era, then the Age of the Franks, then the Feudal Era, then the Iberian Era, then the Kingdom of Sicily.

As time goes on, there will be special events. For instance the October special event involved Count Dracula/Vlad Tepes. The reward for doing his quests was a choice of a Mad Scientist's Lab, or "Crypt of The Count" that you could place in your city for bonus resources once a day. In the Christmas event, the city is blanketed with snow.

And then there's that the city map isn't static, but animated. Buildings shake a little when updated. And then there's the people. They walk the streets, they work at workshops. They carry things from one place to another. They go back and forth  to and from areas where events happen. They play music and sit & chat. And more. What they're wearing is determined by the era.
For those who like city-building or history themed games, "Rise of Cultures" is certainly worth a look.
You can find the game at

For the wiki, check out
Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, November 13, 2023

Game Review: Ark Survival Ascended

By Nydia Tungsten 

Let me start this off by saying this game was gifted to me. While I am always grateful to the one that offer me games and all the good intentions that go with it, I would like to offer a heartfelt “Thank you!”

BUT, That would be the only way I would have got this game, due to Snail games and Nitrado servers backroom deals to screw over the Ark community by making a quick cash grab before anyone knew what was happening. If you want to know more about their attempts, look to YouTube.

I started a game and the first thing I noticed is the character creation was very well-detailed. The flora and fauna is more detailed, some more than other. I have noticed one major flaw with this new version, if you kill one of the smaller dinos, it is very hard to get at it to butcher it, I had to walk away from multiple kills just because I couldn’t interact with them … at all. 

But I do have to admit it has been optimized a heck of a lot more than “Survival Evolved” 21 minutes and some change for that to load up while ASA loads up in 2 minutes 30! If you have played Ark before you know how frustrating that can be, so this change is a welcome one.

Another very interesting change is the Dino behavior they track a lot better … which is a good AND bad thing. Good in the fact that it is harder for you to lose one of your dinos as you run through the forest, they path much better to get to you, on the BAD side, the Hungry wild dinos can now track better to get to you as well. So a lot of mixed blessings I guess you could say.

I have heard that the Island map has changed, which I have to agree, the topography, I have tried to visit the areas where my angels and I have had bases when we all first started playing Ark, and they are jungles and forests, so think it would be impossible to put bases there. I found the small cove area where we built our ship bases before they nerfed it. And the spot where we took over a giant cliff area that was so open and easy to defend. NOW it is a forest so think you can’t even think to build there without a larger group for support.

As you can see from these pictures, the graphics are incredible, I believe you can fly a bit higher in ASA, if you fly too high you can enter the clouds and actually be unable to see anything, just a greyish-white blurry can see the “Steaming Jungle” behind me in this shot

The bay you are looking at here is the changed cove where we built our Raft Bases, WHICH you can do again with the right mods.

The mod makers are filling up the mod pages quickly. I am still tinkering with ASA as you are reading this, and I will do a part two eventually.

Do I recommend you buy this game? In good conscious, No I can’t. All because of Snail games and they’re money-grabbing greed. BUT! If you DO get it, I am confident you too will be impressed with the changes.

Remember, if your gaming company is doing things YOU don’t agree with let them know by NOT buying anything from them.

Until next time GOOD GAMING TO YOU!

Nydia Tungsten

Friday, February 10, 2023

A Glance At World of Warships

 By Bixyl Shuftan

With combat games, usually the focus is on land battles. Just give someone a rifle and maybe a tank and let them blast away. Ocean combat, not so much. It should be no surprise that Wargaming's first big hit game was "World of Tanks." But as those of us who study history know, sea power is important to. So soon after Wargaming released World of Warships in 2015, I signed up for it. Over time, yours truly lost his taste for World of Tanks, tiring of being little more than cannon fodder. But I still continue with "Warships" to this day, having recently gotten my 100th ship after about seven years of gaming.

For those familiar with the "Tanks" game, there are some similarities. Destroyers take the place of light tanks and are more nimble. Battleships take the place of heavy tanks and have a smaller rate of big gun fire, but pack quite a punch. Cruisers are in between, able to take on the roles of both to a degree. Carriers are the equivalent of artillery, able to strike from far away, but need some skill or luck to be truly effective, and tend to be lousy at close-range combat. Not unlike Tanks, players can also use terrain to their advantage, the islands. And just as tank players can fall off a ledge if not careful, ships can collide with rocks and sandbars and are stuck for some moments. And like Tanks, ships are ranked from 1 to 10/X, with matches seeing opponents close to one another in rank.

There's much more to the game than that though. 

There are several types of matches. And the big difference between "Tanks" and "Warships" are the "Player versus Enemy" battles. Instead of taking on other players, you take on AI controlled opponents. There are the "Random Operations" battles in which players are on a team out to complete objectives such as destroying all ships at a port before enemy reinforcements arrive. But more played are the Co-Op battles in which a fleet of player controlled ships takes on a fleet of AI controlled ships. AI opponents tend to be more predictable and easier to defeat than experienced human ones, so the potential rewards for beating them are less than with human opponents. On the other hand, friends such as Nydia Tungsten have observed less drama in these matches (and far less than World of Tanks). PvP matches consist of Random Battles (the standard Warships fight), Ranked Battles, and the newest type, Brawls. 
Most matches involve close matchups of ships in terms of ranks and class ratios, the number of destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers. Brawls though offer more different ones, sometimes pitting a larger number of lower ranked ships against a smaller number of higher ranked ones. With some matches such as Operations, Ranked Battles, and Brawls, only certain tier levels can take part. 

New players start out with several tier one cruisers, one for each nation in the game. As you play, you'll earn credits, ship experience points, or XP, and free experience points. To get a tier 2 cruiser, you're going to have get some credits and XP. You can get those by taking part in battles, or you can buy some doubloons and convert them to either free XP and/or credits. Ship XP is good only for getting the next tier ship in line, or better equipment. Free XP can be used for any ship. Credits and doubloons can be thought of as silver currency and gold currency. Silver currency is used for repairing your ship after battles, as well as upgrading it (more on that later) and getting new ones.
Once you've researched the tier 2 cruiser, depending on which nation's tech tree is involved you may also have a chance at getting the first destroyers. Researching the first battleships in your tech tree is usually an option once you've gotten tier 3 cruisers. Nations available to play include Japan, America, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France. For a few nations, Europe, Pan-Asia, and the Netherlands, their tech-trees are smaller with no battleships available. Carriers are first available at level four, but are fewer in number, available later at tiers six, eight, and ten. Naturally, higher tier ships take more XP to research and more silver currency to purchase. The time it takes to earn what you need for a tier ten ship can be many weeks. And oh yeah, if you're going to get more ships, you need to get docks for them, which either takes buying them with gold currency or winning them in missions (more about those later).

Matchups are typically 12 versus 12, a mix of cruisers and battleships, and maybe one carrier and one or more destroyers. Seldom are there two carriers or a match of all cruisers. Depending on the time of day, Random Battles can take some time, five minutes or so late at night, to arrange as the matchmaker looks for even matches. For PVE matches, setting things up is usually 30 seconds or less, with 'bots filling in the gaps of the player team if not enough players are found. On a late night game, I've occasionally been in Co-Op fights with just one other human teammate. One late-night PvP match pitted me against *exactly one* opposing ship. Rare, but it can happen.

Fighting other ships requires some strategy. You can't just simply point and fire as your shells take some time to reach where they're aimed, especially at longer distances. And if your intended target is moving not at or away from you but to the side, firing directly at them when they're a distance away is going to result in a miss. To have a chance at hitting them, you're going to have to aim your guns ahead of them, and try to time it so when you fire your opponent will have moved onto where the shell lands. If your shell hits at a wide angle, it will ricochet and cause little damage. A low angle means a penetrating shot is likely. This means firing broadside at an enemy should be done with some caution. You might be able to train all your guns at a target. But the low angle of your hull to the enemy's fire means you're more likely to take damage, including a critical hit which can really hurt you. 

All ships can fire shells from their main guns. Shells come in two varieties: armor penetrating and high-explosive. AP ammo has a higher chance of scoring penetrations and critical hits. HE ammo has a chance of causing fires, which slowly cause damage over time. The bigger the guns, the slower your rate of fire will be. So destroyer guns don't cause much damage but can reload fairly quickly, while battleship shells take a while to load, 30 seconds or so, but can pack a wallop if they hit right. Firing your main guns makes your ship easier to see over a long distance, so you may want to hold your fire at times. Destroyers and many cruisers also have torpedoes as a weapon. They travel slower than shells, but aren't seen until they're close to a ship and cause more damage. This makes sailing closely alongside an enemy destroyer or cruiser hazardous as if they fire several torpedoes at just the right angle, your ship may be done for (or close to it). 
Carriers have planes as a weapon. They can launch dive bombers, torpedo bombers, or fighters. Dive bombers attack ships from above. Torpedo bombers will usually try to drop their "tin fish" from the side. Fighters will damage an opposing carrier's planes, and can be used defensively to help protect teammates. Most ships have some anti-aircraft guns, particularly battleships. So when several ships are close together, bomber squadrons will likely take damage and possibly end up getting shot down.

Different ships require different styles of play. Battleships are best at firing their guns from a medium to long distance. They should be careful in closer combat as their huge mass makes them slower to change direction than cruisers or destroyers. As destroyers are hard to hit with the slow-to-reload main guns, a battleship captain is best to leave enemy destroyers to the cruisers and destroyers on his side and concentrate on other targets. If an enemy destroyer is closing in with no other teammates firing at it, a battleship should steer away to avoid it and it's torpedo attacks, letting it's secondary guns whittle away at it. In real life, a battleship shell could easily demolish a destroyer on it's own. In the game, they often need several such hits, even when hitting their hulls at low angles. 

Destroyers are smaller and quicker than battleships, but also have less hitpoints, so players are going to have to take advantage of their maneuverability and speed if you want to get very far. Most carry smoke charges, which can provide cover for the ships behind you. The job of destroyers in a team is to scout for enemy ships, provide smoke cover for their teammates, and try to get through the destroyers and torpedo the battleships. Emphasis on try as destroyers are often the first ships sunk in the game.

Ships have various combat buffs, usually called consumables in the game. All ships have a number of repair parties that can put out fires and plug leaks. Many also have sonar or radar broadcasts. Destroyers have speed boosters and usually smokescreen layers. Battleships have a buff that can repair some of their damage and usually another that can sent a scout plane in the air. Cruisers have a mix, depending on the ship, sometimes having a fighter that can be launched. These are not unlimited. Once you use a buff, you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can use it again. And usually you can only use them so many times per battle, usually three to four.

Ships are upgradeable. In the Equipment screen, you can use experience points and silver currency to give them a better hull, a better aiming system, a better engine, etc. There are also options to improve turret speeds, the ability for engines to still work but at reduced capacity if damage, etc, which cost credits only. You can also install signal flags that give the ship small bonuses such as faster speed or repair times. These have to be ether won or bought. 
Ship captains also get better over time. As they gain experience, over time they get experience points. You can use them to give then abilities, such as being able to see which ships are training their guns on them to being able to make buffs/consumables last longer. 

You can also give your ship Economic Bonuses. In the past, these were signal flags, but more recently changed to separate economic and experience buff

You can get up to three bonus containers per day by getting enough experience points. The first you need only a couple thousand, which takes me usually just one or two matches. The second takes more, about ten thousand. The third is fifteen thousand. You can choose between containers with mostly signal flags to economic bonuses to coal (for use in the armory). The last option is to take a chance and if you're lucky you get a supercontainer, though odds are you just get a small one with a small reward.
Players also get a reward for logging in daily. This can be free XP to silver currency to bonus containers. Log in enough, and you get a supercontainer. You may get upgraded to a Premium account for a week, lots of signal flags, or *maybe* a new ship.

If you have ships tier five or above, there are missions that they can qualify for. These can be as simple as winning one or a few battles, to spotting so many ships, to winning a certain amount experience or credits over time. The prizes can be things from camouflage paint jobs to signal flags, to special flags that are awarded only at certain times. Some missions come in a series in which if you win them all you get a special prize. For instance in the Drydock missions in which a ship is slowly built as you complete objectives, if you win the last mission, you get the ship. One ship I got for completing a mission was the HMS Dreadnought, the first battleship as we think of them in history. As it's tier 3, I don't play it much, but it's neat to have.

Players can join clans. There are benefits to being in a clan such as small bonuses for research points earned and reductions on how many you need.

Fans of history, particularly naval history, should enjoy the ships. After the level 1 ships, you start out with early pre-WW1 vessels, with later and stronger models as you move up, ending up with the best WW2 could offer plus some post-war ships and concepts. This includes some famous ships, such as the battleships Bismark and Yamato. Some of the more recent warships introduced never made it past the drawing board in real life.

And then there's the music. The tempo was particularly fitting at times. It wasn't hard to imagine it in a movie about naval battles. 
On occasion, there are available scenarios in which some ships are temporarily available. The Halloween seasonal battles involve some fictional steampunkish vessels. The post-apocolyptic ones involve some freakish looking ones. There's also been some science-fiction themed ones taking place on an alien sea.

So what were my favorite ships to play? Early on, I liked the tier 3 US cruiser St Louis for it's rapid firepower, and the tier 5 US cruiser Omaha was another early favorite. The Japanese battleships Konga and Fuso, Tier 5 and 6 respectively, were also good. Over time I've also gotten a few premium ships. The Russian tier five cruiser Kransy Krym can be fun with it's firepower. But the tier seven US cruiser Atlanta can really pepper away with small but numerous guns, and can make quick work of a destroyer caught in it's fire. Same thing with the Flint, also a tier seven US cruiser. The tier seven British battleship Nelson stands out with all three turrets facing forward. 

One recent addition to the game are submarines. Players are still trying to figure these out. Some like them, others dislike them. They're more of a challenge to sail as they can dive and rise to the surface. They'll need to dive sometimes as they can't take much punishment and easily destroyed with airborne attacks available to be called in by certain ships, or depth charges by destroyers and some cruisers. One near the surface is also vulnerable to shelling. So far, I've had mixed results when sailing them (temporarily given one as a prize for missions). Against AI subs, more often than not I end up KOing them or helping to before they deal much damage to me, if any at all.

So how much does the game cost? Well, the initial price of the game is free. So what's the catch? Well, as I mentioned, gold currency often takes real money to get. And unless you can win docks in missions, you'll have to spend such money to get the docks. If you want a Premium account, that usually takes money. Unless you're willing to wait for months, and perhaps years, to get that shiny powerful ship in the Armory that looks really good, you're going to need to spend real money to get the needed doubloons. Patient players can play the game, and spend just a little real money to get the needed docks to eventually get some tier five ships so they can start winning some in missions. Less than patient ones will need to fork over more cash.

There's probably a detail or two or three that I've forgotten. But this should cover just about every important one in the game.  The game isn't perfect, and there are occasional glitches. I've gotten penalized for crashing while the battle is being set up, and the computer reading it as quitting in the middle of a fight. Still, it's a great game that I recommend, especially to those who like ships. It may not be truly free, but I've kept playing it for years.

Image Credit: Cynthia Farshore, "Foxyfluff," Nydia Tungsten

Bixyl Shuftan