Tag Archives: games

Electronic shops I used to hang out in as a kid, ranked by their selection of computer games at the time

As a child, I spent a lot of my time here –

It’s the Queensgate Centre in central Harlow. A little off-road retail park near the station, with everything a family could need for a solid day of retail therapy. There was a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, a garden centre, clothes shops, and even a cinema.

Just look at that. Look how grey and depressing it is. Look at the angular 90s cars. Look at how all the stores were basically just warehouses with signs. But then look at the logo peeking in at the right there, a shining light of hope and attraction. A world of hope and dreams. A PC World.

There was something about an electronics superstore that really appealed to me. This was the 90s, and technology was still new and exciting. We had a Windows 95 PC at home, and I’d spent hours just messing around on Paint, playing Chip’s Challenge, or messing around with screensavers. So for a child like me, a whole ‘world’ of this stuff was just heaven.

It was a place where the promises of tomorrow were always on sale. The newest processors boasted about their incredible speeds. Rows of Soundblaster soundcards enticed you with the latest in crystal clear audio. And then there were the games.

I loved games. I still love games. Computer games are probably my favourite thing in life. Most of the games I played were borrowed from Bishop’s Stortford library, where I’d rent and re-rent LucasArts adventure game classics like Monkey Island and Full Throttle. As a child without a steady income, hanging out in the aisles of game shops was a transcendent experience – seeing everything I could ever want, but not being able to have any of it.

But it wasn’t just PC World. Here’s a full ranking of all those wonderful secret grottos that I spent weekends wandering through.

5. Tempo

Whatever happened to Tempo? They had the BEST jingle at the time – “Don’t sign on the dotted line until you talk to Tempo!”. I guess they couldn’t handle the competition from the other stores as they don’t exist anymore, and they didn’t offer an overwhelmingly impressive array of games. I’ve go have a look while my parents went to check out a fridge or something, but I’d often quickly run out. They did a lot of rubbish software too, 3D garden planners or budget trackers, that kind of useless stuff. I also recall the computer stuff being in some weird upstairs area too.

4. Comet

Is Comet still around? In my head it was always very similar to Currys – maybe they merged or something. In any case, they had a decent offering of games to check out, though I remember the aisles being quite narrow and dark. I bought a boxed copy of The Curse of Monkey Island here, and it’s one of my favourite games ever.

3. Currys

Completing the Holy Trinity of homogenous electronic stores, I can’t remember much about our Currys. Of the above three, this is the only one that still remains in the Harlow Queensgate Centre, so they must be doing something right. Average games-wise but pretty solid on the electronics front. I think they were one of the few ones that generally had a playable console available, which is a must for any decent games store.

2. Toys R Us

Not necessarily an electronics store, but it still did games very well. A large section of the shop was dedicated to games, and it was so beautifully presented. The games were all kept in brightly-lit white display cases, which you’d walk along and inspect. Instead of picking up any physical product, you’d simply retrieve a little slip for the game you wanted – a shopping experience almost gamified in itself. After checkout you’d proceed to a little separate desk, give the slip to the person, who’d disappear and return with a wonderful little gift that was all yours. I got so many games this way, and the slow, complex experience is deeply-rooted in my subconscious. Chucking £40 down on a game on Steam can’t replicate any of this. Give me a little yellow slip any day.

1. PC World

The undisputed master. Everything in-store was geared towards selling electronics and games. The gaming section was enormous and flowed across multiple aisles. And these were the latest and greatest in gaming. Games that you’d need a new computer to play. Games that would only play on Windows 98. Games that had more than 256 colours. 3D games.

You could probably buy every single game I saw then today for in total less than £20, but at the time it was some unattainable zenith of aspiration. I remember finally getting a double-pack of The Sims and its first expansion Livin’ It Up and it just making my whole year.

Honourable mentions:

  • WH Smith. Yes, WH Smith the stationers. For some reason, the one in Harlow town centre had loads of games (I think they still do in most places). And since there was always a reason to go into WH Smith I’d always manage to fit in a quick look-see. It was good mostly just to check out what new was out, rather than buying stuff. But still fun.
  • Office World. Now overtaken by the more popular Staples, but Office World carried a decent selection of games too. I remember us getting our Windows 98 PC from there,

I know this is a really specific form of nostalgia, and it’s pretty self-indulgent for me to write about it. But this genuinely was a staple of my childhood and it’s something I’ve lost as an adult. I can just get whatever I want now that I have money. My enormous Steam backlog is a realisation of that bright-eyed kid’s dream of owning every game ever. But I’ll miss those times when this was all out of reach. The best games always live in our imagination.

Review: Risk Legacy

Risk Legacy is the greatest board game I’ve ever played.

COOL THANKS FOR READING BYE.

Nah, I’m gonna write something proper here. Because I think Risk Legacy is a game that everybody should play.

Spoiler Warning, maybe? It’s best played with absolutely no knowledge of what actually happens in the game. But I’ll just be talking about gameplay mechanics, etc. Just don’t look too closely at the photos if you’re worried about that kinda thing.

But what is Risk Legacy, anyway? Isn’t it just plain ol’ boring Risk? No.

Risk Legacy ain’t yo momma’s Risk. It’s an arduous campaign of death and destruction that demands your blood, sweat, and tears. It’s a game that you have to literally sign before you start, swearing that everything that happens from that point on is your own fault. It’s a game where your mistakes come back to haunt you forever. And it’s so much fun.

The basic idea is this: the classic territory-domination gameplay of Risk, but with ‘legacy’ elements. By ‘legacy’, we mean that the outcomes of previous games affect future ones. Found a city in a region in one game, and it’ll be there the next game. Ten games later that might the stronghold that everyone’s fighting for. Real choices with real consequences.

There’s personalisation elements: winning games gives you the option of naming cities and continents. And there’s destruction: cards are literally torn up and discarded. Permanently. The game chews you up and throws you out, but you’re also doing the same to the board. The resulting wine-stained, food-encrusted, scribble-laden board is a unique treasure.

Then there are the boxes. Every game should have boxes. These are sealed compartments within the game’s case, only opened once certain conditions are met. And their contents literally change the entire game. I remember one in particular had us all screaming for ages, and we never scream out loud. The only letdown with this element is that a few times we played in a way that would specifically lead to a box being opened, because we loved them so much, rather than them naturally occurring in the game. But it’s such a great concept I don’t even care.

With a campaign of 15 games to play, and a playtime of a couple of hours for each game, there’s hours of entertainment to be had with Risk Legacy. Alliances are formed, rivalries develop, and – most of all – memes are born. Oh my god, the memes. For instance, dice rolling is a large part of the combat, and we ended up using a massive Oreo tin as the arena for these rolls. Somehow it became known as “The Thunderdome” and I still call it that to this day. Or how we would all raise a glass and toast “to the game!” at random intervals.

There’s not much else to say about this game other than I wish I could erase it from my mind and play it all over again. The game works in such a way that you could keep on using your board for endless games after the campaign is officially done. But that feels somehow profane. Our completed board is a sacred thing, and shouldn’t be desecrated by ersatz imitations of previous battles. I proposed burying the board in the garden, but that wasn’t a popular idea.

I guess the elephant in the room here is Pandemic Legacy. Somehow this is the one that everyone always talks about. If you don’t know, Pandemic Legacy is a co-operative disease-battling game… with legacy elements! (Risk Legacy came first by the way). I’ve also played a full campaign of Pandemic Legacy, but it just didn’t do it for me in the same way. It couldn’t scratch that itch.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it didn’t compare, and I think it’s because PL is co-operative while RL is PvP [player vs player]. There’s something about everyone trying to beat each other over the course of 15 games that I really love. A clear winner emerging and everyone temporarily banding together to bring them down. There’s power dynamics at play that a co-operative game, where you all win or lose together,  just can’t have. I’d recommend both, just Risk Legacy first any day.

So, should you play Risk Legacy? OH MY GOD YES WHY AREN’T YOU PLAYING IT ALREADY? Just invite me to come play too.

Review: Dave Gorman vs. the Rest of the World

More of the same from Gorman. Which is a shame really, because I really wanted something good.

In this book, Dave Gorman travels around the UK meeting people and playing games. It’s standard Gorman fare then, travel + people + some vague ‘aim.’ But it doesn’t hold up to the others in my opinion, and generally feels like an all-round more muted experience.

For a start, there’s no real challenge to speak of. The beauty of Googlewhack / AYDG? was that it was a race against time to find/do something. In this, Gorman just randomly meets up with people to play games with them. There’s a subplot about his upcoming marriage, but there’s no significant interplay between the two. There’s nothing at stake, and reading about someone just meeting people in pubs turns out to not be that interesting.

It’s also confined just to the UK, which is a shame given the globetrotting-ness of the previous outings. Reading about Sheffield train station doesn’t quite have the appeal as his roadtrip across America.

The games themselves are fine, and quite interesting – even when they are just Monopoly and Guess Who. The people are supposed to be the real focus I guess, and Dave’s compassion for the people he meets is plain to read. Even the weird ones.

In all then, this felt liked a dumbed down version of his other work. It almost read like a newspaper weekly column, as opposed to a proper book-adventure. It even felt shorter. I didn’t hate it though, just found it rather average.

Rating: 3/5

Cluedo: The Big Bang Theory

So I was in Bruges recently. It’s a lovely place, and I saw lots of beautiful things.

The best thing I saw, though, was this:

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Yes, in a Bruges toy shop window was this… thing. It’s a version of the board game Cluedo, but based entirely around my least favourite TV show: The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I’m not going to go into why I don’t like The Big Bang Theory (saving that for another day), but I’d like to take a moment to consider the oddity of this as a cultural artifact. A murder mystery board game themed around a nerd-centric sitcom. What a time to be alive!

But how exactly do you merge TBBT with Cluedo? It’s not a natural transition.

For comparison, let’s look at how Simpsons Cluedo, which I actually own, did it.

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It all works very well. The premise is that Mr Burns has been killed (again!) and the game plays out in the standard Cluedo fashion. The characters neatly pair up with characters from the show, the weapons are things like Bart’s slingshot and Lisa’s saxophone, and the places become the Nuclear Power Plant, Kwik-E-Mart, etc. So it’s all pretty elegant.

Cluedo: The Big Bang Theory doesn’t bother with any of that though. The death of Dr Black (ie. the whole reason there’s an investigation at all) is reduced to Who betrayed Sheldon? Yup, Sheldon’s not even dead or anything – just a bit annoyed at his friends.

What are the possible betrayals? Well, I couldn’t see on the front of the box, but some online digging turned up these “misdeeds”:

  • Erased Equation Board
  • Dog-eared Comic
  • Wiped Hard Drive
  • Stained Cushion
  • Defiled Toothbrush
  • Dismantled Shelbot

Yeah… I can’t say I’d feel as excited about investigating a stained cushion as a murder. The  box reverse asks “Did Penny dog-ear the comic in the laundry room?” and I don’t feel that’s a question anyone in the world would care about the answer to. But whatever hey. At least they’ve tried.

The characters are all the major ones from the show (excluding Sheldon, of course) and the places are all the main “places” of the show. Maybe you’ll get a kick out of that if you’re a fan, I dunno. It’s cool they’ve stuck to these elements at least, seeing as they began by undermining the fundamental point of the whole thing.

I’d also like to point out how weird it is that they used a weird cartoon version of The Big Bang Theory characters on the box. Could they not get the actors to pose for just one photo? TBBT isn’t a cartoon and it’s confusing that they’d use one on the official box art.

I mean, they did it for the Monopoly cash-in…

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So how does Cluedo:TBBT actually play? Is it any good? To find out the answers to these questions, I headed to the game’s Amazon page. There, you can buy it new for £24 or used for a couple of quid less. It’s currently ranked #65 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games between “Waddingtons Santa’s Workshop Limited Edition Christmas Jigsaw Puzzle (1000 Pieces)” and “Monopoly Adventure Time.”  So it’s pretty popular, I’m guessing.

It has an average Amazon review score of 3.0 out of 5 stars, from 26 reviews. Let’s take a look shall we?

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Oh, this poor chap got a copy of the game that was misprinted. None of the room names were printed, and there are some missing special squares on the board. Oops! Let’s try another.

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Christmas ruined for paulmc there. Another misprinted board. Surely they can’t all be like this?

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Ok then. It looks like the game board is just broken. Seeing as the game’s printers had one job (print all the information that’s meant to be on the board onto the board) that’s pretty shocking. Just for balance though, I’ll include one that doesn’t mention the printing issue.

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Here me 🙂 (not me) writes that cluedo arabs live big band theory. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but he’s given it 5 stars anyway. So there’s definitely people out there this game will appeal to.

But I’m not going to be one of them. Frankly, I still can’t believe the thing even exists.

I’ll stick to my original Cluedo, thanks.