Friday, September 22, 2017

Dave Reviews: One Simple, Fun Game

Flip Ships

Do you want to play Galaga on a table? Do you want it to be harder than actual Galaga? I got something for you.

Flip Ships has the same story as Galaga, Space Invaders, and most of the futuristic bullet hell games in existence: aliens are invading in way bigger numbers than we have and we have to smash them, one and all. You start with two ships but can potentially end up with seven, and the strength of the enemy scales to however many players are in the game (one to four). The enemy is a deck of alien ships and a mothership, all of which have to go down for you to save the world.

So far, so normal. It's how this all plays out that's great.

The aliens go five wide, and you fill the two rows farthest from the atmosphere. They have different stats, including speed, so they drop closer to the planet at different rates. Some move one space at a time, some two; some will advance until they hit a ship in front of them, so they can go from the top all the way to the planet if there's nothing in front of them at the end of the turn. Enemies also have varying levels of power (damage dealt), and a few either take two hits to kill or shield any adjacent ships from damage until the shielding ship is dead. Dead enemy ships go into a discard pile; ships that hit the planet do damage, then get shuffled back into the deck for another turn.

But how do you kill them?!

You flip your ships on them!

Flip Ships is a dexterity game. Your ships are circular tiles that you flip onto the enemy cards. Anything you hit dies (unless it takes two hits or is shielded, which just means hitting again in that round). The mothership is effectively a big box that you need to flip ships into to damage it, which is a height-plus-distance-plus-accuracy test that is incredibly challenging until you find a method for consistently getting the height and distance so you can work on the accuracy. The effect is that there's a really good chance you'll fail to win your first game or two, wiping out the deck but not killing the mothership in time.

At first it might feel like the enemy ships are running you over, because you don't have many ships to throw at them and (depending on the draw) they might start trashing the planet pretty hard. But this is where Flip Ships goes full genius: you add to your available ships as the planet takes more genius. In other words, you gain the strength to fight back just as the situation starts becoming desperate. In a single mechanic, the game adds the right amount of stress and feeling like a hero (because it is a skill-based game).

The skill isn't just limited to the flipping, either. The game has a timer, and where you really see it is when you're down to the last handful of enemies. Once there are six or fewer, you have one round to kill as many as you can, and any left alive kamikaze into the planet for double damage. After that you have one more round to deal whatever damage the mothership can still take, or lose. You can't really control the enemy swarms when double digits are alive, but once they're too few you have to decide which ships to knock out and which to leave, and then do it. And if you've done a reasonably good job, you may want one or two to succeed in their kamikaze runs, since getting the planet low on HP gets you the maximum number of ships for the last run at the mothership.

Of course, you can go after the mothership and kill it before the swarm is dead, but if you can do that you're probably playing hard mode.

If you're a fan of the old school 2D shooters, Flip Ships is about as good as you're going to get for an analog version. It's simple and everything about it works. And if you become incredibly good at the game, you can ramp the mothership all the way up to 20 HP if that's what it takes to create a challenge--the default for a four-player game is six.


Score: Forty-three exploded alien spacecraft out of forty-five (let two through in a controlled kamikaze allowance).

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