Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dave Reviews: Alexa's World Tour

When In Rome

If there's a potential issue with any trivia game, it's the possibility of seeing a question twice. The Internet is full of trivia. So running a trivia game through Amazon's Alexa service has to be perfect, right?

Quoth the Internet: LOL

When In Rome is, if nothing else, a clever little idea. Once computer/phone apps started becoming integrated with board games, it was only a matter of time until online services were used to expand the possibility even further. When In Rome lays a map of the world in front of you; you pick a city in which to start, then answer a trivia question about that city to make a friend. If you make a friend, the other player can't (two players or teams max), because apparently there are only twenty people in Alexa's world. You can normally only travel to a city connected to the one you're in, but having friends lets you chain moves together, because the world is a mosh pit and we're all just crowd surfing on it.

In every city, you have a choice between an easier, three-point question of a random category, or a harder, five-point question in a different category. All questions are about the city you're in. Between the points for answering questions correctly and for picking up special souvenirs that pop up from time to time for bonuses, you play through either nine rounds or when three souvenirs total are collected (the latter is much more likely). Highest score wins.

I'm not going to say you can't have fun playing When In Rome. It's possible. But that sentence alone should tell you where this review is going.

The tricky thing about a review is that I'm not sure if it's trying to do too much or not enough. That shouldn't generally be a point of confusion about anything. But this is a game where they hired twenty different voice actors to play the friends in each city and ask the questions related to that city. Considering this is the first real Alexa-based board game, nobody would have expected them to go so far in their efforts, so it was really an above-and-beyond decision. However, using voice actors dramatically limits the number of different questions that can be asked. This thing is connected to the Internet, but in the first two games I played, I got the same question both times I ended up in San Francisco. That's beyond unacceptable for a trivia game, and the way the voice acting is used isn't even that good (between the actors and Alexa, there's often too much of a gap between questions).

Worse yet—and that first problem is pretty bad—they put all this time into the aesthetics but couldn't even figure out a good way to make the souvenir system work. First, when a souvenir pops up, it's in a randomly generated location. Fine. These locations seem to always be relatively equidistant between the two players. That's reasonable; it would be pretty fucked up if one player could move one space to the souvenir city while the other had to move five, giving the first one several chances before their opponent had one. But the souvenir can pop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND.

Here's how a round works: a challenge for both players is put forth. Sometimes they need to come the closest to a percentage-based statistic (ie. guess what percentage out of 100, closest wins); sometimes the players alternate answering different questions until one of them gets one right. The winner of the challenge makes the first move that round. If there's no souvenir and no reason to go any particular direction, then going first doesn't matter.

The only real advantage to going first is if it gets you to a city with a souvenir sooner. Therefore, giving a potential disadvantage to someone for winning the right to go first (you don't get a choice) is completely batshit. The fact they didn't realize this tells me we're talking about a bunch of programmers who never made a game and thought they could do something cool with Alexa. They apparently nailed it with a game called Beasts of Balance a couple years ago; the ball got dropped in every conceivable way here.

It shows. Play this game if someone else has it or you find it in a thrift shop for a buck, just so you can see the problems and dream about what could have been if they hired anybody who knew what the fuck they were doing with this, or even just some competent game testers. They're in London, they should have asked Shut Up and Sit Down to do it.

Score: Six dystopian dumpster fires out of twenty.

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