Tag: games

10 Simple Changes to Improve the Card Kingdom Starter Cube (v3)

Around the start of this year CardKingdom came up with the idea to release a self-contained cube product that you could buy for US$100. It would come pre-sleeved and in a nice couple of cardboard boxes. This would be a great way for people to get started on a cube without the hours and hours of trying to figure out the right configuration of cards to start building your own cube. You can think of it like a pre-packaged board game. $100 is pretty reasonable and the amount of hours of entertainment you can get out of it would be highly worth it. Not to mention the sleeves alone would probably cost $40 alone. There have been a couple of reviews so far: Quiet Speculation reviewed v1 and Tolarian Community College reviewed v3. Both of which have praised the product, and if I was going to review I would be mentioning a lot of the points that they have already made.

What I am trying to do is to give anyone out there who has picked up the cube, or is looking it pick it up, a simple guide to improving the cube. While this is a good product, it is still an outlet for CardKingdom to dump a pile of unused draft chaff into peoples laps. This is where I want to make some suggested cuts and additions to get rid of cards that don’t fit with the themes of the cube, or are just terrible and replace them with things to improve various archetypes or just add a little spice. I will explain why I believe each of these cards should be cut, and offer some suggestions to replace them.

Cut 1: Crook of Condemnation

Does this card even do anything in the cube? Here are all the cards that care about the graveyard in this cube:

Actually, now listing them all out, there is more than I thought there was. There is a total of 14 cards that this card is effective against, but that is already after they have done their thing. Cards like this are meant to be a flexible answer to a deck that may be too strong if all the pieces come together. As you can see, there isn’t really a deck that uses the graveyard and even though this card can cycle, it doesn’t do enough for it to warrant a maindeck spot. Cards that are sideboard only always warrant red flags in draft, as (from my own experience) people don’t care too much for sideboards in friendly cube drafts. This would leave this card to never being played, and if it actually did get played, the drafter must have been really struggling for variables.

Cut 1 Suggested Addition:

While Mimic Vat is a bit hard to parse on first read through it does a lot in the context of this cube. It acts as graveyard hate for creatures (if it is still a thing you think the cube needs to have) but it helps out the populate/creature tokens strategy. This strategy is based in GW but you can bleed it into any colour as they all have creature tokens in this cube, so a colourless reward is nice. It is also quite spicy in the black sacrifice decks.
The other options are to help out some other archetypes in the cube as the clasp helps +1/+1 counter theme, which is also spread across all colours. Mask of Memory was a first pickable card in Mirrodin block draft, and is still a great card today. Gives card filtering to any decks that need it and gives another equipment for the random Valduk and Champion of the Flame strategy.

Cut 2: Memorial to War

The memorial cycle from Dominaria are all here, and they have been great in that draft format… Well, all except one of them. Was it too much to ask for this one to be able to do 2 damage to something ala Blighted Gorge? This card serves no real purpose in this cube and I can’t see it ever wanting to be put into main decks. It is only there to cut off an ambitious splash, but even that is a stretch. The main thing to talk about here is how much do we care about cycles? The only reason this card is in the cube is because it’s brethren are great cards. War is only here because of this fact and none of its own merits.

Cut 2 Suggested Addition:

There isn’t too many mono-red utility lands that could be equivalent to the memorial cycle. The best options are: Flamekin VillageBlighted GorgeTeetering Peaks and Barbarian Ring. The reason the Encampment was picked over those cards is because it is the closest in power level to the memorial cycle, it helps support what red wants to do (beat down when flooding out) and mimics the memorial by coming in tapped and producing a mana of that colour. Sure, it isn’t a one and done thing like the memorials, but it is pretty similar to the white memorial, just that you have to keep paying mana for the creature. I know it may look awkward to have 4 of a cycle and 1 being different, but some times you need to put functionality over aesthetics.

Cut 3: Resolute Survivors

This makes you think that there may be a RW exert strategy in this cube right? Here are the exert cards you could find while drafting:

Yep, that is right, not a single white creature. I am not sure why either. There are a couple of battalion creatures that could have been Devoted Crop-Mate or even Gust Walker, but they decided not to. Just to have a generic 3/3 for 3 that can drain for 1 if it swings (and not be able to swing next turn) isn’t that exciting. It is also not that great that because it is a false signal. Making someone think they can make great use of the ability of this card and draft a hyper aggressive exert deck and feel a bit sad when they have only gotten 3 exert creatures. Plus one of the other RW cards sort of supports this strategy as well in War Flare. It is a combat trick that untaps all the creatures that just exerted for value. I feel like this one is a little better as RW is a little bit at odds in this cube as it is trying to support two different aggro decks in this cube, go-wide and go-tall. I am keeping the overall analysis of this cube as a future article, so it hard to fix this problem with just 10 changes, but there is a card I think that can help bridge the two.

Cut 3 Suggested Addition:

You see, RW has this random go-tall equipment strategy with these three cards:

While it may be easier to just cull this strategy all together and make RW go with the tokens strategy that is more abundant, it is an interesting angle a drafter could take if they felt so inclined. Weapons Trainer helps bridge the gap between the strategy, by picking up equipment to anthem up your army of tokens, and thus if you already have equipment you would be more inclined to pick up these cards and add them to your deck. While Danitha can hold her own as a decent card and Valduk is competent if not boring without equipment/auras the champion is terrible without. While I believe a future version of this cube should probably cull these cards due to being a trap (exactly what I was calling Resolute Survivors, the card I am trying to cut) Weapons Trainer should hopefully be enough of a strong enough draw to make the cards more playable, while strengthening an already strong archetype.

Cut 4: Invoke the Divine

Enchantment/Artifact hate always has a weird place in cubes. You feel like you need them as you need to be able to remove problematic permanents. It is just a problem that not everyone runs artifacts or enchantments. This cube also doesn’t have too many archetypes that are reliant on these card types that you would feel ok main decking this. There isn’t even anything in this cube that cares about lifegain for you to want that effect either. I mentioned above how I don’t like ‘Sideboard-only’ cards in cubes and this falls under that category.

Cut 4 Suggested Additions:

There are a pile of cards that can replace this by being more flexible. The only problem is, if you make it too flexible, it becomes a different card then what you wanted it to be. This is why I think Forsake the Worldy to be the best choice for this slot. It may not be the flashiest card in the world, but it does the job of being able to deal with an artifact or enchantment, and being main deckable. Cycling is such a great mechanic, as it just makes any niche card convert to a real card if the effect is inapplicable in that game. I also suggested Fetter’s as it has the life buff that Invoke did, to help those controlling white decks stabilise, but it adds in another piece of white creature removal, which I am not sure is needed but only playtesting will tell. I also really like Angelic Purge for some reason, so thought I would suggest it if the other two cards don’t pique your interest.

Cut 5: Willbender

I love Willbender. It has a unique ability that catches everyone offguard and leads to some memorable game states (remember that time I redirected your Door to Nothingness? Good Times…), except in this cube. It isn’t that it doesn’t have anything to redirect, only that it won’t catch anyone offguard, expect for a particular group of players, and they are the ones you don’t want to put at a disadvantage. They are the people who haven’t seen/played your cube before.
Let me explain by showing the other morphs in the cube:

So there are a total of 3 morphs in the cube. None of which share a colour, so when someone plays a facedown card, you have a decent idea as to what card it would be. This is where the detriment of not knowing cube comes in. By all accounts everyone should be able to see a Willbender in play in this cube and then try to play around it. The fact that the other two are proactive spells, where you want to flip them up straight away for value, while willbender is the only reactive one adds to this facade of it being ‘hidden information’. If it was a face up card with the ability to redirect something once, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. If there were a couple of other blue morphs, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. As it stands though, I can’t justify the amount of feel bads that this card would produce to include for it’s unique effect.

Cut 5 Suggested Addition:

I mentioned before that each colour has a +1/+1 counter theme. There is also this bird horror that seems out of place in the blue section:

It needs a little bit of help. That is where the plunderer comes in. It can’t spread as many counters at the bird, but it hits a bit harder, and in a cube where there seems to be a theme of 2 1/1’s for 2 mana, taking to the skies seems like a good archetype option. Plus, curving Cloudfin Raptor into the Plunderer sounds like a really quick clock.

Cut 6: Deadly Designs

Have you ever wanted to invest 12 mana to be able to get 2 Murder‘s? Because that is exactly what this card is asking. This card was printed in Conspiracy 2, as it was a multi-player limited format you could use politics to get another player to do some activations for you. This cube was not built for multiplayer, and I don’t think most people who buy it would be looking to play multiplayer with it either. There is enough removal in this cube that drafters don’t need to dig that deep to play this card. Did anyone ever play this in Masters 25? I don’t know why it was reprinted there either. Surely there was a better card to get from that set. Anyway, moving on…

Cut 6 Suggested Additions:

I feel that the black section is pretty solid and I am not sure what it needs. Here are just a couple of suggestions to help buff a couple of the random archetypes. Dread Wanderer give the black based aggro decks another one drop, and allows the sacrifice decks have a recursive creature (at a bit of a cost. Swarm of Bloodflies gives both control and the sacrifice decks a decent sized evasive beater. The only difference is what side the creatures would be dying on to give it the counters. Fallen Ideal was a spicy card I thought of to give the token/sacrifice deck a free sac outlet. It may be a little too swingy, as most people won’t expect you to swing in the air with haste for a possible 10 damage out of nowhere. Probably best left in magical Christmas land, but it didn’t hurt to but the idea in your head ;)

Cut 7: Goblin Trailblazer

When I decided I would cut a card from each colour there wasn’t anything in red that stood out to me that much. Then I realised in the spoiler that these two cards are right next to each other:

While this kind of card did used to be uncommon and was a good card in it’s own right, I don’t think this cube needs two cards that are practically the same at this point in the curve (even though Ire Shaman will probably never be cast as a 2-mana spell). I mean the card isn’t bad, it is just boring and doesn’t contribute to any archetype in a meaningful way.

Cut 7 Suggested Addition:

All of reds creatures are aggressive. The gold cards for RG want it to be midrange and UR wants to be control. There needs to be something to fit the stop-gap. I was going to have multiple other suggestions, but I have been such an advocate for this card, that I want it to be highly considered for this cube (I am surprised it isn’t in to be honest, as I assume they would have bulk stock of it). It can hold off a decent amount of attacks in the early game and late game it can get you back a piece of removal to help get you back in the game, or just get back a game winning spell (Fight with Fire anyone?). It is the flexibility that makes this card great and gets picked relatively highly in various DOM draft archetypes, so it should have the ability to shine here as well.

Cut 8: Naturalize

Remember how I said that I don’t like non-maindeckable spells. Yeah, well, I probably just should have put this in the same category as Invoke the Divine. But in saying that, I think there is enough artifact hate in green already (there aren’t really that many enchantments in this cube worth removing) with:

All of these are fine as they have other uses (Crushing Vines is pretty narrow, but closer to maindeckable than Naturalize). This is more than what white had, so I am fine with not trying to replace it with any similar effect like I did there. Instead let’s add a card to fix green’s other issue.

Cut 8 Suggested Additions:

Green needs some kind of sifting effect to help reduce variance. CardKingdom added in Krosan Tusker between versions 1 and 3, which is a nice addition, but there needs to be a couple more. These are all nice cheap ways to ensure you either hit the land at the start that you need or hit a creature later on when you have started to flood out. I am quite partial to Grapple the Past, as it can get any creature that has died throughout the game. Can even act as a surprise pump spell for Multani, which is a little too cute to matter, but interactions like this are what make cube games great.

Cut 9: Bloodtallow Candle

Colourless cards are tricky to evaluate. They can go in any deck, so they are usually picked pretty highly. This is even a piece of removal, which also gets picked highly. The real question is how much does this have to cost for someone not to play it? This kind of card is decent enough as filler, and was slightly more useful in DOM drafts as it could trigger historic. The only problem is that this has no secondary purpose in this cube other than a Scour From Existence, and while the difference between 6 and 7 mana in limited is quite a decent step, it doesn’t save this card from it’s inflexibility.
This will most likely be a 12-15th pick everytime and only see play in green/white decks that didn’t pick up any other removal.

Cut 9 Suggested Additions:

It came to me in a dream. This card hits so many different archetypes that it seems like a shoo-in to be included. It hits the equipment theme mentioned before, plus the sacrifice theme. If we want to stretch it even hits the token theme. It is also a piece of mediocre colourless removal that the candle was trying to be, but actually being wanted by a variety of decks. What more could you want from a card?

Cut 10: The Deserts

This is a little bit of a cheat, as there are technically 5 cards here, but I want to bring these cards to people’s attention. While most of the changes between versions 1 and 3 of the cube were fine, the decision to cut the trilands (Arcane Sanctumand friends) was a bit of a blow to the cube. They replaced them with the cycle of memorials (see cut 2) and this cycle of deserts. Good mana fixing and make or break a draft and cutting a whole 10 lands worth of fixing was a bit harsh. The good part was that they also cut the amount of gold cards, meaning that fixing wasn’t as required.

It is just mean to include this cycle of lands as a replacement, as they don’t really do anything in the context of this cube. There are no desert interactions, there is nothing that cares about cycling these away (Like Drake Haven for example). Looking through the list, Multani is the only card where having a cycling land matters. They may claim that they are there to help prevent flood, but if that is the case, why not include Drifting Meadow or Secluded Steppe cycles instead? They are both just strictly better in this case. This is an obvious change for $$$ reasons, as the trilands can sometimes go for $1 a piece, and the deserts are worthless and from a current standard set, so they would have heaps of them lying around.

I am fine for budget cuts, but manabases are what make magic function and we need to right this wrong.

Cut 10 Suggested Additions:

These are probably the best uncommon fixing lands ever printed. They are like a double Aether Hub/Tendo Ice Bridge, allowing for ridiculous splashes and giving you the right mana you need at the right time. These get picked highly and won’t be a mediocre middling pick like the deserts, and actually contribute to making the deck function rather than mitigating mana flood, plus that is what the Memorials were put into the cube for, and they are doing a much better job (well other than Memorial to War, but we dealt with that issue). These isn’t another cycle of 5 lands that help fix mana, as they are usually 10 card cycles, so the vivid’s have found their perfect home.

There are several other cards that are subpar in this list, but the goal of this article wasn’t to give you a hard and fast route to converting the CardKingdom starter cube into a ‘perfect cube’. In essence, there is no such thing as a perfect cube, and even if there is, it won’t exist for long with the amount of cards wizards output each year, there will be some that are better suited to go in more cubes than others. Just know that this product is a great way to get started, and that there is no correct answer as to what cards should replace others. These are just suggestions from years of pouring over cube lists and drafting more cubes than I can count. Just personal opinions that may help edge to a more enjoyable play experience.

The End of Candy Crush: A View From the Top

by: Jason Waddell

Last night, after returning home from a screening of the terrible-but-not-sufficiently-atrocious-enough-to-be-a-classic Syfy (really?) film Sharknado, I booted up my phone for my new bedtime ritual: swiping candies while listening to Arcade Fire’s latest album.

I polished off a few levels and was met with an unusual message.

end of candy crush

The end.

When I first wrote my Candy Crush review two months ago, I had only tackled one-third of the game’s levels. Several hundred levels later, what’s the verdict?


To my surprise, the entirety of Candy Crush is well and truly beatable without spending a dime. Although the difficulty continually increased, I never truly hit a brick wall that I had to pay my way though. Which isn’t to say the game didn’t present more than its fair share of frustration. A handful of predominantly luck-based levels required dozens of attempts to complete. Although the levels generally give players between 30 and 50 moves to spend, for the game’s worst offenders, defeat can be all but ensured after only a few moves. Playing these levels felt like taking pulls from a slot machine. Success simply wasn’t possible from most starting configurations. And should you be dealt a promising hand, you still need to play with near-perfect efficiency to seize the opportunity.

All told, I completed the game without once spending money to finish a level. I did, however, pay my way through the content gates (the alternative is to pester friends with Facebook requests) that appeared every 15 levels. Discounting the free credits that were given to my account by King Games, I spent a total of $6.60 while playing Candy Crush Saga from start to finish.


Frustration aside, playing Candy Crush is extremely cathartic. Its turn-based gameplay is perfectly suited for deliberate and calculated play. Personally, I play at a very slow pace, mulling over each move and visualizing future board states in my mind, only proceeding after narrowing down on the most promising option. The game’s limited supply of moves creates some real “back against the wall” scenarios, and weaseling an unlikely victory out of the apparent jaws of defeat can feel truly euphoric. Many games left me wishing I had recorded my gameplay.

Level Design


At its best, Candy Crush’s level design is truly top notch. Like any good puzzle game (is this where I namedrop Jonathan Blow?), Candy Crush subtly changes the formula to force the player to engage their brain in new and unique ways. There were long stretches of levels that hit the perfect balance of creativity and challenging. One particular level had me stuck for days, but the design was so engaging and skill-testing that I was almost disappointed when I finally cleared it.

But at its worst, Candy Crush is just a shitstain. Some levels give the player no freedom of movement, laying them at the mercy of forced-moves and a cruel RNG mistress. Others provide challenging objectives that can be entirely circumvented with the purchase of a given bonus.


There’s a good game built into Candy Crush, but it’s wrapped in the outrageous trappings of a cash-extraction gauntlet that intersperses compelling gameplay with barriers that demand tribute be paid either in dollars or in frustration. As much as I begrudge the formula, Candy Crush Saga is clearly a success by any conceivable metrics. For better or worse, the free-to-pay model doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.


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Rogue Legacy Review: A Skill Grind

By: Jason Waddell

I don’t have time for bullshit.

Games with superfluous filler to be disrespectful to me, the player. It didn’t used to be this way. Back in the day you found yourself in World 1 – 1 and ran to the right, and didn’t stop running. The industry has changed. 22 years after the release of Super Mario Bros. came Super Paper Mario, a game that effectively served as a bad marriage simulator: packed to the brim with vacuous dialogue and errands, and mostly devoid of action.

Thankfully, there’s one genre I can always count on to treat my time with the respect it deserves: roguelikes. For the unaware, the defining feature of a roguelike game is that the player is given only a single life. Lose it, and all progress is lost. Back to square one. Life after life, you gain literal experience: you learn more about the game’s systems, its tricks, and gradually you gain the skill to make deeper and deeper inroads into a game’s (typically) fiendishly-difficult dungeons.


Roguelike’s come in all shapes and sizes, and Rogue Legacy combines the typical roguelike construct (one life to live) with Metroidvania-style gameplay: platform based castle exploration. However, Rogue Legacy shakes up the formula with one very pivotal alteration: when you die, you don’t actually lose everything. After each life, you can spend whatever hard-earned coins you collected to purchase upgrades that will permanently affect all future heroes you send into the dungeon.


To reenter the castle, you must sacrifice all (or, after some upgrades, nearly all) of your gold to the castle’s Gatekeeper.


The result is that you must acquire a minimum threshold of gold during a run for that run to be of any use. If I need a 1200 coin upgrade, a run that yields 800 coins will be all for naught, as I have to surrender those coins to the gatekeeper before reentering the castle. Naturally, the upgrades become increasingly expensive, requiring increasingly successful runs to continue your purchasing progression.

Eventually you’ll encounter one of the castle’s five bosses…


…and you’ll get shitwrecked.

Your stats aren’t there. Bob and weave all you like, the bosses’ damage output will simply outclass yours. True, you may need more skill (and you will quite noticeably improve), but mostly you need more time. You need to grind. After the game’s honeymoon phase wears off (for me, somewhere around the 7 or 8 hour mark), you’ll start to see the grind for what it is. Each life becomes less about exploration and discovery, and more about putting in the time required to earn sufficient upgrades.

At their best, roguelikes offer an unparalleled emotional thrill. Runs of Binding of Isaac have me tensely teetering on the edge of my seat while holding on to that last life point. They capture my emotions, leave lasting impressions.

Runs of Rogue Legacy bleed into one another, and have me looking at my watch. Ultimately no single run is all that meaningful or emotionally satisfying. Just another stamp on the time sheet. Although skill affects the efficiency of your grind, the fundamental nature of the activity doesn’t change. It’s still a grind.

It’s a shame, because the game does a lot of things well. The gameplay is tight and skill-testing, and maneuvering your character is truly a joy once air dashes and double-jumps enter the mix.

Rogue Legacy does many things well, but leaves me yearning for a game where skill, not time, is the primary currency.

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We need to talk about the Crush

We need to talk about the Crush: A Candy Crush Saga Review

by: Jason Waddell

My untested mental image of obscenely popular freemium Facebook games is intrinsically linked with the consumer exploitation: addictive systems with restrictive content access mechanics and a pay-to-progress business model. Creating an addicting progressed-based experience is relatively trivial in the gaming world. Even the game Cookie Clicker, whose sole mechanics include clicking on a digital cookie and purchasing items, has managed to get its addictive hooks into even the savviest of gamers, but is thankfully truly free to play.

Not so with Candy Crush Saga. Countless ink has already been spilled on the supposed evils of Candy Crush and its infamous Facebook predecessor, Farmville. Like its predecessor, I had been content to ignore Candy Crush Saga entirely. That is, until a coworker with respectable taste in games recommended it to me. We’ve played games like Set, Hive and Starcraft II together, and he’s far too busy to make time in his life for shallow time-wasting fluff.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to discover first-hand what all the hype was about.


Match-three style games have never been my forte. I first discovered Bejeweled as a way to pass the time in a high-school computer science course, but found the gameplay rather shallow and unsatisfying. I’ll stick to Tetris on the TI-83, thank you very much. Years later I gave the genre another look based on Penny-Arcade’s Puzzle Quest recommendation, but even with a layer of RPG mechanics slapped on top, the gameplay soon became repetitive and tedious.

Candy Crush’s gameplay surpasses both of these.

Firstly, Candy Crush is surprisingly tactical. Rather than simply reward the player with extra points for combining four or more candies together, the combined candies leave behind one of four different special candies based on how the original candies were combined (a horizontally striped candy, a vertically striped candy, a wrapped candy or a color bomb).


When removed from the board, each of these special candies unleashes a unique but precise pattern of destruction on the board. Further, combining two special candies causes a devastating display. Progressing in Candy Crush requires skillfully and tactically setting up special candy effects to achieve each stage’s objective.

Secondly, with few exceptions, Candy Crush levels are restricted in the number of moves that they allot to the player, as opposed to a time-based restriction like the ones used in Bejeweled. This change fundamentally overhauls the experience. Bejeweled was a test of how well I could maintain my peripheral vision over the board while frantically executing matches. Candy Crush allows me to lay in bed and mentally mull over each move and its consequences at a relaxed pace.

Combined with the tactical play and we have the formula for an extremely satisfying experience. Although the game is wrapped from head-to-toe with colorful child-friendly graphics, the underlying gameplay engine is exceptionally skill-testing. Going deep into the tank to find a sequence of plays that completes the stage before your supply of moves runs dry can be a genuine rush, and taps into the same emotional feedback that hallmarks the best board games and card games.


Lastly, in addition to the core special candy mechanics, the game designers at King have packed the levels with interesting mechanics and obstacles: bombs that will end the level if not cleared within a certain number of moves, squares that must be unlocked by making matches in adjacent spaces, restrictive chocolate that slowly spreads over the level like Zerg creep, and so on. Beyond adding difficulty, these mechanics serve to keep the gameplay fresh and force the player to prioritize their actions differently from stage to stage.

As far as pure gameplay goes, Candy Crush passes with flying colors. I’ve never considered myself a fan of the genre, but the game’s designers have packed Candy Crush with innovative and intelligently designed systems that can keep even the most hardcore gamer satisfied. Of course, the age of evaluating games purely by their gameplay is rapidly disappearing. Free-to-pay games, however fun, are intrinsically linked to their monetization models.


On the surface, Candy Crush is well and truly free to play. There is no download cost, and so thus far it has been fully possible to progress through the game without ever paying a cent. In two-weeks I have beaten 160 levels without once paying money to beat a stage. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t paying. According to a ThinkGaming analysis, at the time of writing, Candy Crush is hauling in an estimated $850,000 in revenue per day. Regardless of the precision of that estimate, it seems apparent that consumers are paying in droves to get their fix.

The game itself is constantly poking and prodding the player to spend money. Let’s count the ways.

0) Difficulty Spikes (and luck-based levels)

Although not strictly a monetization scheme, Candy Crush’s inconsistent difficulty curve is the bedrock that enables all of the other methods. Every handful of levels the player will face a stage that is considerably harder than the ones that precede or follow it. This is obviously devious but also a little clever from the psychological perspective. Candy Crush is generally fun, and after a really hard level the player is rewarded with a series of entertaining and satisfying levels. Several times I have been stuck on a level for a dozen attempts, finally beaten it, then proceeded to clear the following five levels without losing a single life.

If the game only got harder, players would give once the game’s difficulty surpassed their skill level. But with these difficulty spikes, the promise of fun is always just one level away. Perhaps, in a bout of frustration, you’ll plop down some cash to increase your odds of progressing past this level. And if you do, you may even feel good about it. Look at all these fun levels you get to play now! This pattern is baked into the level progression, and soon enough it becomes readily apparent which ones are the “hard ones” and which are not. That’s fine, but my biggest gripe comes with the fact that progressing past some levels has very little to do with skill and a lot to do with luck.


Some levels, like the level above, have restricted board space, and offer the player little in the way of meaningful choices. Here we see the starting configuration for a level that only has one possible move, occurring in an irrelevant corner of the board. On this level, often my first dozen or so moves offered no real choices, and winning required getting a fortune opening from the Random Number Generator.

Make no mistake, there was still skill involved eventually, but whether the level was even viable or not felt like taking pulls from a slot machine. Eventually you will get lucky, but the grind can feel pointless and frustrating.

1) Limited number of lives

The player is given a maximum of five lives. Every time you lose a level you lose a life, and lives are gained naturally every 30 minutes. If you’ve been away for at least two and a half hours, you’ll come back to a full set of lives. Personally, I like this mechanic because it forces me to make the most out of each level attempt and places some weight, however trivial, on the gameplay. Aside from rogue-likes, single-player games often struggle to create meaningful failure states, as you can often just reload from the last checkpoint and have another go. Restricting my number of allowed attempts forces me to take things more seriously, and makes the victories seem somehow more meaningful.

Secondly, it provides a natural limit that tells me to stop playing and go do something else. I will never pay for lives, and certainly don’t want to spend all day crushing candy. Running out of lives provides the gentle push to get off my rear and do something worthwhile with my time.

For those who don’t want to wait, however…


2) Limited number of moves

Although each level technically has a fixed move limit, the limit can be negotiated at any time by greasing some palms. As soon as you start to run low on moves, Candy Crush will pop up the following gentle reminder in the corner of the screen:


Perhaps the most impressive part is just how well calibrated Candy Crush’s levels are. I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost a stage when sitting one move away from victory. Even more devious is the fact that, on stages where extra moves can be purchased, the screen will hover for a full second on the board after defeat to let the player see just how close they were. “Two more moves and I can get there!”. For losses where moves can’t be purchased, such as losing to a bomb detonating, the player is immediately whisked away to the defeat screen.

3) Extra Items

Stuck in a jam that extra moves won’t fix? Visit the Yeti Shop at any time to buy your way out of it.


4) Crossing Bridges

After every fifteen levels or so, you will encounter a bridge that restricts further access to the game. To cross it, you can either pay 3 Facebook credits ($0.30 total), or pester friends until three of them give you a ticket to cross.


This is the only monetization scheme I have supported. I don’t mind paying for content, and certainly don’t want to pester friends and relatives and panhandling for dimes. Mobile users have the additional option of completing special challenge stages to cross the bridges in lieu of payment. Thus far I have crossed about ten bridges, racking up a $3.00 tab. This feels like a reasonable rate to me, and the transaction doesn’t compromise the integrity of the skill-based gameplay.

The Geometry Wars Effect

If you play Candy Crush on Facebook, you’ll soon discover that you’re not the only one. Your aunt from New York? The loser who always tried to copy your Chemistry homework in high school? You’re old flames? They’re all on there, and the game constantly checks in to show you how you rank against your friends on each level and in the game as a whole. Chemistry cheater made it to level 120? You can beat that moron. Well, maybe. If you could just get past level 79. Maybe you could use a Lollipop Hammer after all..

Best of all, there’s no way to tell if your Facebook friends shelled out cash to beat the preceding levels. You may have your suspicions about the homework hustler, but Candy Crush doesn’t kiss and tell. So if you decide to Paypal your way through the next stage, your friends will be none-the-wiser.


Candy Crush Saga is a highly polished product with legitimate gameplay merit that is coated and dripping with monetization hooks. The game is as free as you want it to be, so long as you possess the discipline and emotional fortitude to resist its addictive elements and block out the pay-to-win temptations. If you don’t have those qualities, consider Gizmodo writer Ashley Feinberg’s story of spending $236 on Candy Crush in one month to be a cautionary tale.

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In a Strange Land: Words with Adversaries

By: Jason Waddell

RiptideLab is the first website I’ve ever created, and as with any new venture, there are surprises involved. Sure, you and I may think of ol’ RiptideLab as a hub of cube drafting discussion. Even a cursory glance at our page might confirm this hypothesis. But most of the people who find their way to this site via Google search don’t come for the games. They come for the fur.

Last month I wrote a blog post about my accidental visit to the world’s largest furry convention. Since then, web searchers have been visiting in droves. I can’t imagine these people are finding what they’re looking for. In a satistfying bit of symmetry, the furry enthusiasts are searching for furries but find a gaming site. What do they think of what they find here? Do they immediately high-tail it for greener pastures? Did they leave furrious and feeling ostrichsized?

My experience at Anthrocon was simply Part 1 in a trio of Pittsburgh tales. During my formative years I developed the regrettable habit of stumbling into gaming situations where I didn’t quite belong.

Today’s story started at the grocery store, of all places. Pittsburgh shopping trips were a “cooperative” venture in the loosest sense of the word. My wife came armed with a meticulously prepared list, and I did my best to implement lessons from my civil engineering course by placing myself and the shopping cart as to minimize the reduction of laminar flow of customers through the store. Translation: I stayed out of the way. Which sounds easy (and is, in fact, easy), but if you’ve ever set foot in a supermarket*, you’ve discovered that at least half the populace spreads their carts throughout the aisles as if they’re setting up a goddamn Maginot Line.

While wedged between the lemons and the bananas near the entrance of our local Giant Eagle, I spotted a sign for a weekly Scrabble night in the area. “Wednesday evenings, 7:00, Imperial House, Room 323”

The following Wednesday evening I arrived at Room 323 of the Imperial House at 7:15, along with my wife and our friend Jess. In tow we carried a tray of cookies and a copy of Pandemic in hand, in case anybody wanted to play something other than Scabble. We had grossly mis-assessed the situation.

“You’re late.”

The room smelled of mothballs and denture cream, and was host to a couple-dozen retirees silently laying tiles at two-person card tables. A couple dozen retirees and Stan, our host and director of the Pittsburgh Scrabble Club. The first round had already started, but with 17 players that evening, Stan had been the odd man out.

What happened next is rather foggy in my memory. The three of us (myself, my wife, and Jess. sorry Stan) were not allowed to play in a game together, as sanctioned Scrabble games are between a man and a woman strictly two-player affairs. We were issued official regulation scorecards and “digital Scrabble® clocks”. I was paired against Stan. Across the room players complained that neither Jess nor my wife were using the timers correctly. Shortly thereafter the girls decided it was time to go home.

Our time at Imperial House was abrupt and jarring. We came looking for a social gathering, but had wandered into the Scrabble equivalent of a geriatric PTQ. It’s apparently a common occurrence. A Pittsburgh blogger visited the club and wrote the following:

Every player was focused and serious – there were no smiles or jokes, and certainly not any laughter. One women told us how joining the Scrabble club has completely ruined recreational play for her – she can’t stand the conversation and lighthearted nature of it all. Those of you who know me will agree that this is not for me.

This is a fascinating testimonial. I always assumed that the grumpy grognards who frequented our local PTQs had always been that way. Bristly, unsociable. Were they, too, once filled with smiles and jokes and laughter?

Still curious, I turned to the internet to find out more about this club I had encountered. Would there even be information online? Did these people know how to make or use a website? Maybe Google could find the answers. ‘Pittsburgh scrabble club’.


Oh. Easy! Let’s dig around.

Their welcome page is an exercise in tautology.

You have found the website of the Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club (North American Scrabble® Players Association Club #352) in Pittsburgh, PA. We are one of 11 clubs in Pennsylvania. Feel free to explore the site by way of the links above and read on to learn about us.

It’s fortunate they have links. My plan had been to randomly peck URLs into my browser until I landed on another one of their site’s pages.

The Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club is fairly old as you can tell by our club number. However, when a previous director moved west the club fell on hard times. Now, we are in a rebuilding mode.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize it was possible for a Scrabble Club to ‘fall on hard times’. What does that even mean? Were they playing in back alleys just to keep the game going? ‘Previous director moved west’? The whole thing reads like a Dickens novel.

The age range of our players is from about 13 to about 85.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It’s not just your club number that’s old. Sure, it’s feasible that a 13-year old wandered into the club on accident once. But I can tell you from experience this place was not hospitable to the concept of youth. What would happen if they stayed? Would their body start rapidly aging like Robin Williams’ character in ‘Jack’?

I took the liberty of visualizing what their player-age data might look like.


Let this be a lesson: the range is rarely a very informative statistic.

The skill level in our club is very wide. It ranges from pretty good “kitchen table players” to just below expert level.

Expert level? Is there some sort of Scrabble Pro Tour? I mean, the game, like Magic, is owned by Hasbro, and I doubt there are players shelling out thousands a year on Scrabble product. How much money could there be in such a venture?

Sierra Exif JPEG


Unrelated fun fact: The winner of this weekend’s 4500 person Grand Prix Vegas Magic tournament wins $3500.


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