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This one will require a bit of history background. First in the line, there was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt which among a lot of other things featured a mini game called Gwent. Gwent is basically a card game that emulates a clash between two armies. It lasts up to three rounds and to win a round one needs to have the highest score determined by adding the individual score of each card for each side of the "battlefield". Rules are definitely more complex than your basic Witcher and Witcher 2 dice game but no so much as to push the player to abandon the whole idea just after having tried it once. And that made Gwent the most popular mini-game featured in a game.

It was so popular in fact that CD Projekt decided to go standalone with a fully featured game version of the mini-game called -- not so surprisingly -- Gwent. The base principle of the game remains the same as in the mini-game but most other rules and what the cards do (compared to a same card in the mini-game) differ, the cards are also more refined in their design. A major difference between the Witcher 3 Gwent and the standalone Gwent being that most units have the ability to deal damage to enemy units (therefore decreasing their points eventually down to their destruction).

Originally Gwent was planned to have both a single player and a multiplayer modes. However, as the development progressed, the multiplayer took more and more precedence and the single player envisaged was downgraded to a mere "training" mode against the computer.

It made more sense for CD Projekt Red from that point on to develop instead a full single player Gwent-based game and the result is Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.

The story of Thronebreaker evolves around Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia (a character originally from the Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski) that Geralt encountered once, about five years before the start of the first Witcher game, during the second war with Nilfgaard. The circumstances of this meeting are even related in the game briefly. Meve has a particular place in Geralt story as she is the queen that knighted him. Geralt generally don't mention it, but he is a genuine Knight, although he deserted Queen Meve shortly after he received his knighthood, because back then he had things more important to do than playing knight. Thronebreaker seems to hint to the fact that Meve in the end doesn't hold a grudge toward Geralt -- as a matter of fact, she never stripped him of his title as confirmed by The Witcher 3 DLC/Expansion Blood And Wine (in which the player is also reminded that Geralt was also knighted by another Queen but it was for the purpose of his work and the name was not his). Originally Geralt picked "of Rivia" as a jest when he was a young witcher but since Meve he can fully bear the name in all technical "legality".

Thronebreaker however is certainly not centered around Geralt even though it fully belongs to The Witcher universe.

The events occur during the second war against Nilfgaard which ended with the Battle of Brenna. At the beginning of the game Meve, her military advisor Reynard Odo and her escort of brave Lyrians in tow come back from talks with the kings of the North regarding the approaching military campaign. During her absence, her son, Willem the man she left in charge of advising him, Count Caldwell, were left to fend off the day to day routine of the realm. Unfortunately they kind of screwed up and ended with a problem that they couldn't surmount, the "Duke of Dogs". Chief of a large band of thieves called the "Strays of Spalla", he roams the countryside, robbing and pillaging. Evidently, Meve decide to take charge of the problem with her trusty men. After some adventures that take the place of a tutorial of sorts (that does a good job at showing you the basic ropes but a poor one at actually telling when some cards should be used -- in fact it shows you exactly the opposite of a good use in some cases), Meve finally capture the bandit which seems to be unapologetic and play the funny guy but despite his amusing demeanor Meve has him escorted to the dungeon to wait for her to decide his fate.

This same night, Meve and his closest allies end up in the dungeon too after being betrayed by both her son and Count Caldwell whom was bought by the Niflgaardians to open Rivia Castle doors and let them enter without a fight. After a while though she's freed by the one she captured, Gascon, the "Duke of Dogs", whom was on his own way to escape the castle himself but couldn't bear to let a lady "rot" in there.

After liberating the men still loyal to her, and having enrolled the help of Gascon and his band of merry men, there she flee with just the core of an armed force, barely enough to get away. From that point begins a long journey building forces, recruiting allies and constructing a powerful army with the final purpose to boot the Nilfgaardians out of the realm and to punish the betrayers. 

No need to say that this journey is filled with fights, all in the form of Gwent card battles with several variants (because you know, just playing Gwent all the time is kinda boring no matter how much you love it).

So there are three kinds of Gwent battles in Thronebreaker. Standard, shortened and puzzles.

Standard battle is just common Gwent. Best of three rounds, you choose the cards going in your deck and you develop your strategy over the three rounds (which allows you to loose one if you think it's in your interest).

Shortened battle is like common Gwent except there's only one round. You have to overpower your opponent knowing that you only have one go at it.

Then there are puzzles (which are clearly indicated with their own icon). A puzzle is a shortened battle with special rules and a customized deck (which means that the deck is chosen for you, you don't get to pick your cards).  It would be more appropriate to speak of "challenges" rather than "battles" when it comes to puzzles. Sure a lot of them are battles but a significant portion have more "exotic" objectives, like prevent the Queen from being crushed by boulders, escape from a dungeon or just drink the most beers before your opponent finishes his own kettle. The common point of all though is that you have to complete the challenge within the parameters set and with cards you've been given. Note that what you are provided with will allow to complete the challenge, it's for you to know how.

Puzzles can certainly be fun, it's my opinion though that CDPR used them too much especially in the early stages of the game. There are far more puzzles with restrictive rules than normal or even shortened battles. All in all that makes for a tedious beginning for anyone just wanting Gwent. Through the game things get a bit more balanced regarding the number of each type of battles per chapter but I can't say I was especially fond of the beginning.

Between combat there is exploration to be done and maintaining your army. Exploration is nothing like The Witcher games. No fancy 3D good looking vista. It's strictly 2.5D isometric stuff in non "zoomable", non "orientable" format (yep, I invent new words, occasionally). There's no "army" on the screen, only Meve and you're supposed to imagine that her whole army is stuffed somewhere in her... pocket (what did you think I was going to say? Although it's difficult to find a pocket on an armor so let's say her saddle, yep, her very very big saddle). Nevertheless this exploration mode is important, first because it allows you to find and gather needed resources (gold, wood and recruits), second because it's a good way to find some special cards that you will need later and third because it's obviously the only way to go through point A to point B and fourth, it's a good occasion to influence your army, in a good or a bad way.

See, Meve's soldiers are people too. They have an opinion and they watch her closely any time that she renders a judgement or makes a decision -- and that's a lot, in that regard, Thronebreaker is a traditional Witcher product, with a lot of moral choices to be made with consequences both immediate and/or delayed in ways that some times may surprise you although thinking about it you're more likely to say "well I should have seen that one coming". The most common impact of decisions is on Meve's troops morale. They can be neutral, happy or sulking. That in turn will have a direct impact on the following Gwent battle (except puzzles). If the troops are neutral, each unit has its normal amount of points. If the troops are happy, the amount of points is increased by 1 for each unit. If the troops are sulking, the amount of of points is decreased by 1 for each unit. One can easily understand the importance of morale in a game that is mainly based on the accumulation of points. Happy troops may means during a standard Gwent battle up to 40 points more and essentially free. Demoralized troops will have you start at a disadvantage. Troops morale is reset to neutral after each Gwent battle (standard or shortened; once again puzzles are unique and don't rely on the morale system).

Meve's decisions may also affect allies. Allies are special characters Meve can recruit either temporarily or permanently in her army. Those allies come generally with powerful abilities (as cards) of their own and may surprise in good or bad ways. Allies can be lost following decisions they can't agree with or because you fire them (the option is proposed in some cases). When an ally is lost, their card disappears from your deck.

There's a fair bit of strategy planning the encounters as well. A deck good for standard battle may not work all that well for a short battle. Some units just need more than one round to have a real effect while others are really good at delivering a quick but devastating blow. The deck can be adjusted between battles at camp.... or one can decide to develop a multipurpose deck that will work reasonably well but without excelling whatever the situation.

As a final point I'd like to point out is that Thronebreaker is a looong game, for its genre. We're looking at a 30+ hours game and that's assuming that everything goes mostly according to plan, that you won't loose too many battles on the first try that you complete most puzzles on the first try... etc. There's a good story and characters so I never had the feeling to waste my time but still, 30+ hours for a card game is a bit taxing, so taxing in fact that I couldn't finish it in one go and had to play other games here and there. True fans of card games might not have a problem with that though.
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Off (and insane) Topic discussions / Re: Random babbling 2019
« Last post by Silver Sorrow on June 02, 2019, 12:16:02 AM »
I've given up on Photobucket. They plaster their "proudly hosted on" crap all over my pics (apparently, since I have a free account I'm supposed to be thankful for their goddamn watermark), send me vaguely menacing emails about my account being over the limit or something (translation: I'm not paying them an exhorbitant monthly fee and they don't like it), and so on. So I don't bother anymore. If they decide to delete all my pics, so be it.

So if you decide to block PB links, that's perfectly fine by me.  :ok:
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Off (and insane) Topic discussions / Random babbling 2019
« Last post by Starfox on May 30, 2019, 02:56:52 PM »
That I am starting this time (yes, we're near the middle of the year and yes, I don't care).

So I just spotted that all the Images hosted on Photobucket and displayed on our site bears a big "Proudly hosted on Photobucket" watermark. I guess that it's better that not having anything at all...

However as a site owner I'm trying to find some way to reconcile that and our usage policy that is that "no advertisement of any kind shall be displayed on our site without our express consent" (and possibly without an accurate compensation because after all this is advertisement and as far as I can see it's all free for Photobucket).

Not really pleased about the "sneaky" aspect of what they did there. I wouldn't mind if Photobucket was still a completely altruistic effort but as we all know, it's not anymore.
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Funnily enough, I think I only tried the Brujah once, to test a new model/skin. Beyond that, nope. Each clan had its hook (even the Ventrue; Dominate was a lot of fun), but I guess the Brujah was just...boring. Nothing special.

Oh, and...Malkavian!  :ss-ymca
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It's amusing. Now that I think about it there's one clan I never played in VTMB and it was the... Brujah. Don't know why. I overplayed the Malks (my all time favorite), I enjoyed the Nosferatu despite the limitations, I liked the principles (the whole mysterious blood magic thing) behind the Tremere, seducing my way as a Toreador, and I even played one round as a Ventrue though obviously I'm not a big fan. The Brujah though? Never, not a a single time. You'd think it would be an obvious choice for a player (after all Jack is a Brujah... and the clan is the de facto "rebel" faction opposing the tyrant... but no, never appealed to me).
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The Foxhole QuickViews / Cat Interstellar [2017 -- Ionized Games]
« Last post by Starfox on May 20, 2019, 03:24:37 PM »
Well, this will be as short as the "game" itself which according to Steam I played from beginning to end for a total of... Gosh... 68 minutes!

Cat Interstellar has definitely something "in there" that could have been the basis for a good game, granted with a lot more work. Unfortunately, it's like if the developers decided to throw the towel part way through the project leaving us with something unpolished and that definitely feels unfinished. Instead of that they just "pretend" that the game is story focused... the problem is, even if one feels that there is a story somewhere, it's very rough to the point of being unappealing. There's no subtitles either (which shows that the game development was cut short at some point).

All that left me sad really because with some efforts the whole thing could have definitely gone somewhere following the likes of The TALOS Principle... As it is however, it's barely a proof of concept, let alone a game. Certainly feels more like an alpha build made for an E3 presentation.

For all purpose and intent, when I grant to this game the "bad" smiley, it's assuming that it is the finished product (which it apparently is as it doesn't bear the famous "Early Access" seal). Would it be a work in progress, I would certainly be more lenient.
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bobdog's Mini-Reviews Corner / Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Last post by bobdog on May 20, 2019, 09:40:08 AM »
Here’s another round-up of free games on Steam that I’d recommend at least playing. Most are relatively short with an hour or less of gameplay.

Gizmo is a single-level proof of concept for a 3D platformer. Gizmo is a robot who can jump, spin his arms, double-jump with a spin, and even convert into a rolling pin to speed up and knock over opponents. Apparently, humans have been asleep for 35 years, and a robot master wants to build the frozen world into his image. It’s never explained, but maybe you’re not wanting that to happen, as all the robot forces are now after you! As you traverse the icy wastes of this level, you can look for special information capsules. Gameplay was pretty fun, in a Mario/Sonic sort of way.

Session Seven is a standard point-and-click in the old pixelated LucasArts vein, with movement and actions used via cursor and words (like Use, Pull, Open, Look, etc.). You have an inventory, and can combine words and objects to progress. For this story, you are trapped in a basement, with no idea how you got there. As certain key events transpire, you’ll be flipped into a psychiatrist’s office, where you are regaling your tale to him. Then you’ll flip back to continue the next part of your adventure. The story is darker than I would have imagined, and there are multiple endings depending on what you tell the psychiatrist.

FrostRunner is essentially a proof-of-concept game but I was delighted with it. Each of these “proof” levels are very short and seek to test a new concept, consisting of movement through the environments (including ice-covered areas), jumping, grappling crystals, and flinging yourself through the air. Each level was only like 15 seconds, but I could definitely see a longer game made out of these elements strung together. Stick around for the credits, as you can play through those as well.

What Never Was uses the point-of-view of a granddaughter who is clearing out her grandfather’s attic. While there, we come across written notes and a tape recording from Grandfather, entreating us to follow his path and seek out the secrets. Even though the location of the attic is small, we find several secrets, and once pieced together, something magical happens. Voice-acting is great, and as a prologue for a larger game, this concept works really well.
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bobdog's Mini-Reviews Corner / Free Steam Games – Part 3
« Last post by bobdog on May 20, 2019, 09:39:21 AM »
Here’s another round-up of free games on Steam that I’d recommend at least playing. Most are relatively short with an hour or less of gameplay.

Gizmo is a single-level proof of concept for a 3D platformer. Gizmo is a robot who can jump, spin his arms, double-jump with a spin, and even convert into a rolling pin to speed up and knock over opponents. Apparently, humans have been asleep for 35 years, and a robot master wants to build the frozen world into his image. It’s never explained, but maybe you’re not wanting that to happen, as all the robot forces are now after you! As you traverse the icy wastes of this level, you can look for special information capsules. Gameplay was pretty fun, in a Mario/Sonic sort of way.

Session Seven is a standard point-and-click in the old pixelated LucasArts vein, with movement and actions used via cursor and words (like Use, Pull, Open, Look, etc.). You have an inventory, and can combine words and objects to progress. For this story, you are trapped in a basement, with no idea how you got there. As certain key events transpire, you’ll be flipped into a psychiatrist’s office, where you are regaling your tale to him. Then you’ll flip back to continue the next part of your adventure. The story is darker than I would have imagined, and there are multiple endings depending on what you tell the psychiatrist.

FrostRunner is essentially a proof-of-concept game but I was delighted with it. Each of these “proof” levels are very short and seek to test a new concept, consisting of movement through the environments (including ice-covered areas), jumping, grappling crystals, and flinging yourself through the air. Each level was only like 15 seconds, but I could definitely see a longer game made out of these elements strung together. Stick around for the credits, as you can play through those as well.

What Never Was uses the point-of-view of a granddaughter who is clearing out her grandfather’s attic. While there, we come across written notes and a tape recording from Grandfather, entreating us to follow his path and seek out the secrets. Even though the location of the attic is small, we find several secrets, and once pieced together, something magical happens. Voice-acting is great, and as a prologue for a larger game, this concept works really well.
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