Abstrrkt Explorers

The Game

Do you have that feeling that all mobile strategy games are just annoying gatcha games with loads of microtransactions to help you speed things up? Me too, but this one is something different. Abstrrkt Explorers (or just Explorers) by Abstrrkt is a free, turn based strategy game for android. The game is reminiscent of some familiar classics (live Civ 6) with its hex grid setup and conquest mechanics. The game is pretty much a fully fledged 4X game which lets you build, explore, develop and fight for control over the world. It has a campaign mode, single player and even a local multiplayer option.

The campaign serves as a tutorial and introduction to the game. It gives you series of increasingly challenging and complex scenarios. Things start out simple with a small settlement and 4 initial types of resource wood, stone, food and population. You need to build up your economy through farms, lumberjacks and fishermen or hunters, later on gold is also added. You can then expand your empire through barracks which you can later upgrade. This is where the combat element of the game is introduced.

The combat is a bit of a different take and is based around the influence zones of your barracks and taking barracks from your enemies using your units from your own adjacent barracks. The game adds a bunch of other buildings as you progress, including catapults, harbours and ships. All this and more is delivered in a nice pastel low poly style with simple and intuitive controls.

Worth it?

A beautiful game with a lot of depth. The various game modes will give you plenty to mess around with, the campaign has a lot of gameplay for you to get stuck into (6 missions total). There are 3 types of game you can run in single player (Fixed, Domination, Survival) and a bunch of other settings you can configure. There are some ads, mainly in between campaign missions or when you start a game, overall they aren’t that intrusive but if you’d like to help the developer out you can buy an ad free option for £3.09. The game has a lot to offer, but there are some drawbacks, personally I think the combat can get to a point where you are just trading buildings with the AI without making much progress and that can be a bit frustrating. It feels like maybe another dimension can be added apart from the catapults and you can only ever build one new soldier per turn per barrack. The research tree has a good amount to uncover and keep you busy and it could easily be expanded with new buildings or upgrades.

Overall a great game for short to medium length sessions, although the game definitely has that “one more turn” element that can keep you locked in for ages. The simple style and low poly aesthetics make for a very beautiful and chill experience. There’s a bit more to be desired in terms of the combat, but other than that it’s quite a solid game with various gameplay modes and even a local multiplayer option.

Tips

  • Focus on food the most (especially early game)
  • Try and place as many buildings as you can each turn
  • Reinforce your barracks with units – ideally build a unit every turn
  • If you set a barrack to receive units it will pull in units from all barracks which have the “deploy” option on

Useful Links

Civilization VI (Rise and Fall, Gathering Storm) – PC & Console Versions

The Game

There’s no way you haven’t heard of Sid Meier’s Civilization series (developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games). Civilization VI is the latest in the famous series and while the base game came out a few years ago, the developers have been rolling out a series of DLC and updates. They have also published the game on basically every console. I played both the PS4 version and the PC so I’ll cover some of the good and bad of both. Civilization V is one of my all time favourite games (I had over 1000hrs) so I had high hopes for this sequel, but I held off buying it until it came out at a more accessible price.

If you’ve never played Civ before then you have been missing out (and probably living under a rock). It’s a turn based 4x strategy game that takes you and your civilization through history and the ages. There are several ways you can win the game – domination, culture, science, religion, score (or in Gathering Storm – diplomatic). You play on a hex grid map and build up your cities and armies and take on rival civilizations, or build alliances and friendships if you prefer a diplomacy heavy game. You decide whether you want to be a peaceful and fun loving leader or a warmongering dictator that drops nukes those who oppose them. If you’re coming from Civ V some of the most notable additions are districts (specialised neighbourhoods) and a civics tech tree. It’s not until the expansion packs and DLCs where the game really starts to feel like something innovative and new, like the addition of Governors and Loyalty.

The game offers tons of civilizations to play as and each DLC adds more, there are also a variety of maps and game modes to chose from. This in itself will give you much to experiment with and keep you busy for hours on end. The base game in itself feels a bit limited, it’s not until Gathering Storm that the developers really made it something special and moved it on from Civilization V. Rise and Storm adds mechanics such as Dark and Golden Ages, loyalty and governors, while Gathering Storm builds and expands on that by adding climate change, disasters, electricity and a new victory mode. Each DLC also gives a bunch of World Wonders, new Civs, units and buildings.

Worth it?

On its own the base game really isn’t all that much – you’re better off playing Civilization V and all its DLC instead. You can get the Civ 6 base game (on sale) for around £8.50, and each of the main DLCs will set you back around £10, with some civ packs for around £5. The console versions will set you back a little bit more, but try and get them on sale if you can. When it comes to deciding the platform, the obvious benefit of PC (apart from cheap CD keys) is also mods – the Civ modding community is great and there are some really great ones out there – from UI improvements to entire civilizations, units and modes. On the other hand, the console version will let you play from the comfort of your sofa, a potentially very dangerous combination as you probably won’t leave that sofa all weekend.

It’s got to be said that the DLC method does feel like a bit of a rip off, there’s a lot of additional content which can amount to quite a serious sum. The base game on its own is quite basic, especially when you learn about all the great additions in each of the mods. The main one worth getting is Gathering Storm as it includes much of what’s in Rise & Fall, although you can often find the two on sale together. The console version I played (PS4) had some issues worth noting – there are issues with the UI, various highlights and selections are hard to see, issues with scrolling in certain menus, some of the functionality available on PC isn’t available and of course, no mods.

Another couple of the DLCs worth picking up as they add a good deal of new content (secret societies game mode and a civ) are the Ethiopia pack and the Babylon pack (heroes and legends game mode and a civ) – each of those will set you back about £3.99. With all the DLC and various packs you will have so much content to play that you will definitely get your money’s worth – there are potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay there.

Overall Civilization VI didn’t start out as the strongest game on its own, but through a few years of updates, DLCs, new modes and civs it has become a truly epic game that will keep you locked in for hours, thinking “just one more turn”. The console versions aren’t the greatest, but strategies on consoles have always been a bit of an odd combo and considering that – it does do an ok job. Aim to get as much of the DLC as possible (ideally on sale) and you will have yourself something to keep you busy for a very very very long time.

Tips

  • Enable the ribbon UI option so you can keep track of your opponents’ yields
  • Enable the yields UI option to get an accurate idea of the individual tile yields
  • Don’t accept demands from the AI
  • Selling diplomatic favour can help if you’ve got cashflow problems
  • Think about the positions of various districts and yields when placing cities
  • Placing a city on a luxury resource will still give you that resource
  • On harder difficulty there’s less point in getting a religion
  • Domination victory is generally easiest
  • Science matters – regardless what victory you are going for
  • Gold can solve a lot of your problems too
  • Use the “Join Ongoing War” option to help get other AIs involved if you feel you need support (and distractions for the AI) – sometimes they will willingly accept for 1 gold, other times a spare copy of a luxury is enough to convince them
  • Settling on fresh water gives you more housing, coastal cities start with less, which is why granaries and harbours with lighthouses are important
  • Read the wikis and learn as much as you can about your civilization’s bonuses, but don’t force them into your game if it’s not right
  • For tips for playing on Deity or general tips check out PotatoMcWhiskey on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PotatoMcWhiskey

Useful Links

Big Pharma

The Game

Big Pharma by Twice Circled is a simulation game available on virtually every platform (except mobile). The game is a conveyer belt manufacturing simulator in which you combine various ingredients to create new and wonderful medicines to help people with their illnesses. Overall the concept is fairly simple, however the initial learning curve can be quite steep. There are quite a few tutorial missions and they can be quite daunting, but once you get to grips with the mechanics you’ll also realise that the game does quite a good job of telling you exactly what to do with each ingredient to achieve the desired effect. Note that I played the PS4 version, so some comments may be specific to that, the obvious benefit (as usual) of having a PC version is mods – although these aren’t available through the Steam Workshop as with other games, so may be a bit of a hassle.

The game features research trees and various exploration missions that you need to undertake in order to discover new ingredients and improve your machinery. At it’s most basic level the game is based around increasing or decreasing the concentration of various ingredients in order to achieve desired effects (these can be seen in the info panel of each ingredient). When at a certain concentration some ingredients can be combined with others or run through a specific machine in order to change or upgrade their effect completely. This is where the game gets interesting and a lot more complex. Combining various ingredients and increasing/decreasing their concentration until you achieve the perfect cure can be quite a complex process and if you don’t do it efficiently enough, you won’t be making much of a profit.

Worth it?

Generally speaking the game will set you back between £20-30. Honestly I find that a bit on the expensive side, so look out for any offers. It does offer a lot of scenarios to play through and a lot of depth and there’s a free build mode too. On PS4 the controls can be a bit of a challenge to get used to and don’t always feel very intuitive to use, it sort of goes without saying that it’s a game made for a PC.

Overall other than some control issues and the slightly elevated price, the game is quite addictive and can be really satisfying once you get that supply chain up and running properly, it has some really satisfying sound effects and will keep you coming back for more. There’s plenty of scenarios to keep you playing for a while and if you’re playing on PC you can even have a go with modding the game.

Tips

  • Keep an eye on each ingredient’s info card – it will tell you what concentration you have to get it to and what device you then need to use to get the desired effect
  • The info card will also tell you the total manufacturing cost and medicine value – don’t overextend for really good drugs early on as you won’t have the machinery to make the production line efficient enough and you’ll end up losing money
  • Hire researchers as soon as you can afford to so that you can begin researching better machinery – focus on the agglomerator and ioniser
  • If you can’t get rid of a negative side-effect, turn that medicine into a cream – it will reduce the negative score from the bad side-effect by 50%

Useful Links

Infinitinode 2

The Game

Infinitinode 2 by Prineside takes tower defence games to a whole new level. The game is a follow up on the quite successful Infinitinode, taking a lot of what made that game great and improving on it. Amongst some of its most notable features are the mind-boggling research tree, the custom map creator and editor, regular updates, daily quests and seasonal leader-boards.

In total the game has 15 unique towers, each with it’s own set of in-game upgrades which allow you to specialise that specific instance of the tower. From Tesla coils to flamethrowers, cannons to lasers – this game has them all. The game also features 9 regular enemies and several bosses – each enemy has specific tower’s it’s weak against, so it’s up to you to place the right towers in the right places.

If all the defending wasn’t enough the game also has mineable resources on each map. You can build special excavation units on these positions in order to harvest said resources. You will need these to upgrade your towers.

The game offers a series of pre-made maps as a campaign – especially challenging towards the end. If you complete the campaign you will unlock endless mode, which serves as the “endgame” – offering better prizes, infinite waves, harder enemies and even more research.

Worth it?

The game has an option to watch videos to increase a level’s winnings by 25%, it also has a chest decryption element that will give you prizes over time, once your chest has been decrypted. Other than these two “gatcha” elements, the game does a very good job of keeping you in without bombarding you with ads or crappy micro transactions. It offers you daily missions with rewards, I even missed a day and it saved my progress allowing me to resume from the last day I completed. There are some purchase options around double gains, personally I haven’t purchased any of these but if you’d like to support the developer this is probably a good way to do so (and reduce your grind time).

Overall this is an amazing tower defence game with excellent RPG elements – the skill/research tree is a really addictive element, wanting to constantly upgrade and improve your towers, buying global perks or improving your resource mining capabilities. The custom map editor, daily challenges and endless mode give the game insane replay value and will keep you coming back for more and more. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a good tower defence game.

Tips

  • Set up a custom farming map on which you can grind papers and resources
  • Make sure you progress the story branch of the research tree in order to unlock levels
  • Get the BOUNTY modifier tile as soon as you can, this will help you massively when grinding coins in game
  • Use the wiki and reddit for more advanced tips

Useful Links