Magic the Gathering - Commander (card game, natch)
Brief thoughts: since I've barely played any MtG since about the Ice Age expansion pack (cue sounds of disbelief from people who know what that means), the Commander style was a lot of fun but still pretty bewildering. I remembered a lot of the basic rules, but wtf happened to all the normal lands?! Granted, with a 3-color deck, those crazy complicated lands and mana-producing artifacts are important, but boy, I remember the days when you just plopped down a forest and were all like, "Now I've got a forest!" Now it's all, "This land comes into play tapped, and only works when [x constraint] is met. Pay one colorless to tap this land, and get two mana of [chosen color]." Aaaaaah, basic lands, how I miss thee… Also, what is horsemanship?! Seriously? Not that I'm complaining - horsemanship worked out for me just fine, but if I'd lost the game due to horsemanship, wouldn't I be cranky!) Last but not least, despite my permanent-tapping/untapping Commander, I cannot for the life of me attack without tapping the characters with Vigilance. Look, I'm sorry, but tapping to attack is so deeply ingrained that I CAN'T HELP IT. I've resigned myself to being reminded about Vigilance during every attack phase, and my bro Isaiah - who provided the decks - has likely resigned himself to having to remind me.
Plants versus Zombies 2 (Moto X)
Brief thoughts: I adored the original PvZ, and the World of Warcraft in-game version (despite the repeated PvP snipes), so I was very excited when PvZ2 dropped. One major difference, from my end, is that I'm using the Moto X to play instead of the iPad - and wow, do I miss the iPad acreage! But PvZ2 is playable on the Moto X, unlike the iPhone - errr, again, in terms of acreage. The more space the better for PvZ, IMO. I'm also enjoying the back-in-time flight of fancy that the design team took - I mean, seriously, how else would our plants get the chance to fight Egyptian zombie mummies? Time travel is the only explanation.
However, the game's been adapted to be really-seriously-pay-to-play, which pisses me off. I'd be totally willing to drop $10 on PvZ2, with the well-designed unlocking of additional features as I progressed. Instead, it's $3.99 for an additional seed slot, and another $3.99 to set peas on fire, and another $3.99 for the frozen pea shooters. I fondly remember all those from PvZ, so yeah, I'd like them - especially the additional seed slot! But pay-to-play games bother me, because when the game's designed with "making money" as the primary mechanism, weird shit can happen. For example, I might make it through all ONE BILLION PvZ2 levels without that extra seed slot, when frankly, the game would be that much better if I received it as a super-special reward mid-game, and consequently (from a game design perspective) that extra slot could become a pre-requisite for the end-game. Now, the game has to either be designed such that it's playable all the way through without that extra seed slot (in which case, what good is it?), or by level 100 or so the seed slot becomes mandatory, in which case, I gotta shell out the $4 to keep the game going. In other words: if I was designing a pay-to-play game, I'll build a kick-ass game, and then take the best rewards, motivators, exciting bits, and make them cost money. But I'd like the game to be playable by everyone, even if it sucks - so I'm designing a crappy game for people who don't want to buy all my stuff, and layering a good-but-constantly-begging-for-money game on top of it. Consequently, design choices have to be made for the cheapskates, like me, and the folks who just have too much money and want to buy digital plants with it, and the folks in the middle, who only want to drop $10 max. What good is a game that's designed for such a wide variety of player types? (See a bit further down for my ode to Hearthstone, which is the one pay-to-play game that is actually worth playing.)
Now, I am not opposed to paying for my games - but I am opposed to being nickel-and-dimed to death by a game I've already put time into (for example, the three "quests" with a time delay after each completion to progress to the next level in Candy Crush, that is obviously just there to get you to shell out some cash already!). And I am opposed to paying $4 for something that is, in fact, of dubious value and use. As I noted above, maybe that seed slot isn't actually necessary - so I'm just dropping $4 because I remember finding it useful in the original PvZ. Or maybe later on, I can unlock an additional seed slot, so buying one now means I'll end up with two later - so it's actually less valuable than I think. Or maybe later on, I'll unlock the store so my gold coins can actually be used in it - so I could just buy it then with my game currency. Or maybe I'll finish writing this post, publish it, and go research PvZ2 only to find that there's are two versions: the "free" one I've got, plus the "All bells and whistles included for only $10!" one that I actually want. Or maybe the $10 version will come out as people keep complaining. Or whatever.
The truth is that pay-to-play games tend to suck.* Most pay-to-play games suck because the _game_ isn't the point of the design - making money is. (And I don't mean "making money is the focus" in the generic capitalist sense of the phrase, where making a good product and spending a lot on advertising can result in comically large profits - I mean that the game doesn't win any battles against mo' money. As the game's being designed, the question "And how will this get our customers to micro-transact?" is asked at every point - along with, "Uh-oh, this game's too good - let's take out the automatic award of getting an additional seed slot at level X and disrupt the game flow, so we can encourage a micro-transaction.") Unfortunately, designing a game that prioritizes making money over playability, flow, and fun often results in a bad game for someone - usually me, I'm afraid, because part of my pay-to-play-game mentality is a baseline refusal to pay anything. If they want my money, they should ask for it up front, as part of our contract: they build a good game, I buy it. But given that the best way to design a successful pay-to-play game is to build a kick-ass game, then take out crucial pieces that teach, and reward, and flow, and replace them with $0.99 brief panaceas, I'm just not interested in the pay-to-play contract, which is: we built a broken game, and you pay to fix it.
*Single caveat: the only exception I've found so far: Hearthstone. Blizzard did it right - but they didn't invent how to do it right, they just looked around the current card game world and built their game around that. Magic the Gathering players pay for decks, like Hearthstone players, and MtG players pay to enter tournaments, like Hearthstone players. It's also absolutely possible to play Hearthstone without ever paying real money for anything - frankly, it's so easy and relaxing to play and use only gold as currency, that I'm going to break my "I don't spend money in pay-to-play games" just for Hearthstone. I feel a bit guilty, playing this kickass and well-designed game, without being visually attacked by ads or confronted with broken bits that I need to pay to fix - or even just bugging my friends to play it. So yeah, cash dropping on Blizzard: commence!
We also played some random fun game at Guardian Games, an analog game store plus bar plus MtG tournament place. I don't remember the name of the game, but Jordan somehow managed to put a warlock-esque deck together, and Abraham and I tied somehow. A delicious chili lunch cart was there, and I had the vegetarian option, Elvish Chili, which apparently isn't made of elves, and apparently does add +5 dexterity. The only sad part of Guardian Games, where everyone was friendly and fun, was the damn bathroom doors. And if you're not like me and you walk into GG, then you'll have no idea what I'm talking about - but if you are like me, or Jordan, you'll notice that the dude's bathroom gets a silhouette with a sword, while the ladies has a silhouette with heels. Wtf. Those make shitty weapons - hasn't anyone realized that yet? So yeah, I'd like a damn sword, plz.
And, last but not least, Words with Friends with Rebekah. 'Cause a craniotomy means EVERYONE should play Words with Friends with her.