Grant's Review Corner: Volume 8

First, an update on the previous edition of Grant's Review Corner: the puzzles I was paid to write for Kakuro Conquest have not appeared yet in almost two years. If I don't get any signs of life from the site's operators soon, expect these puzzles to be released slowly on this blog. Some of these puzzles I've written are, in my not-so-humble opinion, very good illustrations of what an artisan can do with handmade Kakuro puzzles, and absolutely need to be seen.

As longtime fans already know, updates on this blog have been more sparse due to the fact that I'd rather focus my efforts on writing puzzles for Grandmaster Puzzles and getting paid for it. However, I got an e-mail recently from someone who wants me to review their upcoming smartphone app in exchange for promoting my blog. I have to admit that this is sorely tempting, given that not only have I broadened the focus of this blog's posts to allow for said blog not to be completely dead, but if I rearrange the sidebar, I could promote Grandmaster Puzzles very heavily and direct incoming traffic there (or better yet, make arrangements with the app's publisher to promote Grandmaster Puzzles directly). Ultimately, I feel that I must entertain these kinds of offers very sparingly, as I do not want to become a forum for people to bribe me into publicizing them (they can do that on JayIsGames or something), but somehow, I don't feel like I can dismiss this one right off the bat.

Here is the text of the e-mail I got:


We would like to feature your blog in our upcoming iPhone app, Word Morph, a turn-based social word puzzle game.
Two of our office's most recent apps gained hundreds of thousands of users within the first few days (each), and millions within weeks. We're now up to about 5 million users. We are highly motivated to duplicate this same success with Word Morph.
You will, of course, benefit most from cross-promotion after we have a substantial user base. And in return, we would appreciate a review of our app. On our side, we would benefit most from promotion upon launch, so here is what we are proposing:
Featured Blog

  • The blogger chooses a day (up to 6 months from initial launch) to be featured in our Morph of the Day.
  • The blogger may, depending on availability, change the day that you choose to be featured (e.g. you might have a new post that you'd like to get an extra boost of traffic to, etc.).
  • The blogger may review (and even contribute to) the Morph of the Day description and picture, and verify the link's destination. 
App Mentions/Reviews
We're pretty open to ideas of how bloggers do stuff to plug Word Morph at launch. So far, we've come up with a couple ways:

  • The blogger can share about us on social media.
  • The blogger can do a review/shout out in a blog post (around launch).
So we aren't asking a lot, and depending on how the game takes off, the return could be big. We really hope to work with you and mutually benefit from doing so.
Please let me know if you're interested.

First, as a disclaimer, I must admit that experience has taught me that it's very hard for me to be enamored by the "asynchronous casual turn-based game" genre. This is just my personality; to me, it feels like far less of a grind to play a game in a single session than asynchronously over multiple ones. When I join an asynchronous game, I am committing myself to incorporating that game into my daily routine rather than just paying attention to it during a single session and then I'm no longer under any obligation to said game. Nonetheless, I will try to judge these various asynchronous casual games on whether I think they succeed at what they set out to do, and not on my own personal bias against the genre.

As an iPhone and iPad owner, it is difficult to avoid asynchronous casual games. In fact, a long time ago, I was considering writing a review of the then-new game Letterpress, which ultimately disappointed me greatly when I realized that playing with good strategy turns a game with interesting ideas into a tedious chore where my opponent Jeffrey Harris resigned rather than allow the game to continue. As we discovered on our second play, the last move advantage is so huge that in the endgame, a player who can't find a word using all of the unused letters will prefer to use none of them than to use one of them and let the opponent use up the rest and end the game. Thus, the game never felt like it was heading towards any conclusion; we just had to keep taking turns finding words among the letters we'd already used until a player's response is so weak that the opponent can afford to use one of the unused letters and still be too far ahead for the other player to catch up. Tennis is only interesting to watch because it is fast-paced; if it were slowed down to where a rally takes a few days to complete, it would be a boring grind to watch and to play. Such a game needs to be played in real time, with a 30-second time limit per word, rather than asynchronously, and ultimately, I can't help but root against the game's success.

Letterpress is far from the only asynchronous casual app I've played; I also have experience with the ubiquitous Words With Friends and its younger brother Scramble With Friends. The former is based on Scrabble, a game with deeper strategy than casual players seem to have any notion of. (As proof of this, consider how players reacted when WWF added a "cheat" you can pay for where you can be told the distribution of the unplayed letters; tournament Scrabble players keep track of this during the game on sheets of paper because it's essential to certain strategies, but casual players are more upset that their opponents can pay for this information than that Zynga's charging for information that anybody knowing the letter distribution can work out for oneself for free!) The latter is based around Boggle, with some novel enhancements such as a scoring system with some premium letters which increase the values of words using them, and an algorithm which seems to increase the number of long words in the 4x4 grid versus standard Boggle. Ultimately, I didn't like WWF or SWF enough to justify keeping them on my phone or paying for them, but they execute what they aim for well, and I feel much more inclined to recommend these games to serious gamers than to recommend Letterpress to them. I also played Dice With Buddies, which is essentially asynchronous Yahtzee; for some reason, the freemium element of buying extra die rolls didn't sit well with me, and ultimately I don't find Yahtzee as engaging as Can't Stop or To Court the King (especially when I'm severely behind), so this one was also deleted, and I don't recommend it.

But what about the game Word Morph, which I was asked to review? I found a video in the Google+ profile of the person who e-mailed me:

So, let me get this straight: this game is asynchronous in the same sense as Scramble With Friends, in that you and your opponent play the same game at separate times, but the game itself is in real time (change one word to another as quickly as possible). Already, this has more potential than Letterpress, because the game will end after 6 rounds, instead of being interminable the moment players discover actual good strategy. Believe it or not, I love it when games terminate in a reasonable amount of time, so despite not seeing the app yet, which is unreleased, I must give kudos to the designers for taking this route! And the drag-and-drop interface sounds great in theory, although I must question the Y and the Z sharing a key (do you want to change FED to FEY or FEZ?). So I guess I'd need to play the app to see whether the interface works in practice (which is superlatively important in a game of speed). The game of word ladders has proven to have staying power among casuals, though, so while I'm not sure what someone whose memorized the entire graph of connected 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words would think of this game's staying power, it's probably not an entirely crappy idea.

I might edit this post later today when I have more time to write, but yeah, casual games exist.

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