My Not So Tiny Death Star

Tiny-Death-StarOver the past week, I’ve had a new addiction.  I have to confess, I’ve turned to the Dark Side.  The Emperor and Lord Vader enlisted my help in constructing a Death Star.  With it, they can rule the galaxy with an iron fist.  Death Stars don’t come cheap, though, so we’re renting out space.

With residential levels, I can get galactic empire citizens (also known as Bitizens due to their purposefully pixelated look) to move in.  Then, I put them to work on service, food, recreation, and retail levels.  As they work, they earn money which I can spend on the Imperial levels to complete missions that Darth Vader and other Imperial officers assign me.  I also help out when the occasional rebel spy infiltrates our facility.

Of course, I’m talking about the smartphone/tablet game Tiny Death Star.

This is a wonderful game.  There are Star Wars references aplenty from Watto’s Wares to Mos Espa Cafe to Mandalore Apartments.  Some of the characters that you encounter will be random folks (both human and Star Wars aliens) and others will be characters from the Star Wars movies.  With hundreds of levels and characters currently available, one can play this continuously for weeks before running out.

I would definitely recommend this for Star Wars fans of any age.  Both of my boys (7 and 10) have been constructing their own Death Stars.  The only limitation would be that some reading in the game is required so be prepared to help read it to small kids.

To close, here is my current Tiny Death Star (or current as of the time I stitched these screenshots together).  Warning, it is a little long.

Kicking Down The Door To Munchkin Fun

munchkinFor awhile, I’ve wanted to get NHL into role playing games.  I’ll admit that I’ve had limited experience with them myself, but they seemed like a fun activity to share with NHL.  Meanwhile, I had heard of a RPG-like game called Munchkin.  Many people on Twitter spoke highly of it and I even had the pleasure of interacting with John Kovalic, illustrator of the Munchkin cards (not to mention the wonderful Dork Tower).

Over the weekend, I had a chance to show NHL a few episodes of Tabletop with Wil Wheaton.  For those who don’t know, Tabletop is a web series where Wil Wheaton and three guests play various games.  The show is funny and entertaining, but I’ve found it helpful to see which games my boys and I might like.  What better guide to see how my boys might do with a game than watching other people play it?

monstersNHL and JSL had already seen part of one episode and, after seeing it, wanted to get Qwirkle – the game they played.  Over the weekend, though, NHL saw the Munchkin episode.  He was fascinated with this game where you got to kick in doors, fight monsters, and get treasure.  The next day, while shopping, NHL decided to use some money that he had to buy the game.

treasuresDuring our first game, NHL won handily and his love of the game was cemented.  We played a second game and though he lost, he still had fun.  Since then, he has not only made additional Munchkin purchases (some spinners to keep track of levels and a Munchkin: Dragons expansion pack) but has played the game every available moment.  He has not only played with his brother (who – being only 7 – might not fully understand the rules of the game), but has played a variant he made up to play by himself.

I’ll admit that there are some elements of the game that aren’t 100% child friendly.  Some of the cards rely on crude humor which can inspire the boys to inappropriate behavior.  Other cards reference sexual humor (for example, the "kneepads of allure").  I’ve found, though, that the crude humor can be dwarfed by much of what can be found on so-called kids TV.  (One commercial for a show we don’t watch involved a character continuously passing gas.  That was essentially the entire segment.  The show’s calling card.)  At least the humor in Munchkin, though it can be crude at times, has a more intelligent base to it.  As for the sexual humor, that tends to go over the heads of my boys.  However, if it is a problem, the few cards that parents find objectionable could easily be removed from the game without damaging gameplay.

dragonsOur previous gaming experience – Settlers of Catan – hasn’t panned out like I hoped.  Part of the reason for that is that Catan can take awhile to play.  If bedtime arrives, we might need to either end the game or somehow move the game (while preserving the exact state of the board) until we next play.  Munchkin, however, takes about an hour to play.  If it is somewhat late at night, we can even speed things along by promising not to backstab each other and helping each other fight strong monsters – speeding everyone along to level 10.

Munchkin definitely seems like a game that we can play over and over.  Even if the game gets slightly repetitive (not something I see happening any time soon), there are enough expansion packs that we could mix into the game to spice things up.  In short, I see many doors being kicked down in the future.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Level 6 Shrieking Geek I need to take care of with my +3 Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment.

Make Games

make_gamesI’ve been a fan of playing games for quite some time and have introduced my boys to the joys of gameplay.  I’m also a big fan of Wil Wheaton’s web series Tabletop where he and a few guests play various games from Munchkin to Qwirkle.  I showed my boys part of the Qwirkle episode and they were hooked.  Not on the series as much as the game itself.  They don’t want to watch people play games, they want to play the games themselves!

What could be better than this?  What about making a game?

A week ago, I happened to look down on the floor and noticed that the tiles were shaped the same as the tiles from Settlers of Catan.  I’m not sure how my mind put it all together, but suddenly those simple floor tiles were sparking an imagination.  I pulled out my smartphone, jotted down some ideas and did some research on making my own game.

As I fleshed out the gameplay, I realized I’d need a board, cards (to represent armor, spells, weapons, etc), some kind of token to represent hearts, dice, and figures to move across the board.  Luckily, I had many of these already.  From a previous game effort.

(Awhile back, I attempted to make a card game with NHL. We decided that the game should help him learn math so there was a lot of adding and subtracting involved. The only problem was that NHL’s math skills proceeded quicker than we could make the game. In the end, we abandoned the effort, but I kept all of the pieces just in case.)

The hearts were from our previous game-creation effort.  They were index cards which we cut into squares and which NHL drew hearts on.  The dice were a purchase from our local comic book store (under $1 each) and the figures were Lego minifigs pulled from a large collection we have.

To create the board, I first looked at purchasing hexagonal pieces, but then I got a better idea.  I remembered a website that ThinkGeek had tweeted about a website that lets you print your own grid paper.  This seemed like an essentially-free option to begin with.  (We could always upgrade the game to use tiles.)  As for the cards, we could use normal, blank index cards.

At this point, I revealed my plan to my boys.  They were both excited about it.  JSL, in particular, has forbade me from doing any work on the game unless he’s involved.

No, this game won’t appear in stores to purchase.  (Though I might post the game once it is done.)  The rules are sure to be extremely simple to the point that people who make actual games would scoff at them.  And the the cards won’t have fancy artwork.  In fact, the entire thing will scream "homemade." Still, this will be awesome because I’ll be making this with my boys.

Unwinding With Lego Marvel Super Heroes on the Wii U

Lately, I’ve been working pretty hard.  My day job has been keeping me very busy. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  I’d rather be busy than sitting with nothing to do.)  Then, after getting the kids into bed, I’ve been busy with a rather large freelance project.

After all of that work, I need to unwind and relax somehow.  Lately, my method of choice has been playing Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the Wii U.  I’ve been a fan of the Lego games for awhile on the Nintendo DS, but this is the first Wii U title I’ve tried.


A full review is still coming, but suffice it to say that I love it.  One of the things I’ve always liked about Lego games is the replay-ability.  After finishing all of the levels, you could always play them again in "Free Play" mode.  This title has that, but also has all of Manhattan to explore.  There are gold bricks to collect (over 200), citizens to help, Deadpool missions to complete, vehicles and characters to unlock, and Stan Lee to save (many, many times).  It’s quite daunting how big the world you get to play in is, but it’s also quite fun.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go flying around the city as Iron Man.  Or maybe go on a rampage through the streets as the Hulk.  TechyDad Smash!

What do you like to do to unwind?

NOTE: We purchased Lego Marvel Super Heroes on our own.  I wasn’t asked or paid to do a review.  I just wanted to mention a product that I liked.

Phone Upgrade Reluctance

smartphone2_smallLately, I’ve been having a problem with my smartphone.  It’s getting old and, as phones tend to do, the battery has been acting up.  I’ll go from 80% battery charge to 50% to 20% with little real use.  Once the battery drops, it will take a long time to go back up from 20%, but will sometimes leap to 100% from much lower.  Clearly my phone is dying and is in need of an upgrade.

Luckily for me, my wife is a member of the Verizon Lifestyle Bloggers and has a nice collection of phones she has reviewed.  This means that upgrading isn’t a matter of being able to afford a new phone.  You would think that I’d jump at the upgrade chance.  Since I use the name TechyDad, I should be ready to drop the old tech and upgrade, right?

So why am I so reluctant?

It might seem like a minor thing, but the answer is games.

It isn’t that I can’t get my favorite games on a new phone.  In fact, I’d likely be able to play the games for longer before the battery drained and without as many slowdowns.  However, since game progress is stored on the phone in most cases, my progress in many games would be completely erased.  This isn’t a problem for some games.  I really don’t care too much if I need to start Angry Birds: Star Wars or Cut the Rope over again.  However, I’d hate to see My Muppets Show or Doctor Who: Legacy reverted back to the beginning.  Especially because I’ve collected a few items in both that were only available for a limited time.

B has said that I can keep the old phone for my games as a Wi-Fi only device and this is true, but what if I want to play a quick game while I’m out?  Maybe I have a few minutes to kill and want to collect coins from my Muppet performers or I want to kill a few Daleks in Doctor Who: Legacy.  I would either need to carry my "gaming phone" around with me along with my new phone (and hope I could connect to Wi-Fi) or I’d be out of luck.

(Quick Note: Doctor Who: Legacy now uses Google Cloud Saving which might help this situation.  Still, I’m not sure whether Google Cloud Saving would restore to a new device.  Even if it did, other apps don’t use this.)

Ideally, I’d like to be able to back up my game save data and transfer that to a new device.  Unfortunately, this can be tricky and, in my initial research, often requires that your device be rooted.  Not that I’m against rooting, but it’s more the principle of the thing.  There should be an option to save your data in a manner that is easily transferable to another device.

Have you ever moved data such as game progress from one phone to another one?  If so, what did you use?

NOTE: The image above is "The Incredible Javascript Android Phone Browser" by filtre.  It is available via

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