Medieval II Total War paired with Matilda Pale Ale

My wife surprised me a few days ago with a fancy chilled bottle titled Matilda. At first, I thought it was a white wine, which was confusing given that’s more her taste than mine. But she went on to explain that it was a beer, and it was by far one of the best I’ve ever had. Goose Island’s Matilda Belgian Style Pale Ale is refreshing, crisp, light, and full of taste. It could only be paired with a game I knew I would enjoy just as much. I’ve enjoyed Creative Assembly’s Medieval II: Total War since I was in my early teens, and while it isn’t a true indie game, it’s as comforting and relaxing as this beer.

Medieval II: Total War was released in 2006 and was a sequel to the original Medieval Total War released in 2002 and the fourth Total War game. If you’ve never played a Total War game before, they’re all broken down into two parts. Each Total War game is set in a different period of history, and your job is to achieve total domination with a particular faction. In Medieval II: Total War, you choose a faction in the Middle Age time period, such as England or Turkey, and try to conquer the world.

You begin with a top down view of Europe or Asia, depending on your faction, and a few cities. Your mission is to advance your faction’s strength and power through conquest, diplomacy and religion. Most of the game is spent micromanaging your various settlements. Your territories are either castles or cities. Castles yield the best soldiers and are easy to defend, whereas cities are economic hubs but have weak soldiers and defenses. You train soldiers to garrison your territories and attack your neighbors, as well as create different kinds of buildings to improve your territory and overall empire. For instance, if your territory is on the coast, you should build ports and emphasize trade. If your territory is inland, then you focus on farming or mining.

Once you’ve established a strong economic base, you can focus on subduing your neighbors. But it’s not easy as simply invading another kingdom with your army. Like the actual Middle Ages, you have to consider the politics and religion of your region. If you’re England, you can’t simply march over and invade France. You have to consider France’s allegiances and decide whether attacking them is worth risking your own alliances and trade agreements with other nations. But most importantly, you can’t upset the Pope. It sounds silly, I know, but the Papal States are one of the most powerful factions in the game. Attacking a fellow Catholic nation without his approval has dire consequences. You can be excommunicated, have your general tried for heresy, or even have a crusade called against you! The political intrigue adds an interesting element to what otherwise might have been too simple of a gameplay experience.

You can also command your armies during battles. You’re given a top-down view of the battlefield and can control groups of units, such as archers, cavalry, and infantry. Each unit has its own special skills, such as wedge or schiltrom formations. The combat isn’t too difficult, the A.I. isn’t Rommel by any means, but it is satisfying to pepper the enemy with your archers, engage their infantry with yours, then flank them with your heavy cavalry. New technology keeps the combat from becoming too bland. The invention of gunpowder changes everything. Your castle walls are nearly useless and armored units are slowly rendered obsolete. Oh yes, the Mongols arriving and conquering HALF OF EUROPE tends to keep you on your toes.

To be fair, there are minor flaws. First and foremost is the aforementioned pope. The pope’s continual meddling in European politics tends to grind the pacing to an abrupt halt. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending several turns preparing your massive army and beginning your blitzkreig of your puny Scottish neighbors and suddenly receiving a message from the pope asking to cease hostilities against your Christian brethren. Now you’re stuck waiting for a minimum of seven turns, while you’re forced to pay for the expensive solider’s you can’t use (although it was really awesome when France got excommunicated and I led a Crusade against Paris). The game also becomes too time consuming in its later stages. Once you’ve conquered around 30 settlements or so, the upkeep becomes a grind. Going through every settlement to make sure it’s productive, build new structures, make sure the populace is happy, and recruit soldiers can become a real chore.

But for under 20 dollars, you’re not going to find a more engaging and immersive turn base strategy game. You can easily sink over thirty hours into this game and still have plenty to do. The variety of factions and their own unique skills set a lot of replay value. Goose Island’s Matilda Pale Ale earns the highest of praises. At only eight dollars, it’s an absolute steal and an experience you shouldn’t miss out on.

~Ryan Dodd

Pid paired with Send Help

Pid might be one of my favorite games ever… if only I could get past the final boss. Ahhh, Pid: a puzzle-platformer developed by Might and Delight with an artstyle that feels like a twisted children’s book come to life. It is the only game that has, almost, driven me to tears. Although you can pick up some vests for additional protection, Pid is basically a one-hit-and-you-are-done kind of game. And while video games often put you in the hero position, all I needed during this playthrough was someone to rescue me in real life. I needed a rage-quit counselor—someone to close my MacBook for me and say, “there, there.” So it only made sense to pair it with a beer called Send Help.

In Pid, you play as Kurt: a young schoolboy who ends up stranded on a strange planet. Determined to get home, Kurt ventures through a world inhabited by robot folk and other contraptions. Like any hero story, this attempt at a simple quest to get home is more than bargained for. After all, what’s a game without some bad guys, and what are bad guys if not pawns for larger agendas?

The gameplay is centered on manipulating gravity. Early on the game, Kurt obtains a strange power/item he can’t get rid of that proves quite useful. He can toss orbs to create white beams that serve as gravity wells. These beams can be used to lift Kurt to new heights and affect surrounding objects or enemies. Up to two beams at a time can exist at once, so strategic placement and usage is a must.

Beyond the main ability, Kurt can also carry several items in his backpack: such as bombs, music boxes, and propelling explosives. Like any 2D adventure game, there are collectibles available. The most common collectible are little stars that can be exchanged for items at specific stations in the game.

Pid offers little in the way of direct combat. You’ll need strategy to survive. And this is probably why Might and Delight made Kurt so weak. You shouldn’t be getting hurt because this isn’t a fighting game. In Pid, stealth and deliberateness is key. That being said, I died and died a lot.

Kurt’s lack of physical strength makes boss battles a major pain. Exhibit A, this dude:

However, not all “boss battles” are so direct. One of the most memorable boss battle-esque moments was a stealth challenge rather than a matter of defeating an opponent. Of course, this proved to be even harder than facing something straight on. In fact, stealth plays a tremendous role in navigating through the game.

Visually, Pid is magic. When I play the game I am not just playing as Kurt; I am Kurt. I become a kid again—completely entranced by the whimsy of it all.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if I’ll ever finish Pid. The end boss—and the bosses in general—are just too damn hard. But even with that flaw (and yes, it is to the point of being a flaw), I have to recommend this game. Pid truly is full of might and delight, albeit a bit too much of the former.

As far as the beer goes, I can’t say I recommend it.  4 Hands Brewing Company’s Send Help definitely put a twist on what an American Blonde Ale is with its use of hops. But I’ll pass. It is worth noting, however, that Blonde Ales aren’t really my thing. It’s a solid beer, sure, but not much else in my book. Pid may have had me sending for help, but this beer can’t do much for me.