Stronghold Paired With Brother Thelonious Ale

Since I was a child, I always found medieval history fascinating. I would erect grand sieges and battles withy my toys placed all around the living room floor. Knights in shining armor were my role model (besides Michael Jordan). As I grew older and actually learned about medieval history, I realized that it was the monks and church officials that had it best. Church officials received an education, had all their food and clothing provided for them, and generally stayed out of war. A pretty great deal considering the general horror, violence, and disease that assaulted most medieval peasants. So when I stumbled upon a beer brewed in the medieval monk style, I couldn’t resist. Sadly, it was a letdown, though the game choice made it worthwhile.

Stronghold was released nearly fifteen years ago and is a fantastic castle sim. You are the young son of the king of the land. Your father was tricked into an ambush and murdered by his upstart lords. You, along with your two whiny advisors, must slowly regain your father’s kingdom and earn your rightful kingship. Stronghold is a lot of fun because it doesn’t take itself seriously. All characters speak in a hilarious overdone British accent, and your four enemy lords are intentional caricatures. You fight the Rat, Snake, Pig, and Wolf, and you can probably guess what they look like. It’s refreshing playing a historical game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially after playing Assassin’s Creed and Medieval: Total War.

Gameplay is simple, but well done. You begin with a blank space of land and a keep. It’s your job to create a functioning medieval society and defend it from attackers. Build woodcutters and hunters to feed your populace, gradually create self-sustaining economy through farming and a marketplace. Once your society is large enough, you can develop walls, defenses, and an army. Stronghold is immersive because it’s so balanced. The game begins simple enough, build a wooden fort to defend against wolves, but gradually increases difficulty. Next mission you’re farming with tower defenses, then you’re building a stone castle, then you’re defeating armored cavalry with your crossbow and pikemen and you realize you’ve been playing for four hours straight.

There’s a variety of modes to explore besides the main campaign. You can participate in historical sieges, either as the defender or the invader. If you’re more economically motivated, there’s an economic campaign that focuses on resource gathering over the military aspect. Finally, there’s my favorite, free build. In free build, you choose a plot of land and are given free range. No one will attack you and you’re free to build a gigantic castle however you desire. I spent several hours crafting the perfect castle, complete with massive ballista towers, entertainment for the masses, and huge cathedrals. There’s also online battles you can compete in against other players, although I was unable to find a match given how old the game is.

Sadly, while I enjoyed Stronghold, the beer was a letdown. Brother Thelonious Ale starts off great but has an awful aftertaste. It’s an overly strong honey flavor that overwhelms the initial hop flavor. It’s not enough to pour the beer down the sink (I finished the bottle without difficulty), but it’s definitely noticeable. And with a price tag higher than ten dollars, this is one beer I cannot recommend.

Truthfully, your experience with Stronghold will depend on your interest in medieval history. If you like castles, knights, or siege warfare, then you’ll have a lot of fun. If none of those things pique your interest, you should probably pass. The gameplay does grow repetitive after a while. Every mission is essentially the same; build a functioning medieval castle and defend it from the enemy assault. It grows even more frustrating because you can’t carry over your castles to the next mission. It’s like a teacher who collects your art assignment and hands you a new one demanding you do it better. Unless you really love art, that’ll frustrate you. But no matter what your interests, you should avoid Brother Thelonious Ale; no amount of medieval history interest will make that ale worthwhile.

~Ryan Dodd

Race the Sun paired with Dead Rise Summer Ale

For this week’s pairing I started with the beer first. I selected Flying Dog’s Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale because it’s a brewery I trust… and it was on sale. As I sought out an indie game to pair it with I ended up accidentally downloading one for Windows, which doesn’t run on my Mac. Then I bought another, for 99 cents, that just wouldn’t run. Luckily my backlog came to the rescue and I settled on Race the Sun. Because nothing says summer like sunshine and fighting against the inevitable end of it all.

Developed by Flippfly, Race the Sun is a single-player endless runner available on a multitude of platforms (Windows, OS X, Linux, PS3, PS3, PS Vita, and Wii U). Personally, I played on my Macbook. Using, mainly, the left/right directional buttons you control a solar-powered spaceship; your goal is to stay alive and get points. The challenge lies in maneuvering past a variety of objects—such as physical structures, laser beams, and other ships. But as the sun sets, death approaches. So stay out of the shadows and enjoy the ride.

As long as the ship is moving you’ll earn points. Along the way are items to collect, the most common being blue pyramids. Other items allow you to jump or create a shield around your ship. As you accomplish certain tasks you level up which can allow you to do things such as customize your ship. I received a magnet early on that increased my pick-up range.

The art style is minimalistic: a landscape of simple geometric shapes and bland colors. There are multiple regions, each with its own set of unique challenges. And the layout changes every 24 hours, which increases the game’s replay value.

In a lot of ways it’s your run of the mill endless runner. And, personally, it’s a genre I’m not a big fan of.

But for me this game shines in its humor and ability to immerse the player in its stripped down world. The load-screen (for lack of a better term) right before your run starts features a variety of rotating quotes that appear under the game title. Some of these are amusing/odd phrases misattributed to famous people and others are more random (from shout outs to specific people to just the word “videogames!”). As a gamer, I really appreciate when the developer’s personality below are just a few examples of other ways humor comes through

I definitely recommend playing this game with headphones. While the soundtrack is a bit forgettable the sound effect when you crash gets me every time. I’ve yelled and jumped back in surprise/frustration several times while playing this. For me, that’s what made it fun.

Race the Sun pokes fun at the inevitability of the player’s death and I love that. Meanwhile this beer tastes like death and I’m not a fan. A mix of salty and spiced, this beer tastes like seafood broth. I have to admit it’s an interesting beer but for me it’s a novelty I won’t be revisiting (except to finish the other 5 in the 6-pack of course). But bonus points to this beer for creativity and for its proceeds going to support the Maryland Blue Crab Industry.

~Janet Garcia