PEGBRJE: Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates and River Tiles
Artistic simplicity, sometimes.
Ho boy, how to explain this.
Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates is an artistic experience and video game network created by AAA Software, a video game art collective based out of Germany. Players are an orange individual who… well, I’m not actually sure. All I can state with confidence is that there’s a lot of colours and a lot of imagery.
So to explain it a bit better, Utopias is a collection of independent planets that have been connected by a singular ‘hub’ of some kind. As this bizarre golden individual, players will explore each of these planets in order to collect something from them in the hopes of uniting everything. Does this still sound vague? That would be thanks to the fact that each planet is a completely separate experience from what one might have expected that it’s hard to fully explain what is going on. It’s like a fever dream that decided to create multiple pillars of existence for itself, and the player is the one wandering in to each curious as to what is going on. Each planet was specifically designed by one of the members of AAA — giving it that distinct separation — and will have players attempting to figure out exactly what they need to do in order to ‘beat’ each planet. Some will be just a simple exploration that lacks sight, others may be a gundam rail shooter of biodiversity or a lifelike interpretation of social media.
This sense of bizarre wonder is exactly what Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates is wanting from its players, right down to even hinting at how lost you’ll feel with the lacking direction in the title. It is meant to spark a sense of pure abstract bliss, having you look at what each planet is trying to say even if it might be saying nothing at all. Will you fully understand it? Doubtful, I barely understood anything as I played, but that doesn’t stop it from being a wild ride that can fit in to an hour or two. If you need that trippy artistic aesthetic in your life right now, here it is.
River Tiles is a spatial puzzle game created by Llewelyn Griffiths, an indie developer that also goes by NylePudding. Players are a form of environmental planner, finding themselves in the dire need to redirect the flow of the upcoming flood to keep as many villages (and their food sources) safe.
Players have quite a bit of conditions to keep in mind when playing River Tiles that may not be entirely apparent at first. The main goal is to ensure that once the flooding starts, the two rivers that originate from the mountains flow towards the ocean (indicated by the lighthouse tile) while avoiding anything related to the villages. This is done via tile management, specifically through trees which block the flow of water which will follow the grass tiles. The corn tiles represent the village’s food, but acts as grass tiles in terms of flooding meaning that it will become flooded if exposed. This is the second condition to be aware of, that each village must have at least one food source attached to it by grass — trees cut off the food from the village. I’m almost reminded of Carcassonne in a way, where roads would cut off farms from being counted towards certain castles. The same idea applies here, only instead of roads it is trees.
Once the game begins, a stack of tiles will appear at the bottom, which acts as the players ‘deck’ of sorts and gives them a tile to replace with one already existing on the board — without replacing the same time. This means no putting grass on grass to avoid having to replace a forest, and is core to what makes River Tiles so difficult. Understanding what to replace when given a bad card is crucial to the terraforming process, knowing that replacing a village with a grass tile to put one somewhere safer is better than hoping for a bunch of forests to cover it properly. The deck also acts as a timer however, as within are ‘water’ cards that signify the flooding start; once the player accumulates four water cards beside their deck, the flooding begins whether the player is read for it or not. Combining this with the randomized tile deck brings about the simplistic yet truly difficult task of juggling whether or not players can save certain villages or fields, or if they should replace them to allow for the water to flow better. If the water cannot reach the ocean the player fails as well, and since there’s only so many cards before the flooding begins it’s a race against time without an actual time limit.
For something so simple a premise, River Tiles is easily one of the most expansive puzzle games I’ve played to date. The sheer number of possibilities combined with the constant forward thinking and planning makes it brutally difficult to actually ‘win’ the game, only for a new board to be created upon restarting. That’s the beauty of it though, reminding me of a mechanically deep board game that I can sit down and play for hours with the same sets of tiles and still feel like there’s more to discover. If that mobile version ever comes out, this game will easily find its way to my phone. Til then, it will reside on my computer, and those of you that enjoy expansive puzzles in a simple tile game will love this.
Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates
Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates is a videogame network of nine worlds - each one a personal utopia developed by…