I'll have a post about the few hours I spent at the Penny Arcade Expo up later, but in the meantime I want to briefly mention two games I've been playing a bit this weekend.
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
I wasn't going to get this game. In fact, I had sworn off the Guitar Hero franchise after GH3. Nevertheless, my excitement over next month's release of Rock Band 2 combined with the fun I had playing Guitar Hero: World Tour at PAX (the line for Rock Band 2 was way too long) and resulted in one of the most impulsive purchases I've made in some time.
And now, I will say with some certainty, that I will not buy another game in the Guitar Hero franchise. And this time I mean it. It's not that this is a bad game, it's just that it lacks effort. The set list is short, missing many of Aerosmith's most famous songs, and far too reliant on songs from the 70's. Each set has two songs from a band not-named Aerosmith and these filler songs are generally more fun to play than the ones by the featured band.
There was a lot of discussion about the quality of the note charts in GH3 when compared to those in Rock Band and now I see exactly what people were talking about. Too frequent were the times I felt the notes I was playing had little to nothing to do with the music. "Dream On", one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, was a particular abomination.
Nevertheless, I played through everything on Medium and began going through the songs on Hard mode. I am enjoying playing the game again, even if only to practice for RB2, but little annoyances bug me. For starters, there isn't any downloadable content. No "Cryin", no "Janie's Got a Gun", and no "The Other Side". I know not every one of Aerosmith's hits lend themselves to the Guitar Hero treatment, but come on? Are ballads really that bad? Another annoyance is that the Leaderboards doesn't sort your Friends list. If I want to check the scores from those on my Friends list, I have to manually scroll through all 40+ people on the list, just to find the 4 or 5 who have actually played the game -- every other game would put those people at the top and just show dash marks for those who never played it, which is the majority.
All is not bad though. The Achievements are far less painful (i.e. annoying) than in Guitar Hero III, and the difficulty jump from Easy to Medium to Hard is more in tune with the way Harmonix used to have it. The jump in difficulty in Guitar Hero III was obnoxious. That said, unless you are a GH-addict, in love with Aerosmith (particularly, their older stuff), or find this one on sale, I really can't recommend it. Just bide your time until Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero: World Tour release this fall.
Ticket to Ride: European Expansion
I'm totally hooked on Ticket to Ride, the classic board game that has you connecting cities across a map of 19th century United States (and lower Canada). The European Expansion brings the famed European map and introduces several subtle, but powerful, gameplay changes. The lines between cities are generally much shorter, but now you have to contend with tunnels and ferries, both of which can be much tougher to build than tracks crisscrossing the American west. Routes that make use of ferries mandate the use of a locomotive card and those that burrow through mountains or under inland seas carry the risk of cost overruns -- three additional cards are drawn and if any are a locomotive or of the same color you played, then you have to cough up additional cards or forfeit your turn.
The other big addition to the ruleset is the use of stations. You can purchase up to three stations per game to "borrow" a line of track from one of your competitors. This can be helpful if you need to finish a major route, but it also costs you points in the end since you get a bonus for finishing with more unused stations. Stations don't come into play too much in two- and three-player games, but are certainly more common in four- and five-player matches.
In general, the game plays much the same as standard Ticket to Ride. The only thing that is taking some time to get used to is that the cities are all spelled in their native tongue, which can be very different from how we Americans have seen them spelled in history books and on the nightly news. For example, Cophenhagen is spelled Kobenhavn in the game, just like it is in Denmark. Other cities are even less easily identifiable. I'm not complaining about this -- I actually like the geography lesson -- it's just something that I wasn't expecting.
In the end, if you like Ticket to Ride, the expansion is definitely worthy of your time. At 600 points, the expansion costs less than the full game, as expected, but possibly not the 400 points most were anticipating. That said, the expansion does come with two new Achievements worth a total of 30 Gamerscore, so at least there's that.