My Top Ten Favorite Small Video Games

While I love video games produced by big name companies such as Capcom, Bethesda, and Bioware, lesser known corporations can also produce some gems in the industry. Occasionally, I’ll forego the lengthy immersive titles for an addictive casual game. And there are some titles I love going back to time and again. Below is my list of the top 10 casual games I’ve played that never get permanently shelved and forgotten.

10) Virtual Villagers – A five-game series that doesn’t have the most stellar graphics, Virtual Villagers kicks off with a small group of shipwrecked people who find refuge on a remote tropical island. Each subsequent game sees a small group of four to five villagers strike out on their own to inhabit a different area of the island. The general goal is to solve a series of puzzles—some more complex than others—to build a thriving community. I would have liked to see the series continue beyond the fifth game, but there was only so much ground that could be covered. And it ended on a good note with a community being established in the central part of the island in spite of opposition from hostile natives.

9) Insaniquarium – Like the title implies Insaniquarium has you in charge of the world’s craziest fish tank. The goal is to keep your fish alive—if you lose them all, it’s game over. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Aside from keeping the fish fed and building up the population, you must also keep your fish safe from random alien attacks. For each level, you must collect in-game currency generated by the aquarium populace to purchase a “pet” that benefits your tank in some way, such as collecting coins, reviving dead fish, or attacking aliens. In spite of how fun and addictive Insaniquarium is, I haven’t played it in years. But recent gameplay videos from a YouTuber called CaptainSauce has reignited my interest.

8) JoJo’s Fashion Show – A three-game series that sees an elderly fashion designer make a comeback with the aid of her daughter, JoJo’s Fashion Show consists primarily of dressing up models in cutting edge attire to earn fortune and fame. The games are very simplistic and don’t require much thinking, but you must move fast to attain a good score. I found the games entertaining enough to keep going back to them even after I’d beaten them, although it has been years since my last playthrough. I do still have a physical copy though, so maybe it’s time I dust it off for another go.

7) Wedding Dash – A fast-paced game series, Wedding Dash puts you in the shoes of a young wedding planner whose basic goal is to host the perfect reception. You must put together a menu that fits the preferences of the newlyweds, get the guests seated and fed quickly to keep the line moving, and keep the bride or groom—depending on which game in the series you’re playing—from blowing a gasket. The most challenging part of the Wedding Dash series is that there are more guests than there are seats available at the reception. Most guests have a preference about which table they want or who they want to be seated by, so you have to stay on your toes to keep everyone happy. To add to the challenge, some guests take longer to eat than others, so keeping the line moving is quite the balancing act. Nevertheless, I do love games that challenge me, and the Wedding Dash series offers that in spades.

6) Farm Frenzy – There are at least fourteen titles in the Farm Frenzy franchise, but they all follow the same formula—the production and sale of goods from a small farm. The goods that are produced range from simple items like eggs, milk, and wool to more complex or wacky goods such as cheese wheels, electronics, or costumed bears. Each level in Farm Frenzy sets goals for you on what must be produced and rewards you for how quickly you can make it happen. While this series isn’t quite as innovative as other games on this list, it’s still good for a quick boost of fun.

5) Fate – A dungeon-crawler series in which no two playthroughs are exactly the same, Fate sees you assume the role of a fully customizable adventurer out to eradicate monsters in a nearby “bottomless” dungeon. Each title in the Fate series sets a penultimate goal related to saving the kingdom, but the game doesn’t end upon completion of this goal. You’d have to go a long way just to reach the end of the dungeon. There are hundreds of levels you can fight your way through—though many later monsters are re-colored versions of what came before. The last game in the Fate series, Cursed King, upped the ante by having at least four separate dungeons to explore and allowing you to build a team of customizable A.I. characters. Though I’m sure that such a game could get repetitive after so long, it is one that I don’t see myself ever getting bored with.

4) Space Colony – A game I originally purchased and played back in the mid-90’s, Space Colony is a title that kept coming to mind over the years. I lost the game disc a long time ago—I never figured out where or when—but I always yearned for an opportunity to play it again. I got my wish last year when I learned it had been remastered and released on the Steam Network. Space Colony generally centers around a team of misfits who must construct and successfully maintain an otherworldly colony. There are two separate campaign paths to follow—one where you build up a successful entertainment resort in a set amount of time and one where you undertake military missions against a hostile alien race. Aside from the main campaign, Space Colony also features a sandbox mode where you can build whatever you like with no strings attached. Or you can delve into the challenge mode to conquer a number of different worlds—one of the hardest levels is a molten world with limited space to build where you must construct habitats to house, feed, and entertain up to eighteen workers. I haven’t yet mastered every aspect of the game, but I very much look forward to doing so.

3) Octogedden – A wacky little title in which a mutant octopus sets out to destroy the world one city at a time, Octogedden is addictive enough to keep me craving more. All that’s required is to use the mouse buttons to turn left or right, but the game is very challenging due to the sheer amount of enemies that are thrown at you. I am generally very observant, but even I can’t see at times what hit me.

2) Governor of Poker 2 – A fun little title in which you must travel back and forth across the state of Texas competing in tournaments, Governor of Poker 2 serves as a good way to hone your skills in the classic card game. And there is a lot more to Governor of Poker 2 than just beating your opponents over and over. You can use your winnings to purchase whole towns in the old west, compete for the rights to a revenue source such as a coal mine, and increase your standing as a prestigious player by beating the best A.I. card-sharks. This game is one that I’ve never played all the way through due to taking too many risks with no reward, but I do hope to one day reach the conclusion.

1) Recettear – Easily the most layered game on this list, Recettear tells the story of a young naïve and quirky girl named Recette who inherited a store from her deadbeat father after he ran off. Problems arise for the heroine when she is paid a visit by a loanshark fairy named Tear looking to collect a large debt owed by Recette’s father. Repayment falls on Recette’s shoulders and she will lose her house and the shop if she doesn’t deliver. However, Tear takes pity on the young girl by agreeing to divide the debt into more manageable payments; the two even go into business together by selling weapons, potion ingredients, and other items in the store. Despite the nature of their relationship, Recette quickly comes to regard Tear as a friend and makes the shop name an amalgamation of both of theirs. To acquire more items to sell, Recette and Tear can either purchase goods at a discount from a local merchant or hire an adventurer\fighter to help them snag loot from one of the nearby dungeons. What I love most about Recettear is that you never truly get a game over. If you ever fail to acquire the funds for a payment, the game will take you back to the starting point while letting you keep the inventory, merchant level, and fighter level you had at the “game over.” It took me several playthroughs to figure this out, so I kept starting a brand new game every time I “lost.” I could go on and on about every aspect of Recettear, but I’ll let you all discover it for yourselves if the game intrigues you.

I hope you all found this list enjoyable and that you found a game that interests you. If you would like to share your own experiences with a fun casual game, please do so in the comments below.

How do you pack for a trip?

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

During your travels, have you dealt with extreme weather conditions? On a recent trip, my husband, Roger, and I experienced a humid Vermont with temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties. This contrasted with a winter trip there where one day the temperature dropped to thirty-five degrees below zero. We’ve also traveled there during the beautiful fall foliage where the temperature ranged from the mid-forties to the mid-seventies. We love Vermont.

Packing efficiently for our various trips depends on us knowing the temperature range of our destinations and the activities in which we’ll take part. During our early vacations, I always over packed. Over the years, I learned to make do with a lot less.

This learning curve came in handy for our twenty-seven-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. Our traveling companions couldn’t believe that I packed all my belongings in a twenty-one-inch carry-on, a backpack, and a large purse. Roger used a twenty-four-inch suitcase and a backpack. I should mention that doing laundry a couple of times during our trip played a large part in our ability to pack less. Do you have a difficult time deciding what to take for a trip or have you mastered the art of efficient packing? Do you have any helpful hints that could make traveling easier?

Writer’s Confessional Part Seven

I’ve been writing again, after settling into my new business routine. It’s been a road of discovery as always with doing anything new.

Scrivener, a writing software program, is a part of this journey after I gave up on it a few years ago because the difficulty of using it was frustrating. The only reason I’m using it again is because of K.M. Weiland. On her website, she mentions she’s created a step by step outlining file in Scrivener. This outlining system created a more straightforward organizational system. My ideas took a more linear path. Instead of a meandering path like a pantser, someone writing by the seat of their pants, plot and characters have a more precise focus.

I’m so grateful the creative dance is a gentler one because I hate trying to figure out technology. I’m the person screaming at the computer screen when things aren’t going the way I want them to go regarding my writing. Especially when I used Scrivener years ago.

I think as I finalize this outline, I’ll have a much easier time writing my newest romance novel.

The Resident Evil 2 Remake Challenge

I play video games largely for fun, or as a means to blow off steam after a rough day at work. But I also occasionally challenge myself by trying to beat a particular title on the hardest difficulty setting. I’ve succeeded at some—Command and Conquer: Renegade & Fallout: New Vegas—while others—Resident Evil 7 & Neoquest 2 (from the Neopets website)—have eluded me. And I recently set my sights on a game I purchased earlier this year.

I first acquired and played the Resident Evil 2 remake back in February 2019, and I have gotten hours of enjoyment from the title and its associated mini-games. I have since been watching a number of gamers broadcasting their own playthroughs on Twitch. After several months of viewing others run through the grueling hardcore mode of the game, I decided to give it a go myself.

What makes this mode of the game so challenging is that every step through a monster-infested area could be your last. Each creature you encounter moves much faster in hardcore mode and most can kill you in 1-3 hits. And if you die, you must start over from the beginning of the game or from your last save.

I shared my plans with three video game streamers who I watch regularly—Silentkaster, Crazygamingdayz, and ISeeDeadKittensXO. The latter, Kittens, was the only one who had yet to get through this mode with the best grade—more on that later—but said he would if I managed to pull it off.

It took me about six hours to get through Claire’s campaign with 13 saves—about five hours and 15 saves for Leon’s. I didn’t have any ambitions beyond trying to get through both scenarios. I changed my mind when Kittens challenged me to run through it again, this time for a proverbial gold medal.

One staple of the Resident Evil games is that you’re graded on how well you do, ranging from E to S+. Generally, things like speed, accuracy, minimal saves, or number of enemies eliminated contribute to the score you get upon completion. To obtain the best possible grade in the Resident Evil 2 remake’s hardcore mode, you must get through it in under two and a half hours with no more than three saves.

I don’t know how many attempts I made overall, but it had to be at least a hundred. I chose to run through the Claire A scenario since that is the easiest of the four campaigns. Each failure made me more determined and helped me develop tactics to get through.

On my initial try at it, I saved the game just before the first boss fight. Going up against one of the toughest monsters in the game was a grueling experience. I tried a number of different tactics from pumping the creature full of lead to hacking away at it with a combat knife. I’m not sure which method ultimately worked because I kept failing over and over before I could get to my next savepoint.

Fortunately, I got in so much practice against the first boss that I decided to start over from the beginning—this time saving after the fight. I was just under the one hour mark at this point. From here, I had to decide whether or not I should grab a submachine gun on the other end of the police station from my location, or simply run for the next objective. I tried several times to grab the desired weapon before I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the time or risk. There were certain steps I needed to take just to gain access to the SMG; some steps would put me in a situation that could get me killed.

I finally decided to just muddle through with the handgun and grenade launcher I already had and hope for the best. It took some doing, but I finally made it to my next savepoint in the sewers just prior to the second boss fight.

The second boss monster is perhaps the most difficult one in the game for me to get past—primarily because you have to fight it in the smallest self-contained area and have to use a crane to knock it off the platform to end the battle. Unfortunately, I kept getting killed after the few times I did win. I lost count of how many attempts I made to get through this fight intact.

My plan was to have my last save just prior to the back-to-back final boss fights in the game. But frustration from having to do the second battle over and over made me change my mind. Another contributing factor was that my character was in very poor health at the start of the greenhouse area—the most dangerous location in the game. I feared getting killed and having to repeat the previous fight again, so I saved at a less than optimal point. It also meant I couldn’t save any more if I wanted to obtain the best grade.

I should also note that I could have picked up an electricity-based weapon in the sewers that would have helped me out here, but I didn’t have space for it in my inventory when I came across it. I had to rely on just the knife, handgun, and grenade launcher—mostly—to help me get through to the end.

Through all of this, I’d been keeping Crazygamingdayz, Silentkaster, and Kittens updated on my progress. Kittens was so impressed that I made it so far and stood such a good chance of winning that he decided to go for it himself. Ironically, he completed the hardcore mode with an S+ rank before I did!

I ran through the greenhouse section so many times that I became a veritable expert at it—I even joked to several friends that I could do it in my sleep. I did make some really dumb mistakes at times though. For instance, I found that throwing a flash grenade in a room of immobile zombies will cause them all to get up at once. This really backfired when I mistakenly threw one in a stairwell and the zombie in the room at the top of the stairs came down and caught me unawares.

After multiple tries, it was very satisfying to finally triumph over the final monster in the game—especially since I was considering starting the game over from scratch to conserve more ammo than I had. I was given access to a mini-gun just before the fight, but there were several attempts that ended in failure because I ran completely out of ammo. I solved this problem by being stingier with my firearms in the second-to-last battle. And it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to get through it.

Successfully completing this mode with the best grade unlocked both a mini-gun and rapid-fire SMG for use throughout the game, both with infinite ammo. While either would make running through any campaign on any difficulty more of a breeze, I’m still aiming to get through Leon’s campaign on hardcore with an S+ rank, which can’t be achieved if I use these weapons. Winning at this scenario would net me an infinite-ammo rocket launcher.

Leon’s campaign is more challenging than Claire’s because you are being pursued by a near-unkillable monster at certain points throughout. The most you can hope for is to temporarily disable this creature to keep it from chasing you, if not outrun it.

It may take me just as much time and effort to get through Leon’s side of the story as it did with Claire’s. But given that I’ve made it about halfway while only saving once, I know I stand a very good chance.

Leaf Peepers

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

My husband, Roger, and I enjoy seeing natures’ beauty whenever we can. We decided to see the fall foliage in the six New England states where I heard it is magnificent.

During the first week of October a few years ago, we traveled to New York and the six New England states during one fall foliage season. People who invade these states at that time are called “leaf peepers” by the locals.

The hardwood trees in northernmost Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont start to change in early to mid-September. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island begin to change soon afterward. The peak leaf peeper season usually happens during the first two weeks of October. Our timing of this adventure was perfect. The millions of beautiful red, orange, gold, yellow, and purple leaves among the evergreen trees didn’t disappoint us.

We previously traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire together, but this time we wanted to visit these states on the same trip. What better time than during the lush fall foliage season?

We left Michigan taking the bridge into Canada and spent the night in Ontario near Thousand Islands. We had a full breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the St Lawrence River. Refreshed, we continued to our scheduled stop in Vermont where Roger has family members. We took pictures of the colorful hillsides, rustic barns, crossed one of the few remaining old-fashioned covered wood bridges, and picked fruit at an apple orchard. His sister baked a scrumptious pie for us using the fresh raspberries we picked at a raspberry farm. We also ate decadent maple syrup ice cream at Roger’s favorite Vermont ice cream stand.

Our four star-filled nights in Vermont were followed by a short stay in New Hampshire where Roger has family. We played on a beautiful leaf-covered golf course and lost a number of golf balls under piles of colorful leaves. We made several stops to take pictures of the awesome pallet of natures’ colors. After eating dinner with his family and spending the night, we headed for Maine. 

After a long drive over winding roads, past colorful hillsides, we parked at a tourist spot south of Kennebunkport, Maine. Before shopping for souvenirs, we decided to walk on the beautiful sandy beach right into the Atlantic Ocean and I immediately jumped back out. The waters off the shores of Maine were way too cold for me to take a real dip in the waters. At least I could say I got in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Our souvenir shopping included t-shirts and postcards for our grandchildren and a magnet of the state of Maine for ourselves.

Following a lunch of fresh seafood, we drove through Massachusetts enjoying the lovely foliage on our way to Providence, Rhode Island for an overnight stay. From there we stopped in Connecticut for lunch. After driving around New London, we headed up through Hartford, Connecticut to Springfield, Massachusetts where we turned west onto I-90 which took us through Albany, New York on our way to Niagara Falls just north of Buffalo. We saw Niagara Falls from both the American and Canadian sides. Colorful lighting enhanced the American view of the awesome cascading waters. We stayed one night in Niagara Falls before heading back home by way of Canada.

Once we left Vermont, we covered the remaining New England states and New York in four days. New England is not an expansive area. This trip helped us fill our magnetic map of the United States.

How many states have you visited?