Rituals and traditions are important to me. I appreciate how even commonplace activities can be filled with joyful feelings and wistful memories. Over the last few years, my oldest friend Christian and I organically started a new tradition together.
Every month, we set aside a day to meet at our favorite brewpub, enjoy a few beers with some tasty food, and catch up on the latest happenings in our personal and professional lives. Following that, we will come back to my place and share our recent finds in the worlds of beer and video games. What started as a way to reconnect with an old friend has become a cherished cultural exchange which I look forward to every month.
On a recent meeting, my good friend introduced me to a pair of delightful puzzle games, along with a delicious triple IPA. I made sure to come prepared, with a particular hop bomb of my own.
EBK- New England Style Imperial IPA
Continuing their trend of producing esoteric beers, Adroit Theory Brewing Company recently released their own version of a rather ephemeral style: the New England IPA. While this beer type is not officially recognized in style guides, many brewers have been releasing this cloudy version of India Pale Ale over the last few years. Eager to see Adroit Theory’s take on this typically smooth and tropical brew, I scooped up one of the first releases of their New England Style Imperial IPA.
EBK lives up to its style, pouring a murky yellow-orange color with a foamy white head. A crisp nose of citrus hops rises from the glass, with strong aromas of grapefruit and tangerine. EBK starts with a flavor and mouthfeel reminiscent of an orange-tangerine smoothie. This initially mellow taste cascades into a tart citrus hop body with rich caramel notes, finishing with a mild resin hop aftertaste.
When it comes to puzzle games, Christian and I share a meticulous enthusiasm and a drive for friendly competition. At our earliest meeting, we bonded over some fierce battles in Tetris Attack, going tit-for-tat across numerous rounds of the colorful game. This joyful rivalry has continued through several titles, from Puzzle Bobble to Magical Drop to Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and most recently, to Tricky Towers.
The quickest way to describe Tricky Towers is Tetris in reverse. Instead of trying to stack blocks with the intent of clearing the screen, you are trying to pile as many blocks as you can in clever ways to out-build your opponent.
There are three modes in Tricky Towers, each with a variation on the final objective. In Race Mode, you are trying to rapidly build a sturdy tower to meet a finish line in the sky before your opponent does. Survival Mode challenges players to stack a fixed number of blocks without dropping any along the way. Once three blocks fall into the abyss, the offending player loses the match. Finally, there is Puzzle Mode, which I consider to be the most difficult. Players try to suspend as many blocks as possible along narrow pillars without dropping blocks or crossing a laser ceiling. Whoever can cram the most blocks on their precarious pillars wins the day.
In each mode, players have access to magic spells that can benefit their own tower or befuddle their opponent’s progress. To further complicate matters, Tricky Towers implements in-game physics that can affect your stacking. The weight and stability of your structure is taken into account, along with errant winds and rain in the harder difficulty modes. If you haven’t built a particularly stable tower (or if your opponent cursed you with blocks made of ice), then the whole thing could come tumbling down in an instant.
Tricky Towers has proven to be not only my favorite puzzle game of 2017 thus far, it is also my favorite competitive game of the year. The easy-to-learn mechanics and delightful visuals provide a low bar of entry, while nuanced advanced strategies and structured competitive modes allow for some intense battles. I will admit, the single player options are rather limited, featuring only a series of individual challenges based on the three modes of play. But if you can get even one friend to your place for Tricky Towers, you will be in for some excellent couch competition.
(All Tricky Towers images are from actual battles between Christian and me! Many thanks to him for capturing and sharing these screens. You can check out his Instagram account, here)
While I typically prefer the playful rivalry of head-to-head puzzle games, I still enjoy the potentially frantic fun of cooperative gameplay. Teaming up to take on increasingly difficult challenges in puzzle games often makes me feel like that team of underdogs in so many kids sports movies, barely managing to eke out a victory against nigh-insurmountable odds thanks to clever thinking (and no shortage of fart jokes). Or, in the case of Overcooked, it makes me feel like part of a team of goofball chefs, trying to make hamburgers across two food trucks, both of which are barreling down the highway.
In Overcooked, players work together as chefs trying to prepare customer orders in increasingly absurd cooking spaces. Initially, the kitchens are simply large in dimensions or made up of confusing layouts. However, as the game progresses, players will find themselves sliding around on makeshift kitchens on a glacier, or trying to manage rocking back-and-forth on a pirate ship buffeted by the sea. In spite of these conditions, the would-be chefs need to prepare the proper dish for each customer’s order, making sure to get the food out the kitchen door before the timer on the order runs out.
Most of Overcooked relies on players managing multiple stations and finding a worthwhile rhythm to their teamwork cooking. So much of my time with Overcooked was spent barking directions or receiving guidance to my fellow players, often laughing all the way.
Like Tricky Towers, the single player mode in Overcooked feels lacking in comparison to the massive amounts of fun presented in multiplayer. What can I say? It’s simply more fun to cook on a pirate ship with friends than run around as a lonely chef on the high seas.
Hoptimum Triple IPA (2017 Edition)
Not to be outdone in the hops department, Christian brought his own hard-to-define-hop-bomb to our latest gathering: Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum Triple IPA.
As another entry that is not currently recognized in beer style guides, the Triple IPA has been loosely defined as a brew that is hoppier and (potentially) more bitter than the Imperial/Double IPA. These beers can vary in flavor on the hop spectrum, with a generally accepted ABV of at least 9.5% and high IBU rankings (international bittering units). Of course, brewers can play fast-and-loose with the nomenclature of their Triple IPAs. As long as the taste is hoppy and dank, beer enthusiasts should be pleased.
Once it settles in the glass, the 2017 Edition of Hoptimum is a honey color with bright yellow hues and a frothy white head. The nose is a pungent punch of citrus hops, with elements of ripe pineapple, guava, blood orange, and a hint of passion fruit in the mix. This beer begins with a tart start of orange pith and pineapple juice, which expands into a powerful citrus hop body, with malty notes of pineapple upside-down cake. This rich body evaporates into a dry finish, with a persistent herbal hop aftertaste.