Screenshot: The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild—The Champions’ Ballad/Nintendo

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild—The Champions’ Ballad

Last week Nintendo released the new Champions’ Ballad expansion for Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, fulfilling its promise to launch two downloadable additions for its acclaimed adventure before the end of 2017. This one is by far the more fully featured, offering returning players a new set of trails spread across the game’s massive map. Some of them are damn hard, too, pitting Link against huge creatures and devious obstacle courses. But as Nintendo showed when it announced the expansion, there’s a pretty wacky reward waiting at the end of it all: a freakin’ motorcycle that Link can summon whenever he wants. It controls a little poorly, but it’s refreshing to see Nintendo screwing around with something this strange in such a prestigious title. This Champions’ Ballad is clearly aimed at people who’ve done most of what there is to do in BOTW anyway, so why not reward them with some game-breaking shenanigans?

While some of the trials get too tedious and repetitive for their own good, I think there’s some real value in how they force you to revisit and reconsider the map of Hyrule. Especially if you’re like me—someone who gushed about the game for weeks and then let it sit in my Switch for the rest of the year as little more than a happy memory—there’s almost a sense of nostalgia to going back. Much like the photo memories you have to track down in the main game, the meat of Champions’ Ballad has you poring over the map in search of the places you need to visit, trying to figure out which tiny square of this giant world the game is trying to direct you toward with nothing but your own topographical charts and a hazy memory of the game’s landmarks. It taps into that same undirected puzzling and unparalleled connection to the environment around you that made Breath Of The Wild so damn thrilling in the first place. Plus, did I mention you get a sweet motorcycle at the end? [Matt Gerardi]

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Illimat

I’ve been excited to check out Illimat ever since its Kickstarter launched over a year ago, but very few people I talked to about it were as enthusiastic as I was. I don’t really blame them, since it’s a weird card game that’s sort of about farming and has a crazy “lore” angle that is purposefully vague and mysterious. But it was also dreamed up by The Decemberists and famous game designer Keith Baker. How could I not be into that? Now I’ve finally been able to rope some people into playing with me, and I’m excited to start digging into the strategy and some of the crazy rule variations.

Explaining the rules would require more space than I have here, but the basic premise is that you want to match cards (from a customized standard deck) with the cards of the same value by combining, discarding, or adding to the ones in your hand with what’s divided into four “fields” on the table. The trick is that each field is a different season, and there are different rules for what you can do in each season. Every once in a while the seasons will change, altering those rules, and every once in a while a special card called a “Luminary” will get flipped, altering the rules even further. Like I said, it’s weird, but it’s surprisingly easy to grasp.

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The other big hook, and the angle that The Decemberists were most involved with, is the whole aesthetic. All of the game’s art was done by Carson Ellis, who also does the art for the band, and all of the fantastical creatures, meaningless symbols, and treacherous rogues that appear on the cards lend the game a playfully mysterious vibe. The “lore” is all about Illimat being a fixture of secret societies for centuries, with philosophers and conquerers playing the game in the shadows, and they absolutely nailed that conceit with the whole package—from the cards to the stylish box the game comes in. [Sam Barsanti]