Friday, June 29, 2012

Puzzles in Board Games

To round out what has apparently become Puzzle Week, I wanted to talk about puzzles in another media type besides books and video games.  I tried to think about puzzles in movies/television and the closest I can come up with is are shows like Psych or possibly Leverage (which come to think of it is probably one of the reasons why I like those shows so very much...) where there is some mystery to solve (who murdered that person or how are they going to steal that?) and in theory you are given just enough clues you might be able to guess it.  The problem is that if they give too many clues, then it ruins any twists or surprises the writers have in store, but if they give too few, then it's like a Sherlock Holmes story where there is absolutely no way to guess the outcome because the clues Sherlock Holmes discover are never revealed until the end when he explains the answer.  So ultimately, the episodes are designed so you can't solve it ahead of time, so they're not really puzzles.

So I decided to talk about puzzles in board games.  I'm not talking about jigsaw puzzles or Mastermind, but something with a little more depth and variety in its puzzles.  The only example I can really come up with is the game Mansions of Madness.  I haven't actually been able to finish this game yet, let alone play it multiple times, so I can't do a proper review, but one of the things that made me buy the game was that it had in game puzzles that needed to be solved by players before they could achieve their goal.  I was very curious how it was possible to make a repeatable puzzle in a game that both gave players time to think, but didn't completely stall the game for all the other players.

What they have come up are pipe and lock puzzles where you are given random pieces in a predetermined format and must swap and rotate them so that all the colors/shapes/whatever align.  Not a very difficult puzzle, but these can definitely be tricky.  The genius part is that you are only allowed to move and swap a set number of pieces each turn (determined by your player's Intelligence trait).  So if you know how to solve the puzzle quickly, but your character is an idiot, it will take a long time to solve it or if you can't figure it out, you can think about your next few moves while other players are taking their turns.  Again, I haven't played this enough to see how consistently awesome this is, but from what I saw it was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for when I bought the game.

I'm still trying to figure out a way to combine the Usborne puzzles and maybe some Cliff Johnson puzzles into a board game in such a way that it offers deep and clever puzzles that are replayable and not game-stalling.  I'll let you know when I figure out how to do that...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cliff Johnson

Alongside puzzles in book form, I also grew up playing many puzzle games on the computer.  One of my favorite creators of these games was Cliff Johnson.  I grew up playing Fool's Errand and 3 in Three (I think I've played through both of them at least three times each) and in college discovered At The Carnival.  I still haven't played his other games because I haven't been able to get them to run on any machine I've tried them on yet.  If anyone knows a free and legal way to run a Windows 98 program on a Windows 7 machine, I would greatly appreciate it.

In theory, at the end of September, Cliff will be releasing a new game called A Fool and His Money.  I say in theory because I was immortalized in the Compendium of True Believers (i.e. pre-ordered the game) I think 5 years ago when I used to work at Liquid Entertainment.  Each year the game was supposed to be coming out that year sometime, but kept getting pushed back due to a technical flaw or family emergency (it is only one guy making the game after all).  I have hope this time will stick, though, because unlike the other times, Cliff has a weekly production schedule with clear goals and deadlines.

Of course, even if it doesn't, I'm all for supporting one of the men responsible for the games I was raised on. Heck, I'm even quoted on his page (although uncredited): "I grew up on Fool’s Errand and 3 in Three and cannot wait for their further adventures. You are a genius and you make me feel like one when I beat your games."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Usborne Puzzle Adventures

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love puzzles.  This series of books is one of the reasons of that.  I remember finding these books in the most random little bookstores when my parents took us camping and never when I actively looked for them.  Even nowadays, the only place I can find them cheap and new is directly from the publisher.

Each book follows the same formula with a different story: an opening page explaining how the book works, a puzzle to solve on most pages, one page of hints in case the puzzles confound you, and then pages of answers for each puzzle.  These puzzles aren't just random puzzles, but help immerse you even more into the story.  Sometimes the characters receive a coded message that you must decipher to understand what the characters know.  Sometimes you have to go back to previous pages looking for something the characters just remembered.  You are not supposed to read ahead in the story until you solve each puzzle.

Most of the books in the series are meant for children, so the puzzles aren't super hard, but harder than you'd expect.  A few of the books are the "advanced series", which even give my puzzle-solving brain a run for its money.  Much like choose your own adventure stories, the interactivity really helps you feel more a part of the story and at the same time, the puzzles are a good exercise for your observation skills and logic.

If you have any kids, I highly recommend this series for them, I guarantee at least one story will intrigue them and then they'll be hooked.  Even if you don't have kids, I'd recommend this series to anyone who enjoys good puzzles.  Just keep in mind that if you do buy from the publisher, don't be confused by the occasional British term (I got confused for a bit when the text said some kids were running around with torches and the pictures showed flashlights).

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Magic of 3

Three has always been my favorite number.  I've never been able to explain, it just has been for all time.  So maybe this is why I notice the abundance of threes in my world.  The Trinity of God that I believe in (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the three seasons of Monterey (foggy, rainy, and sunny), three meals a day, the third season of TV shows tend to be where they start to get awesome (The Office, Buffy, Star Trek: The Next Generation, etc.), you must count to 3 when using holy implements, it helps you avoid time loopstrilogies tend to be better overall than just two movies in a series or four, you start with 3 lives, it takes 3 hits to kill a boss, there are 3 related items to find, there are 3 enemy categories (grunt, miniboss, boss), ninjas run around in 3s, primary colors come in threes (blue, red, yellow or red, green, blue), final bosses have three forms, at least three items are required to determine a pattern, and at least three items are needed to form a proper list.

I don't really have a point, I just like seeing the 3 in Three.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns is Nintendo's fourth entry into the Donkey Kong Country series.  If Kirby games are easy platformers and Mario games are normal platformers, DKC games are definitely hard platformers.  They require very precise timing and accuracy in nearly every movement you take.

In DKCR, strange floating Tiki musical instruments have run around hypnotizing the animals of Donkey Kong's island to steal all of his banana hoard.  It's now up to Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong (with Cranky Kong's help) to defeat the Tiki instruments and recover his golden hoard.

Unlike previous DKC games, the only animal friend you get to recruit to help you (on some levels) is Rambi the Rhinoceros, but that doesn't mean the game isn't filled with some of the most varied level designs I've seen in a platformer.  Even though there are 8 worlds with their own themes, each level within a world will have its own unique challenges to overcome whether it's a mine cart ride, rocket ride, platforms hidden in fog, machinery timed to the music, lava flowing up to kill you, a giant boulder chasing you, pirate ships manned by pirate crabs attacking you from the background, a tidal wave coming in from the background, or many other threats to your life.

What I Loved

Level Variety

As stated above, there is a very wide variety in the types of challenges you get to face in this game.  Even if it's a repeat type (e.g. another mine cart level), you know something will be different or some new twist will be added to the challenge (like the rails you're riding on falling into the lava or moles throwing bombs at you while you're on the mine cart).


I want to be very clear on this: this game is hard.  However, it's the perfect type of hard where it's not overly punishing and you always feel like you're making progress (sure I died 20 times already, but I got one platform farther than I got last time!).  This makes it extremely rewarding when you complete things because it takes pure skill, so you know you're pretty awesome when you succeed.


Within every level there are four letters that spell out Kong and 5-9 puzzle pieces to collect.  Getting all the Kong letters gets you a K badge and getting all the puzzle pieces unlocks some concept art for the game.  Getting all the K badges in a world unlocks an extra super challenging level, which grants a pearl upon completion.  Getting all 8 pearls unlocks the final level once you beat the game.  Completing that level gets you the mirror that lets you play all levels backwards with only one heart, no Diddy Kong, and no items.  Finishing that gets you the final 8 pieces of the concept art to unlock.  I never played the mirror levels because I personally had no interest in playing through all the levels again, but unlocking new levels is by far better than most unlockables any game I've played has had since Goldeneye for the N64.  


Just like with the Zelda series, the bosses in DKC are generally more about strategy than anything else.  You have to study their attack patterns, learn how to avoid getting hit, and learn where the opening is to hit them.  Once you do this, you just have to repeat it two more times (although generally the boss gets harder after each hit) and you win.  I love this formula because I always know exactly how much more I have to survive through.  So when I die after hitting him twice, I know I was close to finishing him and don't get discouraged.  It also means that the bosses don't take hours long like some bosses

The Rhythm

I'm not just talking about the music (although the music is fantastic).  In any good platformer, played optimally, a level will have a certain rhythm to it.  The momentum of the level never stops and there's a constant flow to the player's movements.  This could not be truer than in DKCR.  This rhythm is most obvious in any mine cart or chase level.  Enemies appear in specific places at just the right time to keep you moving at a constant rate.  They made this abundantly clear by adding a Time Trial mode to every level with the Shiny Gold medals (apparently better than regular Gold medals) requiring the knowledge of this rhythm.

What I Disliked

Bouncing Off Of Enemies

In order to bounce higher off an enemy in any Mario game, you simply have to hold A while falling on him.  In this game, you have to push 2 at just the right moment when you land on him to achieve this higher jump.  Apparently you may also just hold A, but on a Wii controller, I don't know how you hold the controller to be holding right on the + pad, holding A, and holding 1.  I didn't even know about the A button thing until after the game, so the entire game I went through with the timing method.  When you die because you didn't bounce off an enemy, it's incredibly frustrating.  Especially because the timing on some enemies doesn't quite make sense (especially if you are bouncing up from an enemy below).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword

Skyward Sword is Nintendo's latest entry into the Zelda franchise.  If you've played any other Zelda game, you can pretty much guess the story.  Some random boy in a green outfit finds out he's destined to save a girl that turns out to be someone incredibly important, must collect macguffins from various temples/dungeons to become powerful enough to defeat the evil threatening the girl and the world.

The biggest difference in this iteration is the motion controls.  A Motion Plus controller is required (so most early copies came with a special edition pretty gold Zelda version of said controller) so that Link's sword can follow the direction the player is holding the controller.  This leads to many wonderful types of puzzles where you have to swing the sword in a specific direction with the right timing.  It also leads to some of the most frustrating moments in the game when the game misinterprets your motions.

What I Loved

The Puzzles

The game was filled with wonderful puzzles of all types.  One dungeon had you rearrange the rooms with a slider puzzle in order to get around.  One area plays with the concept of time to get around.  At one point you lose all of your items and must sneak around trying to get them back.  All of these are presented wonderfully with just enough clues to indicate what you need to do without making the puzzle pointless.

The Bosses

Each boss was really its own sort of puzzle.  In most Zelda games, a boss is killed using the item they keep in their dungeon, so you just have to figure out how to use it to get them to expose their weak points.  In this Zelda game, it's sort of the opposite.  You still need to use the item you got from the dungeon, but you have to figure out the enemies' attack patterns and learn where and how to strike to get the opening to use that item.  Really, I love this because all of the bosses are their own puzzle.  All of their attacks can be avoided once you learn their pattern, so it's more of a strategy than a skill thing, which I always appreciate.

The Goddess Cubes

Hidden throughout the land are these cubes that when struck with your sword ascend into the sky and unlock a treasure chest.  The thing I love about these is that not only are they hidden collectibles, but they're the right kind of hidden.  It's usually obvious where they are, you have to figure out how to get to them.  Near the end of the game, you get the ability to "douse" for the cubes so even if you missed some, you can very quickly and easily find where they are.  And even when you do unlock the treasure chest, many of those are hidden in much the same way.

Item Use Instructions

Just like Nintendo does with Mario, many lessons on new items/enemies are taught by just forcing the player to try things.  The best example is when you discover the Bellows can affect a certain object type in the volcano area (I'm trying to be vague so I don't give away this discovery because it amused me so much how they did it).  They arranged this one part of the level where you first see this object such that most people will naturally get stuck behind it and forced to figure out how to remove the obstacle.

What I Disliked


I don't really remember Navi being as annoying as the running gag claims she is.  Fi, on the other hand was the stupidest, most useless waste of programming I have ever seen.  Her purpose is to help guide Link through the dungeons, give him clues when he gets stuck, and remind players of what they're doing when asked.  The problem comes when she offers advice unheeded, which happens ALL THE FREAKING TIME.  When you reach a new area, she'll pop out and say something useful like, "There is an 80% probability that this is where the MacGuffin is" or "I have calculated a 40% chance that that treasure chest is important".  Everything she spouts out is blatantly obvious, does not help the player in any way whatsoever, and always comes with some random percentage (because she's a virtual intelligence, so she must sound computery).

The Imprisoned

Near one of the temples in the land, the great evil you are working to defeat is sealed.  However, somehow his power keeps growing, he keeps breaking the seal, and you have to fight him to reseal him and give yourself more time.  This would be fine if it only happened once in the game to show how powerful this evil is.  However, this fight happens three different times.  Each time he gets a little bit harder (i.e. more annoying).  I still don't know what the point of having to fight him three times was.  He wasn't fun enough to warrant that.

The Motion Controls

When the controls didn't work, it was one of the more frustrating moments in the game because it'd almost always be when you're trying to deflect some attack or trying to skydive into a very specific spot when it fails.  So then not only did you fail (which feels bad), but it wasn't your fault (which is much worse), but also you have to repeat whatever you were trying (which is the worst).  There are times when the motion controls were fun, like when you waggle the joystick around to repeatedly attack a boss in a very short time span.  But I don't think those really outweigh the times they made me want to give up.


Traveling in Zelda games is very varied.  He has traveled on foot, on horseback, on a boat, on a train, and now on the back of a giant bird.  At best, it's kind of a nuisance to backtrack, but at least you still have things to do (defend from enemies and such).  At worst, I could get up and make a sandwich with Link moving towards his destination with no fear of anything ever happening (stupid Wind Waker).  Flying in this game is closer to Wind Waker than any of the others.  There are very, very few enemies up in the sky to attack you and the few there are are incredibly easy to just go around.  And for some reason this very empty sky is huge, so it takes awhile to get from one place to another.  However, you have to be paying attention because you have to waggle the controller every once in awhile to make the bird flap its wings to go higher up in the air since it's slowly moving downwards.  In theory, there were a few moves to try to speed up getting around, but it never really felt any faster.

Friday, June 15, 2012

James Hance

I'm usually not very big on art, that's what my bothers, Adam and Andrew, are for.  But, I was introduced to one other artist that I really can't help but love and that's James Hance.  It's like he takes every nerdy thing I love and combines them into ways that somehow makes me love them even more!  I didn't know my heart had room for this much love!  Currently, I own three of his prints and the only reason I don't own more is that I'm trying to give other artists a chance to clutter up my walls.  It really doesn't help that the prints are only $10 each.  I really have nothing else to say, so I'm just going to display some of my other favorites of his.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Settlers of America

Made by Mayfair Games, makers of the Settlers of Catan series of games, Settlers of America takes the core gameplay elements of Settlers of Catan and uses them to let players play through the western expansion of the United States of America.  Players start by placing starting cities in the Eastern United States and proceed to build new settlers to expand out westward.  In order to win, players must build trains and rails to drop off their supply goods manufactured from their cities to other player's cities.  The first player to drop off all their supply goods wins the game.

Each turn plays like the original Settlers of Catan game, dice are rolled, resources are picked up based on who has cities built next to the rolled number, and resource trading and building commence.  Some of the major differences are city placement, resource depletion, and the reliance on other players doing well to win.

Instead of building new settlements at the end of your road, new cities are built by first building a Settler, paying Wheat to move him across the board to an open settlement location, and turning the Settler into a city once he arrives. These cities do not need to be connected to anything and can be on the opposite end of America if you want.

Most resource numbers are painted on to the game board, but some are on numbered tokens.  As players expand westward, these token numbers will move from the east side of the board to the west side, thus forcing players to travel west.

In order to drop off your supply goods, there must be an opponent's city without any supply goods already placed upon it.  This means that in order to win, the other players have to also have cities built.  This prevents the problem frequent in Settlers of Catan of being unable to build and unable to win the game.  No one is ever knocked out of the competition in this game.

Another nice fix from previous versions of Settlers is that you will never have a turn where you get no resource.  In this version, they introduced gold.  On any turn you don't receive a resource card, you get one gold.  Two gold lets you buy one of any other resource.  Gold is also used to allow your trains to travel on  other player's tracks.

The average game length seems to be about 3 hours and the game is for 3-4 players.  I really enjoy this game, but it certainly is time consuming, so it's rare I actually get to play it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Prometheus

Prometheus is a prequel (of sorts) to the Aliens series of movies.  Although it takes place before the other Alien movies, it's more of a side branch of that story.  In many ways, however, this movie mirrors the original Alien.  There are a group of people aboard a spaceship that don't know each other previously that each have specific jobs, people get separated and killed, and by the end the main female character grows a backbone and learns how to fight to survive.  At least I think that was the idea.  Instead, the main female character constantly looks freaked out and panicky and among many plot holes, the reason the initial redshirts get separated makes absolutely no sense.

Some things (like that) I can forgive because I know the trope and I know someone has to get separated to get the ball rolling with the aliens.  However, it's much harder to forgive the movie when you stop caring about everything for the last 30 minutes of the movie.  Not to mention when at the end of the movie, you realize Charlize Theron's character was completely pointless and therefore the only reason she was there was to add Charlize Theron to the list of cast to try to get more people to watch it.  This was no fault of Charlize herself by any means, she was fantastic at her role.  The role itself was just unnecessary.  On the positive side, this movie does add some very interesting things to the lore of the Aliens series and it is entertaining for the most part.  Ultimately, I would say watch it if you're a big fan of the Alien series, otherwise you can skip it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

E3 2012 Thoughts

One thing I really love about my job is that I'm not only allowed to have the big E3 press conferences streaming while I'm working, but my boss asks for the URL I'm using so he can watch, too.  For those who don't know, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is the time every year that the game industry shows off what is coming up to customers around the world.  Each of the three big companies (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo) has a press conference where they not only announce games, but also the upcoming technology they are making that we should be excited about.

For Microsoft, this year's only really new thing (the rest were all sequels of their exclusive IPs and Assassin's Creed 3) was Microsoft Glass.  Microsoft Glass is an attempt to connect all of your gadgets together so that while watching a movie, you can see the cast automatically on your phone or tablet or to easily switch what media you're enjoying on your phone or tablet on to your Xbox.  The only interesting thing I can see is if doing something on your phone/tablet affects something in your game (like what Mass Effect 3 had with its iPhone app to improve Galactic Readiness), but I'd rather have a machine built for that specific purpose (see the Wii U below).  Not to mention I don't have a smartphone or tablet, so really I'm just not the target for this thing anyway, but it does give me more potential incentive to pick up a Kindle Fire at some point.

For Sony, the only thing they showed that I cared at all about was their version of Smash Brothers with Sony characters (oh and they showed Assassin's Creed 3).  Basically you take Sony exclusive characters (Kratos, Ratchet and Clank, Sweet Tooth, Cole McGrath, etc.), which I am happy to see they have a good amount of, have up to four players fight each other as them building up charge bars, and unleash super attacks once the charge bars are full that kill the other players.  My initial reaction is that that system seems a little too simple, but I guess I'll just keep my eye on it for now.

For Nintendo, they focused heavily on the Wii U and made me excited I own a 3DS (and they also showed Assassin's Creed 3).  The Wii U is coming out sometime Holiday 2012.  I'm still not excited enough to be a day one buyer of it, but there is so much potential in the Wii U that I can't help but get excited.  Essentially, the Wii U's big thing is its controller, the WiiPad.  It's a large controller with a touch screen in the middle that can either display extra information to the player that doesn't get displayed on the TV or can get sent the audio/video meant for the TV in case someone else is using it.  This is exciting not only because of the asymmetric gameplay that secret information leads to with the former, but it means I can have Netflix or something else on my TV while playing a Wii U game.  I know it's probably terrible for my attention span, but I do love to multi-task.  :)

I understand that it's important for the console developers to show they have third party support (especially for Nintendo), but when all three conferences show us the same game, it's not at all special or unique, so why waste time doing it?  Especially when Ubisoft (makers of Assassin's Creed 3) had their own press conference where they (you guessed it) showed off Assassin's Creed 3.  It seems to me, the press conferences should be about showing customers what is unique and special about that particular company, not about showing off what everyone else has as well.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Above all other reasons, I play (non-casual) video games in order experience a story.  This is why, to me, cutscenes are very crucial to my gaming experience.  After a tough boss fight, an epic chase scene, or a particularly difficult game section, I feel like being able to set down the controller and enjoy a section of story is a great reward.  Unfortunately, other gamers apparently don't feel the same way and game developers have more and more decided all cutscenes should have some interactive element.  The problem with this is that not only can I not set down my controller for fear of needing to react to something, but I also can't pay attention to what's going on on the screen because I'm waiting for some prompt to push a button that almost never maps to what's going on.  So not only am I missing the story, but I'm also being pulled further out of the experience, which seems like the opposite of what they're going for.

Another direction some developers have gone is to eliminate cutscenes by having story take place while the player still has control of the character, like in the Half-Life series.  I had to make cutscenes for Rise of the Argonauts, so I know how much work it is and how much time/money could be spent elsewhere, so I can appreciate this idea, but as a player, I tend to ignore what the character is saying and try to mess with them.  I'll walk behind them to see if they track me, I'll throw random things at them (if possible) to see if they react, or I'll attack them (if I know they won't get killed).  I start having so much fun trying to mess with something I know won't react that when they finish speaking, I have no idea what they're saying.  Of course, that's the best case experience.  Other times I'll scour the room for secrets if I feel like I won't be allowed to explore after they're done talking, thus completely ignoring what's going on.  Another case I've seen was in Red Dead Redemption, where before almost every mission, you had to follow an NPC to the start of the mission while you two talked back and forth along the way.  This wouldn't be so annoying if it weren't for the fact that you have to hold A during the entire ride to stay following the NPC.  It seems to me that it would've been much better to press A to initiate/break of following the NPC so I could sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

On the flip side, the Metal Gear Solid series has become a running gag for having incredibly long cutscenes (one upwards of 90 minutes!).  This clearly isn't the right way to go about it either.  The player bought a game, not a movie after all.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gotta Catch 'Em All Syndrome

As stated before, collecting things is part of my nature.  This doesn't just apply to video games, but it definitely affects how I play games pretty heavily.  I not only have a compulsive need to find all hidden collectibles in a game, unlock all upgrades of things, and check off every item on any list possible in a game, but I also have to get the highest ranking/medal, finish any side objectives, and kill all optional bosses.  Normally this isn't that big a deal, but this need has repeatedly marred my experience with a game.  Super Mario 64, Fez, Assassin's Creed, and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood are all memorable (or recent) experiences where the need to collect everything ruined or severely marred my experience with the game.  It seems pretty strange to have such a strong compulsion to collect things that it will turn a game from something to entertain me to something to punish me or make me work.

I can come up with reasons to try to explain the need (finding game design flaws so I won't make the same mistakes, bragging rights, getting the best ending, etc.), but honestly none of that comes into play while I'm under the effect of Gotta Catch 'Em All Syndrome (GCEAS).  If you give me an in-game to do list or list of unlockables, I will do everything I can to finish them all off.  The trick to overcoming GCEAS is learning when to override that.  I've apparently been able to override it universally for Achievements (unless the game is all about unlocking achievements).  I can override it if I see no hope of ever completing it or it's WAY too time consuming (Final Fantasy optional bosses, I'm looking at you and your 50 health bars...).  I can override it if I realize I've already missed something that I can't go back and get anymore (which is a HUGE design flaw in my opinion).

What I'm really curious about is other people suffer from GCEAS and to what extent.  Are there some things they have to collect/complete and others they don't?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review: Battlestar Galactica

There are certain shows I didn't watch while growing up that I feel I must to upgrade my nerd level.  Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Dr. Who, and both Battlestar Galactica series among others.  Thanks to Netflix, I can catch up on most of these and recently I finished the newer BSG.  I finished the old one (the 1979 version) sometime last year.

The general premise (at least to begin with) of both series is the same.  Cylons (robots) have wiped out all of humanity except a fleet of civilian ships guarded by one Battlestar (warship), the Galactica.  The Cylons were able to wipe out the 12 human colonies due to a man named Baltar in both series.  Much like a zombie movie, much of the tension and drama of the show comes not from the enemy that wiped out humanity, but from the in-fighting of the remaining survivors.  Running of out resources (fuel, food, water, etc), one ship being a prison ship, and political power struggles are shared plots of both series.  Other similar plot lines involve the quest to find Earth, stolen Cylon Raiders, and capturing and trying the traitor, Baltar, for his crimes.  They also both had their own jargon - frack/frak, cubits, yahren, tylium, etc., which adds a unique touch to the universe they have built

The differences are mostly based on when they came out.  The special effects in the 1979 version are dated, the plots and writing are generally much more light-hearted, and the relationships seem more for comedic purposes than for character depth (or maybe that's just Faceman...I mean Starbuck...).  While the 2004 version has much more twists making for a much deeper and complicated overall story.

Both series had their issues.  The 1979 version was cheesy and had Boxey and Muffit (annoying little kid and his - a daggit).  The 2004 version had a whole religious side thing I never felt was necessary (the Lords of Kobol vs. the one true Cylon god) as well as every character at some point during the show making some decision or doing something very out of character or just plain dumb so that the only characters I consistently liked were the Cylons.  You should never really want to root for the thing trying to wipe out humanity...

Ultimately, I'm not sure I can really recommend either series.  The 1979 one was entertaining, but it didn't age all that well.  I feel like I want to like the 2004 version more than I ended up liking it.  The twists in the overall plot and the universe they built for that series are great, but if by the end of the series my favorite characters are the mute CGI cartoons running around shooting at the humans, I think something is wrong.