E-I-E-I-O

Jul. 28th, 2013 06:04 pm
quarrel: (gaming)

I’ve been oddly fascinated with Farming Simulator 2013. Much of my enjoyment has been over things that weren’t intended to be the focus of gameplay, like climbing electrical towers on foot or hauling trailers of corn down staircases. That makes sense. It’s a niche game, intended less for the mainstream audience more for hobbyists whose greatest demand is that the tractor models have accurate stats and appearances (and also more for Europe than America). There’s a bit of emergent complexity in hitching chains of tools in the right order to complete two field-tending steps at once, and a smidgen of cooperative multiplayer involved in pulling a high-capacity collection cart alongside a harvester to keep the latter, smaller vehicle from overfilling, but other than that, it’s just what it says on the tin: plant crops, grow them, harvest them, and either sell them or feed them to livestock to get the most money from a fluctuating market.

Working even the smallest field once gets boring fast unless you like sitting on a tractor and turning 180° every half-minute until you’ve furrowed all the furrows. And that only preps the field for planting. You need to do it again to spread seed and a third time to harvest once crops grow. Add another pass if you want to fertilize (and you do, since it substantially improves yield), and three extra passes if you grew wheat or barley and want to bale the leftover straw. Fortunately you can hire AI farmhands to tend fields for you and accelerate time so you don’t need to wait hours or days between sessions.

The first adventure was configuring the game. It supports windowed mode, but you need to hand-edit the configuration file. Inverting the Y look direction is handled likewise. (I’m one of the many people who needs to do that.)

I occasionally got tasked to mow grass at the country club. Fair enough. The cheapest grass-cutting device is a riding mower. So I bought one, headed for the club, and discovered I had to drive across the countryside in a vehicle with a top speed of 6.5 MPH.

The forklift attachment on the front-end loader is controlled much like Surgeon Simulator 2013, only less intuitive. Left button + vertical mouse motion raises/lowers the fork arm. Left button + horizontal mouse motion tilts the fork up/down. Right button + vertical mouse motion extends/retracts the fork arm.

The map marks places that buy your crops. Good! Markers are color-coded based on whether prices there are high, average, or low at the moment. Great! But each location only buys certain crops, and that’s not indicated anywhere. You have to learn by trial and error.

The game is moddable, which is something else I’ve been diving into, but it needs professional-level familiarity with 3D game engines. Good news: the developer supplies a free editor that can alter or create maps and terrain. Bad news: it can’t make new 3D models like fences or trees or trucks. Good news: you can make those in an external 3D modeling tool, like Maya or 3ds Max or Blender, and transfer them over. Bad news: Maya and 3ds Max cost $3,600 each. Good news: Blender is free. Bad news: a version change broke the transfer script back in May. Good news: it’s simple to fix and the fixes are online. Bad news: you need two fixes and it’s unusual to find them posted together. More bad news: once you get all that working, all you can make is objects that just sit there and look pretty. If you want to make an item that the player can buy and place in-game, you need to reverse-engineer how to configure that item’s store data. And that is easy compared to creating anything that animates, handles crops, or responds to player actions. There’s plenty there for me to pick at until I get tired and realize it’s simpler to create a whole new game from scratch in Unity.

In the meantime I have plenty of interesting things to discover, like:

  • You can magically change what seeds are in your seed spreader on the fly.
  • Hired helpers are amazing. They drive perfect lines in pitch darkness, and any vehicle they pilot doesn’t use up gas (or seeds either, if it’s planting).
  • Chickens don’t eat. Sheep, on the other hand, must be fed cut grass, even though they live in a grass-covered field and constantly graze. Fortunately, you can cut grass from their own field.
  • Hay gives cows diarrhea. This diarrhea is magically transferred into liquid poop tanks, where you can refill your liquid poop spreader.

quarrel: (gaming)

Quick games rundown:

Gaming Friday started with three rounds of a Kickstarted werewolf/mafia variant called Fox & Chicken. Round one was with standard rules, rounds two and three had some players with special abilities. It went as well as I could have expected. I’m ordinarily not a fan of purely sociopolitical games because they require a skill I don’t have: convincing people of things. And they’re so random. For example, if you go two games without someone suspecting you, then someone does in the third, defending yourself looks suspicious because you’re suddenly insisting on your innocence a lot more than normal. Others view this as an interesting challenge, and the entire point. I just find it frustrating.

I came in third in the seven-player 7 Wonders game that followed, behind the 2nd place player by about 3, who was in turn about 10 points behind the winner. I had a ton of pure VP blue cards, which worked well enough, but I had no second focus. A single late-game military card gained me 10 VP off my defenseless neighbors, but that wasn’t enough boost. The winner went full military and supplemented with, I think, lots of VP-granting market and guild cards. I’m still unclear how she got so many points out of that. Military in particular is an unstable and limited source of points. It’s worth 18 points maximum; worse, it’s worth significantly less if you play too few cards and nothing extra if you play too many.

Today was another game industry board game night at PopCap’s main office. I got there late and only played one game, but it was a good one: Fish Cook (a.k.a. “Yum Yum Super Fish Delicious!”) It’s one of the new round of designs from the re-invigorated Cheapass Games company, and I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard it was in early playtest. Players take the roles of sushi restaurant operators. Every day they take turns buying ingredients off a varying market until something runs out, then at night they cook what they can with the ingredients they bought. Cooking your own recipes gives you bonus money. Cooking other players’ recipes gives them a small payment but may also let you steal it. Whoever makes the most money in five days wins.

The Steam summer sale hasn’t drained my wallet too too much. So far I’ve only picked up:

  • The Binding of Isaac
  • Endless Space
  • Farming Simulator 2013 (yes, really...more on that later)
  • Hotline Miami
  • Mark of the Ninja
And all but one for under five bucks.

Oh, and my Kickstarter pre-order dice for Castle Dice arrived, but it'll be a couple of weeks before anyone will have time to play it.

quarrel: (prinny)

Utopia Engine. A solitaire board game about locating and assembling an ancient artifact to prevent doomsday. It features several variations on the general mechanic of rolling dice two at a time to fill in multi-digit numbers piecemeal, then getting either good or bad outcomes based on how high or low the difference is.

Seven Grand Steps demo. An indie video board game (which is a real term as of right now) about advancing a family line through civilization. At its core, you have a single or two married adult pawns on a constantly-advancing track. You must spend tokens to move forward and stay ahead of death. If you move wisely, you collect tokens that advance civilization and grant powerful bonuses. The complications are twofold: your only way of getting more tokens moves you backward, and you need to ration your tokens between advancing the parents and training the children so they survive to adulthood and carry on the family line. Every now and then, you break for a choose-your-own-ending-style episode where you answer a single roleplaying question to determine a piece of family history and, perhaps, gain some mechanical benefit as well.

Gratuitous Space Battles demo. It’s a spaceship construction and combat simulator. There is no campaign and no storyline — in fact, it bills those as selling points. The main conceit is that you only prepare for the fight. You design your ships, arrange your fleet, and set some preferred behavior for each ship’s AI, but the battle itself is fully automated. Ultimately I found the game too shallow to be worth buying. There isn’t enough qualitative difference between different weapons or equipment. There are no complexities like firing arcs. Neither maneuverability nor orders matter much since the AI generally just drives your ships straight toward the enemy’s until one’s in range, then stops and shoots until it’s dead and repeats the process with the next one.

Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. Another capital ship space combat game, though this one does have a story to it and a bit of an RPG progression aspect. I did buy the whole game. It’s…unexceptional. There’s a bit of a fleet feel to the fights, but the game gives you very little clue what each battle will be against, so equipping your fleet properly requires going in blind, probably failing, then retrying the mission from the beginning once you know what to expect. Ship reconfiguring itself is cumbersome as well, as you cannot undo single changes and you cannot rearrange components once you put them on a ship.

Androminion. A free, open-source implementation of the Dominion card game for Android devices. It supports one human player against up to five AIs. The UI is spartan but everything important is there. I’ve been spending a lot of time with this one, trying out various strategies to see whether they work and, if not, why not and what beats them. (Answer: Big Money.) It’s unlicensed and will eventually cease-and-desist, so if you want it, get it now.

Card Hunter. A web-based free-to-play tactical game that’s still in invite-only beta. Imagine a D&D tactical board game crossed with RoboRally. You control a small fantasy RPG team delving dungeons. Each can perform only five actions per round, determined randomly based on their equipment. It’s challenging, interesting, quite polished, and they’ve given the art a strong nostalgic bend based on oldschool Basic D&D modules. If they can avoid making the PvP part of it pay-to-win, this’ll be a good one.

System Shock 2. A classic title from 1999. I played it in pirated form years ago but never finished. Now that it’s on Steam, I decided to play it “for real”.

quarrel: (gaming)
Nothing much to report.

I got to Gaming Night late and got to watch the tail end of Channel A. Basically, take Cheapass Games’s The Big Idea, mix in a bit of subjective judging like in Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, and make it about pitching anime shows.

Second was a five-person game of Citadels — one of the smallest groups more than one of us remembered ever playing that game with. Points-wise, I ended up dead center in a tight pack flanked by a runaway expert and a newbie. Dave trounced everyone by more than ten points due to being the only person to get an 8-city-cards bonus and one of only two players to get an all-5-colors bonus. Orbus squeaked past me into 2nd place by a single point with the help of a big last-turn play. I, in turn, edged out the 4th place player by two points. I’m sure I would have done better if I’d correctly judged who I should’ve been trying to hinder (and been able to actually do it, which is hardly a given, seeing as that game’s core mechanics intentionally make it tricky to sabotage specific players).

Third was 7 Wonders with the same five people. We stuck with mostly core set rules due to the presence of new players, but we did allow some expansion monuments. Again, Dave blew everyone out of the water the way he usually does: with a big Science score. Now, the best way to prevent someone getting lots of Science cards is for other players to use them too, but I was in a lousy position to do that. I sat directly to his left, so for two-thirds of the game I’d be getting cards from him. And the one phase where the direction was reversed, I did intentionally discard Science cards rather than feed them to him, even though I had to neglect my own development to do so and was confident I’d guaranteed myself a dead-last finish. In hindsight, I think I robbed him of about 15 points — a lot, but not enough.

As for submarining myself: I came in 2nd. A very close 2nd, but still 2nd. It boggled me. A ton of fortune and unexpected factors added together in my favor. I lucked into three high-value pure VP cards and two Guilds that matched what my neighbors had done. Many other players were playing expansion Monuments that give more special abilities but fewer VPs than basic ones do. The only unusual act I can say was a clever play on my part was that, when I built a special Monument step that removed me from military contests and left my neighbors to fight each other instead of me, I stayed quiet about it. The move did, in fact, go unnoticed, and my neighbors mis-planned their militaries as a result, which saved me 2 VPs and cost Dave 6. But I didn’t consciously stay quiet. It wasn’t a smart, deliberate decision to be sneaky. I just…did it. So there’s that.

quarrel: (prinny)

Shaterri and I arrived just in time to watch the tail end of a two-player game of CanCan, an abstract tile-laying color-matching game. A tile is only legal if matching colors touch on all sides. Players start with equal numbers of tiles and get to play up to four a turn, plus possibly more if they match adjacent shapes. Whoever’s played the most tiles when all legal moves are exhausted wins.

With that trial game done, all four of us tried a round, all stumbling through the minimal rules and formulating piece-laying strategy on the fly. It ended in a three-way tie for first place with Shaterri stuck well behind with a big handful of unplayed tiles. A big part of that was getting the rules explained piecemeal.

Second on the schedule was To Court the King. It’s a dice-rolling economy-building game. Players start with three dice and try to roll various combinations to buy assistants that give them more dice or adjust their rolls, which in turn lets them afford better assistants, and so on up to the King himself. Once the King is bought, the winner is whoever has him after one final round of attempted stealing.

Orbus had a chance to go for the King early, which requires a seven-of-a-kind, but opted instead to spend six-of-a-kind on the General and gain two more dice. On his next turn he rolled an amazing nine 6s and scored the King. We called the game right there. Stealing the King was impossible. It takes at least a ten-of-a-kind to beat nine 6s and the best of us had only eight dice and no way to gain two by next turn.

It’s a confusing game with a slow learning period despite how simple its rules and components are. You need to know what everything does to plan a long-term strategy, and that’s hard to learn when the rules and all the reference cards are full of unfamiliar shortcut symbols and are printed in tiny lightweight type on a dark textured background. Also, being an economy-building game, it seems to suffer the main inherent flaw of that genre: leads tend to magnify. In fact, the rules deliberately exacerbate this. There are fewer copies of each assistant than there are players. If you’re unlucky enough to be the last player to afford a strong card, you’re not only already behind, you can’t even buy one and have to make do with something else. There’s a solid core idea here, but it’s surrounded by flaws.

quarrel: (prinny)

Game night was just me and Orbus, so we dipped into his pile of favorite two-player games.

First up was Hive. It’s an abstract, vaguely chess-like game. Both players have a variety of hexagonal pieces with distinct movement rules. The first player to surround the opposing leader piece wins. The entire match was a tense game of “Oh god, oh god, I can’t do exhaustive brute force lookahead in my head because I’m human but if I don’t I’ll lose!” Neither of us made any serious blunders that I can tell. I managed to press to an advantageous board position by the midgame, but due to inexperience on both our parts, finishing him off took a dozen more turns of flailing on both our parts.

It’s a tight, brain-bending game that benefits from full focus. It’s good for when you really want to concentrate. It doesn’t need a board either, and the travel version has pieces small enough to play on half a restaurant table.

Second was Lost Cities (the two-player card game, not the two-to-four-player board game it inspired). Two players alternately play numeric cards on five different board locations. You get points for every card you play, but you must play cards in ascending order, and once you commit to a site you need to accumulate a certain minimum there or you lose points. I lost the first game by, I think, about eight points, but squeaked by with a one point win in the second.

It’s simple game, quick to learn, and has ample room for bluffing and risk-taking. It strikes me as very well suited to families, as it’s about the same complexity and challenge level as rummy. Kids can play it, but it’s not a kids’ game.

quarrel: (gaming)

It was crowded this time. Six of us played a large game of King of Tokyo waiting for even more folks to show up. I won by damage, thanks to a powerup that made my attacks hurt everyone else no matter where I was.

After that, we split into two groups. One played Montage, which needs two teams of two. It’s an elegant PvP crossword game. I like the mechanics but the competitive aspects don’t set right with me. The optimal strategy is to use your knowledge of your teammate and opponents to create clues that the former is more likely to pick up on than the latter. I don’t like competing and I feel bad winning a game due to something besides playing the game well.

The other group played Small World. They started at about the time I began eating my calzone, so I bowed out. (In hindsight I should have jumped in. I like that game.) While those games ran, I finished eating, then alternated between napping in the corner and playing rounds of the new free-to-play PvP Bookworm game on my work iPad.

The last half hour was occupied by two folks discussing the best way to program a weighted dice-rolling program that would generate 2d6 rolls with more evenness than truly random dice produce, for games like Settlers of Catan that don’t provide enough rolls for the rule of averages to smooth things out.

I put in a request for the host to borrow To Court the King from a friend for the next event. I want to see how it plays after hearing about it in a discussion of dice games in general.

quarrel: (prinny)

Last night’s gaming night was mainly social. It was just me, the host, and two rare visitors.

Game #1 was Puzzle Strike: Shadows. I fared better than I did my first time, ultimately placing second after a game that ran into a satisfying early end stage with conservative play from everyone. I’m ambivalent about my performance. On the one hand, I kept my damage down, and I had a shot at winning in the late midgame, which I took (as I should have), but my intended target had the countermeasure that I figured he had about a 50%-66% chance of having. On the other, I still focused too much on special actions over basic ones, and I didn’t leverage my starting character’s special abilities particularly well. (Two of the three went unplayed all game.) Oh, and I bought a 4-gold gem early, and although I felt like it wasn’t showing up often enough, I didn’t consciously realize I was never drawing it. I found it stuck in a deep fold in my shuffling bag after the game ended.

Game #2 was King of Tokyo, which Orbus bought for himself after enjoying my copy so much. The winner snuck up on victory points while everyone else was busy trying to knock people out.

Game #2.5 was an experimental game of Strut between me and Orbus after the other two guests left. It’s a Slapjack-style pattern-matching dice game I picked up a while ago. I didn’t expect it to be great, but it has a matching mechanic I wanted to see in practice and it was on sale. Every person has a hand of cards with dice combinations on them, like “three-of-a-kind” or “two 1s and two 6s”. Each turn, the active player rerolls exactly two dice, and the first player to play a card with a matching pattern scores it. Whoever empties his hand first wins. The core element is being first to recognize that one of your desired patterns is hidden in the roll somewhere, with a minor dose of deciding which dice to reroll for the best chance of getting a match. Those two elements seemed pretty solid. There are also reaction cards you can play against another player’s scoring, but they seem overpowered and add little to the game but chaos. The scoring system is problematic as well. It does two useful things — it allows players to have a manageable hand size of three without winning after playing only three cards, and it makes easy matches worth less toward winning than hard matches are — but it feels tacked on, and it’s strange to track points when having the most doesn’t make you win.

quarrel: (gaming)

It’s been a while, but I made it to Friday Game Night again. It was still low-key as the host has a way to go before his broken leg is healed.

First game was the debut of King of Tokyo for all of us. It’s a simple king-of-the-hill boardgame with a giant Japanese monsters theme, designed by the guy who created Magic. It plays quickly and it’s a breeze to learn. You win by defeating all the other players or by collecting twenty victory points. Tokyo itself is the aforementioned hill; you get extra VPs for taking it from someone else (more if you hold it), and while you’re there you can damage everyone else, but everyone else is also attacking you and you can’t heal normally. The core mechanic is a dice roll to generate points for attacking, healing, buying event cards, and earning extra VPs. Significant strategy comes from deciding which dice to reroll, as VP dice are worthless in less than triplets and an attack could force you into Tokyo when you don’t want to be there.

Both games were decided on damage. In the first game I was too aggressive about holding Tokyo and ended up so beat up that I was easy to finish off even after I left. The second game was played more thoughtfully all around. I won that one.

The last game of the night was “Grimoire Shuffle,” one of the six small games in the Level 99 Games Minigame Library. Teams of two players race back and forth across a maze. The first team to make four individual traversals wins. Each turn, each player does some combination of moving himself, moving other players, and rearranging the maze according to the movement card he got. The clever part is that cards aren’t individually drawn. Instead, team leaders get three and distribute them by choice: one to their teammate, one to the next leader, and one to the discard. And the two that aren’t discarded are not only played, they come back and comprise part of the next turn’s distribution.

It was a close game, but me and Shaterri squeaked out a win. More than once, someone traversed the map in two moves or less. Both teams benefited from clearing a straight path of obstructions. None of us were sure whether this was a fundamental flaw in the game or simply how this session played out.

quarrel: (gaming)

I did a small amount of gaming at FC, though not with anyone new. There was a round of Quiddler with Shaterri, which I won by a large margin almost entirely due to luck. We both agreed there was very little he could have done in any round to achieve more points. Then I taught him Roll Through the Ages, which I ended up losing despite being slightly ahead most of the game. I let too many bad skull rolls slide and accumulated negative points for them, and my plan to build lots of monuments and get the advancement that gives bonus points for them fell through when I only managed to build one before the game ended.

Last night was the resumption of a friend’s regular biweekly gaming night. First up was a four-player game of Pandemic to playtest a house rule that added anti-vaccination propaganda to the game. Pandemic is a cooperative game: either everyone wins or everyone loses. It’s a hard game to begin with and this add-on makes it harder. The idea is that healthy cities can accumulate anti-vaccination activism tokens, and if the city ever gets infected, those tokens make it worse. The game was hard-fought from beginning to end and came down to a coin flip even with good play. On the turn before we could make the winning move, we were one outbreak from losing and had two cities that might suffer one at the end of the turn. The next-to-last player could treat one of them but not both. With no way of knowing which (if either) was about to break out, he treated one arbitrarily, and it turned out he guessed right. Afterward we discussed the new rule. Most of us thought it added a novel and fair amount of additional difficulty. One player disliked how the rules for propaganda spreading encouraged players to leave cities partially infected, which is not something actual disease control specialists would do when fighting a worldwide epidemic, so we brainstormed alternatives a bit.

After such a tense game, we unwound with a round the 2012 re-issue of the non-serious, beer-and-pretzels Dungeon!, which goes back to 1975 originally. And it shows. The rules are lightweight with lots of randomness. Orbus ended up winning. I was on my way back with enough treasure, but I had at least three turns and a tough fight between me and victory. The third player may or may have not been right behind Orbus, and the fourth had virtually nothing, having lost it all getting beat up by monsters (which I subsequently killed and took).

quarrel: (gaming)

We got our gaming friend a copy of Puzzle Strike Shadows for the holidays. He'd expressed interest in the original Puzzle Strike earlier. We weren't sure if he'd picked up a copy for himself yet but were reasonably sure he didn't have this expansion — and since the expansion is playable by itself, it was win-win.

Puzzle Strike is one of many customizable "deck"-building games inspired by Dominion. I put "deck" in quotes because this game replaces the cards with cardboard discs, though the shuffling, drawing, and cycling mechanics are still there. The game is one of David Sirlin's designs. Sirlin is famous for being cocksure and opinionated about, well, pretty much everything, but mostly game design. Over the years, he's refined a rigid set of characteristics he believes make for a good competitive game:

No slippery slope.
You shouldn't become less able to do things as you get closer to losing. In fact, a little bit of the opposite effect is often an improvement.
Asymetric sides.
Sirlin is big on giving players several options for minor additional powers so the game isn't the same identical matchup every time.
No memorization.
Competitive games test plenty of things. How well you can remember everything that happened so far shouldn't be one of them.
No collectibility.
David zealously opposes anything that inserts any delay between the initial purchase of a competitive game and access to 100% of its pieces and rules, such as random component distribution and mandatory leveling.
"Yomi".
A Japanese idiom meaning "reading the opponent's mind". David is a major fan of games that revolve around intuiting what move your opponent is about to make and pre-plotting a countermove.
No early elimination.
The game ends for everyone at the same time, so no one has to sit around doing nothing while everyone else finishes.
Puzzle Strike doesn't have much yomi, but the rest is there in spades. It's an impressive improvement over Dominion's basic design in only a few major changes.

The biggest difference is that rather than buying Victory Points into your deck, you accumulate damage (effectively negative VPs) on a separate track. The game ends when someone hits 10, with the least injured player winning. The other big change is the ability to send damage to other players. Using discs instead of cards isn't a mechanical change but it is satisfying, it gives the game a distinctive feel, and the mixing bag solves the problem of shuffling a ten-card deck.

The game handles multiple players with no special rules. We played with four. I came in last. My big failing was neglecting a key strategy of bunching my wound points together so I could send out several in a single action. I don't have an excuse for that one. There were two big clues that that strategy was important, and I ignored both. I also got tripped up by the fact that the same numeric chips that mark damage on your hit track are used as currency in your hand, and the two uses are disjoint.

quarrel: (gaming)

I had the privilege of playing a couple of board games with my almost-middle-school-age niece over Christmas break.

The first was the classic Sorry! In short, I have little to praise it for. It looks and plays like the 80-year-old game it is.

It has a couple of official rules kludges to make it less clunky. In the “quick start” version, everyone begins with one pawn already out. I’m not surprised to see this rule since only 24% of the deck actually lets you begin playing in the standard game. If no one else has moved yet either, that drops to 16%.

There’s also a “Variation for Adults” (their term, not mine!) that combines the above rule, a five-card hand to play from instead of requiring random plays from the top of the deck, and a scoring system for tracking performance over multiple games to a finer degree than simply counting wins. It’s allegedly actually interesting for experienced gamers, according to comments on boardgamegeek.com. I don’t know whether that’s true, but I do know that the basic game is not a good game for kids. It’s not just the rules. It’s everything.

It’s frustrating for kids (and anyone else!) to do nothing. In basic Sorry!, players are able to move on fewer than half their turns throughout the early and late stages of the game.

It’s frustrating for anyone, especially kids, to be set back. There’s a lot of setting back in Sorry! (In fact, that’s its tagline.) It’s also frustrating for kids to need to set each other back because a lot of kids don’t enjoy doing things that feel mean.

The movement cards are poorly designed in the edition I played. The most prominent element on them is the main movement number. That’s horrible when half the cards have an alternate use that’s equally important, usually unrelated to the main number, and represented only as a small text message. Oh, also one of the cards only moves you backward, but its number is displayed just like all the forward-moving ones. And some of the cards with multiple uses require you to use any legal option whether you want to or not, while others don’t, and you have to read the rules to know which are which.

There was one bright moment: my niece is a game designer! She explained the Police variant she created. Take the four red pawns and put them on the corners. Any player who lands there gets sent home. She was inspired by Monopoly having a Jail on a corner square. (Yes, yes, I know landing on Monopoly’s Jail by a normal move does not penalize you. Work with me here. She’s only ten.) Obviously it only works with less than four players, and no one can play red.

The other game we played was the fully card-based word game Quiddler, which I brought deliberately as an extra Christmas present because A) I know my niece is a precocious reader, and B) I know her parents buy lousy games like Sorry! I played by custom kid-friendly rules: only go five rounds instead of eight, ignore the bonus point rules, and don’t bother shuffling between rounds — just keep digging into the deck. It was fun for all of us, and she actually edged me out 85 to 82 through sheer luck. I don’t even think I could have Scrabble-cheesed her and come out ahead.

quarrel: (prinny)

This week’s gaming was light. There were only two games: Lords of Vegas and Betrayal at House on the Hill.

I’d requested Vegas in the past, but we frequently have too many people to run a game that only goes up to four players. It’s a game about expanding ownership of Vegas casinos bit by bit. The final scores were 44, 44, and me at 40.

House is about exploring a haunted house together until enough omens occur to expose the secret plot twist and reveal one of the players as evil. There are fifty possibilities ranging from Lovecraftian horrors to alien abductions to good old-fashioned murders. The heroes, me included, won the round due to the villain being heavily injured prior to the twist, thus easily dispatched afterward.

quarrel: (gaming)

My two-word summary of Burning Wheel: too complicated.

The longer version:

Burning Wheel is a strange hybrid of Gamist and Narrativist approaches (I say cautiously, knowing that that taxonomy lies somewhere between outdated and obsolete). On the one hand, there are explicit rewards for roleplaying well, as judged by the entire group and not just the GM. GMs are advised to let actions automatically succeed when they don’t involve conflict, compromise, or crisis. Players are required to define their characters’ beliefs and philosophies, and are rewarded for playing according to them or in dramatic ways against them.

On the other hand, the book contains explicit instructions to resolve all conflicts with dice rolls rather than roleplaying, GM fiat, group consensus, or other story-centric methods. Although there are roleplaying rewards, nearly all permanent skill & stat improvements come from attempting challenging tasks, where dice, not drama, determine success or failure.

This focus on rolling is something the author is frank about wanting. There are tons of things to roll dice for — tons of different things, to be rolled on in different ways. It’s intentional, and I understand his goals, but the outcome is an overly-complicated set of rules. His stated intent is for the player to roll dice only when doing something important, but for lots of things to be important. In that light, making the game too simple would have made all that rolling repetitive, but the overall result of what he did instead seems more broad than deep.

There are separate methods dedicated to resolving haggling, ranged weapon fights, arguing, and melee fights. All but haggling have the same basic structure: the two sides pre-plot three moves in secret, then reveal their moves one at a time and cross-reference them to determine how to resolve that round’s outcome. Although the foundations are similar, the sets of moves you can make during these different conflicts vary greatly, and the number of interactions is a combinatorial explosion. Ranged positioning has three basic moves (although each has three variants). Arguing has seven moves, all specifically strong or weak to subsets of others. Melee has thirty action maneuvers, plus four additional positioning maneuvers that are handled in parallel and modify the former.

You don’t have to go to this level of detail to resolve every skirmish and squabble. In fact, you’re not supposed to. Sideline fights can be dispensed with by a single Weapon skill vs. Weapon skill roll. The in-depth rules exist so the game has a sliding scale of focus — when a tense, one-on-one manhunt or winner-take-all political negotiation are the crux of the story, you can give them more screen time than if you’re hunting a random deer or fast-talking a constable. But that means you’ll only occasionally have to dip into the official rules on chariot racing, or dog shows, or what have you. I expect so much unfamiliar detailed material either slows the game down or encourages the GM to ignore it and improvise.

quarrel: (prinny)

I had the first Friday night gaming session in a while. Only a few people arrived, and slowly, so it took a while to get going. When we finally got five people, we began a game of the Kickstartered reprint of Glory to Rome. Though allegedly an elegant game once you know how to play, its a dense game and difficult to learn piecemeal, and four of us were new to it. We played a few rounds by beginner rules, then a sixth person arrived. The game doesn't support more than five players, so we switched to Dixit. I came in dead last, at about 20 points with everyone else in the high 20s when the winner crossed 30.

On the video game front, I've yet to beat FTL on Easy, though I've gotten past Stage 1 of the final fight twice. Mainly I've been playing an indie first-person puzzle game called Kairo. Punch Quest on the iPhone is also refreshingly fun and smartly-designed side-scrolling beat'm'up.

quarrel: (prinny)

Through the magic of the Internet, I reverse-engineered the rules for a simple push-your-luck dice game called Sutakku I saw for sale at a game store. I’m glad I didn’t make it an impulse purchase. It was shallow, with less interesting roll-or-stop decisions than Farkle or Cosmic Wimpout. Most of the game’s $25 price tag was wrapped up in the fancy dice with Japanese numbers instead of pips.

I borrowed the Burning Wheel rulebooks from a friend to see what’s up with all that. Also, two things at Foolscap: I picked up an old copy of Ars Magica from the give-a-book/take-a-book table and I attended a panel on the current state of non-mainstream narrative-centric RPGs. It went into detail on Fiasco, Do, Microscope, and Polaris (specifically, Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North), and mentioned Psi*Run and several others I don’t recall.

I have not been bitten by the Guild Wars II bug yet, nor am I likely to, given I’m in crunch mode at work and that I was pre-emptively — and finally — bitten by the Steam bug and picked up both Deus Ex: Human Revolution and FTL, which is a roguelike spaceship combat and crew management game. Also, I am apparently pretty bad at Team Fortress 2, which comes as no surprise to anyone.

Sometime next month, the Sifteo cubes I ordered should come in, and I’ll lose even more time playing and making things for those.

quarrel: (prinny)

By now, most of you have heard that the company that develops City of Heroes was dissolved en toto in a surprise mass layoff at the start of the month and that the game servers are shutting down at the end of November. I picked up the game mere months after it launched back in 2004 and stayed active for years after I’d run out of new things to do there. Over and over, whenever I decided to call it quits, I discovered that someone else I knew played it, so I stuck around a little longer. So I have a few memories.

I remember being asked multiple times whether I was French because I’d named my first character “Beaufort” after Sir Francis Beaufort. I also remember no one ever getting my battle cry of, “That’s a twelve on my scale!”

I remember saying “You’re welcome.” to the first pedestrian who thanked me for saving him because I thought he was another player.

I remember thinking that the hospital in the tutorial zone would be a great place for an Easter egg, given how rarely people end up there and how hard it is to go there on purpose.

I remember my first level 50 character. I’d played him to level 14, then Cryptic raised him to 50. See, the company I worked for had acquired the rights to make a City of Heroes CCG, and everyone on the creative staff who didn’t already have a level 50 character got one so we could experiment with the bonus character class that unlocked.

I remember my first legitimate level 50 character. He had a huge broadsword and a dark, muscular build, and I called him Nightstallion. I made him in response to the abundance of characters with names like “Nightmare Shadow” and “Xx-NiGhTmArE-xX”, with the intention of asking them, “You know a mare is a lady horse, right?” A good opportunity never arose.

I remember playing with a guild of coworkers one night and travelling in a group from mission to mission wearing guild colors, and how good that felt, and how annoyed I was that the game’s design made that extremely rare since individual travel powers varied so much and group-travel powers were cumbersome and weren’t even available until after everyone had personal ones anyway.

I remember Vahzilok zombies making typeless attacks that dealt typeless damage, thus bypassing most protective powers. They were so challenging to fight that many players deliberately avoided picking “Science” as their power origin so they wouldn’t be sent on the Vahzilok story arc.

I remember the Paragon Dance Party.

I remember vendors who wouldn’t talk to you for three more levels even though they sold stuff you could use right now, so you asked higher-level friends to make purchases for you in the meantime.

I remember when the developers found that one power that was supposed to give enemies a -10% To-Hit penalty actually gave them -100% due to a data entry typo. So they fixed it, and a different set of powers went from being most-popular to least-popular as a result.

I remember joining a roleplaying group and totally bailing on them when I found it wasn’t really my thing. I’m sorry. I should have handled that better.

I remember when enemy groups would sometimes spawn a level or two higher than they should have. And have more high-rank members. And be so close to the building’s entrance that they’d start attacking you the instant you entered the zone — which was several seconds before you could do anything, because the loading screen was still up.

I remember when the devs gave players a mission-crafting editor and somehow, in a mind-boggling lapse of reason, believed it would not be used almost exclusively to create powerleveling XP farms. (It was, of course.)

I remember how, when I quit the first time, I parked my richest character in a remote, rarely-visited store and gave two billion influence to the first player to eventually walk in.

I remember being amazed to hear that the development studio was reduced from about sixty to a mere fifteen people after City of Villains launched, yet still advanced the game at nearly previous rates for a year or two.

I remember how, the first time I quit, I picked out a docked sailboat in Independence Port to be Beaufort’s private fishing boat and logged out with him standing on deck. I’ll be doing that again soon.

quarrel: (prinny)

Back in 2005…

City of Heroes Developer #1: We need to figure out what classes to put in City of Villains. It launches this year.

Developer #2: How about something like an assassin? We can call it a Stalker. It’s villain-y and players are familiar with the concept from D&D and World of Warcraft.

Dev #1: Good, good. How would it work?

Dev #2: Well, we already have support for double-damage criticals in the combat engine. We could let Stalkers become invisible in a special way that guarantees their next attack crits. They can’t stay Hidden all the time, though, for balance reasons. They’d come out of Hidden if they get hurt or after they make an attack, even if it misses.

Dev #1: What about area attacks? Auto-crits against entire crowds are pretty strong.

Dev #2: Good point. New general rule: Stalker area attacks will have half the crit chance of their one-target attacks.

Dev #1: Done. But…is what we have so far unique enough to base an entire class on? We already have Controllers with an auto-crit in the right circumstances.

Dev #2: Oh! Right. Hmm. What if Stalkers had a signature Assassin’s Strike attack that took a reeeeeally long time to perform, but critted for massive damage? Not two times normal — I’m thinking ten times! And if you move at all or anything disrupts you in the middle of it, it’s ruined. That’s balance and theming.

Dev #1: Nice! Just one last tweak and we’re set. We don’t want thematic powers to be too good when used outside that theme. Better make this Strike’s normal damage really low, so it’s only useful when you’re invisible.

Dev #2: Not invisible. “Hidden”.

Dev #1: What’s the difference? Doesn’t their stealth power hide them?

Dev #2: Yes, but the mechanics are separate. “Hidden” is just a marker. It’s too computationally expensive to check everyone around the Stalker at any given moment to determine whether any of them can see him.

Dev #1: So you can still Hide against things that see through invisibility?

Dev #2: Yes.

Dev #1: And you don’t become Hidden if some other power makes you invisible?

Dev #2: Correct.

Dev #3: Shouldn’t we call it something like “Poised” or “Prepped” instead, to avoid confusion?
[Historical Note: There was no Dev #3.]

Dev #1: Fine, fine. Works for me. Ship it! Now off to the launch party at Alcatraz!
[Historical Note: The CoV launch party really was at Alcatraz.]


fast-forward…

Player: Hello, City of Villains dev team?

Dev: Hello! How are you enjoying the game?

Player: Well, see, I’m playing a Stalker, and it’s a pain in the neck using Assassin’s Strike in combat. Even if I’m not interrupted, I often get un-Hidden by splash damage and fail to crit, so my performance drops through the floor.

Dev: Well, we didn’t intend for you to use it throughout the fight. Just at the start.

Player: But I really want to use it! It’s a defining characteristic.

Dev: Okay. How about this. We’ll raise the normal damage to something significant. Of course, we’ll have to drop the bonus to compensate so your total on a crit stays the same.

Player: Cool with me. Thanks, devs!


fast-forward…

Player: Hello, City of Villains dev team?

Dev: Hello! How are you enjoying the game?

Player: I’m not.

Dev: Sorry to hear that. What seems to be the problem?

Player: Well, I play a Stalker, and when I’m on a team, no one wants to wait for me to re-Hide myself all the time. They just steamroller everything. I never get a chance to crit, so I’m not good at killing things and they don’t invite me back.

Dev: Okay. We have a plan for that. You know how you have to Hide to get crits right now? Well, we’re going to give you a 10% chance of critting even when you aren’t Hidden. Even better, we’re going to raise it by 3% for every teammate you have.

Player: Great. Thanks, devs!

Dev #2: Psst! Hey! That new 10% + 3%/teammate crit chance…that’s halved on AoE attacks, right?

Dev: Nope.


fast-forward…

Player: Hello, City of Villains dev team?

Dev: Hello! How are you enjoying the game?

Player: I’m not. I’m playing a Stalker in PvP and I never get crits against other players except when I Hide. Shouldn’t I get them at least 10% of the time?

Dev: Actually, no. We balance PvP entirely differently. See, we noticed that Controllers and Dominators don’t PvP much. They muttered something about their power sets being too focused on incapacitating opponents and not enough on, well, beating them. So what we did was take your attacks and instead of having them crit players 10% of the time no matter what, we made them 20% likely to crit players who are Asleep or Held. We call that “synergy”! Controllers and Dominators have more reason to PvP now.

Player: But what about me?

Dev: Have you tried finding some Controllers or Dominators to team with?

Player: *click*

Dev: Hello?


fast-forward…

Player: Hello, City of Villains dev team?

Dev: Hello! Your voice sounds familiar.

Player: Listen. I play Stalkers, and there’s a problem. When I’m picking targets for my opening Assassin’s Strike, I don’t want to waste all that damage on an injured or unthreatening target. It’s overkill. But I don’t want to aim for the biggest threat either, because I probably won’t do quite enough damage to defeat him and his counterattack will eat my face. Help!

Dev: I see what you mean. That’s a tough one… A-HA! Picture this: you’re a minion. A toady. You and your fellow goons are minding your own business milling around a streetcorner, when all of a sudden: WHAM! Sword through your boss’s chest. You’d be scared, right? So here’s what we’ll do: if your AS crits but doesn’t kill your target, every enemy nearby will be…we’ll call it Demoralized. They’ll briefly have lowered accuracy and some will be gripped by fear. Sound good to you?

Player: Sure thing. Thanks again!

Dev: Any time.


fast-forward…

Player: Hello, City of Villains dev team?

Dev: Hello, Stalky McStalksalot. What’s going down in villain town?

Player: I still really, really wish I could use Assassin’s Strike more in the middle of the fight. I never got over that, and your first change you made wasn’t enough.

Dev: What about the second change? The one where AS doesn’t un-Hide you if you miss? Did you forget about that one?

Player: No, but it wasn’t enough. The whole interruptibility thing is a real PITA.

Dev: You drive a hard bargain, so let me tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to make the un-Hidden version of AS a brand new attack. You almost won’t recognize it. It won’t be a crippling pre-emptive strike. It’ll be a knockout punch at the end of a slugfest. Follow me point by point now. One: no long interruptible windup. Two: it won’t crit based on team size. Instead, making other attacks will build up your Assassin’s Focus—

Player: I don’t have an Assassin’s Focus.

Dev: You will! It will be the chance for your new un-Hidden ASes to crit. Your regular attacks will each raise it by 33% for a brief time.

Player: All my regular attacks?

Dev: Kind of. Slow ones will always raise your Focus. Fast ones usually will. Now back to the count. Three: the un-Hidden AS will only crit for double damage. Four: no Demoralization.

Player: That actually looks pretty good overall. Keep up the good work!

quarrel: (prinny)

First game was 7 Wonders again, due to having a newcomer (as it’s relatively easy to teach) and having seven players total (since many games only support up to five or six). We’ve been meaning to try an unofficial “score as few points as possible” variant, but it’s tricky and needs a full complement of experienced participants, so we just played the standard game.

I randomly drew Halicarnassus for my nation and chose to play the B version, which gives you the ability to play three discarded cards for free as you build your monument, at the expense of gaining only three victory points for it instead of the usual ten that monuments grant. My plan was to go for a big Science score for once. Science cards accelerate in points as you play more of them (and more full sets of them), so both playing cards for free and being able to select from the entire community discard pile should have been beneficial. Alas, two other players also pursued Science, leaving me without enough to make my original plan worthwhile, and nothing else I found made my special ability pay off. I came in second-to-last, ahead of only the newcomer.

Second game was Zendo. It’s more an intellectual exercise than a board game. I found it fun and an interesting change of pace.

Third game was Ticket to Ride. We used the completely basic original American map with no add-ons. I came in a respectable second out of four — over a dozen points ahead of #3 but over two dozen short of the winner. Mainly, I overestimated how quickly the game would end and didn’t draw as many extra destination tickets as I should have in the midgame, whereas the winner accumulated about eight to my four and met all of them. Afterward we got into a heated discussion about how the strategy that player #1 used to get so many points had been toned down on purpose in every later version and expansion of the game, and how it made the game too luck-dependent and narrowed the set of viable strategies too much, and how the game plays completely differently in competitive circles where everyone constantly cuts off other players on purpose to make them lose points for stranded cities, and things basically ended in me getting emotional and yelling at people (to get my point across? I guess?) and needing to apologize.

quarrel: (gaming)

Another inexplicably poor board gaming performance from yours truly. I came in dead last at Small World Underground, despite having played the nearly-identical Small World numerous times and having two of my four opponents be new to the game and not avid gamers in general. I made a common newbie mistake that I’ve personally warned novice players against, and I failed to keep track of everyone’s points so I’d know who was in the lead (and thus who I should harass most).

I can address the latter if I can find some method of mentally tracking eight frequently-changing numbers over the course of two hours that frequent mental arithmetic on different numbers can’t disrupt. As for the former, there’s really no excuse.

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