quarrel: (gaming)
2016-09-06 02:27 pm
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stuff I saw at PAX (and SIX)

PAX

Noteworthy

Clank!
Dire Wolf
The first physical board game designed by the video game studio that makes the digital CCGs Eternal and Elder Scrolls: Legends and is doing the digital port of the board game Lanterns. (In fact, they’re publishing Clank! through the company that published Lanterns. It’s sort of a mirror arrangement.)

It’s a deckbuilding game with a boardgame element. It’s the same general concept as Trains, although designed from the ground up rather than making shallow changes to Dominion and tacking a board game on. Players are thieves delving into a dungeon to skirt encounters, grab treasure, and get back out before the dragon kills them. They need to decide whether to build up their decks with movement, combat, gold, or VP depending on their approach to victory, which hallways they plan to take, how deep they’ll try to go, and what other players do. Some cards give you Clank! points, indicating that you made noise and attracted the dragon’s attention.

Pyre
Supergiant Games
An upcoming RPG from the makers of Bastion and Transistor, with the same attention to art style and amazing sound design. Pyre makes an ambitious choice: the realtime conflict mechanic is closer to soccer than to swords or shootyguns. That’s daring considering how much of the video game-playing public prides itself on disliking sports.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX
Synset
A scrolling vertical schmup from a small indie company. Not innovative, but fun, with a difficulty and a control scheme that were tuned very well to my personal tastes (or maybe I simply picked a good ship option).

Misc.

The American Dream
Samurai Punk
A tongue-in-cheek social commentary first-person shooter, chronicling the early childhood of a boy in 1950s America learning to grow up and use his guns for everything from eating to learning arithmetic.

Super Dungeon Tactics
Underbite
A 1-player tactical game that’s a close implementation of the board game Super Dungeon Explore by Soda Pop Miniatures. 2D square-map-based fantasy skirmish combat, a la Krossmaster or Final Fantasy Tactics or the four D&D boardgames or… Nothing really new, but polished and colorful.

SIX (Seattle Indies Expo)

Noteworthy

Topsoil
The standout title from SIX for me. It’s a simple, elegant, touchscreen-friendly puzzle game of the sort that epitomised the mobile platform when that hardware was still new. You have a 4x4 gridded field. Each square can hold one plant. You receive list after list of random plants and must plant them all, one per square. At the end of each list, you must reap one contiguous group of identical plants. Reaping a larger group scores more points and (more importantly) clears more room for additional planting. Complicating things further, each square has a color. Only groups that are all on one color can be reaped, and reaping cycles the land’s color. You play until you run out of room.

Bring Your Own Book
Do Better Games
Close runner-up for most promising game at SIX. A digital tool for playing their existing board game over the internet with the help of a mobile device. It’s not standalone — you still need a physical book. The app handles the random questions. Once you find an appropriate passage, you take a picture of it with the device’s camera and highlight the relevant phrase so player in the judge role for the round can read your entry from a single image rather than an audio feed.

Ghostlight Manor
Digital Future Lab
A puzzle game that takes the form of a turn-based shooting gallery. Ghostly forms follow a winding path down the screen in strict rank and file, while the player, in the form of a flashlight, takes actions illuminating a column of his choice. The first lighting reveals an enemy’s true form. The second one dispels it for points or some bonus effect. Skilled play comes from dispelling multiple foes in the same column.

Misc.

Friday Night Bullet Arena
A competitive 2-player vertical-scrolling shmup. Both players fly on separate screens facing duplicate patterns of enemies. Performing well builds up combo points that you can spend to spawn extra obstacles on your opponent’s playfield or even temporarily morph into a boss that invades his screen and attacks him.

Rewind
Stubborn Horse Studios
A 3D first-person puzzler involving time manipulation and sending multiple copies of yourself to do multiple tasks simultaneously.

Armour on the Wastes
Reluctant Koala Studios
A simple, top-down, 1-player tank combat sim. Combat against multiple AI tanks, with a basic story about trying to salvage the alien tech that’s crashed in enemy territory. Realtime, but old-school feel and grognardy.

quarrel: (gaming)
2015-08-03 11:40 pm
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character engineering

One of the prizes you accumulate from playing Guild Wars 2 is items for quickly advancing new characters. I’d built up quite a pile, so I made an Engineer of the game’s giant cat race and made her look like the late bookshop cat from Powell’s Books’s old technical annex. I was expecting something that played a little like engineers do in Team Fortress or Firefall — a class that trades off its own personal attack power for the ability to build stationary gun turrets and team-healing devices.

Technically, Engineers can be played that way in GW2, but unlike in those other games, that playstyle barely scratches the surface. While I won’t say I’m hopelessly confused, I will admit that the complexity caught me by surprise. The Engineer’s true strength comes from its ability to pick and choose from more than twice as many powers as other classes have, which makes it excel at things like equipping multiple powers that all apply the same debilitating condition or mixing and matching obscure powers so their idiosyncratic, normally inconsequential side effects interact in potent ways.

Take this one example: the lowly healing turret. When you build a healing turret, it initially emits a single strong healing wave to nearby allies, then provides a persistent low-grade regeneration field. Every twenty seconds you can manually trigger another healing wave. A neophyte would build the turret at the start of the fight, to preemptively establish the regen, then trigger healing waves as needed as the fight progressed.

That’s about the worst possible way to use it.

A skilled Engineer ignores the weak regeneration effect. She’ll wait until the team is hurt, build it and overcharge it immediately for a back-to-back double heal, then manually disassemble it so she can do it all again once it recharges. If the team is really hurt, she’ll build it, overcharge it, then blow it up for a triple heal. (How is it a triple heal? Well, 1. Overcharging a healing turret also creates a water field around it. 2. Ordering it to self-destruct produces a burst effect. 3. Any time there’s a burst within a water field, all nearby allies get healed as a free bonus. This is a specific example of the game’s combo system, which makes certain pairs of powers stronger when used in tandem.)

A truly expert Engineer will do things like create a fire field before the fight (or use a teammate’s), then sacrifice a surplus healing turret to trigger a burst of bonus attack strength over the party. (Only the oldest field matters, so the detonation combos with the fire field and not the turret’s own water field.) Or customize themselves with a trait that puts a temporary projectile-reflecting field around every new turret they build, and build a well-timed turret purely to bounce a massive volley of arrows back at a raid boss’s face. Or….

So, yeah. I have a bit of a learning curve ahead of me.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-07-15 12:16 am
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Gaming Night 7/11

Two semi-regulars brought a game they’d recently acquired: Compounds. In the main playfield are sixteen chemical compound cards: ammonia, ozone, etc. Each turn, players draw some random elements, maybe do some trading, then place elements on cards in an effort to complete compounds and score cards for victory points. Each card scored also increases some fundamental game property for you, such as how many elements you draw per turn, and can have additional optional effects as well, such as awarding you a token worth an extra mid-turn draw.

It seemed like there were one or two more moving parts than the game needed. In particular, there are frequent “lab fire” events that set fire to all flammable compounds on the board. One or two fires sends a flammable card to the discard pile and replaces it from the deck. So every two or three turns, you could count on about a third of the board getting replaced. It felt like something that just happened around us that we couldn’t stop or plan for and that added no strategy to the game beyond “don’t play on flammable compounds”. They didn’t seem to be worth enough points compared to non-flammable ones to justify the risk. (Elements on a partially-completed compound aren’t discarded when it burns. They’re shifted to any available adjacent compounds, as chosen by the active player. I feel like there must be some way to leverage that, but it looks both unlikely and complicated to A) get a fire while you’re active, and B) establish a board position where you gain more by rearranging elements that you could have gotten by putting them in different spots in the first place.)

Final scores were close. With four players, there was only a five or six point spread between 1st and 4th. I came in second, one or two points behind the lead. If I had gone for an upgrade on how many elements I could place a turn, I would have won. That particular aspect — which basic upgrades to acquire, and when — is one of the good mechanics of the game.

Game 2 was Forbidden Desert. The theme and mechanics are similar to Forbidden Island. It’s a co-op game with each player moving a pawn on a grid of tiles, with the overall goal of finding four hidden items and assembling them, plus themselves, on a specific exit tile. The challenge is that the map, and our water supply, randomly and steadily deteriorate. Ultimately, we lost. I struck out early in an odd direction searching for artefacts. This fragmented the party a little and kicked off a mini-scramble to reassemble when random sand dunes built up between us, but Orbus feels we were doomed regardless from playing too conservatively and over-relying on a single character’s special power to keep us alive.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-07-09 12:57 am
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Use the Force, Luke

There’s a local game store Shaterri introduced me to when we randomly found ourselves in its area. He’d heard about it billing itself as a “gaming pub”. It’s bright, clean, has more floor space for playing than it does for product, and has a dozen flavors of ice cream and microbrews on tap. Checking their weekly schedule, I noticed they ran Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game every Thursday. I’d been hankering to get involved with some kind of hexmap or tabletop spaceship combat game. Given that the store was close, unemployment gave me extra free time, and that sort of game was not going to break out any time soon in any of my usual gaming circles, I stopped by on league night.

Long story short, I’m a regular now. I’ve been playing mostly Imperial, for no particular reason beyond it’s cheaper to buy lots of ships for one side than for both and this happens to be the side I bought more of first. I think I subconsciously prefer the look of TIEs over the various Rebel fighters.

(Before we continue, let’s be honest. From an aerospace engineering point of view, the TIE Fighter is probably the single most brain-twistingly bad design for a dogfighting spacecraft in the history of film. It wouldn’t shock me if it’s in the Top Five Stupidest Ships in SF. You’d need intentional effort to construct something that stands up to torque and high-G acceleration less well than this:



And solar panels? Solar panels? WHY? You can’t maintain facing toward a star when someone is shooting at you. You usually aren’t close enough to a star to collect meaningful energy anyway. They’re just dumb. But the craft’s profile is incredibly iconic, and Lucas was making a movie, not applying to Northrop Grumman. I have to hand this one to him.)

Okay. Enough asides about mechanical engineering. How is the game?

Pros

Simplicity. The rules are easy to pick up. The basic framework is almost bare:

  1. All players secretly assign a movement order to all their ships.
  2. Going from low to high Pilot Skill, each ship executes the movement it was assigned, then performs one of its available special actions (typically an offensive or defensive bonus or a short additional maneuver).
  3. Going from high to low Pilot Skill, each ship makes one attack.

Game balance. Point costs are good overall. No one side, ship, or strategy dominates. (Caveat: that may have just changed. That said, it’s still a mark of praise that two years and five expansions elapsed before that happened.) In fact, generic pilots flying basic ships comprise ⅓ or more of many competitive fleet lists.

Tactical importance. Unlike a few other miniatures games (Warmachine comes to mind here), the combination of powers you’ve built into your army is less important than what your units do during the game. That means fewer matches are foregone conclusions.

Model quality. They’re pre-painted, and well, and the ships are both nicely detailed and accurately scaled with the direct help of ILM experts.

Popularity. It’s still big in the greater Seattle area. Finding players and tournaments isn’t hard.

Cons

Price. The core set retails for $40 and is necessary for basic components. It contains three ships — enough to play a simple matchup that’s about half the size of the smallest standard game. Additional fighters cost $15 apiece or $30 for larger craft like the Millenium Falcon. (There are even larger ones in the $60–$80 range, but they require special rules and aren’t commonly played.) A 100 point game, which is the most common, requires at least two more ships, bringing the minimum typical financial outlay to $70. (Drop all prices by ⅓ if you buy exclusively online — but then expect to have nowhere to play when all the Friendly Local Game Stores go out of business.) And even though you don’t need paints like with Warhammer and its ilk, there will still be the overhead cost of storage cases ($5–$20, maybe more).

Component distribution. Every ship comes with optional upgrade cards that give it better stats, bonuses, or abilities. These cards are not limited to that ship, though. They can be used by any ship that accepts the same categories of improvements. Although cards aren’t packed randomly as they are in CCGs, specific upgrade cards are scattered across the entire product line, so you may find yourself needing to buy two different ships to put a specific combo together. When there are upgrades usable by any ship that appear exclusively in one of the $30 boxes, and even unique cards in with the super-expensive ships, being able to field any legal fleet is prohibitively expensive.

Rules spread. As short as the rules are, they are spread across multiple sources. There are the basic rules, the tournament rules, and the official FAQ, all of which intersect with, clarify, and sometimes override one another. The official rules for some mechanics, like dropping bombs and cloaking, appear only on inserts packaged with ships that use them.

Slippery pieces. Ships are way too easy to bump out of position on a smooth tabletop.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-07-01 09:57 pm
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Gaming Night

This was a slow week. We only had three players.

Game One was Havok & Hijinx, a lightweight game that exists mainly as an excuse to put cute baby dragons on cards. Each turn, each player gets either a random treasure or event, then plays an action card from hand (say, to steal a treasure or make everyone select and pass one card to the left). Each player also controls a dragon. Action cards are color-coded and have stronger or alternate effects when played by the player with the matching dragon, and every dragon has a special power that puts it to sleep (plus a way to wake back up). The first player to reach 15 treasure points wins. It’s a cute filler game that requires almost no brain power. Also, baby dragons. Rawr.

Game Two was Splendor, a simple but deep game of economic buildup. In the central market are three tiers of cards representing gem mines, each with a purchase cost (say, 2 rubies and 2 sapphires), a single gem output, and possibly a victory point amount. On your turn, you can gain three different gems from the bank, gain two identical gems, or buy one mine using gems on hand and/or the production of mines you already own. You can also reserve a mine card, taking it face-down into your hand (from which you and only you can buy it) and gaining a wildcard gold token as well. If you have enough production, you can then also buy one noble for extra VPs. Again, 15 VP triggers endgame, though in this case you always finish the round so everyone has an equal number of turns. Final scores were 15-11-8, with Orbus winning and not feeling guilty about letting us know that he is very, very good at this style of game and we pretty much had no chance.

This game definitely warrants another playthrough. It has very few moving parts, yet it feels quite deep. (I’m sure I have a lot more to understand about how potent reserving a card is, for example.) It’s also eminently teachable to someone with no gaming experience. Definite thumbs up to this one.

Game Three was a run of Sentinels of the Multiverse with its latest expansion, Vengeance. This set changes the basic game structure from a single powerful villain who only acts once per round to separate villains alternating their turns with the players’. It wasn’t a tough fight. The only troublesome villain was the last one, due to her combination of “all players put one of their Ongoing or Equipment cards back on top of their decks” followed by “discard the top card from all decks” every turn, plus an automatic redirection of all damage the first time she’s attacked every turn.

IMO, this expansion introduces more bookkeeping to the game without making it noticeably better. There are now more elements that specifically happen “at the beginning of”, “during”, and “at the end of” certain phases, leading to more mistakes processing villain turns. It’s also now more complicated to correctly parse restrictions like “all non-Hero targets” due to the greater number of cards in play that fall under them.

quarrel: (prinny)
2014-06-13 08:51 pm
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Dark Souls

I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls in my copious spare time. So far, I’m having a blast with it. It’s an action combat RPG released in 2011 by From Software, and was on Steam sale a couple weekends ago, probably to stoke interest in the sequel that had been released one month prior.

Dark Souls has a deserved reputation for being brutally hard and unforgiving. I see where that comes from, but at the same time I find the challenge fair and the setbacks tolerable. Getting killed is generally not that big a deal. You don’t lose skill points or levels. Your gear doesn’t suffer extra wear. You don’t lose anything but your money, which gets dropped on the ground and can be recovered if you return to that spot before dying again. That itself can be a bit of a chore, but since enemies are always in the same place, if anything surprises you more than once, it’s your own fault.

The game gets most of its reputation for difficulty from its tough boss fights. Many are steeply challenging, with gigantic enemies that seem impossible to even reach before they assault the entire playfield with a giant instant-kill attack. But the only ones that have caused me insurmountable trouble so far have been optional. All the major enemies that I absolutely had to defeat to progress through the game were relatively easy to take down. Tough, but not frustrating.

The game’s real difficulties are its complexity and the need to play dynamically. There is no one weapon, tactic, or character class that’s great all the time. In fact, different strategies have sharply different odds of succeeding, and in any given situation, many approaches are downright poor. You constantly need to learn, experiment, and adapt — the exact thing casual players dislike most.

Weapons in particular are vast, varied, and rife with tradeoffs between power, speed, and numerous unquantifiable variations in swing animation and other idiosyncrasies. Spears can be thrust while keeping your shield up, but they can’t be swung to hit multiple surrounding enemies. Claymores sweep through huge crowds of foes but get hung up in tight corridors. A heavy scimitar swing produces a wuxia-style somersault that strikes twice — good if you’re using an enchantment that adds damage to each hit, bad if you’re on a narrow bridge where wild motion sends you plummeting. And so on and so on.

The game is online-only, which is quite annoying. (Technically, you can play without a connection, but there’s no way to save.) It uses its always-connected nature in a smattering of neat but sometimes odd or inexplicable ways. On the positive side, you occasionally see other players as ghosts in your game, doing whatever they’re doing in theirs, or find patches of blood where other players died. Players can write messages on the floor for others to read — these are generally trustworthy and are invaluable at finding secret areas and avoiding ambushes.

Beyond that, the online features get strange. Occasionally you’ll see a white ring hovering in the air. I thought this was a bug at first. What’s actually going on is that another player recently cast a miracle there, so some of your miracles will get a small strength boost if cast at that spot.

PvP and co-op are intermingled. You can temporarily summon random volunteers to fight alongside you. That’s fun and helpful! However, doing so first requires that you use an uncommon, expensive item to take full human form. (Your character is normally in the early stages of undeath.) You also have to turn human to do some other useful things, like upgrade a resting site so it provides more healing potions. But there’s a downside to being human: hostile players can invade your game and attack you at will. They can’t take your things when you die, and the game ensures that they can’t be significantly higher in level, but there’s nothing you can do to stop them entering short of committing suicide to lose your human form, and if they’re hardcore PvPers (which they will be), you won’t stand a chance at beating them. (There are other, more consensual ways of initiating PvP, but their rules are convoluted.)

In summary: fun, deep game if you like a serious challenge that rewards exploration and flexibility and can't be overcome with brute force.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-06-01 11:23 pm
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Gaming Night

Given that A) Shaterri contributed to the Kickstarter fund for Paperback and B) another game designer friend of mine said he found it fun, I brought it to Game Night and played it with Orbus and Mufi. It’s essentially a word game version of Dominion. Rather than being able to play all your money cards plus one special action card, all cards have one or two letters, a money value, and a play effect, and you may play as many cards as you wish so long as they spell a single legal word. Some cards are wild, able to be used as any letter and contributing victory points to your final score but not worth any money when buying new cards.

It was disappointing. The core idea is sound, but the game was slow and frustrating. The biggest issue was that turns simply took too long. First, you need to figure out what word to spell, taking into account not only how much money it will be worth but also which letter cards you expressly want to spell it with. Not only does each have a distinct effect, but some vary based on where they appear in the word or what you buy that turn. Second, you need to decide what to buy from a set of 13 normal and 4 wild letter piles, and every single card in the normal piles has its own unique combination of letter, price, value, and effect to be considered. Also, it’s legal to buy multiple cheap cards rather than one expensive one, so you have to make that decision too (unlike Dominion), and since each purchase exposes a new, different card (also unlike Dominion), you need to stop and reconsider the rest of your purchases if you go the former route.

A less pressing but still noticeable issue was that the game lacked a feeling of progress. In Dominion, you can pursue a deliberate deck-tuning plan by purchasing multiples of specific action cards from known piles, and feel your plan come together as the game progresses and your combos start kicking in. Paperback lacked that. Part of it is that its random effect distribution defeats any long-term planning and restricts you to the occasional lucky opportunity. Part of it is that your average value per hand does not rise as fast as your deck’s average card value does, since higher values come on cards with trickier letters that are nigh-impossible to consistently use together. In other words, as the average value of your cards goes up, the average percentage of them that you can play goes down. (I realize this is a word game, so it makes sense for high-value letters to require dictionary skills, but that requirement has a downside here.) Part of it is that depleting piles of normal cards doesn't end the game, so players can run short on things to do without getting closer to finishing.

One factor I did like were the unbuyable reward letters that go to the first player to make a 7-, 8-, 9-, and 10-letter word — though it's odd that all players get to use them until they're claimed, and they're all worth the same VPs.

There’s a good game in Paperback not far below the surface, but it was printed before it got there.

Game #2 was a five-way of Ticket to Ride by unanimous decree. Two players were big fans and hadn’t played it in a while, and two others were brand new but strongly encouraged to give it a try for the experience since they are Game Night regulars now and it really is a modern classic.

I was ahead on rail-building points from my very first rail all the way to the end of the game, and, as I expected, came in third. (The two fans of the game are expert players and expert board gamers in general.) I also drew miserably for ticket destinations. Twice I drew extra tickets only to get two decent pairs I couldn’t complete and one worth a measly 4 points, linked purely by 2-car routes. Final scores were 129, 128, 105, 96-ish, and somewhere in the 50s.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-05-16 01:03 am
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Games Plus+

Don’t Starve went on sale on Steam, so I bought it. It’s a roguelike survival game with a mechanical emphasis on crafting tools and tech trees and a cartoony goth art style. It’s permadeath, of course, and not easy.


I finally got around to playing Quantum, which I bought back in early February but have had a huge delay in playing, partially because the dice were misshapen and I had to wait for replacements. Its designer is one Eric Zimmerman, who is a prominent academic in the game industry. (How prominent? He’s made multiple museum installations.)

Quantum is a slightly abstract game of space opera-y planet-claiming, with a small, elegant set of tightly interconnected rules. Each player controls some ships, which are represented by a 6-sided dice. Higher-numbered ships are faster but weaker in combat. Players maneuver their ships around a square-gridded galactic map. If you destroy enough enemy ships or position a specific dice total into orbit around a planet, you can build a Quantum Cube. Build all your Cubes first and you win. You have a strict limit of three actions per turn — basic effects like “move a ship (and maybe attack)” and “return a destroyed ship to play” — plus one special power per die, whose exact effect is unique for each of the six ship types. There’s a lot of interaction, dynamism, and power combinations. Single decisions cause large divergences in how a game might unfold.

We had the full contingent of four players on the standard starter map.I was set back early due to a neighbor starting off by invading my territory with strong combat ships and picking me off for renown points. For a while, I had only one ship on the map and was pretty sure I’d been knocked out of contention. That player and Wing progressed steadily through their first three Cubes while I limped back into the game and Orbus, who was also slow off the starting block, gradually gathered upgrade cards to increase his bonuses for winning battles and remove his penalties for losing them. Eventually, all three became mired in back-and-forth fighting in one corner of the map, letting me build Cubes unmolested in the opposite quadrant. In the end, neither of the two players who got early leads placed any more Cubes, Orbus built four, and I won with the aid of two “take an extra partial turn” cards in the late game and an upgrade that let me move and attack with the same ship more than once per turn.

Update: I also played a quick 2-player game with Shaterri, which I lost 5-4. I adopted an early strategy of going around the edge of the map building one Cube almost every turn. He advanced to the central planet to claim it eventually. By that point, he was in an even better position than I was to build one or even two Cubes a turn. I looked for ways to destroy his ships and wreck his plans, but with him occupying the center of the board, plus all my ships being either too weak to win a fight or too slow to reach him, I couldn’t manage it and he beat me in the building race.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-04-24 02:14 pm
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Hearthstone etc.

Blizzard released Hearthstone on iOS last week. It’s pretty much pounded the last nail into SolForge’s coffin for me.

It’s an elegant game with several good points going for it. The overall mechanics are straightforward, and they’re introduced one by one in a detailed tutorial that has a ton of personality. There’s a great deal of tactical complexity in the totally free order of actions in a turn and the reliable presence of a Hero power. Low-cost cards remain relevant all game. I find it easy to notice play mistakes and learn from them (unlike in, say, SolForge, to bring up another digital CCG). Also unlike SolForge, the huge player base makes it easy to find opponents of your own skill level. (I have about a 60% win percentage in Hearthstone with almost no added cards, compared to under 10% in SolForge after over three dozen boosters.) Finally, it’s polished to a ridiculous degree, like everything Blizzard makes.

How does it work? In a nutshell, take Magic and:

  1. Remove mana colors and land cards. Instead, on round N you automatically have N mana to spend.
  2. Remove blocking. Let the active player directly attack either the opponent or his creatures.
  3. Remove the Attack Phase. Each creature attacks individually and at any time during the turn.
  4. Remove tapping. With no blocking and no activated abilities, it isn’t needed.
  5. Make creature damage persistent.

It features only synchronous play but it’s still designed for strict turns. You never do anything when your opponent is up — you don’t decide how to block, you never pick targets for her effects, and there are no reactions.

To fit it into the Warcraft universe, every deck must specify a Hero with a class-specific special ability that costs 2 mana and can be used once per turn. Decks must be exactly 30 cards and be comprised only of cards that match the Hero’s class or are classless.

You can field constructed decks against live players or an AI for free. You can also pay in-game currency or real money to enter a pseudo-draft tournament with varying rewards based on your win count. You don’t get to keep your draft deck, but you are guaranteed to get at least one booster as a prize no matter how poorly you fare.

One thing the game isn’t is “generous with free cards”. (Not that it necessarily should be, mind you — they have to make a profit somehow.) SolForge has a standard reward package of one random card or booster plus almost half a booster’s worth of in-game currency, and you can easily get three of these packages per day. In comparison, Hearthstone only gives out entire packs (or the currency equivalent) for a few one-time achievements. Accumulating one booster’s cost in Gold from repeatable actions requires completing two to three daily goals (each of which means playing multiple games, sometimes with specific decks) or winning thirty PvP matches. Particularly egregious is the fact that each Hero has five fundamental class-specific cards that can only be attained by repeatedly playing that Hero to raise its level. That’s roughly 15 games per Hero, multiplied by 9 Heroes… And you can’t get around this last bit with real money.


Other games I’ve dipped into lately:

  • Skulls of the Shogun: a game of troop-scale tactical combat with a highly stylized, cartoony Japanese feel.
  • Viscera Cleanup Detail. Imagine a raging firefight between Space Marines and Mutant Bio-Xenomorphs through a futuristic science facility. Imagine the poor schmuck who has to clean up the mess afterward. Guess what? It’s afterward. Here’s your mop. Don’t forget the ceiling.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-04-23 05:14 pm
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Gaming Non-Friday

Last week, our usual game hosts were at a convention, so instead I dropped by a comic and games store run by friends-of-friends that was running a Saturday board game night. They already have a gaming night Thursday evenings, but a couple of regular customers wanted to experiment with an additional event on Saturday due to having work-related brain fatigue on weekday nights, and a little because the Thursday slot is technically half RPGs.

We got through two four-player games of Sentinels of the Multiverse, with one loss and one win. The base set of the game is apparently both sparse and unevenly distributed when it comes to supervillains: it only comes with two 1-rated villains (on a 1-4 scale) and two 3-rated ones. The 3-rated one who bested us was Citizen Dawn, whose specialty is summoning mutually reinforcing minions. Let them accumulate and they start using brutal combination attacks on you. The catch is that if you ever defeat five of them, Dawn becomes invulnerable and stays that way until she’s built her henchman numbers back up to three. That’s a problem when beating her is the only way to win.

We got in a few rounds of Ricochet Robots after that, then had to clean up. It was just as mind-bendy as I remember it.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-04-05 11:15 pm
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Gaming Friday

Game one was Seasons, with four players using the basic component set. It's a drafting-based game, though not so purely drafting as 7 Wonders. Players compete to achieve the highest combined value of crystals scored and cards played over the course of three four-season years. They also constantly collect and use elements, which are needed to pay for most cards and which can also be sold for crystals. Seasons affect which elements are available and what their trade-in values are.

The drafting comes in two layers. Layer one is determining your first nine cards at the start of the game. Layer two — which isn't really a full draft — happens every turn, when dice are rolled and each player only gets one. Their various faces provide some combination of elements, crystals, permission to sell elements, increases to your cards-in-play limit, extra card draws, and how fast the game clock advances.

It was rough to pick up on the mechanics cold turkey. When you don't know a game, it is a challenge to have your very first task be "select which cards you will get this game, and decide which you'll receive early, mid-game, and late". (And this was with the simpler, basic cards. There are more complex ones.) Crystal count is public knowledge and it looks like a running score, but it isn't. Too many bonus points come from played cards and those aren't reflected on the crystal track, so there's no way to see who's ahead short of doing a ton of arithmetic in your head. Cards vary greatly in strength but don't seem to vary much in cost. A card like "gain 9 crystals" or "draw X cards, where X is the number of players, and give one to everyone" is simply unimpressive next to "all your cards cost 1 less element to play for the rest of the game". Finally, more than one player had a quibble with element colors. Fire is yellow (for the sun, I suppose?), with red used for air.

On the positive side, I never felt like I didn't understand a rule or didn't have a goal in mind. Icons are clear, the components are solid, and the dice drafting is satisfyingly tense. The game didn't feel overly long, and turns were quick except when players strung out rediculous 4-card combos — which, given that you normally only draw 3 per year, I can understand.

Final scores were 124, 123, 122, and 117, with me in last. I can identify only two strong plays I made: I played one card early that automatically stole one crystal from everyone else each season, and another that let me spend any number of elements to drop everyone else's score by 4 crystals each. (And I didn't capitalize on the latter as much as I should have. Spending any element to hurt everyone else's score by 4 on any turn is better than selling that element to raise my own score, since that's normally worth at most 3, and for only one element type each season, and I can only do it if I draft a die with the sell-back symbol.) Given that other players were dropping big-swing combos every two or three turns for 15 to 30 point gains, I can't say how I ended up scoring so close to them. It truly puzzles me how the other three players all scored virtually identical points when there are so many major swings. Most likely it was simply a freak coincidence. Only further plays will tell.

I was yet again frustrated by my continuing inability to transfer skills from game to game. I seem unable to remember or recognize concepts as simple as "combo a 'play a card for free' effect with a card that has a huge cost and major benefit" until someone plays them against me, regardless of how often I see them or how obvious they are in hindsight.

Game two was another run of Euphoria, this time with the full retinue of six. Nothing much to report here. As I'd planned from last time, I went aggressively for getting in on unlocking markets. They're the cheapest VP in the game, resource-wise, and you suffer penalties if you don't help open them. It got me close to the lead, but other players edged me out in the end by drawing a few more artifacts and sitting in very nice positions to get free extra VP from their followers when the faction tracks invariably maxed out. Final scores were 10, three 9s (including me), a 7, and a 5.

quarrel: (Default)
2014-02-09 07:03 pm
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Solforge

It’s taken me longer than I expected, but I’ve been looking into the free-to-play electronic CCGs that have been coming out in the past year, starting with Solforge.

The overall game structure is similar to Magic — hardly a surprise given that Richard Garfield was involved. You’re trying to reduce your opponent’s health to 0 by casting spells and attacking with summoned creatures. Creatures have an attack strength and a hit point count (not Toughness — creature damage is permanent), and they can’t attack or use activated powers on the turn they’re created. There are direct analogues of the Trample, Haste, Defender, and Deathtouch abilities.

But there are big differences too.

  • Creatures must be played into one of five battle lanes. Each lane holds only one creature from each player. Creatures can’t engage ones in other lanes and can’t avoid the one in their own. (There is no Flying analogue.)
  • Battle is mandatory every turn and causes all combat-ready creatures on both sides to attack whatever opposes them whether they want to or not. If nothing’s there, they damage the player opposite them. Your opponent’s creatures can hurt yours, and you, on your turn.
  • There is no mana or any other resource. Instead, players are simply limited to playing 2 cards a turn, each either before or after the mandatory battle.
  • You discard your unplayed cards and draw a fresh hand of 5 after every turn.

The good:

The distinguishing feature of the game, something that’s unique and clever and only possible since the game isn’t physical, is that every single card has three levels, each more powerful than the one before. All cards start the game at level 1. When a card is played for effect, it goes into the discard pile one level higher. Both players shuffle their discard piles back into their decks every four rounds, so these higher-level cards become available for play again in short order. Choosing which card to play on any given turn isn’t just a matter of what’s most effective at the moment. You must also consider which cards you want to draw better versions of later. This is a major strategic component of the game.

It’s designed with asynchronous play in mind. You never have to make decisions or provide input on the other player’s turn, so he can take his full turn even if you aren’t available. You can play timed games with 20 minute chess clocks, to enforce head-to-head live play, or untimed games where players have a couple of days to submit each move, for more of a play-by-mail pace.

The bad:

There is no trading and no singles market. This makes tuning a constructed deck expensive, time-consuming, or both, since your only source of cards is random booster packs and you’re at the mercy of luck getting the specific cards your deck needs. Until you spend well over $100 (one booster with a single guaranteed super-rare costs $12) or commit weeks to grinding out daily rewards, you won’t be able to make any deck you want and will be at a disadvantage versus players who have. (The only alternative to constructed matches is draft tournaments, and those require tickets to enter. You can win one per day by beating live players in random pick-up matches, or buy them for 50¢ each.)

Rarer cards are stronger.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-02-08 05:51 pm
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Gaming Night

Orbus finally got to try Trains, which he’s wanted to do for a while. I realize now, in hindsight, that I didn’t ask him what he thought of it. D’oh.

Four of us played. Final scores were 33, 32, 30, and 25 (or 26?) I was third. I bought no extra station-building cards and only one extra rail-laying card (so late I never got to use it), and I paid for it with a smaller, less-developed territory than anyone else. Also, my high-level money never “clicked”. I found myself one point short of affording the biggest money or the biggest VP card more often than normal. Honestly, I’m not sure how I finished as close to the lead as I did given how far behind I was in the midgame.

Contrariwise, the player who finished second was distinctly in the lead throughout the late game (despite being distracted by work issues for several early turns, not understanding how strong the discounted rail-laying card was, and personally believing that he shifted from upgrading his economy to buying VP cards at the wrong time). There’s no question that luck played a role in Orbus beating him.

I enforced the rule about visibly marking everyone’s current point total all game. It was selfish, but it worked for me in the game I played at Foolscap. Strictly speaking, this tracking is unnecessary since it’s faster and slightly more accurate to tally points when the game ends, but displaying everyone’s score all the time helps the decision-making process for people like me who can’t mentally calculate and memorize four constantly-changing numbers and would otherwise do stupid things like make a 2-point move that ends the game when I have 15 points and someone else has 20.

More people had arrived by now, so five of us played Tongiaki. It’s a tight little game with dense, unique mechanics and a lot of replayability due to its random map. Players control early native settlers of Polynesia, which is represented by an explorable hex grid of sea and island tiles. Every turn, each player has to double his or her boat count on one island. Eventually this fills the island’s beaches, which forces all the boats on that beach to sail off together toward an adjacent tile. If it’s another island, the boats land there and spread out (which may fill its beaches and send more boats out…). If it’s a sea, it’ll have currents which the boats have to follow onto another tile. If that space hasn’t been explored yet, it gets filled with a random tile first.

The twist with ocean currents is that some are only passable if the fleet contains a minimum number of colors, otherwise all the boats are destroyed. Thus, exploring new territory introduces an interesting decision: if you send a small fleet, it’s more likely to die, but if you send a large, diverse fleet, you’ll be granting better board position to more opponents. Also, intentionally filling a beach and forcing boats to sail into a known deadly passage is not just legal, it’s a common and powerful tactic.

Each island has a point value. When the map is complete, you total the values of all islands you have at least one boat on. High score wins. Final scores were something like 30, 29, 18, 17, 15. I was last. I can’t identify any major scoring opportunities I missed. I do know I got swept off two 5-point islands in the penultimate round, gaining only a 2-point island and a lot of dead ships in the process. Still, I’d only be in a distant 3rd place if that hadn’t happened.

Oddly, the 2nd place player is the same one who came in second in Trains, also by one point and also by a stroke of luck. The eventual winner had 26 points and a 50% chance of scoring either 4 or 0 on the final move. Getting within striking distance wasn’t luck, though. He was legitimately behind the leaders most of the game, but players focused on taking those leaders down and this left him in a prime position at the perfect time.

quarrel: (gaming)
2014-01-12 04:33 pm
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Gaming Night

There was a slew of new games to be had at the first game night after the gift-getting season.

While another group broke out String Railway, three other players and I tried Love Letter, which I’d heard a lot of good talk about. It’s a quick, simple game: everyone gets dealt a one-card hand from a deck of about sixteen cards. Each card has a number and an effect. On your turn, you draw one card, then play one card (many of which can knock someone out of the game immediately). The last player standing, or the one with the highest-numbered card in hand when the deck runs out, wins.

It’s quick, brutal game — so quick that you can be knocked out before taking a turn, and where you have to win four games before really winning because each individual “game” is more like a hand of poker.

Frankly, I don’t see why the game is praised. It’s extremely luck-dependent. One player was knocked out three rounds in a row by the one card in the deck that auto-kills you if you ever hold it and another high-value card in your hand together. I won, scoring four victories after only five or six total rounds, and I can’t say what I did to deserve it. I even made a statistically poor play on my last hand, but it won me the round.

Unless there’s some über-deep level of triple-reverse psychology involved in deducing what cards other players have, and we were all so green that we missed it, I don’t see the appeal here.

Next we tried Smash Up. Actually, first we tried Seasons, but determined it was too complex for all of us to learn from scratch.

Smash Up is about capturing bases for points. Players form their attack decks by shuffling together two unrelated factional forces, like Pirates and Fairies or Dinosaurs and Magicians. (There is some theming to the factions: Pirates stress movement, Fairies hurt people who hurt Fairy cards, Dinosaurs have strength boosts, Magicians have more card draw, etc.) On your turn, you play one unit card onto a base of your choice, or play one action card and do what it says, or both. Once there’s enough total unit strength on a base, it’s captured and gives varying victory points to the players with the most, second-most, and third-most strength on it. First player to score 15 wins.

Shaterri won, with me at 13 and the other two players at about 9 and 6. A big part of Shaterri’s success came from two Pirate units who can shift to another base after they help capture one instead of getting discarded with it as usual.

The game felt slow. There’s a good deal of analysis paralysis from the fact that every card has a special effect. There are no vanilla units, and even bases have added effects while they’re in play or when they’re captured. Capturing one base feels like it takes ages when their defenses are in the low 20s and most units only have 2-4 strength. Bases do get captured faster when multiple players compete for them, but not that much faster since your opponents don’t just race to pile on their units too — they also play actions that knock your units off. It left me with a feeling that progress is hard to make and isn’t reliable.

On the flip side, I see lots of room to find clever combos between cards, in a Magic booster draft sort of way. That’s the sort of thing that rewards repeat play and skilled players.

I need to play this one more before I form a solid opinion of it.

quarrel: (prinny)
2013-12-01 08:56 pm
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Gaming Friday

Gaming Friday this week was a touch weird. Being a holiday, it was slightly more crowded than usual, which means more activity, but Shaterri and I were in the mood for less excitement than usual, as we were fatigued from a cold, damp day of forest hiking. Also, our host ducked out for half the night due to a surprise invite to some wedding-related event.

Cards Against Humanity was winding down as we arrived. We had too many people at this point for a single game, so one table started up Forbidden Desert and I broke out my new copy of Trains with three other people.

Imagine Dominion. Now imagine playing a simple territory-claiming board game simultaneously, but you can only expand or upgrade your territory if you play a card in the Dominion game that lets you. That’s Trains. It really is someone disappointing that so much of Dominion is copied straight over, to the point where roughly half the cards are identical in cost and effect. I totally understand that common criticism. The marriage of games works well, though, and both halves are simple enough in their own rights that learning both at the same time isn’t hard.

The game isn’t confrontational. You can’t block off other players’ expansion — you can only make expanding more expensive. The card game half lacks Dominion’s attacks that discard, destroy, and steal other players’ cards. It doesn’t even have attacks that add extra junk cards to opponents’ decks, though in this case it’s because all players already give themselves tons of Waste cards as a side effect of building. At the end of the game, all four of us felt that there was enough interaction that it didn’t feel like four-player solitaire, but not so much that opponents made it impossible to play.

I ended up winning with 44 points, with second place at 40 and the other two players roughly around 35 and 28 (I think). Dominion familiarity definitely helped my performance. I focused on improving my money production early, which let me develop big-ticket card drawing in the midgame and big VP cards at the end. I also started in an isolated corner, which kept other players from sharing my territory points.

quarrel: (gaming)
2013-11-03 09:16 pm
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Gaming Night

Once or twice, as a young kid, I played an old board game at my grandmother’s house. I recall very little about it except that it involved taxi cabs picking up little round passengers. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to find out its name and discovered copies for sale on eBay. I contemplated buying one for nostalgia, then decided to go for it when I read the rules online and saw they weren’t half-bad. After watching prices for a couple of months, I got a copy at a decent price with a few pieces missing. Some Sculpey work took care of most of that problem.

The game is Cabby! It was originally released around 1938, though according to BoardGameGeek, most existing copies — including the one I have — are from the 1950s.

Players roll dice to move their own cab and police car around a city roadmap. Cabs pick up passengers and run them back to the depot. To expedite this, cabs may do “illegal” things like speed, go the wrong way on one-way streets, and pick up passengers from the wrong side of the road, though this puts them at risk of a rival cop landing on them and arresting them, which costs them all their passengers and sends them to a penalty space. Passengers are worth varying points depending on how far they start from the depot. The player who delivers the most points’ worth wins.

Everyone who played agreed it was a decent game for its era. It was a little slow-paced, and it dragged a bit at the end (neither of which was surprising), but the mechanics were a tight match to the theme and movement decisions were interesting. The squad cars felt a little weak, though I don’t know how much of that is because they have a hard time moving far and how much is because cabs near them simply choose not to break the law much. The latter isn’t necessarily a problem. I suspect a smaller, more interesting map would improve the game more than tweaking the movement rules.

All in all, all four of us enjoyed it. Thank you, Grandma.

Game 2: Cheapass’s Fish Cook. Players spend the first half of every turn buying fish and other ingredients from a dwindling market of ever-increasing prices, and in the second half they cook those items into seafood dishes for a profit. If you cook a recipe off your own menu, you get bonus money. If you cook one off another player’s recipe, they get the bonus but you might steal the recipe. Whoever has the most money after a fixed number of turns wins.

There was a bit of analysis paralysis on turn 1 as three new players took a long time planning what recipes to buy ingredients for. It’s not a clear game to develop a strategy for, in general, since profit margins are so tight, and this particular round had a weird mismatch of recipe requirements and available fish. Things kicked into gear after that, though.

I ended up winning this one with $211, $3 over another player I was expecting to surpass me. I’m chalking it up to successfully scoring a lot of end-of-game bonuses.

quarrel: (gaming)
2013-10-20 07:50 pm
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Gaming Friday

We played only one game this week: a four-player round of Castle Dice. I Kickstarted it at the Print-and-Play level: enough to get a set of its custom dice but not the entire game. The rest required supplying my own tokens and printouts.

It’s a dice drafting game. Players select which custom dice to roll based on the resources they want that turn — brown dice produce varying quantities of wood, yellow dice make coins, red dice make iron, etc. Resources buy various Villagers (which help your production) and Buildings (which are mainly worth victory points). Dice might also produce livestock, which have inherent bonuses and can also be traded in for more cards, or barbarians, which steal resources. The drafting comes into play after the roll. Although players independently select which dice to roll, they don’t keep their rolls straight up. Rather, the dice are rolled into a community pool and the players take turns collecting them one at a time until none are left.

The final scores went 8-9-9-10, with me winning. Part of it was me being most familiar with the game, and part of it was luck: other players drawing too many expensive cards mid-game, me drawing Walls before drawing cards that work better based on your Wall count, me drawing the perfect combination of cards on the last turn to reach a bonus condition I’d been stymied on the turn before.

Overall, it’s not a very good game. It’s inelegant, with lots of small rules that feel tacked on and too many tiny phases to the turn. The card rules are overbearing. There are three decks of random cards (in a dice game!) You can hold a maximum of five cards, combined, from the first two, but any number of the third. (This was obviously done to prevent players from getting stuck with too many Villagers when they want Buildings, or vice versa, but it’s still a kludge.) Also, the variety of cards within each deck is low. Even though the game runs a fixed seven turns, it felt like it drug out. (Some of this was due to most of the players being new, but not all.) Two of the players complained there was too much luck involved, and a big part of that is the drafting: you might get unlucky and roll poorly, or you might roll well but have some of “your” dice drafted by other players who want the same resources you do. Several ideas for fixing the game got tossed around, but nothing conclusive.

In the line-up for future game nights: Trains, Hanabi, and a vintage board game from the late 1930s.

quarrel: (gaming)
2013-09-08 11:59 pm
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Gaming Night

Gaming Friday

Between me having viral bronchitis for a whole frickin’ month and the usual host being away at WorldCon, weekly gaming has been on hold for a while. But no more.

Game one was a two-on-two team match of Krosmaster: Arena. It’s a tactical board game from the makers of the online RPGs Dofus and Wakfu. Shaterri and I saw it for sale at PAX and recognized the art style since the property has a tie-in cartoon we’ve watched a great deal of.

The game itself is a fantasy gladiatorial fight on a grid of squares. It has a strong feeling of Final Fantasy Tactics or a less crunch version of the D&D tactical boardgame. The formal rules determine winners with a victory point mechanic, but we played by simplified rules and kept going until one team was eliminated. The losses were fairly even all game, but my team was eventually whittled to a single mostly-melee character against two ranged enemies, which pretty much decided the outcome.

From the very few times I’ve played it, it seems melee characters have a tough time doing well given how difficult it is to get next to an enemy who’s trying to avoid you and how their attack powers aren’t harder-hitting than ones that can strike foes three or five spaces away. More plays and practice should reveal whether I’m missing something and whether playing with the standard powerup items changes things.

Game two was the boringly-named DC Comics Deck-Building Game, also with four players. It doesn’t innovate much from Dominion or a one-resource version of Ascension. Each turn, each player draws a hand, plays any cards that have special effects, then counts up total buying power to purchase additional cards from a central supply or, if lucky, defeat and take a powerful Supervillain. Every card is also worth Victory Points, with Supervillains possessing appreciable amounts and nearly everything else being worth only about 1. When all Supervillains are defeated, the game ends and VPs are counted. High player wins.

Every player gets a specific Hero card with a special ability, like an extra +1 buying power for each unique Superpower card you play or an extra draw for each Villain you buy. This encourages different play styles from each player, even if the powers aren’t all good thematic matches with their Heroes.

In the end, I tied for first. It was a surprise, and I still felt a bit confused and frustrated despite scoring so well. The other high-scoring player generated lots of buying power in straightforward fashion and bought multiple Supervillains. I struggled all game to build up my bank, mostly without success, but I had managed to buy four copies of a parabolically-increasing minor villain card and got a huge boost from them. It worked, but it strikes me as gimmicky and easy for other players to stymie.

It was a simple game to learn. There is less variance from game to game than Dominion has since there is no variability in what cards are available for purchase. There’s also less deck-tuning, and fewer and weaker combos. That makes the game a lot more luck-driven, which might very well be a light, fluffy aspect that the designers were looking for.

quarrel: (prinny)
2013-08-11 10:47 pm
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Gaming Night catchup

Two Game Nights ago:

I had the honor of gaming with bard_bloom and family, including their precocious offspring. I ended up dominating in King of Tokyo (with five or six reserved players, going aggro gets you pretty far). Then we did two rounds of 7 Wonders by popular demand. First game went 33-37-46-53 with me on top by virtue of strong military and assorted other random bonuses — oh, plus me being the only one who’d played the game a lot. In game two, the scores ran 32-40-55-59. I was the 40. Early attempts at building military were quashed by both neighbors outpacing me and I never developed a good alternate strategy.

Last Game Night:

Our host had several more friends over than usual, including a new coworker and his girlfriend, so we stuck with large social games. I initially jumped into a giant game of Channel A that ran with ersatz dropins/dropouts until the pizza came. I netted zero points, which I don’t feel too bad about given that we got up to ten players or so and only played halfway around the table. Fox & Chicken came after that, so I bowed out.

quarrel: (prinny)
2013-08-10 06:15 pm
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With a Moo-Moo Here

I’m still poking around with Farming Simulator 2013. I’ve imported a few simple Blender-created models, and that’s probably where I’ll draw the line. Reverse-engineering its animation system so I can create an actual vehicle with moving parts looks to be too steep a challenge, so I’m checking out other players’ creations.

Mods have addressed the game’s tedious amounts of equipment-driving. One mod plots out perfect rows for you and keeps you tracking straight lines across your field, overriding the natural slight drift of manual steering. Another makes hired hands skip rows so you can run multiple workers in offset formation on really big fields. There’s a complicated mod that lets you assign arbitrary paths and behavior triggers to AI drivers. Tell your harvester to go to spot X and empty itself into a cart when full; and tell your cart to wait at spot X until it’s full, then go to the silo, unload, and return for more. Or arrange for a backhoe to shift a huge load of silage from point A to point B one shovelful at a time.

The most interesting mod I’ve found simply changes the nighttime light level to a realistical pitch black. It gave the game a spooky, Slender vibe, but more to the point, it added a deep and realistic challenge to the game. Zig-zagging between barns at maximum speed is no longer an option when I can only see what’s in my headlights. Needing to place lights around my property so I could actually do work after nightfall would have added an interesting and organic challenge to the game — an advancement with an immediate, practical, natural benefit (though it would only have added so much to the game, since the bulk of your playtime is tending fields, and fields are much too large for artificial lighting). Alas, unless you install even more mods, there are no lights to buy. They aren’t needed. The default night view is no darker than a cloudy day.

Part of what’s still driving me is the stubborn desire to get somewhere in the game without cheating. The financial pacing of the game isn’t very good. You start with one small field that produces about $4k revenue per harvest and the requisite equipment to sow & reap three of the game’s six crops. As far as expenses go, new fields and new equipment cost $50k–$100k each, plus you start the game with $50k of debt, which accrues interest until you pay it off. So you’re stuck with your initial setup for an annoyingly long time. And since the game’s crops all grow in comparable time with comparable work and sell for comparable profit, branching out into other crops only lets you cover all the bases and ensure you always have the desired good on hand when market demand randomly spikes. You don’t get to do anything new or different with those other seeds.

So if new crops don’t mean new things to do, what about livestock? There, it’s feast or famine. Chickens are dirt simple. Sheep are almost as simple, but force you to transport the wool using a QWOP-ishly unruly forklift. Then cows swing the other direction. You could just feed them hay, but they’ll only make half the milk they could. Getting full production requires growing three different crops, two of which require special equipment, then mixing them in a special blender which you also need to buy.

Is the game educational? Not really. I now know what a windrower and a tedder are, and that farmers compress silage by driving tractors over it (and why), but the game is more a simulation of farm equipment than of farming. Crops grow in a day. There’s no soil quality, no rotation, and no irrigation. There are no pests or pesticide. There are no seasons. There is weather, but its only effect is that you can’t tend fields while it’s inclement — crops are unaffected by temperature or rainfall. Livestock don’t breed and have no health issues, and if you don’t feed them, they simply produce almost nothing rather than dying.

Naturally, I find myself constantly thinking of ways this could be made a more interesting and more widely-accessible game — reduce the tedium, ramp the complexity well, etc. — only to realize it’ll pretty much never be broadly appealing until the gameplay is simplified to FarmVille levels and the 3D and modding are driven out completely.