Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Metal Adventures

There are games that I walk away from a first play saying to myself, I really like this game. I can't wait to play more. Also in the spectrum, there are also games that I walk away from thinking to myself, Wow. I could like this game, but I need to play it more to figure it out.

Metal Adventures is in that second category. We played it a few weeks back, and I liked the game, but there were things we didn't do because we were learning the game. It's not that there are a lot of moving pieces, but it's because we didn't know.

Let's start with an overview.

Metal Adventures is a space combat adventure game.  Players have a handful of choices to make in their race to be the first to 9 Glory.

Players are Pirates. Members of the Brotherhood of Pirates, who gain Glory by preying on shipping, planets, and each other.

Each player has a display that has more moving parts than I've seen in a game in a very long time. There are four wheels - Main Power, Damage, Glory, and Judgment of Pirates.

When you move your Damage wheel, it lowers your Main Power. When you are judged by the other pirates, you lose Glory. Despite how fiddly it feels at first glance, it does make sense.

Each turn, you first decide if you wish to go adventuring or if you want to spend a turn to rest and repair or if you want to go pick a fight with someone.

If you take the turn off, you don't have to pay dues to the Brotherhood, you get money from the bank, your ship is repaired for free, your Metal Faktor die is reset to zero, you can swap your Trophies (which are a way to get bonus victory points), and you can buy upgrades at an inflated price.

Or you can take a "normal" turn.  There are two things you can do in a normal turn:

1) Take the Tour of Pirates
2) Pick a Fight

You need to do both, but you can do them in either order. But before you do so, you need to pay your dues.  It's just one money to the pot

The Tour of Pirates involves going to four different planets and taking advantage of the actions in those locations. The first planet, Exxalia, lets you gain Trophy cards and repair your ship. The OCG Counter lets you cash in sets of ships you've destroyed for money and Glory. You can also buy upgrades for your ship here.  Bazaar lets you buy upgrades that other people have discarded and pay off the Judgment of Pirates. And, finally, Karokum lets you swap ships that you looted with ships in the discard pile or turn in Wrecks and/or money for Glory.

You need to take these actions in order, so you can't (for example) go to Karokum to swap ships so that you have three of the same faction so you can turn them in at OCG that same turn.

It's straightforward, but there are ten different actions that you need to go through and decide whether to perform or not. It's a bit overwhelming for new players.

Then there is picking a fight.

You can pick one of three fights:
1) Ships from the Ship Deck. The top half of these are mostly merchants. The bottom half includes a bunch of Pirate Hunters that are tougher to beat.
2) One of the Planets you can visit on the Tour (with the exception of the OCG Counter).
3) Another player.

Battles are all handled in roughly the same way. You add your main power to a die. Your opponent does the same.  High number wins. But there is a little bit of finesse, here, too.

The first tweak to the rules is that every player has a Metal Faktor die. You may roll this when you are involved in a combat. It's not a normal d6, either. This number serves as a positive modifier to your roll. It's very nice when combat is going to be a near thing.  BUT (and this is potentially significant) that die is then "locked" to that face and provides a penalty to your next roll.

The second tweak is alliances.  You can ask another player to assist you. You see, preying on shipping (or planets or other players) can be very lucrative. You can earn Glory (which gets you closer to winning) or money or gear. And you can offer any of these things (other than Glory) to a player who assists you in your attack. You can only have one ally when attacking ships or planets, but you can have multiple allies when attacking another player.  There's a risk in recruiting allies, too, because they can turn on you.

For me, the most interesting part of the battles isn't the battle itself.  It's deciding what you're going to be fighting - because it makes a huge difference.

When you attack the Ship Deck, you can choose one of three ships to fight, which lets you choose your reward, really. Because these ships can give you Glory, money, and equipment cards.  You may also try to get a specific ship for sets you can turn in at the OCG counter.

When you attack a planet, you can steal its treasury, among other benefits.  So if your opponents are spending a lot of time spending money at Karokum, for example, there will be more money there for the taking.

When you attack another player, you grab the "dues" that everyone pays at the start of the turn, as well as gaining Glory.

There are a lot of things to keep track of at first, which kept me from relaxing into the game. And I suspect it'll be that way for a few games with new players. We didn't, for example, betray anyone during the game, and I have a hunch that knowing when to betray someone is a key part of the strategy.

I did like this game, and I do want to play it again. But it wasn't an instant win with my group because of that learning curve. With time, that will probably change. But we're already in that "getting ready for GenCon" time of year, so I don't know that it's likely to hit the table again until after the show.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This Week

If you can see this, I didn't have time to finish both my revision work and get a post written for this week.

Hopefully I'll be back to normal next week, but that really depends on how much more work is handed to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cutthroat Caverns

A few weeks ago, I was in a game store in Tacoma - not my usual stomping ground, but one that still feels familiar enough. Either way, I happened to spot Cutthroat Caverns - a game I've always meant to pick up but somehow never saw at a time in which I had money in my pocket.

For years, I'd stumble across the expansions at one store or another, but I never managed to find the base game.  Until now.

I've been a fan of Smirk & Dagger's games since the original Hex Hex, which went out of print and was replaced by Hex Hex XL. Curt Covert - the designer/owner/operator of Smirk & Dagger - demoed the game for me at one of my first GenCons, and he's a crazy-nice guy who loves all of the games he publishes.

And he has a knack for finding fun. I'm not always a fan of how he writes rules, but I'm always a fan of how those rules work in play.

So I had been curious about CC for a long time. And so I took the plunge - and I am very glad I did. See, I'm a huge fan of games that are semi-cooperative. That is "games where players have to work together to avoid a collective loss."  Sometimes, this is like Shadows Over Camelot, where there might be a traitor working against everyone.  This one, however, is more like Republic of Rome, where the Empire can fall if the players don't adequately defend it.

In Cutthroat Caverns, each player is dealt a hand of cards. These cards (for the most part) have damage numbers.

Turn order is randomized, and then players take turns dealing damage to monsters. The player who gets the killing blow in on a monster gains the prestige for having killed the monster.

After every player has resolved their cards, the monster gets to attack back and will deal damage to some or all of the players.

So it becomes a guessing and bluffing game. If I'm acting first and the monster only has a few hit points, do I play a high number to try to kill it? Or do I let someone else get the kill in hopes of snagging a more valuable monster next?

In addition to dealing damage, some of the player's cards do ... other things. You can double someone else's damage. You can cause other players to miss. You can avoid damage to yourself, and so on. There are also a handful of magic items (mostly potions) that can affect the numbers on peoples' cards.

The monsters themselves deal damage based on different criteria, and the monster's stats depend on the number of players who started the game - with six players, an Ogre is more dangerous than it is when there are only three. One monster deals damage to the player who dealt the most damage to it that round, for example.  One monster deals damage to the player who hit it first.

Some monsters can inflict other conditions on players, too. One monster, for example, causes a player to deal half damage against the next monster the party faces.

There isn't a lot of healing in the game, so the 100 hit points you start with need to last you a good long while.

Once the party fights through a number of monsters depending on the number of players, the game ends and the player with the most prestige wins.

It's simple, but - as the title suggests - cutthroat. And evil.

And there are expansions, each of which throws a new twist (or twists) into the game. I own them, but I haven't gotten them to the table, yet.  Maybe tonight (although I desperately want to try Metal Adventures, and I have a hunch I'll be playing more Nations: The Dice Game).

I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bag of Fish: Success

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to be hosting a Bag of Fish day in preparation for my upcoming L5R campaign.

That day was the 23rd.

The focus of the day was the player meet-and-greet with samurai movies in the background and a few players needed to fight through character generation. I'd been thinking that one player hadn't met the others, but she knew one other player.

One player still needed to do his heritage draw.  Remember that I'm not just allowing players to make characters - they needed to draw tokens to determine their family lineage, too.

Out of six players, five of them drew at least one Dragon die.  That makes part of the game easier: Assembling the party.  When there are that many folks whose heritage ties back to such a small clan, it's not unreasonable for them to be related.

And the sixth player is a Unicorn. Unicorn lands border Dragon lands, so it's not unreasonable for them to know one another. And her heritage roll (from the Great Clans book) gave me another perfectly acceptable story hook to drag her into interacting with Dragons.

The actual draws:
Dragon/Ronin
Dragon/Dragon
Minor Clans/Dragon
Scorpion/Dragon
Dragon/Crane
Unicorn/Crab

In all six cases, the clan they chose to play is the first one on the list.

I don't want to just run a Magistrates Game. Because - realistically - that's overdone.

"So what," one player asked me, "is the core conflict driving the game?"

An excellent question. Honor. Glory. Establishing a legacy. Survival.

The initial survey I had them take indicated to me that my characters are interested in some of the metaphysical underpinnings of the setting, too.

In that survey, I also asked them to rank the seven tenets of bushido in order of importance. I had a broad base of results, but Duty was the most important and Courtesy the least. The order was:

1. Duty
2. Honesty
2. Honor
4. Courage
4. Sincerity
6. Compassion
7. Courtesy

Note that Honesty and Honor tied one another, as did Courage and Sincerity.

I'm not doing a Magistrate game, but they will be working as part of the retinue for a high-ranking NPC. The fact that we have a Scorpion in the party opens a few doors. The Unicorn's heritage roll opened a few interesting doors ...

Steph and I ordered teriyaki from Happy Teriyaki, where I have been a satisfied customer for more than twenty years.  They have a couple of party platters available, and we ordered one of those. We had more leftovers than I'd expected, but we still didn't have a lot.

The next step is to schedule that first session, so the players can meet their host for the winter - Mirumoto Shohi-en.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Language Dependence

I'm very lucky in a lot of ways.  That's something I don't say often enough, actually. One of the ways in which I am extremely lucky is that my native language is - in many ways - the global trade language. This means that games I see online that look cool are either going to show up in English at some point or else there will be a fan translation on BoardGameGeek.

A few weeks ago, a gentleman showed up at Game Night who (indirectly) reminded me of how lucky I am.  His English was dramatically better than my Russian, because he was able to communicate. It's the first time we had a non-English-primary speaker around, and it forced me to think about which games to bring out.

His first week of gaming, he arrived as one table was getting started with Concept.  I love the game - and the game itself can be played independent of language. But the cards which contain the clues/goals/targets are  very language-dependent. Especially when this refers to the answers that are phrases or sayings.

He was a good sport, but didn't do very well because of that barrier.

We followed that with our first game of Cutthroat Caverns - which was easier, but still a stretch.

That night, I went home and decided that I was going to grab games that were not language-dependent in play. It's harder than you'd think.

I ended up dragging out Mexica (an old favorite that is apparently being reprinted by Iello later this year), Tokaido, and No Thanks (which is an all-time favorite of the group).

The following week, I had the chance to break out Nations: The Dice Game. It's 100% language-independent (other than the rulebook, of course). And it's simple enough that players won't need to reference the rulebook very often, either.

I went through my collection and looked at my preferences - there's no clear trend, there. I can't cleanly say, "I prefer language-dependent games" or its opposite.

But it's something I'd taken for granted until a few weeks ago. And it's definitely something to keep in mind as I work on games for Asmodee.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spiel des Jahres Nominees Have Been Announced!

There are three different awards given, and their nominees have been announced as of Monday.

Here is the link to the official homepage.

I've played ... um ... Machi Koro.  And Elysium will be in my hands later today.


The Spiel des Jahres is the German Game of the Year.  It's a very prestigious prize, and a lot of Americans are often disappointed by the winner, because they tend to favor family games over hardcore games - a division that was made more-or-less explicit a few years back when they created the Kennerspiel des Jahres for more hardcore games.

The Spiel des Jahres nominees are:
Colt Express is published by Ludonaute, and it is distributed by Asmodee in North America. I've heard it's really good, but I haven't had a chance to try it, yet.
Machi Koro is an engine-builder published by Kosmos games (there's no drawing, so it's not really a deck-builder). It's fun, but I find it a bit too light for my tastes. There are a couple of expansions out (or coming) that improve the game for me.
The Game is not (so far as I know) available in English.

The Kinderspiel des Jahres is the Children's Game of the Year.  I don't know any of these games, and it doesn't look like any of them are available in English. So, other than titles, I know nothing of these games.
Push a Monster
Schats-Rabatz
Spinderella

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is the more hardcore category.
Broom Service hasn't been released in English yet. Looks like it's expected later this year, though.  The audience for hobby games is small enough that this nomination (unlike many other awards) can really boost sales.
Elysium is one I worked on the English translation for. It looks fun, and maybe we can try it tonight.
Orleans isn't in English, yet, either.  Tasty Minstrel ran a Kickstarter for this one, and it's rumored to be due in September.

Because of my lack of familiarity with the nominees, I can't even make an educated guess as to who the winners will be.

There are also a number of recommended games that are (essentially) runners-up.  And - again - I don't know many of the games (even though I recognizes a number of the designers and publishers).

The Kinderspiel winner will be announced in about two weeks on June 8.  On July 6th, the Spiel and Kennerspiel will be awarded, so we won't be in suspense for too long.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So That Happened

Andy Warhol is credited with saying that in the future, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. I've been writing this blog for ... a while, now.  And before this week, I could point at two spikes in my Google Analytics numbers and say, "That was when X happened." Those were my fifteen minutes of fame.

The first was when Wil Wheaton posted a link on Reddit to one of my posts. It was scary at the time, because - let's be honest, here - I'm not a big-time blogger. I'm just a guy who likes writing about games.

The second was when there was that kerfuffle over FFG's in-store iPad program a few years back. It also scared the crap out of me because - again - I'm just a guy who had an opinion. No-one of any major importance.

This is the part where my wife usually chimes in to remind me that I am important to her and to the kitties and to ... well, she's got a list of folks she can rattle off. Because she's good like that.

But it happened again.

Last week, I got a couple of comments at what (for me) was stupidly early in the morning. That's odd, I thought, I never get comments.  But it was enough for me to check my Google Analytics.

Hmm, I thought. My referral numbers are ... high.  As in "More referrals before 8am Pacific than I usually get hits in a full week."  Apparently I caught someone's attention.

It's funny - I write this blog every week assuming that people aren't reading what I have to say.  It makes it a lot easier for me to pretend that I'm essentially sending letters to myself. Because of this, a reminder that I have an audience - even a small or temporary one - is always a bit scary.  Especially because I know I'm not the best blogger on the internet. I know that not all of my posts are worth slogging through.

Confidence: A recurring issue, here in Eric-land.

But if you're tuning in because of the File 770 link to me (or due to some possible links back from folks quoting them): Welcome. I'm Eric. I like games and gamers, and I talk about that, here. I dabble in fandom culture a bit, but if you're tuning in to watch Hugo Drama, you're not going to catch much here.

I post weekly - every Wednesday - unless I'm attending a special event. Like GenCon or WorldCon or Norwescon. And - lack of confidence aside - I'm mostly proud of what I've posted here. Like any other personal blog on the internet, there are good posts and bad posts.

I've been playing games since I could walk, and I've been playing RPGs since I was ten. I'm a voracious reader and I also enjoy film photography.

If you stick around, you'll see bits of all of these from time to time.

And, if you don't stick around, well ... I've had my fifteen minutes. Three times over.