Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Technology and Gaming

It's funny. I love technology. I love all of the doors it's opened for us. I love the possibilities it has presented to us. Both in gaming and in the rest of our lives.

But I'm still resistant to games with a required technological component. Take, for example, Fantasy Flight's XCOM game. By all accounts, it's a phenomenal game. Players seem to love it. But it requires the use of a smartphone app.

It's not like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, where the app facilitates play, but isn't actually required. You flat cannot play XCOM: The Board Game without a smartphone.

And yet I have no problems playing in campaigns where the GM requires the use of Obsidian Portal.

Or playing Space Alert, which requires a CD player. And - as MP3 files take over - CD players are in process of disappearing from homes. When I bought my current computer, I had to pay extra for an optical drive. Because those are slowly disappearing, too. Microsoft Office? It's a subscription program, now. Not a CD with an authorization code and hoops to jump through. And I can access most (if not all of it) online. When even Office doesn't require a CD-ROM ... well ... 

Wizards of the Coast has keep the 4e D&D Insider tools up for those of us who want to keep paying for them. It costs them a pittance and brings in some subscriber fees even now. And (honestly) I've found it much easier to track my character online than the old-fashioned way with pencil & paper.

I have a smartphone. Like most smartphones, it's crazy-powerful when compared to the computer my family had when I was a kid. It's more powerful than the computers we used in school. And I trust Google. I actually have a couple of apps on there that aren't in the Appstore anymore - but when I upgraded my phone a few months ago, Google transferred them for me. Automatically. I didn't have to call anyone. I didn't need to go online and track down some obscure file to install the apps on my phone. They just installed themselves on the new phone.

So I don't know why the app has been such a barrier to entry for my interest in XCOM. But somehow it is. And that makes me feel like a total Luddite.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Prepping

Short post this week - there are some things going on at my day job that are drawing an inordinate amount of my energy and focus.

I'm getting ready to run a Legend of the Five Rings campaign. I've actually been dragging my feet for a while, because the last time I ran an L5R game, I got GM Burnout.  Burned out to the point where it was a decade before I was willing to run anything again.

So I'm doing a few things differently.  Right now, I'm working on a pre-Character Generation questionnaire. I've never done that before. But I have a larger-than-usual group of interested players, and I want to know what their expectations are before we sit down to play.

I'm starting with the basic questions - "What Clan(s) are you most interested in? Which Clan(s) do you most dislike?" But I'm also asking about the metaplot (like/dislike care/don't care) and the various eras of play. And, of course, determining the politics/mysticism/romance/action balance of the game.

Adding to this, I'm going to be using my (experimental) Winter Phase rules. Largely as a playtest - I want to make sure they work.

Until a week or so ago, my delay was "I don't have The Book of Void yet!" It was the last book I was stalling for, and, now that I have it, there is no reason not to go. Other than my own hesitation.

The last game I ran, I did a terrible job of balancing action and investigation. I dropped too many red herrings and not enough clues. And there were four or five different storylines that I had going on, which was too many for me - and when I'm off-balance, so are the players.

This game will be monthly. Or so. Everyone involved is a grownup with a busy life, so scheduling will be not great - which is another factor.  I need to make sure the game won't collapse if one or two players miss a given session. In fact, I need to plan for players to miss sessions.

But, most of all, I need to relax and let it go. I need to pull the trigger on my pre-game questionnaire, and I need to start working with players on character generation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Room 25: Season 2

There are (to my mind) three types of expansion for a game.

There are expansions that are designed to correct or rebalance a flaw with the basic game. There are expansions which take the base game and add essentially more of the same. And there are expansions which take the game in a completely different direction.

Room 25: Season 2 is mostly that second type.  It's more of the same.  But it also fixes a few flaws that the base game suffered from.

But before I talk about the expansion, I should probably give an overview of the base game. How have I not brought this up before now?

Room 25 is a futuristic game show that is Cube crossed with ... hmm.  Maybe Twin Tin Bots is a better comparison than Robo Rally.

The game starts with 24 face-down rooms and the players in the center room.  One of the face-down rooms is Room 25, and the goal of the game is to get all of the characters into Room 25 and then move the room out of the complex to escape. Before time runs out.

Each turn, you will program your character(s) with one or two actions, and then those actions are resolved.  There are four actions available in the base game: Peek into an adjacent room, move into an adjacent room, shove someone into an adjacent room, or shift the complex.

Each room does something different, too. There are a few beneficial rooms in play, but most of the rooms are a mixed blessing at best.

There are also several modes of play, ranging from fully cooperative to team-based competitive to a semicooperative game with a traitor mechanism at work.

In the base game, each character is the same, and they are given names of archetypes rather than character names. The minis are decent and are cast in grey plastic.

Almost from the minute the game came out, folks on BoardGameGeek started working up rules for special abilities.

The base game includes 32 rooms, of which 25 are in play at a time.

It is one of those games that I really love to play but which slipped under the radar for many many other people.

So I was really surprised when I received a file of expansion rules to work on.

Remember when I said the expansion fixed a few flaws?  Here's what it brings to the table:

1) Two new characters, bringing the total up to 8 possible players. Be aware: Playing with more than six people ups the difficult considerably, as you'll have fewer total turns in which to beat the game.

2) New sculpts for the base game characters which are cast in colored plastic instead of gray.

3) New player boards for all characters (including the base game characters) that give them names. "The Geek," for example, is now "Kevin."  Or "K," as he prefers to be known.

4) A fifth action for each character that is unique. That's right: Character special abilities. One character can hide from hostile actions. One character can move and take someone with him. One character can hack the complex.

5) A once-per-game ability for each character to take a third action in a round.

6) A batch of new rooms with new hazards and abilities, including tokens, figures, cards, and markers for these new rooms.

7) A box with an insert that will hold both the base game and the expansion. Which is important because there is no way all of this stuff will fit back into the base game's box.


Several of the items on that list are - you will note - strictly upgrades to the base game. Most of them are add-ons.  Some of them straddle that line.

Either way, I had a chance to play Season 2 last week, and I loved it. Even more than I love the base game.

Amazon claims that Season 2 will release in mid-March. I'd check with your local game store, as they may be able to get it before that point.  The base game is available now (and has been for a while).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

7 Wonders: Babel

I'm going to do something I don't do very often, here.  I'm going to talk about a game I've only barely scratched the surface of.

7 Wonders: Babel is the fourth expansion for 7 Wonders. I say "fourth," but - really - it's the fourth and fifth expansions, because this box contains two separate expansions.

The previous expansions - 7 Wonders: Leaders, 7 Wonders: Cities, and the Wonder Pack, all reinforce or accentuate what's already there in the base game. They're "more of the same" expansions.

This is not, by the way, a weakness or a problem. 7 Wonders is a phenomenal game. And I'm not the only one who believes that - here's the list of awards it's won via BoardGameGeek:


That's ... that's a lot of awards.

Babel is the first expansion to take the game in an entirely new direction. Let me briefly recap the expansions thus far:

7 Wonders: Leaders added a preliminary draft before the first Age, and it added a Leader phase before each Age where players could play a leader. This expansion allowed players to start to focus their strategy before the game really began.  It added a few new symbols to the mix, but didn't really shake gameplay up much.

7 Wonders: Cities added another color of card to the mix, and increased the maximum number of players to 8. The "big adds" in this set were team play, peace tokens, debt, and the ability to copy your neighbors' science symbols. The peace tokens allowed players to withdraw from the military phase, forcing their neighbors to fight each other instead. Players who went into debt lost victory points that couldn't be bought off later.

The Wonder Pack added a handful of wonders to the game. Nothing new mechanically, but the wonders themselves were interesting and entertaining.

What these expansions didn't do was allow players seated across from the table to interact. Now, I'm not saying Babel does this directly - but it definitely increases the interaction between players and the complexity of the game.

Based on my limited play so far and the discussion I've seen online, this is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it expansion because of how much it changes the game.

There are - as I mentioned earlier - two different parts to this expansion: The Tower of Babel and Great Projects, each of which include a number of new components.

The Tower of Babel expansion is a Babel Board with three or four slots for Babel Tiles, depending on the number of players. 

Remember what you can do with your card each turn in the base game?
  • Play it face-up;
  • Discard it face-down to gain 3 coins;
  • Slide it into one of the spaces in your Wonder.
If you're using the Tower of Babel, now you can also choose:
  • Discard it face-down to place a Babel Tile
Babel tiles are drafted at the beginning of the game, much like leaders. When played, they change play for everyone at the table.  And they have a wide variety of effects: Some of them increase or decrease the costs of playing certain cards. One of them decreases the points earned for military victories. Several of them cancel out the abilities of certain cards (Tile #3, for example, cancels the brown Double Resource or Split Resource cards, and is a truly evil tile to play during Age III). A couple of them provide free resources.

Depending on the number of players you have, there are only three or four slots available for tiles. New tiles go on top of old tiles. Once a tile is covered, its effects stop.  If multiple players build Babel tiles during the same turn, then they are place in ascending numerical order.

Our first game with the Tower, it severely reduced our final scores. We weren't sure what to expect, and spending a turn playing a tile to potentially set up future points cost us time. Every turn spent building Babel is a turn not spent building your own city. Not only that, but the afore-mentioned Tile #3 showed up during Age III, and so most of the third age of the game was players discarding for coins because they lacked the ability to build anything else.

The other half of the expansion is the Great Projects, which are a handful of large cards. The game includes five per age. These are shuffled and one is turned up each Age. You then place a number of wooden "Participation tokens" on the card equal to the number of players minus one.

I've only played this part of the expansion once so far, and we goofed. So I can't say 100% how good it is. I liked it, but I want to play it correctly so I can judge it fairly.

The Great Projects are things that everyone is cooperating to build. Each card has a reward, a penalty, and a cost to participate. In short, when you build a card of the appropriate color, you can pay the participation cost (which I believe is always gold) to the bank to grab a participation token. At the end of the Age (before the military phase), you check to see if all of the tokens have been grabbed.  If they have, then the participants get a reward and the non-participants do not.  If there are tokens left on the card, then the participants get nothing but non-participants are penalized.

It's possible to have more than one participation token, at which point you get multiple rewards (if the project is completed). Rewards vary - you can gain money, increase your military power, get a free building in the future, get extra points for science or your wonder, and so on.

The penalties can cause you to lose cards from your city, or lose money, or even lose your starting resource.  If you can't pay a penalty, then you take penalty tokens and lose points.

Unlike the Tower portion of the expansion, the Great Projects don't burn your turn, so they didn't hurt scoring. In fact, they helped my scoring when we played (I managed to reduce my opponents' military by enough points that I wasn't in last place).

As I said earlier: I think this box will be a love-it-or-hate-it expansion. Since I like a bit of complexity, I think that - over time - I'll come down on the Love It end of the equation. But I'm also very aware that added complexity isn't for everyone, and this exact flavor of added complexity also won't be to everyone's taste. But I really like it, and am looking forward to the next set.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Korrigans

Korrigans is one of those games that, if I hadn't worked on it, would have flown completely under my radar. It's because I'm not its target audience. This is a family game, right down to the adorable pieces.



The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end.  You gain points by gathering face-down clover tokens, by grabbing menhirs, and by having your Korrigans in position to grab the pot of gold when it arrives, ending the game.



Each turn, you'll call on the aid of an animal companion to help you move one of your figures from one field to the next.  Different animal types allow you to move differently. Birds, for example, let you move to another field of the same color and texture anywhere on the board.  When you land on a space, you'll choose one of the tokens that is in that space.

Tokens are either more companions or are 1-4 gold.

If you grab the last token, you also grab the stone menhir from that space.  These can give you more gold, block movement, reduce players' gold, let you take an extra turn, and several other things.

Each round, one rainbow-colored wooden disc is placed on the board, as well.  The rows and columns with these discs block the placement of the pot of gold.  Once the last color is placed, the pot of gold is then placed, and players each have one final turn to get their guys to the pot of gold.

The player with the most gold wins.

The rules are crazy-simple, and so is the gameplay. But there's a bit more depth than I'd realized when I read the rules for the first time.  Players have to decide whether they want to draw gold or companions, for example. And you need to keep track of where the cauldron is able to appear so you can get there during the endgame (because 10 points is significant).

All in all, I like this game. It's simple enough that I can play it with my nephews, but there's enough meat to it that they won't beat me very often.

There are game night regulars who will like this, and I'm going to make sure that Brian sees it, because good family games can be difficult to find.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Socializing (Continued)

This is a bit rambly, and I'm sorry.  My original somehow disappeared when posting last week's post, so it's re-written from notes and not as edited as I like to be.

Somehow, the stereotype of the under-socialized basement-dwelling gamer got started. I suspect it traces back to the roots of hobby gaming - historical miniature war games.  It's a section of the hobby that still exists.

But here's the thing with miniatures games: they require a great deal of solo effort to paint and assemble the pieces.  In my experience, there tend be a higher percentage of introverts among miniatures gamers than among the other segments of the gaming populace. In fact, I know people with sizable miniature armies who have never played a game. They love collecting and painting.

It's this solo part of the hobby that I suspect is responsible for the reputation that the rest of the hobby has been painted with. It applies less to boardgamers, but we are still colored by it, reputation-wise. It requires a great deal of focus and dedication - I know that when I'm doing detail work for one of my minis, I tend to tune out the rest of the world.

Something I don't want to overstate, here: Social aspects of tournament play.

I've participated in and run tournaments for a very long time. And much of "gaming as social activity" goes out the window for tournament play. Because those people are there to win. There are exceptions. And it varies widely, depending on the game and number of players. A 7 Wonders tournament will be more sociable than a Hordes tournament. It's because of the in-game interaction. In a Hordes game, you'll be in a series of one-on-one matches. The only people you'll interact with at the table are direct foes.  In a 7 Wonders tournament, while you're competing with up to six other players at a time, only the players to your left and right have the ability to directly effect your winning or not, so you're free to be friendly with the other players at the table. And most players have a difficult time being friendly to some strangers and not others.  But then, a 7 Wonders tournament with tables of three or four will be more cutthroat.

And then there are games for which the social is the point of the game, whether it be a negotiation game like Diplomacy (where your social skills are a significant and important part of the game) or a word-association game like Apples to Apples (where the "game" itself is pretty thin).

One last thought:  A lack of desire to be sociable does not necessarily indicate a lack of social skills. If left to my own devices, I am often (still) a chair-dwelling basement troll. But I apparently have reasonable social skills, because I keep going to conventions as a demo monkey. And being a demo monkey is 100% about your ability to convey the fun of a game to a prospective customer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hrm.

Looks like this morning's post was cut in half (and half of it lost).

I'd been having some issues with blogger from one of the computers I use.

I'll fight with it and get that second half re-written and up as soon as I can.