Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Awards

I've deleted and re-written this post about six times, now, and I think that I'm going to just stick with what I have, even if it's not my best work and could probably use about four more editorial passes. Because it should not take more than a month to write a single post.

So be forewarned; This post is less-focused than most. This post is rambly and ranty. This post is only peripherally about games.

This post was triggered by several things:
  1. The whole Hugo Puppies situation that will not go away and die.
  2. The announcement of the Origins Awards short list for this year.
  3. The announcement of the Spiel des Jahres nominees for the year.
I recently realized that awards have no value of their own. The only value an award on a box has is the value that the viewer assigns to it,and that value can change over time.

Because awards - in and of themselves - nearly always suffer from fundamental flaws.

Here is what I think people forget about with awards:

Good and Fun are not the same thing.

Seriously. It (realistically) looks something like this:


If you can't see it clearly, the vertical axis is "Good" at the top and "Not Good" at the bottom.  The horizontal axis is "Not Fun" at the left and "Fun" at the right.

Your ideal award winners are both Good and Fun:

It doesn't matter if you're talking about movies or books or games.  You know what's not on this axis?

Sales. Popularity.

So let's shift to movies. Have you seen The Fast and the Furious or any of its sequels?  Those movies are a ton of fun. But they're not going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Nor are they trying to do so.

This, by the way, is why the Hugo Controversy is such a big deal to me. I read a ton of Military SF. I read a ton of bad books that are fun to read. And, yes, I read a ton of really good books, too.

This is how I characterized the 2015 Hugo Situation on Facebook a few months back:
The difference is that the Rabid Puppies - unlike the Oscar voters - have mistakenly assumed that Fun = Good.  At least they did last year.  This year, they're just trolls. But at least they're honest about it this year. At least Chuck Tingle's counter-trolling has been worth watching.

And - for the record - I really really did not enjoy The Three-Body Problem. If I remember correctly, it was below "No Award" on my ballot (because I won't vote for books I don't enjoy).

I think that the Puppies' tactics with regard to the Hugos have damaged the value of the 2015 and 2016 award, but I don't think the awards themselves are now write-offs. Otherwise, I wouldn't still be involved with the process.

Eventually Vox Day will get bored. Or his followers will realize that they're spending $50 each every couple of years to no effect. And the rules are changing to reduce the impact of slate voting, so eventually that $50 will be a complete waste of money that won't even pay off the lols they are hoping for.

It looks like EPH won't be the magic bullet we had hoped for in that respect. But EPH + 4/6 (which also passed last year) together are better than the current system, and will keep slates - ANY slates - from being able to completely dominate all of the categories. But with the low number of nominations in some categories, slates will still be effective.

That is: without active involvement from fandom, it won't do any good. If people give up on the Hugos, they surrender to the slates. 

And it's worth noting that these are anti-slate measures, not anti-Puppy measures.  This year, it's the Rabid Puppies. Next year, it might be the Romance Writers of America who decide that they want a Hugo for one of their writers (the World Science Fiction Society constitution says that science fiction and fantasy works are eligible, but doesn't define either term so far as I can tell).

So for now, at least, the Hugos are (for me) a lesson in involvement. In order to keep the Hugos from sinking, I'm voting and keeping my friends as informed as I can. Some of my friends have registered to vote, too. And I'm harassing them - not "Vote this way!" but "Vote! Even if I disagree with your vote!"

I have more rant stored up, but if you made it this far, you've probably already wasted twenty or so minutes reading my ranting and rambling, so I'll save it for social media.

Next week? Games. We will discuss games. I'm not sure which ones, yet, because it depends on whether certain things have shipped and/or arrived, yet. So we'll see.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Last Week vs This Week

So last week, I posted about how I'm not okay with not going to gaming conventions this year. Within a day, I had three offers and referrals from friends for companies that need demo teams at GenCon or Origins or [Convention Name Here]. And a part-time job offer from a publisher.

Prior to that, I'd had offers to demo from two other publishers who'd learned I wasn't going to be in the Asmodee booth this year and they wanted to recruit me.

It's good to feel wanted, so thank you. All of you.

Realistically, the fact that I'm uncomfortable missing convention(s) this year, means I probably need to miss conventions this year. I need to decompress a bit.

Right now, if I took a Word Association Test of some sort and "Convention" was the word, my answer would be "Work." And that just isn't right.

It's fun work, yes, but it's still work.

I've never attended GenCon. I've demoed there for more than a decade, now, and I have never been to a single panel. I've never attended a meetup or played an RPG there. There is a whole world of fun that I've never seen.

So some time away will do me some good.

Ideally, Steph and I want to attend one or more gaming conventions in 2017. No demos, no setup, no work. Just go to the show, visit with folks, spend money, play games. You know: be with my people.

My posting here should be back to normal next week. I'm sorry I've been more self-focused than game-focused for the last couple of weeks, because I know that you come here to read about games and gaming.

And thank you for that, by the way.  Coming here and reading what I have to say. It means a lot to me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rough Week

I haven't gotten any work done on the posts that are in my queue this week.  I'm still kinda reeling from a bit of a one-two punch.

See, I realized this week that I'm not going to any gaming conventions anytime in the near future. And I'd thought I was okay with that, but I realized that I'm really not. Gamers are my people.

Yes, I've got a couple of really good groups going right now. The Wednesday Board Game Night continues to chug along, our 13th Age group is a blast, the Legend of the Five Rings group seems to be having fun. Even our Dungeons and Dragons (4e) group is chugging along.

There are several dozen gamers in those groups that I interact with on a regular basis. Gaming is my primary social outlet, and that ... long-term, I don't think it's enough.

So Steph and I chatted.  We're going to try to get to conventions in the future. On our own dime, because we love seeing the people and just drinking in the convention atmosphere. And being surrounded by our people.

We'll be at MidAmeriCon II (WorldCon) this summer. SF/F fandom is very much Steph's people.  Especially when there is a literary bent to the crowd.  SF/F Fandom are my people, too, but they're not as mine as gamers. So we're going to make an effort to attend more SF/F conventions, too.  And there are gamers at the cons, so I'll be able to get some of that social outlet time that I so rarely crave ...

The "two" punch this week was when Brian, who owns the FLGS that gets my money, announced that he is leaving the company. We all knew it was coming eventually, but I think we all hoped it'd be just a bit further out, time-wise. And I don't blame him for leaving - he's been apart from his wife for five years to keep the store going.

The store might be able to stay open. Maybe. But no-one knows for sure. So as of the end of July, I may need to find a new FLGS. Living where I do, there are some great ones around, but building a relationship with a store owner takes time. Even if Phoenix stays open, I still won't have the same relationship with the new owner(s) as I do with Brian.

So this week has been both strange and rough, and I'm already desperate for some gaming.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

TableTop Day

Last Saturday was Geek & Sundry's International TableTop Day!

Did you know that?  Based on the communities I'm a member of in a bunch of places, you probably didn't. I knew. My FLGS owner knew. The Wednesday games crowd knew (even if most of them just learned on Wednesday).

I don't know why word didn't spread as well this year. We only had about a dozen folks turn up. It was up from last year, but waaaay down from two years ago.

I arrived late, but I still had a great time.

We played Room 25 and Mascarade and Hyperborea (although we got a ton of rules wrong on that last one).  I really enjoy all three games.

Hyperborea was a bit of a stark reminder to me that I need to review rulebooks regularly so I'm better-able to teach and/or play them, because we got so many rules incorrect. But it was still fun, and we may play again tonight.

I walked out with a handful of promos for games I own.

I hope your local TableTop Day went well and you had a good time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Events From This Last Weekend

I know last week I posted a list of what I was working on - and I'm still working on it. But I wanted to talk a bit about this last weekend, and push back scheduled posts in the process.

Because last weekend was one of the best weekends of gaming I have had in a very long time. And it was only two games.

We started by kicking off a Risk Legacy campaign with the full five players. Stultz, Jim, Wade, Steph, and myself.  I dealt the starting power cards randomly, and so each player gave each faction a single power. I dealt out resource cards randomly, and each player then applied coins to location cards.

That way, everyone was invested in the game from the beginning.  It was fascinating, because everyone flinched when they tore up the unselected faction power. And when the first scars were applied to the board, people (again) flinched a bit - even when other players were the ones doing the scarring.

Then Wade upped the ante - the winner of the game could add +1 to one of their Icon Relationship rolls that night. He's the GM, he can do that.

The game was ... fun. And refreshing in a way that Risk rarely is. And it was over in an hour and change. And Wade won.

We'll be getting together before every 13th Age session in order to play.

We followed that up with our 13th Age game.  We picked up in media res - we just finished some combat last week, and we continued with more this session.  Our characters were out of or low on daily abilities, and some of us were low on hit points.

We had one small skirmish encounter against some zero-level foes (which we mowed through like wheat), and discovered a hellhole opening under the town.  We're not well-equipped to handle hellholes. But there were other foes about, too.

One of our recurring nuisances is a character named Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves. I don't think those stats are current, because we've been dealing with him since we were second or third level.  We're fifth level, now. And we finally had our throwdown with him (and a couple of his mooks). We dealt with the mooks pretty quickly, but Thurash himself was a bit more of a challenge.

Our Ranger eventually dealt with him.

And then demons possessed the corpses of the fallen Orcs, and we were in Big Trouble. There were four of us and four of them, and they hit as hard as (or harder than) we did and had more hit points than most of us.  How many did they have? Enough that our Wizard's "Sleep" spell couldn't take any of them down.

We were - as mentioned earlier - depleted. Beaten. Worn down. Defeated. I was out of Command Points (which are a class thing for the Commander class, and which I used a couple of times to heal the party and let them re-roll attacks or damage).

"Wade," I said, "I'd like to spend one of my Icon Relationships."  Hochnor, you see, has a conflicted relationship with the Crusader.

Have I discussed Icon Relationships here, before? Let me explain:

Every character in 13th Age has a relationship of some sort with one or more of the big Movers & Shakers of the setting. Before each session, you roll 1d6 per relationship point. On a five, you can get a favor with a complication of some sort. On a six, you can call on that Icon for direct assistance with no complication. These favors aren't explicitly spelled out in the rulebook, so as a player, you need to figure out what to ask for, and then the GM needs to rule if the complication is severe enough or what.

"Wade," I said, "I rolled a five with the Crusader, and I'd like to spend that, now."

See, at this point we were fighting demons in a city that was being consumed by a direct portal to Hell.  That is a very good time to call in a favor or ask for help. The Crusader isn't someone I'd choose as an ally, but he hates demons. And he has armies at his beck and call.

"I'd like some allies for this fight. This is very much an 'enemy of my enemy' situation. And, for the complication, we can give him the city after this is over."

The rest of the party gaped at me a bit.

"What? It's not like we can do anything with the hellhole - and the Crusader loves turning hellholes into forts. Our options are pretty clear; Even if we beat these things, we can't do anything about the hellhole. The Crusader can. And giving up the entire city is a significant complication. We also know that there are some of his troops on the way. By spending this roll, I'm accelerating the aid in a way that may keep us alive."

Wade thought about it for a moment, and then a portal opened up and four of the Crusader's elites stepped through to assist us. They locked themselves in combat with two of the four demon-possessed orc corpses. That was half of our foes.

At this point, the party got a couple of hits in on one of the corpses. Not enough, but a bit. I was between them and the rest of the party.

Hochnor normally relies on his high AC to avoid getting hit. And it usually works. He plants himself between the rest of the party and the foes, soaks a few hits here and there, and everyone works together to take down whatever.

Unfortunately, he was down to 34 hit points and these foes dealt miss damage.

You see, in 13th Age, even when you miss with an attack, you will often still deal damage.  But usually that only applies to PCs. Enemies that deal miss damage are rare and exceedingly dangerous.

I took miss damage from one, and then the other one scored a hit with just enough damage to knock me down. This left the squishy party members with no wall in place.

We're a party without a cleric. I'm the primary party healer, via the "Rally now!" Command. So when I'm down, we're in trouble.  Especially when we're out of healing potions. Especially when the casters are out of their heavy artillery.

In 13th Age, Death Saves are made every round when you're down. On a 16+, you can recover, and then act naturally in the following round.  On a Nat20, you can get up and act right away. If you fail four times, you die.

We didn't have four rounds to spare. The orc corpses were dealing 20-ish points on a hit and six or seven on a miss, and most of the party doesn't have enough HP to take that amount of punishment for more than a round or two. And the party wasn't rolling great damage when they hit that night.

"Wade," I said on my turn. "I have this Six with the Emperor. Since our dying causes this city to fall and probably starts a domino effect in favor of the Diabolist, this is Very Much an Imperial Matter. So I'm cashing this in for my Death Save."

He gave me the effect of a Natural Twenty on that save, so I got to act immediately.

"I Smite Evil!"  It's a once-per-battle paladin ability. I get a +4 to hit and add 2d12 to my damage. It's not a small thing to use, and - realistically - I should probably start each battle with it.

I rolled a natural 20.  Wade didn't even make me roll damage - that killed the thing dead (even though realistically the maximum damage would have been 128 on a perfect roll and it hadn't even been touched, yet, because of how the rest of the party was rolling).

That roll turned the tide, and the party's rolls improved almost immediately. I wasn't able to get a solit hit in on the remaining thing, but it couldn't hit me, either.  The rest of the party dealt with it. The last foe down, we got out of town and called it for the night.

It was an epic session, and I was more engaged than I usually am.

Our next session is only two weeks out, and we get to start with game two of our Risk Legacy campaign.  I can't wait to see what is unlocked.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Superfight

Last week, we played a game that I would not describe as good. It was fun, and we spent several hours playing it, but Superfight is - again - not a good game.

But it's fun.

Now, I've demoed this game at several conventions and walked away underimpressed. It's Apples to Apples with a little bit more.

Each player has a hand of four cards - two each from two different decks.  One deck has white backs - those are all characters.  One deck has black cards. Those are modifiers. Each turn, you will play one white card and one black card and then draw one additional black card off the top of the deck for a bit more randomness.

And then you argue over who would win in a fight to the death.

It's not great. And - the basic game - is not very fun.  But there are about six million expansions, each is color-coded. Want a bit more Cards Against Humanity in your game? Mix in the Red Deck. Want to play with kids? The Green Deck. Anime fan? Pink deck. But there are three decks that can change the game to fun.

The Blue Deck adds locations, the Yellow Deck adds different competitions, and the Purple Deck adds conditions to the scenario. Any of these alone could be fun. Or would be if they included rules.

The back of the Purple Deck box says (in all caps):
THE PURPLE DECK IS AN EXPANSION TO SUPERFIGHT THAT ADDS 100 SCENARIOS TO THE FIGHT, SUCH AS "KITTEN STAMPEDE" AND "NO GRAVITY." DRAW THEM WHENEVER YOU LIKE, EITHER BEFORE FIGHTERS ARE CHOSEN TO GIVE PLAYERS A CHANCE TO ADAPT, OR DRAW THEM AFTER TO TAKE THE BY SURPRISE.
That's all the rules it has.

When I dug the game out, one of the players had played the game before. "I'm out," she said.

"Hang on," one guy told her, "Eric dug it out, so he probably understands the rules better and it's probably fun. Eric doesn't bring lame games." I'm paraphrasing, here, because I don't remember his exact words, but that's the gist of what he said.

We played in "Super-villain Mode" which means one player serves as judge - and sets out the villain for everyone else's hero to defeat. It means everyone is playing at all times and there's no table voting for a winner.  The Villain also got to draw from the variant decks. I didn't have Purple with me, so they drew two Blue and two Yellow cards each, chose one or two of them, and played those after the other players had selected their heroes.

It was ridiculously simple, but just that little bit of rules structure turned a box of random cards into something fun that people were willing to play.

It got me thinking a bit. No, a lot. About Good vs Fun vs Simple and how too many people conflate all of these. It's something I need to think on so I can write more about it later. Because Good and Fun are not the same.

It's not a good game. Even with the modifier decks, the rules as written are badly incomplete and in need of house rules to make it playable. But, with the barest shell of rules added, it became a fun game.

I wonder how many unfun games are only a rule or two away from being fun. I'll be thinking on that, too.

In a personal note, I'm now out of the March Crazies. An oddly-high number of my friends have March birthdays - and that includes my wife. Then, just past the end of March is my wedding anniversary. So that's time with family that needs to be spent. Both families, actually. And somewhere in there most years is Norwescon. So the end of March through the middle of April is usually ridiculously busy for me. But now things are settling back into their usual level of busy.

So here's a list of things I still need to post about, hopefully in the coming weeks, unless I get distracted or shipping is delayed or something:

  • Hero Forge
  • Good vs Fun vs Simple
  • Contests and Awards
I'm sure there are other things I'm going to be writing about, but those are posts I have partially-written that should be coming over the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cooperative Games

Lately, I've been playing a ton of cooperative games. And semi-cooperative games. And I'm learning a lot about them and the folks I play with in the process.

There are really two broad categories of games, here.

Cooperative games are games where all of the players are working together to defeat the game. Everyone wins or loses collectively.

Games in this first category include Ghost Stories and Pandemic and Forbidden Desert.

Semi-cooperative games are games where one of the players is a traitor. They are trying to pretend to be part of the team, but they are working against everyone else. Most players win or lose collectively in this style of game.

Games in the second category include Room 25 and Battlestar Galactica and Shadows Over Camelot.

I'm not putting together an exhaustive list of cooperative games, here, but here are a few that I own (and like) and my thoughts on them. I've talked about some of them before. Some of them are games I need to discuss more later. Before my summaries, though, I'm going to use two specific terms that could probably stand to be explained:

Replayability - How much fun the game is on multiple plays and how the game maintains this replayability.

Commander Effect - Many cooperative games suffer when one player decides to take charge of the game.  It makes it less fun for other players. Some games take steps to stop this through limiting information-sharing between players in some way. Some games have other limiters.

Pandemic - This game was, in many ways, the herald of the Age of the Cooperative Game. It maintains replayability through randomness, and is subject to the Commander Effect. Realistically, I prefer to play this via app these days. There are expansions available, but I don't own them.

Ghost Stories - Another of the early cooperative games. Replay through randomness, and subject to Commander. This is one of the most difficult cooperative games to beat for new layers. Some folks find it frustrating because of it. There's an IOS app for it, but nothing on Android yet. There are a couple of expansions for this game available.

Room 25 - Depending on the mode played, this is either fully-cooperative, team competition, or semi-cooperative. It maintains replayability through randomness. and there is currently one expansion out with a second due later this year.

Forbidden Desert - Another Matt Leacock design (he also did Pandemic).  The basic design itself is apparently older than Pandemic's, but it's also a very random game. I prefer Forbidden Desert to Forbidden Island, but both are solid. Even though the Commander Effect can be an issue.

The Grizzled - This is a relatively new game. Players take the role of soldiers during WWI. The goal is to deplete one deck of cards before the other deck is depleted.  It's replayability comes from randomness, but it avoids the Commander Effect by limiting what players can say. This is a game I need to say more about if I haven't already.

Witness - Witness is a Blake & Mortimer-licensed cooperative logic problem.  I love logic problems, but this game is tough. It's scenario-based, and each scenario is a puzzle. If you have a strong memory, each scenario has zero replay value. If your memory fades over time, like mine does, you can replay scenarios every few months. There are fifty or so scenarios in the game, so you're not likely to burn through it quickly. There is no Commander Effect here - each player works the puzzles and answers the same questions to gain a collective score. The game is a test of memory and communication.

TIME Stories - In many ways, this game is The New Hotness.  It's good. It's like one of those old LucasArts point-and-click adventure games in cooperative tabletop game form. There is possibility for the Commander Effect. And, similarly to Witness, there is almost no replay in the game unless your memory is not great.  I have a hunch that Asmodee's demo folks will be playing the heck out of this one.  There are several expansions, now, each of which is a new scenario.

Mysterium - I'm pretty sure I've talked about this one before.  It's Dixit crossed with Clue. One player is working to convey information to the other players.  The other players can bet on which answer they think is correct. Sometimes, one of those other players will be SO SURE that they have the correct answer that you'll see a bit of Commander, but not often.