Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hitting The Table: Mistborn: House War

A while ago, I backed Mistborn: House War on Kickstarter. I'm both a fan of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn universe and I generally like what Crafty Games produces, so it was a no-brainer for me.

I'm really glad I backed.  This game is awesome.

Players take the role of Great Houses, trying to hold the Final Empire together. It's semi-cooperative, but there is only one winner.

Each turn, the active player starts their turn by collecting income. Each Great House has a different income. This income is made up of a couple of types of resources, taken from a (limited) pool (or from other players if that pool is empty) and one or more Personality Cards.

The next step is escalating existing Problems. The active player chooses the order in which they worsen, which can cause things to get dramatically worse. If a problem pushes past a certain point on the board, it "erupts."  Most Problems have an eruption effect - some of them will destroy resources (removing them from play forever), some of them will give negative victory points to players, some of them will ruin resource production, and so on. A few of them do have beneficial eruption effects, but not many.

Once existing problems have escalated, a new Problem is added to the board.

And then we hit the meat of the turn: Solving a problem.

The active player can choose to pass, which gains them one resource of choice from the (limited) pool. Or they can choose to tackle a problem.

Each problem has a cost to defeat printed across the bottom of its card. The cost (of course) varies. Most problems require more resources to defeat than players are likely to have in their stash. Because of this, players who want to defeat problems need to negotiate with other player. Personality cards can increase or decrease the cost to defeating the problems.

If you can gather the resources to defeat a problem, then you will score victory points. Most of the negotiations with other players are for a share of these victory points, but you can also give or trade resources.

An important rule: You can't start negotiations until the active player decides which problem they're going to tackle. This means that if you want to negotiate deals over which problem to tackle, then you need to do it one or more turns in advance - which is important because deals made for future turns are non-binding (unless certain characters enter play).

Remember those Personality Cards?  Some of them give you bonus victory points. Some of them make problems easier to solve. Some of them make problems harder to solve. There are characters who increase your income, and there are characters who can make those "next turn" deals binding.

Most of the time, your best option is clear. There will be three or four problems in play, and you can only solve one of them (even with help), or else there are problems whose eruptions won't hurt you but which will hurt your opponents.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you'll know that this is (for me) a serious strike against the game. I like games where there are difficult decisions that need to be made. Unfortunately, that means that every play of this game feels like every other play of this game.

Because so much of the game is negotiation, this game is very dependent on the group you're playing it with. For some groups, that's good. For some groups, that's bad. It's fine for my group, but it means that I, personally, am pretty screwed because my friends have played too many games with me to be able to trust me.

There's also a strong luck factor. The Problems that come up are randomly drawn from a deck, as are players' hands and their Houses. Several times, now, we've had Problems pop up that no-one produced the resources to solve. Yes, you can do a two-for-one trade, but that gets expensive quickly.

Many of the reviews I'm seeing complain that players are the "bad guys" from the books. They want to be the resistance. Allies of Vin and Kelsier. They also want a very different game.  This game is what it is - it's a semi-cooperative resource management game with some light backstabbing. Players are trying to preserve the Final Empire.

The art is great. The components are great (I don't have the super-deluxe version with foil cards and pennygem resources, either). There's an expansion coming, probably next year.  Maybe that'll fix some or all of the complaints I have.

Until then, this will still hit the table occasionally - it's a solid and playable game, even if it's not especially inspiring. There are people out there who will really like this one.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

More on Kindle Pricing

So yesterday, I posted about Games Workshop's Kindle pricing.

It was pointed out that I never actually stated what I feel is reasonable pricing for Kindle books:

I'm of the opinion that Kindle Book pricing should be comparable to physical book pricing. If a book is only available in hardcover, then the Kindle book should be similarly priced.  If a book is available in mass-market paperback, then the Kindle should - again - be similarly priced.

If I think a book is worth $15, then I'll spend $15 on it.

And yes, I know that physical books are often sold below MSRP online. I think that Kindle books should be similarly priced to the actual price not the MSRP.

But that only works for in-print books.

I think that, once the physical book is out of print, the Kindle price should drop. $5 is not an unreasonable price for an out-of-print book.  As I said yesterday: It's not like that book is taking up actual space anymore.  By the time it goes out-of-print, it's either made its money back (and is profitable for the publisher) or it isn't ever going to (at which point the electronic book isn't going to make much money either way).  Every electronic book sold after the physical book is out-of-print is (or should be) either pure profit for the publisher or will partially offset losses taken from the physical version..

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Games Workshop: Now on Kindle in the US

... but you're not gonna like it.

Now that Games Workshop is off my "No Buy" list, I've been trying to get caught up on some of the lore. Because GW has always done a decent job of backing their games up with a ton of storytelling and background.  Not all of it's good, mind you, but there are hugely passionate fan communities who dissect the minutiae looking for clues to what we might see in the games, and trying to figure out the mechanical elements.

Last year, I'd noticed that their Black Library books were on Kindle in the UK but not in the US. So I e-mailed them, and got a brief "soon," message back from them. That was in March or April. Sometime in November, they flipped the switch to sell their books on Kindle in the US.

And ... I don't understand Games Workshop's Kindle strategy. At all.

For example: Let's look at Horus Rising.  It's the first book in the Horus Heresy series, and it's by Dan Abnett.

Here's the UK page for the book. You'll notice that it's on paperback for £7.99. Or on Kindle for £9.99. That's right: The Kindle edition is more expensive than the paperback.  (Note that if you're in the US, you may need to open that in an Incognito window to see the Kindle pricing.)

As of this writing, BTW, that's about $10.73 in paperback or $13.42 on Kindle.

Here's the US page for the same book. It's currently $8.41 in paperback and $15.99 on Kindle.

Worth mentioning: that paperback is on really low-quality paper. Honestly, $8.41 is too much for the book, too, even though it appears to be out-of-print.

That's one novel.  Their omnibus editions are ... well. Check out Eisenhorn. As of this writing it's $49.99 in the US. On Kindle.

In 2011, I paid $22.00 for a trilogy. A very good trilogy, actually - not a Games Workshop publication, there. One of the Big Five publishers. In fact, poking around, most books that are out in paperback are in that $7-$10 range on Kindle here in the US. But not from Games Workshop.

There are Kindle books that are in that $15 range - they're usually new releases or books that aren't out in paperback, yet. But most books that are in publishers' back catalogs are hovering in the $7-$10 range.

Horus Rising is the very definition of back catalog. It was first published in 2006, and has also been included in an omnibus edition. It's a low-demand novel, and it's not going to be driving sales.

And that's setting aside the issue of writing quality. Because GW novels are frequently ... uneven in quality. They have some great authors in their stable (I really like Dan Abnett's writing, for example), but a lot of their authors are not as talented.

It's clear that GW is used to being the only game around, and they price appropriately. Realistically, they were the most successful miniatures gaming company for a very long time. They probably still are. And their games were priced in a way that reflected that. Their goal was (and is) to be a "premium" brand. And part of that means keeping prices high so that customers feel more invested in their purchases.

Yes, it's weird. Retail psychology is weird across the board.

But Games Workshop isn't the only game in town on the fiction front. I have to wonder if they're helping or hurting themselves with their pricing - hardcore fans are going to pay whatever price they set, but casual folks like me? I'm not. There are thousands of non-GW novels published every year, most of which are probably better-written.  A lower price on their fiction will provide lower profit per book to GW, but will sell more books. And, unlike physical books, storage costs for Kindle books are negligible. You create the file once, and can sell it repeatedly.

I'm not saying that creating a Kindle book is free - you still have to pay the author and editor(s) and so on, but if you're creating both Kindle and physical books, then it's only a couple of extra steps (depending on your software), and - again - there's no physical storage requirement for electronic books. Over the long term, you can afford to pay the storage costs of an ebook with one or two sales (or even half a sale at GW's prices ... ). Honestly, selling through Amazon means that Amazon handles that storage cost. Once the file is created, there is no running cost other than (maybe) royalties, and that depends on the contract you have with the author.

Either way, I don't know how much more I'm going to bother trying to catch up on GW's lore. Uneven writing with high prices are not the combination to unlock my wallet.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

That One Rule

We were playing Haggis a few weeks ago, and I was just certain that we'd missed something.

Haggis is a trick-taking card game. I've probably mentioned it before - it's one of the best games you can play with three players, because it was designed to be played by three players.

But I learned that I've been playing it wrong for a while.  I'd missed that one rule.

In this case, I'd missed that players who bomb don't collect that trick - they choose an opponent to gather those cards (and the points in there). Every bomb in Haggis is worth points, too.

It got me thinking about all of the other times I'd missed just one rule that changed the tone of a game. In Modern Art, for example, the first few times we played, every artist was worth the amount of money showing in their column, instead of only the top three finishers being worth the money showing in their column. It meant that there was a lot more money floating around in later rounds and we kept running out of money in the bank.

When you discover a rules error mid-game, there are only three real options for what to do about it, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Option One: Play It As It Lies
This is the easiest. Just ... finish the game with the incorrect rule(s) and fix it the next time you play. The problem with this is that you're not really playing the game as the designer intended. Missing that one critical rule can turn a good game into a terrible experience. Only on very rare occasions does a rules mistake like this improve a game.

Option Two: Finish The Round, Then Fix The Rule
This is changing horses mid-stream. Finishing the round gives everyone the same number of turns with the flawed rules interpretation, but you can really screw players who have built their strategy around a particular error. This can also cause significant swings in terms of final scoring. With Haggis, it's a non-issue - each hand requires you to reconfigure your strategy to begin with. With board games that aren't cleared every round, however, it's a potential issue.

Option Three: Start Over
This is only a good option if you've only just started or if a game is very short. Otherwise, you wind up with (potentially) several hours wasted and nothing to show for it. But with relatively quick games, it's not usually a huge problem.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Normal(ish) Service To Resume Next Week

This is a heads-up that normal service here will resume next Wednesday.

Well, normalish.  I'm going to try to keep up weekly posts, but I may miss a few here-and-there.

Thanks for not forgetting about me while I was gone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Time Off

There are things happening in my personal life that are pulling a good portion of my attention right now. As a direct result, I've been too stressed and unfocused to do any writing here. I've burned through my cushion of already-written posts (I try to be a few weeks ahead, and will postpone posts if something timely comes up), and have nothing to say right now.

There's a lot going on in the industry - Essen is this week, and there are a ton of games being released this week as a direct result. Which means that I should have a ton of things to write about in coming weeks.

As it is, though, I'm going to take this week (and possibly a few more) to kick back a bit. Relax, unwind, and prepare to focus again. I have a bunch of new-to-me and returned-to-the-table games that I'd like to write about, and (as mentioned) we're about to get a ton of new releases, too.

I'll be back - don't worry about that - I'm just not sure how soon it'll be.

Until I'm back here, if you really need to read words that I have typed, then you can keep up with me on social media - I'm active on Google Plus, somewhat active on Twitter and Tumblr, and I occasionally visit Facebook.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Legend of the Five Rings

Some of you know this already, but there's a new Legend of the Five Rings game in town. Instead of being a collectible (or trading) card game, it's now a living card game.

What's the difference?

Barrier to entry. In theory.

Instead of random packs, when you buy a Living Card Game, you get the same cards in every pack. No more buying 600 booster packs in hope of getting that one rare card. Now you just buy the pack that has the card(s) you want.

So you buy a $40 starter to get going, and then it's $15 per month to keep up.

That's great! Right?

FFG has historically done a pretty good job with these. The Game of Thrones game was solid. Netrunner has fans, too. With good reason. They also did a Star Wars one for a while (EDIT: Star Wars: The Card Game is still a thing, apparently).

But there is a significant frustration with Legend of the Five Rings, and it has to do with the contents of the box.

L5R is set in the land of Rokugan. Rokugan is dominated by seven major clans, and the core set has cards for each of them. It's understandable - L5R fans are very vocal about dedication to their clan of choice, and leaving one (or more) of the clans out would have led to a major hue and cry.

There's already been some of this crying, as the core set doesn't allow for ronin/unaligned decks. Or monk decks. Or minor clan decks. Or Shadowlands decks. Or nezumi or naga or ...

Honestly, I don't have an issue with most of that. I expect we'll see all of these decks in expansions later. Storyline wonks will probably remember that the first edition of the card game didn't include Scorpions - they were added later, as they revealed themselves in the storyline.

Oh - right.  FFG has rebooted the storyline, too. I'm not sure where we are compared to the original timeline, though, because the presence of Scorpions has thrown me off. There are people who have issues with that, too, of course.

None of these decisions are necessarily bad. Including all seven Clans gives new players the chance to see what they like. That's good. It means the game is more approachable for new players.

The cards, by the way, look great. The included rules are (mostly) clear (more on this in a few). And it has two small training decks pre-designed. You can easily modify these training decks by swapping out all of the Lion for Dragon or the Crane for Unicorn or ... whatever. They're not great decks, but they'll get you through a training game or two so you can figure out where you want to focus your energies.

Here's the big problem, though:

The game includes deck construction rules. You need a minimum of 40 cards in each of two different decks. You are allowed to use any cards from your clan and any neutral cards in your deck at no cost.  You can add a second clan's cards to one of your decks, but there are limits on how many of them you can use.

There aren't enough cards in the box to create a tournament-legal deck. Even if you use all of the neutral cards in there, you can't build even one complete playable tournament-legal deck. You need to buy a second core set - which includes sets of cards that you probably aren't going to want to use. It's close, too. It's about ten cards shy. I think I'd be less irked if it were further off and this were billed as a "learn to play" set.

That's not just irritating. That's not even a minor thing. That's a huge issue. Suddenly this $40 buy-in has become an $80 buy-in. And that's just to hit the minimum level for tournament play. Serious players will need three starters for $120.

Once the first expansion drops the first week of November, you will probably still need a second core set. The first wave of expansions (they're releasing six expansions in six weeks - that is, "Instead of $15 per month, it'll be $90 in two months to keep up) also introduce the Imperial faction. So there will be cards in every pack that are Imperial. So assume they're introducing  cards evenly for each Clan.  Each pack has three each of 20 unique cards.  So I'm guessing that'd be ... two for each Clan, and three for the Imperials. That's already seventeen out of twenty slots. Leaving three neutral cards. But there are fourteen cards that they've already "spoiled." Two from each Clan. And half of those are going to be banned cards in organized play before they are even released.

Realistically, I think that they should have pushed the price point by $5 to be able to include enough cards that buyers would have a playable tournament-legal deck. And a full rulebook (more on this in a moment). This would not necessarily be a good deck or a competitive deck, mind you. But still a playable tournament-legal deck.  The other option would be different packaging - a base set that is 100% neutral, sold alongside clan-specific boosters. Or two-clan starters that - again - are playable right out of the box. Or do what FRPG and AEG did with the collectible game and release clan-specific starters that are playable as soon as you open them.

Why does "tournament-legal" matter?  Because even casual players tend to build to tournament-legal standards. When I still played Magic: the Gathering, we built tournament-legal decks for casual play. In fact, I've never played a deck for any game that wasn't tournament-legal, unless it was solely for teaching the game. Because almost every casual player wants to be a tournament player, even if they never sign up for a single event.

Remember when I said I'd get back to the rules?  There's a notable issue with the rulebook: It's not in the box. There is a "learn to play" booklet, which will get you up and running, but for complex timing issues (and tournament play), you need to go to their website and download the 30-page rules "reference" that they created and chose not to include in the core box. And that rules reference? It's not printer-friendly and there is no printer-friendly version available.

I know that any rulebook for a card game is going to be art-heavy - and I'm okay with that. But a version without the background would be very welcome, because ink and toner are not cheap.  Not even close.

I have one core set right now. I need to play the demo decks a bit before I make up my mind whether or not it's worth spending a significant amount of money before I can actually play the game with my friends.