Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Star Trek Adventures Again!

I've now had a chance to play Star Trek Adventures, and I am pleased to report that my fears (what few they were) were (mostly) groundless.

The game isn't perfect, don't get me wrong, but it flowed reasonably well and it felt like Star Trek.  That second one is the more important qualifier for me.

Here's where I nitpick the game, though:

  1. The game mentions Communication Officers, but it's not clear which Attribute or Discipline is used for communicating (or languages).  The "Learn a new language" that's in the career events table uses Command, which makes sense, but Communications Officers are Ops Officers. Ops is Security and Engineering, neither of which is a perfect fit for Communications. Especially if they use Command. As to Attribute, I'm likely to go with Insight for learning from scratch and Reason for remembering a language you used to speak.
  2. The adventure that is included in the book starts with a roll that has no consequences for failure. If it were a Difficulty 0 roll, that'd make sense, but it's Difficulty 2. I patched this by deciding that a successful roll would put the party closer to their objective (giving them more time in the timed parts of the adventure and cutting out one or more of the combat bits, as appropriate). I understand that it's (realistically) probably there so that players have a shot at picking up some Momentum early, but that's not explained.
  3. I raised the question on the forums of "Why Bajorans?" - the game doesn't support Bajoran characters very well. There aren't any good Upbringing options for them, and Bajor isn't a part of the Federation. The answer I got ("We know a lot about Bajorans and they're an interesting and popular part of the setting") made sense, but what didn't make sense is why there aren't Lifepath options tailored to them.
  4. A few things are trickier than they appear in character generation. For example, each Species in the game has one or more Talents that are only available to members of that Species. Several of my players took all of those Talents, not realizing that they're optional (except for Betazoids). And then they tried to take additional Talents at each step in the lifepath that grants them. In reality, being a member of one of these species just adds that Talent to the list you can choose from. Also, there's one part of Finishing Touches that caught most of us. There's a paragraph at the end of the section on Attributes that tells players to spend two more points on Attributes. There's a similar paragraph for Disciplines.
Again, though, it was fun. We had a good group of enthusiastic players. I didn't give some players enough of a chance to shine, and I also should have had them introduce their characters before we started, but that's on me. The next session will be better.

And the adventure, despite a few oddities, felt like Star Trek. And did a decent job of hand-holding people through the system's basics.

After the game finished for the night, I dug out my Mutant Chronicles book to compare, and ... it's like a completely different system. STA has six Attributes, MC has eight. MC has a fairly deep skill list, and each skill has multiple abilities that are connected to it. STA adds Values to the game, which help define the character as more than what's on the sheet. MC tracks encumbrance and carrying capacity and ... it's like comparing a bulldozer to a steamroller. Sure, they're both things you use when building a road, but they do different things and can't be realistically compared to one another in any meaningful way.

Then I dug out my copy of the new 2d20 Conan game, and it was different from either of the other two. Closer to Mutant Chronicles, yes, but still different (and not cross-compatible).

The lack of cross-compatibility is a little bit annoying, to be honest. I was hoping to use MC monsters or Conan spells to represent various species and powers and abilities in STA. I still can, it'll just take some work.

All in all, this is definitely a line I will be supporting (with the exception of the books that Skarka has worked on), and I'm very much looking forward to playing more.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back To The Table Again

I am of the opinion that that you should not let games in your collection stagnate.  Go back and dig out some of those games that haven't seen the table in a while and see if they've held up.

Last weekend, I had a chance to do exactly that. I dug out Pix. And I'm glad I did.

Pix was part of a rush of "drawing games for people who can't draw" that hit a few years back. It was a good time, honestly, because I can't draw.  Pix also hit when 8-bit nostalgia was peaking.

Pix is a bit overproduced. Players are each given a magnetic board, twenty black magnets, one red magnet, and a small red carat/arrow magnet. The magnetic boards are color-coded, because two players will be interpreting each word.  And everybody "draws" simultaneously.


So in a six-player game, there are three words that need guessing.

You "draw" by placing the magnets (called "pixels") onto the grid on your magnetic board.  Once someone finishes their drawing, they call, "PIXEL!" and flip a timer.  Everyone else has until time runs out to finish their drawing.

Then you start with the player who flipped the timer. They and their color-matched opponent (who drew the same word) compare pixel counts. Each black pixel is one pixel, the red pixel is four pixels. The arrow is worth two pixels (and doesn't have to be on the grid).  Lowest total goes first - they flip their board (and the timer) while the other players try to guess the word.

If they succeed, the artist and the person who guessed correctly each get a point.  If they don't, the other player with the same word flips their art (and the timer) and people get to keep guessing.  If someone guesses it on the second piece of art, then both artists (and the correct guesser) gets a point.  If they still can't figure it out, the card has a one-word hint that can be given. At this point, only a correct guesser will score points.

You then proceed to the next word, and the next, and the next.  And then you'll deal out a new card to each set of players to draw.

The game plays for three rounds. Most points at the end of three rounds wins the game.

It's a unique experience. I don't have any games that are similar (Lego Creationary is the closest I can think of). And it's just ... fun.

The game isn't flawless, however. The word list has a few words that are crazy.  Like "Chalet." I'd never guess that word. Not in a million years. I'm sure it's more commonly used in Europe than it is in the US, but ... wow.

It's also worth noting for Americans that the game is European (Swiss), so the clue for the word "Goalkeeper" is "Football," for example. Whereas we'd call it "Soccer." There are a few other similar "gotcha" words hidden here-and-there throughout. This isn't a problem, it's just something that players should be aware of. When we played last weekend, I didn't read the clue as "Football," I read, "Soccer" to the other players.

Word list aside, however, it's worth tracking this one down. It's a fun game and it plays fairly quickly - and it supports up to nine (!) players.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Feet To The Fire

I try to use this blog to write about things I love. Highlight the good in our little community of gamers. Show off awesome games and say great things about good people.  But I can't do that this week.

A couple of weeks ago, we passed the sixth anniversary of the funding Far West on Kickstarter.

For those of you who aren't aware, Far West has become the poster child for poorly-run Kickstarter projects. Six years, no game. And the author/designer/publisher has given more than a few release dates, all of which have (obviously) been broken.

So I tweeted about it on the anniversary, which led to this conversation:

I took this screencap from Tenkar's Tavern. I couldn't grab it on my own, because Skarka blocked me on Twitter. Which is fine - that's his right. His Twitter, he decides what appears in his feed and what notifications he receives. If I cared enough to check, I could open Incognito Mode or Private Browsing or whatever and read his tweets that way.  But - honestly - the only thing I care about from Skarka right now is Far West. And, even that, I don't care about that much.

Here's the thing, though: Far West isn't my most-delayed or latest Kickstarter project.  That honor goes to Powerchords. But I'm not holding Phil Brucato's feet to the fire the same way I am Skarka for a few key reasons:

  1. Brucato has never failed to treat his backers with respect. I'm sure he's had bad days, and I've a hunch he's bitched about us from time-to-time in private or to friends. And that's fine. But it's never spilled over into his comments or updates.
  2. If you ping Brucato by e-mail, he responds with an update (by e-mail). Yes, he needs to update the Kickstarter, but the fact that he is willing to fill us in is significant.
  3. If I were to ask Brucato for a refund, I would get it. I asked Skarka for a refund, and was turned down. I ended up going to my local attorney general, and managed to get a partial refund. 

Far West isn't the only project that has been delayed by its creator's illness, either. Lee Garvin, author of Tales from the Floating Vagabond spent some time in a coma. But he's kept his backers more-or-less updated and has kept his spirits up. And he's treated his backers with respect.

What baffles me is how many people in the gaming industry are being apologists for Skarka. Sean Patrick Fannon, for example, responded to my anniversary tweet with this:

So I guess I won't be buying Savage RIFTS after all. In fact, I'm a lot less likely to buy any Savage Worlds product because of this kind of attitude. See, I believe in getting what I've paid for. It's a quirk, I guess.

Skarka will argue until the cows come home that we "backed a process, not a product." And he'll highlight that Kickstarter T&C have changed. And they have. They're less restrictive than they were. They used to required the project creator to complete their project and ship the promised goods. Now they only require that the project creator do their best and issue refunds if they can't complete the project.

Their guidelines that were live during the project included this paragraph:
All projects must offer rewards. Kickstarter is not a general fundraising site, it’s a form of commerce and patronage. If you’re not viewing rewards as core to your project, Kickstarter may not be for you. Please note that raffles, discounts, coupons, financial returns, and investment offers are prohibited.
That's right: According to Kickstarter themselves, this is a form of commerce and patronage. Commerce and patronage. Commerce, of course, is "the exchange of currency, goods, and/or services for other currency, goods, and/or services." Other definitions suggest that it's "the activity of buying and selling." At present, Skarka's backers have given him currency and have received scorn, excuses, and arguments. And, of late, silence.
At the time, their FAQ also included this:

Who is responsible for making sure project creators deliver what they promise?
Every creator is responsible for fulfilling the promises of their project. Because projects are primarily funded by the friends, fans, and communities around its creator, there are powerful social forces that keep creators accountable. Creators are also encouraged to post regular updates about the progress of their project post-funding — communication goes a long way.

"Powerful social forces" would suggest that Kickstarter believes that a project creator's peers would hold them accountable. But they're not.

Last week, I wrote about Star Trek Adventures and how excited I am for the game in general (and the one I'm running in specific).  I almost didn't buy in at all, because Modiphius has hired Skarka to work on the line.  As it is, I won't be buying any of the products that Skarka worked on, because I vote with my wallet. Skarka will not be receiving a nickel from me (even indirectly) until Far West is released. This makes him unique on my personal boycott list for a couple of reasons:

  1. He's the only individual on the list. Ever. I won't buy Palladium Books product, but I won't single out any PB employees or freelancers and refuse to buy their work from other publishers. Update: my good friend James reminded me of a couple of individuals who are on the list that is forgotten about, so disregard this point.
  2. It's the only item on my list with a set end condition. Most of the companies on the list are there until they "change their anti-fan behavior," which is vague and subjective. "Until Far West is released" is oddly specific.

Modiphius has stated publicly that they'll make it known which products he worked on, so I don't have to worry about buying a book and then finding out later that he'd worked on it, which is a relief.

Had he treated his backers with respect or even given me a full refund when I requested it, I wouldn't be carrying this grudge now. I was a $75 backer. now I'm a $10 backer - but it's past the point of money for me. Now it's principle.

I backed Far West because I was a fan of Skarka's work. Hong Kong Action Theatre! had some very interesting ideas about the intersection of character and role. UnderWorld was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. It was urban fantasy before urban fantasy was as explosively popular as it is now. But after this fiasco, I will never buy Adamant Entertainment product again. Or the product of any future publishing companies that Skarka creates when Adamant eventually fails.

I'm only one person. I only have one wallet. And there's not a large crowd reading this - I have no illusions. I'm a small blog in a small corner of the internet. Honestly, my personal boycott is not likely to be noticed by Modiphius or Evil Hat or Cubicle 7. Well, noticed in their bottom line - it was (partially because of) my posting on Twitter that got Modiphius to disclose which products Skarka worked on.