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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another Kickstarter To Check Out

I don't know if you guys know this already or not, but I actually really like Dungeon Crawl Classics. In theory. I've not gotten it to the table, yet.

It's designed to be a game with an old school feel. A high degree of lethality is built into its core assumptions, and the "character funnel" where players start with half a dozen farmers and townsfolk who die off like crazy until someone gains a level and becomes the full-fledged PC is completely unique.

One thing that DCC did to keep that feeling of newness was to reject the (by now) standard sets of dice. Instead, the system uses a different collection that includes the d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30. It hearkens back to when anything other than a d6 was new and weird.

Most of the DCC dice I've seen were made by Impact! Miniatures. They're good people who do good work, and they're always trying to push the envelope when it comes to dice designs.

The Impact! team have a new Kickstarter project to launch four new types of dice - a d17, d19, d26, and d28. These guys have created a number of projects, some of which I've backed, and they've always delivered (and on time, too).

Even if you're not interested in the new dice, you can use this project to get sets of DCC dice for less than you can find them elsewhere. And they're good dice, too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Modern Art

I firmly believe that every single human being on the planet is very good at at least one game. Whether or not they are interested in that game or - honestly - ever even encounter that game is another question entirely.

For me, that game is Modern Art. The game's been through a couple of publishers - it was originally published in German by Hans im Gl├╝ck in 1992. Mayfair Games published an English-language version in 1996, and again in 2004. And this year, CMON tossed their hat into the ring. In between, it's been published in several languages by a bunch of different publishers.

Many (most, even) of these publishers have used new art.

Modern Art is a Knizia game. This means that it's mathematically sound. A lot of people dislike Knizia because his games often almost play themselves. This does not. This is an auction game, so players need to interact with each other, and that interaction can be unpredictable.

I first encountered this game in about 2001, when I was starting to spin away from RPGs and into board games again, and I'm very glad I did. This was one of those rare games that instantly clicked for me. Everything made sense.

Rules-wise, it's pretty simple. There are a handful of artists whose works are being auctioned off. Players are museum buyers whose goal is to make the most money by selling their works while simultaneously buying other works.

Each card represents one work from a specific artist, and each indicates what type of auction will be held for that piece. There are five types of auctions - free-for-all, once around, fixed price, closed fist, and companion pieces. The actual names vary depending on the edition and translation of the game. A free-for-all is a traditional auction with players bidding against one another.  Once around means that each player bids (or passes) once (and only once) in turn. A fixed price auction is really just a sale. In a closed fist auction, each player secretly bids by hiding money in their hand with a simultaneous reveal. Companion pieces aren't sold on their own - if you play one, you'll generally want to play it with a second piece from the same artist.  That second piece determines what type of auction it will be.

Companion pieces, by the way, are the one rule that I can find that's changed over the various editions.  If Player A plays a companion piece and can't (or chooses not to) play a second, then the next player clockwise can play the second piece from that artist. In the original German, the second player gets all the money from that auction. In the first Mayfair edition, the two players split the money from that auction (I don't know if it was changed for the second Mayfair edition).  In the new CMON edition, it's back to the original German rule.

The round ends as soon as a fifth card from any artist hits the table, and then players determine what each artist's paintings are worth. At the end of the round, all art purchased that round is sold to the bank. Only the three artists who sold the most works are worth points. The other artwork is worth $0. So bid wisely.

Artists who sell more works are worth more money at the end of the round. Artists who are in the top three for multiple rounds get to stack that value, so the best-selling artist in round one will always be worth more money if they're a best-seller in later rounds.

There are four rounds. After the fourth round, players total their money and the player with the most wins.

It's an interesting game - you want to sell art for as much money as possible. So you want people to think that the art you are selling will be the most popular art in the round. At the same time, you want to buy art as cheaply as possible - and you want the art that you buy to be the most popular art of the round. It means that you want to buy art for artists that you have cards for in hand, so that you can increase the value of what you've bought. But you also really want to sell art that will be worthless at the end of the round, because that's money in your pocket that your opponents aren't getting back.

It's a tricky game with a great deal of player interaction and not a lot of downtime. It's smart, it's fairly quick-playing, and it's just plain awesome. I heartily recommend this one.

As an added bonus, I'm really really good at it. I won't claim to be undefeated, but I'm close. This is the one game in my collection that people who game often with me will refuse to play because I win so consistently.

Have I mentioned, lately, that CMON is killing it with their game releases lately? Because they are. I haven't seen a dud from them in a while, now. Fantastic job, guys. Keep that up.