Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Probable Posting Delays

I arrived home the other day to find that my laptop was dead. It's still under warranty, so it's being repaired, but it means I have less time in which to write for this blog.

It may not impact my posting, but it may cause delays or even missed weeks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gaming With Non-Gamers

A year and change ago, My 13th Age GM's wife joined us "for one session" as a birthday gift for our GM. She's a non-gamer, you see.

But she showed up for the next session.  And the session after that. In fact, she's become a regular member of the party. It's been really good having her in the group.

She's brought an energy to the table that I hadn't realized was lacking. An energy I haven't seen in a while.

An energy I wish I still had, actually.

Last session, we were stuck.  We could sacrifice a party member to achieve our goal, but that was something that most of the party wasn't especially willing to do.

The goal was (essentially) healing the forest. And her character was a ranger with a healing spell that she could cast as a ritual.  "Can I cast the spell to heal the forest?"

Cue GM blinking.

But it was a good idea.  One that none of the rest of us had even come close to thinking of.

The GM took a few seconds and laid out some conditions for us that made sense. Essentially, the party was not allowed to take any aggressive action for the amount of time it took her to cast the spell.

It worked.

Over the years, I haven't been able to game with non-gamers nearly as often as I would like. Because I love the ideas they have. I love the excitement they bring to the table. And I love their problem-solving.  When you don't know the rules, you don't know what limits they have.

Using a healing spell to heal a forest glade? Brilliant. None of the experienced gamers at the table thought of it. And, when she asked if it was possible, I know the skeptical look was on my face, and I saw it on at least one other face at the table.

GMs for new players have a few challenges that co-players don't have, too.  A GM needs to be rules-familiar enough to teach the new player what they're doing, but the GM also needs to be able to encourage creativity within the rules.

Tons of GM advice books encourage the GM to say "Yes," to players. That doesn't mean "break the rules."  It means "If the rules don't cover it, figure out how to make it work. Especially if it's cool."  If you screw a rule up, fix it between games.

Oddly, this doesn't just apply to a brand new gamer. It also applies to people learning a new system. In the L5R game I'm running, none of the players are hugely familar with the system. Three of them played an earlier edition, the rest are new. And we've had a few rules hiccups - I let a player use an inappropriate skill at one point, for example. The fact that skills can sometimes be used with different attributes is still throwing them a bit, too. But we're getting there.

Hell, I still struggle with the binary nature of the system - you succeed or your fail most of the rolls. There's no "margin of success" in the game. If you want greater effect from your roll, then you have to call a Raise before you make the roll. And that's tough even for us experienced guys.

But it does keep me looking forward to the next session.  And makes me think that I need to come up with something fun so that my GMs look forward to our next sessions more than they already do.

Oh - and Steph and I have started our annual Christmas Scheming.

Tonight is the Game Night Anniversary Potluck.  We'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Game Night Anniversaries

On September 17, 2002, I had a couple of friends over to play this game I'd just acquired. Settlers of Catan.

We played three games that night. Andrew won the first one, I won the second one, and Andrew won the third one.

At the end of the evening, we all looked around, and said, "That was fun.  Can we do it again next week?"

Well the 25th didn't work, but the 26th did. So the second Game Night that I hosted was held on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday.

And so was the third. And the fourth. And the fifth.

In fact, for the last 13 years, Game Night has been held on Wednesday almost every week. We've moved it for Christmas and New Year's Eve and a few other holidays, but we've been remarkably consistent.

A year or so later, we moved Game Night to Phoenix Games, because we'd more than outgrown my apartment. I don't care how many tables you have, 30 people in a two-bedroom apartment with furniture is going to be a squeeze. And my apartment complex had really bad parking.

And it's been a Phoenix ever since.

I've written in a few places about Game Night and what it's meant to me. Short answer? A lot.

When I stopped keeping track in 2005 or so, more than 300 different people had attended and more than 150 unique games had been played. Those numbers are much, much higher now.

In the last 13 years, the group has seen at least four weddings of group members: Steph and myself, Jim & Dawn, Derek & Serena (who met at game night), and John & Katie (who met in person at game night). And there are probably a few other weddings that I'm forgetting, because I do that. Several of the regulars have had kids. Too many have moved away.

We've grown and shrunk and grown again several times. For a bit, there was a Meetup for the group. It caused a surprising amount of growth.

On September 23rd, we'll be having our annual celebratory potluck, kicking off around five and running until ten or so.

If you've never attended before but are thinking about it, this is a great opportunity to get to know us. If you've been before but have stopped coming, this is a great chance to get re-acquainted with us (we've missed you).

Phoenix Games has recently moved to a new location. Their new address is:

Phoenix Games
9700 Harbour Place, #218
Mukilteo, WA  98275

We'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Hugos

Wow, but these were a heaping load of controversy this year, weren't they?

Wired had one of the better-balanced articles I've read about the whole situation here.

A bit of background on my voting: I read as much of these as I could stomach. I am a subscriber to both Asimov's and Analog, so I read a fair number of Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories every year.

And, to my regret, I didn't get involved in the nomination process this year. That will change next year.

It's worth noting: You can look at how the votes (and nominations) broke down here (PDF link).

I thought I'd share how I voted, on the off chance anyone cares.

Best Novel
1) Ancillary Sword
2) The Goblin Emperor
3) The Three Body Problem
4) Skin Game
5) No Award
6) Dark Between The Stars

I really like Ancillary Sword. And the preceding book. I've pre-ordered the third book and fully expect to be nominating it for next year's Hugos. Unless it's a huge let-down.

I got through The Goblin Emperor.  There were long stretches of what felt like infodump that annoyed me, but not enough that I didn't find it worth reading.

The Three Body Problem was this year's winner. It was good, but slow. The author wasn't comfortable writing actions scenes, and it showed.

Skin Game is book 600 in the Dresden Files series.  Butcher is a solid writer (and is improving with every book), but I've stopped reading the series because of the Invulnerable Protagonist issue. It's the same reason I gave up on the Honor Harrington books.  And yes, I know.

I couldn't get through Dark Between the Stars. Which is odd, because normally I enjoy Kevin J. Anderson's writing.  I think this review nailed part of it:
Because the book had so many different plot threads and so many different narrators, I felt as though none of the characters reached their full potential. Every time I found myself getting interested in an individual’s narrative arc, I’d be swept away from them to spend half a dozen chapters on other plotlines I wasn’t as invested in.
 Best Novella
1) No Award

Yeah. I read these. I read all of them. And I didn't like a one of them. And it wasn't just as "It wasn't for me," situation. I actively disliked every one of these.

Best Novelette
1) No Award

Interestingly, I think "The Day The World Turned Upside Down" is the only non-Puppy book I voted below No Award. Because, much like the Best Novella category above, I hated these. I hated every one of these.

Best Short Story
1) No Award

See comments for the preceding two categories.  Bleah.  To be fair, there weren't any Short Stories that I read this year that made me really sit up and take notice.

Best Related Work
No Award

I did my damnedest to read these. I really did. I almost voted for Hot Equations because I've dealt with the author separately from the Hugos and he's a good guy. Not the sort to voluntarily and knowingly throw his lot in with a group trying to game a system for no clear personal gain. But I realized that this was not a good reason to vote for someone.

And I couldn't read most of these.  They were either terrible or impenetrable.

Best Graphic Story
1) Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery
2) Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
3) No Award

Of the other three candidates, here, I found Saga ... okay.  Mediocre at best. Definitely not award-worthy.  I actively disliked Sex Criminals and The Zombie Nation.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
1) Captain America: the Winter Soldier
2) Edge of Tomorrow
3) The Lego Movie
4) Guardians of the Galaxy

I haven't seen Interstellar, so I can't comment on its quality (or lack thereof). This category is the only one where a Puppy nominee won - but the Puppies only had about 200 nominators. Guardians had 769 nominations. Even if you remove 200 from its nominations, it still would have been the most-nominated item in the category.  Second place (Interstellar) had 489 nominations.  So the Puppies didn't really have an impact in this category.

All that aside, I didn't really enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the rest of you seem to have. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier was fantastic.  Probably the best film I've seen in ... a long while.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
1) Orphan Black: "By Means Which Have Never Been Tried"
2) The Flash: "Pilot"
3) Doctor Who: "Listen"

This is the first year in a very long time that Doctor Who didn't win, and Orphan Black totally deserved it. I've always been a huge fan of the Flash, so when he got another TV series, I geeked out. And I've really loved the series.

Best Editor, Short Form
Did not vote. I'm not qualified to judge good editing vs. bad editing. Unless there are truly egregious errors in a work - but that's more a "worst editor" than a "best editor" thing.

Best Editor, Long Form
See previous category.

Professional Artist
1) Julie Dillon
2) Nick Greenwood
3) No Award

Carter Reid didn't put anything in the Hugo Packet, so I had nothing to judge his work on. I didn't like Kirk DouPonce's or Alan Pollack's art. They were too generic and same/same.

Best Semiprozine
Did not vote.  I didn't read any of them.

Best Fanzine
Did not vote. I didn't read any of them.

Best Fancast
I'm not a podcast listener.  Did not vote.

Best Fan Writer
Did not vote. I didn't read any of them.

Best Fan Artist
1) Elizabeth Leggett
2) No Award

It was almost No Award. I'm just not a fan of cartoony art, and most of this category was cartoony. Elizabeth Leggett's art was ... eh. But my standards are different for Fan Art than they are for Professional Art, so she squeaked by.

John W. Campbell Award
Wesley Chu

He's the only one I read, so he's the one I voted for. Because I really liked his writing. Note that I didn't vote No Award for the others. Not having read them, I can't judge their relative quality.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Ingress Postmortem

So I've written off-and-on about Ingress, a game I was able to get into the beta of a couple of years ago.  It's a game I have now walked away from.

I uninstalled it while in Spokane, and opted out of their data transfer.

Data Transfer?

See, as part of Google's "Alphabet" thing, they cut Niantic Labs loose. So, to keep your Ingress login, you needed to authorize a transfer of your personal data to the "new" Niantic Labs.

See, I know Google. I've been using Google for more than a decade, now.  Google isn't perfect, but I trust Google with a great deal of my personal information.

But small companies have this unfortunate habit of not surviving, and personal information entrusted to a business that doesn't survive is (often) up for grabs.

The fact that I was increasingly disillusioned with the game didn't hurt.  It was never a very good game. It was just something I could do when I was somewhere and had nothing to do. But I found myself growing frustrated.

A new player - to get anywhere in the game - needs to hook up with (ideally) a group of more experienced players. Because otherwise they will never get anywhere.

The game revolves around going to point of interest (called "portals" in the game) and claiming them for your side with Resonators. Or blowing up your opponents' resonators with XMP Bursters.

Here's the thing, though: Level One gear is basically useless against higher-level gear.  And new players right now are going to have a difficult time finding unclaimed portals.  So they can't (effectively) blow up opposing gear. And, unless opposing gear is blown up, they can't place resonators.

This means that Level One players have two ways to gain experience and level up:

1) Recharge friendly Resonators (which decay over time unless recharged).
2) Hack opposing portals.
3) Link friendly portals and create fields.

Recharging costs you personal energy, but gains you 10 AP per recharge. And it's boring.
Hacking opposing portals gains you 100 AP. And gives you gear.

You need 2500 AP to level up to Level 2.

Gear caps at Level 8, so the only benefit to getting to a level higher than that is more personal energy that could be used to recharge things. Players can get to Level 16, now (originally, they were also capped at Level 8).

Oh - and you can only hack opposing portals once every five minutes, and a maximum of four times per day (by default - there are ways to speed this up).

Linking portals to create fields is nice, but higher-level players tend to use up all of the available links on a portal. And you can't create a link through another link, so it's possible to be cut off with no possible links.

In theory, Level One players can also deploy portal mods to gain XP, but I so rarely saw portals with open slots because  higher-level players often took steps to protect their portals. Not only that, but at least one portal mod is pointless in urban areas, which is where most of the portals are.

XMPs are pointless until you are Level 4 or 5. Even then, you need to look for an already-weakened portal (or travel in a pack with a bunch of higher-level players) to take out any opposing resonators.

In other words: To get anywhere, you need to get together with higher-level players.

If I'm getting together with friends, walking around with my phone clicking on local points of interest is very low on my list of things to do. I'd much rather ... um ... talk to them. And it's hard to chat when your eyes are on your phone and you're trying not to walk into things (and people).

As an introvert, this very much was not a game for me.

There's not really a skill component, so the only way to get "good" (meaning "high level" in this case) is to grind. And the best way to grind is to live in an urban area with a lot of portals and then get together with people to walk around while staring at your phone.

I was Level 10. Almost to Level 11.  Out of 16. Most of my play was done while sitting in a parking lot waiting for my wife.

I realized that I could just spend that time reading a book. It'd be less-frustrating and more fulfilling.

So I quit. I uninstalled the game, I deleted my account, and I walked away.

There are people who like this game. There are people who will see leveling up as a challenge and something fun to do.

I'm just not one of them.