Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Battlefront: Choosing Your Target Audience

In Star Wars: Battlefront, you can crouch but you can't go prone. That is pretty emblematic of the whole game.

I play a lot of first-person shooter video games on my consoles. I won't say I've played them all - or even that I've played a significant percentage of them. Because I haven't.  And, like most folks, I have my favorites.

The first game I bought for my PS4 was Battlefield: Hardline. It's a pretty hardcore first-person shooter. Before joining a multiplayer match, players choose their class (from four available) and loadout (players build these themselves by unlocking gear).

Each loadout has one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, two gadgets, and a melee weapon. You can also tweak the clothing and appearance of the character. There are, of course a number of options for each of these categories.

Additionally, the weapons can be customized. Most rifles have a sight that can be added, but the game also allows for barrel modifications, variant grips. and a few other adjustments here and there. And there are a number of options for each category, each of which changes how that weapon functions in the game.

And did I mention that you can customize your loadouts while the game is going on? You need to acquire a certain number of kills with a weapon before unlocking each category of unlockable, and you need a certain number of kills with the "basic" weapon in each category before you can buy other weapons in that category. But if you somehow manage to come up with six billion in-game dollars, there's no reason you can't buy every weapon in the game as soon as you have enough kills.

In other words, there are a ton of options for players to choose from when getting into a multiplayer game.

Additionally, the base game included nine maps (and more have been released, both free and as DLC).

Compare this to Star Wars: Battlefront. You play either as a Stormtrooper or a Rebel. Before launching into a multiplayer map, you choose three "cards" as player options, and which blaster you want to use.  Later on, you unlock the ability to have multiple sets of cards to choose from, but these are all set before the game starts.

You start with just the basic blasters for your faction. As the game goes on, you earn money that you use to buy more cards and blasters - but they are also level-locked.  That is, "You can't buy this gun until you reach level X."

The difference in play between the two games - despite the fact that they run on the same core engine - is stunning. Battlefield is, in a few ways, about as primitive as the original Halo was back on the original XBox.

Even more interesting to me is the fact that Battlefield doesn't have a single-player campaign mode. There are a few training scenarios that help get you familiar with the game modes, but that's really about it.

The core mechanics of both games are very similar in play, because they're built on the same core engine (or so I have been led to understand).  They're certainly from the same publisher.

The primary difference between the games is their target audiences. Battlefield Hardline is aimed at hardcore FPS gamers. It has options piled upon options piled upon options. Star Wars Battlefront is an introductory game.  Players who are good at one will probably be good at the other, but one of the games is more accessible to new players.

Remember a few years ago, when I said it was a good thing I didn't run a publishing house?  That applies here. Battlefront is aimed at the casual FPS player or the Star Wars enthusiast. And they're folks who don't want all of the bells and whistles I was looking for, here.

It also highlighted something to me: Tabletop gaming has a surprisingly high barrier to entry because we're getting used to each other. When teaching a game, I'll often use other games to find common ground. "Have you played Bohnanza? It's like that only without ... "  Or I'll use terminology that might not be as clear to non-gamers as it could be.

Even basic terms can be surprisingly difficult. Ever try to explain trick-taking to someone who's never played a trick-taking game before? Or set-collection? Or worker placement?

I think of these as basic mechanisms. I can think of half a dozen games that use each of these without even breaking a sweat.  I can even thing of a few games that use more than one of them (trick-taking as a set collection tool is not uncommon).

That's something that Days of Wonder has done so very well over the years. Their games - almost without exception - have been excellent gateway games. Memoir '44 is pretty simple. There are a few tricky interactions here and there, but nothing crazy. Once you've mastered the core game, there are a dozen or so expansions, each of which ups the complexity and shifts the focus more to the more hardcore gamers.  Battlelore is like Memoir '44 with all of the complexity dials turned up. Same core engine, completely different in-game feel. Fresh coat of paint.

I have said before that we need entry-level games. Not dumbed-down games, necessarily. But games that experienced gamers can use as stepping stones to more advanced games. And I stand by that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I'm down to backing only one or two Kickstarter projects at a time.  It's a weird feeling, but a good one.  And it means I can be really picky about what I choose to back.

A few years ago, a friend of mine showed me his prototype card-placement game. It was a ton of fun, and showed potential.  We played it off-and-on for a while.  Every few months, I'd see him again with the latest revision.

At one point, the game went to Gathering of Friends with a friend of mine, but unfortunately no publisher bit.

And now it's on Kickstarter.

ManaSurge is a fun game, and they seem to be doing it the right way on Kickstarter.  By the time you see this, they'll have about four days to go, and I sincerely hope it's funded.

So what do I mean by "the right way" here?

1) The game's content is done. The rules are done. The card list is complete.  The only thing not finished is the art on cards that backers can pay to appear on. In fact, it's done enough that a number of reviewers have been able to post reviews that are quoted and/or linked to from the project page.

2) Reasonable stretch goals. I've seen way too many good projects sunk by crazy-expensive stretch goals that weren't budgeted for correctly. The first few stretch goals are single cards.  At goal-and-a-half or so, the game grows by roughly 15%.

3) Freight is accounted-for.  I don't know for sure if their numbers are accurate, but the numbers for shipping seem reasonable.

4) Sane backer levels. There aren't a ton of bizarre add-ons, here.  The backer levels are basically Game, Game + Mini-Expansion, 2 Copies of Game, 2 Copies of Game + Mini-Expansion, and so on. There are no t-shirts, bottle openers, can insulators, and the like.

As to the game itself: It's fun. It's not a completely-random smurf-up, either. Yes, there is a random element. Yes, there are times when the best option is clear. But over the years of playing, I've noticed that Frank wins a lot more often than he loses, and he's not a cheater. He just knows the game better than you do.

So I urge you to check it out. Back it if it looks like it's your bag. Pass the link along to someone else if it isn't your bag but you know someone else who might dig it.

So how do you learn if it's your bag?

The rules are already online. They're in the files section of the game's BoardGameGeek Page.

Do your homework, Check it out.  I hope you choose (like I did) to back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Holiday Season

Some of you may have noticed that there wasn't a post waiting for you when you got up this morning. And that's right - there wasn't.  I have a couple of half-written posts in need of editing, but I wasn't willing to let any of them loose, yet, and I didn't have as much time as I wanted because I got caught.

By "got caught," I mean, "became involved with a writing project." And it's ... interesting to me, the differences between writing for games and writing "normal" fiction.

When I'm working on an adventure for my L5R group, for example, as the GM, I'm only telling part of the story. Sure, I have an arc in mind. Yes, there are ways I want the story to go, but it's not up to me. Players have this magical ability to make things go off the rails in unexpected directions, but the story I'm telling rapidly becomes the story we are telling. Because players are notorious for changing the plot.  So having complete control over both the protagonists and the antagonists is ... weird.

So I'm going to try to stay caught up both here and on my project. And on the revision work I have for a handful of games that always seem to trickle through post-Essen.

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. That would be ... ugh. That would be the kind of pressure I don't handle well. But it is a good reminder to keep working on sharpening my skill.

If and when I'm done, I may share a few samples here.

Everyone's writing process is unique to that person.  My wife, for example, closes herself in the bedroom, throws some Top Chef on the TV, and just writes. It seems to flow easily and painlessly for her, and I try to just stay out of her way.

Me, I have to know my characters before I start.  I'll generally stat the main characters up as GURPS characters before I get too far in. For minor characters, I'll use Short Order Heroes. Because all I need from them is a sketch.

I've been using GURPS 3e for years for this. It's not a game I like as a game, but its benchmarks are good and detailed. I should probably upgrade to 4e, but some of the books I consider key are oddly OOP. Like GURPS Magic. Seriously. That price is crazy.

Or I could just by it in PDF, but that's still pretty high for a PDF. Higher than I want to pay, at any rate. But that's ... changing.  I should write about PDF pricing sometime.

At any rate: This next couple of months may be a bit spotty, here.  I've got posts on tap and partially written and the like. I just need to finish them and schedule them and get them posted.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


A few years ago, a gentleman who was a district manager for a local chain of game stores told me that he'd brought Dixit in entirely on my say-so.  "It doesn't seem," he'd said, "the sort of game someone like you would usually enjoy.  So I knew it'd have broader appeal than its rules indicated."

While his gamble did well for him, he'd missed something key about me:

I'm a sucker for a game with an interesting communication mechanism.  Dixit is all about communicating exactly the right amount. Too much information, and no-one will guess wrong. Too little information, and maybe someone else will snag those points.

Concept is another communication-focused game that I just absolutely love to play, because it's a game that is about communication, and learning how the other players think is the key to victory.

Every year at GenCon, there are stampedes as crowds rush in to get that Hot New Game that is there in Limited Numbers.  It's as regular as clockwork. This year, we were the cause of one of those stampedes.  There were a limited number of copies of Mysterium. The pre-release buzz was pretty hot on the game, so when the doors opened, we saw this:

Every morning we saw that. We had 50 copies per day (except for Sunday), and the line was crazy. I'm glad I was in the demo part of the booth and not the sales portion, because a lot of people didn't get the game they had rushed to get.  The first day, the line wrapped around the back of the sale booth and back towards the demo area in less than two minutes.

I was curious about the game, having worked on quite a bit of marketing material, and I probably could have laid claim to one of the copies in the booth, but I chose to wait.

My copy arrived a few weeks ago, and it hit the table on the Wednesday after it arrived (the Wednesday before Halloween, appropriately enough). And I really like this one.

The most common comparison I've seen for the game is "It's Dixit crossed with Clue."  And that's ... that's pretty accurate.  Only there's more to it than that.  For starters, it's a cooperative game. Everyone wins or lose together.

The goal of Mysterium is for one player to get each other player to pick up on three distinct pieces of information.  That one player is the Ghost, and he communicates with the other players by giving them cards which strongly resemble Dixit cards. The ghost is not permitted to speak through most of the game, and I heard a rumor that some editions were going to include a mask to help the ghost's poker face.

Each other other players is trying to assemble a set of three items - one suspect, one location, and one item.  In that order.

At the start of the game, a number of cards from each category is turned up. The more cards, the higher the difficulty of the game.  Then the ghost has a duplicate set of cards behind the screen that they use to assign one from each category to each player using a screen that they sit behind.  This image on BoardGameGeek shows it off very well (and is set up for a six-player game).

Then the ghost gets a hand of seven cards.  They give one or more to each player, refilling their hand to seven after each gift.  Players will place their markers (crystal balls) on the suspect that they think that the ghost's clue is pointing towards.  And the non-ghost players (called "mediums" in this game) are allowed to (and encouraged to) communicate with one another.

Once all of the players have decided, they also have markers where they can indicate agreement or disagreement with other players' decisions. These tokens matter during the last phase of a game.

And then the ghost goes medium by medium and tells them "yes" or "no."  If it's a "yes," then the player advances to the next category.  If it's a "no," then they'll get to try again next turn.

But time ticks away.  The game only lasts for seven turns. If all of the mediums haven't assembled all of their sets by the end of that time, the game ends and everyone loses.  If they have, then players go to a final phase.

The ghost lays out each set for the players to see, and then looks at the cards they have in hand. The ghost is allowed three cards, one must point to the suspect, one to the location, and one to the weapon. Looking at the cards they have in hand, the ghost chooses one of the sets to be the actual culprit/location/item.

This is where the tokens for agreement and disagreement come into play.  The more correct tokens a player has played, the further they will have moved along a clairvoyance track. Also, mediums who assemble their full set early gain bonus points based on the number of turns remaining.

The ghost shuffles the three cards they have chosen, and flips the first one face-up.  Depending on how far they are along the clairvoyance track, some players are required to vote immediately for which set they feel is correct.  Then the ghost flips the second card up. Again, some mediums are required to vote.  Finally, the ghost flips the third card up. Any mediums who hadn't previously voted do so at this point.  At this point, it's a simple majority vote. The set which received the most votes from the Mediums is declared, and the ghost reveals whether the mediums are correct or not.  If they are, everyone wins.  If not, everyone loses.

The game has a couple of difficulty levels, which are adjusted in a couple of ways.  The first way to adjust difficulty is to increase the number of cards face-up in each category. If there are six players, having eight or nine or ten suspects can radically alter how difficult the job is for all involved.  The second adjustment to the difficult is that the ghost can limit the number of times they can discard their hand and re-draw a fresh hand of cards, because they may not have any good cards.

A lot of people on BoardGameGeek have suggested that you can play the game with Dixit cards instead of just the included cards. This will work, but you'd need to curate the batch of cards you're using to maintain the feel of the included cards. The art in both games is phenomenal, but Dixit cards have an optimism and brightness that is (deliberately) lacking in the Mysterium deck. The Mysterium cards are all gloomy and ominous, even when the color palette is a bit brighter.

All in all, I suspect that this game will see a lot of play on Wednesdays, as the group seemed as enthusiastic as I was when we played.

Update: This is apparently /r/boardgames' Game of the Week over on Reddit. A pure coincidence of timing, I assure you.