dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
I backed Kingdom Death: Monster for a hefty sum a while back, and mostly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when an enormous package showed up for me. Then I let it sit on the floor next to our wall of RPGs because it's full of unassembled models and tokens and cards and all kinds of fiddly bits and a 232-page rulebook (though around ~30 pages of that are a comic at the end). But today, after I noticed that there was an introductory scenario you're supposed to play before the complicated parts of the game, like settlement founding and research and so on, all kick in, [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou and I settled down to try it out. Just the two of us (each controlling two survivors for the recommended four good guys) against a white lion.

It seems a lot more complicated than it is. Nearly everything is all written out on the cards and tokens and record sheets and so on, and it just took a bit of work familiarizing ourself with the basic process. Survivors move and attack (not necessarily in that order) and can spend Survival to perform feats, limited to dodging in the beginning. The white lion has a deck of cards to determine what it does, so it's just draw one and follow the instructions. Attacks are broken down into Speed (how many dice you roll), Accuracy (what number you need to hit), and Damage (self-explanatory). There are wound location dice for survivors and a wound location deck for the monsters. Survivors have to check against the monster's Toughness to see if they wound it and monsters don't, but survivors can wear armor to provide extra HP. By halfway through the battle, we didn't really need to check the rulebook anymore and could just go off the cards.

The lion hit on 2+ and the survivors hit on 7+, which seems unfair but it is four against one. The very first attack I rolled was a critical hit (10 on the Wound roll) and I chopped off the lion's hand, and things seemed to be going pretty well until [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou failed on an attempt to wound the lion, triggering another action from it that turned out to be a lunge that swept one of the survivors off his feet and placed him at the lion's mercy.


The models aren't assembled yet, so I improvised.

Fortunately, the hit location dice kept turning up different locations, so while the survivor there kept getting mauled he never actually suffered any permanent damage and the other survivors scored some good hits on the lion. We also got in a lucky crit on the lion relatively early that reduced its Accuracy by one, and that turned at least three hits into misses. This seems like a game where overconfidence will get you killed very, very quickly, and it's possible that we just got lucky on the beginning scenario. I guess we'll find out once we start up the long game.

There's a lot more that we didn't deal with, even in combat. The basic gameplay loop is like Monster Hunter and involves tracking down giant monsters and killing them for their body parts that you use to make gear to fight tougher monsters to make better gear, and so on, until you beat The Watcher and win. Or until all your survivors die and your settlement drowns in blood. Whichever happens first.  photo darksouls.001.gif


When we won, we got Sinew x 2, Shimmering Mane, and Lion Testes from the lion's corpse. I did not check to see what I could make with them.

ACEN 2015!

May. 18th, 2015 06:18 pm
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
I mentioned before that I was a bit worried about going to ACEN this year. Last year had been a bit disappointing, and I was worried that this year was going to be a waste of time and money. It turned out to be a completely unfounded fear, and I had a blast. Read on for a recounting of our time at the con in nauseating detail.

Read more... )
dorchadas: (Death Goth)
Obligatory SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK (etc).

When I heard that Games Workshop were releasing a new version of Space Hulk, I was pretty excited. I had read about the first edition in Dragon Magazine, read about the PC version in PC Gamer, and heard their praises sung in pretty much every corner of nerddom, but I never got the PC game and the board game was basically impossible to find. By the time I heard about the 2009 release, it had already sold out nearly everywhere, and anyway I lived in Japan, so I didn't want to have it shipped to me at enormous expense and then have to ship it back, or have it shipped to my parents' house and make them store it for years until we came out, since they were kindly already storing everything else we had foisted off on them.

When the new board game come out this year, though, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had started her new job and we had an FLGS within walking distance, so when I learned that there was a new version only a couple days after I had come out, I walked over to Dice Dojo after checking their website to make sure they had it in stock. They couldn't find it after tearing the store apart, but they told me they would call me when they found one...and a couple days later, I got a call and picked it up, and a few days after that we settled down to play it.


Setup for the first game. The SPESS MEHRENS are all lined up in their boarding torpedos and the genestealers haven't been placed yet.

That was months ago, but the reason I'm posting now after it's been so long is because I wanted each of us to play each side. The first game I played as the genestealers, and it took a bit before for me to get the hang of using my superior numbers and trying to rush the SPESS MEHRENS to trigger gun jams while they were chilling on overwatch. In the end, I won on the last phase of the last turn, when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd decided to try to move her marines away from me instead of going on overwatch again, and I was able to get close to her and kill the last marine necessary to push into the winning threshold. The second game, I played the marines and it was a genestealer bloodbath, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd turned a win into a tie on the last phase of the last turn by sneaking a genestealer in to one of the rooms through a flamer burst even as I had slaughtered her forces almost to the last xenos scum.  photo emot-argh.gif

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The basic setup is a modular board made of tile pieces, as pictured in the image above. The game comes with a bunch of scenarios (and this edition has three more than the 2009 edition, I think), and you set up the board according to the mission, deploy the appropriate marines--there are various marine models, some with different weapons and some with command rank--and the appropriate number of interchangeable genestealers, and begin the mission. Each mission takes a certain number of turns and each side has to accomplish different objectives. In the first mission, the one we played. The marines win if there are at least eight of them still alive and there are no genestealers in the room tiles (the squares with the colored lighting). The genestealers win if they kill at least six marines. Any other result is a tie.


Man, fuck overwatch
.
Genestealers are faster and more maneuverable, able to turn without spending Action Points and having 6 AP to the marines' 4, but marines have ranged weapons and their player can spend Command Points (drawn from a random pool of one to six each turn) to give them extra AP, including during the genestealers' turn. The marines can also go on overwatch, and since the map we were playing in has a ton of long corridors, in both games overwatch was pretty much the main reason why genestealers died. If the marines roll a double on their attacks--2d6 to hit, 6 kills unless you're continuously firing, in which case 5 or 6 kills on subsequent shots--the gun jams and they either have to spend 1 AP clearing the jam or they lose overwatch, so for the genestealers the game is about approaching from areas the marines aren't covering or feeding themselves into overwatch and hoping that the gun jams.

I don't remember many jams when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was playing the marines, but when I was playing them I had two incredibly inopportune jams, including one on the very last turn which cost me a marine and turned a win into a tie, so they're very important and setting up overlapping fields of fire is necessary...if it's possible. As you can see from that map, most of it was cramped corridors where only one holy warrior of the Imperium/blasphemous enemy of the God-Emperor could pass, so any kind of overwatch was very difficult. A couple of the marines can't use overwatch, either. The marine with the flamer can't go on overwatch, and neither can one of the sergeants, and at one point I almost got screwed until I used some Command Points to shuffle my marines around to get a marine on overwatch in front.

The shot-by-shot mechanics are thus random, but like a roguelike, the strategy comes in the unit placement and making sure that solutions are in place to mitigate the effect of the randomness. Leaving everything down to a single marine, as I did in the room at the top of the V shape, means that a single gun jam can result in disaster, which is exactly what happened to me. With some better planning, I might have been able to have multiple marines covering the entrance and avoided everything hinging on two dice rolls, both of which went against me. Before that, I was doing great.

Admittedly, some of it is because I was trying to complete my turns quickly because the marine turns are timed. There's an hourglass included with the game and it's the genestealer player's job to track how long the marine player takes and call time when the sands run out, but I always had more than enough time. I should have spent a bit more time calculating genestealer movement vs. marine movement and setting my marines up better.


This is me playing the marines. Notice the lack of any genestealers nearby.

And note that all of this is just covering the first scenario. There are a bunch of others, with different mechanics for winning, multi-level maps with ladders between the levels, air ducts that the genestealers can use to get around the ship faster, a psychic Librarian that can accompany the marines, and probably other things I'm forgetting because I haven't actually read the manual in depth. There's a lot packed in there, though I can't say "into a small box" because the box is enormous.

It also plays really quickly, too. A full match is about 45 minutes to an hour, and that probably runs longer than normal because we kept having to stop to check rules like how the chaingun works or the area of effect of a flamer or what happens in close combat on a tie. A big chunk of time was just setting up the board.

Money well spent!
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I'm not going to write a blow-by-blow account of it, but [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b came to visit us this weekend! We went to the Field Museum's biomechanics exhibit, a party a friend had on the beach, the Art Institute of Chicago with the goal of seeking out their arms and armor collection, a bunch of great restaurants, we walked around Andersonville and went to a bunch of shops, and test-drove [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b's Game of Thrones hack of the Guillotine card game, which I think is actually a lot better than the regular Guillotine game and would be amazing if IP issues wouldn't shut it down any attempt to sell it in seconds. There's a lot more card interactions, for one, and ways for the players to affect each other instead of mostly just rearranging the order of the line.

Huh, looking on the Art Institute's website to find the page for the shoji screens that we saw and there's a lot of stuff we missed that I really want to go see. When the Greeks Ruled Egypt? Chicagoisms? I need to see those!

Nothing else at the moment, just a quick entry after a nice weekend. (^_^)v
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
This isn't going to be a very long review, not because I didn't like the game, but just because there isn't much to explain because the game itself is very simply and mostly only a way to provide a framework and end goal to a group storytelling session.

Once Upon a Time has a deck of cards divided into two main types. One are endings, like "And so the king relented and the two were married" or "And so the village was restored to prosperity," and the other are the story elements, like "princess" or "village" or "cursed" or "a spell" or "someone is injured. Gameplay is basically telling a story and trying to steer the narrative so that you can use the cards in your hands until you have only your ending remaining, allowing you to play the ending and win. Complications come in in the form of interrupts, which let you, well, interrupt someone else's story and force them to draw a card, and that if anyone explicitly mentions a story element that you have a card for, you can play your card and seize control of the narrative.

And that's basically it for the structure. Play goes in a circle, with players telling as much of the story as they could and passing when they're running out of steam before they get called to the mat for rambling (and thus having to draw a card). Every game is maybe 5-10 minutes, though I guess it might be different depending on the number of players (we had four). The base set is highly oriented toward generic of Western European fairy tales, with noble princes and princesses, monsters, giants, thieves, treasure, and so on, and would have a hard time being adapted to any other genre. I started the last game and set it in ancient Japan, and while we were able to spin several of the cards to a more appropriate concept--the Fairy card became a fox spirit, for example, and the queen was the local daimyō's wife--if I had tried to anything with the classic Japanese trope of a conflict between one's own personal honor and the duty to one's lord, I'm pretty sure neither the concept cards nor the endings would have accommodated it.

Despite its simplicity and my usual tendency to gravitate towards creaky, baroque rulesets, I really liked Once Upon a Time. Maybe it's also the people I played it with, because much like Cards Against Humanity who wins or who loses isn't really important to the game at all, except that since only one person can play an ending card, it makes sense to call them the "winner" and it provides a reason to interrupt each other all the time and try to get your cards out of your hand. The fun comes out in watching people come up with all kinds of bizarre twists to try to spin the story toward their ending.

There was one major problem I noticed--much like a sandbox RPG, a lot of stuff gets tossed out and not followed up on. For example, during the Japanese fairy tale I mentioned above, the card I decided to start it off with was "husband and wife," and eventually the husband went off to a bamboo conference in the capital--he was a bamboo cutter, you see--and the wife set off to find her husband after he failed to return. But she never found him, because the story was steered to an ending before that happened. That kind of anticlimactic "and then they lived happily ever after no guys seriously" ending was pretty common in our run, but I'm not sure there's any way to avoid it, and games only last a few minutes so it's easy to dive into another story if the previous one was unsatisfying.

Also, it turns out that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I already own this game, since Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff had a bunch of ads for it and she bought it thinking that it would be a good game to play with kids to help develop their social skills. We were told that it plays pretty well with two people, so we'll have to give that a try!
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to a games party at a friend's today, and because we showed up late, everyone was already involved in a game by the time we got there. Well, everyone but us and our host that is, so while I poured myself a drink, she and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd picked out some game called Sanitarium that our host had backed on Kickstarter.

The basic premise is that everyone plays a person who wakes up in an insane asylum in the middle of a psychotic break, and thus with no idea of who they are or how they got there, and has to regain their senses and find their Safe Items (number determined by the number of players) to get out of the asylum. The asylum is built out of a deck as the game is played, and each card that's not a room is both a hallway and an item or event--players who are in the hallway can search them to pick up the card and then replace it with a new hallway from the deck.


There are various scenario cards that set the starting conditions, how quickly new rooms and hallways come out of the deck, what the players have to do to win (co-op vs. competitive, individual vs. group escape), and so on. Each player has a character card that lists the actions they can perform (move, search rooms, place a new room, try to shake off their madness, and so on), with one side for when they're suffering from hallucinations and the other side for when they're in their right mind. Meanwhile, there are Shadows that are spawned in the Dark Hallways that seek out the players and attack them. Well, sometimes, because a Shadow coming into contact with a player just requires a Horror check (2d6, beat a number). The uncertainty is probably supposed to represent the moments in horror films where the protagonists start panicking as they think they're about to be attacked but it turns out that they're jumping at...well, at shadows.

Okay, one thing I have to say after this is that my review may or may not be useful or even correct because we found the rules to be incredibly confusing. For example, the actual rule for Shadows and horror checks is apparently that the difficulty of the Horror check is based on the total number of Dark Hallways in the game, but I believe that the scenario card we started with (co-op, individual escape) specified a difficulty, so we went with that until we found another rule in the rulebooks. Yes, rulebooks--there was the original rulebook and scenario card that came with the game, and then there was a v1.1 that was sent out the kickstarter backers, but they didn't cover all the same subjects and weren't organized the same and it was quite difficult to tell what parts of the original rules we were supposed to replace with the new ones and which ones could remain as is.

Another example of how we screwed up was with the placing of rooms. Originally, we were only placing down new rooms if we were specifically doing the Expand action, but then we learned that we were supposed to place a room before each player took one of their turns, which would have made it significantly easier to run from the Shadows at the beginning of the game even though we also missed an rule that on an each players turn all Shadows moved two spaces toward them. Constantly referencing different rules books and the scenario card to try to figure out how things worked was probably a quarter of our game time, and I think Sanitarium would really benefit from a unified v1.2 rules or someone writing a single rules reference sheet.

Once we figured those rules out, though, the game started to hum. The Shadows moving toward the active player and the necessity of us to find our Safe Items caused us to resort to the classic horror cliche of everyone splitting up even though we wanted to stick together--though that's another example of a confusing rule. The original scenario card said that Shadows can't hurt a player in the same room as another player, but the revised one said that the player whose turn it is picks one of the players to be attacked. That was another rule we missed for a bit.

Sanitarium was pretty fun even with all the confusion, but unfortunately I can't provide an accurate review. I'm not even sure if we were playing it correctly after we figured out the rules, and the ending was even more confusing than the beginning. When the draw deck runs out, then every time a card should be drawn, one of the hallways or rooms is removed from the board, and any player who has no way to get back to the foyer is trapped forever in the Sanitarium. There were other rules that were supposed to take place too, based on switching to the Desperation side of the scenario card...but the original scenario card didn't have a Desperation side, and some of the new scenario card's rules were an odd fit with the other mechanics we thought we were supposed to be using (edit: As an example of the problems with the rules layout, there was nothing to distinguish the new rules from the old ones, so half the time I don't know which set of rules we were using). I'm not sure if that's the reason we easily won was because we had properly planned before the Desperation phase and were able to pull through or because we didn't correctly ramp up the danger. There was some reference to Shadows attacking more often or collecting Shadow tokens or something, but there wasn't anything like that in the revised rules I had, and we only had two Desperation phase turns anyway.

Also, a lot of the strategy and Event cards seemed based on screwing over the other players, as does the fact that people can choose where to move the Shadows on their turn after the initial Shadow movement toward them, but since we were playing co-op none of that came up and we just ended up trading in Thief and Dazed and Stunned cards in to recover our sanity, which made the game a lot easier. I suspect if we had been saving those cards to play on each other, then the game would have come a lot closer to the wire and the Desperation phase might actually have been desperate. If you play it, I suggest you spend a bit more pre-game time trying to read and integrate the rules into a coherent whole and play a competitive scenario so you get the full range of what the game has to offer.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Last weekend I went to a board game night at Cori's place, and most of it was spent either playing Fluxx or Mansions of Madness.

Fluxx was Fluxx. If you've played it, you know what I mean. Whoever brought it had all the expansions, so there were some things that I hadn't really dealt with before--the "Radioactive Potato" card that bans its owner from winning was new to me--but the basic concept wasn't any different, and it's still just as ridiculous and random as it ever was.

Mansions of Madness was a game I've heard about but hadn't played before, and also I keep confusing it with Maniac Mansion and expecting there to be evil plants and microwaving hamsters, but it's actually a more straightforward Cthulhu-esque game. It's a bit like a combination of Betrayal at the House on the Hill in that there are scenarios and the board is assembled beforehand, but it's different in that there are only a handful of scenarios. I think they said it was four in the main game, plus they had an expansion that was drawing material from Dreams in the Witch House, which is the one we played. Note that we did not get through the scenario.

I wrote a while back about playing Elder Sign, and my problem there was that it all felt way too random. That game's structure was "Move to node, roll dice, pray, repeat," which didn't leave me feeling like there was much I could do to affect the course of the game. Mansions of Madness has a map instead of a series of nodes, which already increases the need for tactical thinking, and it also has all the interesting item locations revealed before the game begins. Scenarios have a series of "clues" that need to be discovered, and there's a time limit imposed by the actions the Keeper takes and the counter that counts down to various events that occur, leading to a need to strategize your movements and making splitting up vs. staying together an actual choice.

I actually suspect the Keeper is a lot of the reason I thought Mansions of Madness was better, for much the same reason that human opponents are better than computer opponents at providing a challenge in computer games. Relying entirely on randomness can be a lot of fun if you have a good content generator, as the myriad of roguelikes can attest to, but it can also feel random, unfair, and pointless, as the myriad of roguelikes can attest to.

As I said, we didn't finish, but I could kind of see where it was going. The Keeper used his Threat tokens to summon cultists who sacrificed themselves to summon Hounds of Tindalos, each of which required multiple actions from the investigators to kill. Once those started popping up, the clock started ticking as we began running around looking for other clues while fighting monsters.

It is kind of a parody of a Call of Cthulhu game, though. Investigators hurl themselves at a ton of monsters in a Mythos hoe-down, and dead investigators are replaced by random bystanders who happen to show up at the haunted mansion at the most opportune time. In an RPG I'd be annoyed if I hadn't signed up for it, but as a limited focus for a board game it works pretty well.

Unfortunately, since we only got through part of the scenario--it's one of those games that takes a long time to set up, plus it has to be explained, and the human opponent means the Keeper often took a bit to contemplate his actions--I can't really speak to the totality of the pacing and how well the race works all the way to the ending nor whether tactics get thrown out the window at any point. I would definitely play it again, though, and that puts it one up on Elder Sign for me. However, I still think Betrayal at the House on the Hill is better. Betrayal is perfect at emulating the feel of a horror movie, where a bunch of people break into a haunted house and start exploring and running into creepy things until all of a sudden all hell breaks loose and they frantically have to fix things. Mansions of Madness isn't really that good at emulating a Lovecraft story, though I suppose it's not that bad at emulating a Call of Cthulhu story, like John Tynes' fun adventure I talked about here. Maybe it's more Derlethian. If one of the scenarios ends with nuking Cthuhlu...

Man, I write a lot of reviews lately. It is a good way to stay writing even though my life is more routine than it once was, I suppose.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
So, last weekend [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and had another party finally! And true to form, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd couldn't decide on a day to hold it, and so I picked the weekend, and then it rained. Of course. If we had had the party on Sunday, it would have been a brilliant sunny day, and then we could have gone on our two-hour-long walk to get a new keyboard on Saturday instead, when it was probably ~8 degrees cooler and cloudy. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have spilled chrysanthemum liqueur on my keyboard if we had it on Sunday and we wouldn't have had to go for a walk at all on Saturday, which if you notice, would have been anticausal anyway.

I missed out on playing Betrayal at the House on the Hill, but I did get to try Elder Sign and...I thought it was pretty terrible, honestly. It was pure Ameritrash--a very strong theme, of investigators trapped in a museum and hurling themselves at the terrible horror from beyond the stars (the King in Yellow, in our case), but with mechanics that are kind of forced through the round hole to fit the theme. I mean, I suppose all of your actions being at the whim of the pitiless hand of the RNG does fit Lovecraft's uncaring universe and the lack of any special place for mankind, but I felt like there was very little I could do that would actually affect the outcome of the game other than occasionally add a couple more dice into the pool. And even that wasn't always good, because those dice were supposed to be more favorable results, and thus didn't have the tentacles "Terror" icon, but sometimes there were locations that required multiple Terror results and the extra dice didn't do any good. The strategy relied on determining where to allocate the results of dice after they were rolled, which is strategic, yes, but it wasn't very satisfying.

It was described to me as Arkham Horror-lite, which if that's true, makes me glad I've never played Arkham Horror. I'll stick to games like Android.

Unfortunately, as I said, I managed to spill alcohol on my keyboard, and despite [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's heroic and nearly-successful attempts to repair it, it was too far gone. She managed to get some of the keys to work again, but there were still about half of them that were broken, including both enter keys, and the second attempt to fix all those caused it to give up the ghost completely. Fortunately, in a burst of foresight two years ago, I had deliberately bought a $19.99 keyboard, reasoning that before mechanically failure hit I would spill something on it and ruin it. And what do you know...

Anyway, we ended up going on a two-hour walk trying to find a new keyboard. First to Target, which had a spot for the wired keyboards but nothing actually in stock, and then to Radio Shack, except Google Maps listed them as seven blocks south of where they actually were, so we had to walk that distance and then all the way back home. On the other hand, we did pass by Golden Pacific, which is good because we needed another bag of rice, and because I got to walk through Little Saigon around Argyle Street. As I told my father when I called him for Father's Day, I was walking through a place where I looked different than the average person, I couldn't understand most of what people were saying, and I couldn't read half the signs. I felt right at home.

We'll have to go back. There were a ton of restaurants I didn't know were there that we have to try.
dorchadas: (Drop Bear)
Starcraft board game?

Awesome. I mean, clearly actually playing Starcraft is awesome too, but a board game? 180 miniatures? Card-driven combat? 2-6 players?

All I have to say is, "Zerg Rush! Kekekekekekeke ^_^"

My knee has been clicking a lot when I do anything other than moving it in simple up-and-down patterns. It's a little worrying, though not that much. It's not painful, there's no loss of movement, and since I had knee surgery when I was 13 I knew something like this would happen eventually. I just hoped that eventually would mean "sometime in the distant future."

I should probably stretch more before exercising. My stretching right now is kind of perfunctory.

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