Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Nexus Ops

The first board game I tried to design was intended to be an RTS turned board game.  It was fairly enjoyable and strategic, but the end game was miserable and has since required a complete redesign of the game.  Nexus Ops has so much in common with that game, that it makes me glad my version failed so miserably because I would not want to compete with Nexus Ops.  Their solution to the end game problem I had is to institute a point system, so enough mission/battle victories will win the player the game.

If you have played any real-time strategy games, you will understand the general premise of the game.  You can build an army of multiple different types of units.  There is only a single resource (Rubium Ore) to worry about in creating said units, so the complexity is found in the various types of terrain that make up the map.  Lava, crystal forests, moss swamps, rock plains, and the ever important Monolith found in the center of the map.  Players explore the map revealing more refineries to control to gain more Rubium to build larger armies.  A refinery is controlled when you and no one else has units on the spot.

Combat works in waves.  Players roll dice for each unit they have of a particular type in the battle (starting with the most expensive types).  A successful roll is a hit and the player who got hit chooses one unit to remove from the battle.  After all units have attacked, the battle is over for that turn.  If there are no defenders left, then the losing player gets an Energize card (set of cards to give potential bonuses during battle or various other situations) and the winning player gets a victory point.  Holding on to the Monolith in the center of the board will also get more Energize cards.

In a two player game, typically borders will be drawn in the middle of the map and fortified and whoever can control the Monolith will win.  In a three or four player game, with intelligent players, there will be a lot of give and take between all players because there is really no advantage to teaming up against and knocking out a player.  Unless you really hate your friends, I guess...

A game will take roughly 1.5-2 hours (longer for the first game, of course) and is jam packed with lots of strategy.  There is potential for the flaw of Risk where bad dice rolling can cause a super clever strategy to fail miserably.  However, there are a lot of ways to try to even the odds to your favor.  So all in all, this is a quality strategy experience in an interesting sci-fi setting if you can get 1-3 (the more the merrier) friends to join.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: Samurai 7

Samurai 7 is an anime based off of Akira Kurosawa where a village being tormented by bandits hires a group of seven samurai to defend it.  The group of samurai is a very diverse group made of a Mechanical Samurai, the new kid, a guy who reminds me eerily of Spike from Cowboy Bebop, the experienced samurai who has always been on the losing side, etc.

The first half of the series is all about recruiting the samurai and their travels to the village.  In typical anime style, they can't just have people fighting people, so instead the bandits are samurai that have turned themselves into giant robots.  Throughout the series there's an anime level of physics (e.g. the experienced samurai are able to slice through giant robots and buildings alike with a single stroke), but the last two episodes take it to an even more ludicrous level that goes way past my ability to suspend disbelief.  Samurai were deflecting some lasers with their swords, while riding others like a wave.  Up until that point, I was a big fan of the series.  I have a fondness for the eclectic diverse team.  I love samurai and the ridiculousness of a typical samurai showdown.  But the final battle that should have been epic was instead just inane.  But I guess a great series that ends badly isn't unheard of in anime.

With the show only being 26 episodes, I think it's worth a watch if you enjoyed Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven (since that's also based on Seven Samurai).  Maybe just stop on episode 24 and let your imagination end the series for you, it'll probably be more consistent.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: We Didn't Playtest This At All

We Didn't Playtest This At All.  I don't honestly know if that statement is true or not, but from the get go the game exudes a feeling of silliness and lighthearted gaming.  The tricky part of reviewing this game is that I can't really describe the random antics of the game in any detail that will be sufficient without ruining the fun of discovering the game itself.

Every player gets 2 cards to start and then in order, starting with whatever player grabs a card from the deck first, draws 1 card and plays a card from their hand.  To quote the game rules: "The objective of the game is to win!  If you lose, you have not won, and you are in fact out of the game.  If everyone except you has lost, you win!"

It's completely normal (at least for me) to lose the game before you even get a turn, but most games are so short that you can just start over again in a few minutes.  Maybe you get eaten by a dragon, maybe you get sucked into a black hole, maybe you get arrowed, maybe you said the wrong thing, or maybe you threw paper when you should've thrown rock.  This game is like being in the middle of a Monty Python sketch that is being made up as it goes along.  The only thing I wonder is the longevity of the game once everyone knows all the cards.  When the humor has started to fade, will the game still be fun?  It will certainly be random still.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Shadow Hunters

A war is being waged between Shadows and their hunters with some innocent bystanders caught in the middle.  In Shadow Hunters, players are randomly given characters from one of these three teams, which they keep secret.  Each team has their own goal, Shadows win by killing all the Hunters, Hunters win by killing all the Shadows, and Neutrals each have their own goal based on which character they have.

On their turn, players roll the dice to see which area they move to.  Based on the area they land on, players may draw a green, white, or black card or hurt/heal another player.  After that, the player may attack another player in an adjacent area.

Green cards (Hermit cards) are used to try to figure out who is what.  They each have instructions like, "Shadows and Hunters take on damage", so if a player is given this card and they are a Shadow or Hunter, they must move their health token up one space.  Otherwise they say, "This has no effect."  Using a combination of these cards and who attacks whom, players can start to determine who is on their side and who isn't.

White cards are usually defensive or healing items whereas Black cards are offensive items.  Characters also have special abilities that they can use once per game (except for some Neutrals whose special abilities are automatically used at specific times).

Gameplay is fairly simple, but filled with opportunities for strategies, deception, and teamwork.  However, setting up the game is a fairly complicated procedure and takes a lot more time than it should for how simple the game plays.  The game is for 4-8 players (more is better) and takes roughly 45 minutes to play.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Legend of Grimrock

A group of four criminals have been thrown into a hole at the top of Grimrock with the promise that if they make it out of the mountain's dungeon alive, they will be forgiven of all crimes.  Unfortunately, no one has ever made it out of this dungeon before...

That story sounds exactly like the old RPG, Exile.  However, The Legend of Grimrock doesn't just mimic old school stories, it also mimics old school gameplay of games like Eye of the Beholder and Might and Magic.  It also updates this style of game beautifully with its own added twists and turns to make quite an amazing dungeon crawling adventure.

The game starts off with players creating a party of four adventurers choosing their race - Human, Minotaur, Lizard, or Insectoid - and their class - Fighter, Rogue, or Mage.  Each race has its own pros and cons (except humans because they're always the incredibly boring balanced race in every game ever).  Players have room for two adventurers in the front of the group and two in the back.  Melee attacks will hit the front row first and the back row must use spells or ranged weapons to attack.  So generally, Rogues with bows and arrows or Mages will be in the back row and the very healthy Fighters or backstabbing Rogues will be in the front row.

Once in the dungeon, players will soon learn they must fight monsters, keep lit torches on hand, and solve puzzles to succeed.  The game does an excellent job at teaching players how the various mechanics work and also reward players for backtracking to look for secrets once they learn what to look for.  The puzzles get increasingly clever and difficult, especially the puzzles that are hiding secrets.  Caution is also crucial or players will find themselves in a room surrounded by spiders (because they are in every RPG ever), trolls, or some other monstrous fiend.

Adventurers can gain new skills by gaining levels from killing monsters.  Each class has multiple different trees to spend these points in, which lets players specialize their adventurers or round them out evenly.  There is no way to maximize all the trees by the end of the game, so there is definite replayability trying out different groups and seeing how they do.  Players can also try disabling the auto-mapping in the game to really go old school.

If you yearn for some nostalgic adventuring with the improved game design methods of modern day, Legend of Grimrock is an excellent choice.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: The Resistance

The Resistance has missions they must accomplish, but unbeknownst to them there are spies among their organization who are out to foil their plans.  Each side (spies and resistance) has 5 chances to achieve their own goals, the side that achieves their goal 3 times out of those 5 chances wins the game.

At the beginning of the game, players are given a card that determines whether they are part of the resistance, one of the spies, or the mission leader (the mission leader will also get a spy/resistance role card after he reveals he is a mission leader).  Just like in the beginning of Mafia, all players close their eyes and all the spies reveal themselves to each other so they know who they are working with.

The mission leader chooses a set number of players (based on which mission number they are on) to go on a mission.  All the players then vote on whether they approve of the team or not.  If the team is denied, the current mission leader passes that responsibility (and its card) to the player on their left and players repeat this process until a team is approved.

Once a team is approved, each team member gets a mission fail and mission success card.  They pass one of their choice to the  mission leader and the others go in a discard pile.  Resistance members MUST pass a success to the  mission leader, spies can choose either one.  Once all cards are distributed, the mission leader reveals them.  In 4 out of 5 of the missions, a single fail card revealed will be a success for the spies, otherwise the resistance wins.  The other mission requires to fail cards to fail the mission.  This cycle continues until one side has 3 victories.

This game is a very quick 30 minute game for 5-10 people (best with 7 players).  This game plays like a mix between Mastermind and Mafia.  There are relatively clear strategies/methods to figure out who is on which side, but just as many methods of deceiving each other.  I'm not sure how well this game would hold up if you played with the same group of friends repeatedly, but I guess that's a general problem with games of this sort, like Bang and Mafia.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: Dixit

One of the few games I remember my mom playing with us kids was Balderdash.  In that game, one player draws a card with a rarely used word and its definition, other players write down their own definitions of the word, all definitions are revealed and players vote one what they think is the real word.  Players score points if they can trick others into choosing their definition and if they vote for the actual definition.

Dixit is essentially the exact same game, but instead of words and their definitions, players have beautifully drawn cards and a story to tell.  One player is the Storyteller.  They select one of their six cards, they tell a very brief story (it can be a sentence, a word, or even a noise), and every other player picks one of their card that best matches that story.  All the selected cards are shuffled and revealed and all players except the Storyteller vote on which one they think is the Storyteller's card.  If at least one, but not all players select the Storyteller's card, the Storyteller scores some points.  Other players score points for choosing the Storyteller's card and having their card selected.

I'm not sure what exactly it is, but I just suck at this game.  I can't seem to figure out how to do well.  My stories are either too obvious or too vague and I can never seem to guess the correct card when I'm not the Storyteller.  So this isn't one of my favorite games, but everyone else I've played this with seems to love it.  For me personally, this is not a game I choose to play often, but that is in no part a fault of the game.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Bananagrams

If Scrabble and Speed had a child, it would be Bananagrams.  Play is quick and frantic as players try to use all their tiles to form their own personal Scrabble board.  The game starts with players taking a set number of tiles based on the number of players.  At the yell of "Split!", players reveal all their tiles and try to form them into a crossword-looking set of words that crisscross each other.  Once a player has used all of their tiles, they say "Peel!" and every player (including that one) must draw another tile.  If a player wants to get rid of a tile they can't play (say an X, a Q, or a Z), they can say "Dump" to put that tile back in the shared pile and draw three more tiles.  Once someone says "Peel!" when there are no more tiles to draw, the game ends.  All other players inspect that player's board.  If there is any mistake, that player loses and play continues until there is a winner.

I have only played this game once, so maybe I just don't quite understand things quite well, but it seems to me that there is no limit to the number of times you can dump tiles, so it seems like you can just repeatedly dump early on to have a much larger batch of tiles to work with.  This game also has the same problem I have with Scrabble and its nonsense words (especially the two letter words like Qi, El, Za, etc.).  But I guess this just means when I beat you with a whole board filled with real words, it will be that much more satisfying.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dynamic History in Games

I have a friend who is currently on an MMO run, jumping from one to the next, looking for the next Everquest (his personal favorite from the sounds of it).  Personally, I have only played two MMOs, World of Warcraft (thanks to a 7 day trial combined with a Christmas week off) and Star Wars the Old Republic (because it's Bioware and Star Wars).  Posting my thoughts on those games are two whole other posts, but the reason I bring it up is because there was one experience I had early on in my WoW time that I think should be built off of that only MMOs really have a chance of achieving.

For those who don't know World of Warcraft, players play for one of two factions, The Alliance or the Horde.  On a Player vs. Environment (PvE) server like I prefer, this really doesn't show itself in any way since players can't randomly attack each other.  However, if you attack an NPC from the opposing faction, you are open to be attacked.  Early on, players would organize raids on the enemy towns to try to wipe out all the NPCs.  The alarm was usually raised fairly quickly and a defending force of players would be rallied to defend the low level players trying to quest through the area.  There is no real benefit to this for the attacking players other than for funsies messing with the other team, but I think there should be.

One thing MMOs have going for them is the ability to emulate massive scale wars that players can take a part in.  This only really works if there is any lasting effect of the war.  So if attacking an enemy town will either wipe it out or take it over (thus increasing the size of your empire), the game can start to build a history.  If you take this a step further and allow factions to be completely destroyed and new ones made, you can completely emulate the rise and fall of great empires.  Obviously, this would have to be regulated in some way or another (for example, what happens if you were offline when your empire fell?  Is your character from that empire able to start a rebellion of some sort or is it converted to the conquering empire?).  Due to the persistence of MMOs, the NPCs would have to get involved in some way so that players can actually maintain lives outside of the MMO without worrying about their faction being lost while they were gone.

Adding in systems that allow a dynamic history like this would give a game the ability to have events with the impact of the The Cataclysm of WoW without having to spend developer time to manufacture it and let the game manufacture the massive events themselves.  It also gives players a wonderful reason to work together on a global scale that makes the world feel even more massive than it already is.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Board Games

Wizards of the Coast has released three different board games (well, really one game with three different settings) that are essentially D&D Lite - Castle Ravenloft, Legend of Drizzt, and Wrath of Ashardalon.  These games have the same feel as Descent: Journeys in the Dark, but instead of one player versus the rest, these games are entirely cooperative.  They split up control of the monsters/adventure between players so everyone is involved and the adventure is even more of a team event.

The game starts with players selecting an adventure to go on with its own setup, goals, and villains.  Then they each select one of the five heroes to play.  Each hero has a whole slew of abilities that they must trim down to their starting set.  With the board and heroes all set up, any player can start the game (usually the fighter-type character should start).  On every turn, players can either move and attack, attack and move, or move twice.  If the players end their turn on an unexplored edge of a tile, they reveal another tile and a new monster (they might also have an encounter).  If they did not explore, then they draw an encounter card (which are usually pretty rough for the players).  That player then activates the monsters they control (such as they one they might have revealed on their turn) and play continues clockwise until the players achieve their victory condition or one character has no health left and there are no health surges (extra lives) left.

One of the first complaints most D&D players have with this game is that the monsters almost always get an attack off on the players before they can do anything.  However, if players got to attack first, this game would be way too easy.  As it is, they are perfectly challenging games.  I have yet to play a game where a player has not had 0 health and had to use a health surge.  There is a good balance between randomness and protection from losing/winning streaks on rolls.

My only problem with the game is that since everyone is working together, it's very easy to interpret rule ambiguities in the players favor, which sometimes felt like cheating to me.  For example, monsters generally move from one tile to another, but on each tile are 16 squares that they can be placed on.  I couldn't find any rule that says which square they should go on and having them adjacent to heroes will change what attack they do on subsequent turns, so deciding which square a monster should go on is up to the players and can drastically alter the difficulty of the game.  (My friends and I have made a house ruling that monsters will go on the monster spawn points on each tile when they enter a tile from moving so it's always a set location.)

All in all, if you don't have time or a DM for a proper D&D romp, these are a nice alternative with quests taking a couple hours each and an option to play a campaign of multiple quests.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What Got Me Into Games

The Extra Credits group had a Q&A panel at PAX where the question was raised to each of them, "What game or experience made you decide to make games your career?"  I thought that was a very thought provoking question, so I've decided I'm going to answer it myself.  I was very blessed to have parents who introduced me to games when I was little (or maybe lucky to have older brothers who requested things when I was still tiny/non-existent).  My first console was the Atari and my first computer was an Apple IIe.  Also, during elementary school, my mom was in charge of the carpool area (making sure kids found their parents and vice versa) so I had to stay late after school with nothing to do.  Fortunately, I was allowed to play the educational games our computer area had.  I think these games - Think Quick, Midnight Rescue, and Challenge of the Ancient Empire - fostered in me the idea that games can be educational AND fun.  With the Mac IIsi came World Builder, which helped me learn how to build and design simple graphic adventure games.  After that came Marathon, whose physics/game editor started to teach me how parts of game systems work and how they interact.  I think all of those, combined with my desire to tell a story like all the RPGs I played growing up (especially Chrono Trigger), are really what made me want to make video games to tell a story, improve peoples' lives in some way, and to make them happy by letting them have fun.

However, I've also had a strong desire to make board games that currently outweighs my desire to make video games.  Board games are capable of achieving those same goals I wanted to achieve with video games (and still do), but games like Fireball Island also taught me that board games can come with some really awesome pieces.  There's something about the physicality of the components that make them even more enjoyable to me and I want to bring that to others.  This is why my dream is to bring a touch screen table akin to the Microsoft Surface plus some physical pieces to combine the best of both worlds into the world.  For example, imagine Settlers of Catan without the tedious setup of the hexes/numbers on the board, but still with individual roads, houses, and cities.  Fortunately, that sort of idea is already being done.

Monday, September 3, 2012

PAX 2012

I didn't get back from PAX until late last night and my dog clearly missed me (indicated by his insistence that I play with him at 8 am), hence the lateness of this post.  Last year was my first PAX, so I was very distracted by the immense amounts of free stuff and ended up not really getting to do much of anything.  I made sure not to make that mistake again this year and gave myself goals to achieve every day.  Here are the results in my favorite form, a list:

  • My card game was successfully play tested twice (which doesn't sound like much, but trying to wrangle a group of 5-10 people to play a game by yourself is quite difficult)
    • Result - I'm going to finish the rule book of my game and make a print to play version for people around the world to try out in the very near future.
  • I tried 10 new board games I have never played before
    • Result - Disappearance of a lot of money and future money will disappear for the games I couldn't find
  • I met, took a picture with, and got a signature from Ali Hillis, the voice behind Liara in the Mass Effect series
    • Result - 
  • I got to watch the fourth, fifth, and most of the final round of the Omegathon
    • Result - I had to leave before seeing who won the Omegathon and missed my flight to San Jose, so I had to switch to a flight to San Francisco and got home even later...but it was fun to watch.  :)
  • I met some other people who are making games of their own and got to try out some of their prototypes
All in all, it was a very fun and successful trip.  I will admit I'm a little afraid that next year's PAX is going to be 4 days...hopefully I'll survive it.  I'll leave you with the only other two pictures I took while I was there (I'm not even sure why I have a camera if I never use it...):

Mario and Star cookies from the Cookie Brigade, fancy 20-sided
die acquired for buying said cookies in the D&D area and an
awesome figurine from the D&D Legend of Drizzt board game
My favorite cosplay of the weekend and pretty much the
only female cosplay I could take pictures of without
feeling like a creepy perv...for non-Godzilla fans, that is
Anguirus and King Ghidora