Thursday, July 26, 2012

Last Night on Earth Review

Last Night on Earth.  What a roller coaster ride playing that game was.

First of an explanation of how this game works.  In it you are on one of two teams, humans (or as I like to call them Breathers) or zombies.  You play through some sort of scenario/mission which usually has the humans trying to accomplish a specific goal, like gather 12 supplies which was the goal in our game, and the zombies are pretty much looking to eat all those tasty, tasty brains.

The game is played in alternating turns for each team.  On the Zombie turn the hordes of mindless undead are represented by one or two players (or in our game 3).  All of the zombie players do each of the steps in the turn together.  First you move the Sun Track Marker, which counts down the rounds in the game until the sun rises and either the humans celebrate surviving or the zombies show up in force and swarm the remaining humans; just depends on the scenario.

Then you each draw until you have 2 zombie cards, which give you nice advantages like more zombies, more movement, better attacks, etc.  You then roll to see if new zombies spawn.  Roll 2d6 and if you roll more than the number of zombie on the board you get more this turn.  In our scenario however we skipped this step because zombies automatically spawned each turn.

Next, move the shambling hordes towards their delicious targets.  Most of the time the zombies move one space, though cards can improve that.  After movement if any zombies are in the same space as some humans they get to chow down.  Combat involves rolling one or more d6s versus the humans two or more d6s.  The person who rolls the highest number wins, zombies win ties.  If the human gets a higher number but no doubles the zombies is Fended Off, basically the fight ends with no one taking any damage.  If he wins and gets doubles he kills the zombie.  If the zombie wins he does one damage to the human.

Finally you roll a d3 to see how many new zombies you spawn if you do get to spawn new ones.  Add new zombies in at the various designated spawn points on the map, distributing them as evenly as possible.  You also have an option of trading in two possible new zombies in order to draw a Grave Weapon card.  These add interesting weapons to the zombies that give them cool and usually powerful advantages.

After that the silly breathers get their pointless turns in an attempt to deny zombies their rightful dinner.  Each of the human players is playing a Hero character.  Each Hero takes their turn in sequence, each one finishing their whole turn before the next goes.  First up there is a Move Action.  You roll a d6 and can move that many spaces.  Alternatively after rolling you can decide to Search an area for useful stuff.  Next up is Exchange Items.  All heroes in the space with the active hero can both give and receive items via the Hero whose turn it is.

After that you break out the guns and do Ranged Attacks.  You get one shot a turn and the card gives you the details on what your roll means.  Next you Fight Zombies, using the same combat method detailed above, and then the next person does all that for their turn.

Okay so lets look at what I thought about the game.  To start I have to say that we played a game with 8 players, and the game is meant to only have 6 players.  We had an extra human and an extra zombie player.  Since this was my first and only game of LNoE I can't speak with authority on the game speed, but it really seemed to move slower than it probably should.  Other players were saying that it was not normally this slow.  It was really bad in this particular game though.  There was a TON of downtime and the game took so long that people were yelling for it to end during the last hour.

Other than that the game seemed okay.  I played on the zombie side, so I can't really say what the human play was like.  I have to say that the zombies were fun from a thematic point of view, but in general there was not much there.  I really feel that they could just be automated by the game system and you could just have human players.  Yes, it was fun to be the zombies and try to eat brains, but I don't think that that side of gameplay would hold up for multiple plays.  There just really wasn't enough there.

The various Heroes that were available to play all looked fun and cool, and gameplay for the human side seemed like it would take a good amount of thinking, planning, and tactics.  I'd give that side a try for sure.  In the end this isn't going to become my favorite game of all time or anything.  But I will definitely give it another chance, and I think it will be improved by trying out the human side, playing when I haven't been awake for over 26 hours, and possibly imbibing some alcohol while playing.  That always helps.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Game Day

Hey only a four day delay for my post about this month's Game Day.  I'm getting better at this.

This last Saturday, July 21, we got together at Gamer Utopia for some RPGs and board games, as we are wont to do.  This game day felt a little bit sparsely attended in comparison to the last couple of them, I believe the numbers were somewhere in the low 20s.  Now the fact that a gathering with around 20+ people is something that I consider to be a sparsely attended event is in my opinion a very good sign.  That means that we are getting into a trend of successful and very well attended game days, and that makes me happy!

I did not fully put on my reporter hat for this particular day, mainly because I was quite engrossed in an awesome game of Dresden Files, and because as usual I was very tired.  Emily did a great job of keeping a list of the various games played though.  Here is what she recorded:

Dresden Files, Alien Frontiers, 2 games of 1812: The Invastion of Canada, 2 games of Pandemic, King of Tokyo, Kittens in a Blender, Elfenland, 2 games of Jungle Speed, Tsuro, Chris Colbath's Pirate LARP Playtest, Pentago, Mythic Iceland RPG, Chupacabra: Survive the Night, and Last Night on Earth.

A good listing of games.  As usual I feel there should be more RPGs, because I love them so much, but with many of the normal GMs not able to make it or playing instead of running it was bound to be a little RPG light.  Which is fine, everyone very much seemed to have a ton of fun with a wide variety of board games.

So here are my impressions on the things I both played and just watched.  I'll go mostly in order, though I'll put Dresden near the end in order to give it more space.

First off, Alien Frontiers.  This is a wonderful, quick playing, space themed board game that has been brought to us by the magic of Kickstarter.  You roll dice, and then based on the results on each individual die you spend them like a currency to achieve various outcomes.  I find the game to be very simple to learn, and to have some fun strategies.  The randomness of the die rolls means that you can't think ahead too much and just have to let the game play; which usually gives it a more laid back atmosphere.

1812:  The Invasion of Canada looked interesting.  I always enjoy historical board games that abstract the events and conflicts, and from my brief viewing of the game that looked like it might be the case in this game.  I could be completely wrong of course, but it intrigued me enough that I will look into more details on it.  Plus the ability to beat up on Canada, always a plus.  We must stop their evil from oozing down on us like so much maple syrup.

Pandemic is very much a well loved staple of the cooperative board game roster.  Who doesn't love trying to save the world from horrible cubed shaped diseases?  Communists, that is who.  So if you hate this game you are a Communist.  Science says so.  The only flaw with the game for me is the common one among many cooperative games, strong personalities like myself have a bad tendency to try and play every one's turns for them.

King of Tokyo is a fun giant kaiju monster fighting game.  Great theme, fun game.  Lots of luck because of dice rolls, but not a serious game so I am okay with that.  Kittens in a Blender is another good, short game where you use cards with cute kittens on them; and try to save as many of your own while blending your opponents into delicious kitten smoothies.  Elfenland looked like an abstract fantasy themed game with a Euro feel to it.  Will have to find out more about that.

Jungle Speed is the type of game that I am terrible at, but that I enjoy messing with people in.  Everyone in turn order flips over square cards with various shapes and patterns on them, and you are looking for a match between the card on your pile and the one on someone else's pile.  If a match is seen, the two people involved in the match must race to grab the plastic idol token from its place in the middle of the table.  Quick recognition and dexterous movement are not my forte.  Drawing out my plays to annoyingly increase tension is.  I'm a bad man.

Tsuro was a fun, quick abstract game where you control tokens that represent Chinese style dragons.  You play tiles with lines that represent paths on them, and you are trying to keep your token on a path that does not go off the edge of the board or impact another token.  If you manage to be the last dragon flying, you win.  Wil Wheaton showed everyone how to play it on an episode of Tabletop.

.Chris Colbath's Pirate LARP looks really cool.  It is still being developed, but it should be featured at GlitchCon.  I hope to participate.  The Mythic Iceland RPG looked like a fun setting; but it used the Basic Roleplaying system, and I HATE BRP!!!

Pentago seemed to be on of those abstract, "ancient Chinese" games like Go.  I'd play it, but I don't think I'd be good at it.  Chupacabra: Survive the Night.  I know nothing about it, did not watch it being played, only saw the box.  But man the name just sells itself doesn't it.  Just make sure to have a sacrificial goat on hand.

Last Night on Earth will get its own post.  So more on that there.

Finally we come to the Dresden Files RPG session that I played in.  We had a group of five players and a GM.  The experience with the Dresden source material ranged from having read all the books to having just seen the show to no experience.  A good mix that makes for a different type of interesting game, IMO.  Our characters were all young teenagers of minor magical talent.  My character was Sean Barnes, a teenage metalhead werewolf.

The plot was fairly straightforward.  We had heard about an interesting meeting at an old abandoned circus ground on the edge of town.  We went and attended, meeting a few of the local supernatural types and making a few interesting deals and purchases here and there.  After a bit of chit chatting it was revealed that the group was some sort of organization that seemed to have the agenda of pushing the world of magic out into the open so that no one could deny it.  Seems like a dangerous idea to me, but hey to each his insane own.

As the meeting progressed each of us got an opportunity to ask a single question of a fae spirit trapped in a magical mirror.  We all asked various interesting questions (though Emily saved her question until the conflict arose and wisely used it to get some helpful information then.  Well played.) with my character surprising the GM a bit by asking the faerie "What do you want?"  I had by then decided that my guy was a bit of an "eco-nerd" and did not like seeing a wild thing locked up like that.  So he resolved to do what he could to get the faerie free.  Unfortunately the attention of a demon was called down upon the party via another person's question, so things heated up quickly.

The calamity was helped along by a couple of Warden's rushing in and trying to arrest everyone as well on violations of the Laws of Magic.  Silly overzealous wizard police.  A really fun an challenging battle ensued, in which my character was constantly getting into trouble by accepting compels from the GM to do bad things, and just straight up acting without thinking.  Being a frenzied teenage werewolf is fun!

After defeating out foes, and me forcing the release of the faerie from her new prison in another player's faerie catching bottle, I gave her spirit a lift in my body and ran off to find a way to get her back to the Nevernever before sun up.

Overall I thought the session went really well.  Our GM, Josh, seemed to have a very good grasp on the rules, and he sure did a much better job of moving the FATE economy along that I ever did when I ran Dresden.  The other players were great and for the most part really did a good job of getting into their characters.  Out of character I balked a little bit in my own head at the caution shown by other's actions (hey we are teenagers here folks!) but it wasn't even remotely on a level that could be labeled a "problem".  Also I sure let me leap to the forefront and both take tons of risks and push my agenda, so that was nice.

The whole thing went so well that it looks like we are going to start a twice a month Dresden game with the same group.  I can't wait to play it.  And to build the Dresdenverse version of Seattle, which will be our setting.

July's Game Day was a great time as usual.  I played a smaller number of games than I usually do, but each one had a good amount of quality fun in it.  I'm really looking forward to next month's.  Hopefully I'll both get to play some more good games and get to run a full on play test session of my Mecha RPG.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monsterhearts Part 3

The MGG played through our third, and for now final, Monsterhearts session last night.  I had fun, but I definitely think it is a good thing we are rotating games for a little bit because I really felt the momentum was winding down.  Of course I fully admit that could be completely just my perspective, because I was so close to achieving the overall character arc goal for Silas; and therefore didn't have much more to drive towards in general.

The session started out with some recap and a little "Well what are you guys up to now?"  Silas went off and tried to apologize to Rosa for his earlier behavior.  Caroline went and found the girl she hooked up with at the party and used her ability to get some healing via closeness and intimacy.  Dominique continued her weird three-way date with the other selkie Ann and Mr. Samwell (this caused a slight disconnect because it seemed both me and Emily said things that happened in the following day or two after our next session; but then Josh picked right back at the minute of leaving off.  I had a little bit of "Well this didn't actually happen yet but we're referring to it as if it had.....huh.") by going to Baskin Robbins.

Dominique apparently got it into her head to try and steal Ann's pelt for some reason.  She didn't know where it was though so she called Caroline, who Dominique knew was good at finding out secrets.  Dominique described the situation to Caroline and piqued her interest (though the whole time during that conversation I was thinking "Wait, I didn't think Caroline knew you were a selkie.....huh") and Caroline called Silas, so she could use him for his car.  :p

Silas and Caroline arrived at Baskin Robbins and joined the other three inside.  Caroline squeezed in to the actual table the rest of them were at, Silas just perched on a counter stool nearby and kind of hovered.  Silas also got an orange sherbet cone because orange sherbet is awesome.  There was some awkward and ineffectual conversation at the table, and Caroline tried to find out the secret location of the pelt by asking her demon the Poisoner, but she backed off of following through on asking because the price the Poisoner demanded didn't appeal to her.  Apparently Caroline cares whether or not Rosa ends up as a possible human sacrifice.  Silas just made comments from the peanut gallery.

After a bit Ann and Mr. Samwell decided to leave.  Dominique and Caroline decided to follow them, and Silas went along with it cause he was bored.  They got outside and looked around, not seeing their quarry until, in a classic camera shot style, they turned and found her RIGHT THERE.  She warned them to stay out of her business, using some sort of magical fear ability that Silas and Caroline resisted but Dominique failed her roll against and succumbed to.  Silas being a smart ass told her off and blew smoke in her face.  This caused her to lean in and whisper something in his ear, which resulted in an immediate unleashing of Silas' Darkest Self.  Then things go fun *evil grin*

Silas immediately punched Ann right in the gut, causing 2 harm with a good roll.  He then tried to hit her again but found that he couldn't do it, some sort of mental block was keeping him from swinging at her.  So he turned and backhanded Dominique.  Dominique turned and ran away from Silas, crying in terror.  Silas then jumped on Caroline, bodily pinning her against the wall and biting into her neck like a drunk, sloppy vampire.  He took a little bit of damage while attacking her (from my poor-ish roll) but held on and started lapping up her delicious hot blood.  She tried to retaliate and failed, but her fighting back broke Silas' concentration on her neck and blood and caused him to switch the focus of his hunger by forcibly kissing her with his blood covered mouth and getting way too handsy.  Silas was still a little pissed at being denied by her earlier.  Caroline was even more freaked out by the fact that she was getting turned on by all this (huzzah successful Turn On roll meaning you get turned on whether you think you would or not).

While all this was happening Dominique made it over to Mr. Samwell's car and fought down her fear of Ann long enough to seek refuge and escape with them.  Silas because aware of this peripherally and dropped Caroline in order to sprint over and leap on the hood of Mr. Samwell's car; punching his windshield and cause large spider-webbing cracks to spread across it.  Silas continued to pound on the windshield until Samwell managed to get the car going and threw him off.  Silas glanced over towards Caroline again; but was done with her for now as she fled into the Baskin Robbins.  He decided to steal a car and go find more chaos to cause.

Meanwhile Caroline got Steve, the guy working the Baskin Robbins, to help her staunch the blood flow and call 911.  While this was happening she used some of her blood to draw on a table and Gaze Into The Abyss to try and understand what was going on with Silas.  She saw visions that revealed a lot about him, and found out that this was like what happened with the witches and that Silas' family had stopped him and calmed him down that time.  So she quickly called Silas' house and talked to his grandfather, who was dismissive at first but then immediately took action when she told him Silas was out of control.  She then got patched up and taken to the hospital.

Dominique escaped with the other two and they let her off at her place, though Ann tormented her the whole way apparently.  Silas took his stolen car and crashed it into a liquor store; stealing some high proof bottles and making molotov cocktails out of them.  He then proceeded to fire bomb a few things and run off to cause a bit more random chaos before his family caught up to him and brought him to heel once again.

That brought things to a close for the most part.  Because of all the rolling and the craziness though I managed to get just enough out of the short session to get an advancement and chose a new Ghoul one that allowed me to choose a new Hunger.  So I added the Hunger for Flesh and completed my desired character arc for Silas.  At that point there was time for maybe one more scene; but no one really had a strong idea for what to do from there, except maybe fast forward to a climactic confrontation with Ann; which would have been more than one scene.  So we stopped and just discussed things for awhile.

We all could see more game play happening at some point, but a break needed to be taken.  The opinions on the game in general were quite varied.  Josh was a fan of the setting and such but didn't really like the system, mostly because skills were more generic instead of specifically designed.  Emily liked parts of the system a whole lot, but was slightly less taken with the theme.  John really liked the system overall, but also wasn't as taken with the theme.  Me I love them both.  The system works real well for being improv and narrative, and really letting you drive towards a goal.  The theme is just guilty pleasure fun.

Overall I had a TON of fun playing this game.  I enjoyed my character and loved being able to just see something I want and go for it with no regard for consequences or other's perceptions.  This is something I totally can not make myself do it real life; so the escapism was nice.  I enjoy the directed flow and drive of the Apocalypse World engine behind the game.  Also the fact that I got to tie in Lovecraftian mythos was a nice bonus.

Next week we'll be tackling Smallville character creation.  We are basically coming into it with the thought that we'll see whether or not we actually play a session or two, based on how character creation goes; but we are leaning towards playing.  I can't wait.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Freedom Sunday XVIII (July 15, 2012)

Had a good time playing board games yesterday up at Bear's by the Maul.  Managed get in three rounds of gaming before my exhaustion kicked in and I had to head home and get some sleep.

First off me and a couple other folks got to play a couple of rounds of a new game called D-Day Dice.  I found it to be an interesting, but apparently rather difficult game.  We were playing without actually having the rules on hand though, so we may have been doing it all wrong.  I blame John.

The game works very like Roll Through the Ages if you are familiar with that one.  You roll a handful of custom dice and you are looking to build pools of resources by getting the die face results that give them to you.  The dice can yield Troops, Courage, Stars, Tools, or Skulls.  You have six dice to start and have to lock two down immediately after your first roll; but then you get two more rolls to try and manipulate the other four dice into the combinations you want.  The dice are red, white, and blue; two of each color.  If you get the same type of die face on each of the three colors you can get some nice bonuses out of that, or if you get a "straight" of one of each die face you can also get another reward.

You are building up these resources in order to try and accomplish a thematic World War II combat mission.  The one we tried to do was the landing on and taking of Omaha Beach.  The method for accomplishing the mission was to basically move up the beach, through various zones to the bunker, and then take out the bunker.  This is made challenging by various elements.  There are minefields and zones in the path of machine gun fire.  There are some zones that require certain Specialists (that you recruit with the Stars you roll) in order to go into and pass through them.  Also, every zone has a troop cost that you have to pay each turn you spend in that zone, and the cost rises quickly the further up the beach you get.  Making everything worse is the fact that you can only stay in a given zone three turns max, and some of them even less.

The various resources help you overcome these obstacles.  Troops gives you warm bodies to soak up the various forms of damage and attrition that come flying at you.  Tools give you a currency to buy various items that give you bonuses and reduce penalties.  Courage is spent to be able to move over zone thresholds as you go further up the beach.  As stated above Stars let you buy specialists that give you some cool abilities.  Skulls are just evil, the cancel out one other die that you have rolled; unless you can get lucky and get the one of each color trio.

It was a very quick playing game, we went through the scenario twice in a short amount of time.  The speed was helped out by the fact that John is apparently terrible at the game ;).  We died before we got past the second set of zones on the beach both times.  It feels like one of those games that will be very difficult and just require sheer perfect luck until you figure out the best combinations and strategies; and then it will be fun and challenging, but doable.  I look forward to playing some more, this time with actual rules.

This was followed up by a game of Core Worlds, a deck building game of space conquest.  The game has a really cool theme in my opinion, each of the players plays a periphery bandit/barbarian kingdom that is fighting its way towards the center of the old and waning Galactic Realm; trying to reach and take the core worlds.  Mechanically the game reminds me a lot of both Barbarossa and Eminent Domain; because of the combination of deck building and combat, but if you know about Dominion, you'll at least know the basics.  Your aim is to get the most Empire Points, you do this by adding cards to your deck, and then using the cards you draw each turn to conquer worlds and gain resources; which you then use to do the same thing on bigger and bigger scales.

The game has ten turns and each turn has five phases.  First you draw cards.  Then you build up energy.  Energy is your main resource for the game, it is how you buy cards into your deck, play cards onto the table, and activate special abilities on some cards.  Each of your planets generates a set amount listed on the card, so the more you conquer the greater your energy production.  You also have a couple of Energy Surge cards that you can spend when you have them to get some more energy.  These cards normally give you +1 but you can get +2 if anyone else at the table produces more energy than you from their planets, which is a nice little catch the leader mechanic.  You also have the ability to discard two cards to get +1 energy.  In the two games I have played we have been allowing people to do that last bit as many times at they want.  After the last game I was looking at the rules and realized you can only do it once.  Oops.  The interesting thing with energy generation is that you are doing it before you get to see what cards are available to purchase/conquer this turn.  So you have to make decisions about whether to keep more troops or to discard a couple for more buying power, stuff like that.

Next you deal out the cards that are available for this turn.  As you progress through the game you will draw from a new deck for these cards every other turn, so you are constantly introducing newer and cooler cards; which is nice.  Also cards only stay on the table for two turns max.  If they aren't taken the first turn they are out they get a +1 energy token as an incentive on the next turn, and then the turn after that they are discarded.  You draw up to a certain number of cards based on the number of players, and if necessary you keep drawing until you have both planets and non planet cards equal to the number of players.  This makes sure everyone at least has some chance of getting stuff they want.

Then you start going around the table and spending actions and energy to accomplish stuff.  You'll be conquering planets, deploying troops and starships, and drafting (buying) new cards out of the middle into your deck.  You can conquer or buy only once each time if comes around to you; but you can deploy as many units as you want each time as long as you have the resources to do so.  Conquering planets requires some combination of Fleet and Ground strength.  You basically declare you are attacking a given planet, then discard cards from your warzone (the area on the table where you have played down units) that have Fleet and Ground strength equal to or greater than the defense strengths of the planet.  Then you take it and put it on your warzone, hurrah a new planet has joined your growing empire.  After everyone has used up all their actions/energy or passed there is a quick cleanup and discard phase and then a new turn begins.

Overall I like the game.  I'm a fan of deck building and I love sci-fi and spaceships type themes.  The thing I didn't like about the two-player game was that there felt like there were a ton of cards that I was never going to see or use because of how few cards were drawn each turn; but that was fixed in the larger game.  The rising costs to buy and conquer things can be a bit unforgiving if you don't manage to keep up with the momentum; but I don't think that it is in any way impossible to catch up, just sometimes difficult.  There is definitely plenty of room in various places for analysis paralysis, and you need to go in turn order at those specific places since you are all competing for a common pool of resources.

The five player game took quite a while, but I think the time would be cut in half once everyone knew the game and knew what they were doing.  I went into the five player game with a distinct strategy, get robots and vehicles and then get the world at the end that gave bonuses for robots and vehicles.  I accomplished this, and won by one point, but I felt like I didn't do it as well as I could, and that dumb luck had its fair share of my accomplishment.  Looking forward to getting more plays in and seeing if I can get better at it.

Finally we played a four player game of Last Will.  I've reviewed that already over here, so not going into much detail on it.  I played a terrible game, making stupid choices and having a lot of incidents of "What the crap am I doing being this stupid?".  Despite my own advice against properties, I decided to give them a try, and failed horribly at using them.  I was doing things a turn or two before I should have, or picking sub-optimal choices all over the place.  In my defense I had been up for about 20-21 hours straight at that time.  But I still enjoyed the game, and tried to make clear that my anger was only at myself not at anyone else or the game.  Anders played a really good game and totally kicked my butt, and he deserved to do so.

Looking forward to next week.  I think I saw an expansion to Tanto Cuore there, and if I did then I ABSOLUTELY want to play that soon.  I <3 that game.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Remember Tomorrow Review Part 2

In the vein of trying to get more updates out, here is a quick second look at Remember Tomorrow with my opinions after having played a second time.

We played a second session of the game last Monday.  Josh was unable to make it because of some sort of pandemic that was localized to his house.  Therefore it was just me, John, and Emily.  Luckily Josh's character had achieved his goal and been written out at the end of the last session; so it all worked out.

The session ended up being fairly short.  I wrote myself out pretty quickly and managed to get my character's mind transferred into an android body.  John also wrote his character out after a few more scenes and ended the session with a cool scene where his character found his long lost brother.  Emily I believe did not get very close to achieving her goal; but she most likely would have very quickly in a third session; or if that session had gone one a few more scenes.

After I wrote my character out I made a new character that was basically a crazy loose cannon that was aimed directly at the other two characters.  I did not get to play him for very long; I think only 2 or 3 scenes. But in the short time I had I think I managed to really GET how this game can be done correctly.  It is very much as I and John said in the last post; a game where you are playing a GM first and mostly just reacting as a PC.  Coming into it with that mindset totally made things click and my opinion on the game pretty much did a 180.

I really think that the game could heavily benefit from instructions or at least a heavy suggestion that when you make your initial characters you should be looking to create interesting points of antagonism with the other PCs.  At the very least you should have to make your Faction be set up to go against and interact with someone else's character; and not make it be about your own.  I think that that would really help you come to the first play session with a correct mindset and a better setup for making the game work the way it was intended to work.

Overall when I look at the game and the play experience with a more objective point of view; I think it was really fun and a very well designed game.  The problems I had the first time around where with me; not really with the game itself.  There are some really cool ideas that I may be stealing or modifying for my own projects in the future, and I think I would enjoy doing another round of it at a Game Day or something.  So I'd say definitely give it a shot if you get the opportunity, it is worth your time and effort.

Quick Update

Boy have I been horrible about putting up posts this week.  Not to get into too much complaining; but work has been soul-suckingly terrible, and I finally get why so many of my friends so often do not feel like hanging out after a full day of work.  So all I have felt like doing is sleeping and consuming mindless entertainment, for the most part.

There has been some stuff going on though, and when I can get the mental energy to work on it, I'm really excited about my current project.  Yes, I do remember that I was right in the middle of analysing the Cortex Plus system; and I'm going to get back to that soon.  Hopefully later this week.  But I also have a brand new project that I'm working on.  My first built from scratch RPG project, which is all about giant mecha fighting robots, crazy space monsters, galactic exploration and conquest, and vending machines.  Don't worry, it really all does tie together.

I've been working on coming up with the base mechanics, and doing some online play testing with friends.  I've got the core combat rules partly figured out; I mostly just need to try out a long list of bells and whistles to see what should be added and what should not.  I've got initial concepts for the out of combat stuff and some portions of character creation and advancement; and I'll be testing those out soon.  Also I've come up with a decent framework for the story and worldbuilding, as well as a cool concept for the physical book when I get it done.

I've got my own little sub-forum over on where I can do all my play testing.  Here is a link.  I will be posting most updates there, as well as trying to do some more play testing on the forum.  I have every intention of developing this to a full and complete game, and then at least trying my hand at a Kickstarter project to get it made.  Who knows if folks will want to see it happen, that is something I'll deal with when it is done.

Besides that I have 21 other project ideas on a list that I want to work on and make at some point.  Some are one shot scenarios for Game Days, some are more custom RPGS.  There are even some board and card  game concepts.  Hopefully 2 or 3 will actually come to fruition at least.

Plus I'll be keeping up the posting of APs and reviews as much as I can, and putting up some more snippets from my short fiction story.  I promise to try harder to be more consistent for you guys.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Last Will Board Game Review

A few Sundays ago I played a board game called Last Will. Here is an excerpt from BGG that explains the theme of the game:

“In his last will, your rich uncle stated that all of his millions will go to the nephew who can enjoy money the most. How to find out which nephew should be rich? You will each be given a large amount of money and whoever can spend it first will be the rightful heir. Visit the most exclusive theaters or eat in the most expensive restaurants. Buy old properties for the price of new ones and sell them as ruins. Host a huge party in your mansion or on your private boat. Spend like your life would depend on it. Spend to become rich! If you're the first to run through the money on hand, you'll receive the rest of his inheritance – oh, and win the game.”

Sounds fun doesn't it? I sure found it to be quite well designed and a lot of fun.

For starters the art in the game is very well done and a theme that I particularly enjoy. I'd call it Victorian or Dickensian I guess. You know top hats and corsets, gaslights and horse drawn carriages. There are quite a few cards in this game and pretty much every one of them has something nice to look at on it.

The board exhibits good graphic design, with an appealing look, nice, easy to understand layout, and plenty of space for what is there. The individual player boards are nicely arranged as well, and heck there are even little wooden top hat meeples!

The game rules were, in my opinion, fairly easy to learn and understand, and the strategies seem both deep and varied. This is obviously a very good thing.

The game is played out until the end of seven turns or someone spends all their money, whichever happens first. If no one wins before the end of seven rounds, then the winner is the player with the least money and property values. If someone goes bankrupt on a previous round, then you play out that round and whoever is furthest in debt by the end of the round wins.

A turn takes place in five distinct phases. The first phase is setup, and is nice and quick. Basically fill the 8 card slots on the main game board with the designated type of card; and there are icons on the board to tell you which type goes where.

Next up is planning. There are eight different planning options on the board in a 4 player game, I think there are less with less players. Each option has four components to it: Card Draws, Errand Boys, Actions, and Turn Order. Each plan has different combinations of the first three, i.e. Four card draws, one errand boy, and two actions. The turn order portion is determined by how far to the left in the line up of planning spaces you place your token. The plans to the left go before the plans to the right; but the plans to the right have the advantage of getting you more stuff. You pick a plan and place your token on it, and then immediately draw the designated number of cards from any of the four main card decks (more on them later).

After that you, in turn order as determined by the planning track placement, place your Errand Boy tokens (the awesome little wooden top hats). You will have either one or two errand boys on a given turn, and each player takes turns placing one at a time until everyone has placed all of theirs. You have a good selection of options for what to do with them. First, the biggest variety of options are the various face up cards that you dealt onto the board during setup. You can place an errand boy on one of them to immediately take it into your hand. These cards range from being exactly the same type of cards you get from draws, to special more powerful version that you can only get this way, or even wild cards. There is one spot for getting an expansion to your player board. Your player board starts with five slots for cards, and this allows you to add more slots. Each player has a color coded space that allows them to just draw a card from a deck. There is the real estate market, where you can go manipulate the price modifiers for the four different types of buildings. And one person, if they don't really want to do anything else, can just go to the opera and spend $2.

The next phase is the Action Phase. Remember back when you got actions from your chosen plan? Here is where you spend them. You can play cards from your hand or activate cards that are already on your player board. Most cards will take at least one action to perform, and many will have an option to spend more actions to get more benefits out of the card play. Each card will explain what type of actions are needed and what you get from spending them on the card itself. This phase looks fairly straight forward, but the majority of the strategy and planning is in this phase. The other two are mostly just worker placement. Here you have to plan out the use of the limited resources of Actions and Cards in order to move towards your goal as quickly and efficiently as possible. Lots of interesting approaches can be taken.

Finally you have an End of Round Phase. Here you discard down to two hand cards, depreciate properties (more on that later), reset any activated cards on your player board, clear unclaimed cards from the main board, reclaim figures, move the turn marker, and pass the first player marker to the left.

Now, to understand all the things you can and might want to do during a given turn you need to know about the different types of cards in the game. There are four main types of cards, in four main decks: Events, Companions, Helpers and Expenses, and Properties.

Events are white bordered cards that represent one time expenses and experiences. They will be things like going to the theater, taking a sailing trip, going on a carriage ride, having a fine dinner, etc. Each will take one or more actions to play, and are played directly from your hand. Almost all will result in your being able to spend a certain amount of money. Many of them can be enhanced by either spending more actions to cause the expense to go up, or by attaching companion cards to the event to also make the expense go up. The card will have the details as to what particular companions can come along, and how many actions are necessary to bring them. These cards ended up being a huge portion of my strategy, and one of my favorite ways to spend money.

Helpers, Expenses, and Properties all are black bordered cards. To play them you have to have an open space on your player board. Most will take an action to play down to the board, and can then be activated for further effects later on, usually by spending more actions. Expenses work like events, except they stay in play and can cost you money each turn. Some will just drain money without having to spend actions, and some will require one or more actions to activate. I also really found that I'm a fan of non-action costing Expenses.

Helpers give you cool bonuses and advantages. Some of them also cost you money, which is nice, but even if they don't you will always get something cool; like extra actions, or being able to activate things without spending actions, or giving bonuses on buying or selling properties; stuff like that. The one that gives extra actions is VERY nice.

Properties are one of the main ways that you can get rid of large chunks of money. You're best case scenario is to buy the property at a high price, then sell it again later at a much lower one; losing as much money as possible on the deal. You can affect the prices via the real estate market and by special abilities from cards. Also, as long as you don't pay the maintenance cost on property, most of them will depreciate in value at the end of each turn; further adding to your loses. Which remember is a good thing. The other thing you can do instead of letting the property depreciate, or on the ones that don't depreciate, is to activate the property and pay the maintenance costs. This is another good way to spend money each turn, and you can enhance the amount spent with extra actions and companions, just like with events.

Properties are however a double edged sword. Sure you can lose a good amount of money on them, via depreciation or maintenance, but you also have to sell off all of them before you can declare bankruptcy, go into debt, and win. So if you are getting near the end of the game; you should probably start ditching those properties. Also, because of the short number of turns, you won't get to pay those maintenance costs very many times, or allow is to depreciate naturally for every long if you want to ditch it before the game ends. When I played I was the only one not to have any properties when the game ended (in round six with me winning btw :) ). I think properties CAN be good, you just have to avoid the temptation to hold on to them for too long. And remember, when you sell that property you are probably going to get a decent amount of money back, even if you sell at quite a loss, and you will have to plan for getting rid of that money quickly if you want to win.

The last type of cards are slate (blueish color) bordered, and these are the companions. There are four types: Dog, Horse, Guest, and Chef. There are also a couple of wild cards that can be any of them; and these are available face up on the board, not from drawing. As I've stated in the descriptions of the other cards, these are used to enhance the amount of money you spend on events, expenses, etc.

Technically there is one more deck of cards, the special cards, but they can't be drawn up the way the other ones can. You can only get them by claiming them off the main board with errand boys. These cards will be both white and black bordered; and will tend to be slightly better versions of the same type of cards from those respective decks.

I'll wrap up with my thoughts on the game in general. I've already stated how I loved it aesthetically, and that I found it to be well designed and have deep strategy possibilities. All very good accolades in the games metaphorical cap (or top hat). Properties are a double-edged sword and may or may not be worth it. Events seem to be where it is at, at least in my opinion. I loved that there are lots of different paths to victory that you can take though; and none is really the right way.

I think that you don't have to be too caught up in picking the right plan during the planning phase, both because you can always get something good no matter what order you go in the turn; and because everyone gets to be first player once or twice.

Top hat meeples rock!

Overall this was a great games, that was tons of fun, and I look forward to playing it some more. I will probably buy it at some point in the future, and that is about as strong a recommendation as I can give I guess.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Night Shift Terrors, Chapter 1.2

“Holy s@#t! What the hell?” Silas rubbed the back of his head where he had slammed it against the wall.

“You act like you've never seen a cat before.”

“Not on in a mirror, and certainly not one that talks!”

The tabby stepped forward through the mirror, the surface of the glass rippling like water as it passed through.

“Better now?”

“Halfway,” Silas responded, not looking at the cat as he tried to twist around to see the back of his head.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to figure out what is causing me to hallucinate you.”

“I'm not a hallucination.”

“Which is exactly something a hallucination would say.”


“Why what?”

“Why is that something a hallucination would say, exactly?”

“I don't know. Maybe being not real gives you low self-esteem and you want to try and reaffirm your non-existence by stating it?”

Silas gave up trying to see the back of his head and just felt it instead. There was some tenderness, but nothing that felt critical. So why was he seeing things?

“I assure you I'm not trying to alleviate any self-worth issues. Also you saw me before you bumped your head.”

“That does lend a bit of credence to your non-hallucinatory argument.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“You're welcome.”

“So you believe me now?”

“That or I'm dreaming, either one works for me cause I need the sleep.”

“Frankly, either works for me as well. Now please come with me.”

“Where to?”

“You wouldn't believe me if I told you.”

“I'm believing a talking cat.”

“Quite commendable of you.”

Silas opened the door and followed the cat down the hallway, down past the front offices and into the conference room, right to a door in the back labeled “Supply”.

“I wouldn't believe a supply closet?”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

The tabby jumped up, grabbing the handle and pulling the door open.

Looking through the opening door, Silas gasped.

Chapter 1.3

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Remember Tomorrow Session 1 Review

Last night me and the MGG played our first session of the new cyberpunk "GM-less" game called Remember Tomorrow.  The game is created by Gregor Hutton, who is a fairly well known indie RPG designer and previously known to me for his really fun space bug killing(like the Starship Troopers movie) RPG called 3:16.  I enjoyed 3:16 when I played it way back at the start of MGG, would actually enjoy playing it again sometime.

As I said Remember Tomorrow is a cyberpunk game.  If that doesn't mean anything to you then think of the movie Blade Runner.  If that doesn't mean anything to you then I'm sorry, your life must suck.  Go watch that movie right now.  Stop reading and go watch it.

Have you corrected that sin against your own humanity?  Good.

Remember Tomorrow is also a "Gm-less" game, as in there is no set gamemaster, everyone gets to play.  That is a little bit of a misnomer in this one, because it really comes across as almost more of a "player-less" game (that observation was made by John, and after considering it I agree) because what you really end up doing with the bulk of your effort in this game is trading off the GM chair.

The basic structure of the game involves going around the table and taking turns framing and narrating scenes.  When your turn comes up you have three options for scene type:  Introduction, Deal, Face Off.  The only time you don't have access to all three options is during the first two rounds of scenes, when each player introduces the PC and the Faction that they created during setup, using, you guessed it, Introduction Scenes.

Character and Faction creation are simple and quick.  They have to be, because you can and will be creating more of each on the fly as you play the game.  You pick or roll randomly for various components of your character, and quickly assemble them all into a short but succinct picture of a PC.  To create a PC you do the following steps:
1.  Pick a Name/Handle (lists are provided and they are in sets of 10 if you just want to roll.)
2.  Roll/Pick an Identity:  You're looking at things like Activist, Dealer, Tech, Hacker, etc.  Purely color and fluff here.
3.  Roll/Pick a Motivation:  Envy, Greed, Freedom, Respect and the like.  No mechanical weight to these, but they do have a large fictional weight.  Your goal and drive in the game will be heavily tied to it.
4.  Gear:  Roll or pick 3 pieces of fun cyberpunk gear, like flying cars, needler guns, artificial limbs, etc.  Once again this is going to be fluff and color.
5.  Parameters Ready/Willing/Able:  These are your "stats" for this game, they describe how Ready, Willing, and Able you are to pursue and accomplish your goal.  They will be rated on a scale of 1-9 and you basically roll d10s and try to get at or under these scores to get successes.  You get 12 points to split between the three, none can start higher than 8 and lower than 2 is probably dangerous.
6.  Conditions:  You get one Positive Condition (Angry, Connected, Prepared, etc) and one Negative (Confused, Dying, Lost, Hunted, etc).  These flavor your RP and end up being a currency that both you and your opponents spend to affect outcomes.
7.  Goal:  Finally pick a goal.  No option to roll randomly for this sadly :)  Look at your Identity, Motivation, Conditions, all that and let it influence your decision when coming up with a goal.

Making a Faction is pretty much the same sort of thing.  You pick a Type(like Identity), Conditions, Motivation, and Influence (like Parameters but just one and starts at 4).

I rolled randomly for pretty much everything I possibly could, except Parameters, Goal, and first name.  I ended up with the following character:

Elias Yamamoto, Activist.  Motivation: Survival, Ready 5, Willing 4, Able 3, PCondition: Angry, NCondition: Dying, Gear: VTOL, Flechette Gun, Knowledge Skillsoft, Goal:  Get my consciousness transferred into a synth body.

And Faction:  Orange Micro, Pharma Corp.  Motivation: Revenge, Influence: 4, PCondition: Enthused, NConditon: Coerced

John created an Arms Dealer named Connor Wu and the Green Dragon Triad faction.  Emily made Vitoria Chen, a VR entertainment cube dealer and the Doki Doki Gang(a professional group of contract killers), and Josh came up with Leonard Spencer, an antiques dealer, and the Kleinen Pharmaceuticals faction.

We all started off in various places across the world, me and Josh somewhere in Europe, Emily and John over in Asia around Hong Kong.  I had a bit of trouble keeping together track of all the details of the four different stories that were all happening at once; so I'm not going to go into much detail as to what happened in the actual play.

Connor Wu spent time trying to track down his estranged brother, while dealing with the Green Dragon Triad trying to pull him back in.  Vitoria Chen was dealing having been financially cuckolded by her ex and trying to get out from under her dad's influence; though the forceful offer from the GD Triad was not the way she wanted to do it.  Leonard Spencer was constantly going out the fire escape to get away from IRS agents, Triad thugs, and the like; while working for Kleinen to acquire some sort of giant Faberge egg that supposedly had a deadly virus sample hidden within it.  Oh and Elias hired the Doki Doki Gang to try and take out the leader of the anti-android Church of One Life, as well as spending time looking for a place with the equipment for the consciousness transfer.

Back to looking at the framework of the game.  As I said before when your turn comes up you are basically stepping into the GM chair to one degree or another, its called being the Controller in game terms.  Your three options if you remember were Introduction, Deal, and Face-Off scenes.  An Introduction scene is exactly what it sounds like, you introduce a new character or faction.

Your first two rounds of scenes will all be these, introducing each players initial PC and Faction.  Then as you play if you want to bring a new PC or Faction into play, just whip one up real quick (nice to have a good stack of blank sheets available for this) and then run an Intro scene for it.  After narrating the intro, you make an unopposed roll (all rolls are 3d10 by default) and then compare the die results to your Parameters or Influence to see how many successes you get.  You then spend the successes 1 for 1 to get various improvements like increasing a Parameter, adding a PCon or removing a NCon.

A Deal scene lets your Held PC make a deal with a Faction.  I just realized I didn't address Held PCs yet.  Basically each player gets to hold on to a single PC as their exclusive character that only they can use, but one can change the PC you have Held with other PCs that are out in the middle if one wants to.  All non-Held PCs are in the middle and usable by anyone.  In a Deal scene you pick 1 Faction in the middle and narrate a scene where you negotiate a deal that advantages both your PC and the Faction.  The Faction gets an automatic +1 Influence bump, and the PC gets an unopposed roll to try and get successes to spend on improvements.

The main meat of the game are going to be Face-Off scenes, at least that is the intention.  In a Face Off scene you pick either your Held PC or one of the common PCs or Factions and then go after someone else's Held PC.  You narrate the scene, and then when you come to a point of conflict you each state a scene goal and make an opposed roll.  The side with the most successes wins and gets their scene goal for free, and then gets to spend their margin of success (difference in successes between the Winner and Loser) on improvements, similar to the other two scenes.  The big difference is that here in a Face Off is the only place you can spend a success to get a Tick or check on one of your Parameters.  Accomplishing your goal requires a Tick on each of your Parameters btw, showing that your totally Ready, Willing, and Able to carry out your goal.  Also, if you lose this roll off, and want to still hamper your opponent, you have the option of removing one of their NCons to reduce their margin of success by one.

The other side of the currency in the game are the PCons, which can be spent before a roll to add an auto-success, or after for a re-roll.

Now I know there has been a lot here, and the post is long already, but I'm going to finish off with a few of my thoughts and impressions about the game so far:

- Love the ability to have random character creation
- The wording and language of the game really seems to work well for it and its genre and theme
- It is a tight, clean well designed game
- You feel like your almost always improving your character and driving forward
- Core mechanics are easy to figure out and prepping is a simple process
- Seems to do a good job of handling the disparate stories that end up connecting later style

- Not a big fan of the Cross mechanic.  Which I forgot to mention, but its basically if you roll a double or triple on the dice then the next person's scene has to incorporate something from yours.  Its meant to integrate the stories, but it comes across forced and can be annoying
- Keeping track of four different stories, or three other peoples stories while planning my own, was very difficult.  And driving someone else's story via Face-Off scenes is very important, so you HAVE to know what is going on.
- I feel a strong disparity between the natural desire to drive your goal forward, and the place where your power is vested in the mechanics.  Basically you have the ability to drive other's stories forward, but your own mostly has to wait on others to drive it.  This was very hard for me to get totally.
- Standard issue with highly narrative games, if you take full control of a scene things can get a bit masturbatory, but if you hand off control of NPCs the other people may feel self-conscious that they don't know the NPC or know where you want to go, or may just "mess things up" if your view.  Another hard thing for me to deal with.
- It can be hard to frame scenes in other's stories without stopping game flow for a meta-explanation of where they see their story going, and what they are doing with it so far.

Overall you have to really pay attention to the other stories, get invested in the other characters, be thinking of what you can do to drive their story home; and pretty much just be reactive with your own story and character.  All of that is very counter intuitive to me.  It definitely feels more like what one would be doing in the GM chair instead of the player chair, and getting into that mind set was a bit beyond me for the first session.  But I really like the design and aesthetic here, and we will be playing again next week.  So hopefully I can grok it this time and come at it with a better attitude and understanding.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Night Shift Terrors, Chapter 1.1

Silas leaned back in his chair, stretching and yawning.  Turning to his co-worker next to him he said, "Hey, I'm going to go take a break, see if I can wake up."

Keith looked at him and grunted an affirmative.

Silas yawned again as he pulled his keys out and opened the locked door leading out of the resident hall and into the rest of the building.  It had been two months since he had started working on the night shift, and he still had not gotten used to the crazy sleep schedule.

As he walked towards the bathroom something caught his attention in the corner of his eye.  He turned quickly in that direction, peering out the large floor to ceiling window to the outside, searching for whatever had caught his attention.

The shadowy landscape out the window, barely illuminated by the soft pools of light from a couple of nearby street lights, revealed nothing to his scanning eyes.  After a few seconds he shrugged and turned to continue down the hall.  It was probably just one of the stray cats that hung around the building.

The bathroom light flickered on and off a couple of times before resolving into a solid, humming glare.  Silas shook his head in annoyance.  The maintenance worker here was really slow about getting things fixed.  Though in all fairness there was a lot of stuff broken in Pickman Hills Center.

After washing his hands he turned the faucet to cold and left it running.  He looked at his face in the mirror, sighing at the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes.  He had to do something to get his sleeping back under control.

He cupped his hands under the flow of cold water and splashed his face.  With his eyes closed he splashed his face again and then groped for the paper towels.  Drying his face off with a couple he opened his eyes and jumped back as he met the gaze of a striped tabby, staring out at him from the other side of the mirror.

"Hello," said the cat, grinning broadly.

Cortex Plus Design Diary 02: Components of Character, Part 3

Upon looking at the list of different Trait types for all the Cortex Plus games I have noticed that a few patterns emerge.

First off you can find the Distinctions Trait in every game.  I think this is very telling of the quality and design of the Margaret Weis Productions games.  Distinctions are all about the character of your PC, and all of these games do a wonderful job of exuding and promoting character through mechanics.  It is one of my favourite things about them.

Next let's look at what else is common across all four games.  Though the name and details may change, there is always a type of Trait that deals with the skills and training of the character, as well as one that deals with the physical abilities, be they natural, preternatural, or supernatural.  Since the use of these type of abilities is the most logical way to take actions and just plain do things, this completely makes sense.

Relational Traits are the next most common, appearing in three of the four games.  The only one without them is Dragon Brigade, so technically they are in all of the published games.  They are more of the focus in some games, Smallville, than others, Marvel, but they are there.  I'm very happy to see them too.  I love mechanically codifying relationships and social connections in roleplaying games.  Yes, there is a good amount of debate about whether you should have this or that amount of social mechanics, and how you should "just roleplay it."  But I really think, if you put the weight and consistency of mechanics behind your social roleplay, as long as you stay in the mindset of putting fun and story first, you only help out the roleplay.

The last of the five categories of Traits I'm going to talk about are ones that deal with morals and values.  Two of the games, and only one of the published ones, have an explicit Trait type that deals with this topic.  But I think the subject is there in the others, it just isn't focused on as much.  Also, in Marvel and Leverage you are playing superheroes and Robin Hood types respectively.  So to a degree an amount of moral viewpoint is already pre-set by the very character types.

So as I move towards creating a system where one can customize Cortex Plus to whatever setting you want, I'll be looking at five distinct Trait categories:  Character, Relational, Skill, Physical, and Morality

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love Cortex Plus.  The Traits system is just so wonderfully flexible and modular.  It strongly integrates great roleplay aspects, like unique character qualities and relationships, into the mechanics.  And at the end of the day, in all my experiences, it has been just a ton of plain old fun.

Next up is stripping the setting and fluff off of Smallville character creation and looking at its base framework, but that will wait till later in the week.  Next few days will have the start of a serial story and some game reviews.