[GW2] Free-to-Play Sunday

Yesterday ArenaNet aimed to impress with their PAX presentation including the Heart of Thorns release date of October 23. The company brass talked about the vision of Heart of Thorn expansion and beyond, notably with raids (10-man instanced, difficult content) and the core game going free. Except for the forced clap pauses that seem to be part of all video game presentations, I was pretty impressed with the information drop. In reverse order…

Free Core

The biggest note for MMO’dom in general is that Guild Wars 2 is now free. It’s really not F2P, which is a moniker used more to hint at the need for microtransactions and gimped gameplay, or a subscription game changing business models in an extreme manner. All content that is currently available is free. The Heart of Thorns expansion and all that content, with a few exceptions, will be paid. Continue reading [GW2] Free-to-Play Sunday

Bits Box Bleg

I am looking for a storage solution for my gaming accessories, mostly coins but also things like dice and meeples. I am considering tackle boxes and such, although I would need something with large enough spaces to hold small stacks of coins. I want compartments so I do not need to sift through things every time I use them.

Any recommendations or storage solutions you are using?

: Zubon

Guessing

Under the original rules of Mafia, random lynching is necessary, viable, and a good investigative tool. It is the only option the non-mafia players have without adding investigative roles to the game. Pure chance gives the innocents good odds of finding the mafia before losing, and careful observation of discussion and voting often reveals the mafia. So when I see random lynches suggested in Town of Salem, I have mixed feelings; it should help, but given all the special roles, it seems unnecessarily risky and random in a way I find distasteful.

In a game of social deduction and bluffing, winning through random luck is aesthetically displeasing. It violates the Theory of Fun learning aspect of the game, and it feels a lot like the cheesy one-trick ponies who go for an easy win or a quick loss. Give those players a town killing role like Vigilante or Jailor, and they just go for it: soaking up praise if they kill a good target, shrugging if they kill a bad target. I generally do not trust people who exult in random violence.

I had a recent game where the town effectively lost on night 2 because we had two Vigilantes, both of whom shot randomly, both of whom killed fellow townies. For those who have not played Town of Salem, Vigilantes kill themselves the next night if they kill their fellow townies; in a game with 15 players and multiple teams, you can imagine how good your odds are after losing 4 teammates to friendly fire.

But if both Vigilantes had randomly killed mafia members, the town would have had an easy win and celebrated its brilliant heroes. We are happier to win through no virtue than to lose by our own fault.

: Zubon

Happy Third Anniversary, Guild Wars 2!

Three years. That’s pretty good for an MMO to remain in some limelight. To my knowledge the only other two NA-market consistencies are the mythic World of Warcraft and the dark horse EVE.

Players with three-year old characters get a new finisher, some buff goodies, and their choice of a gem store dye (account bound). The latter is really nice for anybody not selling those dyes because you can get a swank 100+ gold dye for blowing out the third year birthday candles.

News? Well of course there is the expansion – Heart of Thorns. It is something that perhaps should have been done before the Living World experiment, but perhaps now there can be both. Question mark. ArenaNet hasn’t really discussed their beyond the expansion plans.

After the first beta weekend for Heart of Thorns, getting to play the reaper (necromancer elite spec) and part of the new map without a 2-hour time limit. My only response was “yup, I’m ready”. A release date would be nice, and a good place to announce it would be at PAX, you think?

There will be a big announcement tomorrow morning at PAX. Basically IGN posted a Tweet (now deleted) in grave error that mentions “raids” and “play the core game for free”.  ArenaNet responded as gracefully as they could. I am certain that the internal response was much more… colorful. More discussion on that here.

Mrs. Ravious and I still log in almost daily, but it’s mostly for puttering about and doing the daily achievements. I have been working slowly on the Season 2 achievements and bringing an alt up to “co-main” status. I am actually getting sick of stockpiling things, and I’m starting to get that gold itch. Last time I scratched it I bought the whole Mordrem weapon set. I’d rather itch it off in the jungle.

Anyway tomorrow morning (or evening geo-dependent) at 10:30 AM Pacific head to Twitch for some announcement fun.

–Ravious

Special Abilities

When I started playing Town of Salem, I wondered if the game’s roles would spoil me for normal games of Mafia/Werewolf. They certainly give me the wrong expectations. In a normal game, few to no players have special roles. The Town is working on little better than random chance until they see a few votes. The game is very different without investigative roles.

Hypothesis: most of the recent posts about leavers arose from people who did not like their roles. There is one great way to eliminate all those people up front: no one gets a special ability. Those players will not show up to that game to begin with.

I am increasingly speculating that leavers are cheesy one-trick ponies. He wanted a killing role. Doesn’t get it? Gone. And it needs to be one of the good killing roles, like a Serial Killer! Arsonist has to wait a while to kill — gone. Bodyguard must protect instead of actively killing — gone. Consort role-blocks — that could be okay, and it might become a killing role. (This undermines my premise of nearly random suicides.)

: Zubon

Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

The last game I learned at our post-Gen Con game night was Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. I use “learned” loosely. We mostly learned how to play, but we were not sure that we had the rules right because we went mostly from someone’s explanation rather than having everyone read the rules, and when we did consult the rules we found things the explanation had missed and a few points that might have been missed in the rules entirely and need a FAQ. Or maybe we just did not find the right page in the rules in the midst of play.

Ashes is a living card game of the sort becoming popular after the relative decline of collectible card games. Android: Netrunner and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game would be in the same category. Instead of buying blind booster packs, you buy an entire set and construct decks from that, then expansions and such come along.

We played a couple of games using the recommended decks. It seemed entertaining, although using recommended decks skipped the deckbuilding experience, and we did not have enough play experience to do much more than learn the basics (and maybe not well). So this is not so much a review as some vague impressions.

The cards are pretty. Continue reading Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

Nevermore

Nevermore was a friend’s most cherished Gen Con acquisition this year. It is entertaining enough, with a mix of elegant and unnecessary mechanics.

Nevermore is primarily a drafting game. There are five suits of cards, and you get five cards. Pick two, pass three; you have five again, pick three, pass two; finally, pick four, pass one. This gives you a mixture of control and unpredictability. You then compare cards with the other players. Four of the five cards work the same way: whoever has the most subtracts the second place number and does that much. So if you have four attack cards, and someone else has three, 4-3=1 and you deal 1 damage to someone. The fifth card suit, ravens, is an anti-card that cancels your other cards, but it becomes powerful if you can get most of your hand as ravens. First person to six victory points or last human standing wins.

As a drafting game, it works pretty well. Because all five of your cards are up for choose/pass each round, you might change strategies completely after your first pass. Play tends to resolve pretty quickly. Our player who plays draft Magic twice a week did rather well in his first game, so I am led to believe decisions are meaningful even if there is fair amount of weakly controlled randomization. Some players complained about sitting next to (or worse, between) skilled drafters.

It gets a bit unnecessarily complicated because there are special rules for a variety of special cases. The special rule for getting a hand of 5 ravens makes sense; I have yet to see it happens, but it just fits the game for that to be something special. Then there are special rules for the unlikely circumstances of 4+ damage (not attack cards, damage after comparing to 2nd place), 3+ healing starting at full health (same healing vs. cards), and 5+ radiance cards (cards this time, not after comparing). And then there are two pages of rules relating to raven cards.

One worthwhile piece of complexity is that players turn into ravens instead of dying. They stay in the game and keep playing, with some chance of becoming human again and getting back in the game. Raven players have slightly differing rules for play.

Gameplay is mostly quick, the rules are mostly short and simple. The special rules for a half-dozen unlikely things feel like unnecessary cruft, but it was fun to play.

: Zubon

Tokaido

I tried Tokaido this weekend. It was an appallingly awful experience, but I am led to believe it could be better.

I played a five-player game using the Crossroads expansion. Those links will explain why that is a bad idea. Between the two, you pretty much have Candyland with vastly more complexity and a small bit of strategy.

After playing, I looked at reviews of Tokaido, and almost every one quickly said that the game is not Candyland. That is a lot of smoke for there not to be fire. In the game I played, the range of sane decisions was small, the randomness of the results was large for most squares, and most players were new so we did not even know the range within which randomness occurred. My random character was from the expansion and depended on that randomness, and then I got boxed out of even using most of it due to pawn placement. Such is life. I just repeated as a mantra, “it’s Candyland,” because how much can you care when your decisions have almost no impact on your outcomes?

So pausing here, I would be interested in playing again, but with no more than three players, not using an expansion, and I want a chance to read the cards so I know what the experienced players are basic their decisions on. Having started with two paragraphs of complaints linking to two pages of complaints, why would I be interested in playing again? < --more-->

Tokaido is thematically lovely. It is an equal and opposite of Blood Rage, where a peaceful theme plays into the mechanics. The goal of Tokaido is to walk along the coast. Whoever has the most fun wins. That is literally what you are scoring; whoever has the best time meeting people, visiting seeing the sights, and buying souvenirs wins the game. The visuals are peaceful and elegant. Gameplay is just moving along a line and picking up cards. It is a nice idea.

At a level beyond Candyland, there is cutthroat tactical play. Where you place your pawn matters, and people can aggressively block each other to thwart each others’ goals. Once you know what is hidden in all those decks of cards, you can rationally gamble on the outcome of picking squares with random results. There is gamer play here as well as casual play.

Make sure to have excellent lighting. The other great problem we had was just seeing what was going on. The icons are very small, and several of them are similar. In low lighting, there is not a lot of difference between gray and light blue, especially with glasses like mine. “Is that a hot spring or a view of Mount Fuji?” Tokaido is also one of those games that uses icons in place of words, most of which are good, but some of which only make sense if you already know what they mean. (The worst of that was probably the Crossroads expansion, which I will again curse. One of my friends was enthusiastic because one part helped solve a cash flow problem he had with his shopping-centric strategy; more than doubling the complexity of the game to add exactly six yen is a really bad trade-off.)

I like the idea of the game, and several people were enthusiastic. Under the right circumstances, it looks like it could be a good game.

: Zubon

[TT] Icons and Text

Many Eurogames seem to be minimizing text in favor of icons. This makes sense given an international market; if you are selling your Eurogames in Europe, you have a dozen languages to contend with, and if you are aiming for the lucrative markets in North America or east Asia, having lots of German text will not help your sales. Sadly, many of these icons are horrible, maybe meaningful if you already know what they mean.

For example, Kingdom Builder explains what location tiles do using an arrow for “move” and a somewhat curved arrow for “place.” You will be forgiven for remembering that backwards, and good luck seeing the curve from across the table. And then some do not follow that format, and expansions add more symbols. The icons are an okay reminder if you already know what the location tiles do, but if you do not, they will not help you unless that tile follows the standard format and is close enough to be clearly visible.

For example, Hyperborea uses truly awful symbols to explain what technologies do. As with Kingdom Builder, some follow a basic format that is easy to understand. Some have tiny variations. Some have unique symbols that do not appear elsewhere and may not be explained anywhere. You have not overcome the language barrier if players are having a five-minute debate using inferential logic to figure out what a symbol is supposed to mean. Given the number of similar but slightly differing technologies, these do not even serve as much of a reminder.

very small icons from the Tokaido board game For example, Tokaido has three space types that are mixtures of gray and light blue, some in close proximity and sometimes rotated on the board. The accompanying symbols for each space are measured in millimeters.

My favorite linguistics blog has an entire category for what it calls “nerdview.” This is described as “writing in technical terms from the perspective of the technician or engineer rather than from a standpoint that would seem useful to the customer or reader” or “a linguistically misleading communication in which the failure is not of grammar or meaning but of failing to keep in mind the viewpoint of the reader rather than the specialist (possibly nerdy) view of the writer.” More simply, the symbols make perfect sense if you are the game developer, but they can be incomprehensible for someone trying to learn the game. We have previously discussed MMO icons that are about 10 pixels across and hide multiple sentences of information. They can actually make perfect sense to a veteran player who can tell at a glance the fine distinction between a dragon and a fire-breathing drake. Players newer or less visual may be stymied.

I appreciate the attempt to internationalize the game with a standardized appearance. I sometimes question the effectiveness of the solution.

: Zubon