Heroes Alive?

Friends at a LAN party were hitting Heroes of the Storm hard, so I joined them. Quick version: it is still a weak LoL clone that replaces the toxic community with one that is silent. It is hard to tell whether the skill ceiling is that low or players are just that casual and disengaged. When you play support frequently, you really get a sense of how random folks can be.

I assume it still has a significant playerbase? I have found multi-minute wait times for quick play, which to me would imply “dying,” but maybe my account is at a weird point in the population density.

Overwatch feels similar, a shiny but somewhat clumsy TF2. Again the silent community and surprisingly long wait times. I assume the latter are not caused by my account level; I assume there is no matchmaking at all, given that I will end up in games with level 100+ pre-made groups, despite being relatively new.

Blizzard codified the trope of “soloing together,” and this is what it looks like in a team game. On the other hand, if you can get a few people working together, that will wipe the map. Fish, barrel.

: Zubon

Tao Long

While I am talking about Kickstarters, I should point to Tao Long. ThunderGryph Games started up last year and Kickstarted their first game, Overseers. It looked interesting and I backed it at the “Founders Club” level, which is a lifetime subscription to their games. So I’ll be paying attention to everything they do. Gonzalo Aguirre Bisi of ThunderGryph has a nice post about his first Kickstarter experience. The game arrived as expected, upgraded, and before Christmas.

I have only had one evening with Overseers on the table, so I do not have a heck of a lot to say about it yet. The mechanics work well. We found the swings of small decisions to be very large, but part of that was due to translation issues with the rules. When you play, make sure you have the FAQ because some of the rules are mis-described and there is a recommended text change that happened between printing the cards and the manual. I think the game runs much better after seeing the FAQ, although Greed becomes much weaker.

Let’s be honest, you expect some language issues when a Spanish company translates a Japanese game into English. Hyperborea, which I love like chocolate, had worse issues trying to avoid language and instead using increasingly arcane symbols to show complicated rules on cards. We have put up with worse to play our MMOs. This looks to be their model, translating games and taking them to new markets. I look forward to more non-European Eurogames.

Storytime over, Tao Long burst out of the gate, more than triple its funding goal in less than a day and currently over 1000%. It’s not a $10 million game, but it is already a relative success, twice the funding that Overseers received. If anyone has explored the game in greater depth and would like to discuss mechanics, rather than just game development meta, comments are open.

: Zubon

Monstrous Formatting

Since yesterday reminded me of the old Monstrous Compendium, can the grognards join me in remembering that book and how it could be improved?

I really liked the looseleaf approach that let you have just the right pages. We needed better binders and reinforced pages, but the idea is right. But here is a thing if you are doing that in a physical medium: it needs to be one monster per sheet, not per side of a sheet, if you are adding expansions. If Black Dragon and Green Dragon are on opposite sides of the same page, a problem arises when Brown Dragons get added. Keeping expansions separate by setting has some logic, but if you cannot even combine the binders for the base game, you have a problem.

Of course, that could lead to padding. How many monsters really deserve both sides of a page of paper? You could fill it in with things like rules for PCs of that race or advanced versions (kobold, kobold sorcerer, half-dragon kobold sorcerer…). The Monstrous Compendium tended to pad with cryptozoology and anthropology. This is useless to the gamist side of RPGs but great for the simulationist. Yes, tell me what ropers do when they are not just waiting for people. I want to hear about alternate names for otyughs. What do you know about ettin harvest festivals or orcish wedding rituals? Fluff and fluff and fluff and fluff.

: Zubon

I think I have all of them, still.

Kingdom Death Kickstarter

This is not a project I am backing, but I feel that I should point out the gaming Kickstarter spectacle of the year. I would surprised if anything tops the $10 million (and counting!) that Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 has. You have one day left if you want to join in, but I mostly want to wave towards the spectacle. The campaign is past 10,000% funding. On my monitor, the description is more than 100 screens long as they just keep adding things. The average pledge is over $500, and more than 250 people took the $2,000 pledge level (plus any add-ons). Pathfinder is doing a crossover, and that’s just the one where I got a press release.

I was really impressed with Monte Cook’s Invisible Sun, but this is more than 10 times as big.

: Zubon

The Cycles of Life

I saw someone explaining how he had bought an extra copy of the latest D&D books, then he removed the binding, punched holes, and kept them in binders so that he could have just the pages he needed for an evening, say the relevant classes, rules, or monsters. This is especially handy for encounters, where you can have all the monsters for each fight neatly stacked together, and if one type of monster is the main foe for this adventure you can clip that one to your DM screen.

And all this is just amazing. We have re-created the 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium. It’s a generational cycle.

: Zubon

Timelines

Shout out to Artipia Games. I backed Fields of Green, their new board game. The Kickstarter closed in September with a December delivery date. That was a few days off, but the boxes did ship from Greece in December and arrived here today. I have other games on my Kickstarter list that are years behind and still sending update notes.

Tabletop game makers seem to be just about done when they launch the Kickstarter, with production money needed rather than design money, although some projects have hit it so big on Kickstarter that they needed extra time just to design everything for all the stretch goals (or to massively scale up production). Video game developers seem to have little idea of time estimates, and they make me see the real value in project management as a discipline. It is invisible when done well but obvious when not.

: Zubon

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

My love of deep strategy games may never fade, but I am finding social deduction games to be the most fun. They can fail spectacularly based on who you’re playing with, but they seem to have both a high average and high highs.

Deception is the latest one I learned, and it is a lot of fun. Players are detectives, and one of them is the murderer. Find the murderer and the evidence to win (or else the murderer wins). That is more or less the setup of most social deduction games, what makes this one special?

The game starts with information. One of the investigators is the forensic scientist. The game setup is that each player has four murder weapons and four clues in front of them. After everyone closes their eyes, the murderer points to one of his weapons and clues. Now the forensic scientist knows, and they can communicate only by selecting one from a set of clue boards like “scene of the crime” or “relationship to the victim.” Players then discuss these clues and try to deduce the murderer. (The forensic scientist is likely the least fun role, as it misses all the discussion of the game and needs a poker face to avoid giving away information. The forensic scientist can be the MVP or the cad based on quality of information provided.)

The fun of the game is trying to deduce what was supposed to be communicated, given limited communications options. Which murder weapons seem most like the cause of death, and would you have chosen that cause of death as a description of this weapon? For example, “severe injury” covers a lot more range than “poisoned,” and the murder weapon probably was not plague if anything other than “disease” was chosen (if “disease” was a choice). Committing murder during surgery is obvious if the location option “hospital” comes up, but what do you pick as the forensic scientist if that wasn’t one of the options this game? It matters what the scientist “said” and what was not said, along with how they expected those answer to be interpreted, mixed with the open question of whether that clue was supposed to refer to the blue or the brown card in this murderer’s combination.

The other great fun is trying to put together a story for the murder based on fairly random evidence. “Okay, the victim was killed with … a locked room, where the clue left behind was … timber. So, what, he was left to starve to death at a construction site?” Okay, that one was dull, but weapons include mad dogs and chainsaws, and evidence left behind can be quite random. That story also mutates with the clues, because the forensic scientist is trying to fill in the blanks, and some of the clue cards will have nothing useful at all, so then folks are wondering how “winter” fits into this story.

Balance seems to be pretty good, in that online commentary says the murderer almost always wins and that the murderer almost never wins. Granted, I won five games in a row, murderer and investigator, so I might be biased and would start thinking otherwise if my group was a bunch of foolish investigators who kept throwing it to the murderer. But our small set of games showed that both sides could win, under a variety of game sizes and circumstances (for example, optionally adding the accomplice and witness roles).

Hardest problem: avoiding meta-gaming. It does not seem to be a big problem, but we openly acknowledged around the table that some of the things we were doing were not exactly 100% fair to both sides, like discussing the forensic scientist’s clues while they were picking. Acknowledge that you could spoil that and take steps to avoid meta-gaming, such as making noise to mask movement while the murderer reveals hidden info.

: Zubon

Orders of Magnitude

Balance is easy to recognize by a feeling of indecision. If you have several options that are more or less equally attractive, and they are still equally attractive if you are fully informed, that is a well-balanced design.

In the idle game Realm Grinder, you can get a bonus for watching an ad. They are not mutually exclusive, so you can keep watching ads, but the balance between them is interesting. During an event, one is a very slow stream of the event currency, which is nice. Most of the time, what you want is doubling your production for 4 hours. That is orders of magnitude better than the next option: +10% mana for 10 minutes. There are a few points in the game when that +10% is the difference between being able to complete a combo, but it effectively means that you get 1 minute’s worth of mana. Compared to doubling your production for 4 hours.

The last option is faction coins, which scales with your production. Ever so slightly. I clicked the button for an ad, and if I pick faction coins, I get 3500. I need 2.655*10^18 faction coins to get my next spell tier, and that is after using rewards to cut its cost. My costs are expressed in scientific notation, and the ad reward is 3500. Assuming 30 second ads, I would need to watch more than 721 million years of ads. Wait, no, there are 8 types of faction coins, and I need that many coins from two factions, so the number is a but below 3 billion years of ads.

Sometimes we say that an optional activity in a game is effectively required. These ads are very much not required.

: Zubon

Precipitating Events

Sometimes it takes just a little poke to make you wake up and rethink the whole thing. This is a brief story of a rethink and then the poke.

I gave up all my mobile games. I deleted all of them. The real start of that was having added one of the many farming games, which was quite absorbing but quite a timesink. I deleted it after narrowly missing a minor goal and thinking of how much babysitting the game needed to reach goals. And then that it is legitimately “babysitting” instead of playing. And then Spellstone, the P2W CCG I had been playing, went extra P2W and made me wonder how much I was getting out of any games I had on my phone.

That P2W bridge too far was the Ice Tunnel Dungeon, specifically the Winter’s Crusher custom card made for it. The dungeons are PvE events with soft caps based on how much money you have spent. As you go higher, the enemy heroes get stronger abilities, and their decks tier up to fully upgraded premium cards. Premium cards are a separate set only available with the cash shop currency, and they are stronger than their base set equivalents and keep getting stronger through the usual power creep that keeps people spending money. But then the events have custom cards that are even stronger than those, with no real thought of balance because they will never be in player hands.

For folks who don’t know this game, let me give you a quick sketch. This is a fully upgraded base set (F2P) card. It has 7 attack, 16 hit points, potentially buffs itself to 11 attack, ignores 4 layers of shield, and vampirically heals up to 3 hit points per round. Winter’s Crusher has 4 attack, 48 hit points, adds 5 layers of shielding to itself and its allies, heals itself and its allies for 4 hit points per round, and weakens all opposing attackers by 5; due to the current battleground effect, it also self-heals for 12 hit points per round, even if frozen. It effectively counters 26 points of damage against itself and 14 against each ally, versus the attacking frog that can buff itself up to 11 attack. That is one card in the enemy deck.

Someone did that on purpose. There was probably a meeting, and it had to pass review from a half-dozen people. Loss of faith in the developers’ judgment? I quit the game so hard it deleted all the games off my phone.

: Zubon

Boom Beach I was just bored with after sitting at the soft cap for a couple of months.