Fandom Fandom

I had somewhat less than Wilhelm-level hardware problems and was mostly offline for a couple of weeks. Or at least away from a PC worth using for gaming. I felt surprisingly good about this. It forced me to keep to that intentional gaming plan I was having trouble with. And what did I miss? Almost nothing. I haven’t had the urge to re-install much.

I did browse around other parts of the internet. I found that I really enjoyed seeing people really enjoy themselves. Like how I was enjoying the cosplay at the summer gaming cons, it has been nice to see people simply enjoying their hobbies. You know, playing without thinking about game balance or playing a walking spreadsheet.

So that’s been cheering and enjoyable, but it has not given me much to say in an online gaming blog. I’ll check in sometime.

: Zubon

[GW2] Maguuma Wastes Review

Season 2 of Guild Wars 2 finally feels expansion-y enough to talk about in a way where I can review it beyond “this update is cool or bad”. It’s strong enough to see a trajectory in design by ArenaNet. The storytelling is different. The goals are different. And biggest and most noticeable of all, we have new zones. We have zones which feel as important as the core zones, excluding Southsun Cove. That is what I want to review. Continue reading [GW2] Maguuma Wastes Review

[GW2] Seeds of Nightmare

Back from disease and travel, Mrs. Ravious and I played through the Seeds of Truth update, which is the seventh episode for Season 2 of the Living World. In the usual Season 2 fashion (especially this second half) there is a story instance and then two action sequences. There will be spoilerosity as I want this post to focus on the story of the update. I’ll get to the other updates in the maps and what not later.

So to catch up, the story is now revolving how one of Glint’s dragon eggs can change the world. Except that Caithe, one of your buddies from the core game’s story, just up and stole it once you got it off the Zephyrite leader’s still warm corpse. That was the cliffhanger last episode, and now the Living World starts to tell us why. Or, at least the seeds of why. Continue reading [GW2] Seeds of Nightmare

[TT] Board Game Apps

I was pretty intrigued by Zubon’s discussion of Kingdom Builder. Zubon had already made me a fan of Zaccarino’s Dominion game, and I wanted to check Kingdom Builder out as well. Well, there’s an app for that.

I was on a trip down to the Gulf for a wedding, and I decided that $5 wasn’t too much for a couple hours of board game playing. The Kingdom Builder app is pretty good, with the exception of not being able to take back token placement. More importantly, I have already learned plenty of strategy from the AI, at least enough that I could wander in to a convention game and not make a fool of myself.  The $40+ dead tree version is on my Christmas wish list now.

Ticket to Ride dead tree version is also on my wish list, but straight up having never played it on app or the analogue world. I know it is an excellent game, and one touted by many as being a great Board Game entry for younger kin. I plan on getting the app this month so that if Santa Claus puts the board game box under the tree for me I will be in a place to teach others how to play.

My five year old also has been wanting to learn to play chess, and I’ve found that using Chance Chess (free online) to narrow down the moves has been an incredible teaching tool. We also taught her (and my 8yo) Monopoly last night. It was still shrink-wrapped… as a wedding gift of ours 10 years ago. That’s lasting worth, and who would’ve thought ten years ago that I’d have the beginnings of a board game family.

–Ravious

Challenge Selection Paralysis

I have gradually been getting started on Dishonored (yes), and the achievements for the game are giving me ideas of how I might go about playing. Several amount to challenge modes like “play it as a pure stealth game,” “don’t kill anyone but your target,” and “don’t kill anyone” (I presume you can defeat the bosses without killing them yourself). But I have been finding myself somewhat paralyzed by wondering what closes doors and which achievements are mutually exclusive in ways you will not find out until half-way through.

Some are obviously mutually exclusive. “Don’t kill anyone” does not work with “kill lots of people quickly” or “kill people in a variety of ways.” Some are less so. It is not a priori obvious whether you can go through the whole game without (1) alerting or (2) killing anyone or (3) learning the magical powers. For example, maybe going undetected in some area requires killing a guard or possessing a rat or something. And then most games have non-obvious ways of failing challenges, so presumably keep lots of save files.

I am trying to plan ahead to economize, because it would be disappointing to learn that I could have passed a challenge if I had done one thing slightly differently 10 hours earlier. Dishonored is gratifyingly non-spoileriffic with respect to that, having big ticket challenge achievements (“play the whole game this way”) rather than highly specific things you would need to read in advance to know about (“acquire the herring before chopping down the mightiest tree in the forest but do not use the herring to chop down the tree”). This is also an virtue of Dishonored’s reportedly short (~20 hours) playtime, because playthroughs are not epic commitments. Dishonored has the downside that you can repeat missions but cannot retroactively un-fail challenges by not killing anyone on a second try.

Or maybe you can now? Probably not, but researching a bit has led me to many questions whose answers changed over time. For example, it seems that killing the assassins in the tutorial prologue used to count against “don’t kill anyone,” but now it doesn’t, and there are several other places where players found challenge-failing triggers the developers decided should not count against you. So researching turns up answers that may be outdated or inconsistent, and for best fun find a discussion between people who played different versions of the game where the rules changed, so we have experiences and maybe even videos verifying inconsistent answers.

I could alleviate some of this by not badge-hunting, but I like badge-hunting, and “challenge mode” is a special sort of badge-hunting that I think most of us can endorse. Now if only I could set the game to recognize which challenges I was trying for, indicate when they have failed for some reason, and give me the chance to rewind back through auto-save points to fix that. That would be a nice little feature.

: Zubon

Quick Review: Gone Home

Gone Home is an interactive story, not a game. I loathe visual novels but I enjoyed Gone Home a great deal. It is a small story, about which not much can be said without spoiling it, but the comments are open for spoiler-filled discussion.

Gone Home has a short play time, around two hours. There are no monsters nor puzzles nor combat, just exploration and discovering the story at your own pace. You arrive home from the airport to find the house deserted. Go inside and find out what happened.

Two things made the game for me. First, Sarah Grayson’s voice acting as Sam. She’s great, especially when [spoiler]. Second, I really enjoyed the contrast between what the game seems to be and what the story is. Negatives: the main story is not something you cannot find better in a book; the side stories are more sketched than written (also perhaps their strength); the locked doors that structure the narrative are an obvious artifice. But seriously, Sarah Grayson.

I got Gone Home on sale, and I might hesitate to recommend it even at the 75% off, $5 price point versus “worth playing if you get it in a Humble Bundle.” I found it worth the time.

: Zubon

Metacritic reviews are very polarized, with the negative anchored by folks who missed the “no puzzles or combat” thing and spent $20 for a 2-hour non-game.

[TT] Kingdom Builder (First Impressions)

I have played my first few games of Kingdom Builder. My first impressions are very favorable, but I have not played enough to speak comprehensively. I also have not tried any of the expansion content. My “big box” came with two expansions and three mini-expansions, so I have a lot to explore.

Kingdom Builder is the Spiel des Jahres “Game of the Year” from 2012, designed by Donald Vaccarino, who also won it in 2009 for Dominion. Like Dominion, this is a simple-to-learn game that you can play with non-gamers, with components that vary by game to extend replayability and reduce the extent to which the game has a single, solvable “best” way to play.

Gameplay is the same for each game, but the board changes as does how you score points. That last is important: scoring rules change each game, 3 rules drawn from a deck of 10, so in one game you want to build a big kingdom by the water and in another you want a long horizontal row that borders a mountain range. There are 120 possible combinations of scoring rules, although that exaggerates the variation because some rules are similar (miners/fisherman give points for building next to water/mountains). The board changes because you pick 4 maps (from 8 in the base set, 2 orientations to each) and combine them to build the board, which gives you 26,880 potential boards, but again that overstates the variation because it counts different sets of 4 as well as different arrangements, and ABCD probably plays a lot like ABDC (ignoring arrangement gives you 70 boards). Each board has a unique location, so farms let you build more on plains while oases let you build more in the desert (again, templated variation). By the most generous counting, the base game comes with 3,225,600 different game configurations, but even a really stingy counting will put you in 4 digits, and running out of variation after a few thousand hours is not a bad payoff for a board game. And expansions come with more boards and scoring rules.

That variation is there for you, the dedicated repeat player. For casual folks who will play maybe once or twice, the important thing is that the rules can be explained in a couple of minutes. Basic gameplay: draw a terrain card, place three settlements in that terrain, bordering your existing kingdom if possible; if you built next to one of those unique locations, you now have an optional ability each turn (place or move settlements). When someone places his/her last settlement, the game ends after everyone has an equal number of turns. That’s pretty much it. A new player needs to learn a few simple rules, the four optional abilities, and the three scoring rules.

I am always on the lookout for good games I can play with people who would not self-identify as “gamers.” My first games were fun, and non-gamers were willing to play again.

: Zubon

Family Sickness Fun Time

Well, it sucks I’ve been out of touch. We’re on round two of sickness in our family. Now everybody is on antibiotics. Hopefully that’ll do it. I still game. Have to be bedridden not to, practically.

Shadow of Mordor

I sold my friend on the game this weekend with the help of another one. He was interested to begin with, but it became apparent how great the game was when neither me nor my another friend seemed to agree on the best way to play. He liked doing the whole ninja thing, which I found cowardly, and I liked using the zipline shadow strike where you basically use an orc’s head to hookshot wherever you need to go. My friend said it was a waste of two arrows.

I am nearing the end of the game. My bars of progress are getting fuller, but it has never felt grindy like Assassin’s Creed often does. Less is more Ubisoft. I don’t need 20 gorram sparklies per map unless they mean something.  Continue reading Family Sickness Fun Time

Differing Perspectives

Blizzard has announced Overwatch, a sci fi FPS. I’m not sure how you do Overwatch:TF2 :: WoW:EQ, given that TF2 is already a cartoony FPS minus the parts you hate, but let’s not dwell on that.

Our friend Keen says it will almost assuredly be something he’ll enjoy, but he’s a bit grumpy about it.

Our friend SynCaine is just grumbling about interns and “where’s the real Blizzard?”

And that’s not unfair. Is the current Blizzard “the real” Blizzard? I played Torchlight instead of Diablo III largely under the premise that the key people behind Diablo II made Torchlight as the spiritual successor, and Diablo III went in a bit different direction in terms of many game design decisions. Hasn’t WoW had something like 100% turnover? How much developer continuity do we have from WC3 to SC2 to WC4?

There is something to be said for perpetuating corporate culture so that the company can be consistent even if the staffing differs. I just don’t know.

: Zubon