Trying something other than my usual playstyle, I have been playing Titan Quest as a Rogue. When they offered me another mastery, I doubled down on melee DPS and went with Warfare. Assassin, ho! I stab things, until I get to things that are big and scary, at which point I use DoTs, a trap, and kiting.

Rogues can put points in a “disarm traps” ability. This is standard RPG fare, something that rogues and thieves do. Titan Quest is an action RPG though, so it does not have D&D style traps. Well, there are trapped sepulchers, but you cannot disarm those. Instead, traps are huge structures that shoot fireballs and such. You disarm them by killing them, like any other monster. Rogues just get a bonus to damage against them and a reduction in damage from them. This ability also applies to construct monsters.

This seems not just thematic but mechanically necessary. Rogues get a lot of their damage from poison and bleeding. Guess what does not affect traps? Actually, I am not 100% sure that is true in-game, and it looks like I have successfully poisoned and bled skeletons. But these things presumably have high (or 100%) resistance, so rogues need something else to keep up. The undead remain a problem.

This is a factor in some D&D editions, notably 3rd. There are entire categories of abilities that do not work on non-biological targets, the most prominent of which is a Rogue’s sneak attack damage. Rogues hate undead, constructs, and oozes. At least one of those gets knocked off the list in Titan Quest.

: Zubon

Cycle of Violence

As I play Titan Quest, I get the strange sense that it is all pointless violence. That is not exactly a critique, so much as the point of the game. It is not quite the same feeling as “I have killed this goblin 10,000 times before,” more of wanting more from a central quest perhaps. It does not really matter what the story is; so long as I kill in the relatively straight line available to me and click on the NPCs with !s over their heads, I get loot and power and an official victory.

Some of that is the side quests, with the feeling of “I have saved this farmer 10,000 times before.” Someone in town wants me to go kill monster X because it killed his goats, stole his dowry, or kidnapped his daughter. Great, maybe I will see monster X along the way. It is all an excuse plot to give you a reason to go kill a few thousand things. I sometimes wonder if my presence in the world makes things worse, due to the common mechanic that certain enemies do not spawn unless you have the quest for them. The only reason the monsters exist is that I am there to kill them; had I never come to this town, the monsters would never have spawned and attacked it.

But the class listed on my character sheet is Assassin, so perhaps I am not worried about whether monster X deserves to die. Click, there it goes.

: Zubon

Mythical Monsters

I started playing Titan Quest this weekend, because why not play the updated version of a decade+ old game? It definitely feels like a standard action RPG, maybe a bit less dynamic than Diablo II. Par for the course.

Steam achievement - nobody did this - defeat polyphemus And then Polyphemus walked out of his cave and I was sold. Despite knowing that I am playing a game in Greek mythology, I am still delighted every time I come across a significant, named monster. Nessus was nothing terribly special, but it seemed very appropriate to find Arachne as the spider boss.

Apparently that is all it takes to please me. Take a cyclops, make it 20 feet tall, and put the right name over its head. The name of the achievement was an extra bonus.

: Zubon

On Binging

Playing West of Loathing has reminded me of months spent with Kingdom of Loathing. Man, I played that game hard, bouncing between massive bingeing and massive burnout. My comments on that game can hardly have been fair, both gamer stereotypes of fanboy and whiner.

Kingdom of Loathing gives you a limited number of turns per day. As you advance, you learn how to add more turns with consumables. That can dramatically extend your playtime per day, but it remains rather low at the start of a run. Kingdom of Loathing also has an ascension mechanic that allows for nearly endless runs through the game. You can keep playing more to get just a little bit stronger, along with the roller coaster of starting over weaker (but stronger than your last re-start) and going back to that early game with fewer turns (especially in hardcore mode).

I should note that some of this may have changed in the years since I last played. I may be referring to mechanics and modes that no longer exist. Sorry about that, this is more about me as a gamer than about the game itself. Continue reading On Binging

More from the West

I don’t think I did a good enough job talking up West of Loathing, so I am going to do a bit more. If nothing else, I feel like I owe them for the amount of time I spent in Kingdom of Loathing over the years.

West of Loathing supports many units of play. Sometimes you want “bite-sized gaming,” something you can play for five minutes between things. You can do that in West of Loathing, visiting a new location or advancing a quest a step. That is usually a sufficient unit of play, delivering a small story or a few jokes, with an increment of advancement. You can put several of those together and clear a side quest. You can methodically work your way across the map, visiting all the locations and trying to do all the things. You can focus on the main quest and complete the game in an hour, or you can explore every detail and spend a dozen hours. You can grind if you want to cap every skill, but the difficulty curve does not require it. The game length is not padded with repetition. West of Loathing supports both casual and hardcore play, at your option.

West of Loathing also supports casual and hardcore play in its mechanics. By default, the difficulty is low, the attack grid is off, “nerd mode” is off, and experience will automatically be spent to level evenly. You can leave the mechanics to worry about themselves on auto-pilot, and it will not make bad choices. They may not be optimal choices for the strategy you have chosen to pursue, but then you can turn off auto-pilot and take control. You can see all the combat details or just whack things. You can turn difficulty way up simply by putting on the right hat (with many warnings about that hat). West of Loathing lets you decide how you want to play the game.

West of Loathing has surprisingly great graphics. It is stick figure art, but it is good stick figure art. It is stylized, not cheap. These are stick figures who carry mobile light sources with dynamic shadows, and they do crossfit. Today’s attempts at photorealistic graphics will tax your video card and look lousy in five years; stylized stick figures will still look good twenty years from now. I long ago got tired of pixel art, as the generation that grew up with 8-bit graphics started making their own games (just like the weekly reboot of some ’80s media). High quality stick figure art is a good aesthetic.

West of Loathing is funny. It has verbal and visual puns. It has literary and pop culture references. It can be silly, including a toggle for silly walks. It has gamer humor and winking meta humor, without descending into the postmodern irony that panders with a tone of “you’re too smart for the usual thing, which we are going to do anyway while rolling our eyes.” It can mock itself and affectionately parody genres while remaining friendly. It can be smart and even esoteric without getting pretentious (stick figure art helps that). It is light and positive fun, even when it mixes in dark and brooding elements.

You should play West of Loathing.

: Zubon

West of Loathing

West of Loathing is a comedic RPG western from the makers of Kingdom of Loathing. If you have never played KoL, you probably should. It is free and it is one of those pieces of online gaming literature that everyone should know.

West of Loathing is good. It takes several of the better aspects of Kingdom of Loathing, distills them, and places the in a coherent package. Kingdom of Loathing is many great things, but it is designed to be played over a long time span, and it was built by gradual accumulation. If you had the chance to start it over from scratch as a single project, you might get West of Loathing.

West of Loathing is your quest from the humble beginnings of Boring Springs, west into adventure and prosperity! Along the way you will find dysfunctional towns, evil cows, agreeable goblins, and all manner of comical characters. There is a main quest line and a long list of side quests, all of which are optional and lines of which will follow you across the game. While the main goal is to get the train west, you might decide to track down what is happening with robots, killer clowns, or necromancy, or maybe just find band members for the first town’s saloon.

The game has a variety of puzzles. The robots have machinery you can configure. There are variations on classic word and logic puzzles. There is a wargaming minigame. At one point, you can to combine ciphers, morse code, braille, and acrostics to piece together puzzles and a metapuzzle. Or you can ignore almost all of it and rampage across the map with fist and pistol.

The combat is very straightforward and not terribly difficult. Unless you turn on hard mode, in which case wandering encounters will beat you up. Losing gives you a buff, in an interesting game mechanic. If you lose a fight, you get Angry. Each stack of Angry buffs your stats. You can even insult yourself to increase your anger intentionally. But if you get too Angry, you pass out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. That also resets other buffs you accumulate throughout the day (food, booze, potions). That can be a useful thing, as you might have used some early foods and now want to upgrade to the ghost pickles that you found in the midgame.

I enjoyed West of Loathing, and I will keep poking at it a while longer to explore side quests and see what unlocks achievements. There are many little bits you can fiddle with for a long time, if you are so inclined. You can also blitz through; I am told that you can speed run hard mode in 20 minutes, so the game experience is as long as you want it to be. I advise lingering. The core story is nothing special. The joy is seeing the little touches in the game, the atmospheric humor.

: Zubon

Steam Cloud

Steam Cloud is one of those features that I never knew I wanted until I had it, and now I look for it when considering what games to buy or play. For those who do not know/use it: Steam Cloud is a cloud save system for your Steam games’ save files. Just like you can re-download your games at any time, you can re-download your save files at any time.

Steam Cloud lowers commitment. I can try a game and not feel the need to finish it “now or never.” Granted, that probably increases the number of “never” finishes, but it substantially lowers the number of “never” starts. Anything that decreases the cost of exit effectively decreases the cost of entry. It definitely lowers the number of games that I leave half-finished on my desktop, along with the games never started because of all the ones half-finished.

: Zubon

As a related economic story that has been going on for years, consider French employment law. The harder it is to fire someone, the riskier it is to hire them. The French unemployment rate has been hovering around 10%, above 20% for youth unemployment.

Civ VI: Price Point Opinions?

I have had Civilization VI on my wishlist since before it released, but it has not reached a price point where I would buy it. And I really have mixed feelings about those hours for each game, but let’s set aside whether I should play 4Xs.

Civ VI is the “bonus game right now” for the February Humble Monthly. $12 for the game plus two DLC is a good price point. Except I am not sure, given that there are already four other DLC and a pending expansion. Hmm, that still sounds not horrible, because if I can get the remaining DLC half-off at some point, that is still cheaper than the digital deluxe version at half off. The real target is 75% off, but an extra $6 to have most of it right now has some merits. Or should I reasonably expect a better package in the near future?

Part of the point of this DLC nonsense is to hide the inflation. It is an $80 game, being sold as a $60 plus optional DLC (or just give them the $80). Plus an expansion. Plus who knows what else more, probably more if the current stuff sells. That probably worked better the first few times. Now I have a reasonable expectation that more will be added on, but not enough information to know when I will know what all of that is. Which pushes me towards “wait until there is some sort of game of the year edition, with a good sale, in a year or two.”

But I cannot say that I would be hurt by having spent $12 while waiting for that year or two.

Your opinions are sought on both the particular case and how you are dealing with this in general. I frequently find myself dealing with it by ignoring the latest and greatest in favor of the many Steam games I am still gradually trying out.

: Zubon

Spirits of the Forest

Spirits of the Forest is the next game from ThunderGryph Games. As usual, it is being launched on Kickstarter, and I am promoing them as a Founder’s Club member. I just received their last game to ship, Tao Long, although I have not had a chance to get it on the table yet.

“Learn in five minutes” seems like a good tagline. This weekend, I played Gaia Project, which is good fun but commitment to learn, even already knowing Terra Mystica.

Something I like about reputable tabletop game projects on Kickstarter is that they almost always have a downloadable PDF of the rules. I have absolutely gotten burned by paying full price for games without knowing whether I would like them, but I feel like that is my own fault in a world where I can download the rules and often a print and play version to try it out. If the rules are not linked with the game, they will be available on BoardGameGeek. Spirits of the Forest has the bonus that it (and all the other ThunderGryph games) is on Tabletopia, so I may try it out soon. I may try a lot of things on Tabletopia now that I am reminded of its existence.

: Zubon

[TT] Valletta

Valletta is a deckbuilding game with elements of city-building, resource management, and worker placement. While the feel is different, the design space is somewhere between Dominion and Deus. My friends approvingly described it as doing nothing new but doing it well. I think Blizzard’s empire is founded on that principle.

In Valletta, you are helping to build the capital city of Malta. You accumulate resources to build buildings, which provide you new cards to play. New cards give you more resources, manipulate resources, or award victory points. Your goal is to combine buildings that synergize, build as well and quickly as possible, then end with the most victory points.

There are several high quality design decisions in this game.

  1. Valletta has less complexity than it seems at first because of commonalities between buildings. The buildings are each in categories, so once you understand the categories, there is less mental weight to carry.
  2. Valletta has a good balance of rewarding specialization and rewarding diversity. Mass resource accumulation is a good approach, but resource buildings produce the fewest victory points directly, and each resource synergizes only with itself (and you generally need all four). You might get better synergy from branching into resource manipulation or direct victory points, which may require different resources.
  3. When the endgame is triggered, players reshuffle their decks and discard piles, then play through the whole thing once. That is a great mechanic for preventing the common situation where you got something cool but never get to use it because the game ends. You will always get to use every card at least once.
  4. Valletta balances large and small decks by the same means. You can eliminate cards from your deck, producing efficient turns and letting you go through your deck more times. And then the endgame starts and you get fewer turns because you have fewer cards. The big, inefficient decks get to trundle on for extra turns at the end. Do you want more turns or better turns?
  5. Gameplay is quick. Each turn is playing three cards, and each card is simple. The synergy is not more complex than counting.

This is not the best game that I have played recently, but it seems solid and consistent. A feature that different people will call a “pro” or “con” is that there is a substantial “turn zero”: all the cards are laid out at once, and you can spend a while staring at them all to understand your options this game. You might have 30 options, so being able to see a good strategy across them (and adapt when someone else sees the same one) is a skill to develop. It is the sort of thing I did not much like about Agricola, but it seems less overwhelmingly necessary here. You can play pretty well just fumbling through, so long as you have some strategy.

: Zubon

The game doubles as a promo for Maltese tourism, including an ad in the rulebook.