Ellipsis

Ellipsis is a minimalist avoid-em-up, where you much touch four blue circles and escape without touching any non-blue things. If you touch any non-blue things, you die. The real goal is to touch five blue circles per level, carefully enough to collect all the smaller blue circles in them, and escape before the timer has gone down a single green circle. That is how you 100% a level, and you must score perfectly on every level to 100% the game.

There are no words. The gameplay explains itself. The map is very pretty. The difficulty curve is erratic, as levels that are easy to 100% sit next to ones that are difficult even to finish. You do not need to play all the levels, although there are bottlenecks on the map. Ellipsis is good for “bite-sized” gaming, as each level goes very quickly (unless it is one you need to play 20 times to get the timing to 100% it).

Ellipsis is a game that rewards manual dexterity, timing, patience, and persistence. Ladies, get yourself a man who can 100% Ellipsis.

The game also teaches the important life lesson that you might as well kill yourself if you make the slightest mistake. Or at least the quest for the 100% achievement does.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Adventures: Rise of the Runelords

I reloaded Pathfinder Adventures, the mobile version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. All six parts of Rise of the Runelords are now available. The quest mode level cap is still 40.

The gameplay remains good. The later content is not terribly special, with some variety but mostly more of the same. I am told that is how Rise of the Runelords works: the first and most straightforward of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game sets. It responds well to brute force.

The game remains buggy. It seems better but still buggy. My Cleric’s ability to heal a card after fighting undead does not work after all undead. The game can get stuck, requiring you to forfeit and start over. Cards can get stuck in an unbeatable state, requiring you to forfeit and start over. This last was most irritating when it happened in the hardest adventure. The last card literally said that it went on the bottom of the deck after being fought, no matter what, and I needed to completely empty the deck to win. The forums list this as a known bug for at least six months.

When I reinstalled the game, the cloud save had my current story party but no other characters. That flushed a lot of character advancement.

I am still unclear on how this game makes money. There are now more cosmetics to buy, but it is trivial to get enough gold to pay for all the content. My previous play left me with enough gold for all the new content, and now I am back to having enough to buy the first third of the next campaign if they make another. Daily challenges were added, making that even faster. If you buy the game, you really are donating to the developers.

Straightforward, fun, worth the time. Theoretically being ported to Steam but I don’t see the evidence.

: Zubon

Crowdfunding Projects

Kickstarter seems to be the on deck circle for most new tabletop games, and we have not had a thread in a while to discuss projects there. What are you watching? Comments are open.

I am watching several but have yet to commit:

  • Dead Man’s Doubloons is the latest from ThunderGryph Games. It is a game of pirates and treasure, where you keep playing as a ghost ship even if your ship is sunk. The rules are online if you want to read through. Pretty, but does its complexities resolve to elegance?
  • A Touch of Class is a small book of D&D classes from EN5ider. It looks fun, but I don’t have a 5th Edition game going or on the horizon.
  • Gloomhaven is going to a second printing. This is a premium gamer product, a $100 box with a living campaign. This video is a good explanation of why that is awesome and maybe not for you. I don’t have a group together to make a thing like this work, even if I think it looks pretty cool.
  • The City of Kings is a smaller take on a cooperative PvE campaign. Another cool, 5 kilogram box of stuff I cannot imagine getting on the table very often in the near future.

Thoughts on these or other games that yet lie in our future?

: Zubon

Mine of Sight

You know that I love a good variation on Minesweeper. May I introduce you to Mine of Sight? It has nine different rules to use, such as the standard Minesweeper “how many bombs in the surrounding eight tiles” and the “how many bombs can this square see” count that gives the game its name. I am not fond of all of them, but you have lots of options to try. There are 123 levels as of now, with a chance of more levels and rules to come.

: Zubon

Proximate Goals

My wife and I played Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep in quick succession, and I must pass along her observation: Lords of Waterdeep benefits strongly from having short term goals. Both are worker placement games, but scoring is radically different.

Agricola scores everything at the end, and everything is in play. You get a penalty for everything you did not do, a penalty for every space you did not use, and a variable number of points for each of nearly a dozen things. It is a complex balancing game, and it does not pay off until the game is over. Your long term plans could come together perfectly or be scuttled in the last round, sending you scurrying for Plan B or C. In many ways, it is the epitome of eurogames, where it is not over until it is over.

Lords of Waterdeep instead gives most of its points out as you go through the game. You get a few victory points for a few actions. You complete quests, each of which has a set cost and reward. You are not plotting out a goal ten turns from now and working backwards through reverse induction. There is still the big kicker of points at the end when you reveal your lord and get the quest bonus, but there is a feeling of progress along the way and of achieving small goals all the time.

Agricola is a strategic game. Lords of Waterdeep is a tactical game. The basic strategy of Lords of Waterdeep is to complete quests where you get bonuses, where the major sub-strategy question is to go for fewer, bigger quests or more, smaller quests (tip: “more” is usually better, especially at lower player counts). That’s about it. In a five-player game, you have only two actions for half the game, and you work on a much shorter time horizon.

Agricola definitely has appeal to the hardcore strategy player. Lords of Waterdeep tends towards a broader appeal with its playstyle and simpler rules. (And I have a friend promising to show me Caverna soon.) This seems backwards for their themes. Farming games have broader thematic appeal than Dungeons and Dragons, and farming has a seasonal reward cycle while I expect the lords of Waterdeep to be working grand schemes that only pay off after decades.

: Zubon

Ichi

Ichi is an example of a game damaged by its achievements. Ichi is a simple puzzle game, a bouncing ball with bumpers and switches and such. It comes with 60 levels and proudly advertises that it has over 100,000 player-made levels.

To encourage you to make levels as a player, there are achievements for publishing 10 levels and for having 100 people play your levels. To encourage you to play others’ levels, there is an achievement for completing 100 levels, which you cannot do with the game’s built-in levels. There is a combined achievement to gain 1000 points; you can get 3 points on the built-in levels, but the other 820 come from 1 point per player-made level you play and 1 per player who plays your levels.

As a gamer, you can already work out what these incentives produce.

The player-made levels are filled with insta-complete “puzzles.” You start the puzzle, the ball flies into its target a few seconds later, and you do not even need to click. There is a mutually beneficial arrangement for achievement hunters, whereby you want lots of quick points and levels, while the level-designers want lots of quick points and plays. The original goal, generating lots of player-made levels and letting the cream rise to the top, would demand stronger tools than the game has to help that cream rise.

But there are some cute and interesting puzzles, and I got my 49 cents’ worth.

: Zubon

Countless Generations Unfulfilled

This weekend, I was in the mood to play a worker placement game. The question dawned on me with rising horror: how many generations now lie buried and insensate, gone to their biers with a nameless ache because worker placement games had yet to be invented?

Have you ever gone to the kitchen, in the mood for something, but nothing looks quite right? You are hungering for a dish that does not yet exist. The plant that would placate your eager taste buds has yet to evolve. And there you stand, wondering if a little more mayo would do the trick.

When you are bored on a Sunday afternoon in the long, dark teatime of the soul, those hours are stolen by your need to do something that does not yet exist, for a career in a field requiring another century of technological advance.

And there lies your bier, wondering whether you took the time to play a worker placement game.

: Zubon

[TT] Upgrade Kits

Under the heading of “cool but impractical”: Meeple Source sells game upgrade kits. Replace the standard meeples that come with your tabletop games with pretty, custom ones. Now, you know that I love pretty, custom meeples, but generally under the idea that you buy one really nice set and use it for everything.

Meeple Source takes that in the opposite direction, in the way only a fanatic can really indulge in. If you are a hardcore player of a particular game, I can see buying a set. If you play Agricola every week, it could be nice to get pretty resources or farmer families. They won’t take up much more space than the circle tokens, and let’s be honest, the Agricola tokens for wood and clay are annoyingly similar. But replacing everything would cost $77, and the game itself costs $49 on Amazon (as I type this). The Lords of Waterdeep upgrades cost 3.8 times the game itself (and lock you into the theme of the game). My favorite example is Tiny Epic Kingdoms, where you can get a custom set of 112 meeples for 5.5 times the cost of the game itself. Also, that would be way bigger than the box itself.

I am not saying the prices are unreasonable. About a dollar for a custom meeple, or a quarter for a resource, does not seem like much given costs of production and running the shop. I have some of their meeples, because I think they are cute and neat (and some work nicely for multiple purposes). It’s cool stuff if you want to pimp out a game for the premium nerd experience. And by the way, Tesh’s latest Kickstarter for metal steampunk meeples is in its last week, if you want to be more cool but less custom.

: Zubon

[TT] Deceptively Simple

I recently learned to play Inis and Lords of Waterdeep. These are both strategy games, gamer games in that they come with rulebooks instead of a page of instructions. Despite the number of pieces and pages of rules, these are both surprisingly simple games to learn and teach.

Lords of Waterdeep is the clearer example. This is one I hesitated to learn because (1) themed tie-in games are usually crap; (2) anything with that many moving pieces must be over-complicated instead of elegant, right? I mean, it comes with a 24-page rulebook! But no, the actual rules of play are about 2 pages of the rulebook. You could get by with the reference page on the back of the book. Those 24 pages are mostly explaining setup in detail, reprinting text that is on the cards, and fluff. Maybe they thought D&D gamers insisted on a rulebook. If you have ever played a worker placement game before, this is ridiculously simple, with only two agents to place in each round (with max players).

And the fluff is pure fluff! We had one player explicitly refuse to learn which cubes were fighters or rogues or whatnot. “They’re orange cubes and black cubes.” And he is right! Give me some backing and an artist, and we can re-skin this game to any theme. I walked someone through how you would re-skin this as My Little Pony: Crusade for Canterlot.

Inis is a bit more complicated, but again the rules of what to do each round fit on a page. The rules there are more complicated, in that the rulebook has a dedicated column for reminders, clarifications, and explanations of edge cases. That was a little bumpy for first time players, wondering if we were missing something or if the rulebook effectively had errata.

Here, the fluff fits the game well. It is not Blood Rage levels of perfectly merging fluff and crunch, but the game mechanics tie in to the theme of Celtic competition for rulership. There are battles and bards and blood feuds of the clans.

A primary means of simplifying the rules is putting them in-game on the cards. All the action in Inis is in the cards that you draft each round, and Lords of Waterdeep does the same with having your worker placement info on the board. Inis adds a lot of text in its epic cards, as Lords of Waterdeep does with its intrigue cards. There is a downside to this, in that players are stopping to read mid-game, which can drag out turns and kill momentum. The upside is that you can teach everyone the game in a few minutes and get them rolling. Players tend to tolerate having lots of cards to read much better than getting a 10-minute block of instructions. This does give some advantage to return players, because they know what is in the deck, but it also gives new players the joy of, “Whoa, you can do that?” when cards come up. It feels like the early days of Magic the Gathering, when we thought anything could be in the cards.

Fun games. I enjoyed both, albeit with one play of each. Inis seems like a stronger and deeper game for dedicated strategy gamers, whereas Lords of Waterdeep is simple enough to loop in non-gamers. It’s D&D theme, however, probably reduces that general appeal, but it makes it good for your more casual gamers who like the theme but may not have the attention span for long rules.

: Zubon

Partying at the End of the World

Researchers got ahold of the record from the end of beta in ArcheAge and asked whether the usual Prisoner’s Dilemma outcome holds: when the endgame is in sight, you defect rather than cooperate. Short story? “Apparently most folks would be nicer to each other.”

As reported at Reason, a little less than one half of one percent of players committed murder during the last two weeks of play. Leveling and questing fell off. And the longer people stayed, the more social they were.

: Zubon