MMO Questions

A while back, I put together the following set of questions for MMO developers. But when was the last MMO release that might have interested you enough to ask them? Still, for reference, things I want to know if you want me to play your new MMO:

  • What standard MMO elements are you using that will appeal to current MMO players?
  • What changes are you making to the standard MMO formula that will draw players from their current games?
  • What unique features will your game offer that are not available anywhere else?
  • How can I customize my character, at creation and over time?
  • What is your intended increment of gameplay? What can I do if I can log in for:
    • 15 minutes?
    • 2 hours?
    • 10 hours?
  • I have gained ten levels. How does my play experience differ other than going from “10 damage per attack against 50hp goblins” to “100 damage per attack against 500hp goblins”?
  • I have been playing for six months and my friend wants to start playing. How soon can we play together without my creating an alt? How do your systems support this?
  • I have been playing for six months. What goals am I pursuing? What am I doing that I could not do at the end of my first month?
  • What will happen:
    • in my first hour that will make me want to buy the game?
    • in my first month that will make me want to subscribe?
    • in my first year that will make me want to stay that long?/li>

: Zubon

Errors and Lies

Playing dumb is a viable strategy. In multi-player competitive games, players tend to coordinate against whoever is in the lead. If you look like you are stumbling while you move into a better position, you will be ready to strike while your opponents are looking elsewhere. This can become difficult in iterative games; my tabletop group knows me to be too good a strategist to buy too much of this, but they seem not to have caught on that I will complain about crummy randomization both when I get horrible luck and when I want to distract attention from how well I am doing.

In Town of Salem, I am rarely sure of who is an idiot and who is engaging in obfuscating stupidity. A standard villain strategy is to run out the clock by preventing useful discussion, because a town that cannot coordinate information cannot find the mafia. Idiot chatterboxes are more likely to be villains, but this is a F2P online game, so you have lots of idiot chatterboxes and trolls. Is this person sabotaging discussion or just legitimately useless?

Say some information gets through that. Then the town starts puzzling out how to deal with it. Few players know exactly how all the roles and rules work. If you know, you might mis-apply those rules in this circumstance. If you know, you might lie about how those rules apply if the truth would get you killed. Then you have incomplete or wrong information, because other players are taking secret actions and may not mention that your logic is valid but your premises are false. Sometimes players will guess the right answer despite having invalid logic, which is aesthetically displeasing, although sometimes players do have a valid deduction but are presenting an unsound argument intentionally because telling the real reasons would get them killed. And then the original “information” might not be true, due to error or lies.

Most people know at least one Raymond Smullyan puzzle of the format “one always tells the truth and one always lies.” More advanced puzzles introduce the complication that people can be wrong, so you have insane liars who always say true things because they believe false things. It is often unclear whether you are winning/losing by your own merits or are the beneficiary/victim of outrageous fortune.

: Zubon


I played a Trapsin in Diablo II. It was a fun class that turned the game into action tower defense. Drop traps, throw my pitiful attacks at the enemy, and kite them around traps until they fell down. I was particularly fond of the the exploding corpse trap and the cow level. Explosion damage scaled based on the enemy’s hit points, and cows were big tanks. Killing the first one took a while, then they fell like dominoes as high-damage corpses converted cows into more high-damage corpses.

This scaled nicely based on enemy hit points but not on group size. Enemy hit points scaled up with group size, but the trap’s damage was scaled on the enemy’s base hit points, not its scaled hit points. That is, the trap that was devastating on a solo map did less and less as the team size grew, because enemy hit points increased but trap damage did not. (Granted, neither did any other damage source, but there is a large difference between falling dominoes that take out a whole group and “kite, 1 dies and damages several, kite more, 1 dies and damages several, kite more…”)

With no allies, I could solo the map easily by knocking over dominoes. Every additional ally made me relatively weaker. One direct damage specialist was nice for knocking over the first cow, but past that, the game incentivized me to be alone with my exploding corpses.

There were definitely situations for which grouping was a better option, but it sapped my favorite activity in-game.

: Zubon

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


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

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 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


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