Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents

Artana had a big booth dedicated to Tesla vs. Edison at Gen Con, and the game certainly merits trying. I have just the one playthrough under my belt, but everyone enjoyed it. The game supports multiple parallel and conflicting strategies and mechanics on the path to victory.

The theme is dear to nerd hearts: the competing current standards and the electrification of America. Tesla is a geek hero, so players are naturally drawn to him, with Edison cast as the villain. The game remains neutral on that question, although Edison’s special ability is to ignore patents. The potential player characters also include three lesser names in electricity.

You are running an electric company. Your company founder gives you certain stats and abilities. Supporting luminaries are recruited via bidding. Each round, you and your luminaries can research technology, build a project, engage in propaganda, or play the stock market. You are competing not only for science but for hearts and minds, as the value of your stock is affected by whether the public thinks AC or DC is the current standard of the future. Yes, people have strong opinions about that. At the end of the game, whoever is holding the most valuable stock portfolio wins. (You start with four shares of your own stock, so unless you are pursuing a very aggressive stock market game, highest stock value should tend to win.)

The strategy comes from which actions to pursue and in what order. Continue reading Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents

Honest Deception

I finally got a copy of Coup at Gen Con, not a new game but one I enjoy. Coup is a game of bluffing, deduction, and assassination. You have two hidden cards that give you abilities, but feel free to lie about what two they are and use whatever abilities you like. If you are called on the bluff, you lose a card; if you are challenged but were telling the truth, your challenger loses a card.

Playing a bit at Gen Con, I found that I am better at telling the truth unbelievably than lying believably. This is a drawback for Mafia/Werewolf, but it works brilliantly in Coup. If I never bluff, I have no tells that indicate I am bluffing. But he could not really be telling the truth every time in a bluffing game, could he? Especially when you get a really unlikely draw, like two of the same card, or when you use the Ambassador to pick an unlikely pair of cards rather than a powerful pair.

And if I can train everyone to believe that I never bluff, I have free reign to start bluffing…

: Zubon

Friendly Kickstarters

Two Kickstarters to point out from friends of the greater rat-slaying community:

Project Gorgon is back on Kickstarter and has already met its goal. The $35 and $50 tiers look like your best bang for your buck. We have occasionally blogged about Gorgon as a boutique MMO, with lots of interesting ideas.

Cultists of Cthulhu is a game in the category of Arkham horror, cooperative with one or more cultists waiting to betray the team. If you are like me and like to judge based on the rules, they are online. It advertises meaningful decisions in bold text, so the game is in the spirit of what we love here, although I cannot speak to the execution. The add-ons look rather pricey.

: Zubon

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Given my recent binging on online Mafia, I was keen on seeing Bezier Games, the Ultimate Werewolf folks. Like Town of Salem, One Night uses a variety of roles with special abilities, and the One Night variation advertises itself as no moderator, no elimination, no boring parts. It has proved popular enough to get an expansion (Daybreak) and a spinoff (One Night Ultimate Vampire). My impressions are based on game demos at Gen Con, not deep and repeated play.

One Night achieves “no moderator” via app. You tell your phone/tablet which roles are in play, hit the start button, and it reads off who should open their eyes when. That works well, assuming you can operate within strict time limits. Even with strict time limits, this is a long section of the game. At least a third of the game will be spent with your eyes closed while things happen outside your control or knowledge. That seems to concatenate the boring parts, rather than eliminating them, although there is some excitement because you know that mysterious and important things are happening on the other side of your eyelids.

The physical implementation of this stage is difficult, especially with a large group or short people. Playing at a con helps because there is background noise and movement. In a more intimate game, it will be difficult to avoid noticing who is reaching across the table as roles are called out. Werewolf/Mafia is not meant advantage long arms, narrow shoulders, and quiet chairs.

This nighttime phase is either brilliant or horrible, but I am undecided on which. About half the roles involve changing roles. The Robber swaps roles with someone else, the Drunk swaps roles with a center card (without looking at it), the Troublemaker swaps others’ roles, and more. You not only do not know who is on your team, you do not know which team you are on. The Insomniac has the surprisingly strong power of just checking her role at the end of all that swapping. Part of me wants to say this is horrible random chaos. Part of me wants to say this brilliantly expands the daytime game of deduction to including deducing your own role, so you should expect to see someone suddenly realize she is no longer a Werewolf. A good Troublemaker can evoke that moment, and a great one can lie, get a Werewolf to reveal herself, reveal whose cards she really swapped, then convince the rest of the village to lynch the Werewolf. All in 5 minutes or less.

Eliminating the nighttime elimination mechanic wonderfully eliminates the “you randomly sit out this game” effect. It also quietly changes a fundamental mechanic while keeping the fluff. Werewolf is no longer a killing role; it is now entirely a hiding and lying role. Those people who want to be Werewolf/Mafia because that is the active killing role? I wonder how long it takes them to notice that the Werewolf does not kill anyone, instead just hiding from the villagers.

I have not tried One Night Ultimate Vampire. I am told that it removes the team-swapping in favor of a similar goal-changing mechanic: vampires are always vampires, but now you are in love with that mortal and need to keep him alive at all costs.

: Zubon

Shopping

The vendor hall is one of the big draws at Gen Con. See the latest games, get the latest games, look for discounts or stuff you did not know you wanted but now desperately need. I seem to be unusual in that I can say, “I should not spend money on this,” and then I do not spend money on it.

For my friend group that attends Gen Con, the vendor hall is more or less what they do. You can spend all day playing demos with the developers. You can learn classic games you have not played, try the latest releases, and even try games that are still in development. Last year we loved Asmodee and Hyperborea. This year, friends are all about Cryptozoic and keep saying, “Attack on Titan is in hard alpha.”

I find myself in the Steam sale dilemma. I have trained myself not to buy (almost) anything on Steam unless it is 75% off or I will play it that day. I tend to group game prices at Gen Con into three brackets:

  1. Full price, new release or early release: potential buy because it is not available elsewhere and we likely will play it tonight
  2. Full price, 30% off on Amazon: do not buy unless I know we will play it tonight. Fun now is worth some money, but otherwise I can have it delivered to my house before I would otherwise play it. The later we get in the con, the less likely we are to play it tonight because of games from #1.
  3. Discount, better than I can find on Google in a minute: potential buy, double bonus if it is an older game/book that is hard to find at a reasonable price and it is on discount

That is for commodities like boxed games you can get from dozens of sources (although the con sponsors reportedly have it in the contract that they get exclusive rights to sell their stuff in the vendor hall, which means almost everything from Paizo and Mayfair is in #2). If you are looking at clothing and game accessories, you might prefer to try them in-person rather than shopping online, and many people start wearing those hats, goggles, T-shirts, and everything else immediately.

And I remain resolved to get Geek Chic furniture for my next home.

: Zubon

Changing Trends

Either the market for zombie-themed everything is so saturated that few new zombie-themed games came out this year, or the market for zombie-themed everything is so saturated that I do not even notice zombie-themed games anymore.

This year’s trends that I notice at Gen Con are sequels and saturating the options. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like there are more expansions, add-ons, and otherwise building on previous successful games this year. I know, that is always happening, but it feels like the balance this year has shifted somewhat more towards building on existing games than launching new IPs, converting non-game IPs to games, or trying existing game IPs as a different sort of game. Maybe everything already got its deck-building game in the past few years. Still lots of new things, maybe we are just having a year a little more like the movies or video games.

By “saturating the options” I mean trying a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” variant. If you liked Werewolf more with 12 roles instead of just villager/werewolf, how about our online Mafia with 150 roles? Coup: Rebellion G54 has 25 roles instead of 5 from the original game. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is currently marketing a subscription for monthly class deck releases, with variants in each class. I like more options, but at some point you have more than the game can handle, and when you get into the dozens of options you are inevitably going to have some serious balance issues, which can get worse as combinations can multiply that problem. Says the man with so many Dominion expansions that he needed a “storage solution.”

: Zubon

My People

I am not much of a con-goer, but there is something special about arriving at Gen Con and seeing my people. Most of you are on the other side of your monitors, and I game with fairly few people in person, whereas Gen Con has 50,000 nerds. I appreciate enthusiasm, and there are few more enthusiastic than nerds.

I have decided that I am more excited about outfits than costumes. Some people are dressed up as characters, but you have more who look just a bit unusual, because this is the sort of place that embraces that. Fox ears? Celebrated, not mocked. Steampunk hat with goggles attached? Many, and more as people visit vendors that sell them. Any kind of hat? Yes. Real life has too few grand hats. This is a place where you see more corsets and kilts than usual, some people wearing both. Lots of hair outside the normal human spectrum, lots of little details and accessories. I know some people who might cosplay at work, but coming from a differently professional environment, you see few people visibly out about nerd interests.

I played two new gamer games, which I will review at greater depth later. Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and Blood Rage are both Kickstarted strategy games with multiple paths to victory. There are broad similarities despite the very different themes, as the former has you developing technology to build projects across America while the latter has you upgrading vikings to pillage villages across Midgard. Both have more variation than randomness.

More new games to try today, I am sure. That is a big point of Gen Con for the group I’m hanging with here: spend the day seeing new things and harvest a few, spend the night playing the best of the harvest.

: Zubon

Shifting Balance

Playing Town of Salem in Chaos (any/all) has felt pointless since the last update, but I don’t know if that is the effect of the new scrolls or just a run of bad luck. The new scrolls let you pay for better odds of getting a particular role. Here is what I am seeing this weekend:

  • fewer Town in any/all. I have not counted in games where I am not Town, but my four games as a townie today have had 6, 6, 6, and 5 Town. That is out of 15, and Town’s odds drop towards zero when Town is less than half the population. I have won as a 3-person town, but you’d be a fool to bet that way. You do not play any/all to play Town; you get all the Town roles and more consistently in the normal game, so you play any/all to see the neutral and Mafia roles that do not come up in the normal game. So this is where you play using the new scrolls.
  • 2+ Town suicide immediately. Seeing 5 suicides per game has been common. Maybe the game’s connection has gone to heck, but I’m guessing those are people who did not get their scroll role or were otherwise playing for all the reasons noted in the previous point.
  • Combine the two above and see that it becomes increasingly rational to immediately suicide as Town. The instant you get a green role, you suspect your odds are horrible due to low average Town population, then to drop again due to high suicide rates. You could stick around in your 2- to 4-person Town and hope for luck, or you can see which way the wind is blowing and bail.

Of course, this could just be absurd luck this weekend. But if the scrolls let you raise the odds of getting non-Town roles, they pretty much finish killing any/all.

: Zubon

ETA: I’ve also been disconnected twice this weekend after ~0 before that. If servers are in trouble with post-update downloads, that could speak to some of the suicide problem. I’ve also had an invisible game where cosmetics never loaded.

Deceptive Honesty

Honesty can be an amazing tactic in Town of Salem. No one sees it coming. Almost every time I have gotten lynched as Jester, I told people I was Jester. “Surely no one would admit to that, he’s just trying to avoid getting lynched!”

When people expect lies, truth is a great way to trick them. That works well with people playing one level of recursion below you. The problem is people playing two levels below: they don’t know enough to be bluffed or double-bluffed. This leads to the common and exciting dynamic, “is this person playing dumb or actually stupid?”

: Zubon