Codename: Morningstar

I saw Codename: Morningstar at Gen Con. That was a beta/demo for the digital tools for D&D 5th Edition. It was pretty okay. The developers were in the unenviable position of supporting a set of rules that had not been finished yet. Several things were noted as “we just got the rules for that this week, so we’ll add that soon.” My main worry was their business model, which did not exist at that point (also under negotiations).

Since then, you may have heard, it was officially announced as Dungeonscape and then cancelled. Perhaps something went wrong in all those negotiations.

They are Kickstarting retooling the software for Pathfinder. I thought some of you might be interested, even if seems unlikely to be funded given its current backing level. Also, there’s a “business of games” story behind those links, for folks interested in that.

: Zubon

[TT] Seven Wonders

The latest board game at our house is Seven Wonders. It is good. I may need more players to keep the game interesting over time.

In Seven Wonders, you control an ancient city. The basic play is: play a card (signifying building a building) and pass your hand to the next player. This happens 18 times and you’re done. That sounds kind of dull when you put it that way, why is this fun? Continue reading [TT] Seven Wonders

Quick Review: Dear Esther

Pretty but shallow. Lovely visuals and sound, but it gains nothing from being in a game format. The story is evocative but never completely gels. I am told that there are semi-random elements, which would be an advantage of the game format except nothing makes that apparent and how many people want to walk through the game again in the chance that the verbal part will vary randomly? Also a reason why the story may not gel; it must support multiple, conflicting stories at once.

Great atmosphere, marginally worth the time (~hour), certainly not worth the price. You would be happier watching someone else play through the game, which is the same effect except for holding down the W key.

: Zubon

[GW2] Daily Change

GW2 has revamped dailies. I’m torn, to the extent that I still care about GW2. It makes it easier and less interesting to coast and not care, which is probably not a good thing; Ravious, any insight into how this affects play for someone emotionally invested?

GW2 now has daily login rewards. Okay. It’s not a horrible mechanic, even if it feels like a F2P gimmick. The implementation here is better than many because it does not demand that days be continuous. If you don’t log on for a week, your login rewards progress stays on track.

WvW and sPvP achievements are still more or less the same. They tried to sell that one, but no, rotating amongst the WvW objectives is not a new thing. The newish bit is asking you to win in sPvP as a particular class or two per day for a bonus chest.

PvE dailies are the big change. This seems like another step in the continuing march away from the pre-launch design philosophy, here away from “play however you like.” The picture on the link above is representative: daily achievements are now very specific, such as defeating a particular world boss, one of the gathering types in a quadrant of the map, or completing events in a particular zone. If population spreads over time, this may not be a bad design plan, because it channels players back together in the zone of the day, the way Zaishen dailies do/did in GW1. I have not seen how well that works; I have seen mass piles on a world boss, but I have not had the interest to complete 4 quests in whatever random zone was picked today. I am not part of the population being channeled there.

The channeling effect must be minimized by the range of dailies. In the linked example, players are simultaneously being channeled into three different zones and then another quadrant of the map. You get all the restrictive feeling of highly specific dailies while still spreading your players across a fair amount of the map. Maybe that’s better than spreading them across the whole map? It seems like a lot of design philosophy to give up for a small gain.

: Zubon

Quick Review: The 7th Guest

I remember when The 7th Guest came out. It was cutting edge for its time, with amazing graphics that made the first real use of a CD-ROM. I acquired it in some pack or another on Steam and tried it recently.

Yep, it plays like the cutting edge of 1993. The puzzles are not as hard as you may have heard but as potentially incoherent. Historically notable but not something you should go back and play.

: Zubon

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

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