Town of Salem

Mafia (also known as Werewolf and a dozen other variations) is a piece of gaming literature, for which I knew the rules but never got around to playing. This weekend I tried out an online variant under the name Town of Salem and proceeded to play 17 games in a row.

Mafia is a PvP game of social deduction. You have a town of people, a few of whom are secretly the Mafia. The Mafia kills someone every night in their plan to seize power. Every day, the townspeople (including the hidden Mafia) can vote to lynch someone. Night follows day until one side is eliminated.

The town has numerical advantage. They will definitely have some losses, but when there are three Mafia members out of 10-15 in the town, having more bodies means not only more longevity but also more people watching for suspicious behavior. The Mafia has a coordination advantage, because the Mafia members know who is in the Mafia.

Variations include changing team composition, whether notes are allowed, and giving players special abilities. Online games allow more options for secret communication or abilities that might be awkward in physical games. Town of Salem gives every player a role with a special ability and includes neutral roles, such as the Jester who wants to by lynched. I am torn between enjoying the additional flavor and wondering whether it spoils the purity of the original game. The default game only uses about half the roles, with limited variation, but other options can use them all.

As my 17-game binge suggests, it is immediately engrossing and addicting. I can see why some conventions have continuously running games that successfully sell “all you can play” passes.

: Zubon

Too Good Not to Farm

While I have been avoiding grinding or farming in Card Hunter, I am currently at the right level range for Lord Batford’s Manor, which is like an instant selling point for the “buy the treasure hunts” pack that is letting me catch up on my gear without trying. Being a subscriber gets you an extra piece of loot per fight. This adventure has 6 fights, half of which have only two enemies that you need to defeat.

I don’t even need to farm this thing very much. Heck, visiting once per day like a daily quest isn’t even farming, just normal play. And 2 or 3 days gets me all the loot I’m likely to need for this level range.

Gotta catch ’em all? They provided a treasure hunt to fill out your menu of loot. I’m torn between thinking this was a horrible idea in terms of risk vs. reward and thinking this is a great idea in terms of getting to the endgame without really needing to farm.

: Zubon

Card Hunter: Puzzles?

I have reached the mid levels of Card Hunter, where “more brute force” is no longer always the right answer. Maybe. I am not grinding, so I am far from “best in slot,” so I am likely having some trouble because my characters are twice the level of some of my equipment.

I am undecided on how I feel about the fights that call for changing your build. They are usually because of setups like fighting opponents with multiple times your hit points, fighting enemies who are immune to a damage type, or being on a map with victory point tiles, where the enemy gets them unless you are built for that race (say, you are outnumbered and on movement-impeding terrain while your opponent can just walk a few steps forward).

On the one hand, thinking, woohoo! On the other, this is only a challenge because you do not know what you will need to build before you go into the fight. Once you see the opponents and learn what sorts of cards they have, you can counter. It is like in adventure games where you open a door, a trap kills you, and you learn to open the other door. This fight has skeletons, so equip blunt weapons; this fight has zombies, so are these the ones that are immune to elemental attacks or is that the other group of very similar zombies?

If your characters could switch weapons mid-fight, that would be one thing. You cannot. The adventures now usually have four fights, so you do not have the option of going in, losing to see what cards the opponent has, then choosing equipment now that you have adequate information. That is an exaggeration, because you get a few losses before they kick you out and you can probably beat half-ish the fights with your default deck. But then you can also lose any fight due to bad luck, and it may take several fights before you see enough of their cards to know what new and one-off opponents do. It is starting to feel like Guild Wars 1, where the appropriate answer is to check the wiki before going in and potentially to change your build before every map. You do not need to look up a build, because thinking, but in-game does not provide enough information in advance to plan without intentionally wiping on some fights to see what the mechanics of the fight are.

I am enjoying it less because my options seem to be “waste time” or “read spoilers.” Most of the fights can reasonably be done with any reasonable build. a fair number require something special, and you don’t really know that in advance, and you also don’t know until you try it a couple of times whether you have the wrong build, wrong tactics, mistakes in execution, or bad luck. Or if you are just supposed to grind for a while, which is never a good answer either, even though it is the right answer in almost any game with RPG elements.

: Zubon

Heroes of the Storm: Gazlowe

Ravious mentions playing HotS as an assassin. My experience has been completely different because I have mostly been playing Gazlowe, an anti-NPC specialist. This isn’t LoL, it does not play like LoL, and if I am going with it I am going with it.

I picked up Gazlowe because I got a daily quest to play three games as a specialist, with no specialists available in the free rotation unless I gained a bunch of levels (poor design). Gazlowe was the cheapest, and he sounded interesting. Melee is not my strength, but he is a melee with Heimerdinger’s skills and anti-structure talents. I’m in.

I get that some people manage to be bad at Heroes of the Storm, but either Gazlowe is top tier or I’m just rather good with him. I do 30-40% of our team’s siege damage, sometimes more. There are games where I have top score for siege and hero damage and xp contribution. In a MOBA that focuses more on NPCs than killing other players, Gazlowe focuses on NPCs. You could build him another way, but why?

I take the passive for Gazlowe’s R: +150% damage against minions, mercenaries, and structures. Turrets do a bit of tanking, and Gazlowe chops down the towers. You can even upgrade him to melee the ammo out of towers, although I prefer more mana for more turrets. Against minions, he starts with two AE attacks, and you can upgrade his turrets and basic attack to hit multiple targets and then add a damage aura. Late game, it takes me longer to get back on my horse than to clear a wave of minions.

It is making the game pall for me the way that cultural victories did in Civ V. Players are what provide the variety in MOBAs, and Heroes of the Storm makes the other players less important. Gazlowe can make them irrelevant. And he wins.

: Zubon

[LotRO] Fellowship Maneuvers

More games need to steal adapt fellowship maneuvers from The Lord of the Rings Online. It is a great mechanic that raises the skill ceiling and rewards group play without punishing soloers.

For those who have never played LotRO, a “conjunction” or “fellowship maneuver” is a group bonus opportunity. They randomly trigger occasionally in groups, and some classes have the ability to trigger them (notably Burglars). When they happen, the target is stunned for a few seconds, and everyone in the group can pick a color. The combination of colors creates an effect, with bonuses for coordinated maneuvers (mostly poker hands, order matters). A green-blue full house gives your group a big heal and mana refill, while a long straight can wipe trash mobs, put a big DoT on the boss, give you that heal and mana refill, and/or summon NPC allies.

This is a great way to support group play. It takes nothing away from solo players, but it provides a bonus to being in a group, and the bonus scales up with the group size. Playing with a couple of friends, you can occasionally get a nice little bonus. Playing with a full, organized group, you hit big bonuses all the time and steamroll.

Consistently hitting big fellowship maneuvers is the difference between a good group and a great group in LotRO. FMs encourage exactly the right sort of great group: clear communication, identifying roles, coordinating effort, and providing flexible support when circumstances knock someone out of a planned role. Groups that make good use of the system would be great groups anyway. This rewards them for doing things right and encourages players to group more and to group well. If you don’t talk to your group, you probably cannot hit those FMs. If you find a group you like playing with consistently, you will probably be in better practice at hitting FMs.

The mechanical particulars may not lend themselves to every game, but the fundamental idea and in-game execution are excellent. Full kudos to whoever designed and implemented that system.

: Zubon

Heroes of the Storm Non-Impressions

I have been trying Heroes of the Storm. It is kind of like League of Legends for people who don’t like the “fight the opposing champions” part very much, more of competitive PvE with some chance to kill your opponent. Old Blizzard refined the best of a genre into a polished project; New Blizzard seems to simplify a genre in search of an accessible product.

I kind of want to review it in pieces, because there are interesting design decisions being made, including some very nice pieces of polish. I think that will miss the overall point, though, because the gameplay is less compelling due to a combination of factors and missing factors, not something that will be apparent from one design choice in particular. I’ll probably go on to discuss a few details anyway.

If you always wanted a MOBA where the players were more of generals shepherding their forces than assassins fighting around them, this could be for you, or you might be able to find someone still playing Demigod.

: Zubon

Card Hunter

I have started playing Card Hunter. I was enthusiastic about it before release, mentally moved on, and am now getting back to it. I have enjoyed it, although its luster seems to fade quickly.

Card Hunter feels great, a mix of retro aesthetic with modern functionality. Personally, I am way past tired of the retro trend of faux 8-bit graphics; this reaches back even further to the classic Dungeons & Dragons modules. That nostalgia appeals to me. It recreates a bit of the tabletop experience, with dice and miniatures.
Continue reading Card Hunter

Tinker Update

If you were on the fence about Tesh’s Tinker Dice, the Kickstarter has expanded to include seven colors, and it ends this week. It stands a fair chance of reaching its stretch goal, given usual last minute interest in campaigns that have already been funded.

: Zubon