Avengers Tower Defense

I don’t know if anyone has made this into a game yet, but the climactic fight in Avengers: Age of Ultron is a tower defense level. Avoiding spoilers: the Avengers end up protecting a button. If one enemy gets past them to push the button, the bad guys win. Arrange the Avengers around this button (in 3D – superheroes fly!) and stop the bad guys. Uh oh, here comes Ultron — boss wave!

Spoilers are allowed in the comments, so feel free to discuss the fight, the movie, tower defense, etc. And you may not want to click through to comments if you want to be surprised at the movie.

: Zubon

[TT] Smash Up

Smash Up calls itself a “shufflebuilding” game. The game consists of 20-card half-decks, each of which is a faction like aliens, pirates, tricksters, and zombies. Each player picks two, shuffles them together, then tries to capture bases and conquer the world as zombie pirates, alien tricksters, robot dinosaurs, or a similar smash up. Each faction has a mechanical theme, and the combination gives you your strategy for the game. Expansions add more factions like bear cavalry, giant ants, princesses, and time travelers.

Recommended. The game is fun on several levels.

The first is theme. The main selling point of Smash Up is that you can play as robotic werewolves, ninja plants, or steampunk cyborg apes. It is wacky, customizable fun. Small amounts of roleplaying and enthusiasm go a long way once your dinosaurs start eating leprechauns or your alien kittens start abducting ghostly wizards. There is some weakness here as imagination is required to make some things mesh. Fundamentally, they are still just two decks of cards shuffled together, so sometimes it feels more like zombies allied with princesses than like zombie princesses. Or like they’re just standing next to each other. In a perfect world, you would be playing Smash Up on a computer and the cards would really merge, with customized cards so that the minions would look different in their different combinations. That would be a lot of customized artwork, expanding geometrically with each expansion, unless there is a good way to do it procedurally.

Due to randomization, it is more of a tactical game than a strategic game, but it does that pretty well. There are always multiple factors in play, and you have several options to choose from. Decisions feel meaningful, and you get to make at least two decisions per round. The two-player game feels more strategic, the four-player game more chaotic. (You can play bigger games with expansions, but it slows down play and can drown your meaningful decisions in chaos.) The randomization is sufficiently constrained for me but high enough for casual play.

Reading balance debates online, there seems to be little consensus, which usually means “just about right.” Some factions will be better with different numbers of players; the power of dinosaurs or zombies seems stronger in the more stable two-player game, while the flexible pirates and ninjas can shine amidst four-player chaos.

There is a booklet of rules, but most of them fit on the backpage summary. That makes it a non-gamer game with enough depth for gamers. Good, that is the combination we want.

I have enjoyed playing with the base set and the Awesome Level 9000 expansion. My wife is really looking forward to when our Pretty Pretty Smash Up arrives with its expies of Disney Princesses and My Little Ponies. Princess dinosaurs, here we come!

: Zubon

Gen Con Planning

I will be attending Gen Con again this year. Last year, a few of us said we were going, but that never coalesced into a meetup or event. Would we like to do something like that? If there is enough interest or if we have several bloggers going from our corner of the blogosphere, we could even register an event, although it looks like there are costs involved in that.

Designate a time/place to meet up for conversation and open gaming? Pick a restaurant and have a Ratslayers Tavern some evening?

I am opening the floor to discussion for attendees so that we plan and do something. It is a big event (56,614 attendees, more expected this year) and it is hard to stumble over each other in that kind of crowd.

: Zubon

[TT] Smash Up: Expansion Mechanics

Smash Up calls itself a “shufflebuilding” game. It consists of 20-card half-decks of factions like aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, and zombies; pick two, shuffle them together, and now your alien dinosaurs are squaring off against zombie pirates. It’s fun and I’ll probably review it later.

The base game comes with eight factions, and each expansion adds four. Each expansion can be played as a standalone two-player game, and any pair of them is a four-player game just like the original. Each of them is another set of options to add to any other set of options. Its modularity supports players in deciding what range of options they want to play with (and pay for).

That same modularity means there is value in duplicate sets. It does not help to have a second set of the same Dominion cards or another Settlers board unless you want to play two games at once. In Smash Up, you can combine the base set with itself or expansions with themselves so that your four corners might be alien dinosaurs, alien zombies, zombie pirates, and dinosaur pirates. Choices are exclusive only to the extent that cards are limited. Again: more potential options and, on the business side, more options players can usefully pay for.

: Zubon


I was awoken by a nightmare in which I was playing a multi-player strategy game and was so focused on mopping up an opponent who we hit with an early rush that I forgot to develop my economy and so was useless to the team in the late game. It was like the gamer version of the nightmare of going to school naked.

: Zubon

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Jedi Master, PMP

Raph Koster discusses the design history of SWG Jedi, which is a bit of an extended apology as well as a good story. Most people reading this like MMOs and Jedi, so you probably already clicked the link. Welcome back.

For me, given my work, the most interesting section of the post is “We’re out of time.”

We had to go through and make tough choices on cuts. As early as that Christmas I was already triaging the entire game design. My criteria was “can the game function without this.” Not “will it be good.” Will it work at all.

Being able to think this way is an amazingly important skill if you want to complete projects. I have had co-workers who experienced the need to prioritize as a personal insult that you were not giving them everything they wanted. Projects managed from that point of view do not spontaneously generate larger budgets or more programming staff, but they do lose features at random instead of according to a logical scheme of “required” versus “nice to have.” As the idiom would have it, when filling your bucket, put the big rocks in first; if you are tossing in handfuls of gravel, there won’t be room for all the big rocks by the end. You can probably fit some gravel in the bucket around the big rocks.

Jedi never really seemed a good fit for that bucket.

: Zubon

[TT] Deus: Stacking

I played my first game of Deus this weekend. It has one elegant mechanic I’d like to discuss.

You have five types of buildings in Deus (plus temples, which are irrelevant for today’s topic). You build them by playing (and paying for) a card. You place your building, put the card in the appropriate column on your board, and (here is the interesting part) activate every card in that column, in order from oldest to newest. When you build your first production building, you get one production effect, and then the same effect triggers every time you build another production building.

That simple mechanic drives a lot of the action in the game. Because you can have only five buildings of the same type, that is both a snowball and catch-up mechanic. On the snowball side, someone with a good start can quickly capitalize on one good building to get several good effects. Specialization pays off. On the catch-up side, after you complete that tower of cards, it is done. You have placed your five buildings of that type, and you can no longer capitalize. Also, building temples (late game victory points) requires having cards in every column, so a certain amount of diversity is both incentivized by temples and required by the piece limit.

: Zubon

Good Decisions, Good Outcomes

We have discussed repeatedly over the past year that fun games let you make meaningful choices. David Henderson comments on a recent, high-profile football game and the distinction between decisions and outcomes.

Usually, the best strategic choice is the one with the highest expected value (probability of outcome times value of outcome). People frequently look at solely the outcome and then attribute it to the decision, whether or not the outcome was a likely result of that decision. Winning the lottery is a good outcome for you, but playing the lottery is almost never a good decision because the cost of a ticket is more than (odds of winning) times (value from winning); depending on how you estimate taxes, inflation, and the chance of splitting the prize, the Powerball even-odds point is around $1 billion.

I have mixed feelings about games where you make good decisions and lose. This is not the case of single-player games scripted to be perverse, where what looks like the right choice is a trap or all choices are traps. I am thinking of multiplayer games that are anything less than 100% strategy with all information known in advance. We want some unknowns, and making decisions in the face of unknowns means occasionally things come down against you. When the odds are 50-50 and you lose a coin flip, yeah, that happens all the time. When you win unless you lose 5 coin flips in a row, that still happens 3% of the time. I like to think of myself as comfortable with probability and true randomness, but having a 97% chance to win and still losing through no fault of your own is really frustrating. It is absolutely necessary that players lose 3% of 97% chances, but it is still really frustrating.

It is frustrating on another level when people celebrate those 3%s as great victories, rather than blind luck. Don’t get me wrong, if you are in a position where your only chance to win is five coin flips in a row and playing conservatively guarantees a safe loss, take that chance. High variance solutions can be your friend, and even if you lose that game (as you most likely will), it was still the right decision. But if you started with equal odds and fell into a situation where you needed five-in-a-row to win, you probably made some bad decisions along the way. And if you are that guy who immediately set up a five-in-a-row situation to win immediately or quit immediately, you are what is wrong with online gaming.

Celebrate your victories, but also celebrate good decisions, whether or not they lead to victory in that particular case.

: Zubon

It’s a different sort of unsatisfying if the game comes down to a coin flip.


I sometimes find it helpful to make explicit the “imaginary” in front of something from a game when speaking aloud. “I’m upset because the imaginary zombie bit my imaginary warrior.” “Curses, someone else was willing to pay more imaginary gold for that imaginary sword on the imaginary auction house than I was!”

Your loved ones are sometimes worried that you forget that whole “it’s just a game” thing when the game affects you emotionally. And let’s be honest, sometimes you can use the reminder. This will reassure them that you are aware that you are reacting to an imaginary wizard’s struggles with an imaginary rock monster.

Although some people will be even more worried when you acknowledge that things are imaginary but still react to them.

: Zubon


In recent months players have been submitting an average of one million questions a day to Trivia Crack’s “Question Factory,” a section within the app, says its 29-year-old founder and chief executive, Maximo Cavazzani. Since each submission must get a positive rating from at least 100 fellow players to make the cut, only about 1,500 new questions are being added to the game each day.
“Can an App Be Too Successful” by Sarah Needleman, Wall Street Journal

I played Ingress for a while last year. I am still getting responses about portals accepted or rejected, and I have at least 50 more in their queue. Back then, the Ingress web site said portals were accepted or rejected in 4-6 weeks (not months); right now it says that due to the backlog they have suspended the achievement related to submitting portals (and also quietly removed a turnaround time).

I have wondered if the time delay is an intentional strategy to reduce exploits. If the average player quits before their submitted portals go live, there is less incentive to submit dodgy “couch portals” (portal you can reach from home/work).

: Zubon