Pitch Deck

Pitch Deck is a fun concept for a party game, on Kickstarter now, but I don’t think it will age well. The idea is to match a company with a new product and explain why “Soylent for Juggalos” is going to be the New New Thing that everyone should invest in. It is vaguely like Apples to Apples, but everyone gives a pitch for their answer.

I think that sounds kind of fun, maybe you don’t. I do not see it aging well because lots of those companies are going to stop existing over the next five to ten years. A fair number of them you’ve never heard of, because everyone’s “everyone knows” differs. This was written by some folks in San Francisco, which goes a ways towards explaining the variety of recent tech start-ups but the conspicuous absence of major corporations or middle American consumer products (and the notion of having a game about elevator pitches for startups). I would be amused to see how the implications of some of these change over time; in recent memory, MySpace was THE social media hub and eBay was an auction site.

Have you seen that effect in other games? If you have an older copy of Trivial Pursuit, some of the answers have changed over time, and some major celebrities have changed to “who?” Playing Apples to Apples with the next generation gives lots of those moments like, “Who’s Michael Jackson?” I don’t know how well Cards Against Humanity has aged with aggressively edgy references to people who were politically relevant in the five minutes the game was published.

If you are interested in giving the game a look or test run, there is a Creative Commons print and play download available.

: Zubon

Tao Long

While I am talking about Kickstarters, I should point to Tao Long. ThunderGryph Games started up last year and Kickstarted their first game, Overseers. It looked interesting and I backed it at the “Founders Club” level, which is a lifetime subscription to their games. So I’ll be paying attention to everything they do. Gonzalo Aguirre Bisi of ThunderGryph has a nice post about his first Kickstarter experience. The game arrived as expected, upgraded, and before Christmas.

I have only had one evening with Overseers on the table, so I do not have a heck of a lot to say about it yet. The mechanics work well. We found the swings of small decisions to be very large, but part of that was due to translation issues with the rules. When you play, make sure you have the FAQ because some of the rules are mis-described and there is a recommended text change that happened between printing the cards and the manual. I think the game runs much better after seeing the FAQ, although Greed becomes much weaker.

Let’s be honest, you expect some language issues when a Spanish company translates a Japanese game into English. Hyperborea, which I love like chocolate, had worse issues trying to avoid language and instead using increasingly arcane symbols to show complicated rules on cards. We have put up with worse to play our MMOs. This looks to be their model, translating games and taking them to new markets. I look forward to more non-European Eurogames.

Storytime over, Tao Long burst out of the gate, more than triple its funding goal in less than a day and currently over 1000%. It’s not a $10 million game, but it is already a relative success, twice the funding that Overseers received. If anyone has explored the game in greater depth and would like to discuss mechanics, rather than just game development meta, comments are open.

: Zubon

Kingdom Death Kickstarter

This is not a project I am backing, but I feel that I should point out the gaming Kickstarter spectacle of the year. I would surprised if anything tops the $10 million (and counting!) that Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 has. You have one day left if you want to join in, but I mostly want to wave towards the spectacle. The campaign is past 10,000% funding. On my monitor, the description is more than 100 screens long as they just keep adding things. The average pledge is over $500, and more than 250 people took the $2,000 pledge level (plus any add-ons). Pathfinder is doing a crossover, and that’s just the one where I got a press release.

I was really impressed with Monte Cook’s Invisible Sun, but this is more than 10 times as big.

: Zubon

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

My love of deep strategy games may never fade, but I am finding social deduction games to be the most fun. They can fail spectacularly based on who you’re playing with, but they seem to have both a high average and high highs.

Deception is the latest one I learned, and it is a lot of fun. Players are detectives, and one of them is the murderer. Find the murderer and the evidence to win (or else the murderer wins). That is more or less the setup of most social deduction games, what makes this one special?

The game starts with information. One of the investigators is the forensic scientist. The game setup is that each player has four murder weapons and four clues in front of them. After everyone closes their eyes, the murderer points to one of his weapons and clues. Now the forensic scientist knows, and they can communicate only by selecting one from a set of clue boards like “scene of the crime” or “relationship to the victim.” Players then discuss these clues and try to deduce the murderer. (The forensic scientist is likely the least fun role, as it misses all the discussion of the game and needs a poker face to avoid giving away information. The forensic scientist can be the MVP or the cad based on quality of information provided.)

The fun of the game is trying to deduce what was supposed to be communicated, given limited communications options. Which murder weapons seem most like the cause of death, and would you have chosen that cause of death as a description of this weapon? For example, “severe injury” covers a lot more range than “poisoned,” and the murder weapon probably was not plague if anything other than “disease” was chosen (if “disease” was a choice). Committing murder during surgery is obvious if the location option “hospital” comes up, but what do you pick as the forensic scientist if that wasn’t one of the options this game? It matters what the scientist “said” and what was not said, along with how they expected those answer to be interpreted, mixed with the open question of whether that clue was supposed to refer to the blue or the brown card in this murderer’s combination.

The other great fun is trying to put together a story for the murder based on fairly random evidence. “Okay, the victim was killed with … a locked room, where the clue left behind was … timber. So, what, he was left to starve to death at a construction site?” Okay, that one was dull, but weapons include mad dogs and chainsaws, and evidence left behind can be quite random. That story also mutates with the clues, because the forensic scientist is trying to fill in the blanks, and some of the clue cards will have nothing useful at all, so then folks are wondering how “winter” fits into this story.

Balance seems to be pretty good, in that online commentary says the murderer almost always wins and that the murderer almost never wins. Granted, I won five games in a row, murderer and investigator, so I might be biased and would start thinking otherwise if my group was a bunch of foolish investigators who kept throwing it to the murderer. But our small set of games showed that both sides could win, under a variety of game sizes and circumstances (for example, optionally adding the accomplice and witness roles).

Hardest problem: avoiding meta-gaming. It does not seem to be a big problem, but we openly acknowledged around the table that some of the things we were doing were not exactly 100% fair to both sides, like discussing the forensic scientist’s clues while they were picking. Acknowledge that you could spoil that and take steps to avoid meta-gaming, such as making noise to mask movement while the murderer reveals hidden info.

: Zubon

Player Count

Are there any games that work well outside the recommended number of players? I am thinking of board games, but really any; did LOL Twisted Treeline ever become a thing? The particular thing that comes to mind is games with “variant rules” for more or fewer players, where the game is usually made for 3-4 players with a 2-player (or solitaire) variant and a 5-6 player expansion. That seems really common in board games, but I cannot think of many (any?) where I have seen it done well.

  • Dominion breaks down with 5+ players, particularly if there are attacks. There is not much fun to be had in a game with at least one Torturer per round. Without attacks, you can have a very short game with that many people emptying stacks unimpeded.
  • Starfarers of Catan gets extremely crowded in the early game, leading to a snowball effect where a bad first turn puts you several turns behind everyone else as you need to navigate/colonize around them. I have never tried Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion, out of a holy respect for the mathematical purity of the base game.
  • 7 Wonders does a great job scaling up or down for 3-7 players, and that is built into the cards to begin with. Well done. The two-player variant is messy and clunky. I am told that 7 Wonders Duel is excellent, intentionally re-designed for two players.
  • I am not sure if Smash Up is bad as a two-player game so much as very different, and the balance shifts massively. Any card that costs you something to hurt an opponent becomes vastly stronger if you have only one opponent, such as most Kittens cards, while factions like Ninjas and Pirates that jump into others’ fights are much weaker in a heads-up game.
  • I should just stop the two-player games, because they play differently and usually pretty badly. Recent examples I have tried include Coup and Havok and Hijinks.

Some games work for two players without rules variations, and they can mostly work. This works better for Eurogames with minimal interaction, such as Dominion. I have played Kingdom Builder mostly with two players, and it becomes a much more strategic game as you limit the number of players.

In my day-to-day life, scaling down is the usual issue, playing with my wife at home. When I go to a game day, scaling up becomes the issue as we try to get more people at the table rather than boxing 3 or 4 people away for a couple of hours. But that often leads to a suboptimal time for several hours.

Thoughts from KTR readers, games that do this well or badly and why?

: Zubon

Thanks to AEG Customer Service

Obviously everyone knows I like board games, but one of my favorite things about the hobby has always been how good the industry treats its customers. In a world where most companies are looking to take you for as much as they can, board game companies almost universally have great customer service despite the fact that a lot of times they are not making a lot of money per unit sold. They’ll replace missing pieces, cards, etc, often at no cost because they want you to enjoy their product and continue to enjoy their product.
— Haen, gamer

I picked up a Smash Up box at Gen Con. It was missing a card. I e-mailed AEG customer service, and they sent me the card.

That is not much of a story. It rarely is when things work properly. Customer service worked well, and now I have a full set rather than saying, “Pretend this card is a Collector.”

: Zubon

Balanced Forces

I love and fear asymmetric PvP. It is so hard to balance well and so good when it is done right.

There is something satisfying about being the big monster fighting several of your friends, or being that group of friends taking down a big monster we know to have a capable pilot. About pitting goblins against elves against dragons. About ninja and samurai, pirates and ninja, merchants and pirates. Symmetry is elegant and much easier to balance, but teams with different advantages and disadvantages add so much more color.

But it is so easy to get wrong, and if you mess it up, it may not be fixable. Or maybe the balance really is perfect, but not in your local gaming group, where one person is especially good with one strategy and makes all the other factions look like trash. It is hard to tell whether the im/balance is in your game or your gamers, and imbalanced gamers can lead to runaway differences in-game.

I see the latest thing on Kickstarter or Steam, and my interest is piqued, but it will take many hours of (hopefully someone else’s) play to see whether the game has the chops to make it work. A bit of randomness in the game can hide imbalances for a long time, and really for as many times as I am likely to play a game, “close enough” is probably good enough.

: Zubon

Premium Game

I have previously mentioned the notion of a premium game that charged more for more, rather than a F2P race to the bottom. Monte Cook, bless his heart, is going for it. He is Kickstarting a new RPG called Invisible Sun that costs $197. That is the lowest pledge tier. The other pledge tier is $539, which adds on the stretch goals and a 12-month subscription of sorts. That’s it, those are the two options. The premium and ultra-premium pledge slots were all sold for $42,811. It garnered a quarter-million in about a day, is already funded, and now can start putting the stretch rewards in that $539 box.

I respect the audaciousness of the project. Monte wanted to make a deluxe game, so he went and did it with a bunch of friends, a big box with books and cards and dice and a cloth map and everything you dreamed of doing as a young nerd. Kind of like when Steve Jackson used Kickstarter for his dream deluxe game, only more. Kind of like that $1000 omelet only the omelet itself is both the PR stunt and the product they are really selling.

I do not have a regular gaming group and I cannot see myself buying this, but I am interested in seeing where it goes and what will get added to the game as its pledges rise above a half-million.

: Zubon