Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

Storage solutions interest me. As you accumulate games, how do you make them conveniently available, visible (or not), and portable? For small collections, stacking up a few boxes in a closet works perfectly. Over time, collections become not-small, and there is no consistency on box size between companies, so you can easily end up playing a cross between Tetris and Jenga every time you take your games out or put them away, and then some games are packed so perfectly you forget you own them for months because you cannot see the box.

So what are we looking for in storage? Size standardization is a great thing, with the notion being that we will take the games out of the original boxes (trash or carefully store in pristine condition, according to your gamer type) and put them in something conveniently modular. The modules need to be of different sizes, because some games are large with lots of bits while others are very small, but most boxes have a lot more air than you need. Boards and rules usually need to be stored separately from game pieces because of sizing issues; indeed, the large boxes are usually because of one large board and a few tallish pieces, so you need large overall dimensions. Game pieces should be able to be stored separately, again needing different sizes of compartments for different games. Transparency and space for labeling are great, because you want to know what is in storage (and find it). I would also want to be able to pull out one game without upsetting the whole apple cart, and for larger collections you want to be able to take some subset of your collection along in mobile storage. Bonuses include if the containers for pieces are also functional during play.

Pausing to note that audience participation is encouraged, please discuss your storage needs and solutions in the comments. Continue reading Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

Story via Mechanics

One thing I enjoy in the Pathfinder Adventures story mode is that the rules can be adapted to create good scenes, fluff out of the crunch. One of these is done inelegantly, with a paragraph of text that makes that one a mini-game, but consider:

  • “The Poison Pill” sets you against someone leaving deadly traps around town. The usual henchman mini-bosses are obstacles (poison traps) instead of monsters.
  • “Local Heroes” wants you to network around town and meet people. The henchman mini-bosses are replaced with allies you can recruit, with the goal of closing all the locations instead of defeating a villain. And the scenario reward is more allies.
  • Several scenarios have a special rule that makes the difficulty scale in a way that encourages you to find the villain as quickly as possible and to create the usually desired effect of rising difficulty over time. For example, “Undead Uprising” raises the difficulty to defeat Zombie Minion mini-bosses for each Zombie Minion defeated (and the boss summons more before the final confrontation). “Foul Misgivings” increases the difficulty of everything as Haunt mini-bosses haunt your characters, and the lowest difficulty adds a rising chance for a bonus boss fight as you meet Haunts (the higher difficulties just throw the bonus boss at you). “Them Ogres Ain’t Right” increases the final boss’s difficulty by 2 for each mini-boss defeated. A wildcard mechanic has the same effect of rising difficulty, which could get ugly stacking with the scenario mechanic.
  • Several locations have connections to specific allies who can be used for bonus effects, like the one who can banish the aforementioned Haunts.
  • “Angel in the Tower” requires you to have someone at the Shadow Clock location or else time starts slipping away.
  • “Battle at the Dam” has the most elegant implementation: “The Dam may not be temporarily closed.” For folks who have not played, if you encounted the boss but have not closed all the locations, you can “temporarily close” them to keep the boss from escaping; if you win the fight, the boss flees to any open location. If the Dam cannot be temporarily closed, you MUST fight the boss there, either early (and you spend the rest of the scenario tracking him down) or more likely as the climactic battle (because why risk fighting a mini-boss there when you cannot close it).

: Zubon

Conflict and Anger

Typically, the more direct the conflict, the less anger it tends to provoke. At the extreme, I don’t think too many people have flipped the table because someone captured one of their pieces in a chess game. … On the other hand, indirect conflict, which is perhaps, another way of saying passive-aggressive conflict, tends to produce stronger feelings. For example, spite-drafting a card in a drafting game, taking the last of a scarce resource in a resource management game, or blocking someone out of a needed action spot in a worker placement game are all the sort of thing that tend to irritate people in a way that blowing up their troops does not.

Inverted Porcupine

That seems about right to me. No one objects to killing in a murder simulator. People get up in arms when you take the last wheat that their imaginary sheep needed. The harshest PvP MMO in history is A Tale in the Desert, where the explicit Conflict discipline was about playing friendly games of open competition, while Leadership and Worship gave you the chance to kill people in a permadeath game.

: Zubon

Crowbar

crowbar card from the pathdfinder adventure card game I am trying to decide if this is an example of fluff versus crunch or of fridge brilliance. The crowbar is a staple of gaming, and in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (as well as Pathfinder Adventures), it is an “item” and not a “weapon.” It helps you get past barriers.

blacksmiths son and shopkeepers daughter cards from the pathfinder adventure card game But these two are “barriers” classified as “obstacles.” They get in your way, presumably want to talk, and can take up your turn. Shopkeeper’s daughter is getting chatty? Out comes the crowbar. Blacksmith’s son is trying to seduce your ranger? Crowbar.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Adventures

At Tobold’s suggestion, I have tried a bit of the Pathfinder Adventures card game (on Android). I always seem to have a digital CCG of some sort going, and this seems to be a pretty good one.

I had intended to try the paper version, but I do not have a regular gaming group with which to play. This falls between a CCG and a tabletop RPG; the decks are characters, which change and level up through adventuring, but there is not quite the story feel of an RPG. If you want the mechanical part of the game, this is an efficient way to go about getting it without needing another play to sit out as GM.

I do not know how long this will stay in my playing rotation. The fixed adventures and the random quests are really about the same, in that you face some semi-random group of cards, most of which you will quickly come to recognize. I suppose they are better themed in the story adventure chain? I was finding it just as satisfying to run random quests. Given the minimal story, that’s about the same gameplay. The lack of cloud save is a negative.

The game’s model is F2P with microtransaction and “box” options. The “box” here is paying $25 for full access to all the modules and characters, as if you bought the box of cards. The microtransactions are for smaller quantities of gold, which you can use to buy the box cards, but there is quite a bit of grinding to be had to earn that gold. Personally, I found no hardship in beating 15 quests to unlock a second hero because that’s the game. At the lowest difficulty, the game is entirely playable with just the two free characters, and I will see how it does with three or more.

: Zubon

AlphaGo

While I have been reading instead of playing, the most exciting news in computer gaming has been Go. Chess-playing computer programs have gradually moved from “plays a standard game pretty well” to “almost competitive with a good human” to “consistently beats world champions,” reaching the end of that progression about a decade ago. Go, contrarily, has long been held out as a game at which computers will have trouble making gains because the search space is huge for a 19×19 board, moves have long-term consequences that make evaluating individual moves difficult, and play has generally been seen as more intuitive and so less open to computational brute force.

A year ago, the best Go program was competitive against a good amateur player. In the last six months, Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo has leaped to “best in the world,” beating the European champion 5-0 and now beating the world champion 3-0 with two games to go.

frame from a manga. two young men face a computer. one says, "but they say it'll be another hundred years before a computer can beat a human at go." the one at the keyboard replies, "I don't need a hundred years." There are three things I would like to note here. First, the speed of that jump is ridiculous. Go has long been one of those “at least a decade away” computing problems, like the ones that have been forecast as “20-30 years away” for the last 20-30 years and are still 20-30 years away today. AlphaGo is the first computer program to beat a professional player without a handicap, and then it went on to beat the world champion. That is going from “can’t beat a professional player” to “beats the top professional player” in one step. This is not the gradual progress we saw with computers and chess over decades, this is an escalation in power levels that would make anime blush.

Second, this is not simply a matter of Google having massive computing power to throw at the problem. The chess world champions play on supercomputers and evaluation trillions of positions per second. The world champion version of AlphaGo uses a distributed computing network, but they also have a single-computer version that beats the distributed version about a quarter of the time. We will see if the human world champion gets one win in the series, but this suggests that a much less powerful version of AlphaGo would still be a top player.

What I find most interesting is that humans seem to be fairly bad at evaluating how AlphaGo is doing. AlphaGo optimizes for probability of winning, not its current score or a projected score at the end. So the human analysts are commenting on how the computer seems to be making mistakes, that it is not capturing territory, and oh look gg the computer has somehow gotten itself into an unassailable position. One of the reasons computers have been bad at Go is that a single move now can have subtle implications 50 moves later; AlphaGo has made the jump to where its subtle moves look like mistakes to observers until it wins. It is probably not the case that the computer was playing a close game and pulled ahead in the late game. It seems more likely that the computer was steadily pulling ahead but in a way that is not obvious until the late game. Here is Eliezer Yudkowsky exploring this point at length. Bonus thought: human commentators were probably assuming that AlphaGo would lose, so odd-looking moves were probably mistakes rather than subtle brilliance; in light of consistent wins, I am curious if the human commentators will now look more closely at its moves for hidden strengths, rather than starting with the frame “this is another lousy computer Go program.”

: Zubon

Bonus thought 2: when I see Eliezer referencing “Path to Victory” in that post, I cannot help but see him referencing Worm, which he has read and commented on before.

Brutal Honesty

Playing more Coup with new players, I find that honesty is a surprisingly powerful and common strategy. I do not know if the people I was playing with were hesitant to bluff, but almost every loss of influence/death was caused by false challenging someone else’s claim. It was a game of self-inflicted injuries.

I am sure I have played with other groups that lied constantly. I wonder what the curve is: start with minimal bluffing, because you do not know the game well enough to lie believably; lie shamelessly now that you know the odds better; go back to honesty how that people are expecting you to lie shamelessly?

: Zubon

Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

It’s a weird thing: the mind. Throughout summer, the household was in a nice routine. At the end of July it was like a flip switched. School was only two weeks away, but suddenly both the kids and Mrs. Ravious wanted school to start. Stress piled on, and instead of viewing Blaugust as a fun challenge it became an obstacle. I knew that I might get the first five under my belt, and then I would spectacularly fail. So I followed Homer’s advice and took most of August off. Refresh the juices. Continue reading Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

Nevermore

Nevermore was a friend’s most cherished Gen Con acquisition this year. It is entertaining enough, with a mix of elegant and unnecessary mechanics.

Nevermore is primarily a drafting game. There are five suits of cards, and you get five cards. Pick two, pass three; you have five again, pick three, pass two; finally, pick four, pass one. This gives you a mixture of control and unpredictability. You then compare cards with the other players. Four of the five cards work the same way: whoever has the most subtracts the second place number and does that much. So if you have four attack cards, and someone else has three, 4-3=1 and you deal 1 damage to someone. The fifth card suit, ravens, is an anti-card that cancels your other cards, but it becomes powerful if you can get most of your hand as ravens. First person to six victory points or last human standing wins.

As a drafting game, it works pretty well. Because all five of your cards are up for choose/pass each round, you might change strategies completely after your first pass. Play tends to resolve pretty quickly. Our player who plays draft Magic twice a week did rather well in his first game, so I am led to believe decisions are meaningful even if there is fair amount of weakly controlled randomization. Some players complained about sitting next to (or worse, between) skilled drafters.

It gets a bit unnecessarily complicated because there are special rules for a variety of special cases. The special rule for getting a hand of 5 ravens makes sense; I have yet to see it happens, but it just fits the game for that to be something special. Then there are special rules for the unlikely circumstances of 4+ damage (not attack cards, damage after comparing to 2nd place), 3+ healing starting at full health (same healing vs. cards), and 5+ radiance cards (cards this time, not after comparing). And then there are two pages of rules relating to raven cards.

One worthwhile piece of complexity is that players turn into ravens instead of dying. They stay in the game and keep playing, with some chance of becoming human again and getting back in the game. Raven players have slightly differing rules for play.

Gameplay is mostly quick, the rules are mostly short and simple. The special rules for a half-dozen unlikely things feel like unnecessary cruft, but it was fun to play.

: Zubon

Tokaido

I tried Tokaido this weekend. It was an appallingly awful experience, but I am led to believe it could be better.

I played a five-player game using the Crossroads expansion. Those links will explain why that is a bad idea. Between the two, you pretty much have Candyland with vastly more complexity and a small bit of strategy.

After playing, I looked at reviews of Tokaido, and almost every one quickly said that the game is not Candyland. That is a lot of smoke for there not to be fire. In the game I played, the range of sane decisions was small, the randomness of the results was large for most squares, and most players were new so we did not even know the range within which randomness occurred. My random character was from the expansion and depended on that randomness, and then I got boxed out of even using most of it due to pawn placement. Such is life. I just repeated as a mantra, “it’s Candyland,” because how much can you care when your decisions have almost no impact on your outcomes?

So pausing here, I would be interested in playing again, but with no more than three players, not using an expansion, and I want a chance to read the cards so I know what the experienced players are basic their decisions on. Having started with two paragraphs of complaints linking to two pages of complaints, why would I be interested in playing again? < --more-->

Tokaido is thematically lovely. It is an equal and opposite of Blood Rage, where a peaceful theme plays into the mechanics. The goal of Tokaido is to walk along the coast. Whoever has the most fun wins. That is literally what you are scoring; whoever has the best time meeting people, visiting seeing the sights, and buying souvenirs wins the game. The visuals are peaceful and elegant. Gameplay is just moving along a line and picking up cards. It is a nice idea.

At a level beyond Candyland, there is cutthroat tactical play. Where you place your pawn matters, and people can aggressively block each other to thwart each others’ goals. Once you know what is hidden in all those decks of cards, you can rationally gamble on the outcome of picking squares with random results. There is gamer play here as well as casual play.

Make sure to have excellent lighting. The other great problem we had was just seeing what was going on. The icons are very small, and several of them are similar. In low lighting, there is not a lot of difference between gray and light blue, especially with glasses like mine. “Is that a hot spring or a view of Mount Fuji?” Tokaido is also one of those games that uses icons in place of words, most of which are good, but some of which only make sense if you already know what they mean. (The worst of that was probably the Crossroads expansion, which I will again curse. One of my friends was enthusiastic because one part helped solve a cash flow problem he had with his shopping-centric strategy; more than doubling the complexity of the game to add exactly six yen is a really bad trade-off.)

I like the idea of the game, and several people were enthusiastic. Under the right circumstances, it looks like it could be a good game.

: Zubon