[TT] Betrayal at House on the Hill

Yes, that’s the real title.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of those games you want to like for its atmosphere and for what it does well, but I have yet to find myself able to because of two significant problems.

You the players are a group of people who have come to (the) house on the hill for reasons. In the first phase of the game, your group of up to six are exploring the house. You find interesting rooms, events, items, and hauntings. The house is subject to impossible architecture, because you draw the next room randomly, which is perfectly in tune with the haunted setting. Eventually, one of those haunt cards starts the second phase, the Haunt. One player becomes the traitor, and based on what triggered the Haunt when, you start one of fifty Haunt scenarios, which could be an actual haunting, alien abductors, cannibals, or pretty much anything on the big board in The Cabin in the Woods. When that happens, one of the players becomes the Traitor, and now you have different teams and rules and goals. That is a great idea for a game, with a lot of variety, atmosphere, and potential fun.

The first problem is that Haunt/Traitor transition. The Traitor goes into another room, and now everyone reads rules. You know that part at the start of a new board game when maybe one person knows the rules, and you spend a long time reading and/or explaining the mechanics, and maybe you need to work out some ambiguities in the rules and fumble through it for the first quarter of the game? That happens pretty much every single game of Betrayal, and it happens as the central event in the game. Continue reading [TT] Betrayal at House on the Hill

[TT] Online Tabletops

Have you used the online or mobile versions of tabletop games? What do you think of them?

Letting the computer take care of setup, dice, math, etc. is a really convenient thing. I have heard of people who will go to their respective computers to play Settlers of Catan rather than sitting at a table because of the convenience. You could play Carcassonne on your mobile device. My friend has a Dominion card randomizer app, and a smartphone is smaller than the stack of randomizer cards if you have all the expansions.

Games like Risk, Titan, or Axis & Allies, with lots of pieces and long play times, seem better on a computer than in physical space. I have a cat, you have children, and Ethic lives a day’s drive away, but the electronic board is there, safe and sound and remotely accessible. Pen and paper RPGs have a mixed record with online tabletops, but computers do handle miniatures and dice nicely.

Or do you then get into “use the medium” concerns? Now that you are no longer on a tabletop, how many vestiges of the tabletop do you want to keep? You start the long, gradual slide into computer games rather than computer-mediated tabletop games, and the whole point of Tabletop Tuesday is to avoid that.

: Zubon

[TT] Asymmetric PvP

Let’s take a break from the Dominion-centric Tabletop Tuesday. People who are interested are probably already reading Dominion-specific sites. Dominion is on one extreme of a continuum in that every player starts with exactly the same resources and options. Some games like Risk or StarCraft give everyone the same option pool to start but then provide different starting points, or different victory conditions like Illuminati.

At the opposite extreme you have games that offer asymmetric options: vastly different starting resources, methods of playing, rules, and/or victory conditions. Balance here is difficult to do well, especially since a playstyle that works well for one side may not work at all for another, but a successful asymmetric game is a really great experience with multiple experiences built in.
Continue reading [TT] Asymmetric PvP

[TT] Adding Value

As mentioned, the Intrigue expansion was Dominion’s first chance to vary the environment and give more potential to the less valuable cards. Remember, the benchmark is Big Money and streamlining decks, so the design space to be explored is how to make the cards that are not the best still worth seeking. Silver, Gold, and Province are good cards that everyone wants. How do we make Copper, Estate, and Duchy more valuable?

Baron makes money off Estates and gets you more Estates. That’s good. That gives you victory points in small increments while helping you buy them in larger increments. And remember, at the end, you only need to win by one point. Baron also helps you get a quick start, because your odds of drawing Baron + Estate on turns 3 or 4 are pretty good, but if you don’t hit that, your turns will be horrible because you have one turn with Baron and no Estates then a turn with Estates and no Baron.

Duke is worth more victory points when you have more Duchies. That is a straightforward way to make Duchies more appealing: synergy! Duke is kind of the opposite of Baron: Baron shoots for the extreme turn with lots of money (or misses for nothing); Duke works reliably at $5, and you just need cards to support it that let you reliably get moderate amounts of money.

Coppersmith makes Copper produce an extra coin this turn. Straightforward: Coppers are now effectively Silver. This becomes more valuable with multiple actions or cards that double or triple actions. Coppers that are worth as much as gold are not only valuable, but you did not spend the money buying gold.

But you did spend the money buying a Coppersmith or a Baron or a Duke. I do not find this expansion very successful and offsetting the base value of Silver, Gold, and Province. When Baron works, you get a nice head start, but that’s a bit of a gamble, and Baron only gets worse as either you have too few Estates to fuel Baron or too many to do much when you do not draw a Baron. In a long game, a Duke deck can beat someone playing for Provinces, but you are relying on the game running long enough for that investment to pay off without your opponents’ investments paying off sufficiently. Duke decks also get weaker as more players play them; being the only one playing for Duke is a great position to be in, but being one of two or three means the other player(s) get ahead while the dukes squabble. And Coppersmith is just a weak card in most situations. Yes, it is great if you can play two and turn your Copper into Gold, but you need one card to get you +2 Actions plus your two Coppersmiths and then how many cards do you have left for Copper? If you have that many cards and actions, there are probably better things you could be doing than playing with Copper. The opportunity cost of a Baron or Coppersmith is not buying a better card, and then your deck has more Estates and Coppers than you want except for the turn when your combo pays off big.

But future expansions will come back, try again, and in some cases make cards that combo wonderfully with these, perhaps adding enough value.

: Zubon

[TT] Dominion: Intrigue

While you could play most of forever using the base set of Dominion, it now has a lot of expansions. The first of them is an expandalone, which contains a second set of the base cards so you could play without the base set or play 5- to 6-player games. (They now sell the base cards separately as well.) Intrigue cards have with more flexibility than the original game.
Continue reading [TT] Dominion: Intrigue

[TT] Gamer Games

We pause in the festival of Dominion for a general reflection on the audience for a game. Like most people in my generation, my wife plays games at times but would not characterize herself as a gamer. She knows who Mario is but not Master Chief. She plays Dominion with me and enjoys it.

We have also played Android: Netrunner, which she did not enjoy. She gave it a few chances, she tried several options, but no. This is a gamer game, not something for a general audience. She would play again if I asked her to, but she would not have fun. It is a particular sort of fun for a particular sort of person.

A gamer friend noticed that I had Android: Netrunner and was quite keen to learn the game. He enjoyed it. His fiancée watched a bit of the game and concurred with my wife: she would not refuse to play, but it did not look like fun. My gamer friend also has the Game of Thrones card game, which is from the same publisher and has some similarities. The two of them had played that one, and the fiancée had the same reaction, hence the recognition that she would not enjoy Android: Netrunner. I presume I would enjoy the Game of Thrones card game and my wife would not.

I will refer to some things as bad games or not meaningfully games at all. Candyland and Craps are non-games: no choices, just randomization. Monopoly is a bad game, intentionally designed to be a bad experience, and I may come back around to its major design flaws. Other games are for particular audiences or purposes. They can be good, but not for everyone. We should celebrate games like Settlers of Catan, Apples to Apples, and Plants vs. Zombies for being accessible to non-gamers and still of great interest and enjoyment to gamers.

: Zubon

[TT] Dominion: The End

Dominion ends when three stacks are empty or the last Province is bought. Whoever has the most victory points when that happens wins.

At some point, you are suddenly in the late game. In my Dominion games, the first purchase of a Province is often heralded with a cry of “first blood!” Throughout the game, victory point cards are worthless clutter in your deck, making your average hand worse. When the game ends, victory points are all that matters. All at once, it does not matter how many Gold you have, how awesome your combo is, or how you were going to buy four Provinces next turn. There is not a next turn anymore. Add up your victory points and see who won.
Continue reading [TT] Dominion: The End

[TT] Dominion: The Village Trap

The Village trap is the opposite of Big Money. It is the tendency to buy too many actions, to hope for big but unlikely combos, and to look for the awesome instead of the effective.

Did you know that there is a five-card combo that will win the game in one turn? Do you want to guess the odds of buying, drawing, and playing that combo before someone else wins the game?
Continue reading [TT] Dominion: The Village Trap