[TT] Love Letter

Love letter is another simple bluffing game, with a little less to offer than Coup but with greater simplicity and a more pleasant theme.

You are trying to get your love letter to the princess. The deck of 16 cards represents 8 roles around the castle, with higher numbers being closer to the princess. You get 1 card to start. Your gameplay each round is to draw 1 card, discard 1 card, and do whatever it says on the card you discarded. Whoever has the highest value card at the end (or is the last suitor standing) wins the round.

It really does not get much simpler than “draw 1, discard 1.” Depth comes from bluffing and guessing. For example, one card is the princess; if you discard it, you are out of the hand (the princess has burned your love letter). There is no reason to discard the princess … except that someone else might guess that you have the princess and force you to. The next most valuable card is her closest friend, who you must discard if you have a card close to it in value, such as the princess (or else you lose the hand) or the king (who is #3 in value anyway) … or you might discard her and hold onto a lower-value card to potentially set up a better position for the final card.

It is a lovely little game you can learn in less than a minute. “Draw one, discard one, try to have the highest number at the end. Everything else is on the cards, and there are only 8 different cards.” And go. Elegance in design.

: Zubon

[RR] D&D 5E: Proficiencies and An Economy of Actions

Two more general notes on simple changes that are likely to have widespread effects on the game.

First, one new mechanic replacing many is “proficiency bonus.” This takes the place of what has been many tables across the editions: THAC0, to hit bonuses, saving throw tables, spell DCs, proficiencies, and more. Those were all separate tables, sometimes separate tables by class, sometimes separate table by effect. For example, saving throws in second edition were divided by class, level, and what you are saving against; combine those three factors, look up the right cell on a chart, and there you have your base number to which to apply other modifiers. The same edition introduced included THAC0, which simplified several tables into one odd number, the number you needed to hit an enemy (modified by all these things), and it meant “To Hit Armor Class 0,” where 0 is not “no armor” but rather “pretty good armor,” as armor classes ranged from +10 to -10. In third edition, your number of attacks per round was a factor of your attack bonus, and each class worked from one of three attack bonus tables (another simplification over time).

Anyway, sweep all of that away for something simpler. If you are proficient in a weapon, you get a bonus. That applies to spellcasters’ focuses to, say a wizard’s want or a bard’s harp. The same bonus also applies to a rogue’s lockpicking tools and a ranger’s tracking. If you are proficient in a type of saving throw, you get the bonus. No separate tables for similar things, just the same bonus for every class, ranging from +2 at the start to +6 at the level cap. And then you apply all those modifiers.

Simplicity is a virtue. I’m concerned that giving spellcasters the same bonus as the fighters only helps them more, but I think they got nerfed on the other end to balance it out. Multiple attacks are now handled through a separate system. You can now have proficiency is just about anything, since that term has become a catch-all for “gets a level-based bonus.”

Second, the economy of actions has again been revised, or at least renamed. You get a move, an action, and potentially a bonus action. That is pretty close to fourth edition, and similar to third if you remove the possibility of a “whole round action.” What has been variously called a minor or swift action is now a “bonus” action, and you get one a turn from whatever menu you can acquire from your class, equipment, whatever. Maybe you are a two-weapon fighter and use the bonus action for off-hand attacks. Maybe you are a rogue and use the bonus action to pick a lock mid-combat, you cunning halfling.

A great merit here is the ability to give someone more cool options without surrendering too much to min-max. The limitations of action + bonus action is a balancer; while someone can acquire many great abilities, there is a built-in speed limit, so you get diversity rather than a master of all trades. Well, maybe you can master all trades, but you can only use so much at once. Preferably with a proficiency bonus and advantage on your side.

: Zubon

“From the Makers of”

Should we care about that title and who can usefully claim it?

Some argue that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies within creators’ works, not between creators. That is, if someone wrote one really good book, odds are that s/he will still only write one really good book; authors who are good authors rather than people who wrote a good book would be the 10% of Sturgeon’s 10%. And indeed, we see many successful things that lead to disappointing follow-ups. But most of us seem to apply the heuristic that the creators of something we like will probably create other things we like. Arkham Asylum was good, Arkham City was great.

But then there was Arkham Origins, which took some good from Arkham City and mixed in manure. “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” Well, we blame that on having a different development team. But if you played Diablo II, there is a good chance you played Diablo III, which is a sequel from the same company but with an almost (?) complete turnover of key staff. Torchlight II might have had a better claim to being the sequel to Diablo II.

Let’s assume you place some weight on “from the makers of”; I cannot imagine all those movie trailers would use the phrase if no one did. Who should you care about? It was a running joke a few years back that developers were hiring janitors from Blizzard and slapping “from the makers of World of Warcraft!” on their homepages. Every company has turnover, and I don’t know if the people left are the ones who made the good parts of the game or the bad ones. I don’t know if the big name at the top really is a visionary leader or just happened to have the good luck of having a team member with a great idea. Recognizing great ideas is a skill, but once you’re successful, it’s easy to start thinking all your ideas are great ideas.

Some names I’ll trust, like Sid Meier. Development companies and series are increasingly losing my trust because [insert your favorite hated sequel here]. In our MMO world, you have the disconnect between the original developers and live team, such that the game you bought and the game two years later can be rather surprisingly different for the same game on the same engine.

Even if I were to never pre-order a title again and rely on reviews

: Zubon

[GW2] Mawdrey

Mawdrey is one of the chase items for the first half of Season 2 in Guild Wars 2. Unlike most of the other chase items, Mawdrey is not random-chance loot. It is quite the opposite. Mawdrey is a large treasure hunt, crafting spree, and tree destroying quest rolled in to one.

In The Dragon’s Reach: Part 1 sequence of story instances, players begin to receive items when each instance is completed. The first one appears in the story instance Uprooting the Iron Marches, which involves defending the charr region from planty mordrem attacks. One of the rewards is a Mysterious Seed with the instructions to “[p]lant in a Ley Line Infused Clay Pot to germinate”. The capitalization of course notes that another item will be needed, and they come uncompleted in the later story instances of the same chapter. Continue reading

Useful Loading Screens 2

GW2 useful loading screen
Credit where it is due, and I am surprised I did not note it at the time: Guild Wars 2 includes potentially useful information on its loading screens. It charts your progress towards 100% zone completion. The theme park says, “You have ridden 13/16 rides from this zone on this character and seen 9/10 photo spots.” I can still dream of the more exciting tips from my old post, but this is more than most games try to offer.

: Zubon

[TT] Coup

Coup is a wonderfully simple and deep bluffing game. The rules you need to explain can fit on one side of a card; a reference sheet fits neatly on the other side, and the cards themselves have all the text you need.

Everyone gets two cards. If you run out of cards, you are out of the game. There are three actions anyone can take (take $1 from the bank, take $2 from the bank, pay $7 to make someone discard). What other actions you can take depend on the cards you claim to have in your hand. For example, the Duke can take $3 from the bank and can block anyone from taking $2 from the bank. The Assassin can make anyone discard for $3, but the Contessa blocks assassination. The other cards are the Captain and the Ambassador, which deal with stealing money, blocking theft, and trading cards. The deck has a few copies of each, depending on how many players you have.

Complexity arises because it is a bluffing game. Your hand is hidden. “I am the Duke, and I am taking $3.” You can challenge that claim. If you are right, I must discard one of my cards; if you are wrong, you must discard (and I get a new card in place of the Duke).

Not a lot of rules. LOTS of depth in terms of gameplay. It’s a simple game with 5 different cards, and my friends tell stories about showdowns and the levels of reverse psychology and game theory involved.

For this year’s Gen Con, we added a new card from an expansion, which was an interesting bit of spice. There are lots of variations on the game, but you get a surprising lot out of a few copies of five cards.

: Zubon

Quick Review: PixelJunk Eden

Enjoyable but cannot decide whether it wants to be stressful or relaxing.

This is not a new game, but I acquired it in a recent Humble Bundle and have played a bit. It is a simple game with few commands. You fling a little “grimp” around plants, opening more plants by defeating enemies to send out pollen, working your way towards a prize in the sky.

The main draw of the game is the soothing atmosphere. The music is light techno/trance. The graphics are abstract and colorful. You are swinging around plants, exploring and enjoying your little musical garden. It is soothing and pleasant.

The game changes when the timer starts to matter. I did not see anything that mentioned the timer in the lower-left corner, but that is what the little bars are. They count down. There are plenty of chances to refill it, but it is difficult to relax with a time limit, making it at best pointless and generally contrary to what I found best about the game. Levels also start adding enemies to attack you and make you start your climb through the plants over.

Entertaining but undercuts its own merits. I could also evaluate its merits as a challenge game rather than a relaxation game, but I do not see why I would.

: Zubon

Feedback Time

Before the age of digital cameras, it was said that the average American family went through two rolls of film per year (summer vacation, Christmas). You probably have some good photos from your youth, but those were what was worth saving after removing two with the lens cap on, three with a thumb over the lens, four out of focus, five where someone blinked… Whatever rosy view of the past may exist, people were at least as bad of photographers back then, and almost certainly worse. If 90% of everything is crud, taking 50 quick pictures per week will give you far more good pictures than 100 careful pictures per year. You can delete the crud. Also, you get better with practice, and you get a lot more practice with a smartphone camera than when you only take pictures at special occasions.

Part of the reason high volume practice is helpful is that you get feedback. If you took pictures over the course of weeks or months, then waited for film to be developed, you had a big gap between when you took the pictures and when you saw how it came out. Digital cameras are even faster than Polaroids: you can see in a second whether or not you took a good picture (and try again with a slight variation in technique). Until you see the results of your actions, you do not know whether to do things differently.

In Ingress, players are encouraged to submit potential portals. See something that should be a portal but isn’t? Take a picture and send it in. The game has an achievement track for it. The developers, however, are in no great hurry to review those submissions, or at least they do not have the staff to do so; wait time is 4-6 months (and that may be optimistic). The average player will have quit by the time his/her portal submissions are reviewed.

Most portal submissions are rejected. A lot of people can submit the same portal in six months. Indeed, that could be part of their filtering: don’t bother to review it until a half-dozen people have submitted it. But also, you as the player have a very long gap between the time you hit “submit” and when you get feedback. Lots of things are submitted that will never be accepted as portals, but you might submit 100 before you start getting that feedback. Many things do get accepted that clearly violate the portal guidelines, so either those “slipped through” or there are informal guidelines that you learn by feeling them out. So submit all the things; it costs you a minute, and it is a shot in the dark anyway. That cannot be good for data quality.

: Zubon

Gorgon Kickstarter

Our dear friends from Elder Game are giving Kickstarter another chance to get in on their MMO Gorgon, which is in the works and not that far from completion. Development takes time, and time is money, so they need a surprisingly small amount of money to bring the project to fruition.

Over at Elder Game, you can read a lot of the development discussion. I’d like to note four features, all of which are mentioned in the Kickstarter proposal:

  • All those Kickstarter projects where they pitch before they start programming? There is a playable alpha of Gorgon today.
  • Adjustable difficulty levels. Yes, in an MMO. You can choose the risks you are willing to take with customizable death penalties, or you can play your own challenges that the game will recognize like pacifism and vegetarianism.
  • The planned business model is $5/month subscription fee. That is almost free, but because it is not free, I expect a lot of horrible behavior to be suppressed. You’re aware of some of the perversities of “free,” from both players and developers.
  • Death xp. There is a “Dying” skill that rewards you for finding new ways to die. Gorgon generally has some interesting ideas about death penalties.

The $125 level is tempting just to ensure that Ethic the Ratslayer appears in the game.

Gorgon has a mix of new ideas and old school approaches that deserve more exploration, and exploring mechanics costs a heck of a lot less than having full voice acting for your game.

: Zubon

If just two hundred people go for the /smite ability, they’re in business.