Back to Kickstarter-games. The campaign for a new one just caught my eye. Not because of its title, but because of that attention-grabbing logo at the top of the cover...
I'm not really that well-versed in the Deadlands-universe, which is kind of embarassing since I consider Doomtown: Reloaded my favorite game of all time, but I know that I like what I know about it, if that makes any kind of sense. I also already knew that there was such a thing as Deadlands Noir which transplants the Deadlands-world into the time of the great depression and trades cowboys and stuff for more noirish (duh) fare. This is also the setting for the new card-game Deadlands Noir: The Big Easy, designed by Deadlands Noir-creator John Goff himself.
In Deadlands Noir: The Big Easy, each player embodies a private investigator who's trying to solve a most heinous crime on the mean streets of New Orleans, investigating clues, following up on leads, battling werewolfs, you know the drill. It's not a deduction-game, though, from what I gather it's basically a light RPG-ish experience where you equip your character with items and spells and stuff and play cards in order to overcome challenges which help you gather the necessary clues that lead to you cracking the case before your opponents can do so.
Deadlands Noir: The Big Easy sounds like it'll be a game mainly focused on the theme, with an engrossing narrative emerging from the cardplay. The rulebook doesn't necessarily make it sound light on mechanics but it's probably gonna be a rather straightforward affair of "play card to succeed or don't play card to not succeed" with some interaction in the form of take-that-ish "Meddle"-cards thrown into the mix. And it's probably those cards that will make or break the game. If they are interesting, varried and cool and not too disruptive (when it comes to the take-that-cards), then I think that this one could be really cool.
I mean, I personally have long clamored for a detective game that doesn't devolve into soulless "Ah, I have deduced the clues from this pattern of wooden blocks and therefore win the game" but also brings the theme to the forefront and includes stuff like fistfights and chases and everything else that you get to see in those movies besides just the investigative stuff. And Deadlands Noir: The Big Easy promises to do so, in addition to the very cool mystical veneer of the Deadlands-universe. So I really hope that this game will be good, everything else would be a dire injustice.
If you want to support the project, here is a link to the Kickstarter-campaign. It has already funded and is unlocking stretch goals (new cases and other cards) as we speak.
Wow, I've been publishing (at least) one post per day since October the 22nd. Which makes this the 118th day in a row that I have been (hopefully) entertaining you here on ETS! That's quite an accomplishment, if I dare say so myself.
Alas, real life has caught up to me once again. The next days and weeks are filled once again with the ever so predictable end-of-semester-obligations. Three exams plus an oral one, another practical course and afterwards, I'll be starting to work on my bachelor thesis. This will probably drain my time quite a bit, I'm afraid.
Of course that doesn't mean that there won't be any posts here on ETS! in the meantime. I'll do my best to write regularly in my free time, I just wanted to give you, my dear readers, a little heads-up, so if I seem to be phoning it in (even) more than usual or miss a day or two, you know what's up. The regularly scheduled stuff will of course continue without any interruptions, Monday Night Multiplayer Solitaire is right on track and I've also already "researched" stuff for the next Top Five Thursday. So if all else fails, that's at the very least something you can look forward to.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to brush up on my knowledge of political economy.
Here's a disclaimer: Even though this series of posts is called "Germanizing Games", unless further reinforced, I don't suggest that all of the games featured on this article have original English titles. "Germanizing" is just a handy word that doesn't one-hundred-percent describe what I am doing here. Also this list isn't meant to be comprehensive when it comes to box cover artwork and it's not supposed to focus on this. Excursions into this subject are to be understood rather as a bonus than the centerpiece of these articles, which is the differences and similarities between English and German titles of board games (no matter which one is the original). That said, I don't own all of the board games out there, I can't double-check everything, I have to work with what the Geek gives me. If there are factual errors in what I write here, I'll be thankful for corrections.
Yes, I know, at the current pace, I'll never get through everything BGG has to offer, especially not if I insert special issues every little while. Then again, there's so many new entries in the BGG-database every single day that I'm not gonna catch up anyway, so why bother trying? Nah, I've been kicking the idea of doing this one around for a while and I thought that now might be a good time for it. So hang on tight while we're looking at a few German versions of popular expansions. Here we go!
After displaying uncharacteristic levels of restraint when going over the original version of Terraforming Mars for the German market, Schwerkraft couldn't counteract to their nature any longer and went all in on the German version of the expansion Terraforming Mars: Venus Next. I'm just kidding. A bit. "Terraforming Mars: Nächster Halt: Venus" (let's hear it for the double-colon!) isn't the most literal translation of the original title but that one would be quite cumbersome to Germanize. As it stands it's mostly comparable to "Terraforming Mars: Next Stop: Venus" which is a bit clunky but works well. They also fell into a poetic fit of Heidelbergian proportions with the tagline. The snappy "Colonizing the clouds and taming the furnace below" was changed to "Oben die Wolken besiedeln und unten die rote Glut bändigen" which is more alike to "Colonizing the clouds above and taming the red blaze below". Close but... yeah, sounds a bit more dramatic if you asked me.
This one's super-weird. As previously implied, the German version of Viticulture Essential Edition is a very strange one. The first expansion, Tuscany Essential Edition wasn't released until 2018 (and the tagline on the cover of the German version of Viticulture Essential Edition didn't give a lot of hope for the release of that expansion anyway), but the second one saw an immediate release alongside the English version. Under a veeeery strange title. Viticulture: Moor Visitors Expansion could have been the "Viticulture: Moorbesucher Erweiterung", but that sounds strange. So Feuerland went with (you might want to sit down for this one) "Viticulture: In Vino Veritas – Mehr Besucher beim Weinbau in der Toskana". That last part might be just the tagline but it is part of the title-banner. In English, this one would translate to "Viticulture: In vino veritas - More visitors at the viticulture in Tuscany". Seriously, what the heck?
This one's rather straightforward, if a little strange. The first big-box expansion for Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Star Wars: Imperial Assault – Twin Shadows, neatly refers the shadowy side of Tatooine, the planet with the twin suns. Of course, Heidelberger feared that the whole allusion would go over peoples' heads if they just called it "Imperial Assault: Zwillingsschatten", so they went with "Imperial Assault: Im Schatten der Zwillingssonnen", "Imperial Assault: In the shadow of the twin suns". Eh, could have been worse. What I absolutely love about the German cover is the awkward way that stupid stupid German quasi-subtitle "Das Imperium greift an" (you know... "Imperial Assault") hides behind Boba Fett. It's as if Heidelberger were ashamed of this one but couldn't get rid of it because they had already plastered it all over the promo-material.
Hey look, it's an expansion by Pegasus. Didn't know they were making these. Joking aside, it's nice that buyers of the German version of Roll for the Galaxy got the chance to experience the expansion Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition in a localized version. In my humble opinion, Pegasus could have also just kept the original title. The German translation of the word ambition is just that, "Ambition" (or perhaps "Ehrgeiz", if you want to go the extra mile), but no. They stormed their brains (I don't believe that you can use this expression that way...) and came up with "Roll for the Galaxy: Der große Traum", literally "Roll for the Galaxy: The great dream" (or "grand dream" or "big dream"?). Yeah, well, okay. Apparently they are also gonna publish the second expansion, Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry, under the name "Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalitäten". That's far closer to the original.
Do you know that one movie with Alec Baldwin and Sir Anthony Hopkins, "The Edge"? It's okay in my book. Nothing too noteworthy, but it has a good cast and some nice bear-related action. The German title is "Auf Messers Schneide", "on a knife's edge", with the additional subtitle "Rivalen am Abgrund", "rivals on the brink". Why do I mention this? Well, the fine folks at Pegasus have probably seen the movie, because when the first Pandemic-expansion Pandemic: On the Brink was released in German, they went with the title "Pandemie: Auf Messers Schneide". They also decided to go with a box-cover that was more similar to that of the core-game (although I don't recall the title-font being that badly squashed on the left as it is here). Plus they shifted the focus onto the bio-terrorist instead of... well, everything else in this expansion, by adding that sticker to it that says "1. Erweiterung: Fangen Sie den Bioterroristen", "1st expansion: Catch the bio-terrorist!". Apart from the obvious cockiness calling this one "1st expansion" (which, true to their form, kind of backfired, the second expansion Pandemic: In the Lab was never published by Pegasus), I didn't think that that many people were playing with the bio-terrorist to begin with. I never tried it that way but I heard that playing it that way isn't much good.
So those were five expansions to games that we already covered on the main-line of this series. Hope you found this one enjoyable, I might do it again in time, there's a lot more where these came from. Thanks for reading and see you soon.
I've been thinking lately. That's probably good. Imagine I wouldn't be thinking. Yeah, that would probably explain some of my recent articles, but... Anyway, asymmetric board games are all the rage today. Hardly a week goes by without a new Kickstarter emerging that boasts about the asymmetric gameplay or player powers or stuff like that on the front-page. But what does all of that actually mean? And at the same time, what is a symmetric game?
The latter shouldn't be that hard to define, should it? Here's what the Wikipedia-article for "Symmetric game" has to say on the matter:
In game theory, a symmetric game is a game where the payoffs for playing a particular strategy depend only on the other strategies employed, not on who is playing them. If one can change the identities of the players without changing the payoff to the strategies, then a game is symmetric.
That doesn't sound half bad, does it? Just change "identities of the players" to something like "roles in the game" (as in factions or races or what have you) and you have a handy little definition. And it also touches on what us board gamers mean when we're talking about symmetric versus asymmetric games. If our "identities" in the game have no bearing on the success of our general strategy, then that's a sign of a game being symmetric, right? In Stone Age for example, it doesn't matter who I am, if I perform the same actions (and roll the same numbers), I get the same score in the end. Great! But the same can't be said for Lords of Waterdeep, for example. Sure, it's pretty symmetric on the surface, but have two players with different lord-cards play the exact same game and you'd get different final scores. Which means that it's asymmetric. But very few people would define the game as such, would they?
So let's put the cart in front of the horse for a change and try to narrow down what a symmetric game might be by looking at what constitutes an asymmetric board game. "One where every player plays a completely different game", might be your answer to that. But that's a) pretty vague and b) would exclude quite a few board games that are considered asymmetric. Cthulhu Wars for example, one of the flagships of asymmetric games, sure has different factions with wildly varrying powers and stuff, but at the end of the day, all of them are playing the same game. You gather power at the beginning of the turn, use this power to place dudes on the map and move them and build gates and do battle and while the abilities of your units vary from faction to faction and you might get a discount on an action or a small variation of such or something that no one else can do, at the end of the day, you're all playing the same game, trying to get six spellbooks and 30 doom points and doing that via control of gates and drawing elder signs.
"Ah ha!", I hear you say, "Asymmetry in gameplay instead of goals, that's a different thing!" Yeah. Sure. So we've got two different kinds of asymmetric games now, those that have you do different things over the course of the game and those that have you pursue different goals (and probably a third kind that combines both of those). Fine, I can deal with that. But both of these things warrant further scrutiny. Asymmetry in goals then. I'm not suggesting that something like that doesn't exist, but I've seldomly seen it outside of (glorified) two-player-games. It's easy there. Give one player (or side in partnership-games) a goal and have the other side prevent them from achieving it. Done. With multiple parties involved not so much. Even in games like Chaos in the Old World or The Lord of the Ice Garden, games that receive a lot of praise for their "multiple paths to victory", the faction goals aren't that different after all. All of the factions can win by amassing 50 VPs. All of the factions can go for their personal win-conditions but when you get down to it, they aren't that different after all. Okay, there's games like Discworld: Ankh-Morpork/Nanty Narking but those are outliers.
Asymmetry in gameplay then. But what does that mean? Probably "I can do something that no one else can do" or at the very least "If I do X something different will happen than when you do X". Right? RIGHT? Well, that may very well be true in games that are considered symmetric by the majority of people. Some folks make a big deal out of games where "Everybody starts the same but you differentiate yourself from the others over the course of the game", calling them something like "emergently asymmetric games" (don't know where I picked that one up, it was an article here on the Geek, I believe), but isn't that true for pretty much every game out there? Every move, every decision in a game leads me to differentiating my position, my gamestate from yours. Even in something like NMBR 9 with no player-interaction and no uneven randomness whatsoever, our gamestate is only symmetric until one of us does something different than the other one. We could end up with the exact same construct, which would have been an entirely symmetric game, but once I place one of the pieces differently than you, if just ever so slightly, we've entered the asymmetric part of the game. You can do things that I can't. I can do things that you can't. That darn six might fit perfectly on your construction but I can't place it on the second level. We're playing under asymmetrical conditions.
It's the same in pretty much every other (perceivedly) symmetric game. In Stone Age, depending on my previous choices and your current ones, different actions might be off-limits or less desirable to me. In Lords of Waterdeep, if I'm lacking the one coin you have more than me at the beginning of the game, I can't buy that building while you can. That difference makes for asymmetrical positions. Same with a single differently placed tile in Cucina Curiosa. Same in friggin' Chess, where if I even have a single piece less than you on the board, you have the opportunity to make vastly different moves than I can. Heck, even a different position of the same pieces can lead to a completely different array of more or less desirable moves. Is Chess therefore an asymmetric game? Is there even such a thing as a symmetric one?
Yeah, sure. A coin-toss. The roll of a single die, highest roller wins. Or lowest roller. Rock Paper Scissors. But aside from that, every more involved board game out there will probably turn asymmetric at some point, no matter how symmetric it might have been at the very beginning. There's always this moment, where one player does something that another doesn't and this difference will lead to asymmetric positions, asymmetric possibilities, an asymmetric gaming-experience. So no there's probably no symmetric games out there, there's just symmetric phases to certain games that emerge from and dissolve into asymmetric ones given time. And that's fine. So why am I writing all of this?
Because this concentration on and celebration of "ordinary" asymmetry that is prevalent in the aforementioned games kind of thwarts real innovation in regards to asymmetric games. Without wanting to belittle the accomplishments of those games' designers (I love some of them dearly), resting on their achievements as the nonpareil in asymmetric game design doesn't further the genre, because what they are doing is just something that happens in each and every game out there anyway. And I want more asymmetric games. Vast: The Crystal Caverns was an awesome idea. Sure, my one game of it left me cold, but that's the way that should be pursued further, games where players play something radically different yet interact with each other in strange and unusual ways instead of the trite "We're basically playing the same game but I can do this while you can do that" that passes for true asymmetry these days. Games that redefine the much overused catchphrase "All of the factions feel completely different" in a meaningful way. Dear game-designers: Make it happen. Embrace true asymmetry in your future designs, instead of that pale shade of it that holds the gaming industry in its grasp nowadays.
Oh, and while you're at it, feel free to design a truly symmetric game as well, I'd love to see what something like that could look like.
Is that really a thing? People going around the internet and constantly referring to RPG video games as "CRPGs"? I know one guy who does that but he's absolutely insufferable anyway, so that shouldn't come as a surprise, but yeah, constantly calling those games "CRPGs" always strikes me as obnoxious elitism. I could be wrong. Anyway, why am I doing it then? Because this is the Geek, if you write an article about RPGs but are actually talking about CRPGs, people would probably get confused. And I want to talk explicitly about CRPGs. Two relatively contemporary ones.
See, even though I don't subscribe to the obnoxiously elitistic way of constantly separating CRPGs from "real RPGs" (of the tabletop-kind), I do think and have oftentimes voiced the opinion that there's a significant disparity between those two things. While an RPG gives you the ultimate freedom of creating and animating your very own character (Dolph Washington McClane III. is doing fine, thanks for asking) and carving your own path through a (hopefully) living, breathing, acting and reacting world, attempts to replicate this in a video game have mostly fallen flat. CRPGs mostly fall into two categories: The ones that yank you through a linear story on a leash without much wiggle room when it comes to decissions that affect the narrative or even the abilities of your character besides how to clobber monsters into oblivion a bit more effectively. And the ones that try to give you the utmost freedom when it comes to exploring the world, mostly at the expense of story and a sense of vividness. When given the choice, I'll probably always choose the former, because a) I absolutely hate static, lifeless game-worlds and b) whenever a game tries to simulate freedom of choice, I tend to notice the limitations of that simulation so much quicker and find them that much more aggravating. To illustrate via an example, I think that Dragon Age II is a great, emotionally resonant, courageously personal game, while I have never finished The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind because of its utter lifelessness and stasis.
However, lately, I've played some games that kind of challenged my preconceptions. Which was kind of surprising. But not as surprising as the titles themselves. Here they are:
West of Loathing is a quasi-spinoff of Kingdom of Loathing. I've never played the latter but (correct me if I'm wrong) from what I gather, West of Loathing applies its general mechanics to a offline-singleplayer-RPG and also transplants it into a strange fantasy-western setting. You venture out into the world as a young cow puncher/snake oiler/beanslinger (mostly standins for your usual fighter/rogue/mage-archetypes) and try to... do something or other. See, there's this plague of undead and hellcows ravaging the lands and I thought that this would be the overarching plot of the game but then something entirely different happened and suddenly the game was over and that thing turned out to be the final boss-fight. That was weird. Almost as weird as the rest of the game.
West of Loathing is a comedy-game through and through. There's a lot of puns and absurd situations, a bunch of sight-gags and endless innuendo and most of it lands quite well. It is a consistently funny game. But it's also far more than that. For one, it's a great RPG in its own right. It has a system of stats and perks very reminiscent of the Fallout-games, where your character can constantly level up his or her skills and attributes and gain various perks (mostly by exploring the world and doing stuff, like getting yourself stung by cacti multiple times) that can alter the way you'll be progressing through the game. Perks and skills, items and sometimes simple choices might unlock new and unique options when dealing with a certain quest and suddenly, because you did this or that a few hours ago, you can tackle the problem at hand in a completely different way than before. It works incredibly well and it's something that I would have never expected from a random comedy-game that costs 11€ on Steam, especially when most AAA-publishers are struggling to grasp the very basics of an RPG. I'm serious, developer Asymmetric Publications have the chops to pull of a really good "serious" RPG, if they want to.
Sure, West of Loathing has its "problems". As said, the main-story (if there is such a thing) takes some strange turns, the combat-system is a bit one-note, the inventory could use an overhaul and I guess some people might be turned off by the graphics (although I think they are awesome... sure, it's just black-and-white-stick-figures all the way but it's gorgeously animated and just oozes charm and character), but when RPG-mechanics are concerned, a lot of other games could take a page out of this one's book.
The other one didn't come quite as out of left field, because as previously "implied", I'm a huge fan of Fallen London and Sunless Sea, so I was eagerly expecting Sunless Skies for a while now. I didn't bother checking it out while it was still in Early Access, but when it was finally fully released on January 31st of 2019, I was like "Yeah, well, okay, take my money already" and bought the thing.
And it's great. It is obviously Sunless Sea's offspring with its slow and ponderous gameplay, its great yet somehow obscure writing and its dense atmosphere. It has learned a few tricks from Sunless Sea - Zubmariner, like the increased number of random events that happen en voyage (with the homesteads and derelict ships and stuff) but it also brings a few new things to the table. Trading seems easier and more worthwhile than in Sunless Sea with its prospects and bargains (even though some of them are still a bit... wonky... why do I get a prospect to ship munitions to Lustrum but when I arrive there, they are selling the same munitions they need at a reduced price???), you don't have to meticulously plan each and every expedition because most locations sell fuel and supplies, combat is more fun and interesting because it moves away from the previous ring-around-a-rosy-with-bullets-concept (I was in a battle with four marauders a few days ago and it was incredibly fun, outmaneuvering all of them and causing them to accidentally shoot each other). Mind you, all of this only applies to the Reach, I've played eleven hours and haven't been able to leave the first area in the game yet, perhaps things go downhill afterwards, but I'm in good spirits that the rest of the game is as good as the beginning, too. Oh, I'm still using my first captain. Perhaps experience with the previous game(s) is useful and I have had a few brushes with death already (fought a Curator a few days ago, that was intense) but I feel like this game is more forgiving than Sunless Sea.
Of course it also isn't perfect. It seems to be a bit resource-hungry for what it is. Sure, my computer is a pretty old model but still, Sunless Sea ran very smooth on it and Sunless Skies doesn't look that much better (even though it's absolutely gorgeous, mostly from an artistic point of view, though). There's some logical inconsistencies in the world (like the aforementioned ports that are selling what they need at a reduced price) and the AI of some of the ships is strange (I swear, those darn Tackety Scouts are always trying to slam into me for no reason), also if there's a way to look at ones prospects, I haven't found it yet and that's quite inconvenient. But the rest of the game is more than solid. It's well-written, it plays well, it looks good, what more do you want? Oh, and best of all, it offers a lot of possibilities to role-play and form your character. I really like the way level-ups work now. The secrets-system from Sunless Sea was okay but here, every time you level up, you may take on a new "facet", something that fleshes out your previous (or current) life, a small bit of story that improves your attributes and/or gives you other benefits. That's very cool and it works really well for the character I had envisioned.
I haven't figured out all of the intricacies of Sunless Skies yet but it already is a lot of fun and the closest to real role-playing one can get in a video game. If that's something that interests you, check it out. Oh, and check out West of Loathing as well. That one's also on Switch, if you own one of those.
Back in January, I mentioned as a sideline that I'd be looking forward to trying and probably failing to play all of my ten favorite games of all time over the course of this year and now that my Top 50 has officially concluded, you should also know what those ten games are. Turns out, I was kind of wrong. Because it's only February and I have already played more than half of them. Six down, four to go. Two of them played over the course of the last couple of days. Getting in the last ones shouldn't be too hard, should it? Anyway, here's what hit the table lately.
Last Friday, a couple of people came over in order to play some games (duh) and while we were waiting for all of them to arrive, we played a game of Martial Art which Imagine had brought with him. It's not bad, I think. Beautiful artwork, easy gameplay, pretty quick once everybody knows what they're doing... It's a simultaneous action selection/hand management/bluffing game about warring factions in feudal Japan. Basically everybody chooses a card from their hand at the same time, then everybody reveals, all of the players can play additional support-cards and/or special abilities kick in and then the player with the highest score gets a battlefield-card with VPs on it. Repeat until victory.
We played a four-player-game and I don't think that that was the optimal player-count. With four players, there's two battlefields to fight over and the player with the second-highest strength gets one as well. But with four players, things get chaotic fast. I usually like it when there are a lot of different cards with varrying powers and stuff, but in this one, at least with four players, I couldn't shake the feeling that less would have been a bit more. You could never be sure what would actually happen when you put your card down, because of the amount of special abilities on the cards of the other players. Add to that some other changes to the rules introduced by the battlefield-cards and/or weather-cards from the Martial Art: Battlefields-expansion and things got chaotic really fast. That's probably fine for people already familiar with all of the possibilities, but first-time-players would probably be better preserved in a game with a lower player-count. Apart from that, nothing I really need but yeah, a neat, quick-playing pretty little game.
The main-course of the evening was the hot new dinopark-builder DinoGenics. Pretty components, an intuitive worker-placement-framework, a nice theme, what could go wrong? Not much. On the other hand, it didn't really blow my mind either. It's not bad in any way, mind you. As said, the components are top-notch, the gameplay is robust, the theme works and works well, but there's just nothing to elevate it it above that. Plus while it's an undeniably functional game, it is a bit pedestrian in execution, especially considering the well implemented theme. I mean, sure, running a real dinopark (???) probably involves quite a bit of busywork, but having to constantly dig for the right DNA-cards to build your next attraction out of, bring in new goats to feed your hungry hungry dinosaurs and balance the books on the side in order to be able to pay for all of this stuff is just a bit tedious, especially considering the dearth of worker-placement-spots on the main-board. The most attractive spots are usually gone early on during a turn so the last few workers are just bumming around on spaces that are semi-useful at best.
So I decided early on that this was too much of a hassle for me and after pulling ahead early on through the use of a manipulation-card that was clearly superior to those that the other players had gotten early in the game, I decided to just turn my park into a giant freakshow, creating mutant after mutant and then having them multiply via goat-infusion. It worked like a charm. While the other players were struggling with the scarce worker-placement-spots and tight resources, I didn't know what to do with my workers half the time. Oh, I also won by a pretty wide margin (something in the ballpark of 140 to 130 to don't know, far behind) which was kind of anticlimactic. Sure, at the end of the game, people were catching up fast, but the fact that they would have overtaken me in... I don't know, two turns or so, was little comfort, especially since I obviously put so very little effort into my strategy, just churning out monstrosity after monstrosity that required little maintenance while the other players were putting real work into their parks, blocking and constantly getting into each others' ways. Perhaps it was their fault that nobody tried to compete with me for mutants, who knows? Perhaps an experienced player would have been able to lever out my strategy with ease, but as it was, I effortlessly cruisde to victory after seven rather uneventful turns. That doesn't kill the game for me, though, it's still pretty and the theme works well, it's just... it doesn't inspire any real awe in me, so while I'd be okay with playing it again, I'd hardly ever ask for it.
Afterwards we decided that there was still enouh time for another game and we chose Cthulhu Wars, a game from my Top 10 that had to hit the table again sooner rather than later. I was dealt the Sleeper, my opponents were Yellow Sign, Cthulhu and Windwalker. I don't think that I had played the Sleeper before, so I was eager to try out the dreaded lethargy-strategy. And at the beginning of the game, things worked out well enough, I fortified my position around North America, grabbed the spellbook that allowed me to put a gate on my faction sheet and proceeded to summon the mighty toad (Tsathoggua? I can never remember how to spell that thing's name...) on the second turn. Things looked good. That is until I got a bit cocky and picked a fight with Cthulhu and two starspawns (or let's rather say "didn't run when I had the chance"). I thought that my five units and ten combat dice should be enough to at least make a dent into his three units (with twelve dice), but no. I rolled four pains, he rolled four kills which completely obliterated my forces including old toadface. Sure, I got an Elder Sign and a spellbook out of the deal but coupled with the fact that the King in Yellow kept capturing my cultists in North America lead to me being pretty much out of the game. It was over a turn later and I didn't even manage to get all of my spellbooks. Final scores were 39:39:31:21 and Cthulhu and Windwalker shared victory.
And you know what? Nobody is to blame for this besides myself. I picked that fight with Cthulhu. I failed to stop the King in Yellow while I had the chance. Sure, it is possible in games of Cthulhu Wars to be ganged up on by multiple players but that wasn't one of those instances. I just left myself too open and therefore my stuff was up for grabs, so the other players would have been imprudent if they hadn't taken the opportunity to capitalize on my mistakes. It was still very fun, though. I didn't play a lot of Cthulhu Wars lately, mostly because it's impossible to bring that box(es) to meetups but that game encouraged me to push for it to hit the table again soon, because it is a really, really good game. The third best of all time, to be precise.
Here's a quick interlude: Over the weekend, I visited my parents and learned that they had taken a liking to the stupidly named The Game. I don't particularly like that game. It's cooperative, it's utterly themeless, it's more frustrating than fun to me, but they liked it and I'm not one to skip a chance to play some games. So we played The Game. A dozen times over the course of Saturday and Sunday. I'm not kidding.
I still don't like The Game very much. It is an okay design, even though in hindsight it is so very basic that instead of congratulating Steffen Benndorf on realizing it, I'd be more like "Yeah, well, about time that someone finally designed this". I'm okay with playing it if nothing better is available, I guess. It has a certain "Okay, let's just try one more time"-quality to it, I give it that.
Onward with trying to get all of my favorite games played. On Sunday, D. and me played a two-player-game of Cave Evil and it was... weird. Incredibly short and pretty fun but still, weird. Both of us were strapped for resources for pretty much the whole game. I was constantly looking for metal and the bribe-cards I drew contained very little of that. There was a lot of shadowflame lying about, sure, but who needs that stuff? So I finally got a squad of two excavators together but hardly anything else, so it fell to my necromancer to go out and grab stuff beyond the confines of my lair. D. summoned a Dracor and sent it towards my necromancer and even though it was a quite even fight, I won due to my awesome floating sabre and D.'s incredibly bad die-rolls. So he, having wasted pretty much all of his scarce resources, tried to subdue the Rolling Death that had recently emerged from the central spawning pit. A few really bad die-rolls later, he had to use his one-time-kill-everything-surrounding-me-ability (he played the Psychomancer of Fire) but was stuck in the vincinity of my necromancer-squad (which was armed with multiple weapons at that point and also included a Hellbitch). It wasn't even a real fight. D. rolled far better this time, constantly getting elevens and twelves, but that didn't help against my far superior stats. After about an hour, it was all over and the Blood Sorcerer reigned supreme.
Yeah, sure, Cave Evil is more of an experience and less of a real strategic game (even though there is a lot of crunchy decisions to be made, especially when it comes to resource management), but I love it nonetheless. The four decks are just chock-full of absolutely awesome cards and every time I play, I just WANT THEM ALL and find endless joy in configuring cool squads. For a second in that game, I thought about going down the path of the Shoddy Abomination again, but I'm still not sure that's a good idea. Anyway, it was nice to get this great game to the table once again and winning it was also a neat surprise, because usually I'm so very bad at it. Damn, I want to play it again. Now. I don't care against whom. With a good variant, I'd also be inclined to play this one solo. Hey Nate, you teased that you were kicking around some solo-scenarios a few years ago. What about them?
In other news, Fast Shot continues to delight. I don't know if I'm a big fan of flicking-games in general, I like to play them but I usually see them as more of a fun distraction than a real game. It's not that Fast Shot would change that general sentiment, but... It's just so quick, so easy to set up, so easy to play, so very, very portable. And there's something absolutely cathartic about flicking a disc through an obstacle-course, racing your opponent to the finish-line. I really like this one.
I still wished that the cylinders would have a bit more heft, that way the bowling-like scenarious would work better, but they work quite well for the races. All in all, a very neat little package, I might have to try combining both of the versions for playing a four-player-game soon. Oh, by the way, yesterday, I accidentally read a few passages from the German translation of the rulebook. And they are too good not to share them with you. German readers beware, this might be painful...
Folge den gezeichneten Linien der Auftragskarten und schieße die Scheibchen zwischen den Plättchen vorbei bevor der auf's Tor schließt. schießt der aus versehen ein Plättchen um, stellst er dieses auf seine Uhrsprungs Stelle zurück.
Fällt eine Scheibe vom Tisch, wird sie auf die Stelle zurück gelegt Wohnsiedlung vom Tisch gefallen ist.
That's what the rules say, folks. Hey Jumping Turtle Games-guys, I appreciate the entertainment-value that this translation holds, but... Next time you've got a "translated" rulebook, feel free to shoot me a message and I'll proof-read it.
And finally, we played two games of Claustrophobia back to back. In the first one, I delivered some devestating blows to the human squad but in the end, spawned my second demon too early and had it lumbering around the caves far from the humans' objective, unable to prevent their victory. In the second game, I took control of the humans and was well on my way to find the soulsucking demon but a dead-end stopped my plans in their tracks and to make matters worse, a possessed convict decapitated the weakened redeemer with a single strike of his shovel, leaving the humans without a leader. The final two brutes were trapped by a bunch of troglodytes, unable to thin out their ranks and finally succumbing to the horde because of unlucky die-rolls.
Claustrophobia is unlike most other dungeon-crawlers out there. The human characters aren't mighty heroes, they are utterly expendable and the gameplay reflects that quite well. It only takes a few lucky die-rolls in order to dispatch one of them. I for one like the quick, brutal pace of the game. Plus it's very attractive. I'm glad that I got the opportunity to play it more over the course of the last few months, because I really, really like this game. Now I should probably finally get to reading the rules of the first expansion, because while I've owned it for quite some time now, I haven't played with any of the materials included. Ah well, there's always next time.
Eliminated during turn 14 10 Genestealers remaining
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Yeah, didn't make it this time. Although I fared far better than I had anticipated early on. The blue team was eliminated very quickly, like in the second room, alongside Brother Claudio. I was ready to give up then and there, but somehow, the three remaining guys, Valencio, Leon and Goriel, really upped their game. Suddenly my defense-rolls were incredible and once the blip-decks had emptied within the Black Holds, due to a bunch of tokens on the door, I was completely free of Genestealers going into the Hibernation Cluster. Plus with only three marines alive at that point, that didn't seem like the hardest location. I somehow pulled through without any more casualties and was kind of hopeful once the Launch Control Room was unveiled, because I thought to myself that with a bit of luck on my side, I could pull through. I decided to use the control panel for tokens twice before going for the win, that way I would have a fifty-fifty-chance. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. I rolled too high, then Goriel and Leon bit the dust and finally, Valencio was surrounded by a total of eight Genestealers. It's a shame, pulling it off at the last second would have been a great finale to a very tense game, but yeah, it didn't happen.
Well, can you do better? We'll see. Next week's game is gonna be Santa Maria. I'm looking forward to that one, after playing it three times and winning only once, I've got to rectify that. Let's find out what to play the week after that. Here's the poll:
Which game should be played in two weeks time on Monday Night Multiplayer Solitaire?
A Study in Emerald really shouldn't work. Not only has Martin Wallace failed to show any signs of mastery over the genre that is deckbuilders up until now (some of his deckbuilders are fine games, but I feel mostly despite the fact that they are deckbuilders, not because of it), he also decided to smash it together with some other styles of games that shouldn't really fit. And I'd be lying if I said that A Study in Emerald was an elegant, streamlined blend of different mechanics. To be perfectly honest, it's a clunky, fiddly, sometimes downright ugly mess of... stuff that just doesn't fit together. But I love it nonetheless. It's such a ballsy game, one unlike pretty much anything else out there, and it still manages to surprise me each and every time, even a dozen or so games in. Wallace, you've done it. This one's one for the ages. Now I only wished that you yourself would have thought so as well and just re-released that darn thing instead of that okay but forgettable second edition...
Probably the game with the broadest appeal on my Top 5, Scythe is a real gem of a game. Beloved by many, belittled by some, this one sometimes gets flak for not being what some people thought the artwork made it out to be. Yeah, sure, it isn't the highly interactive, combat-heavy area-control-game that some people thought it would be. But does that make it bad? I don't think so. I love Scythe's cathartic, thoughtful, efficiency-oriented style and I also love the sudden bursts of interaction that emerge now and then. It's also super-pretty, has little downtime and with people at the table who know what they're doing plays quickly. But the best thing about Scythe is the fact that it makes you think, that it makes you strategize even if you're not playing it. Multiple times me and someone else who's familiar with the games just sat there and just talked about the game, the factions, the different approaches... That's the mark of a great game if you asked me.
Another game where something like that is not only possible but commonplace is Cthulhu Wars. I've lost count of how many times I went something like "Hey, I've got a great idea for a new opening move and strategy for the Black Goat" or something like that to someone who would listen to me. Yes, Cthulhu Wars has its drawbacks. It's pricey. It's humongous, not only on the table but also on the shelf and therefore really hard to get to game-night. Plus some of its more random elements clash badly with the strategic core of the game. But man, is it fun. It's such an elegant, streamlined game yet open to so many new and cool strategies. It's also far quicker and easier to play than the huge box would lead you to believe. I'm serious, Sandy, I'd really buy a "travel version" of this beast in addition to my big one, just so that I could haul it around more easily, because I'm pretty much always up for a game of this. So make it happen!
I seriously pitty not only people who don't own a copy of Cave Evil, but also those who don't enjoy this absolute gem of a game. Sure, it's a bulky mass of rules and exceptions and low contrast that makes it hard to read the board-state, plus those stupid corridors are constantly sliding around, but if you can get into the mindset and take this one not as a highly strategic game but as an experience, you'll probably love it. I do. I can ignore the clunky combat and fiddly resource-management if it means that I can delve into those dark chambers and construct awesome squads of super-cool creatures and emerge from the experience with a neat story to tell. Cave Evil is great and I play it far too seldom.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. I like Western themes. I like Fantasy. I like the combination of those two things. I also like RPGs and squad-based combat games and games where you build stuff and combo special abilities off of each other and Doomtown: Reloaded somehow manages to put all of these things into a cohesive whole that is immensely fun. The theme is great, the artwork is great, the central gameplay is super-awesome once you get used to it. I even like the deck-construction in this one, something I'm usually not that keen on. Yes, it can be random. Yes, it's a bit hard to teach. Yes, I don't have any regular opponents at the moment, which sucks. But none of those things tarnish my unconditional love for this game. It is simply amazing. If you haven't played it yet, try it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.
And we're through. Those were the last five entries in my Top 50 Games Of All Time, Year One Edition. I might do that again once this blog turns two. We'll see whether anything has changed at that point. Thanks for reading, I hope you found the ride informative and/or enjoyable. Have a good one and see you soon.
Wow, alliterations are hard. I'm sorry, Heidelberger, I'll never make fun of you again. Well... perhaps I will. Probably. Hey, that's a lot of Ps already. You know what also had a lot of Ps? My Thursday night solitaire gaming session. After taking care of recording my play of the game of the week for next Monday, I thought to myself "I could play some more stuff, I guess". So I looked over all of the solo-playable games in my collection and decided, that it'd probably be a good idea to play some that I hadn't played in any fashion yet, to find out whether they are any good. And it turned out, pretty much all of the ones that qualified started with a P. So I decided to turn this into a theme. What kind of theme? I don't know. A P-theme or something like that. Anyway, here's what hit the table...
First game of the evening was Penny Papers Adventures: Im Tempel von Apikhabou. As previously implied, I recently acquired all three of the Penny Papers Adventures-games and thought that it might be the best idea to go through them in ascending order of complexity and yeah, reading the rulebook for Penny Papers Adventures: Im Tempel von Apikhabou made it seem like a really rather basic affair. You roll three dice, you write down a number (or a mummy), you try to build a continuous string of ascending numbers and some triplets of equal ones, bam, done. And while it is as easy as it sounds, it's not without its merit. I mean, at the end of the day, it's all about maximizing possibilities and that's something I can get behind.
But then there's the danger-symbols, mummies in this one. I rolled a lot of those. Six in total (which is slightly above average) and I have to admit that I was kind of frustrated by this. Initially, at least. Until I noticed that at least in this game, it's really pretty easy to deal with them and if you do so, they give you points. Neat. I managed to neutralize all six mummies by the end of the game for an additional 12 points, which lead to a final score of 32 points, a top-tiered score, according to the rules. Penny Papers Adventures: Im Tempel von Apikhabou might not set anybody's world alight, but it is a fun distraction and even though it is really easy to play, there's more going on here than I had first anticipated. This one's good fun.
Penny Papers Adventures: Die Totenkopfinsel proved to be a step up from the simple gameplay of the first one. I mean, basically you're still rolling dice and writing down a single number per turn, but this time, pattern-building gets far more important. The narrow layout of skull island makes this quite tricky and turns these pesky skulls in a far bigger danger. On the other hand, they can be really beneficial, if you know what you're doing. I did. Kind of. I mean, I got rid of four of those for a total of 31 points, which is more than I got from locating treasures. Which was probably due to the fact that I was too greedy, trying to get 15 point treasures and the like off the ground. Oh well, I'll be more careful next time.
Penny Papers Adventures: Die Totenkopfinsel is pretty cool. You're not as free in your choices as in Penny Papers Adventures: Im Tempel von Apikhabou because of the restrictive topology of the island, but that just means that you'll have to be extra-considerate to where you write down which number. Plus the push-your-luck-aspect of the skulls is more pronounced (at least with the solo-skull-rules). Are you gonna write this down over there, knowing that a skull on the next turn would go exactly over here where it can't be repelled anymore? That's neat. I like this one, too. It's a bit more cerebral than its little sibling but it also feels quite rewarding if you pull off a neat move.
And finally, we've got Penny Papers Adventures: Im Tal des Wiraqucha, the most complex of the three, yet the one with the highest score here on the Geek. Which is strange, most reviews I have watched and read made this one out to be the worst of the three, citing that it overstays its welcome, is visually problematic and handles the dangers the worst of the three. I kind of get the latter two. Yes, once your sheet is finished, scoring it is a bit problematic. And yes, the snakes in this one are just annoying. I mean, in my game, I only rolled a single one of those, still, in the other two games, dealing with a danger was kind of cool because you didn't waste a number that way and you also got something out of it. Yeah, sure, in this one, you "get" points by preventing to lose some by way of the snake, but it's still a bit stupid. Also, keeping track of the elapsed turns in the solo-mode of this one is a real pain. Perhaps that's why people don't really recommend it as a solo-game here on the Geek?
I don't know, I think apart from the aforementioned problems, this one's quite nice as well. When played against a human opponent (or multiple ones), the snakes probably won't be that problematic because other people are struggling with those as well so rolling them multiple times will ruin things equally for everybody. That is if you use the solo-danger-rules also in multiplayer-games, which I intend to do. But yeah, efficiently creating those patterns is fun. As with the other two, I don't think that they're gonna enter anybody's list of favorite games ever or something like that, I also agree that the dangers weren't the best idea to begin with, even though I don't think that they are as bad as some people make them out to be. But as far as quick, portable, simple but enjoyable roll & write games go, those three aren't bad. I think I'm gonna hang on to them for a while. Time to find out whether K. will like them, I guess...
On to more substantial stuff. I have owned Peloponnes for quite a while but never gotten around to play it. It's hardly the most attractive game out there and after a while, I didn't really remember why I had wanted it in the first place. Add to that the fact that I own the French version and even though it is language independent and I have added a print-out of the German rules to my copy, that has for some reason always made it kind of a hard sell come game-night. But people said that it was really good, so why not finally try it out myself? So I played my first game of Peloponnes, constantly eyeing the rulebook to find out whether I was actually playing it correctly. I finished my first game with 27 points from landscapes, buildings and money versus 42 points from population. And then, I immediately went "I can do better than that!" and reset the game and tried again.
I'm not sure how well the solo-game reflects the true dynamic of Peloponnes. I mean, the whole auction-part is pretty much nonexistant when playing solo and just from reading the rules, it sounds like a pretty essential part of the game. But I like it quite a bit. Yes, you need to feed your people (three times per game, boo hoo) and disaster will strike, but I don't mind that much. On the one hand, the game is quite short, so if disaster struck and destroyed all of my best laid plans, not much harm done. On the other hand, it's not like disasters would happen without warning. You're pretty much always aware what could or couldn't happen and managing your engine to be (close to) immune to the repercussions of a disaster is an integral part of the game. I found Peloponnes fun enough to play it twice in a row and am kind of itching to try it out against real human opponents. Plus the plethora of expansions out there looks quite intriguing as well. Perhaps I should have gotten this one off the shelf sooner?
The last P of the evening was Progress: Erfindung des Fortschritts (wow, that's a REALLY BAD German translation...), a civilization-building card-game that focusses on technology. I thought that it sounded kind of neat and the player-boards looked cool as well. I'm a sucker for things with many tracks that you can manipulate over the course of the game and this one has a whopping seven different tracks for seven different actions that you can improve over the course of the game (plus the three purely VP-related tracks). If that's not cool, I don't know what is. And yeah, the game is fine. You have some cards and you use them in order to build better cards, either Race for the Galaxy-style by paying with other cards or by building them "on top" of other cards, 7 Wonders-style. There's also these tiles that you can use once per turn and then there's three different card-drawing-actions and you can build technologies over time and it all seems very convoluted but in essence, it's a rather straightforward game.
A bit too straightforward, perhaps. At the end of the game, I was inventing new stuff left and right and everything was losing meaning and I was like "Hm, that would be cool, but I don't have this one prerequisite so it would be kind of expensive and... Wait a second, I've got that prerequisite... Ahaha, silly me, completely forgot that I had invented cartography" constantly. Perhaps it's better against real human opponents, because then it can turn into a race where you try to end it as soon as possible once you feel like you're ahead. As a solo-game, the threat of the "time-deck" is really nothing that terrifying. The first seven cards are -1VP each, the next seven are -2VP and so on. Big deal. At the end of the game, I was making something like three VP per action and I had four of those per turn, so it was just a matter of "when to stop" in order to not lose due to there not being any more cards in the current age deck. But even against real opponents, I feel like there's not enough here. You're just comboing cards and whoever combos them best wins. I really like that "invent slow and steady"-action (what's it called? Research or something like that?) where you put down a card and you'll invent it automatically four rounds from now or something like that. That's cool. And the extensive tech-tree is cool as well, but at the end of the day, I just wished that you could do something with all of the stuff you're inventing. For shame.
Wow, it's been a while since I've been talking about anything but board games, so I think I'll be forgiven if I write a piece about music once more. Fret not, there will be enough board game stuff over the course of the next few days, just... let me have this one, okay? Thanks. So here's some more stuff I think you should listen to.
Only for metalheads:
Whatever happened to Ikuinen Kaamos? Starting out as a Black Metal band, the guys from Kuopio, Finland, switched to a more progressive Death/Black Metal sound for their first album "The Forlorn", had some troubles stemming their second album afterwards (because their label Descent Records went under), finally found a new home with Maddening Media, released their second album "Fall Of Idols" in 2010 and have since dropped off the face of the earth. I'd say that that's kind of tragic, if it weren't for the fact that their second album made them sound like an incredibly lazy and boring Opeth-ripoff. Still, I can't help but lament their apparent passing, because "The Forlorn" is one of the greatest pieces of music I have ever had the pleasure to listen to. It's a harsh concept album dealing with a pretty grim subject but its also full of highly atmospheric and emotional music that is unlike anything else out there. I know, tearing concept albums apart and listening to parts of them on their own usually isn't the best thing to do, but while I highly recommend listening to "The Forlorn" in its entirety if you get the chance, the second track "Grace" is really good on its own.
Could be for you as well:
I don't really remember why I bought Elbereth's first (and only) album "...And Other Reasons", it probably has something to do with me snatching up pretty much everything that someone on the internet described as Doom/Death Metal for a while. I don't think that this monicker really applies to Elbereth's music (perhaps it was more appropriate on their previous demos, they didn't have female vocals back then if I understand that correctly). Then again, I can't really discern what it is they are playing. Perhaps it's the 90's-production of the album, but I get a rather psychedelic vibe from their stuff. Couple that with Lola Marquinez' uncharacteristically (for the perceived genre) relaxed vocals and you've got something really weird for sure. Not bad, mind you. I for one like their stuff quite a bit and your reaction to "Four Roses In My Heart" should be a good indicator to whether you like it, too.
Save for everyone (kind of):
My main problem with Hip Hop doesn't stem from the fact that I dislike rap, I think that rap is a very intriguing form of vocal expression and can be really cool, if applied effectively to the rest of the musical landscape of a song. It's those songs that eschew that musical landscape in favor of... basically nothing else that I don't like. Luckily, Kno (of CunninLynguists' fame) seems to be of a similar opinion, because the music is an integral part of his first album "Death Is Silent". Haven't listened to the second one, "Bones", yet, but I hope that he continues this trend. Anyway, "Death Is Silent" is another pretty grim album, yet subscribing to a completely different musical style. I like it. It's atmospheric and heartfelt and quite introspective. "They Told Me" with its haunting hook is one of the best songs on that album, but the rest of it is great as well.