Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Board Game Review: Blue Moon City

Periodically I’ll be participating in the game night blog carnival, which gives me a chance to review some board games that might be a good break from your typical RPG session nights. Be sure to check out the other participants and their blogs.

Blue Moon City is a release from Fantasy Flight Games which is still available from retailers despite being out of print. This is a fantasy game where players represent different factions attempting to rebuild the famed city of Blue Moon after a civil war. Players race from building to building, attempting to contribute the most repairs in order to gain resources that are offered to a central obelisk. Offer the most to the obelisk and your faction will gain the most favor from the city dragons, ensuring your prominence once the city is completely rebuilt.

Play revolves around a player moving from building to building. There they can attempt to make repairs, using sets of specific cards in their hands. Most buildings will take several turns to repair, and each player has a chance to contribute. Everyone that contributed to repairing a building gets a reward, but the player that contributed the most will gain the greatest share. Rewards are offered as crystals or dragon scales.

While players primarily are rebuilding the city to gain crystals, it is all in order to offer the most resources to the city’s central obelisk. A player must return to the central city and offer up a number of crystals. Successfully doing so means they get to add one of their markers to the obelisk. Like restoring the buildings, the earlier spaces require less resources and ramp up in costs as the obelisk slowly fills.

On the board are also several dragons. When a player makes a contribution to repairing a building in the presence of a dragon they gain a scale. There are a limited number of scales available. When the last scale is obtained, the player that has the most scales gains additional crystals. Players that tie get less, but an equal share. And the poor player that has only 1-2 scales gets nothing. The scales are set aside and the process is repeated until the city is completely rebuilt. Players will find that being able to complete buildings gets increasingly difficult. So shrewdly planning on making select repairs in the presence of dragons to gain the most scales, and in turn, be able to gain the most crystals for offerings, becomes a solid strategy.

When repairing buildings, players typically need a specific value of cards of a particular color. The cards have different suits of colors and values. Each color suit also has varying abilities. Some allow the movement of dragons, while others allow cards to change color or act as wildcards (being any possible color). This is a fun part of the game, where players try to figure out possible combinations of cards in their hand to maximize the amount of contributions they can make to repair buildings.

Players also have some interaction, as they can try to capitalize on others repairing different buildings, or by manipulating where dragons fly, not to mention picking up the last few scales to ensure they get the lion’s share of crystals. All the while though, players cannot forget that the object of the game is to make the most contributions to the obelisk. While they gain crystals needed for offerings by reconstructing buildings, they also have to balance taking time to visit the obelisk. If they delay doing this, they may find it increasingly difficult to offer crystals as other players have taken up easier slots on the obelisk.

The Good: The tiles around the periphery of the city layout are randomly placed, giving the game a bit of a random setup from game to game. The artwork is thematic and well done, with nice components. The game moves rather well and most games will take an hour at most.

The Bad: Interaction is primarily based on denial of access. It may not be everyone’s taste if they are looking for more direct interaction like the trading of cards. The theme is somewhat enigmatic, as it is based on the fantasy mythos of the two player game, Blue Moon.

The Verdict: Blue Moon City is a great game. There are enough choices requiring some strategy in planning your moves, and working out the varying card sets in your hand to obtain the right amount of resources is fun. Manipulating the dragons and being able to make the proper contribution at the right time and place is enjoyable. There is just enough interaction where players can try to capitalize on efforts made by other players, or try to limit their opponent’s options by acting first. It’s a great buy with enough strategy to be engaging and still act as a ‘light’ board game. It has mechanics and a theme that is just different enough from the other games out there to make it stand out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I think I've made a huge mistake...

Way back I used to play Battletech. It was a fun little wargame and I always enjoyed the combination of tactics with heat management. Likely explains my past love of Star Fleet Battles too. However, between the two I don't think I'd ever sit down for a game of SFB again. As for Battletech, it always seemed a bit more approachable, plus I enjoyed painting the figures.

I recently picked up the introductory box set of Battletech from Catalyst Games. Likely get a review up over the next month or so (quick version: nice set, lots of decent minis and stuff in the box). Of course now I've got a hankering to dip further into the game. Looking at the Total Warfare book. Considering picking up infantry and tanks. Not to mention an entire slew of modeling projects for terrain.

I've got that itch. I have to resist the urge to scratch it. I've got a few other painting projects like my Firestorm Armada fleets, not to mention my Flames of War Russian infantry company has been looking at me with all those sad little eyes. Think I have to give them some attention soon. But giant robots with big shooty things, it's the new shiny on my paint bench and hard to ignore.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sorylian Skyhammer cruisers

It's been slow going with my fleet, but I've managed to finish up my Sorylian cruisers for Firestorm Armada. I'm satisfied, not quite overjoyed, but satisfied with the paint job. There is a little more detail to eek out of the figures, but not sure if I have a steady enough hand to really bring those out.

I'm using Vallejo paints, which is new for me. Base coats are no longer an issue, however I still am getting some muddied results with the wash. Hard getting the right consistency. Might have to bite the bullet and get some ink washes (been hesitant with the shipping costs, so I might see about making a run up to a gaming store in Seoul).

Still have to finish off my battleship and then move on to my Terran fleet. Sort of disappointed with the lack of detail in the smaller class ships for the Terrans, so I might have to try something more fancy to make those figures really pop. Not to mention, I need to get a few more games under my belt too!

Note: I've thrown in one of the frigates to give a bit of relative scale to the figures.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Off to the jungle...

... well not quite but I'll be travelling south and out of the country for a bit. Expecting hot and humid weather, not to mention consuming vast quantities of 333. Be back in about a week.

While part of a different canon, I always dug the Slann from Warhammer Fantasy. With a combination of brutes, dart shooting skirmishers, along with huge battle triceratops, and ancient psionic Old Ones, I might need to craft an adventure or two regarding them. They've got this combination of primal fury and potential of the far beyond that makes for some cool ideas. Toodles for now!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is Save or Die even needed?

Posted last month, WotC’s Legends and Lore column mused a bit about the Save or Die mechanic throwing a few ideas about how they were part of the older game, and if they had a role in the newest edition. I’m not a fan of save or die, and was glad to see it go in 4E. However given the poll results that were provided the following week, it looks like I am in a minority.

I never got how some people felt 4E lacked the sense of danger of previous editions. Things were too balanced and players had too easy of a time. This got me because the DM always had the option to crank things up when making up an adventure. Throw a few trolls at that level 1 party and voila, you have a dangerous encounter where the PCs should have to run.

I’ll concede one point however. Heroic level games seemed to run just fine, but paragon and epic tier things likely would get a little wonky. Especially at higher level play, where out of the book battles could become a cakewalk with a fully rested party. Yet, even that could be overcome with some some tweaks and employing a different design philosophy that Fourthcore has explored.

Another point I’ll agree with is having a saving throw does engage a player a bit more. 4E effect mechanics were very streamlined and uniform, but did lack the interaction of previous editions. Rolling to hit against defence for spells are great when players were attacking, but being the target of these effects could become dull as all the action was in the DM’s hands. With saving throws, at least the PC could have some action in trying to counter a spell, rather than depending on a passive stat. However having something like that for everything could drag down the game, meaning you might have one way of resolving effects for players and another against monsters. In the end, with different systems to resolve spells and effects it could be a headache.

I’m just not a fan of wildly chaotic play that save or die encourages. It becomes harder to help maintain that story. With lots of checks built in 4E, I knew if I threw a high level encounter at the party, they would have a tough time and possibly a few might not make it. All of us could then craft the story around those big, momentous combats that telegraphed the idea that the players might have to make the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the group.

Another problem I have with save or die is that with most adventures, the DM has control over everything. They are the ones that decide what the PCs will go up against. Having a random lethal outcome be layered on what I decide to throw at the players makes my job harder in trying to make a fun fight. If you were running a module that had been playtested extensively, this would be less of an issue. But most DMs are making their own game. It can be difficult to judge how much of a challenge fights will be using monsters with severe penalties if players don’t make their saving throw. Having one PC drop dead might make for an interesting side quest or push for roleplay, frequent TPKs however don’t seem to make for a fun time.

I don’t want save or die part of the core rules for DnDNext. I do however, want a little section in the next DMG to give advice on how they can ‘turn their game up to eleven.’ Having some suggestions on some stock abilities, or methods for putting save or die mechanics into your game would be great. So if a DM wanted to increase the lethality and danger of their games, they have some tried and true methods to do so.

An example might be to suggest encounter powers for creatures rely on saving throws instead of to hit rolls, and do max damage or ½ damage whether the player makes their appropriate save. For a more 4E-centric mechanic, how about a suggested disease track for level drain, and also add a condition that permanently removes 1 healing surge from a PC's total? Fourthcore introduced the idea of a new power keyword, Kill. If a player did not have a particular amount of healing surges available, they'd die outright. Having a good 5-10 methods and suggestions for introducing save or die into the game, with some additional pointers on appropriate use would likely be a great addition to a new DM’s arsenal of information.

Someone like me? Likely I'd never use it in my game. Yet other DMs out there would have solid, play-tested means to add save or die aspects to their game. I want it out of the game, but as an optional rule, this could have a place in folk’s games. I’m hopeful, as a core mechanic, save or die simply stays dead.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Virtual tabletop roundup

I’ve not used virtual tabletop software in my games. I’m a sit-around-the-table kind of guy. However I have to admit the sheer connectivity via skype and google hangouts is drawing me towards possibly looking at running online games. I think for 4E tabletop software there are some kinks to work out. However stuff I have thought about before will likely never see the light of day given the edition change coming.

I’m curious how the development of the official DDI Virtual Tabletop will go. Sadly, I guess the 4E support for that will evaporate. But with a looser, gridless system possibly in the works for DnDNext, this might get more support. Dread gazebo put up a nice old beta tutorial on his blog.

There are some other paid versions out there like such as the one at Fantasy Grounds. I’ve heard some give the software positive reviews and it looks pretty nifty. Typically I shy away from trial versions, but I might give this a spin. They also seem pretty committed to updates for the program too.

While possibly not as full featured as others out there, you’ve got Map Tool which is free. A bonus in my book as you can try it out without having to worry about any hassle with a trial version. I understand quite a few folks have used and enjoy this for a while now.

Something else on my radar has been the Roll20 Virtual Tabletop. A few things I like is that it is web based. Also while the program is geared for 4E, it is also system neutral. A plus with the new D&D playtest on the horizon. They’re currently in closed beta, but I’ll be keeping an eye on how they progress. It seems to have some potential.

EDIT: As expected I just scratched the surface. There are a few other programs out there that folks have brought up. I'll just provide a list of the links here:

Gametable Project - a java opensource program

Tabletop Forge - that utilizes Google+ hangout

d20 Pro - a paid program but has a 30 day free trial