Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: The Resistance

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.

From Indie Boards and Cards, I would consider the Resistance as a somewhat heavier party game and a more structured version of Werewolf. 5-10 Players are members of an underground rebel group in some distopian future. Among them are several spies that are informers for the very government they are trying to topple. The object of the resistance is to successfully complete a series of missions, while the spies within the group are trying to stop them. The side with the most successes (in the spies case, failed missions) after 5 turns wins the game.

Each turn is split into 2 segments. The first is an open vote to determine which members will form a team to attempt a mission selected by a group leader. As a straight up majority vote, all players decide if it is a good team or not. If not, the next player acts as group leader suggesting a different team composition. This process keeps going until a team is decided.

After the team is selected, each team member secretly selects a mission outcome card. Resistance members must select a mission success, while spies have the choice to select either a success or failure. If at least one card is a failure, then the entire mission fails. The following turns, this procedure continues five more times.

What comes about each round is a rather tense situation. Spies are determined randomly and in secret before the game starts. Like in Werewolf, the spies have an opportunity to see who else are spies for the game (a simple manner of all players closing their eyes and only the spies opening them). None the less, if multiple spies are chosen for a mission, they don't have an opportunity to coordinate how they will vote. If 2 spies for a 3 player mission team both vote for it to fail, they've tipped their hand.

The end result is constant accusations and negotiations to decide who will make up the team, and which members are likely spies. No one will know who the spies are until the end of the game. The spy players are constantly in the game and actively influencing decisions for mission team members. However, they are the minority. So if the resistance members are confident they have identified the spies, they can effectively shut them out for participating on future missions.

The spy players however can help sow dissent among members, voting down mission teams. As a nuanced rule to the game, if there is so much distrust that a consensus can never be reached to decide a mission team, the spy players immediately win. It's highly unlikely, but the spy players might be able to repeatedly swing other players into voting down proposed mission teams. This puts some pressure on the group to eventually give in and select a mission team, allowing the spies an opportunity to corrupt the team with a spy or two for that mission.

Aside from the basic game, there are also expansion cards. These cards allow players to do extra abilities and give the game a slight twist. Typically they either telegraph voting choices, or allow the player to secretly look at either voting or player cards (seeing if they are indeed spies or not).

The Good - It's an enjoyable party game. It moves and scales well for larger groups. There is a lot of open negotiation and deception, with players not knowing who to trust until the end of the game giving each round a lot of fun tension. The game scales well and can accommodate several people (up to 10). The box is compact, allowing you to easily throw it in a backpack making for a great convention downtime game. The components and artwork are very pleasing too.

The Bad - With larger groups, and repeated plays, it may be difficult to remember who was on past mission teams. The game can get somewhat repetitive also, however the expansion cards that come with the game really add enough variety to change up play some. Also the number of players needed is a little steep at 5.

The Verdict - This is one of my favorite party games. While the play is a bit structured, and there can be some confusion on what cards are for what votes, after a single turn everyone gets it. This has been very successful for me with groups of non-gamers, and they have all had a lot of fun. The expansion cards add a nice twist to the game play to give it a bit more life. It occupies a small section of the game shelf and is a very reasonably priced game for the fun you get out of it. Definitely pick this one up for your collection.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fiasco setup cards

I've always been a little intrigued by Fiasco but never quite got the gumption to pick it up. Catching the most recent Tabletop episode by Wil Wheaton definitely perked up my interest more. Once I get a few games under my belt I'll likely throw up some thoughts. It's taken me a few read throughs, but I've come to appreciate how elegant the game is.

Interestingly, getting folks from other cultures into the mix might be a bit of a challenge. My wife is a fan of many films by the Coen brothers and would likely get the vibe of Fiasco. However trying to describe your typical American small town suburb environments and inhabitants will likely garner some blank stares. I might have to tweak a playset to something with a hint of Asian trappings for it to be more recognizable if she wants in for a game.

One thing I wanted to do was speed up the setup a bit. I like the simplicity of using index cards, but I think having a few sheets of paper that could be filled in and quickly cut apart might be more serviceable. For some additional durability, I've been considering using self laminated sheets and dry erase markers too. I whipped up a PDF for some setup cards that can be printed out. There are 3 sheets, some name cards that can folded in half, a sheet for relationships (one too many for a standard game, but figured an extra wouldn't hurt) and another covering a location, need, object, and 2 tilts. I also have some blank ones as wild cards for extra elements, just circle which one is represented (need, object, etc.).

Hope folks get some mileage out of them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From WotC: Geek Ken, no board games for you

Folks have been gushing about Lords of Waterdeep. Stone Age just hasn’t been getting that much play time on my table, so I’ve considered investing into another worker placement game. It looks like there are some neat twists with Lords of Waterdeep, and the player interaction is a bit more complex than shutting out players from certain locations. Stone Age is a fun game. It has some minuses, but overall an enjoyable game with a neat theme. I just haven’t been playing it as much and Lords of Waterdeep is all sparkly.

So I eagerly placed an order from a fantastic board game store that ships internationally. I live in Asia. I’ve used this store for years. They are the cat’s pajamas for an online source of board games. Not going to name them as I don’t want any fallout with the email correspondence. I’ll call them ‘Awesome Board Game Store’ for this post. I eagerly placed an order for Lords of Waterdeep and a few other games. A couple of days later I get this...

Hi Geek Ken,
Unfortunately we are unable to send Wizards of the Coast products outside the United States so we'll be unable to send Lords of Waterdeep on your order. I'm happy to replace it with another game, or just cancel it off the order all together. Please let me know what you'd like to do. Thanks.
-- Awesome Board Game Store

Bummer. Now it kills me to do this, as I was really looking forward to having a bundle of board games. Taking one out makes the shipping expense a little harder to justify. I really hadn’t thought too much on getting an alternate. So I bite the bullet and cancel my order. My reply:

I have recently logged into my Awesome Board Game Store account and cancelled my order. My apologies for cancelling. If possible, could you please indicate why the board game could not be shipped internationally? I am curious as there are very few local retailers within [ASIAN COUNTRY] that handle Hasbro/WotC products exclusively.


I was curious why the sudden change in policy. I think I ordered Gamma World from this Awesome Board Game Store, along with dungeon tiles. This was sort of new for me. So I had prodded further to find out why. I get an interesting reply.

Hi Geek Ken,
We (and all US retailers) are unable to send any WotC items outside of the US as a condition for doing business with WotC. As they are a fairly large company they want to let their "local" businesses service their markets. I think most of this has to do with Magic but it's a blanket condition. WotC is not very forgiving for businesses who break that agreement.
-- Awesome Board Game Store

I sort of understand the policy for trying to bolster the brick and mortar store. But as international customers go, I’d bet most folks use these online stores as they are the only source for WotC products. I’m also figuring that it is to support Magic sales from local retailers, instead of people buying them in bulk from some online source. Maybe board games got lumped into this also.

Yet I get a bit worried. Is this for ‘all’ WotC products? What about the reprint editions for AD&D? Granted I could see WotC keeping huge book retailers like Amazon out of the loop, but I was counting on using places like Awesome Board Game Store to pick them up. I live in Asia. English is not the country’s native language. There really isn’t much demand for role playing games, especially enough for local retailers to spring forth. It’s just not in the culture. So being a bit worried, I prod further...

Completely understand. I am curious, does this include rulebooks from WotC? I am curious as some products such as the AD&D 1st Edition: Player's Handbook is only available through smaller independent retailers as yourself (can't order these books through Amazon or Barnes and Noble). If this is the case, please contact the sales representative you work through for WotC and express how restrictive their policy is. There are some customers (such as myself living as an expat in Asia) that have no other option but to purchase their products from international distributors like that of your store.


I get a response and I am floored by this.

Hi Geek Ken,
Yes it does. The rules apply to all WotC products including their out of print stuff, as we've specifically asked about that before.

Trust me we'd love nothing more than to sell WotC items to you, as you're not the only non-US customer we've had to disappoint but their policy remains unchanged.

We can't ship to any address outside the US.
-- Awesome Board Game Store

WotC/Hasbro, you have a sliver of international customers that rely on online retailers for your products. Having this policy means I can’t buy any of your stuff set aside for local retailers, ever. Stuff like the new AD&D reprints, Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, all of it is a no go for me. There simply are no local retailers here interested in carrying these products (foreign country, with its own language, means stuff printed in english is a low priority).

However, I guess customers like me simply are not part of the business model your company executes. Sucktastic.

[EDIT: For full transparency, I've removed the names of the people on these emails and truncated the last email where the representative from the Awesome Board Game Store offered a solution by shipping the products to an address in the United States, where that private individual could then send it as a parcel to me. As I said, they are an Awesome Board Game Store.]

Monday, July 16, 2012

In defense of skills and training

I am a fan of skills in RPGs. More importantly, I’m a fan of being able to increase skill abilities as a part of character progression.

DnDnext is having skills take the backseat somewhat to primarily focus on ability scores. Skills are there, but associated with specific backgrounds, or tagged bonuses using certain equipment. I appreciate the simplicity of that concept. How high you can jump, how quickly you can diffuse a tense situation, or how well you can follow a trail in the woods, all of it primarily depends on the PC ability scores. It’s a very convenient way to express what situations a player can expect they will excel, or do poorly, in.

Yet, I like that added layer of training for particular skills to that concept. Yes, how quickly you can climb might well be determined on your strength, but having training and experience in athletics will give you an edge. I particularly like how 4E added a huge bonus from skill training that would nearly equal a max ability score bonus of the same skill (or exceed it). However having training and a high key ability bonus for particular skills would just about trivialize all but the most difficult skill checks.

One thing I didn't like was the continual level bonus players got with skills in 4E. For my next game, I’m planning on throwing that out and just keep DC values at first level for everything. To me it was sort of silly to keep adding bonuses to skills when the DC values also went up proportionally. However I admit there was a concept there that never quite got much traction.

Given skill challenges and DC values were based on the level of players, I always felt relative level could have been a factor for determining DC values. Epic and paragon tiers had this somewhat for certain skills, where each respective tier would bump up DC values for stuff like knowledge checks. Yet the level bonus was ever really tweaked much. It all fell upon whether it was an easy, moderate, or hard check. However sometimes I think relative level might have added another gradient in resolving skill checks.

I could easily see a 1st level PC having a more difficult time interacting with lower-tier nobility compared to a mid-heroic PC. With both DC values based on the same difficult check, I could pick a single DC value for a level 4 NPC. That mid-heroic PC might likely have as much renown and recognition as the trivial lord, so their level bonus would come into play. Instead it seems that idea just never cemented and 4E fell back on using just the 3 types of DC values that continually shifted as the player leveled up.

Still with some of these shortfalls, I like the idea of skills. I think it gives players a way to further customize their character. I particularly liked how 4E allowed players to learn new skills through feats. Want to gain more training in religion? Just pick up a skill training feat. In the end if I wanted to play a fighter that was very educated and a learned scholar, I could do so getting training in select skills (or picking up feats to do so). While my PC might not be on par with that wizard’s trained knowledge of history, I could certainly pull my mental weight if needed. Having skills instead primarily based on ability scores, without a bonus due to skill training, sort of takes away that flexibility.

So I am a fan of skills. I’m a fan of being able to increase proficiency with them (or at least be able to pick up new skills). 4E wasn’t too bad handling skills. Yet, I sort of liked how 3.5 allowed for continual skill progression (not a fan of the expanded skill lists though and found it almost too specific for skill checks). I’ve been thinking of adding a flat bonus to trained skills every 4 levels as a house rule for my next game (ditching the continual level bonus in the rules). While I appreciate the trimmed down resolution of tasks based on ability scores in DnDnext, I sort miss having that skill list.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Off for a city adventure...

...likely meaning I'll be stuck in meetings all day.

Traveling out of the country again for a bit. I've put my SW/Traveller game on hold as some of my players are taking an extended holiday, but I've been hankering to jump back into a sci-fi campaign for a while. Think I am a tad burned out with running another D&D game. Although I'm certain in a few months I'll get the itch again.

Till then, I've been pilfering images to show to my players different planets in the systems they'll be roaming in. This deviant art pic from dacheatha is quite inspiring for a overcrowded cityscape.

Joerden Leigh also has some stuff I like, particularly his urban environments. This is a neat skyline that is more sprawling than one of high buildings.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Terran battlefleet primed

Slowly finishing off my Sorylian fleet so I got my next fleet prepped and primed. Usually when I pick up a minis game I work on two forces. I do this so in a pinch I have the models on hand to teach someone else how to play. Typically I’ll go a bit deeper in one force.

I had not gone through the rules of Firestorm Armada extensively and didn’t read up on the fluff of the game before picking up my forces. So I came to realize later that in the FA universe the Terrans and Sorylians are allies. Hee, looks like I might have to stick to the ‘first contact’ timeline if I wanted to play out truer scenarios to the official canon of the rules.

It’s not a big deal as you can easily play and fight how you want, however I do think that certain fleet doctrines and technologies are directed towards more traditional enemies. I’ve got a few games under my belt and don’t think it much of an issue, but I might try using one of my fleets as a proxy for another race to see how they match up. One nice thing I like about having 2 different fleets is that I can plop down anything and call em whatever race I want. Definitely some room to explore the different races and fleet types.

As for the Terran models, they are pretty nice. They have a fair amount of detail. I especially like the battlecruiser. It’s a nice model bristling with guns. The other ships are a bit blocky and I like the contrast to the Sorylian models. If I’m disappointed with anything, I’d say the cruisers are a bit weak-looking. They just don’t seem to have the detail of the others.

The frigates are pewter, so they can hold a lot of detail despite the small size. However I’m surprised for the resin cruiser models that they don’t hold similar detail to the battleship (which is also resin). I have a Terran carrier and have to say the model is also bit blocky and sort of bleah. Might have to consider doing some alterations for that mini.

Not quite decided on the color scheme, but likely try a simple 2 tone paint job. Some of the models will need a little extra to make them stand out. The Sorylians had a nice overall shape and enough details that a wash and dry brushing could bring out. So I was happy with using different shades of green as base coats and an overall single color wash. For the Terrans, I’ll have to mix it up for certain.