Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gaming Round Up: 10/13/13

Duel of Ages II: 

This game continues to impress me with how fun it is each time I play it. The game itself has a few big problems, so I warn people in advance of teaching them not to worry about points, but to just enjoy the ride. The mechanics of the game are mechanically sound with combat needing certain levels of strategy. However, everything, from character draws to starting items are completely random. This means that one side could start out with a moped, Fluffy the cat and a pair of boxing gloves, while the other team draws sniper rifles, plasma cannons and grenades as their starting equipment. So there are problems with the game because of this. However, it is exactly that kind of randomness that makes it fun for me.

I've come to realize what kinds of games I like the most. Pure Euro-style games are essentially a very dry masturbatory appreciation of clever mechanics. While I really appreciate good, clever mechanics, they are too dry and dull to be very much fun and only have a picture of an explorer on the box and the fact that we call the cubes "Goods" separating them from being true abstract games. The other end of the scale is pure Ameritrash games. They are games that delve so deep into theme that often times it is to create a story and narrative to hide how terrible the actual game mechanics are. While I still enjoy it to a degree, Arkham Horror falls into that lot for me and I am less enthused to play it.

What I really enjoy is hybrid games. Games that use clever mechanics to enhance the theme and narrative. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island fits this category. The Euro-style mechanics are genius because they make sense and create a fitting narrative. Every piece I move, every cube I place is done for a reason to further the story instead of simply creating an artificial threat or timer. Things make narrative sense. Middle Earth Quest and Stronghold also both carry that thematic narrative with their mechanics.

However, there is another class of game that I really enjoy. It is when Ameritrash randomness goes so over the top and embraces what it is, balance be damned. Cosmic Encounter fits that description. When I pass out the starting races for everyone, you can look around the table and immediately see who is at the biggest disadvantage. The game hasn't started yet and it is plain as day. But, Cosmic Encounter embraces that. I love getting the terrible race and realizing that I am so fucked, but having to have to try to cajole, bribe and weasel my way for a few colonies.

That is what Duel of Ages II is. There is no balance. You might have Coach Quinn with a hockey stick and I may have the colonial Space Marine with the laser howitzer. There is no apology for this imbalance. It just is what it is and I love it for that.

The thing with these kinds of games are that you end up with stories. Sure, it is fully possible that a game is completely unbalanced and ends up being not very fun. However, with the right attitude, what is more likely to happen is that you will end up with amazing stories.

Anyone learning DOA2 with me will now
be forced to listen to me tell them about
this character of mine.
The game we played last weekend now holds one of my favorite gaming moments in it. My Dainty Princess Sunglow, armed with Lawn Darts and a Buckler and accompanied by her pet, Fluffy the Cat, was able to take an opportunity shot at futuristic Terran fleet Commodore Blaylock with her lawn darts.

The dainty princess threw lawn darts at the space commander as he ran by her.

I missed, but it didn't matter. The fact that I did it was the high point of my Sunday gaming day.

During all of this a showdown was occurring the Tombstone as Napoleon rushed up a plateau and  high school football Coach Quinn ushered three of his teammates into the colonial caverns to try to coach them on how to overcome the obstacles ahead of them.

There is enough in the game to balance this chaos on solid mechanics, but this game should never, ever be played to prove someone's superior strategic play.

Instead, you play it so that you can tell people how your dainty princess threw lawn darts at the space commander. And right now, I am still loving every moment of the game for this fact.

The Cave:

Apparently Speologist, Spelunker and
Caver are three different things.
I was curious to get the Cave to a table of five players, since I had only played it with two up until this point and eventually need to review it. I still enjoy the game a fair amount (probably more than my wife), but I was a little disappointed that five players didn't make the map seem any more crowded. It was too easy for everyone to move out into their own directions and that is what we essentially did.

Reid brought up the idea was in mathematics with Action Points. It was almost designed that your final action each turn would be to reveal a tile, but not have the AP to claim whatever was on it. Therefore it made more sense to split up. Since otherwise you will always be giving an opponent an opportunity to steal something you've uncovered, or you are wasting AP and not exploring any tiles with your last moves. 

There is some validity to that, but perhaps with more plays we will find that there is benefit to teaming up/stealing for one another.

I still enjoy the game and while thematic, it feels more puzzley than narrative driven to really put it in the top tier of my favorite games.

We finished the evening by playing out a five-player Pathfinder party going through the entire first Adventure, beating all three scenarios, though the first two were pretty close.

I like Pathfinder a lot and playing it with the people I also roleplay with makes it all the better. However, my wife and I have finished a campaign (up to this point) and have played at least 8-10 one-off adventures with one another and other players.

Ultimately, that frequency of play has made me realize that a lot of the game is a bit too repetitive. With the exception of one of the later scenarios, all of the scenarios are essentially a track down and hunt of the villain. The locations vary, but probably don't give enough of a feel of variety because they are still seeded randomly.
Who would have thought that a game
based on an RPG system would have 
so little narrative?

 The paradox of the game is that it needs variety (gained by random seeding) to create replayability. However, the game needs set stacks to create a more thematic narrative. It seems a little odd that I found the shopkeeper's daughter in the deep dungeons and you encountered an Ogre in the weapons shop, and later fell into the pit trap set in the town square. However, if you knew that the Ogre would always be in the dungeon and the shopkeeper's daughter would be in the shop, then it would be too easy to figure out who should go where equipped with what.

Cohesive narrative also wasn't aided by the fact that my dwarven ranger would track his location and apparently find the tracks of a warhammer ahead.

None of this is to say that I don't enjoy playing the game. However, since it is based off of one of the two biggest RPG names, I am just disappointed that cohesive narrative wasn't built deeper into the design of the game. It is a good, fun game, but it is not evocative of a RPG dungeon crawl.

That being said, I'm still on board with the expansions and look forward to advancing my characters.

And I suppose that is the saving grace of the game and winning over roleplayers to really appreciate it: I can level up my character.

Give any true roleplayer a game where they can level up their character and they are all in. It is in our genes.

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