Archive for Board Games

Y U NO WONDER!? (Forbidden Stars session)

During the Easter Holidays I had the chance to play this beautiful game once again. In it, you and up two three other people are trying to be the first to take control over four of your objectives through clever tactics, brutal cunning, cunning brutality, sheer force or some other way.

The game is a bit like a mix between Starcraft: the board game and Runewars but with a lot more Orks and 40k grim dark esthetic.

 

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In this game I took the mantel of the noble Eldar with the goal of finding lost artifacts and crush all opposing forces by massive amounts of fire power. Whilst I was lurking in the corner of the map and slowly building me a army of improbable size, the three other factions was duking it out on the battlefields. The Space Marines player was tearing through the Orks, by employing superior combat tactics (AKA combat cards), even though the green waves were greatly more numerous. However, the Orks wasn’t only receiving large losses in manpower, they were also dishing out some on the Chaos player, and all while me, the Eldar, built more ships.

As the fighting continued amongst the others I only participated in some small skirmishes and instead built myself beautiful cities and improved my combat gear and tactics (AKA combat cards). But to my despair, it seemed all my massing of armies was about to be for naught when the Space Marines got a golden opportunity to win the game by claiming a unprotected objective. As their ships was about to send down troops for a sure victory, the Chaos player probably made a deal with Tzeentch and Warp-blocked the Space Marines. I do believe also heard the Chaos player whisper “just as planned” when this happened. This turn of events gave me more time, time I desperately needed if I was to have any chance of winning this game.

Which I instead spent on building more stuff.

So of course the Space Marine player won the game, but I won the resource and production race, and in my book that is worth more than any objectives. I ushered in the Eldar race in to a new golden age of peace and prosperity whilst the others were pettily sacrificing their people to the machinations of war.

Also, I think there should be a way to win by having more resources than the others, like being able to build a wonder a lá Age of Empires style (AKA me being sad over losing the game).

 

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Sad Eldar is sad

Pics found: Here and here.

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A lesson learned about mass combat

I have a long running D&D campaign going at the moment; this is my first real campaign so I have learned a few things along the road. One thing I learned through a terrible second half of a session is how to NOT do good mass combat.

So the group of heroes had entered a dungeon under a swamp, built to god of death, typical D&D stuff, when they on their way out entered a previously unexplored room. This room was packed with zombies, ’cause the bad guy used it as a zombie storage room. It was a optional encounter. The heroes entered the room and started murdering the 15-20 something zombies, of which some were a beefed up kind of zombie, AKA lots a more hit points.

I mainly did two things wrong with this encounter. The first thing was giving the players a combat advantage in the form of high ground. The zombies could only get to the heroes by going up a stair, which the party’s beef cake blocked and could just push the zombies back down the stairs. So no one in the party, except maybe the person on the stair was in any danger.

Secondly, I rolled all the dice. You might think “isn’t role playing about rolling dice and see what results come out?” Well yes, but when every zombies gets to do a roll, that takes time, a lot of time. The encounter lasted over an hour, just because I made every zombie roll their die individually. Also, I made a third mistake, which is debatable. In the beginning of the encounter I wouldn’t say a zombie died unless their hit points were at zero. This only prolonged the suffering and by the end of the encounter I let the zombies die like flies just to end the combat.

Now lets clear a few things up, a long combat encounter is not bad in and of itself, but when there is no real danger, action, drama or stakes at stakes, it just becomes a choir. Combat should not be tedious, if it is, it is done wrong. You could have a whole session centered on combat, but than it has to be interesting combat. Giving the players/heroes an advantage in combat is also not bad, but when the advantage cancels out the danger of combat, it is probably a bad advantage, well at least in this situation, since the fight still lasted over an hour.

So what should I have done instead?

The advantage should probably not been so strong, the chokepoint with the stairs was cool but I could have let one or two zombies get up the sides or swarmed the player at the stairs. Regarding the dice rolling, instead of rolling individual dice for the zombies I should have made just one roll for all zombies of the same kind and used that result when they used the d20. As for damage, I should have used the average number stated in the zombie stats and only rolled to see if they hit. Finally, I shouldn’t have rolled unique hit points number for the zombies, or if I did, used one for all of the same typ. Instead I should have used the number stated in their stat block.

Those are my mistakes, try to learn from the so you won’t have to do the same.

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Unrelated, but at the same time not

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Censorship: Slavery edition

Are you offended by slaves? I’m not… Well let me clarify, I don’t like slavery nor do I think that people should be able to own another person. Slavery is wrong. But I am not offended by a slave; I am not offended by playing a game with slaves and slavery in it. If I did I wouldn’t like playing Puerto Rico.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3076/puerto-rico

But I love Puerto Rico; it is an awesome worker-placement game. But the narrative it presents is one about slavery and how slaves were used to richen people and used to build societies. So if you think about it, it is pretty horrible game. But I won’t stop playing it.

  1. Because it is too much fun to play it.
  2. We shouldn’t shy away from these kinds of topics; instead we should use it as a base for discussion.
  3. Why shouldn’t games be allowed to touch on hot topics?

I will point out that the rules book for Puerto Rico calls the slaves for colonizers (at least in the version I read), to that I say no. They are represented by brown wooden cylinders, you get them by boat and you also get points from having the most of them. Sure, it could be colonizers, but since it is port cities you are building, and the colonizers are put to work in different fields I don’t think it is that plausible. Also slaves were most often used in port cities during the early days of Puerto Rico’s history, when it was still a Spanish colony.

This brings me to the series Tabletop, with Wil Wheaton. When he plays the game Five Tribes on the show he decides that the slave subject in the game shall be “censored”. Instead they call slaves for assistants or/and helpers. He also explains why there are slaves in the game and why he doesn’t like it. Tabletop is also meant to be a “family show” so he could have used that as the reason to not call slaves slaves.

(4:54-5:45)

I don’t think Wil Wheaton is stupid, narrow minded or a “political correctness lover” for doing this. It’s his show and he decides what to do with it, and he also explained his decision. However, if he hadn’t explained himself I might have been more concerned. As I said/wrote in the beginning, slavery is bad, but you shouldn’t scuff it under the rug. We need to be able to discuss things that happened in the past, no matter how cruel or horrible it was. Why? To learn from it and also see how things changed. We are a product of our history. Just think about yourself, you probably have done a few things you aren’t that proud of. You don’t need to tell everyone about the unproud moments in your life but you should try to use them and think about why feel ashamed for/by them. They are a part of you and will shape you as a person.

As a wise person said (L.P. Hartley): “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

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About role playing and being a flexibel GM

Role playing is fun, at least I think so. Role playing is about interactions, be it to solve a puzzle, kill a monster or overcome a challenge, the interactions between the players and the GM are the most interesting. You could argue that almost all interactions are between these two, since the GM’s job is to create a narrative/a series of challenges for the players to overcome and almost everything can be said to be a challenge.

What I am focusing on though, is when the players force the GM to think on his/her feet, when the players do the unexpected. When the GM’s plans wither and burn, when everything goes in a totally different direction.

As I stated before, the GM’s job is to create a story/narrative/series of challenges, which most often requires some planning and “preproduction” from the GM (unless they use a published adventure). He/she might have decided that the players will be facing a dragon in their next session. The GM could stop at that point of planning and just have a pure slug fest between the dragon and the players, but it wouldn’t, probably, be much fun since it would boil down to “who can produce the highest number fastest”. Instead the GM could put some more planning in to it and decide that the dragon is inside a cave filled with treasure, traps and monsters. The dragon might have a really awesome chamber in which it resides, so that the players might have to use said chamber’s features to defeat it. Everything from dropping a chandelier to fighting on top of pillars in lava could make the challenge more interesting. Then, the players ruin it.

The players might get information about the dragons keep and decides it is way too much of a hassle to go through the dungeon. So what do they do? They blow up the dungeon, killing the dragon and all your rigorous planning. This sucks, the GM might think. Which it does, but it forces the GM to be flexible and react to the players and not the other way around, as it usually is. The GM could say that the players’ actions indeed succeeded in killing the dragon, but it also shook the ground so hard that the tremors destroyed several nearby villages. This would turn the players into villains instead of heroes.

Even though the players might ruin your awesome story or overcome your challenge in a very unheroic way, it is still fun. It is fun when things don’t always go as planned and it is fun to react on the spot. ‘Cause that is what role playing is about, to step in to a role and react to things on the spot. If everything is predecided than it isn’t role playing. It would only be a play. Being a GM can be an ungrateful endeavor, since all your work might be undone in just a few seconds or just completely ignored. However, the most successful RPG sessions I has had was when I had to react to the players actions. So don’t be mad if things don’t turn out as you planned, instead see it as an opportunity to do something else.

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Another thing about Tannhäuser and MOBAs

Lately I have been playing a lot of Dota 2 and also discussing MOBAs in general. Even though I love Dota 2 with its colorful heroes and fun gameplay I do find it lacking in some aspects. Which I think many MOBAs are lacking in, which is “world building/lore consistency”.

To be honest, I do not think MOBAs need a strong “world”, what they need is characters that are easy to understand and fun to play. But the reason that I have been thinking about this is because I and some friends are intrested in how to present narrative and worlds. Which you can do through the characters. In Dota 2, which is the MOBA I am most familiar with, the world created through the characters lore is nonsensical and a patch work. Almost every hero’s lore is only about themselvs and a completely new place which we have never heard of, which is never mentioned again later. The quality and amount of lore is also very uneven with some being very good and interseting while some is just bad.

So the world is very dodgy and we do not get a sense of what might exist outside of the “arena”. But what they do well is fleshing out the heros personality. Though some of them are very one dimensional, they are still very easy to recognize and most are a little humorous. What is also interesting is how some of the characters have special responses when they face certain heroes or have them as allies. This creates a conection between some characters and hints that there might exist something outside the “arena” it helps with creating a world and also makes the characters more interesting.

In Tannhäuser, which has at least a few similarities with MOBAs, the world building is top notch, in my opinion. So why is it good, well to begin with, we get a sense of what the world is like just be the premise of the game. WW1 never ended, it is still going. Each major faction has turned to alternative sources for power to finaly shift the balance in their favor and win the war. Just by the premise we know that the world is our world, earth. In almost every characters lore you get information about the world, the characters relationship with other characters. We even get information about characters that you cannot play which are only part of the lore. The lore is consistent. Dota 2 have lore that creates relationships, for example Bristelback’s lore, it says he has a beff with the character Tusk. But it has one problem, it does not actually state it is Tusk he has a beef with. And in Tusk’s lore, even though a similiar event is mentioned as the one in Bristelback’s, Tusk’s lore does not mention or even hint about Bristelback. So in theory, their lore could be disconected.

What Tannhäuser also does well is that the characters feel cohesive. The factions in the game differ a bit, but within each faction the characters feel like the steem from the same place, and no faction is so widly different from the other that they feel alien when compared. In Dota 2, though it is some kind of fantasy world, there are characters that feel like oddballs. Venomancer, a man turned into a super poison thingy-majingy from exposur to extremly deadly poison. To me, that sounds like a comic book villain, not something that belongs in a battle between “good” and “evil”. Most characters does not even have a reason to be in the fight, just by reading the lore.

As I said in the beginning. MOBAs do not need lore, world building or fleshed out characters, since MOBAs are not about that. But if it wants to have it, it needs to be built with that in thought from the beginning and be cohesive and consequent.

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Board game tip #2

Sometimes you might only have a few minutes to play a game. Sometimes you would like to play a game where “real life” knowledge is what mainly decides the winner. Then do I have a game for you 😉

The game I am talking about is Timeline, which can be played by 3 – 8+ players. The higher the amount of players, the harder it gets (kind of). So what is it all about, well the goal is simple. At the start of the game each player is dealt four cards and the first one to get rid of all their cards win. On their turn the active player plays one of their cards and then the turn is passed on. Simple and elegant.

What makes this interesting is that you cannot play your cards however you choose, you must play them so it creates a Timeline. Each card depictes an invention, event, discovery or other important historical thingies. One card could be the discovery of America, another might be the invetion of the lightbulb.

When the game begins a singel card is placed in the timeline, the first player chooses one of their cards and places it either before or after the start card and checks if he/she placed it right in comparsion to the first card. If the player placed it right, it stays in the timeline and the player is one step closer to victory, If placed wrongly, the card is discarded and the player gets a new card. As the game continues, the timeline just grows and it gets harder and harder to place cards right since they must be placed so that they are right on the timeline according to all the other cards.

Takes about 15-30 minutes to play and is very casual. It is also a great game since everyone can play it and people like games where they can show off their cunning.

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More about rollplaying

So I am the GM/DM/ST in a Dungeon & Dragons campaign, though at the moment it is on a hiatus (the majority of players have a busy schedual this month), this task is very entertaining. Because of the freedom and responsibility you get. It is also funny to see how the players react to the situations you throw at them.

Where I am going to take this post I do not know at the moment of writing, I just know I wanted to write a bit more about rollplaying.

I have a confession to make… I am a rule junkie or rule addict. Not that I think all rules in a RPG system must be followed by the letter, but because I really like to read rules and see how different systems, be it RPGs or board games, manage different mechanics. I do not have much first hand history with the different iterations of Dungeons & Dragons, most of the stuff I know about the older versions is stuff I have been told. But I do know, when comparing the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons with the other RPG systems that I have read and played, that this system is very streamlined and hassle free.

For instance, how do they solve a situation where someone should get a bonus on their roll? The could have used a number modifier, but the problem with number modifiers for the GM is how big the number should be. The way they solve situations in which a person has a advantage or disadvantage is that the character simply roll the d20 two times. If they have an advantage, they use the higher of the two result and if they have an disadvantage they use the lower one.

This method is makes it very easy for the GM to give out a bonus or unbonus to people when they make a skill check. It is true that this method is more random then a number modifier but with this method the GM does not need to create a appropriate number to the task, which can be very hard and some players might argue that the number is too low or high. This method is also very smooth, since it does not requier more math, which the other version does. It is not much math/counting, but it is more. Now you just check which number is higher/lower and use it. I would also say that it might be more fair to the “narrative” and creates tension. Just because a person has a clear advantage does not necessarily mean they will be able to use or even think about it. Even when you have a advantage you could still roll two fours for example, but with a number modifier, certain numbers/outcomes are not possible to achive.

Plus it is really fun to roll a d20.

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