June 13, 2013

A View from My Lerkim

This may or may not be the start of an intra-blog series where I blather on for a spell about what I’ve been up to in various arenas of the gaming hobby. Dr. Seuss references aside, consider it a companion piece to my Skunkwork posts – which talk about my current game design projects.

I’ll tackle a few different topics, so please feel free to chime in and let me know what strikes your fancy.

Boardgames Played

I haven’t had a chance to play many games with the gaming group in the past few months – life has been hectic. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing games. My wife and I have been playing quite a bit of games in the evening these past few weeks, all old favorites.
Magnate, which is an excellent Decktet game along the lines of battle line (no pun intended) or lost cities, but with an added resource system. Awesome game that we’ve been going on a binge playing more lately. I also recently ordered and received a copy of the Decktet Book, which is quite cool and contains the rules for dozens and dozens of decktet games.

Roll through the Ages has hit the table some more as well. A fun casual game. I’ve been meaning to print out and laminate record sheets for the free expansion, the Late Bronze Age, to spice up the play a little bit. The game tends to unfold in one of a few ways every game – which isn’t a bad thing, but I do wish there was a little more diversity and granularity in the strategies.

Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers remains a regularly played game for us. It’s an excellent 2-player game, and with well over 100 plays, it’s interesting seeing the meta-game evolve between us. We now both have a really strong sense of what tiles are still available and start pursuing more or less risky strategies based on our knowledge of the tile distributions. It’s interesting, because playing these risky scenarios often works when playing against other strong players doing similar things – but when you add newer players into the mix the level of chaos goes up and the risky strategies don’t perform as well. I’ve noticed a similar effect in Lost Cities, which has also seen some table time recently.

I did squeeze in a game of Tigris & Euphrates with my gaming group a few weeks back, which is only the second face-to-face game I’ve played of it. It went well and was a pretty tough game – but I managed to squeak out the win. I chalk it up to greater experience of course, having played it on the now sun-setted BGG site and on the iOS. 

Boardgames Pending Plays

I’ve really curbed my acquisition of new games recently, aside from tying to track down a few trades here and there. My collection is around 100 right now, and I’d like to shrink it a bit and get everything that is unplayed (and not in the trade pile) played before making any other purchases. What are these games?
I picked up a nearly brand new version of Acquire in a garage sale last summer, and I still need to get it to the table. Speaking of Sid Sackson, I did pick up a vintage edition of Monad a while ago – which I would also really like to get to the table. We’ll see if I can find some takers for that.

I acquired a copy of Coup recently as well, which I’m looking forward to trying out – as I hear a lot of great things about it. Going out to the family cottage this weekend – so this could be a contender game to play.

Loot is a recent-ish acquisition, picked up when on sale at a local toystore. I have a soft spot for Gamewright Games, as they were some of the first “more hobby-like” games I had played some years ago. I’ve been told Loot is one of gamewrights better games, so I’m looking forward to that.

And speaking of Gamewright, I am also looking forward to picking up Forbidden Desert at some point. Forbidden Island was pretty fun for a while – and my wife and I played it quite a bit. Unfortunately, we got pretty burned out on it, as it was only really challenging at the highest difficulty with some of the other island layouts – and it was only challenging at that point because of the hand limit restriction that forced an arbitrary choice of what relic to go for. If you arbitrarily choose the wrong one, you’d probably loose. From reading about it, Forbidden Desert sounds like it has resolved that concern, so I’m interested to see how it goes.

Forbidden Island 2.0?

San Juan arrived as part of game trade, and I’m hoping to play that soon with my wife. We tried playing Race for the Galaxy a few years ago (a game I love mind you), but it wasn’t my wife’s cup of tea as the theme and iconography threw her for a loop. I’m hoping San Juan will have more success. I picked up the iOS version of San Juan, but it is basically unplayable because you can’t read the card font. Ridiculous.

Lastly, I picked up Wits and Wagers and TransAmerica from a thrift store, both unopened! I’m sure Wits and Wagers will hit the table at some casual evening gathering. I had TransAmerica on the trade pile, but some of my Geek Buddies were raving about it, so I’ll hold onto it for now and try to get it played. And besides, it’s my only “train game.” 

Design Projects

I’ve been doing more solo-testing of State of Crisis, my semi-cooperative game of saving, or alternatively destroying, the world as we know it. It’s meant to be a satirical game, humorous and all that – but also be a fairly strategic social deduction game. I’m rethinking some aspects of the design, in part based on really interesting discussion in this thread: Are Semi-Cooperative Games Flawed?

Production for Hegemonic is progressing, and if you are at Origins, be sure to check out Minion Games' booth - James Mathe has one of the Hegemonic final prototypes on hand and will be running some demos. Sadly I couldn't make it to Origins. 
Prepare to be assimilated! Hegemonic box back

Also – I’ve been working on a design document with a friend for a possible online, web-based space strategy game. I’m really intrigued with the idea of designing a “voardeo” game – which is my term for a game on a digital platform that merges the transparent mechanics, timing, and pacing of boardgames with the capabilities of a digital medium to expand the pool of mechanics and reduce the bookkeeping or more complex games.

I think we’re seeing growth in this area of gaming – as boardgame designs are ported to digital devises and take advantage of a different UI opportunities. The new Warhammer Quest App is an interesting example – where the mechanics are all technically from the boardgame, yet if you didn’t know any better you’d think you were playing a scratch built turn-based video game. 

Speaking of iOS . . .

I have to say I’ve been playing a lot more games on my tiny little iPod Touch lately. I find the convenience and flexibility to play games on it being a big draw over powering up my rather loud and clunky gaming laptop. I’ve been playing quite a few boardgame ports as well new games over the past few years – and I figured it would be worth hitting briefly on them.

iOS Boardgames

Tigris and Euphrates – Pretty solid implementation. Need to get Player vs. Player games going

Stone Age – I like playing this game more on the iOS, really outstanding implementation. Its making me want to play the physical game some more.

Stone Age on iOS - It's hard to hate something to pretty...

Ra – after listening to the Long View Podcast Episode on Ra, I decided I needed to familiarize myself with it. Nice iOS implementation, although the AI isn’t very challenging. Nice app, and I appreciate the design, but I think it’s best played face to face.

San Juan – I mentioned this above. Nice implementation overall, except you can’t read the card font – so it’s a terrible implementation because I can’t actually play the game! Grrrr.

Calyus – I like the game okay. The boardgame doesn’t get me too excited (I’m not a big worker placement and resource conversion fan, I admit) – but the App is really slow and clunky. Not much fun to play.

Le Havre – This one sent me screaming for the hills. Not my kind of game at all.

iOS Originals

Starbase Orion – This continues to be one of my favorite games period right now. I’ve probably spent more time playing this game than any other over the past year. Awesome developer that listens to the community and continually improves the game. I’ve been playing in the beta group recently (testing new versions before release) and the new multiplayer features are outstanding. I’ve had some really interesting multi-player games. I can’t say enough good stuff about this game.
Starbase Orion in a recent multiplayer game

Hunters – So, the new Warhammer Quest app only runs on iOS 6.0+, so sadly my 3rd generation ipod touch can’t run the game. So I looked into the developers other games, and they have released Hunters and Hunters, which is the same basic idea as Warhammer Quest but set in a sci-fi context. You have a squad of agents that you train and level up, and take on various missions. Turn-based tactical miniatures style gameplay. Pretty cool so far. I’m digging it.

Galaxy on Fire – there is a free version of this space elite/privateer style game. Interesting enough story line with fairly open ended gameplay. It’s been fun for a while, but it is starting to lose its appeal as everything feels very repetitive at the moment.

A few others of note. Alien Space (Retro) is a nifty old-school asteroids style action game. It’s a lot of fun when you want something crazy. Also Galcon is a sort of abstract space-based real time strategy game. Really simple mechanics and fast gameplay, but there is definitely some strong strategy elements at work.

What all of this iOS action points to – is that my next major personal purchase is learning towards being an iPad, probably the iPad Mini. There are a lot of games that I’d love to play that are unfortunately only for the iPad, and more and more games are going to require iOs 6.0+. Currently, the titles I’m interested in on the PC are few and far between, so increasingly my gaming attention is going towards the mobile end of the spectrum. I never thought I’d say that!

Speaking of PC Games . . .

Of course, I have been playing PC games lately.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve resumed my playthrough of Skyrim – although I suspect it won’t last much longer, as my patience for wandering through the same basic dungeon sequence is wearing really, really thin. It’s so sad – this game is gorgeous and such amazing potential, yet it’s just totally devoid of diversity and choice.

I remember when playing Morrowind, how the (far fewer) quests had a lot more depth and interest in them. A typical “go kill this evil wizard” quest could end up playing out a few different ways. You’d go to the evil wizard, and often they wouldn’t even be hostile – they would just be hanging out with their skeletons working up some evil magic. There were often choices in how you finished the quest – and could often “not kill” the wizard and then just go back to the quest giver and lie to them about it. It isn’t anything ground breaking, but it let you actually roleplay in the roleplaying game, instead of being forced to follow only 1 outcome.

Anyway, I’m really tempted to pull Morrowind back out with some of the newer graphic overhaul and other gameplay mods. The only obstacle is the time commitment of getting it all setup and running to its fullest potential. Someday soon though . . .

From action standpoint, I’ve been in the Mechwarrior Online beta for a while, and it is a pretty solid game. As a long-time fan of the Mechwarrior series, its awesome to see a “good” multiplayer version being developed. The game is set to release this summer, along with the galactic warfare system – so it should be a good time.

I also recently picked up Ring Runner, which is probably best described as Diablo meets Asteroids in Newtonian space. So you have various ship styles (aka character classes) that can be customized all sorts of ways. There is a big, and really funny, campaign to work through and it includes multiplayer support too. Very cool game.

Last – I pulled Endless Space out of the pile to try out some more 4X goodness now that the developers have released all their free add-on packs. It’s still the same basic game – and it’s still basically boring for me. I love, love, love the UI , visuals, and sound. And most of the gameplay mechanics are well-done, but overall experience is really dry and incremental feeling. There is just no grandeur in the execution of the game. So for now, Armada 2526 (with expansion) reigns supreme among what I’m looking for in a 4X game.
Amada 2526 Gold Edition - My pick of the current 4X crop

Blog / Podcast Roll

I thought it would be nice to end with a listing of what other Lerkim’s I see from my Lerkim, i.e. the other websites, blogs, and podcasts I’ve been following. I have to say – I’ve been listening to more and more podcasts lately. I still can’t get into video though – so don’t ask who I’m watching on YouTube, because it isn’t anyone!

Blog Roll – On BGG

Lacxox – Interesting recent discussion on Speil des Jahres awards and the impact on designer creativity.

Confessions of a Reluctant Video Gamer – Patrick’s video game centric blog. I find myself sharing many similar attitudes and feelings about playing video games.

3D Total Games – Interesting blog topics from Greg, who is a staff designer for 3DTotal.

QWERTYUIOP – Always a favorite. The last “big debate” was on the topic of Michael Barnes’ perspective on Eurogames.

Everyday Gamer – A wargamer making blog posts everyday. Whoa! Lot of good discussion and topics.

Boardgames that tell stories – Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek brief and humorous blog. Always good for a chuckle, interspersed with some genuine insight on games and design.

The Slow Gamer – Vivienne’s blog. Not too many posts yet, but good conversation. Keep going!

Drive Thru-Blog – Okay, so this is sort of videocasting. But I ignore the video and just listen to the audio. I like Joel’s conversations, and the ensuring blog discussions are always engaging and interesting.

Blog Roll – Off BGG

GamerChris – Good blog, reviews, and podcast coverage on a variety of topics.

Painted Wooden Cubes - Mark Taylor’s poignant and introspective blog. Engaging topics.

Fortress Ameritrash Articles – Various staff pieces at FortressAT.

Boardgame Podcasts

The Long View – Each episode focuses on a single game or designer. Great in depth discussion about what makes a particular game work, or not work. Very informed guests.

Three Moves Ahead – Often more focused on video games, the podcast routinely has top notch guests in the industry talking about design, trends, or other big issues. Very well done podcast.

Ludology – Great discussion topics and debates – often focusing on broader gaming topics.

On Board Games – Another smorgasbord of topics of interest. Great main topics – but I’m less interested in all the what did you play stuff.

Wooden Cubes + Iron Soldiers – Joel + Lance wax poetic about all sorts of shenanigans.

Plaid Hat Games – The folks from PHG get slaphappy and punchy as they discuss salient issues from the publishing perspective.

Other Gaming Lurkims

NoHighScores – a bunch of well-informed video game commentators commenting without supervision on the gaming industry.

SpaceGameJunkie – Great blog for space related (mostly video) gaming. Has its own podcast well.

Space Sector – Another space game website, with big reviews and coverage for released and upcoming spacey titles.

Phew … that was supposed to be brief! Now that you made it this far – time for you to share! What games have been holding your attention lately? Any interesting articles or discussions you have stumbled on? What have you been listening to, watching, or reading lately? Till next time . . . Cheers!

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