Review: Battlestar Galactica: the Boardgame

what is it: A semi cooperative game wherein the remnants of humanity are trying to survive against the onslaught of the Cylons, both from within and without

great what does that mean: Everyone picks a character from the show and is dealt a hidden loyalty card. This determines whether they are human, or cylon. The game plays out in turns as the players must respond to the crises that are constantly happening as well as the sabotage of Cylons. Humans win if they get away, Cylons win if they kill humanity.

scaling: The game is built with 5 players in mind and everything else is an adjustment of varying quality to get it to work. 1-3 is technically possible but not advised. 4 is okay but I’d rather play something else. 6 is the upper limit and is decent. if it is a 4/6 player game I highly recommend the No Sympathizer variant on FFG’s website.

Play time: 3-4 hours is the average.

production quality: It’s a FFG game so that means a lot of components. Most of the components are durable although you’ll probably want to invest in sleeves for the skill cards depending on how much play it gets as they’re the most fickle and most used set of cards.

what’s good: The rules are rather simple oncce you get past the initial hurdle, it has interesting decision points and it’s memorable. It’s really well balanced.
what’s not good: The lack of variety makes card counting easy, the game can drag on at times with nothing happening. Who you play with makes or breaks the game.

overall 5/5. BSG is in my top three boardgames easily.

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Legend of Korra: That was terrible

So Nick decided to release the rest of season two of Korra for some reason; you can go check it out on their website.  Anyway, having watched it, it’s pretty easy to say that this season was by and large terrible. It had some neat moments, and the Wan two parter is in the top ten of episodes between Korra and Avatar easily. But otherwise, this was bad on so many levels. Let’s break it down

BEWARE OF SPOILERS FOR KORRA AND AVATAR YE WHO ENTER

Nothing is explained: The more the season got in, the more it relied upon writer fiat instead of actually explaining how anything worked in show. The why of Unalaq’s plan,almost anything related to Jinora, most of the Spirit stuff in the finale, why dark spirts were cropping up in the first place, why no one knows about Wan until they do, Republic City’s role in relation to other nations, the political structure of the Water Tribe are all the big ones.

It’s like most of season 1 didn’t happen: So the Equalists are just swept under the rug and never come up again. The character development that the main cast go through doesn’t seem to be there. Tenzin is treating Korra like it’s early season one, Korra doesn’t seem to have learned from season 1. It’s just grating and everything starts from there.

And then there are the other characters: Bolin and Asami are just there. Yes, Bolin does have his moments but there’s also the tripe with Eska and him being a dudebro. Asami is just there for Mako and Varric to do stuff. It’s hard to care about anyone on “Team Avatar” when they’re not really a team and the show doesn’t want you to think about them.

A problem that the new characters also have: Eska and Desna for most of the season are a poor version of Mai, who only break out of this mold in the last two episodes. Kya is at best a balancer between Tenzin and Bumi. Bumi is character relief except for his one scene towards the end, he doesn’t even do anything in the final fight. Even then, that one scene is more stumbling into a solution than doing much to be proactive.* The only way in which he lives up to his namesake is being a goofball, not the hyper competence. Sokka was a nonbener who was still allowed to be awesome, this show doesn’t let anyone do that. Hell, it even kills off Sokka.

Why can’t I watch other characters?: Is the question you’re ultimately left wondering. Adult Aang or Wan, both of them are far more compelling. Tenzin and his family stuff was more interesting than the main plot. Even the mention of Zuko got me more excited than anything else had and seeing Iroh, no matter how briefly was awesome. On that same note, this ensemble approach in the middle of the season didn’t really interest me, the stuff in Republic City was flat.  

The Avatar State is not a shonen power boost: For most of Avatar, the Avatar State is more of a survival mechanism than anything else. It’s only in the finale that Aang appears to have any control over it. Korra is somehow able to use it whenever as a power boost. Aside from the Wan episodes, the idea that being the Avatar means you’re connected to thousands of previous incarnations is more or less never brought up. No Aang giving advice or anything equivalent.

The villains are dumb and transparent: Unalaq was clearly evil from the beginning and the conflict only started because everyone was made to drink a big ol’ glass of stupid juice. Never mind that fusing with Vaatu would really not do anything except serve as a power boost apparently. Or that Vaatu’s goal apparently changed from destroying the world to recreating the world. Varric was certainly one of the more interesting characters but he was just a war profiteer. And it’s entirely possible he’ll be back, goody.

The pacing is terrible: I have no idea how time actually passed in this season and any mention to time was jarring. Avatar didn’t have this problem since the timeline was rather broad and the show had plenty of time to just breath.

The ending is horrible: First, we already did the whole Korra is no longer the Avatar thing at the end of season 1. Here it doesn’t have any sort of emotional investment. What does is by destroying the Avatar past lives it conventionally sidesteps the possibilities of bringing back any past Avatars as characters and making us wish that we were watching them. On the other hand, it wasn’t like they were using the past Avatars at all to begin with, so it doesn’t really change anything. Also, “logically” speaking, there is no more Avatar, fusing with Rava doesn’t do anything except restart a new cycle of reincarnation. I don’t think bending all four elements would be possible anymore.  And seeing as how Korra saw what it was like when the spirit world and human world intersected, a death world where humans lived in fortress cities so as to not die.  But no, Unalaq had a point apparently so let’s see if we can recreate that. Or rather, it’s going to be all out war between human society and spirits. This doesn’t even take into account the existence of things like Koh. Also how is that Vaatu is now growing inside you thing going to work? Did Rava quickly reform cuase Harmonic Convergence was still happening? Yes this does shake up the status quo of the setting, except ti does so in a way that’s nonsensical and has no build up for. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with preserving the status quo. 

Alright I feel like that’s all of my gripes with this season; now in an attempt to be more positive or at least a bit more constructive, let’s also look at how it could’ve been better.

More episodes: This is the big one, and it’s the same problem that season 1 had as well. The story is rushed and we’re not invited to explore the world or the characters. The thing that made Avatar work was that it had filler and it had the opportunity to advance the plot in small ways each episode. The writers are good at that format, not so good with this one.

Rework the premise: This means two things. First, acknowledge that season 1 actually happened, the characters had growth and there was a major political movement that was trying to overthrow the government. Neither of these things just go away.   The second, Unalaq doesn’t work as a villain. His initial plan only works cause stupid and his long term plan is nonsensical.  Doing a Spirit focused season isn’t out of the question, it just needs more exposition.

Whereas as season 1 was acceptable in the way that many first seasons are, I also expected the writers to grow into the characters and setting in the second season. Instead, they failed, and it shows. This one season arc doesn’t work in creating something that’s enjoyable. And the odds I’ll watch the next season…are pretty low. The best way is to throw out the main cast, and tell stories set in the past of adult Aang, or Wan after Harmonic Convergence, or Tenzin doing his own thing, or Bumi doing his own thing etc.

*I’m interpreting the hook grab on the central tower as fumbling for the eject instead of being deliberate. I could be wrong but that’s the vibe I got.

Some Perspective on The Elder Scrolls

I’ve been “replaying”* Morrowind lately and it’s different than Bethesda’s later titles. Some ways good, some not as good. Treating as the start of their “modern”** era is fitting so let’s take a look at what made Morrowind what is and how these features have been treated in future games.

The setting: Morrowind would not be so beloved if it did not have the setting it does. Vvardenfall is a truly unique place with its own mundane yet fantastical creatures. The architecture is its own and is diverse: the Dunmer-Empire fusion of Hlaalu, the more traitional Redoran buildings designed to withstand the ash storms, the plant like wizard towers of the Telvanni. Daedric ruins, Ancestral tombs, Dwemer Ruins, Egg Mines, Dunmer fortresses. There is a lot of different stuff to see and interact with.

How does it stack up?: This is one of the reasons why Morrowind is so beloved and it hasn’t really been usurped. Oblivion had the cities be the same, Ayleid Ruins, dungeons and Oblivion gates in generic fantasyland. Fallout 3 was diverse yet samey; although I think is more a function of the graphical settings I had. Skyrim is very pretty and is fantasyScandanavia and has differing climes as well as dungeon set ups.

Story: Yes, the main plot is basically taking Frank Herbert’s Dune and tweaking it. But that ignores the backstory, which is different, as well as the execution. All in all it’s very well done. Tribunal’s main quest is dumb and immersion breaking*** but Bloodmoon rebounds.

How does it stack up?: Oblivion and Fallout 3 are both dumb but not Tribunal level dumb. I’ve never played the Oblivion DLC but I’ve heard good things about it. Skyrim’s Civil War is just really unpolished and according to modders theree was a lot more they wanted to do with it.  I haven’t actually finished Alduin’s plot due to limitations of having access to Skyrim but so far it’s been fun. But the backstory is really, really engrossing. It cleans away most of the contiunity lockout that was building up and is compelling in its own right. The problem is that I want more of it, and it’s not forthcoming at any point in the near future.

Factions: 3 Great Houses, 3 Guilds, 2 Religions, 3 Clans, the Legion, the Morag Tong, and the EEC in Bloodmoon is just a list of the joinable ones. The Blades, Skaal and Ashlanders use the faction system to convey something during the Main Quest. There’s also House Dres, House Indoril, the Cammona Tong, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Twin Lamps that still impact the game but aren’t joinable.

How does it stack up?: Winner by a clear mile, Oblivion had 5, Fallout has none and Skyrim has 4. Nor does that get into how annoying Skyrim is with its factions and tying them to Daedra. The plots of the factions are all engaging, with the exception of half of Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood, and they drop the attribute/skill requirements. Which on one hand is good, but on the other hand does remove a layer of you’re moving up in the ranks.

Magic: Is fairly diverse, plenty of spell effects. the problem is that a good chunk of Illusion and Mysticism are basically useless.

How does it stack up?: I can’t tell you anything about Oblivion outside of spellmaking was locked to the Mage’s Guild, which was dumb and immersion breaking if you wanted to not join them. Skyrim really fails here, between Destruction not scaling with weapon damage and the effects being reduced to the bone, it’s underwhelming. Most of the interesting non-mundane effects are locked off in Shouts. They all have their problems, I think TES Six has a good foundation if they take the Shouts and make them magic. Levitate I think I’m mixed on. On one hand, design can make more organic worlds and use the spell’s existence to be more diverse. On the other hand, Levitate is just as often used by me as a get of this damn ditch then any legit exploring. The former is good, the latter is not good.

Fast Travel: An interweaving series of guild guides, silt striders and boats cover most of the province. Otherwise you have Mark and Recall for one location. You’re more often tahn not forced to explore the wilderness to get to places and often stumble upon things.

How does it stack up?: The biggest problem with Oblivion’s system was that you could fast travel to all the cities by default. There was so little incentive to go exploring out beyond the next quest. Fallout and Skyrim were better in that you have to discover the place first and Skyrim has more emergence in that fast travel still exists for other people. Mark and Recall would be good for specific points and its original use of one location would be fine.****

Character Progression: On the surface it’s rather straightforward, raise skills that matter to your character. Level up, raise your stats. The problem is that the system is counter intuitive and leads to sub optimal characters at higher levels if played normally.***** In terms of gear, you can find the common stuff with no problem, the rare stuff with varying degrees of difficulty and the high tier stuff is only in the wilderness or on important NPCs.

How does it stack up?: Oblivion is terrible, Fallout 3 is fine. The gear doesn’t really stand out that much, especially if you have DLC and do Operation Anchorage soonish. Skyrim is functional but your character lacks some measure of identity in this set up. Skyrim still wins though. Crafting being the great equalizer does give some justification to customizing appearance at hte cost of you needing to be heavily invested in smithing and enchanting.

Overall: Morrowind had the more engrossing sandbox to play in, Skyrim has far more refined gameplay. However the gamplay comes at the cost of not really defining the character and making them interchangeable.  Hopefully TES 6 will have the same world building as Morrowind but with far more mechanical polish.

*Given the factions and self imposed restrictions I have on this playthrough, it is a different game in some regards but given how much I’ve played it, it’s replaying.

**I’ve never felt a great need to toy around with DOS to get the earlier games to work and considering how their popularity really took off with Morrowind I think this is fair. This also means that I’m including Fallout 3 cause it can be fairly described as Oblivion with guns.

***The sheer nonsense of it really reinforces the sort of ambiguous everyman your character essentially is and the difficulty of roleplaying.

****There’s a reason why multiple Mark/Recall is one of the must have mods.

*****GCD mod fixes this nicely.

Solforge Musings

So Solforge has been out for a while, I have a better idea of how cards play out better, and some other thoughts. So let’s get into it.

Cards

Storm Bringer is actually pretty good.

Level locked removal is miserable. Botanimate isn’t that great unless you’re spell heavy.

Wildwood Sower is really powerful.

Doomwing Dire Drake is pretty rough against something that isn’t Tempys based.

Updates

Shapers will be changed to only trigger off of their own faction. This is a good thing to deal with how oppressive N/T Shapers as a deck is. However buffing Flamespeaker Savant despite knowing how powerful 4 damage at lvl 2 and 7 damage at lvl 3 seems like a dubious move. There are some changes that people have found by playing around with the game’s code but as far as i know that’s the only one confirmed.

Speaking of updates: tournament play will hit this month hopefully. Drafting should be fun, constructed is another issue though. Part of the reason that N/T Shapers is such an oppressive deck is because it’s fairly easy to build.  This is a result of most people are playing Sealed, they only have access to the cards they opened, no trading is possible. Until trading is possible, Constructed just means you can either built the best deck because you have all the cards or you can cobble something together that’s creative. At the very least, drafting will give players more cards.

Conclusion

I wish there was more to say, but there isn’t really. Update is taking longer than expected to come out and as of right now things are kinda stagnant. Until next time.