A new DCG enters the mix: War of Omens

It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I like games. Not only but I like card games in particular; mainly cause I like cards as a medium to convey information and effects. Not only that but I like trying out new games, so when I heard of a new DCG, I had to try it.  If nothing else I figured it would be stimulating from a design point of view and allow me to kill some time. Unfortunately that’s all it turned out to be, so let’s dive right into it.

What sets this game apart from all the others is that it borrows from deck builders in a way that other DCGS haven’t. While Solforge uses the ‘draw a new hand every turn’ part, other games have been far more conventional.  Here, it uses the starter deck of money and buying new cards to improve your deck. Only the cards you buy are your “actual deck”. Each player has their own separate ‘center row’ in which they can buy cards and new cards come out every turn. This idea in and of itself is fairly interesting and probably has potential. The way that War of Omens implements it has several problems though.

First is a flaw from the deck builder angle: there’s no discard pile. What this means is that whenever you discard/play a card it goes right back into your deck. The big problem is that this means there’s no guarantee you’ll actually draw your better cards. While it does mean there’s one less to keep track of, it’s a rather important thing to have. Not to mention that there’s no asynch gameplay, you can just have the discard pile be a number and not reveal it. Sure it means that card counting can be important and increases the skills needed to do well in the game; but given how important that skill is in so many other games, it’s not that bad to have.

Then there’s the problem with the ccg element. There are four types of cards: hero allies, one time effect and ongoing effects.*  Heroes are you and generate some kind of bonus, usually ever turn and determine which faction you’re playing as.Allies are important cause they stay out on the board, generate stuff and are the biggest source of letting the game progress with each player building up resources. One time effects are exactly that, you play the card, the effect happens. Ongoing effects do something for several turns or until x happens and then leave play. There’s another difference between ongoing effects and allies, you can only interact with the latter.

This isn’t the only problem that the game has though. Reading a boardstate at a glance is not easy. The way that the game presents itself in addition to how all the cards appear on the board means you can’t really tell much. Using icons would go a long way to fixing this. Compare to Hearthstone or Solforge and you’ll see what I mean.

Also the game is super finicky, it relies upon a bunch of weird percentages for a lot of it’s card effects. It’s randomness in a hard way to just quickly and initiative process how and what could happen. Again, compare this to other games and you’ll see how those games use randomness in a much more binary manner.

You can only interact with a third of the cards in the game and those cards are the most important in building up your resource base. Once they die, they’re sent back to your deck and you have to hope that you draw them again. The result is that games drag on as you build up your board, get it wiped, build it up, rinse and repeat. The result is that only do the games drag on, but you never feel like you’re doing anything. It makes the game become solely about resource management and just being more efficient than your opponent.

Thee’s no other point to bring this up, so I’ll do so now, you also play with open hands. This is a thing, and it is totally pointless. You can’t do anything during your opponent’s turn and there’s not opportunity cost in just playing everything you have. There’s no way this information actually influences your decisions.

This brings me to the absolute worst part of War of Omens: the card acquisition model is hands down the absolute worst I have ever seen. One of the game’s main conceits is that you’ll always have a use for the excess cards you open, cause you can use them to level up that card. Leveling a card means it becomes cheaper to buy when you play a game. And in order to fully level a card you need to open it something on the order of 30 times. Did I mention that all the packs are 3 cards, pick 1 to keep?  In short, it totally destroys the entire experience of getting new cards/opening packs. You’re no longer excited to get new cards, cause you need more copies of the ones you already have so you can play the game better. Compounding this problem is how they handle factions. Remember what I said about heroes? You only get heroes for two of the four factions with a new account. You literally cannot play half of the game unless you get lucky enough to open a hero of that faction.

The final blow against this model is that spending real money on this game is dumb. You can buy the special currency to buy special packs that only have the higher rarity cards, but since you need ~30 of them to really have that card… And there’s no option to buy in bulk.

I would lax if I didn’t talk about the special coins. Really rare cards that replace the basic coins in your deck and have some finicky effect tied to them. This just further increases the variance of the game for no reason.** Normally I hate using the term play to win in dcgs/ccgs for a number of reasons***, but here it’s totally apt. Regardless of what kind of deck you build, you need these cards to be competitive.

All in all, War of Omens is hands down the worst DCG I’ve played by a long shot. The fact that it’s still early in development is irrelevant. My problems are with the game’s core concepts. This game just isn’t designed well.  In order for my opinion to change the game would need to radically different.

As always, feel free to comment. Next week I’ll be talking about Puzzle Strike and deck builders in general.

*I don’t remember what they’re actually called but this categorization gets the point across well enough.

**Variance is fine in a game, I just want to do something. Mainly it should lead to awesome things happen and leveling the playing field.

***The idea that you shouldn’t have to make an investment of some kind in a collectible game is crazy. Not only that but a healthy game will have multiple different decks you can play and some of them should be cheaper than others. Yets in solforge or mono red in magic are perfect examples.

 

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Contrarian Viewpoint: Knights of Sidonia

SPOILERS FOR KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA

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SPOILER SPACE THE 2ND

Taken as a whole: I have a love/hate relationship with anime. There are days when I watch something like Attack on Titan, generally agreed upon to be very good, and find myself in agreement with the general consensus. Then there are days when I watch something like Madoka Magica, and think the general consensus is off base, for lack of a better term. Yet I keep coming back to it, since there are good series and it’s the main way I can enjoy giant robots or mecha. Enter Knights of Sidonia, one of the darlings of this year and if the title didn’t give it away, it’s in the latter category for me. So because it is the hot new thing I figured I may as well talk about it and anime in general this week.

First off, I watched this via Netflix streaming. Why am I mentioning this? Cause it’s advertised as one of their “original” series*, meaning they have the license to it in the States near as I can tell. This is general a smart move for them, as their anime selection is sparse, especially compared to what I can get on Hulu. While there is a certain fear of fragmentation with all these service providers, it’s not really as big a concern with anime given the nature of the product. That being said onto the show it’self.

Knights of Sidonia follows the seed ship Sidonia as it moves through space, fleeing the alien Gauna who destroyed Earth 1000 years ago. In order to fight the Gauna, humanity has developed mecha known as garde who yield Kabizashis. The last time the Gauna appeared, Sidonia was driven to the brink of extinction 100 years ago. Our protagonist, Nagato Taniguchi has lived “underground” and has spent his entire life training on a garde simulator. stumbles into the wider world to find food. Conveniently timed by the powers of plot as the Gauna have reappeared and the main plot kicks off.

Before going any further, yes you can describe this show as Attack on Titan with mecha. It’s an unfair comparison as while the set up is incredibly similar, they’re doing quite different things. I”m uncertain about the timing involved in when they both started/were conceptualized but I choose to see it more as a painful coincidence than any sort of copying or harbinger of a bunch of knock offs.**

Given that this is a mecha series, it makes sense to me that I’ll start looking at the technical elements of production first. I’ll put up with a lot of stupid if I get cool giant robots (see second season of Gundam 00,8th MS Team, Vandread). That being said, the animation by and large is very good. It’s all very pretty and unique in it’s own ways. The only flaw here are the characters, who look way too much alike. There used to be a joke about Gundam SEED that if you shaved all the characters you coudln’t tell them apart; while true that ignores the fact that their hair could be used to tell them apart. Not so much here, which is mildly problematic when said characters are two thirds of a love triangle. When it comes to the garde, they have their own charm. They’re definitely Real Robots*** and kinda bland to be honest. But it’s that blandness that gives them their own character.  Also the music is excellent, I’m usually not one who picks up on music on the first watch of something; but this time I did and it’s usage in the show is solid. It’s not say Yoko Kanno or Yuki Kajiuri in that it’s something I’ll listen to outside of the show on it’s own, but it does it’s job.

Sadly these are the only things it does well, the actual source material is dull more than anything else. I have a number of problems with the plot and characters of the show and I’ll be looking at them in more detail. But first, there’s the biggest failing of the show to address.

The fight choreography is atrocious. This is the result of two problems, one in setup, the other in execution. The Gauna are not visually compelling villains, they’re the world’s worst kaiju. The garde and the kabizashi are equally dull against them. Beam spamming a bunch of tenacles to enable a squadmate to pierce the brain isn’t that cool to look at. In terms of execution, it’s a bunch of fast, jerky shots that stop me from actually being able to immerse myself in the action. It’s just hard to follow what’s going on.

Speaking of the Gauna not being compelling, this extends beyond their visual design to be their defining trait. They aren’t scary, they aren’t characterized, they’re just giant squid things who want to kill people for reasons.

To be fair, it’s not like Sidonia is characterized much better. There’s an immortal council and a military that enjoys some privileges and anti-war protestors. That’s it, that’s not me summarizing the situation, that’s really the entirety of what we’re told about Sidonia. The council is vague and threatening, the military is your generic vaguely military anime group and the anti-war protesters are there…to be contrarian? They’re never given any characterization or treated as anything more than a nuisance. Empathy borne out of being the same species isn’t enough for me to be invested.

This effect rolls down to individuals as well, there’s really one person who has much character: the protagonist Nagato Taniguchi, who is essentially Jesus. He is literally the second coming of Sidonia’s savior and has an unlimited capacity for forgiveness. That’s it, he doesn’t have any flaws or actual character. Oh and he’s the center of a harem love plot, which is one of those things that I cannot stand in anime.

The supporting cast is worse. At best they’ll have one defining characteristic, which is fine. The problem is that more of them don’t have much character at all and are vectors for the plot to happen. This again isn’t inherently a problem, except….

The plot is all build up, no pay off. This is admittedly more of a flaw with the anime in that so very little happens that actually meaningfully moves the plot forward.  There are hints and teases of what could be and what’s to come, but nothing actually gets answered.  It’s entirely possible that had the first season been 25 episodes long I would be much more amicable to it, but that’s not the world we live in.

So in a nutshell, Knights of Sidonia is a very pretty show that is essentially 12 episodes of stuff happening with no dramatic tension to characters I don’t care about and in some cases can’t tell apart.

Feel free to leave a comment as always. Next week, I remember what the this blog is actually called and look at a new DCG, War of Omens.

*I really wish they would distinguish between actual original series and other things that are special on Netflix like say Arrested Development or Clone Wars.

**I watch on average, one series a year at this point so take that comment with a grain of salt.

***Mecha are divided into two broad category, Real Robots and Super Robots. The former have a pretense of paying attention to reality and are more grittier as if they were weapons in a war. Super Robots throw reality right out the door and are more akin to epic heroes.

Review: The Honor of the Queen

Last week I looked at the first book in the Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station. This week we’ll take a far more in depth look at its sequel, The Honor of the Queen. The reason for this is that there’s a lot more to discuss, or at least things I want to discuss. Given my distaste for faffing around with intros, let’s just jump right into it.

First, my spoiler free review: this is a vast improvement over the first book in basically every regard. It’s a fun read from start to finish with one glaring exception that is easy enough to ignore. If this is supposed to be more indicative of the series then this should be a fun ride.

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Anyway, this review will be different than the first one in that I’ll be looking at individual elements instead of evaluating different parts of the book based on quality. In a lot of ways it’ll be like my s2 OITNB review, which you can find here, as I address points as they come to me.

Reginald Houseman: I mentioned that this book was very fun with one exception, and this is that exception. I hate Houseman, so very, very much. The problems start with his introduction and given background. Now to be fair, Weber wrote himself into a bit of a corner, with a genius economist character, it’s hard to actually demonstrate that competence nor is it something that the readers will want in all likelihood. At the same time, his presence on the diplomatic mission does make sense. That is all the goodwill I’m willing to extend as a reader though. The first problem, Houseman is an idiot, all of his interactions that are supposed to be demonstrative of his intellect or lack thereof is something I’d expect an idiot college freshman to recite without any idea of what it actually means or silly things like context, or points. The second problem, he isn’t even remotely realistic, he doesn’t act like any self righteous professors I’ve ever experienced. Third, he’s a caricature of things that David Weber doesn’t like in a check box fashion instead of anything more substantive. That’s the only explanation for why someone is labeled by the text as a socialist is basically spouting a Thomas Friedman column. Finally, there’s nothing redeemable about him, there are the same problems that the last book had it’s with opposition characters. Even his last scene is bad, as it excises him from the narrative in a way that’s honestly discomforting in how utterly callous it is.

Grayson: All in all, it has a fairly interesting history and it’s characters are are allowed to be something closer to actual people than we’ve seen so far. The existence of Bernard Yanakov goes a long way towards humanizing the world as a whole and addressing the gender issue in a way that was buyable, at least for me. Going forward it can interesting to see if it’s development is handled well. It really helps that Weber didn’t fill the entire planet with idiots, unlike Manticore’s political class.

Masada: These guys on the other hand, exist solely to make everyone else look good. They make Grayson appear reasonable despite their abysmal treatment of women, help underline galactic cosmopolitan norms and Haven to be something. Considering that their fate comes off as an afterthought it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.

Characters: Speaking of characters, there are far more actually enjoyable characters, or at least interesting characters to read this time around. I don’t think any of Honor’s subordinates can ever be interesting, but that’s fine. At least here we aren’t burdened with staff drama and even then they’re allowed to have cool moments; it’s just that these characters don’t exist outside of these moments. It’s everyone who’s more or less on her of importance that work here. A lot of it is due to the fact that they’re allowed to actually be characters with their own motivations and agency.  It’s something that Weber hopefully keeps in mind from here on out.

Cosmopolitan norms: On one hand, the pains that the book takes to underline this point can be a bit excessive. On the other hand, this is a good thing to underline.

There’s actually not as much as I expected to say about this, the book doesn’t take long before the action starts and it pays off.

Feel to comment, next week I’ll be looking at science fiction of a particularly different flavor in Kinghts of Sidonia.

 

Review: On Basilisk Station

David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is one of the biggest and still running scifi book series that I”m aware of.  For those who are unaware, Honor Harrington is essentially Horatio Hornblower meets hard scifi and a dose of space opera for good measure. It’s been going on for twenty years now with no sign of stopping. Since the first book is free, via Baen’s ebook library, and I wanted something new to read, I decided to check it out.

Overall, the book is not good. It’s mired in a tedious plot that the reader has no investment in with characters who are by and large, dull. However there is just enough good stuff in the book, and it’s short enough, that it’s not a slog to get through. If you want a straight up or down recommendation, then I’d say try it.  IF you want a more in-depth view then read on.

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The good: Weber showcases two things that he’s very good at that I care about and one thing that I’m ambivalent towards. His worldbuilding for the most part, is top notch and engaging. What we’re told about Manticore and the rest of the galaxy is clearly thought out and unique enough that it keeps my attention. Second, the space battle sequence that serves as the book’s climax is legitimately awesome and engaging, even though the outcome is more or less known at the outset. Lastly, while I can certainly appreciate the effort of making this scientifically plausible on an abstract level, as a reader I don’t care.

The okay: All of the characters are just okay. They’re fairly two dimensional and their career problems, which make up a decent portion of the book, are not riveting in the slightest. The main plot of Haven’s plot to take over Basilisk is equally okay, it’s there to keep the book moving but when so much of it just happens instead of being the result of actions of characters the reader is invested in, it’s hard to care. Overall, Weber’s writing style is very workman-like, serviceable more than great; which in many ways is exactly what’d you described of Baen as a whole, so there’s that.

 

The bad: The politics are,so, so, incredibly stupid to read in every manifestation. Haven being nothing more than a two dimensional villain that’s an attack on the welfare state*, to Manticore’s parties being resoundingly incompetent and stupid to the naval politics to Harrington’s feud with Hauptman. The more overarching problem is that everyone who isn’t a good guy is incompetent. That’s boring to read, protagonist succeeding through writer fiat by virtue of the opposition being too stupid to do anything effective isn’t compelling reading.

Taken as a whole, this was a book that I slogged through more by virtue of word of mouth saying it got better than it actually being good. Having actually read the second book, Honor of the Queen, I’m inclined to agree with that statement. Which will most likely be the subject of next’s week post. Feel free to comment, otherwise till next time.

*Yes I’m aware that Haven is supposed to Napoleonic era France, no that doesn’t invalidate actual passages from the text which make it a failed welfare state or that’s it’s a heavy handed way to set up an ancien regime analog.