Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease Report

Last night I went to a Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease. This was my first paper event, or at least my first DCI sanctioned event, so there’s a lot to talk about. Let’s not waste any time and jump right in.

There are multiple reasons as to why this was my first event, but there’s only one worth talking about. As a disabled person there’s always a certain anxiety in doing something new due to concerns about accessibility. These concerns were addressed through doing some prep work(the type that everyone benefits from doing) as well as a good store environment. Said store is Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, which is just an all around excellent store that I highly recommend.

There’s a varying amount of prep work that one can do for a prerelease, ranging from not knowing anything about the set to suing things like Cockatrice to do limited testing. I went for something in between, following the spoiler, looking at the full spoiler, watching the LRR preprerelease, listening to the LR set review and reading LSV’s set reviews; which is to say a lot of time went into figuring out how the set works and familiarizing myself with the set. By the time I showed up and got my packs, I felt comfortable in making the best of my sealed pool.

My pool didn’t exactly offer many options. White had a Hanweir Militia, some creatures and removals, Blue had a Jace and five bounce spells. Black had a good mix of removal and creatures but the first tier, of cards that I wanted to play was only eight cards. Red and Green had a plethora of playables, three good rares(Devil’s Playground, Flameblade Angel, Silverfur Partisan). G/R on a first pass got me to 20 cards, added in some more marginal cards to get to 23 and went to battle with:

Creatures

1x Insolent Neonate

1x Falkenwrath Gorger

1x Kessig Forgemaster

2x Hinterland Logger

1x Sanguinary Mage

1x Graf Mole

1x Silverfur Partisan

1x Bloodmad Vampire

1x Howlpack Wolf

1x Voldaren Duelist

1x Pack Guardian

2x Intrepid Provisioner

2x Cult of the Waxing Moon

1x Flameblade Angel

1x Kessig Dire Swine

Instant

1x Rush of Adrenaline

1x Aim High

Sorcery

1x Rabid Bite

1x Reduce to Ashes

1x Devil’s Playground

Land

9x Mountan

8x Forest

 

My sideboard was largely irrelevant save for a copy of Root Out. It’s a fairly aggressive deck that doesn’t just fold in the late game. I ended up going 3-2 with this deck, with one my losses being on account of multiple punts on my part. Instead of recapping the rounds it seems more useful to just note my random observations.

  • A lot of creatures have 3 power. 4 or more toughness is a good way to have your creature live through most combats.
  • While there are a lot of X/1s in the format. I never saw enough to make me wish I had Dual Shot in my main deck (Except as a way to deal with fliers which I was sorely lacking in.)
  • Insolent Neonate taken in its individual parts is bad, but adding them all up gives you a card that isn’t terrible in aggro decks and I imagine that he goes up in a dedicated vampire deck.
  • Silverfur Partisan is really good, the ability is just instants and sorceries, not instants and sorceries you control
  • Delirium is in fact payoff for self mill and there are enough cards in the set of harder types to get in the graveyard that even a non-dedicated delirium deck will get there if the game goes on long enough.

 

Beyond that I don’t really have much to say. I played against players who had good cards in their deck and they all seemed obviously good. A lot of games didn’t feel set specific, they were just good games of Magic that played well. I look forward to playing more of this Limited format to see if how unique it is and how it holds up. Till next time.

 

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Review: The Resistance/Avalon

The Resistance and Avalon are essentially the same game with a different flavor and a few other tweaks. Any actual differences I’ll note in the review but discussing them separately is pointless.For ease of writing I’ll be referring to the game primarily as the Resistance if for than no other reason than it came out first. 

What is it?: The Resistance is one of, if not the, modern archetype of a social game wherein the group seeks to root out hte traitors among their midst while the traitors see to sabotage the group.

Great what does that mean: At the beginning of the game, everyone is dealt a loyalty card which assigns them to one of two teams, rebels or spies. The spies get to know who the other spies are while the rebels get no such information. The crux of the game plays out over five missions. Only a subsection of the group goes on each mission, their composition must be approved by the group. Spies are trying to get onto missions in order to sabotage them, rebels have to keep spies off of the missions, best of 3 wins.

Scaling: 5-10. I tend to dislike games that go above 7 since too many people results in some people being incidental to the game.

Differences between the games: The main difference is that the Resistance is vaguely cyberpunkish in theme while Avalon is Arthurian legend. Aside from that is the variants that both of them offer. The Resistance uses a deck of cards that confer special abilities while Avalon assigns special roles that have special effects throughout the game. The latest Kickstarter has added a roles expansion for the Resistance as well as some other stuff. Unless you only plan on using roles or want to mock up your own variants, Avalon is fairly redundant now. I personally prefer the roles since they don’t seem to have the same

What’s Great: The rules are fairly simple, the emergent gameplay is easy to grasp and get into. The interplay between people can be fun and the logic puzzles that emerge are fun. The time investment isn’t huge either.

What’s not so great: Since there’s not much of a game here, it’s all about the people, which means the quality of the group is of the utmost importance. This is important because the game itself is less than elegant. It’s unbalanced, with each variant either warping the game or just moving around the win percentages. Also, the rule of 2 failures needed in larger games for mission 4 is incredibly inelegant, but I’m probably just miffed that it caused me to lose my first game cause it wasn’t explained well. It’s not a game you play cause it’s well balanced, you play it for the experience though.

Production Quality: Fine, the components don’t get used that often so wear and tear isn’t really an issue anyway

Overall: 2/5. Like I said, this game is really context sensitive and is rather unbalanced. But if I can get the right group together, I will play this game in a heartbeat.

Review: Star Realms

What is it; A new deck building game made by another group of magic: the Gathering pros. This one has a sci-fi theme and is a lot more confrontational than others though. And it has an app that’s playable on basically everything that isn’t Linux.

Great, what does that mean: it’s a game like Dominion or Ascension or Puzzle Strike but you’re trying to kill your opponent instead of getting more points than them. It still has a lot of the deck building conventions, you start with a deck fo ten cards split between money and the second resource of the game, in this case combat. You buy things from a changing center row and use combat to kill your opponent and their permanents, in this game called bases

Scaling;2-6 players. I’m given to understand that you need an additional copy of the game for each pair of two players due to component limitations. Looking over the multiplayer rules they seem to be more robust than other deckbuilders so going above 2 doesn’t seem as bad. Also given what the game focuses on, my main complaints about other deckbuilders with more than two people are structurally ameliorated with downtime being less of an issue.

What’s great: This game is simple. In a vacuum i think this is the easiest deck builder to teach someone completely new to the genre and they won’t implode on their first play. The allied mechanic means that it’s closer to building a specific deck or archetype compared to a generic pile of goodstuff cards. A fair amount of the ‘awesome stuff’ factor has been shifted to beating down your opponent, so turns play out relatively quickly barring analysis paralysis problems.

What’s interesting:  The first player advantage is mitigated by the first player only drawing three cards. A lot of cards can be trashed/banished/scrapped as it’s called in this game once they’re in play for an effect. The first tweak is partly needed cause you can’t use a tiebreaker system but also makes me wonder how well it works compared to different life totals on an academic level. The second aspect is a neat element of lenticular design. The value of those abilities is going to change depending on your understanding the game.

What’s not so great: While the sci-fi setting is different, the most that can be said about the flavor is that it’s better than Dominion. While the overall game is fairly resonant, the individual cards and factions are first and foremost  a demarcation of mechanical abilities. Not only that, but there’s a fair amount of bleed that makes a fair number of cards little more than generic role fillers.The allied mechanic is strictly linear.

App stuff: The app is fine. It does everything a certain level of competence that’s acceptable. It does everything you want and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons that it’s become so popular.* My main two gripes are in the campaign and the online play set up. The campaign is fine for the most part, but suffers from having too many scenarios stack the deck against you instead of playing around with the rules for interesting gameplay. The online play set up suffers from no timed option, which means i can’t just make a game and have a guarantee of playing it out then. In addition, finished games wont’ clear for days and the personal info page is a tad threadbare. On the positive side though, it’s “play all” button won’t play cards that require you to make a choice so you can’t trip yourself up.

overall: 4/5.  I debated between a 3 and a 4 for this one. At the bare minimum it’s good enough that i actively want to play it; it’s mechanics are solid and the games themselves are fun. A few of my complaints are little more than aesthetic gripes and the deeper problems are things that can be addressed with expansions.

Feel free to comment, next week is another mystery post for both of us, so that’s exciting. Till next time

*The Ascension Online fiasco and the dearth of new content for the game for ~a year didn’t hurt either.

 

 

Puzzle Strike is if nothing else, super neat

David Sirlin is one of those names that sooner or later you’ll gain an understanding for in the gaming community. He’s famous for writing Play to Win, one part a gamer’s Art of War, one part apologia for the mindset of a Spike. We’re not here to talk about his book though, we’re here to talk about a game he’s made, Puzzle Strike, a deckbuilding game based off of Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo II. Lt’s dive into it, shall we?

First off, this isn’t a review. I don’t feel like I’ve played the game enough to develop a concrete opinion of it. instead I just want to talk about the game and what I find interesting about it.

Puzzle Strike has all the elements of a deck builder except for the part about having cards. Instead it uses chips*, which have two main advantages: 1. no shuffling 2. cheaper to produce. The fact that there’s no shuffling means there’s no basically no downtime, a common occurrence in deckbuilders is that the game is forced to stop as people shuffle their decks. Using chips eliminates that aspect and means the game plays out faster; combined with the central conflict should produce a pretty quick play time.**

There is a major downside to using chips though: you lose artwork and create a serious design constraint in space. Art is a quick visual shorthand of what a thing is. While a new player won’t know what a card does in either case, an experienced player can’t gain that advantage and speed up play. This is mitigated by Puzzle Strike using a fixed tableau of cards each game compared to a changing center row. The design space constraint is rather self explanatory, there’s a real upper limit on how complex you can do something.

The action economy is also interesting. Instead of a general action economy like Dominion or play everything like Ascension the game has multiple types of actions. On one hand, this creates interesting decisions as how to maximize your actions each turn. On the other hand it can also constrain the player and produce lots of terminal actions. This does mean that degeneracy is pretty hard to accomplish for more than a tun or two when you just win the game though. Which is one of the main reasons I tend to dislike tableau style deck builders. Anyone know of a good center row deck builder that has limited actions as a thing?

I can’t really comment on the characters. i think they’re all balanced? They’re probably a good starting point if you want to do characters in a deck builder?

All in all, Puzzle Strike is interesting. It does stuff that I haven’t seen before and is fun enough to play. It’s not something that i want to play a knock off though.

Next time, I”m not sure what I’m writing about, so think of it as a surprise.

*I’m aware that someone remade Dominion using chips before and Sirlin was accused of stealing the idea. That’s not really pertinent to this discussion.

**I’ve only played online against an AI.

 

Impressions of Demon: the Descent

I just finished running a Demon: the Descent campaign and I figured I would share my impressions. This isn’t quite an Actual Play or a review, if anything it’s somewhere in between.  I’m also going to take a glance at the God Machine Chronicle rules, as I never played with them before. Let’s not waste anymore time on introductions and get started.

God Machine rules: These are really good. While there are a few things that I didn’t end up using and am given to understand that the combat math is off now, it’s not something I dealt with as the game was combat light. In paticular, the revised Merit list and Beat system; in conjunction with dramatic failures is really solid. There’s no reason to not use these rules asides from some compatibility issues that you don’t want to bash out, and even then I’d pick and choose the rules.

Demon’s premise:  In short, Demon’s premise is that the God-Machine is the enemy and the PCs are Demons, fallen Angels who are now engaged in a Cold War called the Descent. At face value it’s equal measure Le Carre, the Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell with the ability to do games themed after so many other properties. It’s evocative, it’s flexible, it’s awesome.

Demon’s setting:  Like any other NWoD game the setting is agnostic for lack of a better term. It lays out how Demon society works in broad strokes and then has the city of Seattle written up.  The more freeform nature of Demon compared to say Vampire or Mage means that it’s easier to tailor each game to your needs. Also the vignettes of cities that aren’t Seattle are really good, they resulted in me doing write ups for a bunch of cities that were all different.

Demon’s mechanics (PCs): Making Demon PCs is fun, the character concepts are interesting and the mechanical options are pretty diverse.  The thing about Demons is that they have a lot of innate powers and while Aether is incredibly useful, it isn’t all that essential. So from a min/max point of view Suborned Infrastructure is a very powerful Merit and the fact that it’s capped in the book is for a reason. Also, Demons are incredibly powerful, the box in the book about Demons’ goals being very high and only stopped by the power of the God-Machine isn’t kidding. Demons need proper antagonists, mortals are assets to be used by things far more powerful. This is mainly from Embeds and Demonic Forms. With so much power available up front, it means that a ST has to be a bit more thoughtful in antagonists in a way that othe splats haven’t in my experience.

Demon’s mechanics (Other stuff): In a lot of ways, these are how you’ll shape the game to be more specific. Some games won’t care much about Ciphers, others won’t care much about Pacts etc. Nothing really stands out from here either way to be honest.

Stuff I disliked/didn’t make sense: The big one is that Demon’s Virtues and Vices sound good on paper and serve as a good way of conveying the alien nature of Demon. The problem is that neither my players or I could really figure out how these worked in practice. Following on that, there were a few other things, like how Pacts and taking parts of lives works out in play. These issues aren’t insurmountable but do require some improv from the ST.

Overall: I still really like Demon. It handles well for the most part and my main gripes can either be houseruled or require more familiarity with the system. While supplements will no doubt flesh out the game, I don’t feel like they’re really needed. All told,I highly recommend Demon.

Apply with Care: Houserules

House rules can be tempting things, they can be a panacea to any problem you may have with a game. Sure this game may be fun but if we just alter this one element then wouldn’t it be even better? My thinking on this can be split into three broad categories: 1. it’s a bad game and you should just do something else that’s inherently good 2. The game is fine, and your experience is insignificant and biased 3. The game is actually good and you have a keen understanding of what the problem is and how to fix it.  The underlying assumption throughout all of this is that these games were made with care and by intelligent who knew what they were doing.

Before continuing, it’s important to note that this is all about non-rpgs. Mainly in that my opinion on the rules of rpgs is that they only exist to facilitate the game and serve as an arbiter, change them however you want as long as everyone knows about it.

Some games are just bad, they might have certain things going for them but overall they are not fun to play. Given the abundance of good games, I’d rather play one of those instead of sitting through more sessions of this now modified game in order to see if the game actually works now. Life is too short for that.

This second category is far more important. A well designed game will have all the pieces matter and messing with them can have unforeseen consequences.  Playing a game once or twice and having a negative experience shouldn’t prompt a response of ‘Oh, we’ll just house rule that” cause the game is either bad, in which case see the above point, or it’s good and your experience is biased and based upon faulty information. Unless you can clearly articulate what the problem is and how your rule is going to fix it and how it interacts with the other parts of the game, then don’t do it.

So if I oppose house rules so much, why do I play heavily house ruled BSG almost exclusively at this point? Cause the rules I play with are by and large well thought out and fix actual problems with the game. Even the most well designed games can have problems, whether’s it’s a predominant strategy or an imperfect balance that only become apparent after multiple plays. A perfect example of this is Twilight Struggle. The game with no modifications has a 55/45 Soviet/US winrate. There are any number of variants that exist in order to balance this out: optional cards, Chinese Civil War, bidding.   These rules help clean up a game and allow it to reach it’s full potential.

Overall house rules are something that I’d approach with caution but aren’t inherently opposed to, only the kneejerk reaction of implementing them. Until next time.

What Games make a Good Player

Sometime back I talked about how good players make good games and good games make good players.  I figured I’d talk this week about a few concrete examples of what a good game is and what I’ve learned from it.

Go: One of the oldest games in human history. I’m not very good at it or play very much, but at least the way I was taught it was fairly invaluable. It taught me about having the initiative and resource management in a way that no other game really has. Although you could make a good case for Carcassone.

Dominion: Dominion is a rather self contained game but taught me a lot of different things. It’s ABC turn structure as well as the interplay between Actions taught me the proper way of thinking in games and how mechanical it often is, in a flow chart sort of way. Fairly useful in processing how other games and rules work. It also has some advantages in card games such as proper sequencing, and probability vis a vis your deck.

BSG: This game taught me so much. It’s honestly not a perfect teaching tool or anything like that but it had a lot of things that had a lot of value to me at the time I started playing it. The thing to understand about BSG is that’s it’s a lot of rather obvious subsystems working together to create a larger, cohesive game. You have the hidden identity part, which branches off to different systems. The table interaction part, wherein you learn just general social skills and the like. Then you go back to the actual game and have the primary means of interaction: Crisis cards. This mean knowing probability, how likely is a certain color to come up and the composition of hands+Destiny. Of course you then have to do the Skill Check and process the results. Nor can you do this at your own luxury, you have to be relatively quick about it.  You get practice at it, your mind becomes sharper and card counting becomes easier. Nor are Skill Checks the only meaningful interaction, you also have the Action economy.  Nothing is exactly novel here, but that’s arguably the point of this post anyway.

Magic the Gathering: An assortment of card game related things from playing the game; a fact compounded by all the content around Magic that one can consume to learn stuff.

Naturally I can make an argument for just about every game I like and some I don’t like all that much* . Instead this was meant to was give some insight for what exactly I mean by good games make good players.  If anyone is interested in me looking at more games in this context than leave a comment. Otherwise, until next time.

*Ticket to Ride has lowered in opinion for me but it still is a good into game and can teach some good general concepts.

Review: Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus, Exodus, Daybreak

This is going to be different than my other reviews in that I’m reviewing three things at once. As such, I’m eschewing the normal format.  Let’s get cracking.

What do all of these things have in common?: They all cover an additional season of the show and add new cards, characters and mechanics. Base BSG is a very balanced game and these expansions do mess up that balance, although not noticeably in most cases. The trade off is that they add variety and fix some problems, or at least try to from the base game.

What gets added: New cards for each deck, seven new characters,  a new skill deck called Treachery, a different end game that goes to New Caprica, a new sympathsizer mechanic called Cylon Leaders.

Treachery: Treachery represents bad stuff. It only goes from 1-3 in strength and it’s abilities can only be used by revealed Cylons. They also work hand in hand with the Reckless mechanic: there are sill cards that can make a check reckless in exchange for triggering Treachery cards that have skill check abilities.

New characters:   1 for each role plus three Cylon Leaders

New Caprica: this tries to represent the Cylon occupation of New Caprica.

Other random stuff: Executions are added as well as the Battlestar Pegasus board.

How does it work?:  Alright, it has problems though. First of all Helena Cain is broken, her OPG is the single most powerful one in the game by blanking an entire jump cycle and her draw invalidates Adama and Tigh as Military Leaders. Banning her is eaiser than trying to come up with a fix that’s actually rewarding. Treachery and Reckless work well enough except for one point: humans have control over when things are Reckless, this means that those abilities rarely come up. Cylon Leaders have the main problem of their Agendas being terribly designed, most of them only work with New Caprica. There’s no suspense in Agendas so it just means that one team has a solid member from the beginning. Speaking of, New Caprica is a radically different game than the rest of BSG and is highly unthematic, but it’s different, which can be nice. All in all, it’s ambitous and while it falls short it is playable.

 What it adds: New cards, new characters, Cylon Fleet Board, Conflict Loyalties, Ionian Nebula.

New cards: Power creep summarizes most of them rather well. It adds 0 strength cards which are so insanely swingy. 6 strength cards which are either insanely powerful or laughably bad. Crisis and Quorum cards are also powerful. Destinations throw out any semblance of balance and are crazy.

New characters:  Are by and large terrible. Tory is incredibly busted, Gaeta is alright, while his OPT serves as a sort of quasi loyalty at every jump I haven’t seen it really come up. Anders is so laughably bad. Cally is just toxic to gameplay and not fun to have in a game.

Cylon Fleet Board: Is hands down the best part of this expansion. It replaces Cylon Attack Cards with the Cylon fleet board, which creates an always present threat of Cylon ships. It’s a nice change of pace but plays really poorly in anything that isn’t a 5 player game.

Conflicted Loyalties: Rarely come up. There are two kinds: Final Five and Personal Goals. The former punish zealous examination of loyalty, which only comes up if the person has a title. The latter requires sub optimal play in order to save yourself a resource at the end of the game. The biggest problem is that it seeks to correct the problem created with executions. It adds an extra card to the loyalty deck, which means there can be only 1 cylon. Nothing is worse than having a 1 cylon game…or a no cylon game with 4 players for that matter.

Ionian Nebula: In order to represent all of the horrible stuff that happens to the people on this ship, as well as the fact that there are other people on the ship, trauma and allies are introduced. It’s a neat concept: except it doesn’t play out so well in practice and the very existence of disaster trauma and their executions are horrible.

How does it work?: Poorly. The cylon fleet board is the only really redeeming element that this expansion has to offer. Everything else is either bad design or the product of crazy power creep that only works in narrow circumstances. You can skip this and not miss much.

What it adds: New crises, skill cards, crisis cards, Mutineer, Earth, characters, revamp to Cylon Leader and Treachery.

New cards: Are all around good. They play well and are well designed.

New Characters: These are all over the place, some of them are are broken, others are terrible.

Mutineer: Is a new mechanic that uses the Mutiny deck, a deck that plays like the Quorum deck in many ways except all of the effects are double edged. Get too mutinous, get brigged. There’s also the new sympathsizer mechanic called Mutineer based around it.

Earth: The new destination that done’st do anything really special with the endgame or change up the gameplay in any radical way. It makes the game go to 10 distance but it adds in Missions and the Demetritius that effectively make it a wash.

Revamped stuff: Treachery and Cylon Leaders now work a lot better.

How does it stand up: Well aside from the not insignificant fact that the expansion seems to hate progress and games ending in a timely fashion, this is really good. It improves on all the problems with Pegasus and makes things have meaningful interactions and games.

Well there’s the long and short of how I view the BSG expansions. If yo uhave any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

 

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.

Review: Ascension Rise of Vigil

 

What is it: A stand alone expansion for the Ascension deck building game by Stoneblade Entertainment wherein players use a new resource, energy shards, to win the game.
Great what does that mean: For starters, if you’re unfamiliar with Ascension in general then I suggest you go read my review of Chronicle of the Godslayer, found here. When it comes to energy shards, they give +1 energy and +1 card, meaning they replace themselves and don’t take up any space in your deck. These are used to active Energize ability on cards. There are Energy shards in the deck that when they appear in the center row are played out until a non-Treasure card is placed. Acquiring the card on top means you acquire the shards as well.
Scaling: You can now play with up to six people if you have another large expansion. I have no idea why you would ever willing do this. The game still handles best at 2, 3 is acceptable and anything beyond that is miserable to varying degrees.
Production quality: My only complaint here is that the plastic insert is different dimensions than the one in Chronicle and thus you can’t hold the starter decks separate.
What’s good: Energy shards are seamlessly integrated into the game, I’ve never felt like I’ve had a serious disadvantage in being unable to Energize. it adds a lot to the game and it’s all good.
What’s not good: Naturally this is more complex and keeping everything straight can be difficult.
Overall: 5/5. Ascension is still one of my top three games, and this expansion just makes everything sweeter.