Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cockatrice Chapter Quest Chain for Myth

Here's another short (4-card) Chain of Chapter Quests that I made for Myth. The first two are basically just effects that trigger at the start of the tile, but the last two in the chain include ongoing effects that should mix up the tactical situation and require some decision-making during battles.

 It all starts with a nasty toxic fog that destroys items. It was kind of a cool idea for dialing back the throttle on character advancement, and is basically a lighter version of the start to the "No Rest For The Weary" Story Quest. It'll be painful if it comes up at the start of an Act, but no big deal if you get it after a Chapter or two of play.

I haven't made the "Industrial Evil" Quest Chain yet. It's basically a placeholder for a whole other plot idea that would start out the same but go in a different direction entirely. This lets me get double-duty out of the first Quest card, without increasing the frequency of equipment destruction too much. For now, the fog is toxic and corrupting simply because the area is near the nest of a cockatrice, which are several flavors of deadly depending on which mythologies or bestiaries you read.


The rest of the Quest Chain is fairly simple and self-explanatory. The second Quest in particular is pretty much a guaranteed win. Partly that's to compensate for the hefty punch of item destruction in the first Chapter. This Chain isn't meant to be nearly as difficult overall as the official Story Quests, since it doesn't have a Title reward at the end.

The third Quest is a small tactical challenge that can be solved with Aggressive Movement. It's not particularly difficult, but sloppiness is penalized.

The final step has a built-in triggerable board-clearing ability to offset the dangers of a double-tile, but it comes at the risk of a bad roll potentially killing Heroes.

Edit: Not letting the Heroes actually battle the cockatrice is a bit of a cheat and a let-down, but it's a trick that Mercs/MegaCon themselves used at least twice (with the Innkeeper at the end of "No Rest For The Weary"  and the Hermit King at the end of "The Mad King"). It's not ideal, but it means I don't have to stat out a cockatrice and pick out a mini for it.

The flavor text on the various cards pokes some fun at the treasure-grabbing nature of dungeon-crawling games in general. Fitting a story into 4 rules-laden cards is pretty tough, so rather than beating my head against the wall trying to produce great drama, I just went for a little bit of snarky humor.


EDIT: Posting these cards here caused me to think more about them. In retrospect, I suspect I may have put these in the wrong order. It might actually flow more logically if the Petrified Fighters were the first quest, instead of the third. You find evidence of cockatrice trouble, and then encounter the nasty environment only if you intentionally approach its lair to kill it. Changing that now would require major rewrites.


















Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I Haven't Kicked Recon

Mercs/Megacon, the company that made Myth (which I really liked) have another Kickstarter wrapping up in a few days. Mercs:Recon looks like an interesting game, but there’s a few things holding me back. Really this is the post where I talk myself into it, or out of it.

Okay self, why should I NOT irresponsibly throw oodles of cash at Mercs:Recon?
  • 1) I’ve got too many cooperative minis games right now. For the last week I’ve been posting about Myth, Galaxy Defenders, and the upcoming Shadows of Brimstone. The only way Recon will get any play time at my table is if I retire 2 or 3 of the other games permanently. Much better to save my money for the inevitable Myth Expansions kickstarter. Recon is more of a "one-off" board game, and not campaign-style. That does make it easier to jump into on a off night, but at the cost of some of the fun and investment.
  • 2) It’s not cyberpunky enough for me to use the parts for something other than the game itself. Futuristic mercenaries breaking into a corporate high-rise sounds like it should be right up my alley. I love CP2020… but this game only has about 10% of the CyberPunk aesthetic. The game has minis for modern-day office workers and private security, and for futuristic mercs in MetalGear, but not for anything that represents the core player characters of a CP2020 campaign. If there were cyborgs, or street punks, or even glamorous CEOs in fancy italian suits and evening gowns, it might be worth my kicking in for the minis. I kinda want the office-building map tiles, and the add-on purchase 3D terrain and drones, but at this point there’s better ways for me to spend my $135. While that's not their fault, they aren't making CP2020 the minis game after all, it definitely means the game itself would need to be more compelling because there's nothing else for me to do with the parts.
  • 3) The four playable factions don’t seem different enough. 3 of the 4 are indistinguishable to my eye, all being decked out in basically the same power-armour and armed with the same style of weapons. The sample character sheet was all about bonus dice, instead of more colorful abilities. Character niche seems a little shallow at first glance, though that could just be a marketing failure. If the other elements were compelling enough, I could get past this issue.
  • 4) I’m not so thrilled with the stunt-casting. Remember how Galaxy Defenders has minis that are clearly lifted from Aliens, Predator, MIB, and RoboCop? That’s kinda cool, but very distracting. It undermines immersion, and leaves a weird taste in my mouth about the setting. Now Mercs:Recon also has a mini lifted from RoboCop, not to mention a couple from Die Hard and, of all things, Tango & Cash. What!?! Rambo and Snake Plisken I might have been able to get behind, but Tango & Cash? Really? That's what you thought gamers were dying to play?
Tango & Cash scored 39% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Just sayin'.
  • 5) The Myth pledge level is a bad deal. For a $40 pledge, you can get just the stretch-goals that come with a Myth tie-in. At the time of this writing, that’s 1 figure that comes with 2 cards. By the time you’re reading this (I’ve written so many posts today that I’m scheduling them out to go live one per day), they may have hit the next Myth-related stretch goal. That’d be a second miniature, with about 30-35 cards. Still not a great deal, and not Megacon’s best mini either — it’s hard to get excited about a mini that’s intentionally generic enough to kinda sorta fit both the near future and medieval fantasy europe. If the kickstarter gets another $100,000 past that, it’ll unlock 4 zombie minis that most likely come with a single card.  Are 1 to 6 minis and 2 to 40 cards worth $40? That kind of pricing is what drove me out of WH40K. The original Myth kickstarter was $100 for 150+ minis and 200+ cards, so you know the cost to manufacture any given component can't be very high. I'm a little worried that if people buy into this, it will set some really bad precedents for what Megacon can charge MSRP for a single figure.
Good points, self. You’ve convinced me to stay out of this one. Though there is a little voice over my bad shoulder that tells me objections # 2, 3, and 5 could all be negated if there’s some cooler stretch-goals added in the final days. I wonder how I’ll feel about it a week from now when this post goes live?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Myth vs Galaxy Defenders vs Shadows of Brimstone part 8: Non-Combat Actions

This is the 8th, and probably final post in a series comparing specific elements of three big kickstarted cooperative miniatures games: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Project Gremlin / Ares, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions. In this installment, I discuss the non-combat portions of three games that mostly about their battle systems. What is there to do in these games, other than kill monsters?

Non-Combat Actions

Myth provides a great variety of things for you to do in-between killing monsters. Nearly every session will involve at least one trap that needs to disarmed or circumvented. Many of the quest cards provide allies to rescue, timers to race, or special terrain to interact with. You probably average from 3 to 6 of these special rules or objectives in a typical session, and they really change your goals and play style when they’re active. The main boxed set includes a nice variety of such activities to liven up your sessions, and there's a lot more coming up in the expansions and stretch-goals. Admittedly, the non-combat-action rules are sketchy and under-developed, but they’re also quite flexible.  I particularly like that most non-combat checks don’t interfere with your fighting abilities at all. You don’t usually have to choose between kicking-ass or advancing the plot, as more often than not you can do both equally on your turn. Each character class has at least one unique card that helps them in non-combat activities.

Galaxy Defenders seems to offer a bit less than Myth in that area. There are missions, and most of them involve getting to a particular place and doing something special once there, so that's a step in the right direction. The first several missions in the rulebook are just 1 or 2 small rules or objectives that only come into play at the end of the hour-long session. Later missions are more involved, but are also balanced for larger groups of high-level well-equipped characters, and have longer expected run times. GD has interesting quests and events, it just takes several sessions and level-ups to unlock them.

Characters in Shadows have a large number of non-combat stats on their character class sheet: Agility, Cunning, Lore, Luck, Spirit, Strength, and Willpower. You don’t roll any of those in normal combat (sometimes Willpower is used for a Sanity check during a fight with the worst supernatural horrors), they exist mainly for use with the Encounter cards, which are little quests and events that happen as you travel through the maze. The demo I played was a pretty simple “learn the rules” treasure hunt, so we focused mostly on combat and didn’t see many of these Encounter cards. If that same ratio of fights to encounters exists in the main game, then SoB only has about the same number of non-violent activities as your typical GD mission… but I honestly doubt that’s the case. Given over half a dozen non-combat stats, it seems likely that they’ll come up quite often in normal play. I expect cave-ins, clue-gathering, and other exciting subplots and side-missions to crop up regularly. That said, each session is on a turn-clock (if a particular token advances 15 times the heroes lose), and the tunnel layout is pretty linear, so there may be practical limits to how many encounters and side-quests can actually happen.

And The Winner Is: Myth. Its lead in that area may shrink somewhat when I get more time with the other two games and learn their secrets, but at very least Myth has the most immediately-accessible things to do other than just simply kill for profit. (Killing things for fun and profit is the mainstay of all three games, though, so don't take that the wrong way.)



Summary and Conclusion

In the previous posts, I awarded "wins" to each game in various categories.
  1. Character Customization: Shadows of Brimstone
  2. Set-Up Speed: Myth
  3. Flexibility: Myth
  4. Game-Length: Galaxy Defenders (was tie with Myth before this update)
  5. Pacing: Myth
  6. Setting: Subjective
  7. Miniatures Versatility: Shadows of Brimstone
  8. Maps/Tiles: Shadows of Brimstone
  9. Rulebook: Galaxy Defenders
  10. NPC AI: Myth or Galaxy Defenders
  11. Non-Combat Activities: Myth (but Shadows of Brimstone looks interesting)
If those were all evenly weighted (and they're definitely not) the score would be something like Myth 5 to GD 3 to SoB 4, depending on how you handle ties. Of the three, Myth is currently my favorite, but the character advancement system in Shadows has exciting potential so that could change over time. All three games seem very solid to me, but each has it's flaws as well.
  • Myth's rulebook is a ridiculous mess, and individual sessions may not have enough structure for some players.
  • Galaxy Defenders has a very involved set-up process, and the game itself includes a little more clutter and book-keeping than the others.
  • Shadows of Brimstone has slightly less interesting AI for the monsters, but otherwise seems quite solid. It also doesn't release for several months, and so it could have additional flaws that weren't evident in the demo I attended.
Myth cost about the same as GD via the Kickstarter, but it will include a lot more content once all the stretch-goal items arrive later this month. Myth and Shadows feature what seems like comparable amounts of content from my current perspective, but the full palate of stretch-goals kicked in at a much lower price tag on Myth. Overall, Myth feels like a better deal to me, though again the bad rulebook is a deal-breaker for some groups. It's kind of a shame. I may revisit this series when Shadows of Brimstone actually releases, when a more detailed comparison can be made concerning components I don't yet have in my hands.


The Horror Beneath (A short Chapter Quest Chain for Myth)

As mentioned in another post,  I've recently started making my own Chapter Quests for use with Myth. Here's my first attempt at a short Quest Chain:


 It starts off very simple. An extra Captain and an AP at possibly inconvenient moment, but if the players think ahead and plan for it, it'll be easy to deal with.

It's an intentionally quick Chapter Quest designed to fit in easily and not disrupt the flow of a Story or Act. (I had that goal because I wrote these before the new FAQ came out that changed the official stance on Chapter Quests inside a Story or Act. They used to be mandatory, now they're optional.)



  The first Quest links to two different Chains, but they both  lead directly to the same final Chapter. If you play the game a lot, Chapter Quests will be reused, so I wanted to give the players one little decision that would let them switch it up over multiple plays.





As mentioned in a recent Myth-related post, lairs that are tucked away in hard-to-access areas can slow the game down quite a bit, so the Lairs Beneath quest should be used with caution if your Heroes don't have good equipment or a solid plan for dealing with a high-TN Lair.

Fallen Beneath is probably easier overall, but features a unique "one-way progression" mechanic that threatens to separate the Heroes, so difficulty is variable depending on the size and status of the Realm Tiles involved. If you leave an active Lair behind, you'll almost certainly regret it.

The final chapter is very simple. It's a half of a fight with the T1KL. Sort of a warm-up to eventually tackling the Boss in earnest in some Story Quest. The "Boss Stages" are an interesting mechanic, and just doing Stage One was a simple and elegant way to get more use out of the boss without adding too harsh a difficulty spike if this card came up in the middle of one of the more challenging Acts or Story.


The consequence for abandoning the Tile is meant to represent that if you don't quickly beat the monster into submission, it and its brood will remain active in the region. It assumes that the default practice is to remove completed Quests from the deck, but that's not very clear in the rules and some groups may not play that way.




Possible Revisions:

These Quests are still pretty rough at this point, and may see some revision a little bit down the road. I see now how Mercs/Megacon made so many quests with ambiguities on them, as the limited space on the cards makes it very likely that your first draft will leave out something important. Editing with fresh eyes is pretty important.

Fallen Beneath may be tweaked to give the Hero sucked down the hole an immediate Treasure Draw. IIRC that was my intent when I made these a week and a half ago, but that timing isn't even hinted at on the card.

Lairs Beneath may need to be dialed back a bit in light of our recent difficulties with a hard-to-reach lair in normal play. Also, I envisioned the holes as 1x1 in size, and when I was making the card I hadn't yet realized there was a 2x2 hole token in the main set, so it may need extra text or a custom token to clarify that.

I may also reduce the Serendipity reward on the first quest to a single point (since it's pretty easy to beat), but then add another 2-point serendipity reward to one of the second-link quests instead of the current Treasure Bag manipulation. Rewards are the trickiest part of Quest design in Myth. Coming up with interesting scenarios and special rules is much easier than finding innovative new rewards. Assuming the Token count in the main box are intended as limits, your Treasure Bag ends up maxed-out long before you complete all the Bag-Manipulation Quests in the main game. I should probably brainstorm a bit before I do the revisions here or make more Quests.

There's also a temptation to expand the chain out a bit. I have this idea for turning the Aracnos from Galaxy Defenders into a Myth Captain or Mini-Boss, and I think I would prefer to shoehorn that into this Chain rather than build another Crawler-themed Quest Chain to showcase it.





Sunday, April 13, 2014

Myth vs GD vs SoB part 7: NPC AI

This is the 7th of 8 posts comparing specific elements of three big kickstarted cooperative miniatures games: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Project Gremlin / Ares, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions. I've played all three, and in this post I will compare and contrast how the monsters move and act in each game.

NPC Movement and Artificial Intelligence

Myth's monsters behave in organic and interesting ways. The actual movement rules are relatively simple, but the clumsy rulebook makes them seem more complicated than they actually are. Each monster species has its’ own targeting priority, which is pretty neat because it means smarter monsters fight more intelligently and cooperate better than others, and cowardly monsters fall back to shoot at easy targets from a distance. The monster’s actual tactics are a little predictable, but there’s a nice variable turn-length mechanism that introduces an element of skill (and teamwork) into anticipating which heroic actions will be accomplished by the party before the monsters get to counter-attack. Overall, it’s a little clunkier than it needs to be at times, but it really does keep the game fast-paced, flavorful, and interesting. They give the very encouraging advice that if you do it wrong, don’t sweat it — it’s a cooperative game where you can easily scale the difficulty on the fly. If you’re having fun, a technically misplaced monster or two doesn’t matter. If the mistake bothers you, make up for it by spawning extra monsters when you're placing the next room.

GD has a similarly organic movement system, operated by card draws. It does a great job of differentiating between the monster types, so smarter/faster/vicious/stealthy monsters behave appropriately. It automates their tactics, and keeps the players guessing. You have to take opportunities as they present themselves, because you never know what’s going to happen next. It’s absolutely the best part of the game, and is actually a better version of what Myth was aiming for. (GD's take on it is smoother in play, and more crisply differentiates between the monster types.) Unfortunately, it’s permanently wed to the mostly-dreadful hexagonal area boards, which are an eyesore. If I can figure out a way to pry the heart of this game away from its hexagonal boards, I bet I’d play a lot more of it.

Shadows of Brimstone has the most conventional movement system of the three. It’s the very board-gamey, where the monster directives in the other two are more immersive and flavorful. Most monsters are very predictable in Shadows. They quite sportingly attempt to split their numbers (and attacks) evenly between the heroes. They arrive in a checkerboard pattern for the express mechanical purpose of keeping dynamite from being too powerful in the first turn of any encounter. Those are solid play-balance decisions, but they seem a little artificial once you’ve been exposed to Myth’s “it’s a cooperative game, so set your own difficulty and do what's fun” philosophy. That said, some folks find Myth to be too malleable and not challenging or structured enough. I’m predicting that those folks will prefer the balanced concrete systems present in Shadows.
I do have one minor setting / mechanical gripe about SoB, but it might just be a function of the specific demo I played. All the monsters we faced were melee swarms. In a game about Western gunfighters, it seems like cover should matter a little more, and some of the bad guys ought to be shooting back at you. That feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, and it may actually auto-correct itself when I see the final mix of NPCs. The monster stat cards had a box set aside for ranged attacks, but that box was empty on every creature we faced in the demo.

And The Winner Is:
Either Myth or Galaxy Defenders, depending on whether you find the former's awful rulebook more or less of a hassle than the later's overly-busy mapboards.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

That took longer than expected!

Played Myth again last night with my wife and a few friends. We got an Act Quest ("Light The Fires") that gave us a set number of turns to pass through a set number of tiles of specific sizes. No problem, in the first hour and fifteen minutes we ripped through 4 tiles. The game was just sailing along.

When we placed the last tile, it included a Lair feature. The tile was a little crowded, with some impassable wooded spaces on the edges and bonfire in the middle. So we stuck the Lair in the back, as that's where there was the most space.

Sadly, this meant we could not get close enough to do damage to the Lair. The monsters (and their Captains) just kept pouring out into the cramped space, while our hands were combo-less and ineffective. The fight went a ridiculous 2.5 hours for this one little tile. We eventually triumphed, but our Archer was KO'd and all that saved the rest of us from falling with her was using Call To Arms to bring Marcus the Ready to our aid. It stayed fun, and very challenging right up to the last Hero Cycle, but boy was it long. Our guests left at 1 am.

I may have to reassess my analysis from a few days ago about game length. It's true we could have been more effective if we were a little more coordinated, and we could have defeated it quicker if we'd been a bit more strategic. Some portion of the delay was no doubt user tactical error... but even if we'd cut the length of that fight in half through stronger play (or better equipment) it's still over an hour for a single tile with a single Lair. (Some tiles can have up to 4 Lairs if you really want to challenge yourself!) I'd honestly felt prior to this that stopping points during Free Questing presented themselves every 15 to 30 minutes, with Slaughterfield Quests being the only likely exception that I was aware of. Turns out there are rather more exceptions than I'd imagined. The board situation was so complex, it would have been a huge burden to try to stop in the middle of that fight and record where everything was for next time. Luckily it was still tons of fun, but the notion that the players have total control of the length of the game turns out to be something of an illusion.

Myth vs GD vs SoB part 6: Boards and Books

This is the 6th post in an 8-part series comparing specific elements of three big kickstarted cooperative miniatures games: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Project Gremlin / Ares, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions. Last time I talked about their miniatures, so this time I'm going to discuss other physical components in the main boxed sets.


Boards, Tiles, and Counters

Myth has some very nice Realm Tiles, ranging between 4x6 all the way up to 12x12 inches. They’re conveniently sized, durable, easy to read (though it would have been nice if the blue lines could have “popped” just a little more) and quite pretty. Some of the game mechanics are unobtrusively printed along the edge, to reduce rulebook look-up mid-game. That’s nice. You only use a few tiles at a time, so the play area is actually fairly small (just 1 foot square in Slaughterfield mode). When the plot takes you to the end of the table, it’s easy to slide the stuff you still need, and scoop the tiles you’re done with… or if you’re in Free-Questing mode, you can just choose to place the tiles in a way that doubles back so you never reach the edge of the table. Absolutely zero complaints or headaches in play. There are some 1x1, 2x2 and 2x3 terrain markers that get placed on the tiles in some scenarios, but never so many that it becomes a burden or confusing. In the stretch goals are fancy 3D plastic versions of many of those tokens to spice up your table top if you so desire.

The boards in Galaxy Defenders aren’t quite as nice, in my opinion. The boards are 9x15 inch tiles and you use 2 or 3 of them at once, so there’s a much larger minimum table-space needed. On top of the big boards, you place a ton of little terrain-modifying tiles (mostly 2x1). There was a positively annoying amount of them in second scenario in the book. You set up the whole board at the start of the game, so at least you never have to slide it around once you've built this complex layout. The tiles are overly busy, and have thick garish colorful outlines. I really like the area-movement rules, but unfortunately the extra outlines for it collectively contribute to the overwhelming visual clutter. Plus, hex-shaped spaces and areas means that all the buildings on the map have really strange architecture. All of which undermines the point of putting so much immersive detail into the maps in the first place. I think the boards for GD are probably its single weakest game-play feature, even if they are what makes the area-movement system so sweet. The hexagonal-based character sheet and equipment system is intriguing, but a little disorienting during your first play.

Shadows has very uniquely-shaped organic cavern tiles, most of which are just over 6 inches long if memory serves correctly.  I was initially a little apprehensive about how the weird shapes would interacted with movement and line of sight, but having now played the game, I see that they are really quite nice and functional. They pack in the visual detail, but remain quite clear and easy to mentally process. They interlock so you can slide them around easily without messing up the board position. That’s actually very important, because the card-driven random exploration system means you’re going to run right over to the table edge several times per session. I gather that Shadows will come with a lot of different tokens for things like wounds and sanity, but the copy used in this demo were just repurposed parts from A Touch Of Evil and Last Night On Earth, so I don't know much about them. The prototype of the Gunslinger's ammo template was pretty neat though, and I'm looking forward to the full-art version of it in the final game. It was like the cylinder of a revolver.

And The Winner Is: Shadows of Brimstone, surprisingly since some of the parts weren't in final art yet. What sold me was the mine tiles. They're not quite as open-ended as Myth's realm tiles, but they fulfill their designated role exceedingly well.  Most of the game takes place in a mineshaft or cavern, and the tiles do a very good job of reinforcing that concept. Next time I run a D&D game in a similar environment, I'm almost certainly going to break out the Brimstone mine tiles.


Rulebook

As stated elsewhere, Myth’s actual rules are good, but the book is poorly organized and actually missing some vital information. This is Myth’s worst weakness, and it’s probably a fatal flaw for some folks. Learning the game from the rulebook is tiring and difficult, but learning it from someone else who’s already played is quick and easy. I've gone on about it at length in another blog post. About all I can add to that is a complaint that the font size is really tiny on some pages.


GD’s rulebook is really solid. The examples are clear. The index is functional, but would have been easier to read in two-column. You can learn the game pretty quickly from reading the book. It's not quite as pretty as Myth's rulebook, but much more useful and sane. The print is large, and the headers are in color so you can quickly scan for the subsection you're interested in.

I learned how to play Shadows at a demo. It was very simple to pick up from a quick face-to-face explanation, but that can mostly be said about the other two games as well. I have never seen the rules, so I can’t really speak about layout, organization, or clarity.

And The Winner Is: Galaxy Defenders has a much more functional rulebook than Myth, so it wins at least until Brimstone releases or Mercs/Megacon releases an updated PDF.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Myth vs GD vs SoB part 5: Setting and Miniatures

This is the fifth post in my 8-part series comparing specific elements of three big kickstarted cooperative miniatures games: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Project Gremlin / Ares, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions. I've played a little bit of all three, and in this post I'll talk about their settings, art styles, and miniatures.


Setting

Myth has a very clear product identity. The illustrations feel like a comic book. (Or a little “cartoony” if you must. In general it works really well for me, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone.) I like that the setting isn’t just cookie-cutter generic fantasy, and has subtle bits at world building. The NPC bosses are particularly crazy-looking and inspiring. The humanoid enemies are “grubbers” and “muckers” instead of generic goblins or orcs, which suggests flavor, but doesn’t exactly spell out what it means. It’s all hinted at, but never presented in detail. Maybe that’s because the game world is new, or maybe it’s intentionally vague to leave things open so you can decide for yourself what it all means in the same way that you are your own GM in Myth. The setting is mostly cohesive, but it does have a few oddities and anachronisms, such as very modern clerical collars on the NPC priests. Probably the least immersive part of the game is the monster lairs, which spawn creatures in a way that feels a bit like a video-game.

Galaxy Defenders really doesn’t have its own setting at all. There’s a bit of lip-service applied towards it in the book, but clearly their goal is to be a remix/mash-up. Characters, especially those from the kickstarter stretch-goals, are thinly-disguised versions of hollywood stars from all your favorite sci-fi movies at once. The event cards for weather are literally a still-frame of Rutger Hauer delivering the “tears in the rain” speech from blade-runner, and the poster for John Carpenter's The Fog, both run through photoshop filters. 

I've seen copyright law on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I am so torn by this. On one hand, it’s awesome, and I admire them for having the courage to do it. Who hasn’t wanted to play Aliens vs Predator vs MIB vs RoboCop vs Plan 9? On the other hand, it erodes suspension of disbelief just a little, and makes me a lot less interested in the unique characters and monsters that aren’t obviously lifted from a film. Everytime I place a generic “Xeno-Beta” instead of the obviously Giger-derived “Xeno-Morph”, I feel like I’m missing out on some of the fun.


Shadows of Brimstone has, for me, the most compelling setting. It’s the Old West, with supernatural elements and portals to other worlds. So, mostly it’s Deadlands. That’s okay, I like Deadlands. I’ll probably slip up and say “Ghost Rock” instead of “Darkstone” nearly every session. There are distinct differences between the settings. There’s no CSA, Hucksters, Whateleys, etc in Brimstone, but there are some very high-tech aliens and pulpy snakemen on some of the Other Worlds. Of the three games, SoB has the darkest and most realistic artwork. It also seems at this point to have the most developed and internally-consistent setting, despite being explicitly a game about dimension-hopping where in theory anything is possible.

And The Winner Is: This is totally all about your personal tastes, I can't tell you which you'll like best.





Repurposing the Miniatures

With three different cooperative dungeon-crawls releasing this year, I'm not going to find time to play all of them as often as I might like. So I find myself wondering can I mix-and-match? Can I repurpose minis from one game to the other, or use parts of these games in my RPG gaming?

As I said, I like Myth’s art style, but I could see why some wouldn’t. In fact, one of my friends complained about it when I tried to show him the game. The figures are distinctive, and somewhat intangibly “friendly” even when depicting something terribly evil. They work for Myth, but they might feel out of place if you ported them into a game that takes itself more seriously. It's not Kingdom Death, after all. There's a handful of figures in the Myth box that will work as orcs or giant scorpions in D&D, but that's it.

GD has a lot of very recognizable Hollywood-inspired minis, and as I said I have mixed emotions about that. If I were a little more into painting and collecting, I’d probably get more of a kick out of it. Seriously, having a miniature Ellen Ripley makes me wish I was more of a minis painter. I don’t know how much use I’ll find for these minis in other gaming, but they’re at least a fun novelty to show off, if that's you're thing. It occurs to me that the Aracnos monsters from GD could probably be used in Myth if you created just a single monster stat card for them (so I may have to do that).

Brimstone is a godsend for an RPG gamer such as myself. That kickstarter is loaded with minis appropriate for Deadlands and other westerns, Call of Cthulhu, pulp-era, retro-sci-fi gaming, and even a few things for the Post-Apocalypse or more traditional Medieval Fantasy. Even if the game sucked (and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t), I’d still probably be happy with the quantity and quality of minis I'm going to be getting from this. I consider it a wise investment for RPG gaming, as last time I ran Deadlands, I had to use LEGO cowboys during the fight scenes, and it was a little silly.

And The Winner Is: Of the three, Shadows of Brimstone has the most versatile selection of miniatures.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Myth vs GD vs SoB part 4: Game-Length and Pacing

This is the fourth post in an 8-part series comparing specific elements of three big kickstarted cooperative miniatures games: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Project Gremlin / Ares, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions. I've played all three, and in this post I'll examine how they compare on issues of game-length and pacing.

 Link to first post in series.




Game-Length

If time is an issue, Myth can accommodate you. One of the main game play modes in Myth allows the players to control precisely how long the game will last. Convenient stopping points pop up about every twenty minutes when "free-questing", and you’ll never have to worry about leaving the board set up till next time. The other two game modes (Story quests and Slaughterfield) are much less flexible than this, but Stories are organized into discrete Acts of reasonably predictable game length. 3 hours will give you a very respectable play session, and if you know going in that you’ve got a tighter deadline you can free-quest instead.

GD’s average session length is shorter, but beyond your control. Often the exact number of turns the game will last is dictated by the scenario. Each scenario has a listed duration (usually around an hour). The scenarios I've played took longer than listed, but we were still learning the game and that probably slowed us down.  The short play-times don't count set-up time, which could be an issue.  If you run out of time, it would be a horrendous chore to record the board position to pick it up again later. If time is short and you can’t leave the table set-up until next time, GD could be prove problematic.

I’ve only played Shadows of Brimstone once, so I don’t really know how long it will take on average. Our demo was a very satisfying game experience in a couple hours. You can certainly tweak decks and tokens to speed things up, but it’ll be tricky to do so on the fly and would probably feel more like cheating than comparable decisions do in Myth. On the other hand, stopping points (pauses without monsters in play) occur every five minutes, easy. You could wrap up for the night at any of those pauses. It would complicate campaign play and require some note-taking if you didn't want to just start over at square one next time, but it's doable.

And The Winner Is:  Galaxy Defenders wins for now, though I'd originally called it a tie between GD and Myth. Shadows may well beat them both when it comes out, if the missions and campaign system is no more complicated than what I could see in the demo.

In theory, Myth features the most flexibility to wrap up early without headaches or hassles... except for when poor Lair placement or a multi-wave Quest suddenly bogs the game down. The biggest time-sink/pitfall is in Lair placement and/or failing to prioritize the destruction of a Lair.  If you ignore the Lairs entirely, they will s...l...o...w...l...y wear you down. Once you've learned that lesson it's easy to avoid, but it takes 2 or 3 hours to learn it in the first place.

Ultimately, game length matters most if the game runs out of steam or fails to engross you for its whole length, so perhaps we should talk about pacing...



Pacing

Myth scores highly on the twin-axes of play speed and player interaction, which are usually at cross-purposes to one another in other (especially competitive) game designs. "Turns" are quite short, and you almost never have to wait for anyone. There’s a bit of a learning curve where your first couple Hero Cycles will seem longer since you’ve never read the cards before, but by the end of the first session you’ll be chugging along at top speed. Group attacks and area effects resolve remarkably fast. Heroes can mow down scores of minions with a single die roll (as minions always have a single hit-point). It feels very epic, and requires very little “memory” or tracking of variable NPC stats. The turn structure is a little complicated, but cards stay out as a marker of who's done what this turn, so you can always tell exactly where you are. There’s little risk of losing your place when the pizza guy knocks on your door.

GD is a little slower overall. The custom dice are a big help in that they really reduce the math and make each individual die roll much faster.  Separate attack and defense rolls though does mean an extra step or two to every action, so it roughly evens out. Monsters in GD rarely go down in a single hit, and you’ll find yourself tracking wounds and energy on all the miniatures. It’s not bad, but it does seem a little clunkier (and less epic) than Myth. You face fewer monsters over all, but each one requires multiple attacks.

Shadows seems to be comparable to GD. Each player’s turn is longer than in Myth. Attacking a single minion takes at least two die rolls, and you’ll often have to keep track of wounded monsters. One-hit-kills of the smaller monsters are more likely than in GD, but there’s not much chance of wiping the board in a single roll like can happen in Myth. I expect Shadows will have the most down-time and waiting of the three, and yet it’s still overall a quickly-moving game. I do have a little concern about losing your place in the turn if there’s an interruption or delay, and I suspect the game could benefit from some sort of turn tracker to keep that from being a problem. Luckily, it could be as simple as using a single large off-color d6 to count down initiative as we move through the turn sequence.

And The Winner Is: Myth seems specifically designed to minimize down-time and keep everyone involved at every moment. This makes for an exciting pace and constant action, except when a player needs to slip off for a potty break.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Chapter Quests for Myth

In the game Myth, most of the Realm Tiles you explore need a Quest card of some sort. There's a bunch of them in the main boxed set, but if you play frequently, you'll quickly have to start repeating them. To head that off at the pass, I've made a few of my own.

Here's five new stand-alone Chapter Quests.  On average, they're a little less complex and involved than the ones in the main game. That's intentional, I wanted them to be good quick-inserts that could happen in the middle of an Act or Story Quest without disrupting the flow too much or raising a lot of questions.

Consider these first few a proof of concept run. Or at least a work in progress. I know they're kinda ugly.
The colors are taken from a photo of a card out of the main game, but they turned out a bit dark and murky.
They'll do for now, but they really drain your ink supply if printed in quantity, and may be hard to read in poor lighting.

I actively avoided using icons from the game itself. There's a stack of lame rationales behind that decision: My camera sucks and the icons are tiny, I don't have a scanner, my copies of photoshop and quark no longer run on my current OS so I had to use clunkier programs, etc, but mainly I was lazy and uncertain if I was going to make more than 2 or 3 of these so it wasn't worth the effort to make them any better.

I could probably claim it's also because the icons on cards in the game seem to be a small part of the confusion regarding the game. So I figured I'd just spell everything out in English whenever possible. Technically that's true, but in all honesty, the lame reasons were foremost in my mind.

After making about 20 cards, I decided that I really was going to print at least some of these eventually. That meant I needed to increase the contrast and cut down on the ink consumption. I really reduced the amount of color, and they're a lot easier to read for it.




This gave me an opportunity to tweak the layout a bit while I was at it. Honestly, I'm not convinced that the official cards are organized in the best way. I feel the originals jump around too much.  I moved the success / failure results down into the exit flavor text, and I think it makes them much easier to comprehend.

I'll probably post the rest of the cards over the next few days, alternating with my "MvGDvSoB" threads. Most of the cards will be the earlier, uglier, format. I may eventually recreate them in the nicer version, but probably not until after I've had a chance to playtest them and make any obvious corrections they need.

Feedback is always appreciated, and that goes double if your constructive criticism is about the mechanics or gameplay rather than the crummy layout that I'm obviously displeased with.