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.

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