Monday, April 7, 2014

Myth vs Galaxy Defenders vs Shadows of Brimstone Part 1

This weekend, I went down to Card Kingdom in Ballard to play demos of Flying Frog’s upcoming Shadows of Brimstone cooperative miniatures game and Dark Gothic deckbuilding game. It was a lot of fun, and made me feel a lot more confident about that big ol’ Minecart I bought.

This means I’ve now played three of 2013’s big Kickstarter cooperative miniatures dungeoncrawls: Myth by Mercs/Megacon, Galaxy Defenders by Ares/ProjectGremlin, and Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog. It was a strong year for the genre.

That suggests to me a natural topic for a series of comparison/review posts. I'll be doing this in a series of posts each focusing on a different aspect of the three games, spread over several days, because otherwise it would be one giant wall of text... and for some reason I think you'll be happier reading several smaller walls of text. It's turned into an 8-part series.

Character Differentiation and Advancement

Myth comes with 5 character classes in the box, and has another 3 characters arriving in the first wave of expansions in about a month. Each of the 5 classes plays very differently from the others. There’s a healer, a tank, and at least three different flavors of mechanically-distinct glass cannon. Character creation is super quick - any two Brigands (for example) start out with identical stats and equipment, with the only difference being which of two minis they use. As they gather items they’ll start to differ, but true variation between characters of the same class increments in very slowly, at roughly a rate of one meaningful alteration after every 3rd session of play. I haven’t played enough Myth yet to really have an informed opinion about this aspect of advancement, but at first glance it seems like progression is probably a little slower than ideal. It's probably okay if you really plan to play a single character in campaign mode for a very long time, but with 8 classes I'm tempted to swap out which character I play every so often. I may end up house-ruling the progression rate up  for my group after a few more sessions of play.

Galaxy Defenders has the same number (5) of classes in the core box, but the differences between the classes are somewhat less dramatic than in Myth. Stretch goals, if you got them, provided an alternate version of each class, and the differences between the main version and the alternate version are easily as pronounced as between any two GD classes. So you can have two Snipers that each start out mechanically unique. Character advancement is much faster in GD than in Myth, as well, so two characters with similar starting points will very quickly diverge. Leveling up is still done in small increments, so you’re not radically boosting your power all at once, but you’ll see some sort of minor improvement or specialization every time you play (and usually this happens in the middle of the action). It works well.

Shadows of Brimstone comes with 4 classes in each of the two versions of the core box set, and there are half a dozen more beyond those 8 if you got the various stretch goals. The four classes I've seen each plays distinctly differently from the others. Two characters of the same class also start out as unique and distinct individuals right out of the gate. Your class determines a bunch of stats, and at least one set special power for the character. Then you get to choose one of 3 optional starting abilities for that class. After that choice, each player is dealt one random “personal item” that helps define them further. In our demo, the saloon girl had a bowie knife and the gunfighter had a hand mirror, which absolutely defined how we approached these roles. This was an unqualified success, as you became immediately invested in your unique character. Since it was a single demo, I couldn’t see much of the campaign-level character advancement process. There’s an XP system and in-game money. PCs at our table earned between 225 and 475xp in our couple hours of play, and I'm told you need 500 xp to level up. Leveling involved some sort of “feat tree”, with each class eventually unlocking a total of 16 or 20 different powers if you played long enough. Character advancement seems pretty deep.

And The Winner Is: Shadows of Brimstone provides the most in-depth character customization by a long shot, and does it in a very flavorful way.

Customer Service

I'll be following up with more side-by-side comparisons of various other elements of the games in my next few posts.

Until then, I wanted to take a quick moment to specifically call out the great customer service I got from Ares / Project Gremlin, the makers of Galaxy Defenders. When they shipped our game + stretch goals to us, 3 of the miniatures arrived broken. One was missing an arm, and two others had snapped off their bases. My wife sent a photo to the folks at Ares, and within a few days they'd mailed off replacements for the 3 broken figures... packed in a box with another dozen other figures and promo cards just to be cool. That was very generous of them. I figured we were just going to have to glue the minis -- and that would have been fine -- but they went above and beyond.

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