October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I've been really busy the past few weeks, but wanted to write up a quick message for Halloween!

We tried our "Devoured By Zombies" VS System event last week and, while still fun, it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I think my rules were a little too stringent, which made it pretty difficult to actually have a playable deck AND be able to eat your opponent's characters.

I think allowing recovery effects would be fine, but I'm still not sure about having 'can not be stunned' legal in that format. Putting devoured characters into play late in the game also seemed a risky proposition. Especially if you were dealing with small characters like one- and two-drops into turn six and seven. It just didn't capture the zombie horde feeling I was looking for.

One disappointment that I had was that no one really tried to build anything Halloween-themed except for me. Granted, the characters available to Underworld are not the greatest, I still had fun putting together a vampires & monsters deck.

Tonight is Halloween, so we'll be playing a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. I'm really looking forward to that. I hope everyone has safe and happy haunting this evening!

October 20, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Rocksmith (PS3)

As a precursor, I loathe games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My friends that do like them assume that since I'm a musician I'll be good at these games. In terms of playing the crappy plastic drums, those I can manage, but still think they're pretty silly, not to mention extremely uncomfortable to sit at. The singing at least is still sort of like karaoke. But when I got handed a little plastic guitar w/ buttons on it because, "hey you know how to play this song!" and subsequently had to try pushing buttons in the wrong place on the fretboard I was immediately turned off. "This is NOT a game for musicians," I thought to myself.

Enter Rocksmith. I hadn't heard about this game (for xbox and ps3) at all, but had it pointed out to me by my girlfriend in a flyer a few days before its release. About a year and a half ago I bought her a guitar, amp along with a book / DVD for beginners. I even spent some time in the first few months showing her basic techniques, how to hold the guitar, pick and basic strumming. She had always wanted to learn, or so she said. Of course, learning something like guitar is hard. Really hard. Especially when you have ZERO background in music, notation, theory or anything like that. You also need to actually want to learn how to do it. Now the guitar and all the trappings sit in her office, collecting dust, except when I am over there and decide to grab it for five, or fifty, minutes while I'm waiting for her to do her hair (or something).

So of course, something like Rocksmith appealed to her. It's not really a game per se, but rather a learning tool wrapped up to look like a game. Maybe making the practicing part a little bit more fun would encourage her to practice more than...once every two months.

For a little personal background: I'm a bass player. I've played bass in rock and metal bands for almost 20 years off and on. Currently, I practice with the band regularly, and intermittently at home. I'll freely admit that I don't practice bass a lot at home unless I'm learning a new cover tune. As such, I'm a solid bassist, but wouldn't call myself anything beyond adequate. I'm not flashy and you won't see me belting out any Les Claypool (Primus) or Billy Gould (Faith No More) bass lines.

Naturally, I own several guitars as well. I don't know many bass players who don't own at least one guitar in addition to their basses. The same can not be said for most guitarists. In fact, I know several who don't own a bass, and almost as many guitarists who've actually never even tried playing one. It's actually quite interesting to see one of these guys strap on a bass and expect to be good at it. Sometimes they are, but quite often it's more on the humorous side as they discover just how far apart the frets really are, and how heavy those damn strings are compared to those tiny guitar strings.

Anyway, back to my point (did I have one?). Right, that Rocksmith game. I did a bunch of reading, watched some promo videos from the manufacturer's site, and finally decided I'd give it a try and picked up a copy. When I got it home I grabbed my favorite electric guitar and hooked up the USB-to-1/4" cable to my PS3. Here are some thoughts on things after a few hours with the game:

+ The instructions for getting started holding your guitar and playing are good, but I did end up skipping through a lot of them simply because they're not targeted at me, but at the beginner.
+ The song selection is better than I expected once I got into playing through the "Rockstar Recommends" items.
+ The dynamic difficulty feature is really smart and usually gives you just enough new stuff not to make you annoyed.
+ It IS pretty fun.

- Customizing your tones and selecting guitars in the game is a bit of a pain.
- Playing through the theory exercises like bending and power chords more than once is annoying, because you have to go through the intro piece (or skip it)...which means you are waiting for it to load the exercise you just played.
- Occasionally it will throw an odd chord or a split chord at you when you've been playing only single notes. It doesn't show you how to play them and I haven't gone into the chord chart section for each song, but it can be a little frustrating to have them just thrown at you.

- The BIGGEST negative I found is that there is a little bit of lag between strumming a string and hearing the note. I haven't tried any of the suggested methods to fix this as of yet. It's enough to be troublesome, and I hope I can remedy it. If not, I'll have to take it back because it simply won't be usable long term.

Final Thoughts

I'm curious to see what kind of downloadable content they will come up with. I've heard that there are approximately 20 songs prepared as DLC, and that bass support will also be added that way. As a musician I can see value in playing through the game to improve my techniques and learn some new tunes. I'm really curious to see how many non-musicians, or people who want to learn guitar the game will encourage to stick to learning the guitar.

If it can actually encourage someone like my girl into playing a little more often, I'll consider it a successful game, but that remains to be seen...because she hasn't tried it yet.

October 14, 2011

Halloween VS Event Idea

Devoured by Zombies!!!

So how exactly do you capture the idea of zombies in a superhero card game? By turning things on their head and considering all of your opponent's characters as zombies, that's how! I hope this seems somewhat thematic for the Halloween event. If you have any suggestions or comments please submit them to me before the 21st of October. Here's the idea...

Rule 1:
All characters in play gain the keyword Devour. This keyword's text is, "If an opposing character stunned by this character this turn would leave play, instead remove it from the game. That character is considered devoured."

This keyword can not be removed by card or character effects. Opponent's cards removed from the game this way go in a pile on your side of the table.

Rule 2:
Once per turn, at the start of the combat phase, you may put the lowest-cost devoured character card into play. This does not cost any resource points. If you have two devoured characters that share the lowest cost, you may choose only ONE of these characters.

Rule 3:
No recovery effects, KO effects or can-not be stunned effects can be played. This would encompass things like the keyword Evade, Quick Kill and Legendary Battles.

October 12, 2011

Give thanks (for turkey and games)!

Recently I've been writing up sort of session notes combined with review thoughts into a collection of sentences. Well at least I think some of the strings of words might qualify as such. I'm still making ground after lamenting my lack of gaming, so that's been fun.

Thursday's VS System sealed constructed event was Marvel Legends / Marvel Knights. We had a good turnout of 6 players, including one new player! I do hope that we can maintain attendance of around that number. It makes for good match-ups and variety, as you're not playing against the same three people every week. The sealed decks that I saw were pretty interesting. Although mine wasn't particularly effective I was able to win a game. As we usually do with sealed games, we followed it up with a rare draft to give everyone a chance at the rares from the packs.

Saturday was my family's Thanksgiving dinner. This is the first time that I can recall ever having it on the Saturday. It's almost always on Sunday, but for whatever reason, this year my mom decided to change it up. I'm glad she didn't change the menu though. There aren't many things that can compare to a homemade turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy!

As a kid I played a lot of card games with my family, and the occasional board game. I remember learning to play cribbage from my grandmother before I had even started kindergarten. In fact, I can still play a pretty mean game of crib to this day. It is not high on my gaming list though, so I brought a couple of games with me to the house.

It was pretty interesting getting family folks to play board games out of their experience zone. Watching my sister tossing cards down during a game of Arena Maximus, desperately trying to cause damage to my uncle's chariot while she passed him was pretty funny. I won that game, but only just barely! Laarni and Laura were both within 1 tile of crossing the finish line before me and it was a tight race.

After dinner I hauled out Betrayal at House on the Hill, another recent addition to my collection. I've played it once already in a three player game; this time we had four people, including my mom. After exploring the house a little bit, all of the players except Laura were upstairs. As my luck would have it I found a weak spot in the floor and went crashing down to the basement. While I was digging around trying to find a way out, Laura stumbled upon a book and started acting a little funny.

A short while later the others found her in the chapel chanting in a strange language. Not wanting to see what was going to happen, the others pounced on her, and after a brief struggle were able to steal her book. Unable to complete her summoning ritual without it she gave chase! Another fight ensued and this time she lost...but the rest of us escaped the house with our lives and sanity intact.

You'd think that would be enough gaming, but not for a junkie like me. Even though my house is a mess amidst painting and renovations I was still able to ensure that the living room was clean enough to have folks over for regular Monday night gaming. We played what was probably the fastest game of Zombie Plague in history! Of course because there are dice involved, I ended up getting attacked, bitten and naturally...turned into a zombie. It was up to Scott and William to survive or escape. Which they did about 5 minutes later when Scott discovered the car keys in the trunk of the car. All I could do was shamble after the fading tail lights and wonder what their brains would have tasted like.

We capped the night off with a proper game of Sentinels of the Multiverse. The last time the three of us tried to play we were tight for time. This time we had ample space and time to play...but our valiant fight against Baron Blade ended in bitter defeat.

October 04, 2011

Fury of Dracula

I like horror games. Shocking, I know. The biggest issue with horror games isn't that they're scary and that people don't want to play them. The issue is that a lot of people think it's a little odd to play horror games at say...Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or at your birthday party. That makes Halloween a sort of horror gaming feast to the rest of the year's famine. With that in mind I scheduled nothing but horror board games for the entirety of October's events.

The first game played was a new game to my collection, but not a new game. The version of Fury of Dracula that I bought is produced by Fantasy Flight Games, but is actually a remake of an older game of the same name, produced by Games Workshop. I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Games Workshop, because I think they make great stuff but it's generally too expensive. I also have a lot of trouble finding people to play Warhammer 40k with that I don't greatly disklike, so that's always an issue too.

And...once again I'm off topic.

Where was I now...oh right! Fangs, capes, stakes, holy water and a merry chase for a bloodthirsty monster through 19th century Europe.

Regardless of how many players take part in the game, all four hunter characters must be used to track down Dracula. With four players this left one hunter to be shared around amongst our three hunter players, which proved a little odd.

Scott, joining us for a Monday session the first time, elected to play Dracula. Sebastien, William and I took the roles of hunters; Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward for Seb and Will respectively, with me playing Mina and keeping an eye on Van Helsing. We doled out all the cards and counter tokens, and Dracula made his first move.

Our first day started off with a stroke of luck, Lord Godalming hit upon an early clue and we were hot on Dracula's trail. Mina decided to take to the sea in hope of heading Dracula off to the north, while the men closed in from east, south and west. As the day waned they had started pushing the Count south towards the coast and the good Doctor was able to force a quick encounter. Taking some scratches himself seemed a small price to pay as night fell; Dr. Seward landed a lucky blow with a stake causing Dracula a grievous wound and forcing him to retreat.

With full dark upon us Lord Godalming continued to chase the Count down, his trusty dogs lending him courage. Another fight ensued, but Dracula's increased strength made for a much more evenly-matched encounter, or would have if Seb hadn't thrown things into disarray by tossing handfuls of garlic at the Count as he dove into the fray. Unable to fight effectively Dracula once again made his retreat.

Surrounded on all sides we fully expected Dracula to take to the sea, but Mina's arrival from her voyage allowed her to telegraph ahead and notify the port authorities to the Count's movements. Effectively hemmed in he was forced to take wolf form and move secretly around our group, but only a few cities away.

Mina and Van Helsing were both able to track Dracula, but once again he chose to make a getaway rather than stay and fight. As the second day turned to night, with the hunters still hot on his trail, a singular bat was seen flitting through the cold evening air. Dracula had escaped us!

Our game took a full three hours and we ended it with no definitive winner. It was our first play and none of us had played before so there was a LOT of flipping through the rule book. The game has very nice components and a strong attention to theme, but still lacking a truly strong sense of danger or horror for the heroes. I think it's much more intense for the Dracula player as he gets to listen to all of the players' plans and formulate his escape, or ambush!

I do feel that the game is a little bit "swingy" in that fortunes for one side or the other can change very rapidly. While this can be a good thing, it can also be frustrating and lead to players feeling like they haven't accomplished much. This is especially true after having tracked and cornered Dracula over a several turns, only to have him to somehow escape to ANY space on the board.

I think playing with a full complement of 5 players would work best, but perhaps 3 players (with hunter players controlling two hunters each) would work well too. I'm sure the next play of this game will be much more fun!