Friday, September 21, 2018

Why Artifact has me interested

Artifact is an upcoming digital card game from Valve.  My initial reaction was that Valve was cashing in on the Hearthstone trend (the same reaction as the audience booing the game during it's original reveal at The International 2017).  While there are similarities it is becoming clearer that Valve is looking to differentiate Artifact from the Hearthstone-a-like crowd.  A quick look at the differentiators:
  • It is NOT free to play; players buy the game and buy the cards and packs
  • Focus on playing with friends and social gameplay; not on "grind" modes
  • Steam Marketplace integration for trading, buying, and selling individual cards
  • Lane-based gameplay (i.e. there are three game boards active at one time)
  • Any number of creatures in play
  • Any number of cards in hand
I want to tackle the "it's not free to play" first because it sets a tone for the rest of the items.  Valve could have made Artifact free 2 play and integrated numerous methods for players to "grind" away at gaining cards all while dangling a cash shop with loot boxes booster packs.  But Valve didn't and its evident that the other differentiators result from that decision.


Integrating with the Steam Marketplace enables the capability to trade and sell individual cards which brings Artifact closer to cardboard TRADING card games (TCGs) that made it's designer, Richard Garfield, famous.  Yes, there is a word in all caps there.  I am firm believer that the trading and collecting of single cards is a key component in the enjoyment of these games; physical or not.


Trading cards is just the first part of a return to more social-oriented gaming that Valve has planned for Artifact.  They are also very talkative about their social gaming approach.  They want to focus on players playing with their friends and not beholden to "game modes" in which players feel forced into the most efficient method to "grind" for cards.  This is why the ability to trade/sell/buy individual cards is key.  If players are going to play with their friends then they need to know they aren't losing out on progress that could be made towards something else.


The last three items on the list do not wrap themselves into the free to play or social aspects, but none the less are important to peaking my interest level in Artifact.


Lane-based gameplay is not new.  In fact; upon seeing Artifact's lanes it immediately made me think of another digital card game Richard Garfield was involved with; SolForge.  SolForge was played across five lanes and enjoyed moderate success after it's Kickstarter campaign (and is still going in an unofficial capacity). 

Artifacts approach to lanes is a step above SolForge's approach.  Where SolForge only offered a single card per lane; Artifact is offering an entirely new gameboard within each lane where any number of cards can be played to "win" in that lane.  This appears to create three games within one which means every match of Artifact will feel like three separate games.  This will really up the strategic level; especially as more cards are released with mechanics that influence other lanes.


Lastly I just wanted to touch base on the idea that "any number of cards/creatures" bullet points.  YES!  Finally; a digital card game that takes advantage of the ability for a computer to manage any number of cards for the player while still keeping the game organized.  In physical card games sprawl can be a real issue (as anyone having played a Magic the Gathering squirrel token deck can attest to).  In the digital space sprawl can be managed via a clean user interface and good mechanics that keep players moving along each turn.

Artifact is shaping up to be a Valve classic and like DOTA2 before it; Valve is taking a tried and true genre and giving it the Valve polish and common sense we've all come to expect.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Games Made Me: THAC0

Back in 2013 I had this idea to blog about gaming experiences that "made me" the gamer that I am.  I posted the first "Games Made Me" post and then failed to create any other (even though my mind is swimming with topics).  Real Life has gotten in the way of blogging for the last... oh... six years or so, but a recent jaunt back into Dungeons and Dragons with my son resurfaced a Games Made Me topic.  That topic is THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0).

THAC0, in it's simplest explanation, is a calculation to determine whether an attack hits or misses in 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Read more about THAC0 in this excellent Reddit post detailing it's history.  That post does it better justice than what I could write here.

Armor Class was a carry over wargames played by the creators for D&D; applying the "armor" of a ship or tank to the "armor" of a fantasy hero.  A method was needed to determine whether an attack could breach that "armor".  THAC0 was the answer and also a simplification of previous iterations of  "to hit" tables from those wargames.

As a simplification it to it's wargames origins it made sense.  Tables in the D&D books helped outline baselines across class and level.  Math was not required as the expectation was that THAC0 was a value that was written on the character sheet and referenced against the tables.  When rolling a D20 for an attack; players would know what they needed to hit.

The challenge comes in when you take into consideration the amount of shifting that occurs during a typical D&D encounter.  The player character's values as well as the monster values were subject to constant change.  Player's would receive buffs that increased attack strength or that changed armor class values for their target.  With each change in number came a new change in THAC0 calculation.  A good D&D group needed a proficient player that could calculate THAC0 reliably through any number of variable situations.  Otherwise the session would bog down as pencil and paper were whipped out (a hard to imagine scenario with the current state of tablets and smart phones).

For my D&D group in high school I was the THAC0 calculator.  My mind was built to focus on detailed rules like THAC0 and to ensure they were executed correctly.  A major difference between classes in D&D was their calculated THAC0.  It ensured priests were not going to be as effective combatants as warriors.  Screwing up THAC0 calculations (often purposely) allowed classes to be the combat hero.  Enforcing THAC0 correctly ensured that classes that were not meant to be hack'n'slash super stars relied on the other defining aspects of their "role".  The benefit being better "role"playing.

My THAC0 calculator mindset extended into other aspects of the rules.  I was known to crawl through class, weapon, and other rules to "keep the table honest" (as I was known to say).  With that approach I became known as the "rules lawyer".  That moniker followed me through numerous editions of D&D and even as THAC0 became a thing of the past and was replaced by much simpler "base attack bonus" modifiers I found other places to focus.  Most recently with D&D 5E and playing with 8-12 year olds (father/son group) I've stepped right in to make sure the barbarian is using rage in every battle, that the bard is providing inspirations, that players are using that inspiration when applicable, or that our rogue isn't forgetting to apply advantage on attack rolls.

This rules lawyer (or alpha gaming) approach has been part of who I am as a gamer.  It is likely evident to anyone that has followed this blog for any amount of time.  While video games don't require someone to stay on top of all the calculations and rules there is always the analysis of what is best combination of things that result in the best outcome.  I have the tendency to insert my opinion in those combinations from time to time.

It is hard to say whether having to be the THAC0 expert for my group made me into this style of gamer or whether I was destined to be this way.  I would bet on the latter, but at the same time I can trace my gaming roots back to THAC0 as it influenced my view on where I fit into games.  THAC0 made me the gamer I am today.


Monday, January 01, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review - The Pictures

In part one of my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi I will use the following pictures to describe my thoughts:

In part two I will put down some words.  Until then; happy new year (apparently my new trend will be to post Star Wars reviews as the first post of the year).

Saturday, December 30, 2017

How I would change The Last Jedi (Spoiler Alert)

Warning; rambling and poorly organized thoughts below.  Lots of spoilers (duh!).

Top changes I would make to The Last Jedi (and that I honestly think could have been made keeping most of the key plot points and footage).  End result would have been a passable movie.

Lightsaber toss is changed into Luke handing it back to Rey and walking away.  Luke is really just testing Rey's patience as Yoda originally did to Luke.

Leia dies in space sparking Luke to cut the Yoda-crazy-act and train Rey.  Bonus points if Luke is lead to believe Kylo Ren pulled the trigger (even though he didn't).

Rose never happens.
Canto Bight never happens.
Dreadnought and bombers in space never happens.
Hacker guy never happens.
Slowest space chase in history never happens.
Super-super Snoke star destroyer never happens.  How about the First Order shows a bit of set back from having lost a planet-sized base!
Yoda never happens.
Frog people never happens.
Universe spanning mind link never happens.
Luke flashbacks to trying-to-kill Kylo never happens.

Resistance escapes directly to the salt planet and activate the defenses.

Rey/Luke sensing the impending doom of The First Order having the remnants of the Resistance trapped on the salt planet fly off to save the day.  However, due to being cut short on time to train together they have a disagreement on how to proceed.

As they arrive at the planet Rey jettisons herself from the Millennium Falcon.

Snoke sensing Rey's arrival tells Kylo Ren to bring her to him.

Luke and Chewie are forced to escape to the planet and meet up with the resistance.

Snoke pits Kylo and Rey against each other.  First, he trigger's Kylo's teeny-angst by planting false lies about Rey's parentage and how Rey is his better.  Second, he trigger's Rey's emotion by telling her that her parent's were nobodies and that she is just a pawn to the force filling a vacuum.

Rey and Kylo have an epic fight before realizing that Snoke is playing them.  They turn on Snoke to kill him but have to go through the red dudes to get it done.  Snoke is greatly amused by the fight assuming he can kill the weaker of the two and keep the other.

After Rey and Kylo finish the red dudes Snoke utters a bad ass one liner like "good, use your anger".  Then Kylo realizing he is forever limited by Snoke (the same as he was limited by the weakness that was his father, Han) turns and kills Snoke.  Before Snoke goes down he utters "if you strike me down I will become stronger than you ever could know" setting him up to return in the next movie.  Kylo slices Snoke's head off.

Rey can't convince Kylo of her viewpoint and vice versa Kylo can't convince Rey of his.  Kylo traps Rey and finds out Luke is on the planet.  In a rage he takes an invasion force to get Luke.

Rey escapes and heads to the planet.

Luke fearing that Rey has been turned to the dark side fights to the death on the planet surface. Kylo and Luke have the most amazing lightsaber duel all the while Kylo is taunting him about Rey.  Kylo takes a wicked face hit forcing him to forever keep his mask on in future movies.

The Resistance hope-o-meter goes bankrupt as Luke falls on the battlefield and they escape into the tunnels.

Surprise, Rey is OK and saves the day.  The Resistance's hope-o-meter is full again.
Ending scene is Kylo donning his mask and going "Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!" as the Millennium Falcon zips into hyperspace.
End credits.

Where are Finn and Poe during this movie?  Keeping the bromance going and working to keep the remnants of the Resistance from imploding under the doom and gloom.

Phasma?  I actually sort-of-like Phasma being a running meme in each new Star Wars movie.  A slow roll of her trying to squash out the "bug" that is Finn would be epic.



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rolling Dice in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

Looking for my insight on The Last Jedi?  Sorry, haven't seen it yet.  In the interim my Star Wars time has been spent playing the tabletop role-playing game (RPG), Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), with my 8-year old son.  I made the purchase to bring in a change of pace for a father/son Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group we participate in.  I have not yet brought it  to the table with that group, but after a few hours of game master (GM) practice with my son running multiple characters I am excited to give this a go.

The first thing to note is that this tabletop RPG is not a D20 (20 sided dice) based system like D&D.  The dice are custom dice specific to this system and function in a different manner than a D20 based system (or a D6 system for that matter).

The unique dice

In the D20 system the narrative culminates with a single dice roll deciding the fate of an action.  Then, more dice are chucked to derive a number for things like damage or how much gold was found. 

For example; "Reed decides to attack the goblin."  The player playing as Reed rolls a D20 to determine if they hit/miss.  "Reed hits." The player now rolls more dice to determine damage.  Any number of interesting things may have happened leading up to this point but ultimately it all came down to that attack roll hitting.

In the FFG custom-dice system the roll (of multiple dice) is ahead of the narrative and decides the choices that the players and GM get to make.  Each roll results in multiple outputs; first the number of success symbols compared to the number of failures.  If there are more success then the action is a success; more failures then it fails. 

Success/failure is not the end of the roll as there are also symbols for threat and advantage.  As with success/failure both threat and advantage cancel each other out.  If there are more advantage than threat then something good can happen for the player or GM rolling; alternately more threat means something bad may happens.  This allows for the possibility that someone could be successful at a task but have something bad still happen because of it.  Or alternately they could fail at a task but have a positive side effect. 

This opens a huge opportunity for narrative choice for both the players and GM.  For example; "Reed decides to aim and attack the stormtrooper."  The player playing Reed rolls a dice pool and fails (more failures than success) with three advantage (three more advantage than threat).  The roll has now opened a door; the attack misses but Reed has a choice (or the GM has the choice) to decide how that advantage impacts the narrative.  It could be a "game" element such as recovering a point of strain.  Or it could be a "story" element such as "Reed is surprised when the blaster bolt ricochets off the wall and still hits his target." because it was important to the narrative for Reed to hit in this situation.  (+3 advantage is like rolling a natural 20 on a D20... and anyways Han didn't shoot first... he rolled a failure with advantage!).  Like the D20 example any number of interesting things could have happened before this roll and those interesting things could influence choices for either success/failures or threat/advantage.

The D20 aligns more with a "game" while the FFG system aligns more with a "story" and for a gamer that leans more towards the role playing side of tabletop RPGs I find the FFG system a better option.  It does put the onus on the GM being good at thinking on their feet and not defaulting to the same result for rolls (i.e. every failure with advantage can't be a ricocheting blaster shot).  The system also moves the narrative forward in new and interesting ways instead of the static this/that way of the D20 system.

In the next post I will cover my thoughts on how the unique dice mechanic translate to the rest of the game and compare combat, movement, and abstract vs exact representation of the game world.


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