Monday, October 12, 2020

I bought a house... in New World

Note: I've procrastinated getting this out so some of the information may be out of date to any recent activity from New World development.   These thoughts are my thoughts from the preview period in September 2020.

See the source image 

My recent disappointment with Crowfall and some burn out in Magic the Gathering Arena lead me on a search for an MMO fix.  Fortunately the Crowfall beta testers were more than happy to lament low player population numbers because of the New World preview event that had just started.  I knew of New World but I really didn't.  I had heard the buzz around their announcement to delay the game from it's original launch to refocus the game, but other than that I knew nothing else.  So I walked into the preview event with little expectation and I left the event with my pre-order placed and some excitement for a new MMO.

The immediate feeling I had wash over from me with New World was that its a beautiful game.  I have the benefit of a recent (and long overdue) gaming PC upgrade and the graphics were absolutely astounding.  At one point I was stalking (literally) through the woods in hunt of elk.  I aimed down the barrel of my musket into the underbrush backlit by a golden sunrise.  The smoke puffed up as the shot went off wounding the elk.  It reeled back on it's hind legs and trumpeted into the morning.  Out of nowhere a second elk head pops up.  A thunder of hooves and I was knocked to the ground.  I popped up and raced to get my musket trained back on the wounded elk but in the thick under brush and terrain of the wooded area I lost the beast.  I was hooked at that very moment.


While the game is gorgeous there is a sense of copy and paste throughout the world.  The first time you roll into that abandoned farmstead is amazing.  The fiftieth trip to a copy and paste version of it somewhere else on the map; not so amazing.  The different zones do have their own feel to them as far as terrain and fauna but buildings felt exactly the same regardless of area in the world.

The core game-play loops within the game follow closer to survival games than they do traditional MMOs which is an artifact of the game New World was proposed to be originally before it was decided to revamp the game.  

For PvE the core loop is get quest, run to quest area, complete quest.  There is not much variety in the quests; either they are kill X rats or open X crates.  This works, but will get old once the game exists for longer than a week so the game needs to make progress before launch on variety of content.  There is also gate events where players can group up to fight bad guys at the gate events in the map.  These were a mixed bag; thematically they were on point and visually stunning (the entire surrounding area goes into a crimson red fog, lighting shifts, and then there is the blazing portal at the center).  Outside of the stunning visuals though they were easily completed and during preview it was quickly discovered that a zerg of lower level players can easily take down even the hardest of these in the game. 

For PvP there is a few options, but I really only participated in the faction flagged open world content; basically set your flag and do quests which earns you more rewards due to the increased risk.  As the game is level-based the experience was a mixed bag.  Fights at equal levels were fun (excepting some specific weapons that are broken *cough* hatchet *cough*), but some times the fights were lopsided due to level disparity.  I will talk more about the level system of the game later in the post.  There is other PvP modes such as castle sieges which look amazing (at least visually) in videos but mixed feedback on how competitive and enjoyable they are.  Personally I am more interested in the open world PvP and faction system.

For the economy players there is crafting and gathering and regional markets (i.e. there is not a global market).  Crafting feels good and the visuals of the crafting stations really dials the feeling in that you are in working in a workshop/kitchen/forge/etc.  The towns were also packed which really made the market and crafting area feel alive.  That may seem immaterial to the success of the crafting system of the game, but it certainly doesn't hurt. 

Gathering in the game is straight forward.  Find stuff, click on it, and collect.  Repeat.  The adventurer in me felt rewarded by finding rarer gathering nodes in various nooks and crannies, but as the game kept sending me back to those areas and the same nooks and same crannies had the same nodes each time it reduced the sense of accomplishment finding them.  Experienced crafters will have these areas mentally mapped and hit them on repeat without trouble.  There was also some common gathering items needed for quests that were just not easily found or accessible so there was a sense that if you found them you were in to make some serious cash.  Unfortunately, again, they are static spawns so as preview continued on they were highlighted in guides for users to easily go and find.  I think a huge improvement to the game would be the randomize much of the gathering node spawns for the higher tier supplies to encourage exploration and variety.  With that said dedicated gatherers have a complete game loop and will be rewarded for their work.  I would like to see some form of mount or cart system in the game so you can take larger loads back to town; mix that with some PvP risk and there is some fun dynamics to e had.

The market aspect of the game is a straight forward auction house in each major city.  There is no global market so there is opportunity for regional price differences to crop up and for the wall street better there is a chance to find those inefficiencies in the market to cut a profit.  I didn't quite get the fast travel system in the game; it uses a currency that I wasn't clear on how you obtain.  You can teleport between cities using that currency but my experience is it ran out super quick (I think I was able to afford a single fast travel the entirety of the preview event).  If fast travel does stay restrictive it will aid in the market player ability to drive markets; if fast travel becomes too easy with large quantities of goods then the opportunities will close too quickly or only be open to the major players making big moves in the market.  

During the preview event it was hard to get a read on crafted vs dropped loot items in the market.  The market was flooded with the dropped loot while crafted items seemed limited.  This may just be due to preview being limited in time so investment in crafting was not happening as it would in the live game.  I think it will be key for dropped loot to be limited in this game and for player crafting to be the main source of quality gear in the game otherwise the gathering loop will become less beneficial and that problem can cascade through the game.  There was no item loss that I could find in the game so once items are in the game, aside from them getting recycled, they are in the game forever.  That makes it really hard outside of consumable items for crafters to feel like they can make a mark.

Even with the downsides of the core loops noted; I found every aspect of the game engaging.  I liked the combat.  I liked the PvP.  I thoroughly enjoyed hunting the various critters of the land and carving them up into crafting materials (meat, feathers, etc).  I chopped down trees just to watch them fall (again the visuals in this game are awesome).  I played the market a little bit; flipping numerous items for quick profits.  I crafted a lot of food and other consumables; arrows was a steady stream of income to feed my addiction to needing ammo for my musket.

The bottom line is there is a solid core in the game and that has me excited on where this game can go.  There is still a lot to be done as far as content goes to drive more rewards from those core loops, but all signs are pointing in the right direction.  


One thing I noted a couple times was that the game was level based.  This feels off for the game as it currently stands.  It may make more sense as content is added to the PvE side, but for PvP its a classic breaking point of higher level = better.  I think the game would be better suited if instead of leveling it had a tier system similar to it's crafting system that operates in tiers.  Each tier above is stronger than the one below but it's simplified into a few tiers vs a bunch of levels (I think level 60 was max during preview?).  While it wouldn't eliminate imbalance in PvP it would allow the developers to more closely balance between players since there is a smaller division between players.  It could also solve the problem with lower level players zerging down end game PvE content as that end game content could lock out lower tier players in the form of damage reduction (i.e. if you are tier 3 you can't do much damage at all to tier 5 enemies in PvE).  And yep my suggestions for tiers can be implemented with levels but then you just boil down to a few key levels where restrictions change and at that point why not just simplify.

To wrap this long post up (seriously it took me a month to meander these words through my keyboard) I ended up needing a goal in preview and I set that on buying a house.  Every house in the major towns can be bought.  Any number of players can buy an instance of the same house so you are not getting your own dedicated slice of land, but the instance of the house you buy is yours and you can place furniture, store items, and I assume do other things (I literally only made it to purchase not to actually using it before preview wrapped).  There is also a chance however you decorate your house will become the default visual everyone sees from the street.  This is managed through a simple voting interface.  You can visit other instances of the same house and vote up the one you want to see publicly; the house with the most votes is displayed.  This is a neat loop into itself and I definitely forsee some house fashion wars going on for players that dig that sort of thing (and again the game is visually stunning so players can really show off here). I'll leave the post on that thought a picture of my fine home purchase.



Friday, August 28, 2020

By Schism Rent Asunder: Crowfall Beta is HERE!

I had to look up when the last (and apparently only time) I had posted about Crowfall was and it was January 2016!  I knew that it was a new years post mentioning I was looking forward to seeing progress on the game but I'll be honest that I didn't think it had been over FOUR YEARS AGO!  Where does time go?  Ironically I had also mentioned I was going to blog more in 2016 and that turned into a whopping two total posts in 2016 and only a handful since (kids, real life, something, something).

With that recapped it is time to drop some thoughts about Crowfall now that the beta has arrived.  I am an original kickstarter backer so I've had access to all of Crowfall's testing phases.  In the last year I've jumped in and out to check on the game, but did not spend any serious time with it. 

I jumped into the beta with both feet and I've now spent just shy of 20 hours with the game.  There is a full game loop this test compared to previous tests, but I did not find anything that makes the game stand out and I am struggling to find anything that Crowfall does that makes me go "this is the thing that makes me want to play".  If I were to sum up my feedback on the beta so far it would be in the two letters O and K.

New Player Experience is OK

Unlike the past tests that I participated in there is a new player experience that is part of the beta (and from my understanding only 2/3rds of the full experience is in place so maybe some of the below issues I call out will be resolved by the last 1/3 when its added).  It is a straight forward quest system that guides the player from point A to B and explains basic concepts of the game.  

Unfortunately while it serves it's purpose it does nothing to actually bridge the player to what is purported to be the real game of Crowfall; the campaigns.  In fact I would say it does the opposite of bridging players.  The new player quest (and leveling to 30 in the God's Reach safe zone) builds the player up under the premise that you are building towards something and that there will be guided experiences (quests) along the way.

However; currently the only available campaign is "zero import" which means the player will have to strip naked, empty every single inventory slot, and dump everything into their bank in order to join the campaign and literally start over.  No where in the new player experience does it explain that and players can find themselves having geared up for a cosplay party at a nudist colony with strict entrance criteria.

Yes, I can hear forum warriors screaming "there is more than campaigns!".  There is "The Infected" that is a "safe" PvP zone available after level 15 which has no restrictions, but it's not clear what you actually do in "The Infected". Again just pointing back that the game does nothing to bridge you to the next step content. 

New Player Experience; OK at introducing you to the basic mechanics and GREAT at abandoning you without a whisper of what to do next. I'll admit I've not had that experience in an MMO in close to twenty years.

Leveling is OK

Leveling is simple in Crowfall.  Max level is 30 and can be reached within a matter of hours (I've gotten it down to about 2 hours now from 1to 30... it is that easy).  If you group up each group member gets 100% experience from every kill and as a group you can rifle through camps of monsters pretty quick (though respawn rate is glacial so I can forsee problems when population increases).

While leveling is easy what is not explained is that you will have to re-level when you get upgraded "vessels" which are upgraded characters that start over with better stats.  The basic take away (again not actually explained anywhere to you in the game) is that you will always be leveling in this game and characters are disposable so don't get attached.

Leveling; OK because its quick and GREAT that you get to do it over and over and over and over WHICH leads me to my next point.

Choices are final, yo!?

Crowfall is a game of choice and those choices are locked in when it comes to your character.  There is no undo button or respec.  Once a decision is made; whether in the passive skill system (more on this in a bit) or in assigning stat or skill points its final.  This is all fine and dandy except when you realize that wrong decisions can render your character unusable.  Forget to leave enough skill points to unlock minor/major discipline slots (basically leaving your character unplayable) and you will be starting over.  Have the audacity to increase more than a single stat point and therefore hamper your character?  You can't redo them so back to the new character screen and back to leveling!

This is honestly a mind boggling design.  As noted leveling is not hard and the PvE content by which you level is NOT an area Crowfall is focusing on so its a pretty damn boring experience.  Why on earth the game would want to force players back through that versus giving a method to undue/redo stat points is baffling.  It is complete "feel bad" as a new player.  I had to abandon my first two characters because of this.  I can see new players quitting over this without ever getting a taste of what the actual game is supposed to be.

This is the point I should also talk about the "passive" skill training system where you earn points every few seconds (whether logged in or not) that you can then spend on a skill tree to unlock various nodes and the effects are account-wide.  It is very much an EVE Online clone.  You can only gain points in two of the three tracks (you can switch which tracks are earning).  Once you spend points though its final; if you want to go a different direction you have to wait the required amount of time to pursue that alternate path.

Probably the most frustrating portion of the passive system is that some of the very first content you run into in the campaign is gated behind a week or more of passive training (and then only if you know exactly what to unlock and don't dilly dally points away elsewhere).  This goes back to the new player experience feedback and how it actively teaches you the wrong thing about the game.  Through the new player quests you are learning about harvesting yet when you get to the campaign you cannot harvest the nodes that you were trained to think you can harvest and no where does it explain why you can't harvest them or that you may need to go to the passive skill tree to unlock the ability to do so.  The lack of feedback in this game is astounding.

I honestly don't know why the passive skill system is in the game other than to time gate stuff and ensure that any new player in the future is utterly frustrated.  Maybe I am missing something, but I can't see how it contributes to the game in a meaningful way.

Also on the topic of choice one interesting area where choice is not locked in is your choice of faction in the current Dregs Campaign.  You can change your faction and in the current beta (as of this post) we are seeing a bit of faction hopping as a prominent guild has "unguilded" and opted just to play with "the newbs" in one faction.  Thus we have an exodus from other factions.  It's a curious decision.  If there is any decision I'd say warrants players being locked in it would be something such as what faction they select when joining a campaign since supposedly the game is all about campaigns and rewarding players for doing better in them.  Being able to flip flop factions (there is a time delay so it can't be overly abused) seems like an odd place to offer choice to the player when so many other fundamental things are locked in upon your first click.

Combat is OK

If there is one area that I struggled the most with it is the combat.  I'll be honest; I do not like it and it will be the reason I stop playing.  It is "twitch" based as in that you have to aim your attacks/skills (even heals) but the classes/skills are all built in the style of tab targeting combat where you are trying to chain skills together on your target.  

Without any form of lock on targeting there is a higher abundance (at least it feels like it) of skills with some form of area of effect (AoE).  However, it looks like there is a cap on targets so only a limited number of enemies can be hit by an AoE.  In some cases for cone AoE attacks they only hit one target which is really frustrating in crowded combat.

The "hit detection" is pretty generous so I didn't have much issue landing my clicks on target.  I know some players would like to see the hit detection tightened up, but personally I prefer the generous approach as the game (animations, skills, etc) do not lend themselves to a precise hitbox.

The aiming applies to melee as well and you do have to be right on top of your target to land melee hits.  This can be frustrating when combined with the fact that every character (player or NPC) in the game seems to have some form of super leap ability (don't even get me started on magical flying centaurs) which makes for a lot of Cotton Eye Joe "where did they come from/where did they go" moments. 

The best description of combat is the term "floaty" (which I nabbed from this video).  It is hard to describe in words, but as KiraTV noted in the linked video you will understand it when you play and I couldn't agree more. Attempting to use some words to describe it; there doesn't feel like there is any weight to combat.  Everyone is leaping about (just about every NPC you fight included) and characters seem to move as if just slightly skating above the actual ground.  You never feel like you are actually committed to combat and in group settings there is a lot of "I'm going in deep" over Discord voice chat as the bowling ball classes leap into combat (but knowing full well a second later they are jumping back out).  I'll touch base on crowd control in my comments on PvP.

And there is something I just cannot pin point with the combat to make it click with me.  I really struggle with getting skills to fire.  So many times I thought fired a skill or ability, but nothing happens.  No feedback; nothing.  Many skills are also just slight variations of something else so they feel very "samey" which contributes to the confusion.  

There is also some sort of resource system for each class, but of course like so many things in the game it's not explained and the error messages that flash on screen "not enough X" don't really help.  The main problem here is this type of system is best suited for tab target combat (using the term tab target as I lack better vernacular here) but is slapped into a twitchy wannabe FPS combat system in Crowfall.

Player vs Player is OK

If you read my section on combat then you know that I won't have much more to say about the PvP, but I will touch on a couple things.

To footstomp the note about the "floaty" feeling of combat: characters are flipping and zooming all over the place in combat and it is annoying and frustrating (I'd wager 50% of the skills in game are worthless aside from getting lucky with some button mashing to land them).  Centaurs take the cake on the ridiculous movement from having leaps and double leaps (I will admit I am not sure if these are class or racial unlocks) that are the equivalent of an in game Superman impersonation.  A good portion of my playtime was grouping up with a centaur champion pit fighter and in PvE I was lucky to be able to reach the mob in the time it took the centaur to have leaped and killed the target.  In PvP they were in and out of combat before I could even think bout contributing.

There is crowd control in the game so enemies can certainly be locked down, but that almost feels entirely designed to punish solo players so they can't escape a group or for stealth gankers to execute their targets victims.  In group combat scenarios with the twitch combat landing crowd control on key targets (at least CC that is not AoE based) is a tall order.  There is some skill in here somewhere (I've certainly been wrecked by getting locked down with CC in fights... well... mostly when trying to escape fights), but its beyond my grasp.

There is different areas for different types of PvP.  "The Infected" map for safe PvP where you cannot be looted on death.  Then the campaigns where there is full loot PvP (except oddly equipped gear), sieges, attack/defend points, and some smaller activities I haven't explored.  The biggest problem with this is the game does nothing to explain why you'd want to do any of it.  

I literally cannot figure out what "The Infected" is intended for.  It states "level 15+" so you'd assume you could jump in at 15 for some fun.  Yet the first PvE mob camps are 20+ so you can't go on a PvE excursion and the PvP is... ganking?  Maybe this is the practice area for us plebes? Maybe if I'm scared of full loot PvP and I'm not interested in campaign rewards then I'm supposed to play here?  CAN SOMEONE TELL ME PLEASE (preferably in the game)!?

I have some comments around the larger battles as well, but as I've not experienced them myself I am going off videos and other player feedback.  I will sum it up by saying I had sincerely hoped I'd never see another dodge/leap and AoE roaming zerg spam fest after Guild Wars 2 (dodge and AoE being my biggest complaints of GW2 combat). Unfortunately Crowfall missed my memo on that.  There is nothing really new here on the topic either; Crowfall has all of the same problems that this type of combat system brings and none of the lessons learned from those other games to discourage blobs of people piling up.  Is that hard to ask games to incentivize reasonable size combat scenarios instead of never-going-to-work "biggest fights of any MMO ever!".

Campaigns are OK?

Maybe?  I am not really sure.  Not much is explained about them in the game and after several hours playing guild-adjacent I can't say I've learned much.  At a minimum there are a few constants: 

  • I can't harvest anything (assuming passive skill system unlocks are needed, but again not explained in game).  
  • You will get ganked the moment you set foot into the first area (the maps feel small)
  • You will spend a lot of time roaming around and playing "capture the thing"

As I mentioned in my thoughts on the new player experience the current campaign is "zero import" so players are starting from scratch; just your character, levels, and disciplines.  In my experience (joining in a week+ after the campaign started) I immediately felt behind the curve and a character without any gear felt completely helpless.  With the small map sizes there is really no place for a solo player (well unless you consider the classic just-what-every-MMO-needs "stealth ganker" as "solo" play) to advance and gear up.  You will need friends (and you better go to the guild recruitment forums because there is no find-other-players-that-are-doing-stuff tools in the game unless you feel like getting hoodwinked and ganked by using the public chats to organize something).

I will have to revisit my thoughts if I stick it out long enough to see a campaign through.

JOIN A GUILD!!!!

Yes dear reader I can hear you slapping your desk and screaming "JOIN A GUILD".  That's a great suggestion; games are always better with friends.  This would be great if the game explained the importance of joining a guild and had a great feature set supporting active guild recruitment, player grouping, and other social connectivity features.

My follow up question to the "JOIN A GUILD" screamers is "then what?".  Joining a guild doesn't exactly unlock anything other than other's to play with.  Why does it have to be a guild?  There are factions in the game; why can't it better facilitate players working together without the construct of a guild.  

Some other things...

Just some other odds and ends (mostly negative; again struggling to find a light here with Crowfall)

  • There is no UI customization and the UI isn't great; at a minimum you need to be able to rearrange items and scale the UI.  After World of Warcraft I had just assumed we'd never see another MMO that didn't feature customizable UIs... how sadly wrong I was.
  • The UI is also a mess in some key areas
    • Buffs/Debuffs are represented on the top right as a stacked list. You cannot click or hover over them (that I can find) to understand what they are and there is no reasonable way to reference them in combat and there will be so many stacked up that they are basically meaningless.
    • Every time you loot it opens up your main character UI screen, the loot window, and any window you had not closed.  Hopefully you don't misclick and invest a stat point on accident because as noted that stat point decision is FINAL on click (whether you intended it or not).
    • Speaking of looting; there is no loot all or auto loot options.  Truly hardcore; to the fastest clickers goes the loot.
    • And speaking of looting; sometimes loot is sprayed out like candy from pinata instead of being in a screen you click in.  Harvesting also works under the pinata model as well which requires you then to go run over the items you harvested to actually collect them.  I'd prefer if the game went one way or the other; candy I just run over and pick up automatically or always have to click to collect.
  • Crafting is... well.. I don't know. Another thing not very well explained in game (and even more confusing if you venture on to the Internet to find out more).  At this stage of the game you get enough loot from leveling that you don't have to think about crafting outside of some basics for bandages and food.  Crafting is supposedly a "big deal" in the game but your average player starting the game will not know that which is disappointing.  I honestly miss the days of Ultima Online where you really had to find the merchants and crafters to keep you going right out of the gate.
  • There is a food system in the game? Why?  I don't know.  Its feels like another "idea on the pile because another game did it".  Maybe its about crafting?  Buffs?  It sounds like it works like Guild Wars 2 where you need food to get specific buffs and thus becomes an annoying "thing you just need to do to be able to play".
  • There is the (now standard it seems in MMOs) drag an item out of your inventory to destroy it feature which seems like a really odd choice in a "full loot" game because players can literally just dump their inventory to avoid it getting snatched up.  Probably can't dump everything but in the group I am playing folks have set up macros to insta-dump pretty much everything if they know they are going down.  Generally if you are going to have a "full loot" system you avoid outlets for players to get rid of stuff.
  • Stealth; meh.  Anyone that knows me knows I hate it.  It's dumb and is really invisibility; not stealth. There is an entire major discipline (Mole Hunter) that is intended to root out stealthers so at least there is some acknowledgement that it has to be kept in check.  This is good because the gerbil race gets stealth as a racial feature (I fully support unique racial traits... just not this one).  It cracks me up that there is "gerbil gank squads" that can  have a healer, DPS, and tank that can all go poof in/out of nowhere.

 

Final Thoughts

My final view of Crowfall is that it feels like a collection of ideas from various games rather than its own unique experience.

  • The characters/classes/skills want to be a tab target MMO while the combat wants to be an FPS; the game needs to go one way or the other instead of trying to straddle both (I'd recommend going tab targeting and I feel bad saying that)
  • The passive skill system wants to be EVE Online but without any clear reason as to why or what its trying to accomplish for the game (other than becoming a hurdle for new players to join the game in the future).
  • The hub/spoke model to the maps wants to be anything but an actual massive online anything

I'll be honest that I am disappointed.   The combat is the part that sticks out to me the most; it does not feel good and that will be a huge item for me to get past to continue with this game.

The lack of feedback about anything in the game is astounding and a road block to enjoying the game.  Some of this will be fixed with the last part of the New Player Experience, but that's only scratching the surface of the problem.  Skills/abilities need a hair cut; we need fewer and more impactful skills that pair well with the twitch combat and then that smaller set of skills/abilities need to be really clear to the players on what they do/don't do when being used.

Crowfall is OK; not great but at least now a full game you can play.

A quick note on performance

I have a new gaming rig (details) and saw pretty solid framerates the entire time I played.  I did not get into any major sieges so did not see combat at scale.  In smaller skirmishes (at most 20 players) I didn't notice any performance issues.  I tend not to get into FPS or other performance metrics; I base my feedback on how the game feels when playing and nothing felt off to me.

With that said I am not sure what is at the root of my feelings around combat.  Again it felt really clunky and I repeatedly didn't see skills fire that I thought I was using.  There could be a component of optimization/performance that I am overlooking, but as I've seen this same feedback about combat almost universally from other beta testers I tend to lean that it's just a core issue with the combat system.

But what about that post title?

Curious where "By Schism Rent Asunder" comes from?  It is a book by David Weber in the Safehold series which gets my vote for some of the best book titles in Sci Fi!  As it was present in my mind (and to-read pile) I wanted to throw it in the title (because #reasons).

Friday, January 17, 2020

Theros Beyond Death is here (not beyond death).... let's brew!

Murdered titles aside; Magic the Gathering's latest set, Theros Beyond Death, is here and available on Arena.  With a new set comes new deck brews.  I will state up front that I am a net decker in general (i.e. I copy decks of the Internet), but with new sets I'll happily take some of popular decks and see if I can slot some of the new cards in to brew up something a little fresher.

I tend towards aggressive decks on Arena since they are most often the least rare/mythic reliant.  I love more control oriented or tempo based decks, but my current Arena position does not allow for me to craft those decks.  With that in mind I first looked at the classic red aggro decks that are popular at the dawn of every set (aggro decks tend to do well early on as other decks are not yet refined).  I didn't find anything that drew my attention so I looked at white weenie decks and struck out there.


Then I stumbled onto folks playing with Nightmare Shepherd in mono-black decks focused on devotion win condition with Gray Merchant of Asphodel (affectionately known as Gary).  The core of the decks seemed to be the Cauldron Familiar/Witch's Oven sacrifice engine from the previous metagame featuring cards such as Ayara, First of Locthwain and Priest of Forgotten Gods to make the sacrifice and recursion of the cats pay off.

This got me thinking about what else would be fun to sacrifice to trigger Nightmare Shepherd and I immediately went looking for "enter the battlefield" effects and that brought me to one of my favorite cards from a previous discard deck; Yarok's Fenlurker.  Fenlurker was an upgrade to the previous use of Burgler Rat in discard decks as its an equal effect with an upside.  Fenlurkers upside looks even better now with Nightmare Shepherd and the devotion win condition with Gary.   A quick glance at various decklists on some websites confirmed I wasn't alone in this thinking.

Looking further I wanted to take the concepts here even further and started to look for other cards that supported the brewing theme around sacrificing and getting things back in return.  This brought me to Kaya's Ghostform which I had remembered from a few draft runs where I kept ending up with multiple copies of it.  It paid off in a few draft games so I threw it in here to help bring back more fodder for the sacrifice.

I filled the rest of my modest brew in with the curve from other mono-black devotion decks I am seeing online (the fill ins were pretty straight forward black staples; Knight of the Ebon Legion, Murderous Rider, etc).  

Here is what I landed on and hope to get around to crafting for Best of 1 play:

Deck
3 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
4 Kaya's Ghostform (WAR) 94
4 Knight of the Ebon Legion (M20) 105
3 Yarok's Fenlurker (M20) 123
2 Witch's Cottage (ELD) 249
4 Witch's Oven (ELD) 237
19 Swamp (ELD) 261
3 Ayara, First of Locthwain (ELD) 75
4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 81
3 Murderous Rider (ELD) 97
3 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel (THB) 99
4 Nightmare Shepherd (THB) 108

Unfortunately it will be a bit of time before I get to play it as I am planning to build my collection via draft and not spend wildcards at this time.  We'll see how the meta shapes up and if there is any competitive legs to mono-black devotion sacrifice.

Friday, January 03, 2020

New year; let's blog! Christmas board games



This was one of Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) ventures into unique games (the other attempt being Keyforge). Stealing FFGs blurb: "Every copy of Discover: Lands Unknown is unlike any other in the world. A mix of environments, storylines, characters, locations, items, and enemies have been engineered to tell a story unique to every copy of the game thanks to an algorithm that ensures no two copies are alike."


Whew! May 14th 2019... the last time I posted. Let's kick start the 2020 tires by posting to this web log.

First up; Christmas has come and gone and with it so has a slew of new board games to give a try. Here are some thoughts on a couple.

Discover: Lands Unknown



https://amzn.to/39M3BLkGeneral critical consensus seems to be that Discover: Lands Unknown was a flop, but I found the game to be engaging and enjoyable while delivering on its core mechanic of a survival experience.

In my first game I lost a fight with a bull moose and watched from the sideline as my wife and oldest son survived onwards before starvation nabbed them both in the middle of the night. 

Better oriented in follow up plays we were more successful as a party of survivors.  Keeping supplies of food and fresh water are key; crafting flint to start fires is also a good idea.  Weapons are helpful, but combat (other than if required by your unique scenario) is better avoided (as evidenced by my scrap with a bull moose).

One aspect that I found interesting (but did not explore while playing with my family) was the potential for players competing with each other.  As far as I can tell there is no overt direction by the game that players should cooperate, but it does become apparent that survival is easier together.  With that said the game puts players in interesting positions to overtly (or covertly) compete with each other.  It could be as simple as the elected Tribal Leader moving a monster towards one player vs another or one of the players holding off on crafting a key item so the rest of the party can't get access to it.  In the Tribal Leader case it is an overt act and this can kick off a debate at the table of whether a change at Tribal Leader is warranted.  In the crafting case it is a covert action; other players do not know what project cards you may be holding and is easily played off as though you don't have resources to craft it yet.  I imagine in other scenarios there may be more of a drive for players to compete directly with each other and there is a "Scenario 5" that I believe is designed around replayability and meant to be the player vs player scenario.

My only complaints for the game were that initial set up takes longer than I'd like and there is some hunt and pecking in the rule book. Also the "quick reference" sheet that is the most helpful rules reference is on the back of the scenario sheet which was not obvious at first.  In later play throughs all that we needed was that quick reference.  And good news is that once everything is sorted and the players better understand the reason for the setup it goes much faster.

I suppose the more we play the game we may exhaust the two scenarios that came with the game, but I suspect by the time we get there we will be done with the game and personally I find it interesting that we could get a used copy that would deliver a brand new and unique adventure (even though many reviews note there is not that much difference form one copy to the next even if the components are different).

Photosynthesis


https://amzn.to/2MUaWOV
The second game gifted over the holidays was Photosynthesis.  This has been on my list for a while.  As an avid gardener the aesthetic of this game spoke to me.  The green, orange,yellow, and blue of the trees looks great on the table.


The game falls into the "easy to learn, hard to master" category.  Other than punching a lot of cardboard set up is a breeze.  The game plays quickly as well and boils down to a simple loop of "plant seeds, grow trees, collect points, THROW SHADE".

That last bit about throwing shade is where the "hard to master" part comes in.  Players really have to think in three dimensions and future planning is well rewarded.  Where trees are planted, when they are planted, and what stage you are going to grow them to while the sun rotates around the board offers an amazing array of choice. 

Do you want to shade your opponent out or take that fully developed tree off the board to score the points?  You could grow that tree, but now it shades your other tree for two turns which will leave you a point short to score a bigger tree.... BUT in three turns it will shade out your opponent for the next four turns!

The game plays fast (excepting the chess-level thinkers out there) and has won an immediate place in our family's rotation of games.

Warmachine High Command


This is one from the bargain bin at our local Ollies (#olliesarmy represent!).  High Command is a card drafting game set in the Iron Kingdoms setting of Warmachine.  I would best describe it as a drafting version of Smash Up for folks that want the Warhammer 40k aesthetic instead (yes I said Warhammer damn it!).

Players pick a cross selection of cards to play (like picking two factions in Smash Up) and then slowly draft them into your discard deck so you can eventually shuffle them back into your draw pile to get and play.  There are also war casters that sit on the sideline waiting to be rushed in for a single glorious predictable turn before being removed from the game.

Characters and war casters are deployed to locations (just like Smash Up) eventually waiting for one side to out muscle the other and claim the location as a prize (just like Smash Up). 

As you may be able to suss out by the snarky review I was not impressed by the game.  The cards are a mess.  The text is tiny, iconography is horrible, and over all plays is a slog. The best part is the random end to the game which can occur at any moment once the game progresses to the "stage 3" event cards that represent the turns.  Do I have one turn?  Two?  Who knows!  Throw in locations that benefit a specific faction only (and it sure is likely will be your opponents) and its lovely.

The good news is my oldest son likes loves the game and the second core set Faith and Fortune was only a few bucks as well at the good ole Ollies so I'll be enjoying this one for a while apparently.  I hope he never reads this blog...



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