Monthly Archives: June 2015

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 29/06/15

It’s been a couple of months since I have done one of these mostly due to work commitments and a complete lack of motivation but I am determined to get back on it. Except next week when I am on holiday but DEFINITELY after that.

Innovation

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 45 minutes

Innovation is an abstract card game where players use cards (which feature a variety of symbols, actions, are one of five colours and have an ‘age’ value from 1-10) to score points so they can claim ‘innovations’. In a four player game the first to 4 innovations is the winner. At the beginning of the game the ten different ages are placed into ten separate piles and players are dealt two age 1 cards. On their turn players can take two actions which are draw (from the lowest age), play (put a card face-up in front of them in one of five piles each of a separate colour), activate one of the cards in front of them or dominate (claim an innovation).

Those actions are fairly straightforward but it is the actions on the cards you have played that provide the complexity. All cards have symbols on them representing various technologies and when you activate a card it may affect other players depending on whether or not they have less symbols displayed that match the card that you have activated. Some will be beneficial to other players but some will harm them. Ultimately you are hoping to activate a card that lets you score cards as your score lets you dominate and after a set amount of dominations you win the game.

The mechanics of Innovation are so obtuse that I was halfway through the game before I knew what was going on and the game’s theme jargon and iconography really slowed me getting a grip on how the game works. On top of that many cards have quite a chaotic effect when activated meaning that the plan you have managed to cobble together gets scuppered on another players whim especially when cards in a later age feel disproportionately powerful. Miraculously I managed to get a win using just one card that let me steal and score cards from other players hands so after 8 flailing rounds of treading water I suddenly boosted to victory. I don’t mind randomness in games but it seems out of place in one that, on the surface, feels like a compact engine builder.

Battlestar Galactica

Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 3 hours

After the last game of Battlestar Galactica I had vowed never to play it again. The last 30 minutes were an intense back and forth between two teams but they were proceeded by over 3 hours of pure drab and then were decided by the gaming equivalent of tossing a coin. It wasn’t my most productive 4 hours so when it was proposed again I had reservations but all the players had played it before and it was a fun bunch so I dived in.

Battlestar Galactica is based on the more recent version of the TV series where players are co-operatively trying to save the last humans from an evil robot civilisation called Cylons that have replaced key human figures with identical robots in a bid to kill all humans. At the start of the game players choose a character from a roster of well over 20 and are then placed on the Battlestar Galactica, a colossal spaceship which is mankinds last hope. Two special roles (the Admiral and the President) are also then assigned. Players are trying to move the ship a certain distance before one of 4 resources (fuel, food, morale and population) runs out or before Cylons overrun or destroy the ship.

At the start of their turn players draw 5 Skill Cards. Skill cards come in 5 different colours/types (politics, support etc.) and players only draw ones that match their characters balance of skills. These cards can be played at various times depending on the card text and also have a value that is used in Skill Checks (described later). Then the player gets to move to a different part of Battlestar Galactica and take an action. Some actions come from cards but usually a player will play the action that matches the location they have moved to such as firing at Cylon raiders outside the ship, repelling boarders or drawing extra cards. The player who is the President also gets to retire to their Presidential chambers to draw special Quorum Cards which can be played on subsequent turns to give special boosts or recover resources. Finally the player draws a crisis card which will usually give the player some unpleasant Sophie’s choice, will determine the behaviour of any Cylon ships around Galactica and may move the ship further down the Jump Track which is how players win the game.

The jump track is only four spaces long but when it reaches the end the spaceship jumps into hyperspace (or something) getting closer to safety and leaving all the enemy ships behind (for now). When they do this the jump track resets and the Admiral draws two Destination cards each with a number (1-3) and some kind of penalty (eg. lose 1 food) and then places one in front of them. Players are trying to get to a total of 8 in all their jumps before then attempting a final jump to victory.

At certain points of the game (usually on resolving a crisis card) players will be asked to make a Skill Check which they must pass or suffer some ill effect. Players secretly contribute cards to this in the colours that the skill check demands and if the value of the cards is greater than the Skill Check threshold then they pass. However, two random coloured cards are added in and any cards of the wrong colour deduct from the score. So why all the secrecy? Aren’t we all working together? No, because some characters are filthy, treacherous robot doppelgangers.

At the beginning of the game players are secretly dealt a card from a Loyalty Deck which is around twice the number of players. Most cards simply state ‘You are not a Cylon’ which means business as usual but some of them (two in a six-player game) mark the player as a secret Cylon and give them a special Reveal action. Then at the halfway point (when the Destination Card total hits 4 or more) the rest of the loyalty cards are dealt out meaning that if you weren’t a Cylon before then you could be now. As you may have guessed Cylons are trying to lose the game and they can either do it by subtly failing skill checks and making poor decisions or revealing themselves using an action on their turn (they then move to a special little Cylon ship with its own nefarious action spots). Players that arouse too much suspicion can be thrown in the Brig where they can’t do much damage but once in the Brig they don’t receive their super damaging Super Crisis Card on reveal. There are a lot of finer points to the game but in general this is how it works.

For me BSG is a little too long for a traitor game. Being a human can get a bit dull but then as a Cylon it’s quite risky to do anything too obvious so you just end up acting good until you are absolutely forced to do reveal yourself or do something drastic. Because of this I couldn’t recommend it too strongly but with the right group of people it is still a lot of fun. Paranoia can really get hold until you are convinced that everyone is a traitor. Six players felt like a good top limit for it too as if players took their turns quickly then there would always be a few skill checks to throw cards into or player decisions to mull over. I would be tempted to play this again especially with a group that know what they are doing and could thrash out a game in under two hours. In the meantime I will stick with more bitesized betrayers like Saboteur.

No more NES

A few outdated circuit boards in a grey plastic box shouldn’t mean so much but last Saturday I sold all my NES and SNES stuff in a bid to clear some of the clutter from my house and I felt pretty down about it. I had been kidding myself that when my wife and I moved I would set up a little den with all the old consoles in a sort of mini-museum. Then I would be the coolest dad around when my son brought his mates round to show off all the retro classics that his old man had. Of course, this was never going to happen. I had not played these games in years despite many being readily available in-browser on sites like virtualnes.com. Actually, my first clue should have been fruitlessly reaching for cool dad status because as we all know, trying to be cool is not cool (neither is using the word cool but I don’t care, I’m not cool, my wife told me so).

I don’t regret getting rid of all those clunky cartridges and naturally it makes logical sense to take the cash but I am still a little sad, like a part of me has gone. I spent a lot of hours with those games and they became a part of my gamer identity for a long time. Games defined me but to a lesser extent, I left a part of me with them too. I don’t mean all that spit blown on the cartridge slot or all those saved Super Mario Kart lap times but something more intangible like Sauron’s magic ring or Voldemort’s snake. It’s hard to get across but when you spend so much time with something then losing it can be hard, even if you did neglectfully dump it in a hot loft for 20 years.

I am not a man prone to nostalgia or sentiment but it’s hard not to feel a bit wistful about getting a NES for my 13 birthday or completing King Arthur’s World or reaching that final level of Battletoads or finally pulling off that Spinning Piledriver or so many things. But those are just memories and trying to recapture them is folly. Leigh Alexander wrote an article about how gamers were over, an outdated relic, but while I disagree with some of her sentiment (as long as there is passion, even misguided, there will always be people attending that midnight launch or getting their ninth Mario tattoo) I would have to agree that this gamer is definitely over. I no longer want plush mushroom hats or posters.

Saying goodbye to all that stuff is an acknowledgement of change. I now accept that it’s not that I can’t, but that I don’t want to play Battlefield until 5am (although I may want to want to in my more pitiful moments). I would still say that I enjoy video-gaming but I am not in love with it any more. It’s like seeing an ex-girlfriend once the glow of love has burned away. You can’t quite remember why you felt so strongly back then. It’s a second loss but one that pushes you forward instead of keeping you in a room crying onto old photographs. I now play Trials HD with my 2 year old son on my lap, he pushes the accelerator and I do the balancing. It’s wonderful (and very difficult).

In some ways I have become the gamer that real gamers hate. I play free-to-play fodder like Ace Combat Infinity and have no interest in displacing the old Xbox 360 from it’s dusty home under the TV with a shiny new Xbox One or PS4. I don’t even care about which one is better and have no opinion about console wars. It’s unthinkable. I am now a casual gamer and I am not even disgusted with myself. It’s quite freeing really. I am a born-again noob. Besides, if anyone doubts my credentials then I can produce a PSOne memory card with a Bushido Blade save with Katze unlocked. It makes that tenth prestige look like a penny you found on the street. Oops, they are pulling me back.

So goodbye old friends, we had some good times but now it’s time to move onto fresh experiences. Well freshER. I just started Gears of War 3 which is 4 years old so I guess I am a de facto retro gamer anyway. Oh look, I am cool. Damn, almost made it.