Friday, July 24, 2015

Dead of Winter Review: Making Survival Matter

I don't say this easily, but Dead of Winter is the best designed game I have played this year.

Every turn matters; every choice matters.  Your individual actions are loaded with uncertainty, as you decide whether or not an action might kill your characters.  Is the risk too high for the chance to find medicine?  There's always the need for more food and medicine at the colony, after all.  Is the sacrifice you make going to keep the group going strong, or is Dana actually a traitor, and your generosity in giving him weapons going to bite you back in the end?

This is a game about survival, and it does what a lot games try to do, and never quite make it: you feel the experience yourself.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In Remembrance of Satoru Iwata

On Sunday night, Nintendo announced that Satoru Iwata, President of the company, died of "a bile duct growth" on July 11, 2015.  It was well known that Iwata's health had been an issue of late, as his surgery relating to this same growth caused him to miss E3 the last 2 years.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Malifaux Tactics: In That Place There Will be Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth: A Pandora Tactica

I can say that there was probably no master more reviled in Malifaux's first edition than my main girl Pandora. With the ability to make any opponent pay in blood to do anything, fighting against her felt like an inevitable loss that consisted mostly of sitting inside a Sicilian Bull.  She was a fun master to learn, but felt sometimes impossible to win against.

 In 2.0 she was toned down and made more balanced, but she still makes people sigh and roll their eyes, thanks to her unique play-style. That isn't to say that I've won every game I've played with her. She is beatable; in fact, she has some pretty glaring weaknesses. However, you can play smart and stack her strengths so that even a seasoned Pandora-Slapping opponent will have a tough time keeping a grip on his sanity.

Monday, July 6, 2015

More Games, Your Majesty

There are plenty of top-down RTSs in the world: Warcraft, Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and Age of Empires, to name a few. So why, with all of these bigger titles out there, would I get excited over a game I'd never heard of that was released way back in 2000? 

It has two subtitles. It must be good.
First and foremost, Majesty meets the prime requirement for a Sprites and Dice article: It's just fun. It's got the tried-and-true gameplay style of building your kingdom, upgrading buildings, upgrading units, fighting and winning.  It's a nice blast of nostalgia from my old Warcraft II days, while at the same time still giving me some concepts I hadn't experienced in the games I had played before.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Malifaux Factions: The Ten Thunders - To Defeat Your Enemy, Become Your Enemy

Malifaux. We've got Wild West cowboys, ghosts and zombies, steampunk engineers and their creations, otherworldly demons, and hillbilly gremlins. What more could we possibly need?

How about ninjas to infiltrate and aid all of those other groups, all while pursuing their own goals?

The Ten Thunders are a faction unlike any other. In addition to being a faction unto themselves, they meld with every other faction in the game. Every Ten Thunders master with the exception of Shenlong can be hired either as Ten Thunders or as something else, and with their Infiltration abilities they can still bring their crew along even out-of-faction.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Infested Planet: Great Theme, Great Game

To me, Infested Planet demonstrates the power of two things: that a fantastic game-play trailer can hook you into purchasing a game, and that a great thematic atmosphere can make a good game great.

Infested Planet immediately sets you up as the underdog, and that's truly the great appeal of this game.  It captures that feeling so well that you want to keep playing, want to keep going up against a campaign that willfully makes each level a dilemma where you're grinding through thousands of foes just to stay alive.  Soon, the sound of mini-guns warming up to stem back the tide of bugs will be the most beautiful music to your ears.  Welcome to the front lines, soldier: try not to die.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Post Replica: An RPG For Non-Humans

     Listen, you may not know it, but I'm a total sucker for trans-humanism. The chance to examine what it means to be a cognizant human when we have the ability to modify our bodies with robotics and technology is a subject that I find endlessly enthralling. It's for that reason that I often find myself playing characters that want to transcend life and attain immortality, whether that be through song and story, replacement organs, or just good old fashioned lichdom.

Post Replica: a tabletop RPG for the 21st century

     A friend of mine turned me on to a Kickstarter that is stabbing right into the heart of what it means to be human by approaching humanity from the complete other side of the spectrum. Post Replica has the players controlling sentient androids in a world that has been utterly torn apart by the fear of true artificial intelligence. The setting takes place after the fall of civilization in a burnt and destroyed wasteland, with human communities eking out a meager existence among the bones of their grandfather's achievements. Androids were built for war, and like many tools of destruction were so frighteningly effective that humanity tried to shut them down. Fifty years after the end of the War, the androids begin waking up again into a hateful new environment. Xenophobia and mistrust run rampant, and the cleverly disguised androids must avoid suspicion while trying to find out what life means to them. Beset by monstrous, broken androids that have lost their own consciousness on one side, on the other the crusading Reclaimer sect of humanity out to wash away the taint of machine minds, Post Replica forces the players to consider what they will do in a hostile and alien world.

     With a setting that's already chock full of amazing content for deep and serious narratives, the team at Rational Basis Media is tackling this project with modern tools that have been largely ignored by more traditional games. In the interest of knitting together a living world the Post Replica team is developing an app for tablets, phones, and computers that will deliver algorithmicly generated plot hooks for the party to explore. While this provides a broad range of material for the players, it also allows the game to receive feedback about missions whether successful or unsuccessful and incorporate that in other player's stories. If Farmer John has been asking for help from local androids and it ends up being a Reclaimer trap, perhaps some other group will run into that dastardly front in the future.

There's still a base class system, androids or not.
     I feel like this is a new paradigm for role playing games to explore. MMOs have enthralled players around the world for countless hours (about 6 million hours in World of Warcraft alone, and that was measured back in 2012) by providing reactive worlds with evolving storylines. Many role-playing game franchises have meta plots that can be advanced and affect the nature of the content in the game, like World of Darkness' deep lore, or the Legend of the Five Rings' overarching plot being influenced by the outcome of their yearly CCG tournaments. Post Replica is the first role-playing game (to my knowledge) that supplies the granularity of story offered by a dedicated GM with the immersive world-building supplied by an MMO. As a parallel I know that Dystopia Rising - a post-apoc LARP with franchises throughout the country - has a similar system, but they also have the impetus of 7 years development with a massive community that spans the United States.

     I bring it up because the Rational Basis Media team is only a handful of people. They are inviting us, the players, to join in on their player-driven narrative and world-building through this app. As an avid LARPer, I'm incredibly excited to find something that will allow me to get my role-playing fix with the regularity of a proper forum, without the weird baggage that comes from such defunct platforms as AIM Chatrooms or anonymous role-playing forums. Or seedy alleys behind the Auction Houses in MMOs.

The ruined Androids that wander the wasteland give you and your characters a bad name.  It's up to you to either blend in, or help take these things out.  Or both.

     Mechanically, Post Replica offers a fun mathematical puzzle. "Potential" stats dictate how many dice you can roll, while a "Capability" stat lets you reroll some amount of those dice to achieve a target number. If I have 4 Discipline and 2 Clarity, when faced with a distracting nightclub I can roll 4 dice, then re-roll any 2 in order to hit a target of 12, to successfully track a fleeing suspect out the back door.  It's a system that supports succeeding, and since it has multiple dice the probability distribution will end up being a modulated Gaussian curve. I find the normal distribution tends towards better narratives, because it causes wild successes and massive failures to be more rare and thus more dramatic. That tickles the engineer in me. I prefer die pool systems to d20s and flat probabilities.  If you want to take a closer look at the mechanics, check out the Kickstarter materials.

     There's a lot of deep philosophic territory to be explored in the setting that I'm itching to delve into. Acting as entities that are distinctly nonhuman, but still swaddled in the appearance of humanity speaks to an understanding of the concept of being an outsider that every person has to deal with daily. Being a human means being separated from others, and by drawing that stark boundary between the "self" and "others", Post Replica offers the potential for some really emotional and cathartic role-play, if you choose to follow that path.

     Of course, if you'd rather just play a bad-ass Blade Runner style robot, carving out your life in the apocalypse, bashing renegade androids and cultists alike, then I'm sure you'll find the game you're looking for in Post Replica just as much as me.  Go ahead and take a look, as there's only ten days left to get in on the ground floor to this great looking system.

      If you want to talk to me about robots, games, robots that play games, or games about robots, hit me up on Twitter @Dkjolner!