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Ian O'Rourke
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Having Gone Cold Turkey
Keywords: Role-Playing Games; Video Games; Board Games.

So, four months ago, I effectively dropped out of playing tabletop role-playing games. The first thing to say is it doesn't feel like four months, which probably says something in and off itself. The second thing to say is it was a bit strange, but only at first. The usual thing happened and my mind started flooding with gaming ideas. It's a bit like Ross and Rachel, you assume you're 'on a break'. You have the deluded belief you'll use the break to put something together and come back with an idea or two and run something.

Never going to happen. I think that was my cold turkey phase. That just seemed to suddenly drop off and now, surprisingly, I don't miss it.

This hasn't really happened before. During previous lulls I've still been involved either because I've been writing material for magazines, buying games but not playing them, avidly involved in various forums or all three. There was always a big armchair gamer thing going on. What can I say? last time I had a serious break, four years in length, it was the nineties and a lot of people did armchair gaming back then, that's why so many supplements were released. I've never really had a complete break.

A core of the time has been taken up with computer games. While it's not something that can be documented like the cycles of the moon, there has been an element of computer games rising as tabletop role-playing waned over the course of my life. It's even got me back into PC Gaming which, despite the dramas getting a PC to me in one piece, is turning out to be a great experience.

I've only skirted the edges of the PC Gaming really, as it's primarily consisted of Star Wars: The Old Republic. There is a number of genres I want to get into but it's finding the time: Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity (party-based role-playing games), Elite: Dangerous (space sims) and DCS World (flight sim), etc. I am looking into a joystick, more specifically, a HOTAS, which is a Hands on Throttle and Stick. I'm finding it hard to jump into anything like Elite or a flight simulator without one. I have this vague sense it'll be more...immersive. These things can cost a fortune but there has been some good reviews of a sensibly priced one. A worth an experiment price. In a way, this is a nostalgia thing, but with all new experiences, as I feel PC Gaming is now delivering like it used to back in the day before 'the grand culling of game genres' and the rise of the FPS.

While not PC Gaming, after a bit of a lull I'm getting back into Destiny. The problem with Destiny is I'd just lost any incentive to keep playing. While there is always a bit of gear you might want, there wasn't really much reason to have it. It wasn't giving me access to new experiences, my future in Destiny was grinding patrols or strikes no matter what gear I accumulated. This has changed though as we now have a fire team of family and partners which means we can raid. We are currently giving Vault of Glass a go and it's great fun. It's progressing at just the right speed at the moment while also being a great social occasion. It's brilliant and hopefully this perfect balance will continue as we get to the harder bits. Yeah, it's a raid behind, the loot is behind the curve, but it's still a good enough challenge and you get to see it!

I've also started on a road travelled by many a person who is seeing role-playing games diminishing in their lives: board games. I never thought I'd do this. I'm aware of a number of people who walked this road and I was convinced it was never for me. I guess I was wrong. We're playing board games every other Sunday (myself, Louise and my nephew) and it's great. We've been enjoying the Imperial Assault campaign for the most part, but we've just added Marvel Legendary and Zombicide to the collection. I'm not 100% sure how the board game methadone works, as they don't really offer the same experience at all, yet they seem to be working as a very fun replacement. I guess the social element is a big thing, along with the drama of it. It's a different sort of drama, but the drama of victory, loss and the odd surprising turn of events, while of a different sort, works really well.

Will I ever get into tabletop role-playing games again?

I think the problem comes down to the fact I could see myself getting quite taken with an idea or an experience, but not so much a week in week out gaming group (never say never on that, but at the moment it doesn't feel like it'd happen). In some strange fantasy world were tabletop gaming occurred divorced from a gaming group, and people came with pitches and looked for people who really wanted to fully throw themselves into it, I could see myself really jumping head first into one thing or another. That never happens though, as that is a fantasy world. Gaming groups are consistent. Sticky. They are the medium through which games get run and get played. No problem with that, in many ways it's a great thing, it just doesn't match the way I may currently want to experience them. I guess I'm saying I could see myself being passionate about an idea, not so much tabletop role-playing games as a perpetually regular thing in and of themslves.

As for now? Let the computer and board gaming roll on.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Espionage on Dromund Kass
Keywords: Video Games; SWOTOR.

I'm level 15 now. I'm running missions at the Imperial Capital. It's fascinating coming into the game very late, because I'm divorced from the original 'mass disappointment' that hit the game when it was released. This was something I could predict was guaranteed to happen a mile off (the focus on story, too many divergent audiences, the legacy of Star Wars galaxy and its open-world, simulative play model, the marketing, etc). I'm also conscious of the fact I'm not getting the game as it was released, though I am assuming the story content is consistent, so it's hard to make too many strident judgements.

Is the game Warcraft with a Star Wars skin? I am sure someone could make a cognoscente argument that this is true. The mechanics of the game are very much like Warcraft (and I realise Warcraft took lessons from other games, but I have to stop looking into MMO history at some point). The structure of the game is like Warcraft in the sense of zones, capital cities, the way travel works, classes, etc, etc. I would have a different argument, the games feels like I am playing a Star Wars game. It gets that across big style. It's more that I gain the benefit of the underlying structure being similar so that doesn't get in the way! This is a positive for me, as I've been able to dive into the game, concentrate on the Star Wars of it all and not be distracted by a horde of complex new 'plumbing'. This, and the great, slow reveal help screens, have allowed for a very smooth 'in' to the game.

You can contrast this with the other game I have for the PC, Divinity: Original Sin, which is demanding I study it like an MBA module before I start playing it!

One element of the game I'm finding interesting is how it's positioning the Star Wars universe it's presenting. People get this wrong in my view all of the time (and I'd even include Lucas in that, ironically, in that the story he was trying to tell with the Jedi is in the prequels, but hopelessly delivered). SWOTOR does a very good job of keeping it Star Wars while adding a slight layer of moral complexity to drive conflict, which is often where it goes wrong. As an example, the relationship between the Sith and the wider Imperial machinery is very well done, though I largely get to see it through Imperial Intelligence and how my character relates to the Sith Lord she is currently dealing with. They've structured it a bit like how a 'we keep the country stable intelligence service' might deal with their 'religious nut job masters' in a TV drama – but with a bit more potential altruism if, at times, a particularly twisted sort of altruism (needed so your character can have conflict over choices). It is clever. It provides an undertone of conflict without feeling like you're getting into too much realism the conceit collapses, as it is space opera after all, so there is always genre conventions and a conceit you just have to accept.

One MMO staple you notice a lot less in SWOTOR is the kill x amount of x or collect x amount of x missions, this is probably the secondary element that contributes to it feeling substantially more narratively driven. The vast majority of missions feel like they have a story-driven reason and then the x amount of x elements are bonus facets of the mission. I like that. So you might be sent to destroy a critical piece of equipment or retrieve intelligence but as a bonus it will have listed weaken the enemies forces (essentially kill x of x) which you can considering doing as a by-product of achieving the main objective. You usually do it, but it feels less like that's what your'e doing!

I love how the instancing is done. It's clear due to the green 'force field' that you are entering a personally instanced area and it's seamless. No slowdown. You just pass straight through the 'force field' and the game continues on as normally but beyond that 'force field' anything could happen. I particularly like it when surprising story stuff happens as soon as you move through. This is one of the brilliant elements of the game, linked to how it delivers its story that deserves significant kudos. As a game that merges the story of a single-player game with the other MMO stuff it truly is a work of genius. I suspect I will play it like a single-player game and move on to a Republic side character (assuming my appetite remains) once I've levelled this one, but that's beside the point.

The really surprising thing about the whole experience? The game seems to have a vibrant community at the lower levels. This is nothing but..astounding. This is an MMO that is 3+ years old and considered a failure yet it has people still levelling characters from level one. Possibly it's a game that fosters a lot of second, third or fifth characters, but even after 3+ years you'd think people would be done with that. On the two instance runs I've done, more on that in other post, there has been people who haven't heard the story elements before. This means they are playing at least their first characters on the Imperial side. I'd have thought, at this point in the game cycle, the lower levels would be dead.

One criticism I would have at this point, though it may be more an observation as I'm not overly looking for the mindbogglingly challenging, is the game is pretty easy. Okay, it could be argued this is the 'game allowing you to be the hero' thing, but lots of the enemies you fight are very much in the minion category (if they are the same level) with no real way to seriously harm you unless you have an epic pull disaster. Now I've got my Sniper advanced class I've got the AOE 'spray attack' (with a +25% bonus to its damage due to my first utility power) with my blaster and it's largely a matter of running up, going into cover (and now I have a portable cover shield) and hitting the AOE spray...done. The companion jumps in just so she feels useful, but it's largely done.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 18/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Impounded: Rebel...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

So, I drew my agenda cards as I'd not done at the end of the last session. I had 5 agenda points and two forced missions came out of the deck. Different. I was in two minds whether to give them a go, as the one I was interested in was four agenda points. You spend the agenda points and if you lose the mission you get nothing and you don't tend to get agenda points as a reward from forced missions.

I thought I'd give it a shot as an experiment.

It was an exciting game. It was timed to five rounds (or all heroes being wounded) and there was quite a few units on the board. At times I think both sides thought the odds were against them only for it swing back the other way. Ultimately, in what is becoming the patented Imperial Assault edge of the seat ending, it came down to? Can you guess? Yeah, the penultimate around and a sequence of exchanges with the Smuggler. This time a sequence of moves to reduce her exposure and the Imperial forces trying to put her in a wounded state. Exciting stuff, but she lasted allowing the Wookie to bring home the pilot in his first move of the final round.

The game is getting more complicated. Not bad complicated but tactically complicated with more moving parts. This is because both sides are getting more widgets to play with. The Wookie is becoming an amazing tank with some healing and is a vicious bastard once you start hitting him hard with his horrendous Wookie variation on being focused. He spent a lot of time focused, but I did finally manage to wound him which gave me the chance at victory in the penultimate round due to his slow movement rate. The Smuggler has quite a complex series of options, often involving in the moment choices. Status effects are becoming critical, especially in timed games. The Imperial Guard in this mission were out positioned long enough to radically reduce their part in the game due to being stunned by the Wookie. Key roles taking out lightning results stopped me stunning the Wookie as he made his slow walk to 'touchdown'. I'm also getting more units, with agenda cards and class ability cards tied to them.

It's great fun, but you're never sure you are making the best move because the characters can move quite fast around the board and the dice add a significantly random element. It makes it exciting though.

The threat went a bit weird as well. In that at the start of the fifth round the threat level was eighteen but I had no units I could bring in. Everything had been played and nothing had been taken off the map. This meant for two rounds plus the threat bonus given as a trigger at a key point in the mission was totally wasted. I think there was a combination of reasons for this. It made no sense for the heroes to kill the enemy forces as they only had five rounds. Possibly I should have been more bold in my choice of open units and gone for more expensive ones. I went for the normal Stormtroopers and Trandoshan mercenaries when I potentially should have went for elites in both cases.

The other interesting facet of the campaign is the fact we only have two players. It's often said the game becomes harder when there is only two players (by people playing it, not the official line). I'm not convinced or it depends. Consider this mission. There was no need to get to multiple locations in disparate parts of the map. This meant the legendary status of the heroes: two activations per round and a lot more hit points works for them. If there was four heroes they could only move once or twice in a round, since there is two they can move twice or four times in a round. This means the players can traverse more of the board in a round if they aren't interested overly in engaging? It also means less units get taken off the map as four characters only moving once or twice are more likely to have some of those heroes engage the enemy!

I think the is it more or less difficult with two players depends very much on the objectives and I'm still not convinced it isn't actually easier!

The forced mission essentially represents a diversion from the main campaign, inserting itself into the structured run. If I'd have won I'd have gained the ability for my leader units to spend an action to add one threat to the count. It might have been interesting. Since I didn't I don't get it and the four agenda points instead got me an extra mission inserted into the campaign. The big mission in the agenda deck is the one that gives you Darth Vader as an ally if you win, but that's not come up yet. It may cost 18 points to bring him in, but he is a bit of a beast.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 15/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Punching It Out of Hutta
Keywords: Video Games; SWOTOR.

I've punched it out of Hutta, regrettably not in my own ship, but a shuttle to the Imperial Fleet and then on to Dromund Kaas, the Imperial capital. Mechanically, a number of things have progressed. I hit level ten just before I left. I've chosen my advanced class: sniper. I've also got my first companion, though I've been running with her for a number of levels now. It's been great and, as Obi-Wan might say, I seem to have entered a much larger world.

I liked the story on Hutta, it was one of subterfuge and crime, with personal dramas woven through it giving quite a number of opportunities to do the good thing in the web of lies or just act as the most evil bitch imaginable. I must admit, I took the route of achieving my goals while leaving as little destruction in my wake as possible...unless I thought they deserved it. Well, I was willing to do it if I thought they deserved it but it never happened. Ultimately, The Imperials secured the relationship with a powerful Hutt by persuading him his arch-rival was waging a proxy war for the Republic. Fun times.

I loved the touch at the end. You're in the hanger, you're just about to punch it out of Hutta and the Red Blade arrives, the notorious pirate you've been using as a cover for most of your time on Hutta. It's a well done little scene, the way it's 'filmed' is a bit like the moment before a shoot out in a western. Some small talk, a great little 'in game film' of the characters backing away and then combat begins. It was very well done. Quite subtle.

I've done my first Heroic 2+ mission and it was great. I was a bit sceptical. It's a relatively old MMO, right? What's the chance of me being able to group up efficiently for this sort of stuff? If the first attempt was anything to go by, pretty seamlessly and frictionless. Possibly I was lucky. I am surprised by the amount of low level characters running around considering the game is over three years old.

I tried to use the chat, but that didn't get me anywhere, so I went to the entrance for the Heroic 2+ mission area and it wasn't long before people showed up either wanting to go in or running in. In one case they grouped me up as they passed. That's the sign of a good community that they thought of that as the three of them ran on by. The second time I saw someone else chatting to the man with the mission and I grouped him up. The group experience was fluid, thought there was little communication which resulted in the odd death that might have been avoided with a bit of marking and a less haste more speed approach. It wasn't frustrating though. It was great to get into the Warcraft-like 'dungeon' experience again (albeit it wasn't an instance). I can't wait to get into a bit of pulling and marking!

Now I'm at Dromund Kaas, the capital planet for the Imperials, and I'm in the capital city, which seems quite large. I feel the game has suddenly opened out a bit. I'm not sure where my quest hubs are, though I've not done much in the city. I'm already seeing the chat window fill up with arcane sequences of acronyms for flashpoints and operations which make very little sense to me. It's typical mature MMO stuff, acronyms for types of runs, specific characters they need and the entry requirements they demand before they'll let you in on the act. A bit disappointing, but expected. It's also not that big a deal as I suspect a lot of them are for higher end stuff. I was offered my first flashpoint, Black Talon, before leaving the Imperial Fleet to go to Dromund Kass, which I put on hold as I need a group willing to do it (and let the story elements play out).

Technically, a few interesting things have happened.

I like the look of the character progression, in that it seems to be one of very streamlined choices? I like games that have streamlined character progressing as I have zero interest in the 'character build' game. It seems my basic abilities just come as they are as I level. I hit the requirement I can train it. I was thinking my advanced class would involve some serious 'option paralysis', but apparently not. You choose one of three progression routes and then that progression route is on rails. Literally one rail and the abilities activate as you journey, in the form of levels, along that rail. Hardly any choice. I say hardly any as every so often the unlock on the rail is a utility ability and you can choose those, ultimately ending in seven points distributed. It's choice, but probably not a mind blowing choice.

I am sure many people hate the 'on rails' character progressing with a side order of minor choice? I, quite naturally, love it. I can just level and go without worrying about choices crippling me later.

I can see the interface for using abilities getting quite complicated, or it may be I've just not penetrated its simplicity yet. There seems to be a lot of abilities to fit on a toolbar? My initial response to this was to enter the Interface Editor, which is really cool. It's allowed me to adopt a more feature rich interface that also takes less screen real-estate. You can move things around quite freely. It's pretty much the sort of thing that used to come as 'mod' in times of yore and in the early years of Warcraft. Very nice. I now have two toolbars and the one for my Companion. In Warcraft your toolbar never seemed that complicated, it always came down to some key abilities that were mostly manageable. This seems to be a bit more complicated than that but I suspect some 'inner clarity' may appear with experience – such as some abilities only being available when in cover (which I can do on demand now due to my funky sniper shield).

I've also gained access to my Legacy, though it's safe to say it has opened up, there is very little I can do with it at this point. This means I get to give my character a surname and start mapping the relationships between characters in a 'family tree'. As my Imperial Agent gets to higher levels other things open such as being allowed to have a Chiss character on the Republic side! A few abilities transfer across such as having a Jedi that can occasionally call down the Imperial Agents orbital strike. Funky.

That's about it for now. The opening first ten levels of the game were brilliant, for the Imperial Agent anyway. It felt heroic. It felt cinematic and dramatic. You felt in the events. It was well delivered. Now I am in the MMO world at large we'll see how it holds up.That's about it for now. The opening first ten levels of the game were brilliant, for the Imperial Agent anyway. It felt heroic. It felt cinematic and dramatic. You felt in the events. It was well delivered. Now I am in the MMO world at large we'll see how it holds up.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
It Bloats My Mind
Keywords: Role-Playing Games; Star Wars.

So I finally got my copy of the very dubious D6 Star Wars revised, expanded and updated edition, essentially a third edition fan endeavour. It's a beast of a book and says a lot about my gaming journey. This was one of my favourite games, easily one of the most ran along with Golden Heroes and Vampire: The Masquerade.

Yet now, as I look at the book, the bloat just blows my mind.

I was aware of this during the game's original release and development. The first edition was a work of art. The main rulebook being a thing of brilliance. Throwing a lot of role-playing baggage out and presenting a very simple set of rules, sporting the classic Star Wars poster as its cover, it was yet to be mired in rules additions and 'setting stuff'. Gamers abhor a vacuum and back in the day games survived by releasing new product continually (and it can be said the big hitters still follow this model). As a result, the game went through 2.5 editions and a lot of supplements. Even as the game took this original journey I was aware it wasn't necessarily making it better, but buying into the 'release train' was what you did back then.

Every gamer had creaking shelves of game books they never actually used. In the games defence this development actually contributed lots of material that went on to be canon (pre-Disney anyway).

I scan through the book now, and I'm perfectly aware this is all I am ever going to do with it, and I just can't comprehend how I would mechanically use it. Yes, the core system isn't that complicated and a lot of it is extraneous as well as setting material, starships, aliens, etc, but it still puts me off. I have big issues with skill lists these days. I detest long, granular skill lists with a passion and I especially detest them when the genre the game is meant to playing to patently has characters who seem to be able to do most things they put their hand to. The skill bloat even covers things you never see in the source material. Why? The vast majority of those skills are never going to be used? But gamers like verisimilitude, the simulative element, so all these skills exist. Madness.

What tends to happen is a look at the rules now and think: how did I ever enjoy running this? I certainly couldn't now.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Subterfuge on Hutta
Keywords: Video Games; SWOTOR.

I'm going to go on and make some critical observations of the game, but the overall story is I am really enjoying Star Wars: The Old Republic. The main reason being, so far, and it is early days, is it's doing exactly what it was indicated it would do: provide a Knights of the Old Republic RPG sort of feel. Okay, it's an MMO rather than a single-player game. Okay, it does very much follow the Warcraft model. Yet despite all this it does feel very Knights of the Old Republic, it's probably the dramatic voice acting and the fact there is an astronomically larger amount of story in it compared to a typical MMO.

I've gone for an Imperial Agent. Specifically a hot, if unfortunately scared, Imperial Agent who is a delightful shade of blue. Apparently, she's a Chiss, like Admiral Thrawn off of, the yawn, Expanded Universe. Despite having this rather unique colour and pattern of scaring, she seems to be able to go undercover with ease, a bit like James Bond. Her initial operations embroil her in a turf war on Hutta which the Imperials have a stake in. Projection of power and all that.

The general atmosphere of the game is pretty top notch. The game gets to use the various music and sound effects, including original music which just seems like it was from the films from the beginning, which is pretty clever. The various computer animated film segments that are utilised in the beginning are very evocative, painting a picture of a Star Wars universe that is a bit more hard edged. The spot visuals are also great. It's the little things, like the use of the trademark Star Wars, low quality hologram communications, complete with low-res banding and flickering. They game occasionally does something that breaks the mood, such as the odd incongruous character, but this is by far made up for by the great alien voices, etc.

The game can't avoid giving you the odd dissonant quest. You're apparently one of the Imperial's best agents and yet you can get asked to do some pretty odd stuff by the 'locals'. It's not as bad as Warcraft so far, a combination of the voice acting and the provision of dramatic purpose in the introduction of the quests gives each a narrative context and a lot of them are driven by the central conflict on Hutta that your character is trying to destabilise, but they're still present. What can I say? This happens in many a Bioware game, it's doesn't feel as bad so far here (ironically, considering it's an MMO). It's certainly a much more engaging experience than the quest framework in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

One of the odd feelings the game engenders is it feels cramped? I'm not exactly sure if the 'zones' are small or if there is just a lot going on in them. You can't help but compare it to Warcraft due to the familiarity of the games and Warcraft always felt like you were in a vast world with multiple continents of significant size. It felt large. The size of Warcraft's world was one of the great things about the game. At the moment, Old Republic doesn't feel large it,feels very busy. There is a bit of a feel of George Lucas having come along and filled all the space with stuff. It just lacks...expanse. I've yet to figure out if this is factually correct, in the sense of the actual area sizes and so on, but it certainly feels that way. I'll also admit to the fact that, while cool, and certainly full of setting colour, the speeder bike journeys connecting travel points just aren't as majestic as soaring into the sky and looking down on the world from a giant bird or bat.

The combat can also lack..movement. It sounds great. The visuals looks great. It just doesn't seem to involve as much movement as Warcraft. At times I move around out of habit, in truth I could just stand still it doesn’t make that much difference. This could also be related to the amount of ranged combat in the game. It could also change when I get into one of the Flashpoints, as the need to move, use different skills, other than hitting things, tended to come up more in Warcraft dungeons. So we'll see.

Since I'm still in the starting zone and have not passed level 10 I suspect more MMO elements may appear in the future that I've not been bothered with so far, such as collecting and gathering. I also suspect the story may have gaps meaning some level ranges feel more like a traditional MMO. It may just feel like an extended period of voiced side-quests which isn't necessarily the same thing. If I find it hard to do grouped content this may also be a bit irritating. Still, to balance against that I'll get companions and funky things like a spaceship to hang out in!

On this basis I currently have no idea how the character progression works, beyond going to the Imperial Agent trainer and quickly picking up any skill in the list. At the moment it's not offering any choices, it's just telling me new stuff is available to train in. I suspect, choices kick in at level ten. As for gear? It seems both clear what is probably better but at the same time gear seems to provide some stats that are a bit baffling, such as the tech score, etc.

So far though, it's very enjoyable. A great a combination of being relaxing, atmospheric and dramatically driven. It's the best RPG orientated game I've experienced since Mass Effect put it that way, but it is early days!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Fly Solo: Rebel...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

The fifth mission in the Imperial Assault campaign was another great experience, albeit it came after our first game of Star Trek Catan and it's epic dilithium shortage (all three dilithium planets were set at 2,3 and 4 stalling the whole game).

I have to admit, I thought I had this one in the bag. It was an escort mission and traditionally the heroes have been terrible at them, losing out in both Homecoming (similar to this mission but escaping with Luke) and Target of Opportunity. I also had a significant amount of units, some funky upgrades, the threat had gone to 4 per round and I had some interesting agenda cards. I was seriously thinking that with a 3-1 win ration I may have pulled ahead a bit and another victory would have presented a serious leap.

It didn't work out like that as the heroes opened the door to free Hans Solo during round three and then a literal mad dash for the entrance took place and the Rebels pulled it off. Despite the ridiculous amount of units on the map, the efficient and headlong dash meant that all the event driven units found it hard to catch up and were perpetually chasing. There was figures the heroes had to pass but the luck of the dice was with them. Like all the story missions so far, this one ended the same way, a singular exchange in the penultimate round. The newly arrived, elite Trandoshan mercenaries made a brutal attack on Han Solo knowing, next round, he'd make a dash for the exit and escape. Han got a 'total dodge' result for one of the attacks and that was what won the game. Great stuff.

The mission was significantly different in two ways: there was no win conditions based on a round limit or wounding the heroes or both. Effectively there is a time limit as the threat rises and I can bring more units in and that will slowly punish the players. Players didn't have to worry about being wounded as much as it meant I didn't win anything by damaging them half way, the only way damage could significantly help me was to force a character to retreat. This created the interesting strategy of trying to keep Jyn on the run by punishing her continuously? The white defence die proved to be very weak as a defence unless you get the 'total dodge' result a lot. This means Jyn can be whittled down by continuous tasks, while it is much harder with Gaarkhan because of his better defence dice and his ability to use strain to directly Recover:2.

I finally did take out Jyn in the penultimate round with IG-88. There wasn't much point in that, but I did take her out.

I know I shouldn't think this way, as the Imperial player I should be looking to crush the Rebel players at every opportunity. I was playing hard and expected to win, but I was also glad the Rebels won as I wasn't sure about a 4-1 win ratio. It has altered the playing field a bit as the Rebels got some good gear and class abilities this time around. I sense they got a very big speed bump. Jyn got a couple of interesting class abilities and an awesome Tier II blaster pistol. I forget Gaarkhan's abilities but they are concentrated on his rage and being hit for 3+ damge (and he fiendish ability to Recover: 2 with a 1 strain. Yeah, that ability is really annoying).

It was a really enjoyable game and I'm really looking forward to the next one.

In terms of rules we did go in doing some things differently. We became aware that we could move diagonally in a few edge cases that we thought wasn't allowed, specifically 'around' impassable walls and terrain. In some situations this zigzagging can mean you dance between enemies and impassable terrain to avoid using extra movement points. I'm also wanting to get some forced missions into the campaign, both because it increases the mission count and also because there is some cool rewards in them. They come from Agenda Cards purchased with influence but they've not 'dropped' yet. I need to check if I should be putting used Agenda Cards back into the Agenda Deck as putting them back doesn't slowly increase the likelihood that forced missions will 'drop'.

We really are enjoying the Sunday boardgames. I'll be certainly expanding the collection at some point.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Target of Opportunity: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We’ve only done one side mission so far and this one represented the second. We felt the first one was a bit mixed as the Imperials won it quite quickly, it was certainly didn’t come down to a single die roll in the penultimate round like the two story missions have. Sadly, this side mission played out in a similar way.

It became obvious at the start of the penultimate round that the heroes could not win. They’d lost a saboteur, had only just got the one remaining saboteur to the data core door and he was unlikely to get through it unless he had some very lucky rolls (and that’s ignoring the triggered spawn of the Imperial Guards on getting the door open). They had killed every Imperial unit on the map, but they just weren’t going to get through that door in time. I can only assume they needed to be more aggressive with the saboteurs to get them to the door much quicker? Like the last side mission, it was the tactics and survivability of the key allies that foiled the heroes (they have to do key tasks and they have to survive or survive long enough).

Basically, both the side missions so far have been ‘escort missions’, and they’ve had less of an edge of your seat feeling.

I have a number of class abilities building up which is changing the nature of the game. A class ability that can attach to troopers giving them +2 health and a defence re-roll per turn. This provides a Stormtrooper deployment with a good boost to survivability. I also had an agenda card that allowed a Stormtrooper deployment to fire twice like the rebel heroes, which is powerful but events conspired for it not to get used to the max. The threat of three per round also kept a regular reinforcement of Stormtroopers (thus keeping that agenda card in play) but the heroes still took them all out.

Similarly, Gaarkhan has a set of fancy arm grieves that allow him to stun. This is very useful in a game that relies so much on the action economy, especially in these missions with round time limits. Stunning a typically deployed unit means they can't attack in order to remove the stun. This means they can’t damage which in turn means they can’t bring a hero closer to wounding and wounding the heroes has been a key victory condition in most missions so far.

We’re also starting to understand the dynamics of the dice. I am really liking the dice. They serve to obfuscate odds in the first instance, but they are quite rich and dynamic when you start to figure them out. As an example, the red dice has no lightning results on it or, more importantly, any numbers. So if you have two dice in your attack and one is the red dice it’s not going contribute to your accuracy or allow you to use funky abilities, but you will cause some damage. We found this with the Saboteurs, which had dice that resulted in a potentially high, but very low accuracy attack! Similarly, the white defence dice is a bit all or nothing, as it’s all about the clear (no result for the hero) or the cross hatch result (supreme dodge).

A couple of things might have played into the loss. Gaarkhan was played in a wounded state the whole game as he forgot to overturn it from the previous mission. The primary result of this was he moved slower for the whole of the game. It was also ruled that a hero had to open the door to free the sabueters rather than them becoming active as soon as the door was unlocked (via a terminal on the other side of the map). Harsh? It was more confusing. The unlocked and opened 'states' seemed to be quite distinct and the ally units specifically only activated on opening and all text around opening assumed a player actively opening it. The sabeuters would have been out earlier if they could have worked out on dealing with the terminal (but still may have died in the corridor).

The mission was substantially more of a grind it out kill fest than the previous missions. A lot of the units started close together and there was a long corridor that the saboteurs had to make their way down. It felt more claustrophobic due to the smaller rooms and the relatively long corridor. It was such off a kill fest that the players killed all the Imperial units on the board. Possibly this was the mistake? They should have rushed the Saboteurs even if they meant they only survived long enough to get to the door and blast it open? It was a very tough door that did them in.

The concern now, albeit I'm not sure it's got out of control yet, is whether too many victories on one side (3-1 at the moment) causes an out levelling effect? In fact, due to time I've not even spent my XP and Influence from this win. I'll need to do that before we start playing again. I think if an out levelling problem occurs, it may be in the next mission as one player is gunning for a particular ability in terms of XP (which he gets less of when he loses) and they didn't spend any money this time.

The next story mission will also be the first story mission that has been branched to because of a loss.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
A New Threat: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

The third mission of the campaign is a story mission: A New Threat. A remote base and secret Imperial experiments being undertaken to deliver a new piece of military hardware. Specifically, a fancy new Imperial AT-ST Walker.

The mission set-up had a few things going for it. The doors didn't open automatically and needed 'damaging down' and interesting things happened each time a door opened. The terminals also couldn't be won just on interacting, attribute rolls had to be made. The map was also a lot bigger with the terminals spread out in three distance corners. Finally, at the end of round five (of seven) the AT-ST appears. A bit like Homecoming, it had a big event-driven reveal.

Have to admit, going into it I didn't think the rebel heroes had a chance. Only two of them. A lot of ground to cover. A number of speed bumps (damaging the doors and the attribute rolls on the terminals). Like last time the key character was Jyn with her incredibly fast movement. If not performing any other action she can move ten squares per activation, potentially twelve if she spends a few strain. Since there are only two characters she activates twice. In short, she can cover the board at a ridiculous pace. The duo adopt the approach of Garrkhan going slower and giving the Imperial forces a kicking, while Jyn goes for speed. In fact, Jyn moves that quick that I left a part of the map a bit exposed allowing her to out position a lot of my forces and dash for the final terminal. It didn’t look like much of a gap until she decided to move through it.

A lot more of the tactics on the cards and the characters abilities are coming into play because both sides are spending experience and money and we're remembering them. Gaarkhan has an excellent 1 XP character ability that allows him to burn strain to heal, this is particularly fiendish as bringing the heroes to a wounded state has been key to an Imperial victory in the majority of missions. Jyn is also using her ability to shoot enemies that activate as an interrupt, which can be really annoying as she can do it twice (once for each activation she has). She can quick shot an activated Stormtrooper and actually take him out. Her Han Solo pistol also throws a few wrinkles as with enough lightning results she can now do +2 damage and +1 damage with a +2 accuracy – which allows for high damage at range.

Like the first story mission, Aftermath, the mission was ridiculously close. It came down to a single set of dice rolls in the penultimate round. It even featured the same character, with Jyn rushing to the final terminal and making an attribute check on her weakest attribute. She made multiple tries, burning an acquired ability, but failed on all accounts. In the proceeding activation it was highly likely I'd wound Gaarkhan bringing the mission to a close. That's what happened. Just like last time, it came down to a single roll being made by Jyn.

Disappointingly, the AT-ST didn't get to move or shoot. It dramatically appeared at the end of round five and then things were over early in round six. This is the second time a 'big reveal' either hasn't got to do much or the mission didn't even get to it. In Home Coming the fact Darth Vader was in the 'hanger' didn't even get revealed.

It is another very tight, efficient tactical experience. It feels like every decision counts and there isn't much room for mistakes. The mission could have literally went either way. It was exciting.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
And PC Gaming Is...Painfully Back!
Keywords: Video Games.

5 days ago I hit the submit button on an order for a new gaming PC. I’ll suffer for this latter as I’m terrible at spending large sums of money. I procrastinate. I consider. I check what I am buying, repeatedly. If there isn’t a high transaction cost I will create one. Then I finally persuade myself to do it only to go through a period of regret. The regret will happen trice as I feel like I pay for it when I decide to buy and then I get the hit all over again when the credit card comes in.

These things are supposed to be fun, but it usually take me a while to get to that stage!

I've not had a PC remotely capable of playing games since at least September 2009 and then it was stretching the definition since it even had problems running World of Warcraft in crowded places. In truth it was a long time before that with the medium requirements of Warcraft being a 2007 – 2009 blip. Console games were just…easier.

I left PC gaming because I could no longer be arsed with it all. The decoding of network cards. Working out how well the game will run when you buy it. The experience you wanted may not be the experience you get. I'd also say there had been a slow, long attrition of games I liked disappearing. It felt like everything was becoming an FPS and the variety was falling away, so the convenience and big TV play of consoles was better.

Things are changing though. The advent of Kickstarter means that games that were obviously finding a problem being funded by traditional means, can now find a route to market. This means in the last few years we've seen 'dead' genres return: big space simulators and modernised, deep isometric tactical role-playing games. There is also a bit of a return to PC gaming across the family gaming group, no doubt for similar reasons. In short, we seem to be back to a varied gaming environment and this is good.

I was excited about it and it arrived and I remembered why I’d stopped PC Gaming in the first place.

The above was on opening, the below is the day after in better light after I'd cooled down a bit and wanted to document the damage better.

When I finally got to open the box and then the case to fit the SSD I found that the massive cooling contraption had come away from its hinges and fell onto the graphics card and then rattled around in the case during transit (damaging the back fan). The damage can be seen in the above photos and the below video.

I always have problems when I get into PC Gaming. I don’t think have a hassle free PC Gaming purchase…ever. Then when you have one you always seem to be waiting for the blue screens to start, something to be over heating, etc. I know consoles have their problems, but I’ve never had big console problems. They just work and when they do have a problem, such as with my Xbox 360 someone came and collected and a replacement came to me know questions asked. I know, I probably had long stretches of gaming between glitches, but the fact I have this impression speaks to the hassle even if it is exaggerated in my mind.

I now face having this PC returned and then hoping the same problem doesn’t happen again. Eventually when I have a working Gaming PC I am going to try a few things.

There is a new bunch of party-based, tactical isometric role-playing games hitting the PC and I am really intrigued by them. We have Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity and Blackguards. I like the idea of story, a party with a spread of skills and bringing that to tactical combats. I've looked into Divinity: Original Sin the most and it gets really good reviews. I loved Icewindale back in the day and I am hoping these truly updated versions of this genre of game deliver the goods.

I've also missed some MMOs that I'd have liked to give a try, primarily Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. If I was to be honest Guild Wars 2 is probably a game I really wanted to give a go but it's probably not one I want to give a go now the player-base has matured. I do want to give Star Wars: The Old Republic a go though, ideally to experience the story missions of a few classes. I'd like to think a minimum of two: a rebel and an imperial class, but you never know. I'd like to experience the Imperial Agent, Jedi Guardian and Smuggler classes and stories, but I suspect that may be too much of a long haul. I'd like to leverage the Legacy system, which I think needs two characters to do anything with? I have visions of a Chiss Imperial Agent and then using the Legacy system to create a Chiss Jedi Guardian. We shall see.

Elite. It has to happen doesn't it? I have to admit it is an experiment as there is a chance I'll find it boring, but I want to give it a shot from the point of view of getting in, seeing how it goes, building my financial empire and seeing how the game expands. The game does look glorious, though it's a bit odd you can't have 'flyby' views of your ship and the like, but exiting hyperspace near a sun makes up for it. It all feels a bit Battlestar Galactica in terms of how it realises space. A sort of space opera realism. I'm not sure how I'm going to approach the game yet. A part of me likes the idea of avoiding combat and going for trading, but what I really know is I want an Anaconda! Hopefully, we can get some sort of 'group activities' going but I'm not sure what they would be. The game seems to be setting itself up for it with 'Wingman' functionality already introduced in an update.

I am sure there will be other experiments. There are some military sims I may give a try, both flight simulators and realistic squad tactics. I am sure there are some strategy games out there I am not aware of that might prove interesting. It's a field I'd given up on for a long while so I am a bit behind.

I am hoping it's a return to a new and interesting landscape of gaming or at least a bit more width in terms of variety.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Big Games Aren’t All That
Keywords: Video Games; Dragon Age.

Gamers are obsessed with size. I can understand why, there is a belief (which is probably correct but I can’t prove it with figures) that games have gotten considerably shorter as production costs have vastly increased. Therefore gamers love hearing a game is 80 hours long rather than the usual 20 - 30. The trouble is I’m not convinced this makes for better games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has finally ground down my enthusiasm for the game to the point I can’t continue. In a way I had the same problem with Dragon Age: Origins, it was also too long, but I could turn down the difficulty towards the end and get through the slaughter fest between the point I was ready for the denouncement and the point it finally gave it to me. Dragon Age II I quite liked. I liked the singular location. I liked the framed narrative looking back on events. Okay, you got a lot of environment repetition but I wasn’t overly concerned about this. I didn’t finish it, but I preferred it to what I am being offered in Inquisition. In a way, Dragon Age II felt a bit more like Mass Effect.

Inquisition is just too damned big and not in a good way. Even your base of operations, Skyhold is big, it takes forever to get around. People complain about the lift in the original Mass Effect running around Skyhold is twice as annoying as I remember Mass Effect being. You know something has gone wrong when your base of operations has fast travel points? Epic fail.

Then you have the way the game is constructed which continually opens up vast maps. True, they are pretty vast, which for some people is quite impressive, but I’d rather have something focused, based on a driving narrative to do. Instead you’re given endless, banal quests across these vast landscapes. You also have to open up camps. It just involves a lot of wondering around. Okay, the landscapes are pretty, but this soon gets boring and what the game lacks is interesting adventure environments like a castle, a dungeon, an ancient temples, etc, to do exciting stuff in. It’s just all very banal. There is just very little dramatic excitement.

Possibly, there is a way to avoid all this, some sort of way to do the main quest and avoid this extreme MMO-like banality? I’ve not figured it out yet. This suggests, that if there is, it’s lost on the ‘bigness’ of the game, as I’m not going to bring myself to say epic. It is a bad sign if this is the future of game design and if this is what the wants of gamers has degenerated to: the equivalent of training the mouse by giving it cheese, it’s a sad indictment of the future.

I admit I am the wrong audience. Personally, I want every Bioware game to follow a Mass Effect model rather than a Dragon Age model. Mass Effect always felt more immediate, more character driven, more focused and, while it had side-quests (which included the very epic, personally driven character ones) some sort of combination of it being an FPS and involving whizzing around in a spaceship meant it just all happened faster. Hell, Mass Effect 2 was like a story game character study all mixed up with a Magnificent Seven sort of vibe compared to Dragon Age. It was very clever. I certainly don’t want my Bioware games to be more like Skyrim, which I also couldn’t get into.

I find it increasingly depressing that ‘open world’ is the new hotness. Everything has to pursue it. It feels a bit like when the FPS genre hit the shelves and everything felt like it gravitated to being one of those. I don’t like ‘open worlds’, they lack focus. I don’t want 1001 things to do and it is my choice which incredibly average thing I should do. I want a focused narrative in which I can play a meaningful game with meaningful choices in while still seeing new and exciting vistas. I want Arkham Asylum, not Arkham City. I don’t want to explore a city finding interesting corners, or collecting crap. Arkham Asylum was fantastic, while Arkham City was okay, the greatness that was its predecessor sacrificed on the altar of being ‘longer’ and an ‘open world’.

These things are rarely, truly longer in a good way, they just get filled with busy work and collectable contents that seem to appeal to a gaming mind-set that I abhor. All I can hope is the baffling success of Inquisition does not send a signal to Bioware that they need to pollute Mass Effect with the principles on which it is designed.

I very much doubt I am going to progress much further with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s really done my head in. If some way to fast tack the core experience of the game presents itself without experiencing scaling issues, etc, then I may try that. Possibly, as I'd then have to get over the fact the characters don't speak as dramatic entities, they are really boring, the setting is banal, the combats are just button mashing, etc, etc. At the moment, I just can’t face it. I fully admit I just don’t get how people can see it as a great game. It’s depressing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
When Stark's Toys Go Missing
Keywords: TV.

I love the original Captain America film. It hits all the grand period piece pulp awesome buttons. The whole thing is realised brilliantly. One of those elements is Agent Peggy Carter. I have no idea whether they intended the character to be that strong a part of the film, but she is. She brings romance to the film without it just being romance and adds real value to the overall piece.

The idea of an Agent Carter series was always a good one: Peggy, espionage, Stark, the embryonic Strategic Scientific Reserve, super-technology, the possible birth of Hydra, flashbacks to the war. Rich material. I’ve watched the first two episodes and the series is…competent and interesting, without blowing your mind. It’s certainly has more spark than the first few episodes of Agents of SHIELD which I must admit I tried to watch but soon stopped watching as the only thing it seemed to do well was bland.

Warning: Potential Spoilers.

I like Agent Carter, it is better than Agents of SHIELD at this embryonic point in its run. It hits the ground running with the arrival of Leviathan so it has an impetus to begin with. It certainly has more spark than the opening season of Agents of SHIELD, as the characters are less bland, Atwell is awesome, and the historic setting gives more mystique. It could still be better though.

The second episode does something brilliant, throughout the episode it plays the Captain American radio serial in the background of various scenes. It was an ingenious way to show how times have changed for Peggy, in that the woman in the show is a helpless damsel always being rescued by Captain America. It also potentially shows how the world at large remembers Captain America, as a strange mixture of his ridiculous war bond raising days, the war hero and then back to some ridiculous comic book figure. It certainly shows how easy it is for everyone to see Peggy as the real life damsel in distress to the real Captain America, who now finds herself being told to do the filing.

This could also be one of the series potential faults which it’s going to have to balance well. I have no problem with one of the issues in the show being the position of women in the post-war society after doing the jobs of men for four or five years. They just have to do this right. At the moment there is a bit of a feeling, and only a bit, that it might tread too much into the male agents rubbish and the female agent awesome way of doing things. This is wrong. It will get weak over time. The way they should approach it is purely from Peggy’s perspective and how it does not allow her to realise her potential. They hit upon this with an excellent scene between Peggy and Jarvis on how she’s trying to live up Rogers, and the degree to which they need the support of others and the degree to which Captain America did. This was also a counterpoint to the radio play.

That’s how they should play the social fabric idea and it can be done without making it feel like the males in SSR are like the Keystone Cops.

The action has been pretty good. It’s not reached Alias levels or anything, but the second episode certainly brought things up a level or two with a fight on top of an ice cream truck full of loads of fancy bombs each of which could level a city block. At the minute they just lack a certain spark and sense of danger and visceral reality. It’s a pity.

The parallels with Alias are also interesting in another way: Peggy spends all of her time in the first two episodes not only trying to outdo Leviathan but also the Strategic Scientific Reserve as she’s trying to clear Stark and they are trying to find and bring Stark in for selling his weapons. This creates the dynamic were Peggy is now a ‘an unknown woman’ in the SSR investigation, creating Alias like situations in which she’s working against the organisation she works for to some extent and has to avoid being discovered. It’s also a bit like No Way Out (and I always liked that movie), but not as claustrophobic. This could work well. At the moment there is every chance she could easily be isolated and find herself completely alone and in trouble.

The series is off to a good start. If it stayed exactly like it is it would be a slightly flawed show that would still be worth watching (I guess it would be my Agents of SHIELD). I want it to be more than that though. What it needs to find is the elusive. It needs to scale up a bit and make the stakes feel bigger. This may come in time, as it is only the second episode and we had an overarching story from the get go. It also needs to make the action scenes a bit more visceral. Not necessarily more violent, just give them a bit more weight. The elusive thing is the show needs to better engender the grand, sweeping romance in the piece. I don’t mean actual romance between people, but the romance of the setting, espionage, the pulp devices and the grand, mad plots. It has an edge of the mundane currently, which is the last thing it should engender.

Somehow, and these things are elusive, Agent Carter needs to find that mysterious spark The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger had. The Joe Johnston factor. At the moment it doesn’t have it, so the overall product feels slightly…false. Interesting, but not living up to its potential.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Homecoming: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

Homecoming is quite exciting. It seemed to be a 'big play' side mission in that it introduces two major characters from the films and it offers Luke Skywalker as an ally for the rebel side. That seems to be a significant asset for the future? A key one for the Rebels or Imperials to win? Since side missions are selected randomly from a deck it was quite dramatic it appeared so early.

The decision to play a second mission did raise some of the positives and negatives of the game. The positive is clear: the first game was that exciting we wanted to change our plans and run on into the next mission in the campaign. The negative is the game does seem to take a while to set-up, and seemed particularly confusing without it being a clean start. It may be just because it's new, and we still hit new rules, but it did seem a bit of a chore to transition from one mission to the next. We did get slowed down by being confused as to how to handle Luke in the mission, but we were probably overcomplicating it rather than just accepting the obvious.

It was an interesting mission and the lean nature of the game's tactics came into play again, especially since there was no experimental run through like with Aftermath. The key thing is the heroes have to get Luke almost all the way around the outside of the hanger in an anti-clockwise direction so he can interact with a terminal only then can the heroes enter the hanger at which point the second phase begins. The Imperials win by taking out Luke or the Rebels not getting away by the end of round six.

I love the threat system, as it's quite clever. It results in interesting tactical decisions and it is a very simple way of balancing the game. As an example, we queried for a bit what cards I could use for my three open units? Apparently any cards. So I'd choose all red cards, right? Obviously not, since this is only the second mission so threat only goes up by two a round and it ends in round six. So if I went for loads of expensive units I'd never get to deploy them. If this exact same mission came up later when the threat was at 5 per round the situation would be different. Balance. Choices. When do you deploy? Cheaper units earlier or wait around or two for something bigger? Tactical decisions based on the situation. I love how threat works.

The rebels lost in round three, when Luke was taken out

The mission pushes the rebels through a relatively narrow, anti-clockwise channel with a few choke points. The trick of keeping Luke alive throughout the mission seems quite challenging. In the first case there was only two heroes, so they couldn't completely block line of sight with heroes. Possibly the key is to be very aggressive with Luke and hope for good rolls while compensating for damage via using a lightning to heal:2? He is lethal in close combat with a high damaging, pierce:3 attack which is very dangerous. Like Aftermath, going slow certainly isn't an option. The other part of the mission that changes tactics is there is no victory condition on heroes being wounded, suggesting all out aggression being key?

Was it a let down losing or winning in three rounds? Yes and no. It's an interesting mission so seeing it go to the point the heroes entered the hanger would have been good (for reasons I won't reveal due to spoilers). It wasn't in the sense you do end up questioning how it could have went better? What are the tactics that might lead to success? We did discuss how we could just play it on its own in the future if we wanted to play with its tactics a bit. The key thing for me is I think I got a major boon by ensuring they don't have Luke Skywalker to use as an ally from this early point in the campaign.

The players have been ignoring the loot crates. Well, that's not strictly true, they time pressures of the mission means as the choices played out, in both missions, they just never choose to interact with a crate. They had accumulated 500 credits by this point and Jyn Oden purchased probably best tier one weapon in the game, the DL-44 Heavy Blaster. That's pretty powerful in the hands of the fast moving smuggler. Quite scary, in fact.

Regrettably, my agenda card draws were pretty weak so I am heading towards a big spend, card draw allowing in the future.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
Aftermath: Rebel...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We started our Imperial Assault campaign proper today and it was very exciting. We played Aftermath, the first mission, and then Homecoming was drawn as the first side mission. Aftermath is strange in that we'd played it twice already in our initial play test, albeit we weren't playing it with the best use of the rules as we'd blundered into it after finding the tutorial mission to not be a satisfactory experience (we still don't understand how it's not a ridiculously easy Imperial win?).

The tactic the duo has adopted for this has always been the same and it's based on the fact they have Gaarkhan as a tough tank and Jyn Odan as a very fast moving ranged shooter. Jyn Oden can move very fast with a combination of 5 movement points, the ability to use strain (as all characters have), obviously, and then her ability to move one more square when she hits someone! She runs ahead destroying the terminals and she's quite hard to stop.

There was a lot more use of all the possible tools this time, which altered play quite a bit. A more efficient use of strain by the heroes was in operation, both using it and using the results of the dice to reduce it again. Character special abilities were being applied. I also had a card that from my class deck that allowed me to basically have one attack be focused every round and this proved very powerful, especially when combined with the Probe Droid! It also seems to me, as long as you're hitting relatively well and being ignored the Imperia Officer can be focused a lot as well. It also helped we were using threat properly and allowing the Imperial side to redeploy units!

Ultimately, it all came down to one dice roll at the tail end of the 4th round. Jyn Oden was at the final terminal but she didn't have much health. Gaarkhan was still in the first section of the map. An Imperial Officer made a dash to get within shooting range and he took the shot. If he hit Jyn Oden it was likely she'd be wounded and that would lead to an Imperial victory, if she wasn't taking out she would go next and very likely take out the last terminal.

P1010016

The above was what was rolled. An epic roll on behalf of the Imperial Officer which would take her out unless she got the ultimate dodge result on her white die. She did it. Complete dodge and went on to take out the terminal on her turn. Rebel win. It may not be representative, as we missed out quite a few rules on our two trial attempts at Aftermath, but it always completed on the fourth round, though this one was more exciting.

As with the first two plays, the game remains very lean. It has very little fat in it. Every decision counts and there isn't much room to waste turns. I have no idea if this remains the same over the course of the whole campaign but the early missions have six round victory conditions for the Imperials so a rolling, movement based attack is essential.

I went with the E-Web Engineer when the rebels opened the door. Risky choice. The unit is an absolute beast though, especially when utilised with the class card that makes a unit focused! If you also throw in its ability to heal for 2 with the use of one lightning result it's a great unit. It is heavily disadvantaged by its movement, which is slow and it cannot move and shoot. The fact the game has no facing rules obviously plays to the rapid firing unit as well. In truth, the unit didn't get used that much until Jyn Oden made a run for terminal and it fully unloaded on her ripping her apart which helped bring the game down to the one dice roll not much later.

I like the balance between tactics and the random factor of the dice. You can use good tactics and apply your resources as efficiently as possibly which increases your odds, but the game is never fully in your control as the dice can shift the game quite significantly ensuring you have to adapt. Get a game changing roll only for Jyn Oden to roll the complete dodge, for instance? Fail to take out key units like Probe Droids or successfully doing so, etc.

Anyway, Rebel win but their gear draw wasn't the greatest so they didn't send their cash. They did both go for 1 XP class abilities. I did spend my XP on the ability to do a significant heal on all Stormtroopers adjacent to each other. I left my Influence unspent. That free ability in the Military Might class deck is pretty awesome though, a free focus every round!

The final observation is while it is easy to see Imperial Assault as expensive, and it is, it cost me around £65, it’s also great value for money. Never mind the quality of everything in the box, compare it to a £45 videogame? And that’s after a title has been reduced a bit, they’re more than that new. The winner is quite easily Imperial Assault in a lot of cases. That’s how I am seeing these premium board games, as alternatives to just as expensive, but often full of ‘busy work’ videogames.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
The Imperial Assault Play Test
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We played a test play of Imperial Assault today, and it was great fun. It was very much a test play, I’d read the ‘read this first’ book and we planned to play the tutorial. We ended up playing the tutorial twice and then the first mission in the campaign twice.

The first observation is the game takes a while to set-up and I need to make this more efficient. It took a while to get all the components out and it can take a while to identify the tiles and connect them up. This will be able to be speeded up by getting better bags for all the components and having them all individually bagged. Easily resolved. It does mean if you plan to play multiple missions in one sitting it probably could take 20 minutes to set up the next mission.

We ended up playing the campaign mission because the tutorial didn’t provide a great experience. It uses a reduced, but core to the game set of rules, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the win conditions for the Imperials. We didn’t see how the Imperials couldn’t just rush one of the two terminals and then win in 2-3 turns. Just ignore and rush. There is no way to permanently block movement so it would not have been different if we had four heroes on the board rather than just two (with a bump in Imperial units as the tutorial scales Imperial units while the campaign scales heroes, it seems). The same result every time was guaranteed. Someone on Twitter said the Imperials had no chance in the tutorial, so one of us is doing something wrong (and I fully admit the applying of the rules in a better and better way grew over the four mission attempts).

As you’d imagine the campaign mission was better. The objectives for each side were richer, with the heroes having to destroy four terminals spread across the tiles in six turns and the Imperials having to wound all the heroes (and they are quite tough). Since we had two heroes, they both got legendary cards, bumping health and allowing each of them to activate twice which essentially doubles them up to account for four players not being present. This method of bumping the heroes seemed to work well and made a two player game feel quite cool, with both heroes feeling quite epic. It’d be interesting to see how that compares to four players all activating once and with less health.

In the four attempts at the game a couple of things came across: it’s very tight and claustrophobic. This is a good thing. I’ve played the first edition of Descent and it seemed to take 4-5 hours to finish a mission. Imperial Assault seems to have it down to 60-90 minutes. The maps seems very small, minis can bunch up. At first this felt a bit disappointing. It’s certainly not a game of long range blaster combat. This is initially a bit visually disappointing but you sort of need to reassess your perspective of where the tactics are. It’s tight in the sense, at least in the first campaign mission, you don’t spend any turns figuring out what to do or affording yourself some experimentation. You have to have a clear and aggressive plan and go for it! The heroes can’t be defensive, they have to go in blasters blazing and axes swinging, at least it’s Star Wars in feel. Any wasted turn can put the mission at risk.

It works well.

The game seems so tight the character choice can influence it heavily, especially in a two hero game. In the campaign mission the natural choice of Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan was chosen, providing a good quick and ranged character with a slower and heavy melee one. If the heroes chosen had both been melee, forcing the heroes to have to be in adjacent squares to destroy the terminals, the game would have been significantly different and harder. The tactic with these two heroes was certainly for Gaarkhan to pile in while Jyn Odan dashed around the terminals. It was on the second attempt this was figured out.

It was a test play, the results being that we want to play through the campaign with Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan by starting again even though this would be a third play through of the first campaign mission. Obviously, this is a good sign of how fun the game was. We’re also aware we aren’t maximising the tactics. The game isn’t complicated it’s just there is a lot of it. You get the rhythm of the game quickly and how the dice work, but each character has special abilities. You possibly have cards to use. It’s a bit like Dungeons and Dragons 4E, there is just a lot of stuff to remember to use in the most efficient manner and then ensure you know the rules for each. The applications of each hero and Imperial units powers to maximum efficiency will have a considerable impact on the mission, obviously, such as the ability to wound the heroes more easily.

The plan is to read the larger rulebook, referred to quite a bit during the four tries, and digest the rules in the context of having played the game. Fully understand how to set-up and run a campaign which involves quite a few new cards and things like side missions and agendas which I couldn’t really figure out this time.

Till next time, though there is the threat of Star Trek Catan being purchased off the back off this and giving that a go!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
 
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