On the Table: Games in Champaign

Last week I was at the home office in Champaign, Illinois, for the Wolfram Technology Conference. I got a lot of good work done at the office, but after hours I also got some gaming done with pal Dave T., with whom I was staying.

First, though, just before I left, I played a rousing game of Chaos in the Old World, which I tragically had not played since 2011. It’s a great game, and it deserves more love and more play. We had two new players and one was playing as Khorne and unfortunately we failed to emphasize just how much Khorne doesn’t care about domination and VPs. He just wants to kill, early and often. As a result, without Khorne making everyone’s day miserable, the game unfolded in a way that didn’t really reveal its strong points. Fortunately this did not dissuade the new players from wanting to play again some time. I mentioned this elsewhere and it was suggested that all copies of Chaos in the Old World come with this player aid for the Khorne player:

Now, on to my trip. I arrived in the late afternoon, and the very first thing we did was head out to the Armored Gopher for some gamage. We started out with Codenames, which we played a solid three times in a row. At one point Dave T. successfully gave us a clue worth five words, but despite that impressive turn, we did not win.

After that we played one of the games he’d asked me to bring with me, Nexus Ops. I controlled the monolith early on, and had a good initial burst, but just before I closed in for the win, Dave tore it all away from me. That’s another one I’m glad is hitting the table again.

I don’t have my Atlanteans expansion yet, but I brought along Imperial Settlers and we had a good four-player game. Everyone caught on to it pretty quickly, and the end scores were pretty tight. I played Barbarians, which I hadn’t played in a while.

Dave has been buying a lot of smaller “microgames” lately. I definitely understand the appeal in these games, but I’ve also seen that they never seem to get played. He was experiencing the same thing, so he brought out some of them to finally get some table time. The first was Eminent Domain: Microcosm, which I backed for about twenty minutes before remembering not only that microgames don’t get played often but that I also don’t care for its parent game, Eminent Domain. In one sense, this game is a little more interesting than actual Eminent Domain because it plays much faster and a little more interestingly. In another sense, I went with an all-out military strategy and steamrolled my opponent. The microcosmic apple has not fallen far from the Eminent Domain tree. It’s worth pointing out that this game doesn’t even pretend that trading is worth doing.

We also played Theseus: The Dark Orbit and it was a nail-biter. I was stomping over Dave’s Aliens with my Marines, and it really looked like it was going to be a slaughter, but then I got trapped in a terrible situation involving getting thrown into space twice on the same turn while also having the crap blown out of me. When the end game came, my final choice was to either kill us both or tie the game at 1 all. I opted for the tie, but Dave had a way to knock an additional point off of me.

I also brought with me RESISTOR_, an almost-microgame of my own. After an initial game in which, due to a weird shuffle, the game ended nearly immediately, we played again and really got to see it in action. This is a clever two-player game and hopefully I’ll get more plays out of it.

Next was Cthulhu Realms, a sort of alternate version of last year’s darling, Star Realms. I kind of fell off the Star Realms hype train soon after jumping on board, and I haven’t tried any of the expansions, but I liked Cthulhu Realms more than the original, even despite the tired “LOL Cthulhu” theme. That said, there are card games in a similar style that I prefer to both of them.

Our game of Omen: A Reign of War didn’t go so well. I warned Dave that this was a brutal, take-that-y game, and he proceeded to demonstrate his understanding of the concept. I couldn’t draw helpful cards to save my life and even if I did, he was making me discard them left and right. I spent much of the game whining. However, towards the end, he did a move which got him a feat, but allowed me to win two battles. That, along with a card allowing me to win a third battle and some lucky end-of-turn card drawing, squeaked me the victory, which was ridiculous. In no way had I earned a victory in that. I think we both came away from that unsatisfied, but didn’t do a rematch.

Next microgame up was Welcome to the Dungeon, which I was not familiar with. I wasn’t sure about this one as it was being explained to me, but it turns out it’s a really clever little game. A hero is going into the titular dungeon. Each turn you draw a card with a monster on it and either add it to the dungeon or remove one of the hero’s items with it. Alternatively, you can pass and you’re out, but the other person has to enter the dungeon and hope he can beat the monsters in there. So it becomes a game of chicken, trying to either hope you can ruin the dungeon for the other guy or make him *think* it’s ruined so he’ll let you go in and grab all the glory. It’s a neat dynamic, and I might grab myself a copy. I’m not sure how well it plays with more than two, though.

Then we played Tiny Epic Defenders. A frequent complaint about co-op games is that they’re little more than whack-a-mole, with the group having to run around dealing with a crisis that is always the same, just surging up in different places. Tiny Epic Defenders is that actual game. Literally there is a ring of locations and you have to run to different ones either to defend against vague threats or “succor” the place back to health. Eventually a big bad comes out and you kill him and save the day. We played on the easiest baby setting and won without too much problem. If you like this kind of game, Tiny Epic Defenders distills it into a small, streamlined package. It wasn’t bad, but again, I have other games of this type I’d rather play, despite them being neither tiny nor epic.

We replayed Imperial Settlers, this time as Rome (me) vs. Egypt (Dave). We both started strong, and were getting some nice card synergy going. Dave got out his Temple of Ra, which stole a building from me once per turn, and that really bogged me. as we neared the end, I thought Dave might have it, as he seemed to have an endless supply of VP generation. That finally ran out, and I did an action that essentially gave up two points to gain two points, which seemed like a pointless action. It did, however, also give me a card, which was more than likely going to be useless, as I only had like a stone left to build with. The card was the above Ruins, playable for free. It turned out I won the game by one point: the Ruins. That was the literal game-winning card.

On my last day we started out with Dave’s home-made re-skin of Lost Legacy: The Starship, themed to modern Doctor Who. I played the original version of a long while back but didn’t remember it well. The card art was really well done, and added to it, especially since the game itself isn’t that great with only two players.

Finally, our game of Zeppelin Attack, ended just as I had to rush to throw all my stuff into my suitcase and head out the door. I believe this was the only game of the entire trip that both of us were already pretty familiar with when we started it.

Man, that’s a lot of gaming. But I got a lot of work done too, I promise!

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I Played That! #34: RPG Potpourri (PC)

A bunch of RPGs I played that I don’t really have much to say about, but wanted to include:

MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy: Science fiction RPGs were rare, and I tended to grab and want to love whichever ones I found. I remember this one being really unintuitive with its controls and pretty hard. Unsurprising, as it was based on the tabletop RPG most known for allowing your character to be killed as you were rolling it up.

Dragon Wars: A fantasy RPG with an anti-nukes theme. In it, cities have towers with dragons imprisoned in them so if the city is attacked, the dragon can provide Mutually Assured Destruction. It used the paragraph system where, to save space on disk, long bits of text were printed in the manual and you’d read them there. Let me know if you also need “the manual” explained to you.

The Summoning: More of an action game than an RPG, as I recall. I also recall it being hard as hell. I don’t think I ever completed it, in fact, despite multiple attempts.

Tunnels and Trolls: In my attempt to find a really good RPG, I bought this. Hoo-boy, it was not what I was looking for.

Sentinal Worlds: Future Wars: This sure looks a lot like Mega Traveller. I only barely remember this one.

Circuit’s Edge: This was a graphical adventure made by Infocom in its later days. It was adult, as it talked about prostitutes and sex and murder and such. The game was based on the book When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger, a cyberpunk story taking place in a Middle-Eastern community in a future with the Islamic world ascendant. It’s a novel and interesting setting, and I was intrigued enough to buy and read the book, which I liked.

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I Played That! #33: Eye of the Beholder Series (PC)

Were a lot of other people doing this series, there would be an entry for the various “gold box” Dungeons and Dragons games. For some reason, even though I played a lot of junk, I never played those. I didn’t like the look of them, for one thing. However, when I saw Eye of the Beholder, I grabbed it.

Eye of the Beholder’s 3D-ish graphics wowed me where the gold box games’ Spartan playing fields did not. I played through the first game and really enjoyed it, so I was completely stoked for the second one.

Eye of the Beholder 2 did not disappoint. It was much larger than the previous one and much more intricate. It was filled with tough fights, cool enemies, traps, and different environments. I played it over and over and it’s right up there on my list of all-time favorites.

Naturally, I was completely on board for Eye of the Beholder 3, but unfortunately Westwood Studios, who developed the first two, were not. The third game was kind of a mess, slow and clunky. None of the games had a fantastic plot, but in the third one I failed to follow it so well that I got to the final bad guy without even realizing it. I stumbled into a room, fought someone, and got killed. No problem. I reloaded, went back, fought again, and won. Roll end credits. I had no idea I was even close to the end of the game, and hadn’t picked up any indications that this was the person behind whatever had been happening all along.

The team behind the first two games went on to make Lands of Lore, a game that was very much in the same vein, though not set in the D&D universe. I got it and remember liking it, though I don’t think I ever played its sequels.

SSI also later released Dungeon Hack. The idea behind this game was that it could create random (sorry, procedural dungeons of the “Eye of the Beholder” type for you to run around in. You could customize the features and then go exploring. The “Hack” in its name was a reference to the well-known variant of Rogue. This was, in a sense, that type of game, but with an Eye of the Beholder flair, and it was fun to play with.

The Eye of the Beholder series still has its legacy out there. A recent indie game darling is The Legend of Grimrock, which is very much influenced by Eye of the Beholder.

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The Comfortable Plain White T-Shirt of Destiny

The other night I “finished” Destiny. Meaning, I finished the main storyline, the two small expansions, and the large “The Taken King” expansion. Let’s talk about that first.

As I said before, the storyline in Destiny is nothing amazing. It’s kind of critique-proof because there’s not really anything there of any substance to critique. You have to go places and shoot aliens because they want to kill humans. The Taken King is a guy’s dad who is angry because you killed his son earlier. He turns all the previous aliens into zombie like things. There really isn’t anything else to it. The one thing I like about the lack of a plot (other than the lack of cutscenes dishing out crappy plot to me) is that even though you kill Crota and his dad, there isn’t a sense of you single-handedly winning this war, or even of the war being won. It feels like you’re always just barely pushing back the tide, and therefore there’s a reason you’re having to keep fighting Christopher Moeller’s Iron Empires dudes on Mars.

In a discussion, some friends and I were talking about videogame-related articles of clothing we all own. I have numerous Fallout shirts. Someone mentioned having a Dragon Age shirt. Then I said, “I have a Destiny t-shirt. It’s a plain white T that fits fine and adequately covers my torso.” A joke, but it does kind of sum up how I feel about Destiny. The game feels like it’s trying very hard to be a one-stop-shop for FPS. There’s a little bit of everything in it. I don’t have much FPS experience except with Borderlands and I see a LOT of things in Destiny that map straight to elements I was already familiar with. Perhaps that’s just generic FPS elements common elsewhere, I don’t know. But Destiny seems like a Chinese buffet where the food isn’t that good, but there are a lot of different things to pick from.

A good example of this is the character of Cayde-6, who has chatted with me all throughout The Taken King. He’s a robot voiced by Nation Fillion, and you immediately know this because it’s Nathan Fillion as Nathan Fillion. There’s no character there, just exactly what you think of when you think of Nathan Fillion. (I guess it’s the character of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly.) Destiny, eager to please everyone, got Fillion to do a voice but saw no need to actually create a character for him to do so. “People love Captain Firefly! Let’s get him to do it just like that no matter what!”

This blandness extends throughout the Destinyverse. There are four bad guy races, all of whom are, for the most part, humanoid. They all naturally have a weak spot, and that spot is almost always the head. They are the only resistance you come across in the entire solar system. There are large maps, beautifully rendered with all sorts of hidey-holes in them that usually contain nothing. The only difference between shooting aliens on Mars and shooting aliens on the Moon are the types of aliens you’ll shoot and which weird resource you’ll sometimes be able to grab from the landscape. Even the fact that the Moon, since you get to it earlier in the story than Mars, has lower level aliens doesn’t make that much of a difference.

Destiny kind of feels like they fed all previous FPSes into a neural network and had it generate a new game. Everything you’d expect to be is there, but there’s something vital at the core missing, something that makes it all come together and shine instead of simply being adequate.

All that said, there’s still a lot more to do with Destiny, even with the storylines completed. As with Diablo 3, the real meat of the game comes after finishing it, when you can do all kinds of special missions that give you the really good loot and introduce weird elements to play with. In addition, I haven’t done much with multiplayer, though I’m hoping to do more. I should go on strike missions and such, and I’ll probably do some of that this upcoming weekend. It may be what I need to make it all gel for me. But as it is, Destiny is going to be pushed aside for Fallout 4 in November, and right now I don’t have much incentive to return to it afterwards. I’ll play it for now, but once it’s gone I don’t expect to miss it much.

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On the Table: No Longer On the Table

Played a few things recently, most notably Theseus, which is always a good time, and Nexus Ops. Some other stuff we haven’t played in a while, such as Evolution, Olympos, and, reaching way back, Taj Mahal also got some table time. But I’m not here to talk about those. I’m here to talk about these:

That’s 51 games that are all going bye-bye. There’s a mixture of stuff I just plain didn’t like, stuff I like well enough, but it’s not my first or second choice to play, and stuff I like, but which never seems to get on the table. Also a few things where there are newer editions I have, so I don’t need the old one.

The list is here, but unless you’re local to me and I don’t have to mail it to you, don’t ask about anything just yet. I’m first going local with it, then I’ll figure out how I want to get the postal service involved.

Two of those games are Abyss and Pandemic: Contagion. We were at Barnes and Noble this weekend and they were having their red dot clearance sale. Usually these things are picked over by the time I get to them, since I don’t go to B&N very often, but this time there were some good deals to be had, and I grabbed these two plus Survive! for good prices. At the time I thought, “This is a good deal for these, but am I making a mistake?” and the answer was 66% “yes”.

Abyss is nothing special. A fairly average game that feels like it was originally designed to be something else and then turned halfheartedly into an underwater thing. Nothing to get excited about there. It’s got a thing going on that’s sort of like an auction except it’s a little bit safer if auctions give you dangerous heart tremors. You get cards, use them to buy nobles, and use those to buy locations or whatever. You can also go fight sea creatures in a thing that seems completely tacked on. It went into this pile after a single play.

I remember thinking Pandemic: Contagion was okay when I played it at GenCon a couple years ago, but the two plays we had of it this weekend were not great. In the first I screwed up a couple rules, so we weren’t playing right. In the second we got the rules right and the game suffered for it. Basically it’s possible to extend yourself to the point where, in the final two rounds, you can’t really do anything. I guess we know that now but at the time we were all, “uhh, this is not too fun.” I checked the FAQ to see if it said anything about this and the advice it gave was “don’t do that”. Into the trade pile.

When I sent this list to a local guy I’ve only recently started playing games with, he asked me what should be a simple question: “How many games do you have?” It took a while for me to answer. See, if you ask BoardGameGeek, it says 298. But it counts things like expansions, including promos that consist of a single card. So that’s nuts. Filter out expansions and you get 227. Even that, though, is a tricky number. Some stand-alone expansions are still included, as well as things like Spades and Cribbage, which are standard deck card games I added because we occasionally play them. But technically I “own” every such game. It also includes things like Trivial Pursuit which, yeah, I own, but it’s not on my game shelf. It’s down in the basement or something and will probably never get touched again. Maybe I should de-list it. Eliminating most of these edge cases reduces the count down to 211. That 211 also includes the 51 games above I’m looking to escort of the premises. So that would get me to 160 afterwards,

160 games is a lot of games. And many of those have survived several such purges. So the reason that things like Abyss or Artifacts, Inc aren’t sticking around is, they have a lot of competition. And the way I’ve been feeling lately, I’d rather dive deeper into that stack of 160 games than try out yet another worker-placement-only-this-time-with-fancy-hats game that, at best, is “good enough”. I’m okay with, from here out, being really picky about what else goes on my shelves.

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Skeleton Dog

Behold, the SPOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKIEST dog in town!

ZOMG 2 SPOOKY

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Is This the End of Couch to 5K???

Five months ago I started what for me was a pretty audacious project: Couch to 5K. It’s a nine-week program designed to get you from a lazy slob to being able to run a 5K. Nine weeks is the minimum — you’re likely to repeat weeks or take some time to work up to some of the goals.

It’s been a (often literally) bumpy road for me. I started slow, ramped up, hit a wall, backslid, caught back up, pushed further, and then, this morning, I reached week 9, day 3, minute 30:

My final thirty-minute uninterrupted jog (fact check: I had to pause to re-tie my shoe). No problems. I’ve spent the last few runs adjusting my pace, slowing myself down so I wouldn’t tire myself out before hitting my goal. While I’ve been happy to reach that 30-minute mark, it hasn’t been the exhausted slog across the finish line some other runs were. Thanks to my many jogging coaches for helping me out there.

So what now? Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s called “Couch to 5K” not “Couch to 30 Minutes”. Not including the warm-up and cool down walks, that final 30 minute jog was only 4.54 kilometers, and my math is rusty but that’s less than 5K. Fortunately a kilometer isn’t that much, and at my current pace it looks like I only have to add about three more minutes or so to hit that goal. That’s the next step.

Of course, what I’m doing now is training for the actual 5K I’m entered in! It’s in December and so I’ll be getting used to running in the cold. There may be nipple chafing. There are also a couple of hills involved in that course so I’ll need to work on that as well. C25K has taken me this far, but there’s still a little further I need to go before I’m done.

In the meantime, many thanks to everyone who’s supported me along the way. This has been a new and rewarding experience for me. And also many thank to those who have donated to my 5K run already. If you haven’t, would you consider doing so? Just click here. I’ll make you proud!

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I Played That! #32: Spelunker (C64)

Honestly I don’t remember a whole lot about this Commodore 64 game. I believe I got it towards the end of my time with the C64, so it didn’t get as much play as some others, but I really enjoyed it. It made enough of an impression that when I first dipped my toe into C64 emulation on the PC, one of the goals was to get this game working. That goal was never met and I never really went further into emulation.

Spelunker is a game in which you’re trying to get to a treasure at the end of an enormous cave system while being hassled by enemies, including a g-g-g-ghost. You have a limited air supply and few places to refill, plus there are other hazards. It’s notoriously hard, and I’m pretty sure I never got very far into it. Apparently jumping at exactly the wrong pixel can be hazardous. I’m amazed I enjoyed that.

As I say, I never found a way to play this post-1986, but there’s a sort of modern-day equivalent, Spelunky, available on PC and consoles. It keeps a similar theme, though it’s a little more forgiving (I got pretty far into Spelunky on the PC.) It has the procedural level generation that is all the rage now, so it also shares some genetic material with Rogue.

Nevertheless, every now and then I still think about trying to get C64 emulation running and trying to get hold of this game (and others). Not enough to actually do it, but it’s enough that I thought about it.

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