Friday, May 10, 2019

Sandwiches and Fun

A while back a friend of mine asked me if a hotdog was a sandwich.  And my answer was yes, and that to me, "anything is a sandwich as long as I don't have to eat it with a fork or knife because then it's a stir fry".

I think this really gets into the mystery of mechanics for me.  It doesn't really matter what a mechanic is as long as the thing that I'm doing results in fun. But, you could take the hotdog statement both ways, and really that is what is so fascinating about it.  How do you organize the way you have fun?

As a kid, (and later of course) I remember walking back and forth in Final Fantasy (or any number of RPGs) for HOURS and HOURS and somehow I just had a blast.  Now with a 4 year old, I was trying to explain Terraforming Mars and I was floored at what I considered super satisfying and fun. Moving cubes around.

In general, I really enjoy manipulating things (area control, player interaction), building/constructing things (engines, puzzles), making good or effective decisions (deck builders, worker placement) and taking risks (dice rolling, auctioning, card draw).  As long as an action isn't really bulky and annoying (Settlers of Catan trading, hording cards in Ticket to Ride, etc), it doesn't matter as long as those boxes get checked.

Especially with this flood of board games, I feel like having a better understanding of what is core to our concept of fun is more important than just the categorization of mechanisms.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pathway - review-ish

Some quick thoughts about Pathway by Robotality.

I'm all about these types of games: renowned explorers:international society, faster than light, the curious expedition, slay the spire etc. The format is solid and we know what to expect as soon as we see the interface.

Pathway is fascinating because the progression is so linear.  Other games (that I've played) of this type usually rely on some kind of combo building to make it interesting.  Pathway doesn't really have that at all.  It's very similar to renowned explorers but lacks the bosses and semi-static events (maybe i just havent played enough) for high-score runs and team customization.

For me, the play has basically come down to find party members, find fuel/ammo and then outwit the AI during combat because the behaviors are very consistent.  It's almost like playing gloomhaven. Plenty of potential here, but I feel like it falls flat on the rogue-like stuff.  Things that I would like solved.
  • Static inventory makes it too "easy" and allows the player to play the same every time
  • More use for AoE.  Maps are too small to consistently bunch enemies up.
  • Somewhat consistent events to boost different stats so that I'm ecouraged to play differently
  • Stores that matter for something besides fuel/ammo. All the good loot falls off of quest completion. (or just dont let me keep items between games)
  • More enemies and mixed enemies (why not combine nazis/undead?) so that I have to think differently
  • Allow knife throw/pickup
  • Multi-point movement to avoid those pesky overwatch snipers.
  • Dogs/cultists are just armor/health taxes.  I think I'd just appreciate it if the event made me lose health/armor before the round starts. It's just frustrating.
But as general input, it feels like a bean counting game with 3 metrics (fuel, health, ammo) and when either category is flush (4 extra pairs of armor in inventory, 4 large boxes of ammo at the store, max fuel from consecutive stores, amazing sniper rifle etc), it definitely starts to feel like a chore.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Event decks, variation and player will

In the pursuit of meaningful randomness, I've decided to do some thinking and writing about events in board games.  It's definitely vary interesting what lines people draw when it comes to adding unpredictability into board games. Too much and it's considered "ameritrash" and too little and you get that traditional tight euro/chess kinda feeling.

In general, I'm a HUGE fan of variability.  I don't think winning is that important, but it is important as a gauge to determine everyone's performance. Now if a game has so much variation that it doesn't seem like anything you do will change the course of the game then it's probably too random, and of course, that threshold varies per player.

BUT..  I don't want a game full of scripted responses and memorization. (tic-tac-toe anyone?) What I really really want is to assert my will against or with players who are doing the same and the phrase that I want to use is from fighting games. I want to play board game footsies. 

A little bit about footsies (fighting games). At its foundation, it basically comes down to game theory (economic). If you're unfamiliar with either of those concepts, I'm sorry. I highly doubt I can explain either of those concepts well without embarrassing both of us.

But my interest essentially boils down to this question "do you know, that I know, that you know etc?" and the decisions that we make from there.  For instance, if someone in Catan starts laying roads down aggressively, other players have to guess if the road-guy is rushing to a location or is trying to control area. The only problem in that game is that you either 1. can't do anything about it or 2. it doesn't really matter. HOWEVER.. in that rare case where you can do something, it's interesting to watch players either challenge the road, run away or feign a challenge.  Most area control games have this in some shape or form but a lot of the times it's very clunky or the encounters are random or something.

The concept that I want to explore is whether or not player agency can drive events instead of semi-artificial randomness.  Next,  the choose your adventure mechanic for multiple players in either cooperative or competitive format.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gloomhaven - dive in

I've spent a lot of time over the past few months playing Gloomhaven so I'm writing a bit about it while it's still fresh in my head.

Gloomhaven is really just a run of the mill dungeon crawler RPG in board game form. What makes it stand out for me is the mechanics of the card skills and the choices that players have to make per turn. Each class gets its allotment of level 1(level x is considered level 1), gets a maximum hand size and then gets access to acquiring a higher level card from levels 2 through 9 with 2 new choices at each level.

The anatomy of a card is pretty straight forward. A top action, a bottom action and an initiative number for turn order.  Each round, players select two cards and perform a top action on one card and a bottom action on the other.  It's a very simple system but it allows players to make different decisions based on monsters or board layout.

The game isn't hard though which is good and bad. The play is linear in general. Kill, crowd control or heal. Rinse and repeat. Most interactions between players revolve around deciding how many things to CC or which things the team thinks it can kill before the monster goes smash smash. Optimal play is relatively easy to figure out and if you can't, there are guides out there that exposes most of the stuff that turns the game into easy mode. But, if you think of every room as a puzzle to solve, it really helps you to understand why some things are loss cards (because they solve problems) and how items work to "fix" situations.

Unlike many of the guides I've read through, I actually enjoy picking the "weaker" classes and the less obviously powerful cards(most often the most flexible ones) for cards that are more situational.  Why? Because the difficulty is adjustable and having to make hard decisions (and occasionally gambles) is how I have fun.

Now.. what would I change to tailor the experience to my tastes?
  1. The numbered initiative system is great, but I think I'd prefer it to be 1-10 so it matters what second card you play to break ties.
    • Enemy cards would be updated to reflect having two numbers.
    • Monsters now gain the ability to stop a lot of "guaranteed" fast/slow combinations from players and certain items are now really, really useful.
  2. Remove curse and disarm from enhancements
    • Or limit CC to restricting melee or restricting ranged or something like that
    • Think missile barriers etc
  3. An expansion for a third card to pick from for each level. (its nice having 3 "trees" to choose from)
  4. Reduction in the power of level 9 cards
  5. Remove stamina potions or use a loss unrecoverable staff or reduce small items count etc etc
  6. Remove non-loss kill powers
  7. Invisibility seems a bit OP
  8. More secondary abilities that don't necessarily mean damage.  Not sure what this would look like.
  9. A second default ability for either top or bottom based on the class or make it something you can unlock (2 shield or 4 shield once/total or attack 1 wound etc etc)
  10. Re-imagine the three spears class
  11. I'd like to be able to use and generate elements more often with less benefit. I feel like this mechanic is either completely ignored or completely centric during play
  12. Decks for summons by class classification tank/melee/ranged/etc would be fun (might be even weirder though)
  13. More ways to work as a team besides focus fire/CC distribution/elements.  The more I play, the more I think that everyone running off to tank/CC/pull their own target is the most ideal situation (not factoring in enemies that target 2+)
    • maybe an event card deck that grants bonuses for doing something with your team
      • any time you end movement in a square adjacent to a non-summoned ally heal 1
      • or.. if your movement passes by an ally gain +1 attack
      • that kinda stuff
    • maybe random bonuses if the players operate in a certain turn order... brute => mindthief => spellweaver grants bonus move to everyone or something.
  14. More buffs that don't last forever but just until you short rest/long rest (similar to mindthief augments except you cant leave them out)
I'll probably revisit this stuff as I think more about it but I think just doing a few of the above would make a huge difference in game play, especially number 1.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Diablo 3 - wrapping up

Back from my hiatus. I'm going to be trying to work on a game so I think I need to at least be able to ship a few hundred words every now and then.

I haven't paid that much attention to Diablo 3 in a long time. With the Nintendo Switch version incoming and maybe something else, I felt like I should address this game one more time before I move on. 

I'm now comfortable with this game being very casual in nature. Log on, beat on some monsters, call it a day.  I think going in I really wanted a tight ARPG that had a lot of mechanics and build options to play with but I think it might be too tall of an order to find some kind of balance between fun, loot pinatas, build options and optimization.  As a disclaimer, I haven't touched this game since before the Necromancer update, but if this is the direction this series goes maybe there's no point in following it anymore.  With these very static systems in place, there isn't much room for discovery or experimentation.

I hope I have to eat my words.

This might just be me being bored with what is there but I'm not sure it is.  I'll leave a few thoughts here because I'm currently pondering them.
  1. Don't let me ignore mechanics unless there's a really good reason and/or a penalty to go with it.  Making me think less doesn't make the game more fun.
  2. Let's stop it with basically spammable CC. See item number 1.
  3. More treasure goblins or treasure goblin-like things.  Chasing things is fun (let's not go crazy though.. here's looking at you monster hunter) and it's something different
  4. Instances (essentially, like a boss room) that are designed to make you or your group cry a bit.. randomly generated.  You have xyz skill/gear.. fight these things that cleanse themselves of DoTs or something.. whatever

Monday, December 28, 2015

Diablo 3 - quality of life suggestions

Item Modifier Ranking

Actually, this one is something I'd like to see all games (if applicable) adapt.  We're always fighting for space in the UI and trying to deliver a depth of information and simplicity.  Now.. the loot pinata that Diablo is.. I'd like to see a way to determine how good each roll is without remembering or referencing the item at the mystic or online.. D-C-B-A-S-P ( P for perfect ) and then we could just see the grades when an item drops and, of course, active only for level 70 (or max level whatever that may be) items

Kadala

Kind of at the point where I'd rather just get back mats or set/unique items only.  Having to free space to gamble when magic/rare items are never going to be good is a bit annoying. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Diablo 3 - 2.3 and 2.4 - the beginning of greatness?

Forgot about this blog! But this is a good time to start since D3 was the reason why I started it to begin with, and now is an exciting time.

With a little less than a month until 2.4.0, I'd just like to put a few thoughts here.

What's great?

Scaling

To those complaining about the number scaling.. you really have to take a step back and see what is actually happening.  That team is committed to scaling the base skills with gear to control the multiplicative nature of the beast and introducing the Legacy of Nightmares set to bring skills up to par (kinda) based on damage alone.

I think it's slightly misguided to keep trying to control the top end meta but I think it's also a really good way of finding what is actually fun for players. And.. in the future, I can see them adding the scaling in by default and focusing on augmenting the skills which is far more intersting.

Kanai's cube

First. RIP.

Second, I like that we've gotten a way to extend the number of "skills" we have with the cube and legendary gems.. at this point I'm definitely feeling like we should remove the accessory socket requirement and put legendary gems just as additional powers.  The game is probably in the right spot right now to do that since we're re-establishing baseline defense and offense and we can mitigate the 3 additional stat slots.

What's the same?

Channeling

Channeling should probably just be removed at this point.  I don't think the dev team knows how to make this mechanic interesting and even though they're making the numbers better.. i'm not sure that standing somewhere and holding down a button should be good except in specific circumstances.

What could we do about it?  I'd like to see a completely new approach to channeling (although no idea if it's technically feasible). So stuff like, buff/debuff ground pools that widen as you cast, regeneration/resource regeneration, access to different skills while channeling (archon)

Just as an example.. say mirror image, could be a "channeled" ability where you get to summon 3 clones based on the direction you're facing, you get a new set of "skills" where 1 is cancel, 2-5 will swap the real you to the corresponding position, all copies (including you) are gimpy and do 10% damage and cast random stuff but most importantly.. they dont move


Definitely excited to see the final patch notes for 2.4.0!