Ghost Stories is both amazing and amazingly hard. Basically, you get a fancy robe and the mandate to save a village from Wu-Feng, who is not only a complete bastard, but is bringing an army of demons and monsters to his end of the world party. The bad guys are relentless, and they pretty much only need a toehold in the village to end life as we know it.
Fortunately, you are a complete badass. The Taoist monks can do things like slow down time to double their number of actions, pull resources out of thin air, fly to any place on the board at will, and yawn in the face of the most potent curses. But as powerful as they are, the forces arrayed against them can sweep them aside at the first misstep.
Which is, of course, the brilliant thing about it. It’s a co-op game that requires real thought and teamwork to win, which is frankly kind of a rarity. The theme is strong, the art gorgeous, and the replay value high. It’s much more of a strategic puzzle than what you would normally think of as a theme game, but that only strengthens the long term playability of it.
It’s not a new game, having been introduced in 2008, but this was my first chance to play it. I have to say, it lives up to its reputation. If you haven’t tried it, do so. Trust me on this one.
Now, on to serious business. Most game days we order pizza to go with our mountains of cookies and chips and what-have-you, but this time we were able to order from a new Vietnamese place down the road. I had high hopes, but what they delivered totally blew me away. The pho was as deeply flavored as anything I’ve ever had, with a complex blend of sweet/spicy/earthy notes that worked together in perfect harmony. The broth was otherworldly, the noodles perfectly balanced between tender and firm, and the veggies fresh and crisp. Every bite was a flawless composition of texture, taste, and heat.
Also, see that sammich in the background there, next to the Galaxy Trucker board? That’s a grilled pork bahn mi, and it was easily as good as the pho. I probably shouldn’t have eaten both of them at the same time, since one is pretty much a whole meal by itself, but I lacked the superhuman will necessary to stop.
I regret nothing.
As usual, I leave you with the soothing vocalizations of Tom Vasel as he raves about this very tough game:
Except for that one time in kindergarten when I told you that caterpillars were nature’s candy, have I ever steered you wrong? And last year, didn’t I drive you to that caterpillar rehab clinic on a Saturday instead of going to the movies like I wanted? Well, here’s your chance to finally pay me back.
Step One: Go here.
Step Two: Buy a copy of this game.
Step Three: Bask in the warm glow that you get when doing stuff you saw on the Internet and not having the cops show up.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I really want to play the finished version of this thing. Adventure? Check. Word-based gameplay? Check. Sheep-shearing? Double-check. And when I found out that HOW you spell words is one of the puzzle elements? Well, let’s just say that I would rather have this game than a kilo of the finest Monarch caterpillars that money can buy.
It’s going to be finished no matter how many people pre-order, but the more that do, the faster I can get my hands on it. On the off chance that helping me with my crippling patience deficiency isn’t motivation enough, take a look at this video. That should do the trick.
You already know how I’m constantly beset by cruel video games trying to steal my precious writing time, right? And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you also know that Bioshock:Infinite launched a few days ago. And that it was promptly hailed as the best game ever.
So, I kind of figured that’s where this most recent attack on my productivity was going to come from. Naturally, I did my best to resist. You know, by promptly downloading it and “just watching the intro”, but that wasn’t as effective at stopping me from playing as I’d hoped.
But I coped. Strict discipline on the whole quota-before-playing thing, turning Steam off during the day so I can’t see that my friends are playing, taping my mouse hand to my chair, the usual.
And I was doing pretty good, too. Until KBS showed up. I’m going to go ahead and make an analogy here. Let’s say that my willpower and productivity are like a beautiful, delicate unicorn grazing placidly in a field of waving grain. At sunrise. Next to an orchestra.
Then KBS sneaks up like a ninja with chainsaws strapped to its arms and legs and proceeds to blenderize the unicorn with acrobatic finesse in a cloud of blue chainsaw exhaust. All the while laughing and wearing unicorn buttocks for a hat. Now, Is that analogy perfect? Good question. I’m going to say yes. Yes, it is.
Even as I type this I’m thinking about strapping a dozen heavy lifting rockets to an astronaut and slinging him into orbit on a giant cone of fire that thunders so loud I can’t hear his screams. Or making a space plane by taping some wings onto a solid fuel booster just to see what happens.
Just so you know, I very nearly started the game after typing that last sentence. I swear to Cthulhu that this thing is as addictive as a fried bacon cherry butter pie.
And, of course, there’s a free demo. It doesn’t come with all the delicious bits, but it has enough for you to punt a tiny green man in a space suit
into onto his planet’s moon. All for free. And then wait until you find out the full game is only like twenty bucks.
It’s like they want me to play it all the time. Sick bastards.
In honor of the first ever International Tabletop Day, please enjoy my all time favorite gaming session (that I wasn’t part of). If you don’t have a gaming group today, watching this is nearly as much fun. I guarantee at least one warm fuzzy from camaraderie and one belly laugh from general goofiness:
I think it’s obvious by now that I really want to fly a spaceship. I mean, duh, I’m kind of a huge nerd. And by fly a spaceship, I don’t just mean dogfighting and banking turns in a vacuum as if I were flying a P51 Mustang in space (although, god help me, I love that, too). I mean being part of a bridge crew and working together to not die in an expanding ball of plasma and velour uniform scraps.
This is set up for four people, each running a couple of stations. It plays 3-6 people, and for this game, the more the merrier.
In a nutshell, each player has a job to do in a 30 second window. Before and after these timed windows you have plenty of time to discuss strategy, but when it comes down to getting your Spock on, you need to take care of business in short order. Each of the stations is essentially a mini-game, which the player can become more skilled at over time.
This is the secret sauce of this game and the reason why I love it. Unlike other games, *cough*Space Alert*cough*, your ship is actually not a piece of crap. In fact, with a skilled bridge crew, you can be really friggin’ powerful. The crew of the USS Hull Breach never managed any real level of badassery, but it was totally possible. In this game, player skill trumps all, which makes it incredibly addicting.
If you’re interested in how the stations work, the game designers put up some fantastic short tutorial videos for each. Here’s the one for operating the helm:
None of the stations are particularly complex, but each one presents just enough of a challenge that you’re going to see a wide range of success in your thirty second window. Hats off to the Engelstein brothers who designed this game, it’s pure genius. A novice weapons officer can get the basic job done, loading and firing a torpedo for a bit of damage, but a master can load a spread of three, maybe even four torpedoes and wipe out all the enemies in a sector. The same holds true with pretty much all of the stations. Moreover, since many of the stations have a direct impact on the others (sensor locks increase damage, helm and shields work together to present an effective defense, etc), a strong officer winds up helping the entire ship.
If you have any interest in this kind of thing, and you should, then I recommend you pick this one up. Especially if you can put together a regular crew. While fun at a party or occasional gaming session, this one strongly rewards continued play.
As usual, here’s the clever and handsome Tom Vasel with a video review where he totally agrees with me:
I want to tell the truth here. I would never have taken a look at this Kickstarter if Wil “Look at my manly beard while I brew this beer” Wheaton hadn’t been associated with it. He tweeted, I clicked like a lemming, and things got interesting. In that order.
First of all, I learned that TCAE is a tactical squad game that is controlled entirely by voice. Yes, that’s weird. But also brilliant. If you’ve ever played a squad tactics game, maybe the recently released X-COM:Enemy Unknown for example, then you’re familiar with the ubiquitous voice that follows you around telling you what you should be doing in every mission. You know the one: “It’s an Atomic Skulleater! Quick, try diplomacy!” and “We had to identify the last team we sent in here by their teeth. They were collected over a one mile radius. Good luck!” Well, in TCAE, you get to be that disembodied know it all. FINALLY.
I also learned that Mr. Wheaton is doing voice work for the game. Woot! If you’re fan of his acting, and I totally am, then you’re going to be happy he’s involved. But if you’ve listened to his voice work narrating books, then you’re already reaching for the pledge button.
Then I watched the gameplay demo and my wallet fell completely out of my pants. I love the idea that the squad talks back, asks specific tactical questions, and that’s not even getting into the challenge of guiding a group of operatives through a combat mission just by yelling at them. The whole idea is bananas. And awesome.
I have no association with the game or the studio, but I am a game nut who wants more developers to take chances and do something unique. There are plenty of me-too Diablo/CoD/Bioshock clones already. As a gamer, I want to support and encourage this kind of thing because I know how risky it is.
So give Jason Wishnov at Iridium Studios a minute and watch the pitch video. Then join me in throwing money at the screen:
I try to be vigilant, I really do, but I missed the Kickstarter for this bad boy last summer. Which was a real shame, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I like. Fortunately, the circle of nerds that I call friends have sharp eyes and grasping claws, and succeeded where I failed. We managed to sit down to a game last night, but before I get into that, let me give you a quick idea of what Dungeon World is and why it matters.
Remember playing D&D back in the day, when you were a Cheeto-stained, soda-addled young person, giddy with the thrill of role playing for the first time? Some of you might have gotten into the hobby a different way, but for most, this was the rite of passage into the world of tabletop RPGs. And it was amazing.
The best part was that we touched the rules only lightly, and mostly as a way to measure success or failure of an action. It was about shouting and laughing and standing up brandishing a pencil like a sword and cracking the group up with your bold refusal to let the Lich of Unending Smugness get away with his plan to eat the sun. It was about participating in the story, with just enough support from the rules to make it a game, to have success mean something because the rules allowed failure to enter the narrative.
Fast forward to now. Pen and paper RPGs have gotten much, much more sophisticated over the years. And don’t get me wrong, they can be fun as hell. But they lack the spontaneous freedom of those early days. They often boast sourcebooks hundreds of pages long, with tons of tables and skills and conditional actions. What you gain in realistic simulation, you lose in freedom. And the required level of commitment from a group of friends to dig into one of these can be high.
Enter Dungeon World. It plays exactly like those old high school sessions, because it’s designed from the ground up for that breezy, story-first type of session. It’s a breath of fresh air. There’s almost nothing the players need to know to get started outside of character creation, which is as simple and straightforward as sticking a dagger in a goblin. It borrows a few bits and pieces from old school D&D-type games with the attribute system and marries them to the narrative elements from more modern games, like the FATE system. And it does so in a way that’s effortless to get into and play.
We sat down with zero knowledge of the system (except for the GM), and in about 15 minutes were guarding a merchant on the road to a distant city. In that fifteen minutes, four people created characters from scratch, and had a blast doing it. Here’s mine as an example, Strom the Bard. He’s kind of an idiot:
Not a particularly handsome man, Strom makes up for it by overspending on clothes and grooming himself past the point of sanity or good taste. He smells FANTASTIC.
Base Damage: D6
Str: 9, +0
Dex: 12, +0
Con: 13, +1
Int: 15, +1
Cha: 16, +2
Alignment: Chaotic “Spur others to significant and unplanned decisive action.”
Bardic Lore: Bestiary of Creatures Unusual
Weave Performance into Spell
- ·Heal 1d8 damage (Soothing Ballad of Virgin Silken Thighs)
- ·+1d4 forward to damage (Poetic Justice)
- ·Their mind is shaken clear of one enchantment (Clarion of the Third Eye)
- ·The next time someone successfully assists the target with aid, they get +2 instead of +1 (Rondel of Brotherly Love)
Inventory (Load Max: 18, Current Load: 2 )
(0) A fine lute named Caroline
(0) Ostentatious Clothes
(2) Dueling Rapier (close, precise)
(0) 3 gold
As you can see, there’s not much to it. Just enough to hang a character on, not so much that it bogs things down. Pretty perfect, in my opinion. The whole system works this way. There’s a lot of innovative stuff in there, but it never gets in the way of the story, and in fact, contains a lot to help it along.
One example is the success system. Most attempts to do things are decided by rolling 2D6 and adding the appropriate attribute modifier (so, playing a song for Strom would be 2D6 +2, since that’s charisma based). 10 or better and things worked out exactly as planned. Less than that, and you might succeed, but you’re also going to get an unintended consequence at the same time. Or you might fail, causing hilarity to ensue. Unlike a lot of other systems, its not just a failure to accomplish your task and that’s the end of it.
For example, Strom tried to strike a pose and play a rousing song to give someone a bonus to assist. He succeeded, but also made himself a target of a nearby archer at the same time. Could you do that without the roll? Sure. But it’s awesome to have the prompt, and the chance to pull it off without a hitch.
To sum up: it’s frigging great. We had a blast in no time flat, and the system stayed out of our way. It was just like the Before Times, only better. Also, it’s cheap. Like ten bucks cheap. There’s zero reason for you not to grab a copy and try it out.
If you want to hear a bit about the game from the designers, here’s a panel they did at PAX 2012. They’re smart guys, and they made a heck of a game.
Like me, some of you are gamers. And if you’re, um, of a certain age, there are few things that can punch you right in the pleasure centers like chiptune music. In the same way that the smell of cherry pie or salt air can bring a memory back with palpable force, 8-bit music has the power to invoke a sense of wonder and adventure in our kind. I have even been known to purchase entire games because I was hooked by the soundtrack.
I’m bringing this up because I just discovered Adventures in Pixels by Ben Landis. You can literally listen to this and do ANYTHING YOU LIKE, and still feel like you’re embarking on something grand. Crazy, I know. And as a bonus, you get a comic page for every track. That’s pretty cool, but frankly, I’m in it for the music.
Here’s a sample:
Thanks for making me smile today, Mr. Landis.
You might have missed it, but yesterday on Kickstarter a board game called Kingdom Death:Monster successfully funded at at 2 million dollars. On a pledge level of 35 thousand dollars. That’s flat out amazing. Very few games come close to that kind of response from the community, so why KD:M?
Part of it is the presentation and the art. No exaggeration, it’s some of the most imaginative and detailed stuff out there:
But it’s not universally loved. In fact, one of the biggest complaints about the artwork is that the female characters are highly sexualized and, um, clothing averse. The men are as well, but not at the same level. Think anime volleyball team.
Another part of it is the fantastic selection of goodies available when you pledge. Check out this chart to see what I mean. Not only is there a generous volume of rewards, but the variety is terrific for a game, as opposed to a collection of miniatures that doesn’t need to worry about mechanics. It’s not up to the insane levels of, say, Zombicide, but it’s very good. It is not, however, good enough to carry the project to two million dollars on its own.
There’s also the gameplay. This is a cooperative miniatures game, so right off the bat you have an idea of how it will play. There are a couple of nice twists, like the AI cards that not only drive a monster’s behavior, but also count as its hit points, which means the more wounded a beast becomes, the fewer tricks it may have up its sleeve. Of course, you may also whittle it down to only it’s most powerful attacks, which is also pretty cool. Here’s a peek at the gameplay:
Again, very well done, but not too much you haven’t seen elsewhere.
So what is it? What resonated with over five thousand backers at an average spend of $200 dollars each? It was the story. Go to the Kickstarter page and watch the video. It’s not about the mechanics or the cool figures or anything remotely board-game-like. It’s 100 percent about facing monsters in the dark with nothing but a shard of rock. There’s nothing but a tiny group people with no knowledge, culture, or industry to fall back on, standing back to back against the unknown. That immediacy and intimacy, coupled with the extreme vulnerability of the heroes, is where that two million dollars comes from.
It’s the pure essence of a great horror story. The trappings of art and rules and miniatures simply make it possible for us to see how we would be able to be part of the story ourselves.
That’s something I’d gladly pay for. And I did
I actually had to search my own blog twice just to make sure I hadn’t already talked about King of Tokyo. I’m kind of stunned that I haven’t, but I guess it’s true what they say: when you get old, the first thing that goes is your memory of giant cybernetic rabbits tearing chunks out of downtown Tokyo.
This game was released way back in 2011, but there are two reasons that I’m bringing it up now:
First, it’s awesome. There are very few games that I would unreservedly recommend for parties, kids, and serious gamers alike. This is one of them. The rules are few and clearly stated, the game is fast and furious, and it plays a ton of people at once. Also, you get to be a giant monster that mutates like crazy while battling robots/sea monsters/giant cyborg apes for supremacy.
Second, the expansion just came out, King of Tokyo:Power Up!, which adds a mini-deck of cards unique to every monster that gives you badass new abilities. This adds a new dimension to the game without bogging the game down or making things complicated.
If your friends and family get together over the holidays to play games, you should seriously consider adding this to your shelf.
If you don’t believe me, listen to the soothing voice of Tom Vasel as he gives his opinion in this video:
You can grab a copy on Amazon, here.