Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
I’ve been whittling my best Factorio time down, and got a launch just over the nine hour mark (on peaceful). I think with more play I can make the eight hour achievement. I’ve also kept a factory going longer just to tinker … sometimes you want to play the big game. I’ll probably start a game on hard setting just to get more into the military side, and I haven’t even touched trains (except in the scenario and my first game). Then there are mega-factories. Launching one rocket per minute (RPM) is an impressive feat (I’m going for a second rocket in one game and thinking about just building a rocket factory).
Then there’s the guy who built a factory that averaged one RPM over its lifetime (granted, that was a few hundred hours so he could spend time launching multiple RPM to balance out the first).
And then there’s this guy. His factorio is called Grey Goo Mark I, which is an insanely descriptive name in computing.
And I haven’t yet even taught trains to dance.
So, factorio has that elusive “Just one more,” bit. “Oh, I’ll just balance my belt lines.” “Oh, I’ll just expand my belt factory.” “Oh, here I go murdering again.” And suddenly its 1.30 am.
Update — It also has styles of play. Speedrun (I’m speedrunned out, right now). I just finished every research achievement, and built up a base that has launched 7 rockets. Now I’m trying to figure out advanced trains and started a new game with actual enemies and a goal of a decent (non-spaghetti) design. I may be going too slow. And playing Multi-player with the TaoLing ….
In the game’s defense, my first play took way too long and had the wrong crowd. (I suggest against a five player game with multiple new players). Obviously this game appeals to people — it’s popular.
I guess its capitalizing on the War-euro. (Wareuro? Weuro? I never know how to spell that contraction). It has combinatorics (you combine faction with resource chart). It felt like a point salad game with some clever warish designs to score bombs (win a combat? Get a star! And maybe steal some resources). Fine …. but it didn’t grip me.
If it took 1.5 hours instead of 2.5, that would have helped, but mainly because I could have played something else afterwards. I suspect if I think hard I could better describe my problems with the game, but for now I just say:
Rating — Indifferent, I may try it again and see if I missed something.
Got my copy of Jump Drive (note to local game stores. I’m willing to wait a week or two after I see “I got my copy at my FLGS” to buy it, but when you aren’t even willing to admit the game is out, that’s when I go online and buy it).
Anyway, it’s good, but not great. Then again, is the game really meant for me? I’m reminded of the time I told Frank that Fugger, Welser, & Medici’s basic game seemed simple and solvable.
“Yes, by people like us. We play the advanced game.”
It has a lot of depth … for a 10-15 minute game. But now I feel what others did when they said Race was over before it began.
Rating — Suggest, but not as good as Race. Then again, few are.
Edit — “Suggest, but not as good as Race” is probably true. My (80 hours later) thought is that it’s closer than I originally thought. I played the City (which isn’t as good as Race, or Jump Drive, IMO) nearly 100 times and that had a language barrier I had to sell.
Since it is new my de-facto Jump Drive rating is Enthusiastic (but I assume that’s temporary). There are more subtleties than I expected in it (even knowing who designed it). I’m playing it a lot right now. I mention this because the idea of my ratings is objectivity (actions speak louder than words) and my actions rate this higher.
BUT — It was typical for me (time and opponents willing) to play a game 4+ times in a weekend if it was hot, and those were long (Euro or Longer) times. In the same amount of time, you can really crank up Jump Drive’s play count. Given the TaoLing I can come home, play a game, start some soup, play a game while it cooks, take it off the stove to let it cool, play a game, etc.
I’m averaging a game every three hours since I got the game.
Traded for this as yet another solitaire (and co-op, I suppose), based on its reviews. These are initial thoughts based on a single game (controlling 3 players, not using the solo rules, but since its an open info co-op, that’s fine).
Like most coops, you have a bad (ish) event, then some good events. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, you get a bad event, gather your (automatic) resources, then players can take their actions. Each player gets 2 actions, but for most actions if you only spend a single action you have a chance for failure. You roll three dice. One of which shows success or failure (but if you fail, you get ‘determination’ tokens, which you can spend for re-rolls and other advantages). One shows if you get wounded or not, and one shows if you get an adventure — another random event which isn’t necessarily bad, but I think averages more bad than good.
There’s no order to taking actions, players just negotiate their setup until everyone is happy and then you resolve everything. Then there’s some end of turn checks (Do you have enough food? Shelter? Etc) and you do it again until you’ve completed the scenario, run of time, or had a player die.
Theme — Good, with several clever ideas. As I mentioned in my recent thoughts on Magic Realm,
Some scenario games [mix core events and rare events] by having generic cards in the game and having the scenario define the meaning
Robinson Crusoe does this. The event deck has ‘book’ icons which are scenario defined (in the first scenario — no effect). In addition to the “one typically bad effect per turn” random event, you have adventure cards which do random things but sometimes they set up an effect then go into the event deck and when they resolve the effect you’ve set up triggers. Call them foreshadowing or foreboding. “Oh, you just ate some wild berries? I’m sure you won’t be plagued with stomach issues in the near future.” Or “Oh, you think you saw something moving through the forest? I’m sure a tiger won’t randomly attack in a while.”
This is straight out of Hitchcock’s playbook. As the master said, if you have an explosion the audience jumps, but if you show them the explosives underneath the table, a five minute dinner conversation will be amazingly tense. Robinson Crusoe shows you (the player) the explosives, then shuffles them into the deck. You may be able to win before they show up. You may not. And these cards don’t make the event deck thicker: they do not count when drawn. This increases variability, as you could have a bunch of foreshadowed bad events hit at once.
I’m OK with that, I think.
There are six or seven scenarios (not counting expansions/online ones) and you start with different inventions you can build each time, and of course the event decks are much bigger than you’ll use in a given game, so I think replayability will be fine, although I’m not sure how much luck there is. You could get a bunch of “Good” adventures or “easy” hunts, or really hard ones. Again, as an experience I think I’m ok with that. It would be annoying in a competitive game.
Nice components. The rules are a bit spotty (IMO) and took a while to figure out all the components.
Would I play this co-op? Perhaps. I think this would be very prone to a single driver, so for now this will probably just stay at home unless I get a group that really wants to play a co-op.
A note on difficulty — I was surprised that I won my first game as this has a fierce reputation. After checking a few rules I realized I’d earned the dreaded commissioner’s asterisk on my achievement. It’s two wounds per missing food. (I realized this while playing Scenario 2, which I lost even without my rules screw up). This is apparently quite difficult. Going to go with 3 players plus the dog attempt at scenario 1 again.
Very early rating — Enthusiastic (as a solo).
A clever little filler that just takes a printout, some pencil and a few dice. Solitaire or multi-player. Worth checking out.
(If this were a book I’d throw a colon in there. ‘Tis all the rage in publishing).
As I mentioned, Mage Knight & Magic Realm have little in common except theme. Thematically they aren’t even close, Tolkeinesque fantasy versus a high power-gaming bash fest.. While exploring the Realm I pondered the differences between them.
I call the first the Combinatorics of World-Building.
Enter a Dungeon in Mage Knight and what will you face? A brown monster. No exceptions.
You can analyze how many you can defeat and weigh that risk versus the 2/3rds shot at an artifact and 1/3rd shot at a spell. A simple enumeration will do. Can you defeat the Gargoyle? the Shadow? the Hydra? Medusa? Crypt Worm? Etc? You can’t? Check again. Have you missed some trick?
A puzzle, to be sure, but a well defined puzzle. One monster, one reward — each have a parameter. You may get the one monster you can’t beat. You may get the easy monster. You may get the Horn of Wrath, or your choice of two dud artifacts to choose from (I’m looking at you, Banner of Fortitude and Banner of Courage), but there you go. You knew the risk/reward ratio.
There are 8 brown monsters, 30-ish artifacts and 30-ish spells, but the numbers don’t multiply. You can assign an approximate value to the artifacts and calculate what percentage of the monsters you can defeat, and solve.
Now Imagine that each artifact had a small box on the bottom that modified the rules in the combat when you gained them. Most of them don’t do much, but you may go down and face a Whatever and draw your artifact and peer at the bottom and it says “The narrow walls prevent ranged attacks….” and your plans are out the door.
What if every card did that? If you face a Crypt Worm, you weren’t going range attack anyway, but if you faced a Medusa, you most definitely planned on it. If you’ve played two dozen games of Mage Knight, you’ve likely faced every brown creature in a dungeon setting. But with combined effects — No way I’d have encountered all the combinations in my 300+ games.
I’ve already seen several interactions messing with people in Magic Realm, and that’s before you even get into players deliberately messing with you. You search for a treasure and get it, but boom! Curse. You start to buy something and boom — there’s a modifier that makes a combat likely to break out right away! These aren’t even interactions, just single cards, but the systems do interact. In my current game, I searched and found the black book, which provided black mana. The sudden influx of mana turned on a spell I had inert and — boom, I’m suddenly a giant octopus.
Now, I’d planned on being a giant octopus later that day, so no big deal. But if I’d been planning to try to hire some helpers it would have seriously cramped my style.
The book of learning has an example of the Elf controlling all six bats with magic, a feat the author says he’s never seen in 200+ games but happened in a solo game he set up to demonstrate, with no cheating. Amusingly, I did it in my first game with the elf. But it does take some lucky chit interactions and some lucky rolls, as well as having the Control Bats spell.
I like my puzzles, but have I been surprised in the last hundred games of Mage Knight? Not that I recall. Nor possibly the hundred before that.
Can I be surprised by Chess? Yes. The unexpected move. The deep brilliance. These are usually based — again — on some combination (Chess even uses that phrase). Mage Knight has that; the core of the game is manipulating your hand of card to get the most oomph. So I’m not sure why it doesn’t surprise me that much. Then again hundreds of games is a lot. It may be that you always (always!) control your hand of cards. No monster shows up that says “Oh, discard one card before combat.”
To be fair to Mage Knight, The Realm extracts a high price for surprise. Gameplay suffers under randomness. You see ‘unfair’ results. Nobody would say that Mage Knight is less fair, I think.
Unfairness has its charm, in a way.
I like puzzles, but I also like puzzles where you can’t enumerate the possible outcomes. (Even with full knowledge). Approximation and intuition are skills like any other. I don’t care for Tales of the Arabian Knights and I’m not sure it’s a game, but its a hell of Story-telling engine. Combine that potential with something that gives me some actual decisions — even if the results could just be “lose a turn” — and I’m intrigued.
Magic Realm drips with combinations — Each map hex has a few chits that define what’s there. While you build the map in MK, once a tile is up its fully known. Until you know the chits on a tile in Magic Realm, it might contain treasures, or dragons, or spiders, or an Octopus Garden. (Also, the tiles can be flipped over, so its not as static as you think).
You play your twelve chits, but only two points of effort per combat round. Your items can combine. You may have one thing you can’t use at all, but if you get that second (rare) thing you’ll wield a powerful combination. Any Mage Knight can cast any spell. Any Mage Knight can get use any other’s skill, although Goldyx will get Goldyx’s skills the most often.
In Magic Realm, the White Knight will have a tough time learning spells the Witch can learn. (I’d say never, but …)
Jay Richardson has a review comparing Magic Realm to RPGs that’s worth checking out. One interesting (to me) point he makes is: Because the characters don’t level up, this makes the game less grindy and more interesting. That’s a novel point. You get better be looting good stuff, or working together with others. An interesting dynamic.
OK, so combinatorics. What else?
Magic Realm contains more hidden information (and randomness).
Part of that was discussed before — you have face down chits and monsters that can appear and disappear, and the treasures are put into piles but that’s really not that different than randomly drawing them (like in MK). But the hidden information causes a novel effect.
In Magic Realm, you make (some) decisions with incomplete or even wrong information. You plan your turn and then roll for monsters. This gives you — in effect — a huge fog of war effect. Do you hide before you move? Well, there may have been no monsters prowling the Deep Woods this turn. Was your hide wasted?
There aren’t any monsters on your path, but other players may move and monsters may follow.
You have to decide on much less information. But each sub system you base your decision on is understandable. Most characters fail to hide 11/36th of the time. The monsters appear on a known system (if you know the chits). Knowledgeable players can quickly determine if a monster is safe or deadly or risky (I can do this for simple battles, now). You can guess the price range an item will cost you, based on your relationship with the seller. You go first 1/n times (n= number of players, ignoring hired helpers) at which point the game state will match.
Each of these systems are calculable, but the overall impact provides remarkable breadth. From a game play perspective there’s a lot of “Why this” but it has a certain logic. The rules read weird, but feel right. In the real world if you were hiding from monsters, could you ever be certain you were successfully hidden?
Only in the negative and only too late.
I was trying to think of an example. Consider a game of chess where you wrote down your move and only then did your opponent reveal his prior move. (You’d have to cover White’s first turn advantage, perhaps they wrote down two moves and the opponent got to pick after he wrote his first move, and you’d have to deal with issues of failed pawn captures, etc).
This game would most definitely not be chess, even though it used a lot of the mechanisms of chess. You could make theoretically horrible chess moves that could work quite well.
Chess feels like chess, not because knights move two in one direction then one in an orthogonal one, or because of castling or en passant. To be sure, Chess has all that but if you switched how the pieces move you’d be a smilar game (like Chinese Chess). Chess feels like chess because it is a complete information game with alternating moves. Chinese Chess and Shogi feel closer to chess than my invented game which uses the exact same rules, but doesn’t reveal the moves right away.
Magic Realm feels like my chess analogy, a little. You don’t see your opponents move until after you’ve declared yours. In order to simulate this, MR uses lots of charts and randomness. At it’s heart, Mage Knight feels like a ruthless rush to exploit a world, and Magic Realm feels like avoiding the onrushing of a ruthless world.
Fairly often — though less frequently than my idyllic youth — I play a game that feels miserable, bewildering, or just plain bad.
Mostly I note the poor decision and never play again. The first board game I played in college? Terrible — It lasted from 10pm until 6am (not a mark against it) with bewildering rules including a bunch of exceptions. The game didn’t actually end at six, that’s just when I lost. The “graphic design” made following the rules difficult but even then it seemed to contain obviously bad features.
I rarely revisit bad games. Who would? Still, sometimes my judgement gets called into question and so it happened that four years later I gamed with a group that loved this title. I played it again.
That game was Titan, which I’ve played at least a hundred times, probably closer to 250.
In the past I’ve had a few encounters with Magic Realm, none of them good. So I’d just ignored it. But reading a recent thread comparing Magic Realm to Mage Knight piqued my interest again. After all, I’ve played three hundred games of Mage Knight in the last few years — I’m slightly burnt out again, but I’ll pick it back up.
So I wanted another solo game and this seemed interesting. I started reading the “Book of Learning,” basically a number of session reports that double as tutorials. Given the plethora of revised rules (I particularly recommend Magic Realm in Plain English) and the existence of Robin Warren’s brilliant Realm Speak program) the barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be the last time I tried to play.
Remember, my M.O. for the last five-plus years is to ignore new games unless it still had people playing a year or two later, then give it a try. I make exceptions, of course. For designers I like, or games that just seem like they are in my wheelhouse. Hell, I didn’t even try Mage Knight until it had been out several years. So sometimes I’m late on great games, but I save a lot of time in the process.
Magic Realm still has a dedicated following almost forty years after it’s arrival, despite such obvious warts as an Avalon Hill Rule Set that made Up Front seem simplistic. I began to think there must be something to it, so I dove in. This review is still preliminary, but I have put in dozens of hours on learning this and playing (solitaire, via Realm Speak). This is part I because its not complete; I’ll probably add more thoughts as they occur to me.
I don’t normally summarize mechanisms in games anymore, because plenty of places that do that and I’m not a bleeding edge reviewer, but sometimes you have to. Magic Realm’s basic ideas aren’t difficult (not that you’d know that from reading them).
- The map is fully built, but you place hidden chits to indicate what appears where. So you know the entire layout, but the Lost City could be in any cave. A setup sheet lists which monsters can show up on which chits. Setting up the game is a huge time suck (the first time is about an hour, but with practice that comes down) which is why a computer moderator is such a godsend. One click setup.
- Pre-programmed turns. Everyone writes down their turn and you resolve in random order. (Richard Hamblen also designed the classic Gunslinger, which shares this). Each player gets roughly four actions per day (only two if they are underground that day) to move, hide, search, prepare, enchant, rest, trade, hire followers, and the like. The planning phase is called Birdsong instead of morning (a lovely touch that feels out of place in the rulebook, like finding a colorful Monet print your IRS auditor’s cubicle)
- You resolve turns (daytime) in random order. Most rolls involve throwing 2d6 and taking the higher number. Some things like hiding are simple — fail on a six — others involve charts (typically lower is better). Some monsters are ‘prowling’ each turn and prowling Monsters appear on the board based on the chits. Prowling monsters already on the board move if you end up on the same tile as them (unless they’ve already blocked another character).
- After everyone has moved, you have evening. During night spells are cast and combat occurs.
- Each character has twelve action chits which are mainly used in combat/casting. Each chit dictates its use (Move, Fight or Magic are common, a few other rare ones exist) and a speed (a number, lower is better).
The rules for combat are … non-trivial. But at its heart, there’s some order.
Let’s take a simple “One Character, one Monster” combat. You get a pre-combat action (maybe running away, or casting a spell, or preparing a weapon). These typically take a chit. You attack the monster and it attacks you (if you weren’t hidden. If you were, you get one free attack). You set your tactic and the monster’s tactic, and your maneuver (defense).
What the rules don’t tell you — the monster’s actual tactic is random. You can set up which box its in, but it will roll randomly to move. It may also flip over (double sided monsters) which adjust its values. The faster attack goes first, and if it’s faster then the opponents defense? It hits.
If it’s not faster, then it hits if the defense used fails against the attack. If you ducked when the attack was a downward smash, no help there.
So — there’s a Rock Paper Scissors aspect, but it’s intuitive: Faster attacks hit. Equal (or slower) attacks hit if the defender dodged into them. Should have jumped aside as that warhammer came down.
Attacks (and weights) are rated on a scale of Negligible, Light, Medium, Heavy and Tremendous and if the attack is greater than or equal to defender’s vulnerability — dead. A character who takes a hit less than his defense may wound a chit.
Also, each chit you spend has an effort (0-2) and if you spend two effort in a round (the max) you fatigue. Wounded and fatigued chits are out of play until you rest them.
If nothing important happens for two rounds of combat, it ends, otherwise you keep going.
Now — combat can get much more complicated. You can have multiple monsters, followers, weapon sharpness and armor, multiple characters, PvP, spells, horses, missile attacks, armor, weapon length (which changes the order of attack, in the first round only, and is a tiebreak in later rounds), special rules for tremendous monsters (which grapple when they hit and then autokill the next round unless they are defeated first).
Even getting the basics down is taking games (see my note on messing up in this post). I forgot another few small points last night. I don’t really understand followers and magic, yet. You can play the game pretty much with movement and combat. (At least, for some characters).
Simple combats aren’t devoid of strategy, but they are simple. Your main questions are which chits do I want to play (can I guarantee a kill? Do I want to run away? Do I want my attack and defense to line up, so that if the monster hits me I know I’ll hit him. Can I prepare for the monsters to flip over (an 11/36 chance). While setting up one monster is effectively rock-paper-scissors, setting up multiples can get quite detailed. And it’s not R-P-S in the sense that its truly random. That’s just one (interlocking) system. You can give a series of attacks that are hopeless, when a different set of chits (or manuevers) would give you a shot or a guaranteed victory.
More advanced combats can be planned out, but I’m still not able to see things … like “Oh, if I do this I can probably kill this monster but in the next round I’m going to die no matter what.” There’s a definite backgammon-esque quality to combat — strategy but you have to play the odds, either relying on some lucky die rolls in bad situations or defending against bad rolls in good situations.
Of course, with experience you’ll learn to not get into bad situations. (He said, as his latest game had one character trapped between three unbeatable clearings and another character died to a group of angry natives). Right now I’m applying a maxim of Go to my learning of Magic Rrealm — Lose your first fifty games quickly. I’ve survived two games, mainly due to luck and playing the easiest character. To be fair, that’s how I got to learn Titan and 1830 (although those losses take more time).
First off, Magic Realm is definitely a lifestyle game. It does not shine out of the box. There are warts, and I’m not just speaking of the rules. This is not a game you play once every five years (unless you burned out and put it away for a while).
Secondly, Luck in Mage Knight is card luck. If you draw a hand full of movement cards, you know the combat cards are lurking in your deck (or vice versa). If you fail a roll in Magic Realm, you can fail again and again. Very small hurray for dice!
Third, Magic Realm and Mage Knight differ in scale and narrative. In Mage Knight, you start off as a minor demi-god who can defeat tribes of Orcs, raze villages, plunder monasteries for mystical artifacts, and two days later you are taking out a fully defended city in a quick siege. You are Jason Bourne, Lizard God-King. Encounters ramp up until the climactic battle vs Volkare or Capital City, as you grow in power.
In Magic Realm, you could stumble into the boss monster’s lair on day one and die. Over the course of the month you may get some followers or cool new stuff, but you won’t really level up. (There are optional rules for that). Typically you kill a few monsters, loot their stuff, sell it and try to find a lost treasure. You can fail a lot harder, faster. You may find a great site on day 1, loot it, and then die because you weren’t hidden on day 3 (of 28) and some bats pecked you to death.
I happen to be a big fan of ambiguity and atypical styles of narrative that embraces failure, but its definitely not to everyone’s taste.
You can easily spend half a game in MR doing nothing but rolling two dice, failing, and going onto the next day. In Solitaire, this isn’t a big loss. If it were a 4 player game? Could be very frustrating as you roll two dice and end your turn, and the next player has an epic turn, then a great/interesting battle, then gets all the loot as gaming groupies swoon and applaud. Then you roll two dice and fail again.
It makes Mage Knight seem Euro by comparison, which is an odd thing to feel.
On a related note, the environment in Magic Realm feels alive. On one level it is also merely a collection of places to loot and monsters to murder, but the environment changes. In Mage Knight, you find an artifact and add it to your deck. In Magic Realm, you may find an artifact and keep it, but it may alter the entire rules right around you. It can affect everyone on the tile its on, from the instant its discovered. You plan your move out, but searching for an artifact may disrupt your plans, literally warping your reality. It hasn’t happened often in my game, but it’s amusing. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of legacy games. It feels like literally anything can happen as you rip open a folder with new cards. I guess I understand that now.
Fourth, characters in the game feel different. Mage Knight packs a hell of a lot into 16 cards and 10 skills. Each character starts with only two variant cards, but leveling up and taking a critical skill and those cards mean that Goldyx is distinct from Tovak who differs from Norawas or Krang.
But at the end of the day they all do the same things against the same things. They all cast spells (if the take a Mage Tower to earn them). They all have the same victory conditions (based on the scenario). A Lava Dragon poses the same number of wounds to them — assuming they cannot block. Etc.
In Magic Realm, the White Knight’s a dragonslayer. If you tell him Dragons are over yonder, then a-yondering he will go. Terrified of bats, though. His armor makes him slow. He’ll kill them, but they’ll tired him out. No killing blow, just death of a thousand cuts. The Wood’s Girl may be able to kill a Dragon with a lucky shot (missile damage is a random modifier), but she’ll take her one shot from the bushes then run away. Unarmored, she can’t risk getting hit. Plays totally differently. Two different equipment chits, a few different special abilities (skills in Mage Knight) and a different mix of starting chits mean completely different. I grok (somewhat) the White Knight. He’s very forgiving against huge monsters.
But he gets nibbled to death by bats.
Characters play differently, despite their similarities. Some have their own rules. The Witch gets a familiar that can move separately around the board (to spy on other players and examine the realm’s secrets). The White Knight can cast a single (white) spell, but he’s not able to cast anything the Witch knows, even if he learns the spell. He’s never getting a familiar. The witch can’t just put on the Knight’s Armor (should she get it). She’s too weak.
While there’s an elegance to having each spell’s rules on a card, Magic Realm’s spells feel Tolkienesque. Some of them move and attack and block and influence, but you can transform yourself into a toad (who can quietly hops away from battle, usually) and then wander the forest ignoring the roads. You can curse others. Some spells affect only specific monsters. Some last for combat, or a day. Some are permanent. It feels much more lived in.
Short form — Magic Realm feels more like an experience than a winnable game. I suspect that the long term strategy is deeper, there’s a similar puzzle like aspect to combat although I think Mage Knight is a more satisfying system. In fact, MK is generally a better system overall. But Magic Realm has its charm. I imagine that an update that tried to streamline all of the Realm’s byzantine experiences into a simple core ruleset would fail, the same way that civilization does not compress. But if someone could convert this (or perhaps another genre that felt as lived-in), they’d have a huge hit.
Magic Realm isn’t a great game. But it’s a great experience. I’m enjoying my time exploring it.