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Dyson Sphere Program Redux

My old laptop blew up, so I got a new computer. This coincided with a few weeks between jobs (I’m part of the “Great Resignation“), so I decided to revisit Dyson Sphere Program (see my earlier thoughts). According to steam (which tracks these things, and also has an annoying overlay that sometimes interferes with my game despite the fact I keep setting it to “No overlay”), I’ve played 60 hours (at roughly real time), so my current game is ~40 hours. I’m close to “the ending” (which isn’t actually building a dyson sphere, but done by solving the “Universal Matrix” (grand unifying theory of science in your Little Prince Universe, I guess). I’ve started the research, but — as happened with my first game of Factorio — I wasn’t really setup to grind out that much science, so its a slog to finish. (I need 4000 white science, which needs 4000 critical photons, which I’m generating at the rate of several per minute).

That being said, more thoughts:

  • The devs added copy/paste and blueprint functionality, which greatly enhances the gameplay experience. It isn’t perfect (by any means) but its much better than it was a year ago.
  • There are still sharp edges. Fractionators don’t use sorters but you run the belt directly through them, which is unlike anything else (etc). That threw me …. off to Reddit to look it up. Why are logistics not working? Off to reddit! (etc etc)
  • There are a few ‘fake intermediate’ products. (An intermediate product serves no intrinsic purpose but is necessary for other items, so Factorio has Green Circuits, Red Circuits, Blue Circuits, Engines, etc. Engines are used to make cars, trains, some science, and electric engines, which are used in robots. Green circuits are used in all simple electronics devices, etc). But DSP has intermediate products that are used in only one product, which creates ‘false complexity’ IMO. There are also some alternate recipes, but you typically can’t find the raw ingredients until you are well past the point of caring. And there are some intermediates you’ll need to make massive production, and often you can’t tell until you’ve played the game once or twice which is which.
  • The science timing doesn’t really work. When you unlock a science you can quickly (over an hour or so) knock out all of the upgrades/sciences that requires it. Then your science sits stagnate because the bottle neck is setting up production of the next science type (which has several intermediate steps) and also taking advantage of the new perks of the old science. To be fair, Factorio also suffers from this. (My suspicion is that upping the cost would drive off new players, but old hands and automation have ‘solved’ this). My last game of Factorio I played with 3x research costs, which made the game feel nicer. Not nothing …. nothing nothing … mad rush of all the new sciences … nothing nothing nothing….
  • The early game is too slow even on my second play through. Your construction drones are tediously slow.
  • The Dyson Swarm/Sphere editor is esoteric, to say the least and how you calculate energy received from it is complex enough that even the “pros” like Nialus need plenty of time to explain it.

DSP is still a good sandbox game. Once I finally “win” I will likely start a new game and try to build more effectively and use a Dyson Swarm (which I skipped) and finish a sphere. It’s not bad. But it could be much better.

DSP feels like it needs another “Bomb” in the game design sense (I don’t have the link to that original article anymore ….). A bomb is a sharp breakpoint, a game changer.

In Factorio, once you have construction robots, the ‘time cost’ of building stuff drops drastically! (Hurray!) So you can just double (or 10x) your smelting by copy/pasting. Of course you pay other costs of (power consumption, etc). But now the game isn’t about running around as much, you can slap down blueprints and let the bots do the tedious work. You get to design. But in DSP you start with construction bots that are horrendously slow and can improve them (both in speed and number). Your bombs are intra planetary logistics (don’t need belts), interplanetary logistics (necessary to build a multi-planet system) and finally interstellar logistics (by adding warpers).

But you are still have to layout belts and miners to collect resources (just as before) and you are still limited by your (admittedly faster and more numerous) drones. You never get a “bomb” technology something that says “Oh, your logistic towers will automatically mine an area around them if you get it.” So even after constructing a Dyson Sphere you still personally run around to slap down iron miners? (Maybe you have a blueprint to speed it up, but still).

In this game you can mine gas giants. There is literally nothing to do but go to it, fly around and place orbital stations that suck up gas. Each gas giant can have a maximum of 36 (??) they only go at the equator and have to be 10 degree apart (and they have no terrain etc). Maybe you can have 72. But I still have to fly to the gas giant and place them by hand. Why not just shoot them off at some point? After all, I can do that with the Dyson swarm/sphere. It feels like another fake interaction.

And I still sometimes miss planets when I fly. (Or run out of fuel halfway, which is basically just a restart from last save level of annoying)> Yes, you can go faster and faster (and ‘warp” between systems, but you have to aim/remember to fuel up. Where’s the “autopilot/teleporter?” bomb? Setting up the first colony is a 30s-3m flight (depending on how your solar system is set up) and then laying out miners/etc. Once you go interstellar, its the same thing, but your flight is covering light years, but sheesh, after the 10th time give me something that makes it automatic (or at least less painful).

Anyway, if this sounds like I don’t like DSP, that’s not right. It’s fun, and clever, but it just needs that polish and oomph to make it great. I don’t necessarily want to fight aliens (ala Factorio) but I want the experience to feel like it grows over time, not just “OK, grind it out.”

Rating Suggest (assuming you have a good graphics card), but I hope it gets better. I’ll probably get to 100 hours on this by the end of the year.

Update — Finished at 51 hours. A few more things that crossed my mind:

  • There are production charts (by planet or system or total) which are nice, but it would be good to have a measure of deliveries (like, this planet exported X units of Coal in the last 10 minutes). It’s tough to trace the logistics. The main reason I’m restarting is that I have no idea where anything is and too many haphazard builds. I spend ten minutes looking for my Titanium Steel setup (on the main world).
  • The ability to label the map (even with just icons) would be great. It was a huge add in Factorio.
  • Logistics bots would be nice, or even a “provider” chest where you could just drop your excess trash and it would get sorted back into the system (like a supply only intraplanetary post). But eventually stuff is so cheap you just throw away that excess steel you spent an hour setting up rather than run around to recycle it….that’s fine from a game design perspective but a bit unsatisfying in a game about efficiency.
  • Found that article on “Bombs” in game design. Man, its nearly 20 years old….

Written by taogaming

September 21, 2021 at 4:46 pm

“Nemesis” vs “Who Goes There” — The Experience Game Showdown

I played two “new to me” experience games last week: Nemesis (basically Alien/Aliens) and Who Goes There (the “Who Goes There” short story/movie later remade as the classic The Thing). Two games based on great horror movies, trying to recreate the experience.

Who Goes There drops the players in a arctic research facility trying to gather supplies after discovering an alien shapeshifter. Sooner or later one player will get infected and then can infect others, leading to a paranoia and tension. Nemesis sees the players prematurely awakened from hibernation on their ship where an alien has boarded and set up a nest. In this one you don’t have to worry about their crew-mates being infected — they may be perfectly normal humans who murder you just because a goal card directed them to (or you were standing between them and their goal). Of course, players still don’t want to get infected (it usually means losing, is generally unpleasant, and gets you dis-invited from the best soirĂ©es),

Long story short — Nemesis is the much better experience and game. (I’ve only played each once).

Who Goes There‘s first sin? It overstays its welcome. The rescue helicopter comes on Turn 15, and nothing will speed that up or slow it down. It may take a while for all the infection cards to get dealt out (at which point you are sure that someone is infected). And (in keeping with the theme) The Thing (infected player) is incentivized by the victory conditions to play a slow game. It’s admittedly tense and the rules do a great job of keeping with the experience. Want to trade a card with someone? Great, but the Thing could choose to infect you? Bunk up with a player during the night (to avoid taking an automatic wound). Great, but the Thing could choose to infect you.

But the real kicker is the second sin. The victory conditions mean that the Thing is kind of incentivized to not infect you. The Thing needs at least one human to survive (good!) but the humans victory condition gets easier if more humans get infected. Basically the entire game comes down to if the humans can guess who to let on the helicopter. If you let on an infected player you likely lose.

So the infected player tries to never raise suspicion. Maybe infect someone on the sly (during sleep/trade), probably at the very end (to avoid letting the new player infect someone else). So while the game does recreate the experience (particularly towards the end as players get more and more hostile to each other), there’s little-to-no information to go on.

In the ~150 cards there are few cards that prove someone’s guilt/innocence. They may not show up. Almost none of the decisions reveal too much information. Humans have no reason to be fully committed to helping, and all the things they balk at are reasonable (“I don’t want to risk infection”) decisions. Since The Thing wants to appear human and basically doesn’t do much sabotage, so practically no actions provoke suspicion. One possible solution is something like my Shadows over Camelot variant, but that would just make the game harder for humans. What this game really needs is more decisions that actually have a cost for the thing to avoid or let the humans pay a cost to get more information. More micro-information, less macro-information.

As we approached the endgame I mathed out endgame options (we did get one lucky proof of innocence that was good for a double-clear, so we had two known humans). The Thing, realizing that our “mathing it out” was correct, had no choice but to reveal (basically ending his game) which let him try to randomly infect one other player.

Again, we mathed out it, leaving an innocent human behind (me) but that still gave a decent chance at victory which came down to …. die rolls. But the Thing would have won if it (randomly, again) infected the player the humans decided to trust, which (again) they had zero information on.

Ugh. So, a three hour game with a bunch of not-terribly meaningful micro-decision, maybe four meaningful macro decisions, and decided by dice.

Nemesis is also fifteen turns, but can start with a literal bang. In another game, one player died on their second turn. Ours took a few more before the first death. Brutal, but also speeds the game up. We needed only ~7 or 8 turns to finish, although it took several hours. Nemesis has clunkier rules (as various things from both movies are thrown in, including the Xenomorph life cycle, slime, a bunch of weapons and archetypes), but the “Design for effect” paradigm works as an experience.

But as a game it can suck to die because another player randomly wanted you dead and — being an efficient gamer — gave no indication before looking you in a room with an Alien, by which point the knowledge is of little use.

So both games — as games — could use a bit more work. In either you can randomly get hosed. (But horror movies don’t have a great survival rate). In a few minor ways, I think Who Goes There has the better design.

  • Who Goes There actually gets the nod on character differentiation. Both games have different decks for each character, but WGT’s seems more impactful (and also gives the characters each an improved use of one of the basic actions).
  • The Nemesis random map feels like hack design. Everyone “forgot” the layout of a ship they were on for how long?
  • The Nemesis rules have a lot more chrome, which is a point in its favor in terms of experience, but a point against it in design.

But in all the important ways and judging these games by how much fun I had — Nemesis wins hands down. (BGG’s ratings clearly agree, with Nemesis several points higher). All the minor design points for Who Goes There are killed by the terrible victory conditions and lack of meaningful decisions. Sure, Nemesis may set you up an impossible situation, but it generated a ton of little moments in its playtime.

Playing with the Alien/Aliens soundtrack (and with a fully blinged set) didn’t hurt either. “I move into this room.” <Violins shriek and screech>. “Uh, did you hear that?”

Rating Who Goes There gets an avoid. Nemesis is indifferent as a game, but as a now-and-again experience, I’d play it a few more times.

Written by taogaming

August 29, 2021 at 5:41 pm

Dominant Species Marine Initial Thoughts

I liked this better than Dominant Species, and my initial thoughts:

  • The idea of worker placement but your pieces must ascend (So if the spaces are 1-40, once you go in space N, you can go in N+1 up to 40, or retrieve your workers) is excellent.
  • You can earn extra workers (via dominance) but that isn’t as huge as in most games because you still always go around the table in turn order. It does mean you can go a bit longer before retrieving workers, but its not as important. But the bonus workers can ignore the “ascending” rules. Again, I liked it.
  • You claim dominance works by establishing a score in that attribute (number of tokens of it you have times number of tiles of it you are on). Even if you later lose tokens/tiles that’s your “dominance score.” If someone takes one of the dominance actions and can improve on whatever your score was (even if you’ve improved it or its dropped) they get it. But the worker (if used) doesn’t get pulled until they retrieve. And a few spaces are “dominance workers only.” All told, I liked this idea.
  • The game “resets” a few things once all players have retrieved workers one (or more times) but the game continues with the next player.
  • Overall the worker placement, retrieval, bonus worker for dominance and reset felt like a nice organic improvement on the original, (which I admittedly did not really remember).
  • I think the spaces are more balanced than in the original, but I have no idea why I think that.
  • Some of the random traits (think — Cosmic Encounter Powers you start with) seem much much better.
  • Partially this is better than base DS because its capped at four players.
  • Whenever you score a tile you also resolve a random event (from the five visible, and some spaces further down the track give you more choice). These were a bit too varied, some being a few points and some being “really hose some people.” Sure, one of them is the big ol’ asteroid, but others let you turn fertile tiles into wastelands. (There’s an action that could do that, but it was limited).
  • Worse, some cards cause a big event when they are revealed.
  • Nit — The tiles nicely show you how much the score for first second/third. Nice! Do they show how many cubes you can put on them? No, please read a tiny chart. Also, there are two types of vents — the difference matters by the rules and have a different icon, but it would also be nice if the tiles had their distinct names on them instead of just “hydrothermal vent” for both types.
  • The look of the game is much better, although it makes it a bit harder to parse than the original.

Overall I enjoyed it while playing it and I thought several times that “This is better than the base game” but I’m not sure the improvements are enough to make this “good.”

It’s been so long since I played Dominant Species I wasn’t sure why I didn’t care for it until I re-read my review and I see that its pretty much the same feeling. I liked most of the (non-nitpicking) points above and in the end the game felt like a bunch of things happened and then it ended, but without the story of a Seven Ages or some such.

In some ways, this removes my complaint about the Cosmic-Encounter like powers — they aren’t balanced in Cosmic. But in that game you don’t have fine-grained-action control. In this game one player literally never used their bonus power and another player got a “look around the table at setup and copy someone else’s power, then halfway through the game switch it for a random power” …. and that random power earned ~10 points (with a winning score of ~175). (Granted, you draw three powers and pick one, but still….)

Another point, in tonight’s game I controlled the endgame: It would end when I retrieved workers … so I could play five rounds (if I dragged it out) or none. If I had been interested in winning I would have stopped, mentally calculated the scores if I passed (not easy, as you score each tile and some bonuses) and if losing play a (hopefully maximizing) move at each turn. Thankfully I was sure I wasn’t close to winning, so I could just skip the first step. And the game (with rules) still took about three hours.

I would play DS – Marine again, I mean, its better than DS. And I played that twice.

Rating — Indifferent, but willing to try again.

Written by taogaming

June 28, 2021 at 10:03 pm

Counterfeit Monkey

On a discord, someone asked about “That interactive game where you manipulate words” and someone answered “Oh, it’s ‘Counterfeit Monkey‘ a free-to-play text adventure (like Zork). From the introduction:

Anglophone Atlantis has been an independent nation since an April day in 1822, when a well-aimed shot from their depluralizing cannon reduced the British colonizing fleet to one ship.

— Counterfeit Monkey (by Emily Short)

I don’t love IF (bad memories of the Infocom games) but the newer games are more forgiving. And of course you have the WWW for help (online Invisiclues!). And the game is short enough to be done in a few hours. Counterfeit Monkey has topped some polls for IF games, and the reason it stands out is that it is a frankly brilliant idea. Many RPGs set up a magic system that is a giant box of rules. With the simple idea of linguistic manipulation, CM has built the best magic system I’ve seen. For example, if you have the “p-remover” you can turn a clamp into a clam …. (but can’t do anything to a lamp, because a ‘lam’ is nonsense).

A fireball has one use, but that p-remover opens up a world of imagination. Honestly, it would be impressive in an RPG, but in a programmed computer game (that had to code in all the possible interactions) is just impressive. (And the game keeps adding linguistic tools).

Even with only the barest of interest in IF, this was worth playing. And there are often multiple (multiple) solutions to any puzzle, with only a few things being sort of esoteric “try everything” options. (Often I was clear what I needed to do, but didn’t have the right inventory, so I’d use the invisclue to tell me where I needed to go. I’ve made my peace with easy mode).

Written by taogaming

May 7, 2021 at 6:37 pm

Nidavellir

I played Nidavellir on BGA last night, and I now feel what all the people who said “Race is too short” felt. The game gets going and then it ends. But as the game is merely OK, I guess that’s more of a point in its favor … this is a blind-bidding set collection game. There are three taverns, and one dwarf to be recruited (per player) at each tavern. You place one of your coins at each tavern, high coin gets first pick (with some tie-breaking rotation I didn’t follow).

Purple and Green Dwarves are identical, you just get a score based on the # you have (vaguely triangular in one case). Blue and Brown Dwarves just score their list points (averaging around 5 or so). Orange Dwarves score 0-2 points times the number of orange dwarves you get. And every time you get one of each dwarf (full set) you can recruit a hero dwarf with special abilities.

The only thing making this not a pure point salad is that if you use your “zero” coin, you can replace your (higher?) unused coin with a value equal to the sum of your unused coins. So usually you punt on one auction to improve your coins (which also are score at the end). Paying careful attention to tiebreakers is likely important.

Or not, since I tied and didn’t really understand the tie breaker rule (or most of the details) during the game. You play three rounds of recruiting (three dwarves per round), get some bonus for “Most of a color”, then do three more rounds and score. It is probably much less offensive online (which handles all the fiddly scoring — the tie was at 203, I think).

Rating Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

April 13, 2021 at 11:15 am

Posted in Reviews

If you’ve been desperately wondering what I think of a few dozen bridge books…

Written by taogaming

February 19, 2021 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bridge, Reviews

Dyson Sphere Program

So, as I mentioned before, I got Dyson Sphere Program. This is the latest in the (growing) line of Automation games, which I guess was started by Minecraft, but as far as I’m concerned, started with Factorio (which I’ve now been playing for 4 years). How much time have I spent playing DSP in the last few days? That depends on how you keep time.

Because it turns out … my computer doesn’t have a powerful enough graphics card to play it. Which is to say … my laptop has no graphics card. Unlike Factorio (which tries to run at a set speed, and sometimes drops frames if the graphics get complicated), if DSP slows down due to graphics issues, the game slows down. I first noticed this when I said “Huh, I’ve only been playing for 40 minutes according to the game, feels longer.” It was closer to two hours. So I’m either four hours into the game, or fifteen hours, or somewhere in between.

Look — this is a game where you start by chopping down some trees and rocks and eventually build a Dyson Sphere, so you have to scale up. If you already know you love/hate that, nothing will change. However, a few thoughts.

At the four hour mark (etc) I have literally just started my first Dyson Swarm and have unlocked (but not yet started) the third “Science” type (which you need to unlock more advanced technologies).

  • Its pretty. If you have a graphics card, its pretty and runs at a normal speed. I stood for a few seconds watching my EM rail guns launching solar sails over the horizon (100m away) into the setting sun. (There’s a reddit thread for prettiest screenshot, and some of the entries are amazing).
  • The twists (from Factorio’s POV) are threefold:
    • The planets are tiny little things (think “The Little Prince”) so the curvature of the planet matters. You literally cannot put more than twenty or so assemblers in a parallel line before one of the lines has to jog. (I don’t know the exact number). And they aren’t perfectly level either (apart from just water and crevasses).
    • You can build UP. Conveyor belts can stack at levels, some buildings can be stacked, etc.
    • You can (fairly quickly) unlock technology to sail between planets. Factorio has “outposts for resources” but here you can’t lay a conveyor belt back to the main base. You either have to literally hand carry everything back and forth, or build an interstellar logistic system. (If you are running at normal speed, a trip might take a minute or two).
  • It’s an early access games, so the controls leave much to be desired. No mappable hotkeys, confusing tutorials, etc. I almost uninstalled it before even landing on the starting planet, because how to navigate to it was not obvious, and I missed and wasn’t clear how to turn around. Right now this game is a dancing bear, because there so much of it works … sort of.
  • There are many … many recipes and ingredients. There are maybe 100 intermediate components (things that don’t do anything, just a step along the path to the next thing). Factorio felt overwhelming the first few times in this, but this is a level above.
  • You start with robots to build stuff, but its much slower than clicking to place (especially in my case). You have to tech up to make them fast. They really need blueprints though, because controlling everything by hand likely won’t scale well. Copy-Paste!

Anyway, I don’t think this will be a thousand hour experience, because I’m not zen enough, but I don’t consider my money wasted. I have little hope that the devs (a five person team) will make it fast enough that my laptop will suddenly be good enough, but I can while away a few hours here and there.

Written by taogaming

February 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

Beyond the Sun

My quest to find my next minor addiction — enough to last a month or two of pandemic time — advanced with the arrival of Beyond the Sun. Pre-release buzz had been … well, I don’t know. I don’t follow buzz much. It had reached people who I do talk with, and those people thought this game was “in the sphere” so I ordered a copy and awaited its arrival.

As of now I’ve played two 2p games.

It’s traditional to narrow a game down to an elevator pitch. “<New game> is <Old Game X> + <Old Game Y>.” Good enough for movie pitches, easy to understand. Right now I can’t quite put together a pitch. My first thought was “This is like Caylus but instead of having the houses owner get a bonus when other people use it, you have apartment buildings and you can’t even use an action until you rent an apartment.”

Not helpful. I guess for my elevator pitch other half reminds me of Through the Ages in that you have a resource mat of discs that track how many resources (cubes) you can generate per turn. As you spend discs (either through automation technologies or putting them on systems) you can gather more cubes (or ore) with a single production action. The cubes are actually dice, but they aren’t rolled. You change their face to indicate if they are in supply, a person, or a ship of value 1-4.

So I guess my BTS elevator pitch is “It’s Caylus meets Through the Ages” (because of cube management) or “It’s Caylus meets Eclipse” (because of tech trees and space ships colonizing systems).

BTS (The game, not the K-Pop band) is vaguely worker placement, but you only have one worker. He moves around, but workers block each other, limited action spaces, etc etc. There is also a tech tree, those are the Caylus apartments. The base actions let you get people/ore/ships and move your ships to nearby systems. One action lets you research a new tech, which costs you a person for the rest of the game, and that may:

  • Open up more efficient actions
  • Provide an immediate bonus (people/ships/ore)
  • Let you bend a rule for the rest of the game

Or some combination.

A separate board has a small map of systems (each system is a card). Once a player has ships in a system they claim it (and get a bonus) until another player gets more force. This isn’t war, ships never destroy each other. Just area control.

One of the level 1 technologies also lets you colonize a system assuming you have the minimum number of ships (normally 3-5). Those ships are placed back into your supply, excess ships (from any player) are moved to deep space where they can move to another system. Colonizing a system gives you a bigger claiming bonus and a fair chunk of VPs.

The four “Level 1” techs are the same. A player can research the next level (there are 4) when they have all of they prerequisites (on the directed graph of a board). The player researching an unknown technology chooses the type of the technology (military/economic/commercial/scientific) and gets two possible technology cards of that type, and then selects one that is discovered. A new technology (for Levels II and III) also flips up a random event, with some of the event being the same in each game (unlocking new base action spaces) and some being from a deck.

So this means that for any given game the tech tree will look very different. The initial dealing of the four base technologies (one of each type) lead to a different places. For example, one of the Level I boxes has a direct connection to Level III (which still requires the research a level three action, so it will take a while).

A turn is simple: take an action, produce (either people, ore, or take a trading production, which lets you convert at various ratios) and possibly claim an achievement. There are four achievement cards in each game, and two of them are the same (Colonize four systems, claim your first Level IV technology).

When 4 achievements in total (3 in a 2p game) are claimed, you finish the round and have one more round and score.

After two games, my primary thought is that BtS does a great job hiding what the game is about. You have this main board that’s a complicated tech tree, and one achievement is “Get a Level IV tech” … if you are the first person to do that you get four points for the tech + four for being the first to achieve it.

An average colony gives you four points, uses two discs, and gets you the colonization bonus. Four colonies gets you the colony achievement, so four colonies is 24-ish VP. The average score appears to be around the high forties.

So — you win this game by colonizing systems. That’s fine, but it certainly appears to be the sub-game of the tech-tree, and not vice versa. Nothing wrong with that, but unexpected. In two games we’ve had a single Level IV tech researched, and it was in the final action of a game, so had no impact other than points. The strategy guide mentions colonies as a focus, but spends a few bullet points on “each game will be different based on which technologies show up and their configuration.”

Frankly, the technologies don’t differ much. They are mostly “gain resources” or “convert resources.” The level IVs do have more game changing rules, but are basically just special VP scoring things.

The gameplay differences are because one game may see many military techs and few commercial techs (or some variant) which would change the relative cost of various actions. This is because when a tech has two prerequisites, it may take the color of either prerequisite. So, the player unlocking a new tech square controls which type of tech gets the box, as well as any decisions the random event may have.

So, to summarize: Worker Placement. Limited resources (cubes and ores) that need to be managed. Getting a tech unlocks an action but locks a cube. Most techs just handle how you convert ore to cubes and move around an area control map. Winning the area control map gives VP and provides some help for … cube production

So …. BTS would not be out of place in a setting of medieval merchants. The card titles do give a sci-fi flavor. “Android technologies” makes getting people cubes easier, but after three hours of gameplay I realized that if I called this “the best disguised JASE I’d seen in a while” I’d only be mildly unfair.

That’s not to say its bad. I’ll certainly play again, but I’ll be sure to warn new players about the fact that the game will end while the tech tree is only 70% done(ish) and to focus on the area control points (when in doubt).

If there are great depths to be explored in this game, they are well hidden to me. I’m sure optimizing the various conversions based on the techs (and fighting to control tech-unlocking to be able to influence them) is a fine, subtle game.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t care. It could certainly be that BTS shines with four players. In a worker placement game that would make sense. But it is also clearly a fixed-fun game. Caylus was worker placement and management, but it also had the cool “walking the road” bailiff mechanism. Through the Ages has tech and claiming and production, but there’s no game changing cards here. Nothing in BTS just gives me that “ooh, shiny!” feeling. The elevator pitch is correct, but its not pitching a mega-hit, its pitching a movie that will make back its money, do fine in the box office, but will never win an Oscar or even be a cult classic. I knew after two plays of Caylus (or Eclipse, or TtA) that there was a great game I wanted to explore.

Rating Indifferent-plus for a few more plays, but I suspect that will be falling down to indifferent. There is also an advanced game (that gives more differentiation between players) and an expert game that means that you have a bit more insight into which techs are going to appear.

Production Values — The game looks fine, and the player mats are pre-assembled thick cardboard with notches to hold disks & dice in place against minor jostling. You can see for yourself in the one minute boxing video. (A great idea …. most videos spend a minute on begging for likes/subscriptions/virtual whuffie).

I did have a bit of trouble telling the blue and green apart at a distance (I’m not colorblind) but it was 9pm in a not-greatly lit room. The rules were mostly fine, with one exception on “how to unlock some of the basic action spaces (covered by ‘guild tiles’)” It turns out that the events that show up in each game do that, but it wasn’t clear at all during our first play.

Update — The advanced play mats differentiate the players a bit more than the basic game (here each player gets an A/B condition which — when they fulfill — gives them a benefit, in the base game each player gets a mild difference. An extra ore/ship/etc). My 3rd game with expert rules and advanced mats did not feel noticeably different, just more ‘stuff’.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2020 at 10:42 am

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Fields of Green

I recently spotted a geek-auction from a friend, which led to the another debate with my constant companion, the Imp of the Perverse.

“Shiny! Bid on some games.”

“You still haven’t played all the games you bought from the last time he had an auction, which was earlier this year.”

“So, I’ve been wanting a copy of Fields of Green since my experience trying Caverna. Earlier than that, even.”

“You mean Fields of Arle. And you haven’t even read the rules for a game from the last auction…”

“Yeah, but it looks great. I’m bidding.” And with that, the Imp of the Perverse apparated away, but not before I caught the look of disgust on his face.

I think he’s giving up on me.

(I did actually know that I wasn’t getting Fields of Arle before bidding, but it got decent reviews and — why not? — it’s not like I have a wide variety of other activities going on these days. My collection has grown a fair amount over this March-that-Never-Ended).

So far I’ve played this twice as a solitaire game, which is …. OK. FoG is a drafting/engine-builder, and in the solo game you basically have three cards, draft one, discard one, and repeat, so it retains some of the feel of the main game (I imagine). It was pleasant enough, the Imp grumbling in the back of my head that it would be better if it were great or terrible, but its OK.

I do like:

  • The spatial element in the cards (square) cards. Most fields must be pretty close to a water tower, and you’ll need a few of them (you can discard a drafted card to get a water tower instead). Some cards give bonuses/penalties for being near other cards.
  • Three types of currency (money, water and food) are enough to present options without the overwhelming “too many notes” aspects of some games. Food and Water also have maximums in storage (via water towers and silos).

But the downside:

  • Since you get only the barest selection of cards (you can choose a distribution of fields/livestock/buildings/prestige buildings, but not the specific ones, and then you draft them) all the spatial element is mostly reactionary — oh, pigs want to be near X? Well, that’s great. You may or may not see pigs this game. Only the water tower stuff is plannable.

So — right now Fields of Green feels like some pretty good ideas, thrown together haphazardly.

Rating Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

October 6, 2020 at 10:01 am

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Lux et Tenebrae

I (finally) got the Res Arcana expansion. It’s good. A few reasons:

  1. It’s mostly a varietal expansion (it adds in new mages, monuments, places of power and artifacts … but you still only have the same number in play). The exception is the (2) new magic items which are added.
  2. One of the new magic items lets you ‘fake’ a dragon/creature/demon so even if you didn’t get any those Places of Power may still generate points, which closes a mild issue with Res.
  3. The other magic item lets you grab (and hold) a scroll to use an ability whenever. So its a rules addition, but a simple and elegant one.
  4. It was designed by Tom. Did you seriously think he was going to overburden the game? Perhaps after expansion 3, but not tonight, Josephine.

So far my plays have been interesting. Lots to explore. I have over 100 plays of Res … I don’t know if I’ll get to 200, but its entirely possible with a new expansion.

Rating Enthusiastic. If you like Res, you’ll like Lux.

Written by taogaming

September 20, 2020 at 11:13 pm

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