Cracked LCD- Heroes Wanted in Review

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Heroes Wanted, designed by Travis Chance with Nick Little, may be the last best hope for the superhero genre on the gaming table. It is not an elegantly designed game. It lacks polish and the kind of refinement that often delineates good from great games. There are a couple of design elements that I think will likely be terminal issues for some players. It’s not that Heroes Wanted isn’t a fun game- I think it is- and it’s also not that it’s a bad game because it most certainly isn’t. But it is alternately raw, naïve, clumsy and tentative in a kind of garage rock-y way and your mileage with the game may depend on how tolerant you are of a design that takes a lot of risks but doesn’t always hit paydirt. Regardless, I’m quite taken by a few aspects of Heroes Wanted that I think are quite unique. Continue Reading…

D&D 5e Player’s Handbook Review

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It’s rare that the first thing to strike you about a book is a noise. But here, it was. After being so excited by the Starter Set, I couldn’t wait to get into this. So I ignored the cover and opened the book to a loud crack as the spine flexed for the first time. It was like the sound of the lock falling away from my teenage memories.

Back then, no-one ever read the Player’s Handbook from cover to cover, and I doubt anyone does now. It’s skimmed, flipped, relished. So first impressions count.

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Cracked LCD- Firefly: Blue Sun expansion in Review

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Alright, so by now I’m sounding like a broken record regarding Gale Force 9. So far, this company is batting a thousand and bowling a 300 game. They have yet to release a less-than-great board game product. They’re all good, but it seems that Firefly is likely to remain their premiere release for some time to come. And for good reason. Whether you’re a Browncoat or not, Firefly is a great game with tremendous appeal for fans of the license and great gameplay for everybody. There have already been two expansions for Firefly, the small “Breakin’ Atmo” add-on that beefed up the available jobs and the PVP-focused Pirates and Bounty Hunters. Now, they’re giving us more map to play with in the new Blue Sun expansion that adds a Rim Space region that bolts on to the left side of the existing board. Fans of the show will be excited to see Mr. Universe and Lord Harrow setting up shop in the ‘Verse. New gear, new jobs, a new supply planet, three new scenarios, two new captains and some new rules to explain it all add up to a stuffed-to-the-gills expansion that works seamlessly with or without the previous additions.

Oh, and there are more Reavers skulking about.

Above all of what Blue Sun has to offer a stronger sense of danger from the Reavers (and the Alliance) are is my favorite feature. There are now three Reaver Cutters, and they all start in Rim Space. When the Reavers move, they leave behind “alert” tokens, which means that players entering regions where there has been activity noticed by these space-faring psycho-cannibals take a die-roll based risk of encountering them- even if the actual Cutter figures are sectors away. Surprise!

As the game progresses and the Reavers roam around, this makes the board much riskier, and players may have to weigh out the decision to take a chance on the Reaver roll to complete a job or avoid running out of fuel. Players can also now mosey into Reaver spaces, and just like in the show there’s a “Reaver-flage” card that allows players to dress their ship up like a Cutter to avoid detection. With three ships to move and lasting on-board effects of their movement, the Reavers are much more of a threat than ever before. This is fun. There are also Alliance alert tokens that impact how the Alliance Cruiser operates in a similar fashion. New Nav deck cards accommodate the new Reaver rules and there is a separate deck for flying through Rim Space.

I’m also particularly fond of how Mr. Universe functions in the game. He doesn’t give jobs, he sets up riders for existing jobs so if you can meet the requirements, you get his knock-on bonuses. Plus, if you are solid with him, you can take on his “Big Damn Challenges” from anywhere on the map- thus enhancing any job you take on from any contact. Lord Harrow, the other new contact, offers some questionable shipping contracts and sells you cargo when you’re solid with him.

The scenarios are good (I particularly like The Great Recession, that drastically limits the number of available jobs in the game), but be warned that there is a continuation of the trend established in Pirates and Bounty Hunters that saw that expansion move away from solo-friendly play. With the additional Reavers, for example, there’s now a greater chance to directly impact other players and unless you jimmy up some triaging rules for their movement.  You’re going to lose that opportunity to use the cutters as an offensive weapon when playing alone, and Lord Harrow’s cargo-heavy jobs are just cryin’ out for some piratical misbehavior.

It’s kind of a shame  that the new features aren’t really compatible with solo play. I really enjoy solo Firefly and I’m sure others do as well, but it’s understandable that direct conflict simple requires live people to get the most out of it. The upshot of it all is that Firefly has, over the course of the past two expansions, become an even better multiplayer game than it was in it is initial release. Previously, I would have said that Firefly was one of those games that’s “best with three” because there wasn’t a whole lot of interaction or direct conflict. Now, with Blue Sun and Pirates and Bounty Hunters bolted on to the hull, I’m finding that four and five player games are much more interesting- albeit longer.

I’m also starting to get a bit leary about further expansion. With a small card add-on and two big expansions, Firefly is already starting to feel rather sprawl-y. One of the things I really liked about the game from the beginning was that it was really quite clean- decks of jobs, decks of stuff, player boards and just a couple of miniatures on the map. Now, there’s more of everything, more tokens, more “stuff” going on. We’re not at Arkham Horror levels of bloat, but right now I’m feeling like the game is at a comfortable level of mostly optional complexity. I like playing with everything, but I can see where some folks may want to avoid adding anything on to the game.

Regardless, we’ll likely see more Firefly in the years to come, the game has already had a longer run than the show did. Despite my reservations about it approaching bloat, I can’t say that I won’t want to check out what’s next because I love this game. But what I would really like to see is GF9 leveraging the success of the Firefly line- as well as its other licensed titles- to bring us a completely proprietary creation. They’ve conquered the licensed game market in just a couple of short years, now all they need to enter an “Imperial” phase is to show us something that is 100% GF9.

Social Justice Warriors and The Grand Conspiracy

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The Gamasutra/Intel debacle cannot possibly be summed up better than in the pictured tweet. I’ve blacked out anything identifying because I’m specifically leaving individuals out of this post. This is not about any one person. If you need a broader primer, this article at The Verge is a good place to start. For actual, non-fantastical ethical concerns in games journalism, this is a pretty good start(Edit: And this, because GG is not about ethics.)

So, how’ve you been?

Let’s talk about social justice warriors and their grand conspiracy to… well, I’m not sure what. But it must be bad for so many people to get all riled up. All I can say for sure is that I’m with you! (I’m not.) These people, these SJWs, must be stopped! (Nope.) We must not have social justice in gaming. (Because why?) Because justice is bad. Inclusion is bad. Diversity is bad. It’s a grand media conspiracy to destroy gaming because gaming must never change. It must never be criticized. It must never evolve. It must never engage in self-examination. It must never grow or broaden, it must only double-down on what it’s been for the last ten years or so, because that is the only history that matters. More guns. More explosions. Bigger tits. These things must not become an endangered species just because a bunch of chicks who are barely gamers to begin with, and the dudes who want to score with them, think games can be more inclusive.

If you support the ideals that you believe the Gamer Gate movement represents then that paragraph is going to sound belittling and misrepresentative. And that’s okay. It was meant to be. I know, being a large-ish (maybe?) group of people, you’re not actually all of one mind about this, and what GG represents from one person to the next isn’t identical. I believe there are good people (probably) who support GG and what it represents to them; people who are genuinely fair-minded (probably); are not racist or misogynistic (probably); people who are not inherently hostile and believe with every fiber of their being that they are on the right side of the issue (probably). I believe these people exist because they have to. No movement of this relative scope can legitimately hinge on making sure vocal women can’t sleep soundly at night. I have more faith in people than that. For the life of me, though, if you’re one of these “reasonable” Gaters, I can’t begin to figure out what “issue” you think you’re on the right side of.

Seriously. I have questions…

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #216 and #217

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As is my usual form, I didn’t get the post up for #216 so today I bring you links from both that and episode #217. Woo! Exciting!

In episode #216, Bill joins us to talk about The Walking Dead Season 2… right up until the time when his Internet connection decided to give up the ghost. Oh well, I guess a little Abner is better than none at all. Get it? Little Abner? (That’s Brandon’s joke, by the way. Don’t blame me.)

Episode #217 brings back Holly Green to talk a giant heaping plateful of Wasteland 2. Is this the game we were hoping for? How hard is it to get into? Where are the rough edges and trouble spots? It’s all here. After that, there’s The Long Dark, The Shadow of Mordor, and Skyrim: Dragonborn.

Enjoy!

Direct Download for #216
Direct Download for #217
iTunes Link
RSS Feed
Past Episodes
Edit Type: Skype

Cracked LCD: Five Tribes in Review

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Bruno Cathala’s Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala is the newest issue from Days of Wonder and it is looking like a smash hit. But I wouldn’t call it a return to form for the French publisher, that has long specialized in great-looking, accessible family games. Don’t get me wrong, Five Tribes is definitely a great-looking, accessible family game but it also stands apart from the rest of the company’s catalog as something potentially more complex and intricate, straddling the line between the anybody-can-play simplicity of 1990s-style “German game” fare and more recent hobbyist designs that favor multilayered mechanics and density. I’ve been completely fascinated by how well this game accommodates two very distinctive styles of play without shortchanging either the casual or hardcore player or requiring any kind of rules modification. Continue Reading…

Five days with Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

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At age eight I was rummaging through a book stall at an agricultural fair, and I found a book that would change my life. It was “What is Dungeons & Dragons” and it stood out like a monstrous thumb among the worthy tomes on seed rotation. If I hadn’t bought it, it’s unlikely you’d be reading this column right now.

I haven’t played D&D in 20 years. I gave up at the advent of third edition, deciding it wasn’t worth re-learning the rules all over again.

Now, fifth edition is out. And my eldest daughter is eight, the age I was when I discovered the game. The co-incidence felt like a sign: it was time to teach the game to my kids, and rediscover it myself, too.

So I picked up a copy of the Starter Set.

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Cracked LCD- Impulse in Review

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Five words sum up Impulse, a new card game from Carl Chudyk and Asmadi Game: deconstructed, minimalist, innovative, stark and idiosyncratic. All of these words could also be used to describe Mr. Chudyk’s previous game Innovation, a cleanly filed-down civ-building design that reduced the genre to little more than the effects of technologies over the course of time. With Impulse, the designer is compressing another sprawl-prone game type into a shockingly compact, lean card game and the results are sometimes baffling, sometimes stunning. Impulse is a 4x (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) space empires game in the vein of Twilight Imperium or Eclipse but divested of a metric ton of fat, fluff and filler. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme

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Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about what makes a game “thematic” versus “abstract. I reached a certain impasse, a level of dissatisfaction with games that were regarded by gamers with the dreadful “dripping with theme” appellation, which almost always means that a game has plentiful artwork, nomenclature and lore regardless of the relative interchangeability of mechanics derived from a stock list of routine processes and procedures. I’ve argued in the past that there are levels of theme occurring at “executive” (illustration and fluff) and “conceptual” (mechanics and contexts) levels. But a few games that I’ve been revisiting of late have caused me to completely rewrite the Barnes Position on theme in games- where it exists, what generates it and what it should be doing as part of a design.

It may surprise many readers, who have bought into a certain online gamer forum party line, that all of these games were designed by Reiner Knizia. For as far back as I can remember- going back to rec.games.board newsgroup at least- the general consensus was that Dr. Knizia was the case study for the pasted-on theme, a layer of pictures and text to impart a post facto sense of meaning or setting to colored, numbered cards or auctions.

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Why the Internet is Full of $#!t About Destiny’s Story

Destiny-Logo-XBox-One-PS4Like many of you, I’ve been playing Destiny. I’ve mostly retired from playing AAA video games for a number of reasons documented here at NHS and elsewhere, but a new game from the creators of Halo was compelling enough to get me to go to Gamestop- for the midnight release, no less- to pick up a copy of this big-budget blockbuster. Because Bungie understands video games better than many other developers. They understand play, and the Halo games have always excelled at providing players with lots of ways to engage their content. Their mechanics are impeccable and their games are thankfully free of the kinds of negative, hateful “let the bodies hit the floor” style violence so common in other popular action games.

But one thing Bungie has never been good at is telling a story.

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