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Brakketology Plays Waterdeep, Muses About Theme

Lords of Waterdeep Cover

I’ve bee playing a bit of Playdek’s Lords of Waterdeep on iOS ($7). This wholly competent boardgame adaptation should be right up my alley. It’s D&D-themed, which I like. It’s a worker-placement game, which tends to be the sort of thing I appreciate and excel at. And yet it’s ultimately rather hollow. Not bad, mind you, the core game mechanics are very good and faithfully translated. Playdek, from whom I received a free code to download this game (full-disclosure and all), could not have done a better job of translating this for iOS. The problem is that the D&D aspects of it don’t add anything to the game. At all. And yet, as an iOS port of a game that doesn’t have many Apps Store counterparts, I can’t help but recommend it for fans of worker-placement games. It’s good enough to be worth your time.

More on Waterdeep, as well as thoughts on the PAR closure and some new Elder Scrolls Online trailers, after the break…

Lords of Waterdeep Zoom Out

Waterdeep is a game in which, on behalf of a randomly assigned patron, you must complete quests using hired henchman of the fighter (orange), rogue (black), cleric (white), wizard (purple) variety. In any given turn you have three or four avatars (or whatever they’re called) that you can place in one of a host of locations on the game board. Put one on the inn and you can choose a new quest to pick up. Put one on the Fields of Triumph and you can pickup a couple fighter cubes. Put one on the Builder’s Hall and you can add a building to the town. Build the Yawning Portal and you can grab any two cubes of your choice, paying the owner a bit of rent (in the form of a cube). There’s variety to be sure, but mostly it’s about amassing cubes and gold.

Cubes are color-coded to their class, but the game’s biggest problem is that, ultimately, you’re never going to think about them as rogues and wizards. They’re a collection of colored cubes that you acquire and dispose of to complete a quest. (Completing quests, if you haven’t guessed already, is how you acquire victory points for the end game.) That’s not really what characters in D&D are all about. The fact that neither they nor the various places on the map are particularly memorable is telling. I’m not putting my little avatar guy on Waterdeep Harbor, I’m just putting it in that spot that gives me an Intrigue card.

For me, it all makes an interesting contrast with the Firefly boardgame, which I’ve played a few times of late and that Michael reviewed here last week. Firefly is so strong in theme that it makes everything about the game better. The captain I choose for my ship matters and affects how I go about hiring my crew. The jobs I take impact where I go on the board and what kinds of equipment I need. The mechanics are wonderful too, but flying ’round the ‘verse and picking up crew with characters from the show and items from the series all enhance those mechanics. The whole is worth more than the sum of it parts.

Not so with Waterdeep, where my cubes could well be anything and the locations could be replaced with a modern set or a sci-fi set and it wouldn’t make much difference. That’s rather shocking, given how rife with potential the source-material actually is. Imagine if all those little cubes weren’t so disposable. If they carried some kind of more unique identity (as D&D characters should) and the system allowed them to level and grow more useful over time. There are no, “Hey, look, I just got Drizz’t for my party. You guys are so screwed!” moments to cling to here. It’s all generic and replaceable cubes all the time.

Lords of Waterdeep Close-up

This is not said in an attempt to play amateur designer. It’s just that there’s so obviously a great D&D game lurking in this design, but the team of Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson, despite coming up with a very solid worker-placement game, failed to bring it out out as fully as they needed to. Because of that it really doesn’t so much matter how good a job Playdek did of implementing it for iOS. And, as noted, they did do a good job of that. I haven’t touched the online multiplayer, mostly because this is not the sort of game that suits asynchronous play. But as a pass-and-play game it works well and the AI opponents (set to one of three difficulty levels) do a credible enough job to make any game a challenge, especially while you’re still learning it. (The tutorials, which Playdek has sometimes struggled with in the past, also do a swell job of explaining the game to you. One run through the tutorials and one practice game should be all you need to get comfortable.)

If you like worker-placement games and want a competent one to play on your iPad the, by all means, buy this. It’s solid and competent and, in the absence of much competition, it’s worth owning. Just don’t go in expecting a unique D&D experience.

Elsewhere…

PAR, closed for business. I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to point my Feedly subscription at Penny Arcade Report this weekend, to find an article from Ben Kuchera announcing that Penny Arcade had closed up shop on PAR. (The official explanation from PA, here.) That’s depressing. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Ben’s take on games and the industry at large, but I’ve followed the man since he was at Ars and the fact is, he wrote stuff I was willing to read. Most gaming sites I follow via RSS I click over to read about 1% of what they post. Maybe 3%. PAR and RPS are the exceptions (probably more like 10-20%) and now I have one less reliable place to find quality coverage of the industry that isn’t lumped in with sixteen posts of pure dreck. I doubt you’re reading this, Ben, but you did great work at PAR and we’re all hoping you find a solid place to land in the very near future!

Hey, look! A fantasy MMO! Yay? Speaking of depressing, Elder Scrolls Online has a new trailer:

There’s also this one on class building:

There is nothing about these that tell me why I should be interested in this game. Though it’s true that I’m not an Elder Scrolls guy at heart, I’d sooner load up Skyrim or Oblivion than this.

On the other hand. This Apotheon trailer looks rather nifty:

Makes me think of Mark of the Ninja… in a good way.

Around the web: Telltale will bring us Borderlands and Game of Thrones-licensed games next year. There are trailers for them, though the one for Borderlands shows little and the GoT shows basically nothing. Evidently Telltale aims to monopolize all of my free time next year. Galactic princess looks interesting. Zombie-survival RPG, Dead State, is getting a demo. There’s also a video. GOG wants to let you return your purchased games if they don’t work. I’ve never bought a game from them that hasn’t worked. This actually happens? (rhetorical)

All the E3 News That Didn’t Fit

This the last time I mention E3, promise, unless to say “I played this at E3”. There are a few things I didn’t mention because my work ethic has flagged since returning. Also, I’m not sure everything requires a mammoth post. I’m sure that the people making the game think it does, but that doesn’t make it so.

With that in mind, here’s all the stuff that didn’t fit in past posts, or that I didn’t get to.

I have to admit, I’m a little distracted. Henry, my ancient cockapoo, is at the vet, the victim of an apparently unhealable…thing on the underside of his chin. Whatever this thing is, it does not respond to drugs. My dog is miserable because he has to wear a cone 24/7 lest he hurt himself by scratching it. My wife has had to do laundry all of the time because, before the cone, the dog bled all over the place. Unfortunately, Henry is very old (two weeks shy of 17), he has a heart murmur and he has high values of something that has to do with his liver. Any one of these makes anesthesia risky, all of them makes anesthesia very risky. The alternative, though, was for him to continue being miserable at home. It was a strange conversation with the vet, him telling me that it was risky but there’s really no other option, me saying that he’s miserable at home, neither one of us wanting to be the one that says “Let’s do it.” Finally I did, so it’s going to be done. Hopefully he’ll come out ok. If not, we did our best.

So yeah, E3. HAWKEN is pretty awesome. We played it at a LAN event and while the customization options are incredibly daunting when you come into it cold and only have a few minutes to kit out your mech, it looks like there’s a lot there to play with. I’m not sure how much is aesthetic and how much is functional, but if you like lots and lots of mech limbs, you’ll be in heaven.

Combat is exactly how mech combat should be. Your mech has a definite sense of weight, from the way you move around the battlefield to the satisfying WHUMP when you touch down after a rocket boost and your weapons sound delightfully destructive, especially the spin-up of the chain gun. Dashing is well implemented, and quite useful for damage avoidance. Speaking of being shot, getting peppered with bullets while your damage alarms blare in your ears as you lead your opponent to the exact right moment where you unleash your Hellfire missiles and blow them back to Hell is an experience that can only happen in a Mech game. In our multiplayer match, I killed a lot of dudes, in fact, I was either first or second in kills, and that never happens. There’s something about being able to soak up some damage in order to have enough time to power up your weapons or make a shot that is very appealing. I’m not fast enough to compete with the twitch gamers, but I can pilot a mech or two. Granted, I’m sure once the hardcore mech players get in there, I’ll be toast, but in a room of E3 journalists waiting for the bar to open, I’m pretty damn awesome.

I also like how in HAWKEN you can leave the battlefield and go heal up. Our opponents weren’t sending anyone to scout the outskirts, which allowed me to leave and fully heal before going back into the fray. I’m not going to say that won the match for us, but seeing how were were behind for 3/4 of the time and then roared back to win by two or three points, me going and healing three times rather than give our opponents three more kills certainly made our victory easier.

Seeing how this is PC only, and free-to-play MP only to boot, I doubt I’ll spend more time with it than my brief stint atop the leaderboard, but for those looking to get in on some nasty mech action, it’s one to keep an eye on.

I spent some time with the folks from Nival and man, what a nice bunch of people they were. Nival makes King’s Bounty: Legions, currently rocking the 3D turn based strategy vibe on Facebook and Kongregate but they’re also looking to bring the game to tablets. Nival also makes Prime World, a cross platform, action strategy game that lets you battle over territory in MOBA style skirmishes. The interesting thing about Prime World is that you can just play Prime World proper, or you can play one of a number of tie-in games such as Emaki, a Zuma style painting puzzler game. In Emaki, the goal is to shoot paint blobs to complete the illustration on a scroll. If all you want to play is Emaki, you’re all set. If you play Prime World, that scroll can be sent to your Prime World game as a resource. The same thing goes for Prime World Defenders, their upcoming mobile tower defense game. In Prime World Defenders, you build a deck of resources to be used for the current map and then deploy resources as needed to keep the marching tides of enemies from stealing your energy source. Same as with Emaki, as you do well in Prime World Defenders, you send resources to your Prime World account. Even better, if your family members are playing the mobile games, but not Prime World, you can hook your Prime World account up to their mobile games and they can send you resources while they play for doing what they’d be doing any way.

The games are all very slick looking and looked pretty interesting. Emaki will be out in June and Prime World Defenders will be out in August. As a full on iPad gaming junkie, I will be looking out for both of them.

So far, so good. The vet hasn’t called, but I’m not sure if that’s because has hasn’t performed the surgery, he did perform the surgery and everything went fine or he performed the surgery, it didn’t go well and he’s not sure how to tell us. What’s strange is that I’m somewhat at peace with whatever happens. When Maggie died, it was a bit of a surprise. She went downhill very quickly. Henry has been going downhill since Maggie died, partially due to her death, no doubt, and right now, he’s there but not really there. I can’t say that he doesn’t have good quality of life, but I can’t say he’s living the high life either. He just kind of exists.

I thought that once the dogs were gone, we wouldn’t get any more dogs, mostly because I wouldn’t want them, but the exact opposite has happened. Every day I look at the dogs available for adoption at our local shelter. I see the pictures of the new puppies, I watch the videos of the somewhat older dogs and I think about how good it will be to get a new dog. My wife wants one, two actually, my daughter wants one, my son says he does, but he’s also afraid of every dog that ever walked the planet, so he’s a work in progress. I think that once you’re a dog person, you’re a dog person for life and a life without dogs is demonstrably less rich than one with them, even with the cost and effort that comes with owning one. There is something about coming home to a dog that just can’t be beat. Sure, my wife and kids love me and are happy to see me, but a dog greets you like she never thought she’d see you again.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 hit me right in that action movie loving part of my reptilian brain. I have successfully avoided every modern Call of Duty but my resistance may crumble with Black Ops 2. That overwatch mode is pretty hot. I bet my endorsement is exactly what the game needed to go on and be successful. Good luck, Black Ops 2!

I saw a game called Enemy Front. It was a WWII shooter. The twist is that you’re behind enemy lines, so no one is chattering in your ear. Seriously, that’s it. When you preface your game demo with the statement that you know that WWII shooters have been done to death, you need to bring something more than solitude to the table to justify the game’s existence. On a completely unrelated note, they were serving hot dogs at the booth. Yeah, hot dogs.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown looks good and I will probably try to play it. Company of Heroes 2 looks shit hot and I will have no part in it, for intelligence and low-powered PC related reasons. Metro: Last Light looks amazing and I jumped like a scared child at multiple points during the trailer. The Elder Scrolls MMO looks terrible. I drew an angry whale in my notes for Dishonored.

There, that’s it. I’m done. I am officially all E3’d out. I hope you enjoyed it, I know I did.

Now if only the damned vet would call.