August 2012 Archives

Sat Aug 18 22:48:50 EST 2012

Roll Through The Ages

Tonight, I was at the Hobart Games Society's Winter Games Fest. I missed most of the fun (since Saturday is almost always a work day), but I managed to play a couple of short games with a lot of very friendly people. The highlight of the evening was a round of Roll Through the Ages.

Essentially, it's empire building using dice, designed by the mind behind Pandemic. The game is set in the bronze age (or, if you're using the free expansion the late bronze age). The dice are special D6s, with faces for food, workers, disasters, coin and so on. There's a pretty good review of the mechanics over at BoardGameGeek. Each player gets a pegboard to track their stockpile of food and goods, along with a score sheet to cross off their constructions and technological advances.

The design works remarkably well. It's set up so that you never need to un-cross anything on your score sheet. Further, the game's subsystems balance each other out: if you have more cities, you can roll more dice. If you have more cities, though, you need to find more food to feed your population and you're more likely to roll disasters. To generate the more valuable goods, you need to roll multiple goods in a turn. Dangerously, the rolls that give you the most goods are the ones that expose you to the worst disasters. Another satisfying feature is that none of the rolls are outright bad: disaster rolls also give you the most goods, extra food can be stored across turns and spare workers can construct monuments.

The theme overlaid on the game makes me think of Avalon Hill's Civilization. The ancient world is a pretty interesting place for empire-building: some of the basic technologies are paradigm shifts for an ancient civilisation, which means that it's sensible for them to have strong effects. The ancients were also fans of building great monuments, which provides a thematic sink for leftover worker power.

Is it a deep strategy game? No, but it has a surprising amount of depth for such a random core.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: gaming

Thu Aug 9 22:16:06 EST 2012

Playing with Wire

During the off-season maintenance period, there's a lot of simple work, like sanding and painting. In addition to that sort of work, there's also a number of traditional skills to learn. This is one from last week:

Wire Seizing

It's a wire seizing. It looks neat and tidy, but actually making one work is fiendishly difficult. In "The Rigger's Apprentice", it is introduced with the words "there is no more subtle knot than this one".

Wind the wire around the stay, but not so tight that it breaks. If you wind it too loosely, the riding turns will force the wire apart and you'll get a mess. Once you're done winding it around the stay, make a 90-degree turn and bind it together with some frapping turns. Oh, but you have to catch the final turn in your fraps so it doesn't work loose. And don't lose any tension! Once you've done that, put a couple of half-hitches on to finish it up, hauling tight with the mallet until the wire snaps. Don't accidentally break the wire before then, or you'll have to start over.

Before getting that one right, Matt and I spent hours practicing with old scraps of seizing wire, learning how to wind on the turns before even trying to turn up a real seizing. Even then, it took a couple of tries and turning up a successful seizing is not yet a sure thing. Fortunately, there's heaps of them on board to replace.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Wed Aug 1 18:19:16 EST 2012

Musings on D&D 4th Edition

In an effort to indulge my inner nerd while on board, I wind up reading a lot about RPGs in general and D&D 4th Edition in particular, since that's what we last played. Those who are only here for the sailing should probably skip this entry.

Over at the Wizards of the Coast web site, Chris Perkins writes a column called The Dungeon Master Experience. It's very interesting to see how much he's prepared to change the rules:

  • He only keeps 2 dice behind the DM screen (1 d20 and 1 d6), reasoning that he knows how much damage monsters are meant to do, and that a little variance is all that's needed to keep things exciting.
  • He's created ridiculously overpowered magic items for the PCs and their foes, with heavy (but fair) restrictions on their use.
  • On one occasion the party warlock woke up with a new tattoo that gave him powers and a curse, but no idea where it came from and why it was given to him. It was the starting point to one of the campaign sub-plots.

Perkins is a top-tier DM with a group of experienced roleplayers, and I think that's what gives him the confidence to meddle with the system, especially when everything from treasure parcels to damage values to the "XP budget" method of designing encounters creates this impression of a complex machine that DMs dare not tinker with.

Claim 1: The more crunch in a system, the less confident DMs and players are with the idea of stepping outside of the provided rules.

Claim 2: The high level of crunch, large amount of published errata and overwhelming amount of splatbooks in D&D4 makes the use of automated tools like the character builder nearly essential. After committing to a tool like the character builder, deviating from the rules as implemented is even harder.

If you look at how 4e powers are structured, it is clear that one goal was to prevent wizards and other classes from running away with the game at high levels. The downside, of course, is that most of the powers felt very "samey" (see the description of "Borestorm"). So you have mechanically similar characters, comparable in power to each other in combat (though they have slightly different roles), but with huge variations in what their fluff is like out of combat. Have a look at the classes: a rogue can backstab, climb, jump, disarm traps, sneak and bluff his way out of trouble. A fighter can, err, fight. The problem is, so can everyone else.

Claim 3: When everyone in the party is approximately equal in fighting ability but unequal in non-combat power, the party will be fighting most of the time, because that's the only thing everyone can do.

Claim 4: The story and role-playing that provide background and meaning to the various combats tend to disengage the players who can't contribute mechanically.

Discuss (5 marks).

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: rpg