Monday, May 02, 2016

The Game Will Not Be Denied

We made a grave error by thinking we could get away with letting that whole endeavor thing pass from last lantern year. No problem. We just skip getting endeavor this year and draw another event and see where that goes.

Us: "Hey, it's all good, The net result is the same and it would be a pain to go back and undo all the rolls we did."
KD:M: "Pain? I'll show you pain."

We started the settlement phase and immediately drew.... plague. Plague is what wiped a prior settlement. We are terrified of plague. It's especially bad when you have a limited number of survivors to choose from, since it can only infect survivors with at least 1 hunt XP. Each of the four you choose has a 20% chance to die from contracting the plague.

We lost all four. One of them was a savior.

Also, plague comes back next lantern year. That means we have to choose four more survivors to roll on the plague table. More potential tragedy.

For the hunt, we decided to add Spidicules to the campaign, the first expansion we've added. For a new campaign he could replace the Screaming Antelope, so we thought that would work well.

Yeah, right. Remember the pain thing?

Warning: some Spidicules spoilers here...
Right away, the "Young Rivals" story event to introduce the big spidery ball ended up losing us an experienced survivor. We were really down to a limited number of survivors who had been on a hunt at this point.

We set out with two new survivors, the red savior and the experienced archer Link. Getting Link to bow mastery is part of our settlement strategy to allow more survivors to get bow specialist points. Right away the hunt started oddly. We faced a muggy heat wave and had to roll for heat exhaustion. We all laughed because last time we faced a snap of freakish cold that damaged the unarmored. What did we get later in that hunt? The cold snap again. Survivor Al was especially beat down by the cold.

What went especially well was the hunt event that resulted in our getting the rare gear Spidicules sword. We couldn't use it this time but we'll have that one ready for next time.

Facing Spidicules was scary but not terrible. In fact, we walked out of that encounter with more survivors than walked in thanks to the nest at the center of the table, from which we freed two captives. He flings lots of little spiderlings around, and they are a decent enough threat but easy to kill. We must have drawn another easy AI deck or immediately buried any difficult cards because nobody suffered any maiming. At the end of the showdown, the spider (another spider maybe?) grabbed survivor Al and carried him off. We'll find out what happened to him if we fight the spider again or as a settlement event on lantern year 11.

We took our loot and headed back. One thing we didn't really notice before is how great armor sets are. If you have all the same type of armor in all five slots you get some pretty good (and fairly distinct) buffs. Things like being able to switch hits to other locations or getting spent survival back 50% of the time. We only noticed it when adding the Spider Silk armor card to the set.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

I'm Still Writing Lantern Year 5 On All My Checks

Lantern Year 6 is almost over. Sometimes it gets a little sketchy as to when one lantern year stops and another one starts, since part of the settlement phase happens in one lantern year and the rest in another lantern year. In this case, the settlement event (haunted) from lantern year 5 carried on to bite us in lantern year 6.

So, to recap....

We fought an antelope in year 5, and returned.
We drew "haunted" and lost all our endeavor for the settlement phase.
We incremented the lantern year, and fought a Kingsman (as a result of "armored strangers")

...but then we cheated.
We forgot we had lost our endeavor, and so we endeavored. We got two new survivors as a result of intimacy rolls, but nothing else in augury or scavenging. I'll get back to that after describing the hunt.

Deciding to hunt another antelope, we crafted a couple new weapons (including the counter weighted ax I've been wanting) and departed. Since Daphne died last battle I was now controlling Sharon.

Nobody likes Sharon. It all started as an in-joke with my daughter but we decided Sharon was the girl in the office (or settlement, I guess) that nobody likes or pretends to.

But Sharon got the counter-weighted ax and almost zero armor and we departed. The first thing that happened was a freakish cold snap that froze the less armored of us (I guess not everyone is smart enough to dress in layers, Sharon.)  That ended up being a big problem for Sharon when the antelope grabbed her in its gut-mouth and chewed on her. She lost an arm. Fortuitously though she managed to grab a strange toothed heart out of the beast's innards and it proceeded to barf her out. Yay! Oh, wait. Lost arm means no more counter-weighted ax. Boo. So we killed it without further maiming, and returned victorious (quit your whining, Sharon. We all have problems.)

We called it a night, only later realizing that we had spent non-existent endeavor. The idea of rewinding the settlement was daunting enough (more from inconvenience than result) that we decided to lose the endeavor from this settlement phase instead. Yeah, I know. We have been really hardcore about doing things exactly by the book, but fixing that just seemed.... onerous. None of us feel terribly guilty about it. The group is expected over here to play again in 8 minutes, so I suppose it's time to publish this.

RULES LESSON: We've been playing something wrong. During the hunt/encounter phase, resource cards do not return to the deck. That limits the number of some things you can get from a monster (makes sense, since "Lion Testes" is an option) and makes it more likely that you will get one of the rarer cards if you draw enough. Okay! We will start doing that correctly.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lantern Year 6: Brutally Outclassed

Having so recently killed a Screaming Antelope for the first time, the group was feeling pretty good about our combat readiness. We were also looking forward to crafting more gear now that we had some more resources.

Instead, we met an unexpected adversary.

Armored strangers entered the camp before we could even craft more gear, and marked 5 of our 10 survivors for execution. We decided to rise up and fight rather than let our population be halved.

So begins Showdown: Kingsman.

Dave couldn't make the game, so Stef, Seth and I took our red savior along and gave her the zanbato to ensure some high strength auto-hits. Survivor Hondo had his lion katars, Kiki used Link's bow and Daphne used her bone dagger.

It became evident quickly that this was going to be difficult. The Kingsman uses his own fighting style, and could easily counter any one of us. Only by overwhelming him with attacks or attempting to learn his rhthyms can you hurt him, and attempting to match his steps can result in injury or death for you. Survivor Daphne managed to figure out his fighting style well enough to keep him distracted long enough for the others to get a swipe in. Even with Daphne figuring his style fairly early on, his attacks were devastating, destroying armor and requiring us to burn survival points to avoid too many rolls on the dreaded severe injury table. Daphne kept close to ensure she could keep him distracted, but ended up getting her head exploded near the end of the battle. Hondo suffered a leg injury and can no longer use fighting arts. Kiki and red savior Zelda escaped unscathed. The dying Kingsman drops no resources.

So now we are down a survivor and haven't even done the lantern year 6 hunt.

Spoiler: for landing the killing blow on the Kingsman, Hondo is now cursed to slowly become a Kingsman. It might. Not happen for a while (at least 4 more hunts, likely many more) but it's inevitable. Even in victory this world punishes.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I Have Two Mouths And I Must Scream

Lantern year 5 started with emboldened survivors ready to take on new quarry. The "bold" didn't last long.

Right off the bat, the settlement event resulted in two of us getting our strength decreased by one. Ouch. Nick-names... who said names can't hurt you?

We had been living in fear of the Screaming Antelope ever since seeing the artwork depicting its stomach maw devouring survivors. This game is brutal, but that was especially horrifying. Nevertheless, we had recently geared up, had some decent survivors and thought it time to try something beyond the lion. Hondo was concerned about his 0 insanity going into the battle, but went anyway.

On the hunt phase, we were immediately subjected to a stampede, which struck Kiki right in the head, splattering her brains all over us. Everyone suffered brain damage as a result. This was really starting poorly. We even started asking if there was a way to back out... there wasn't. We were on the hunt now.

....except, that didn't really happen...

A little further investigation revealed that event damage is non-lethal. It can cause woulds, but can't make you roll on the dreaded tables. Kiki's head miraculously reassembled itself. We all got some insanity back, Hondo and Daphne recovered from the disorders they had so recently acquired and we were on our way. It's funny how our first reaction to this was not relief but surprise. The game didn't kill us with extreme prejudice?! We lived?! Even so, we were all down 2 damage in each slot, which put us at a perilous disadvantage.

The group had actually modeled our various survivors, so not only were we hunting new quarry but we weren't using starting survivor miniatures for the first time.
Stef modeled Kiki with her huge Zanbato and Seth modeled Hondo with his lion katars, both of which their survivors are using. I chose a somewhat different route, since I'd only ever used a bone dagger. I modeled a survivor with the counter-weighted ax (a very cool looking bit) and holding a lantern out, as if on the hunt phase. Now that I've got some skill with dagger I'll probably model another survivor with daggers, since the daggers you can get from the blacksmith are pretty great.

Dave even went so far as to magnetize Link's limbs/head so that he could reflect gear as the game went on. He's a fellow "bakcer" (in-joke: game creator Adam Poots is a famously bad speller, so his kickstarter backers are colloquially known as "bakcers") so he's got all the bits at home to make his own minis.

Side note: as a fellow "bakcer" Dave and I both received the Spidicules expansion. There is a huge packing issue with that kit, with many people receiving a duplicate leg sprue instead of the two distinct sprues they should have received. Dave and I each had the problem, but it turns out that he got two of sprue #1 and I got two of sprue #2. We swapped a sprue and now each have a full Spidicules!

The battle with the antelope was much less eventful as we thought it might be. There wasn't even much screaming involved. I ended up getting bashed against the side of the board, so the antelope stayed over by me as the others harvested acanthus plants to prevent the antelope from regenerating. We must have pulled the easiest AI deck possible because everything just fell into place. The claw head arrow lowering the beast's evasion by 1 didn't hurt us either. I burned almost all my survival avoiding rolling on any severe injury tables, and everyone got a good hit in for weapon proficiency progression before bringing it down. We gathered up our newly acquired resources and headed back to the settlement.

In the settlement phase, we drew "haunted." Since our last session had resulted in Al and Peggy playing out "Story Event: The First Hookup" and Peggy dying, we decided to nominate Al as the survivor to see ghosts. We decided to keep him around, and so lost all our endeavor for the year. Nuts. No innovation, no augury, no salvage.

Now comes the hard part of figuring out what to craft out of this stuff! After the Butcher popped the only resource we had were broken lanterns, so it's nice to be able to make some stuff again.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

San Francisco Dark Ride

Somehow we got on the topic of San Francisco today at work (and the "treat" that is Rice-a-roni) and I remembered this:
Skip to 4:45 for the "Old San Francisco" ride.

I rode this thing when I was five years old, and loved it. I was easy to impress as a pre-K I suppose.
We had a 45 rpm record of that "San Francisco, San Francisco out on San Francisco Bay..." song for years and years.

Good times.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

KD:Monster ... a very unlikly night

If there's one thing we've learned playing Kingdom Death: Monster is that the game is relentlessly brutal. A single attack can take a survivor from unhurt to dead if the dice and cards conspire against you. Even the phase after the battle can wipe out an entire settlement. If you commit yourself to following things exactly as drawn/rolled this game will run you over like a semi, then back up to finish the job. Unforgiving doesn't cover it.

As a group, we've committed to letting the chips (or more often, severed limbs) fall where they may. We've also tried very hard not to read ahead, experiencing things as the survivors would. That's why last night's session was so amazing. It didn't start that way though. The settlement event saw two of our characters re-enacting a hunt and one of them being killed in the process. Ouch. On the settlement enhancement side, we had been constantly struggling with whether to invest resources in new settlement assets or gear for survivors. We knew we were going to face the Butcher this year, but we still had the whole rest of the settlement phase to do prepare. It turns out there was very little we could craft, so we innovated and got bed to go with our hovel. We still had some endeavor left so we gave augury a shot. The dice came up "intimacy", which was thrilling and terrifying. The only other time we'd used intimacy resulted in both survivors dying at a time when we were low on survivors. That settlement was eventually wiped.

So we looked up the intimacy story event, and were pleased that both hovel and bed enhanced it. Neither removed the potential lethal aspects, but added some nice enhancements to the good results. So survivors Al and Peggy got bizzay and... Peggy and the child died and Al was traumatized. Lovely. Driven more by a surplus of endeavor we augured again and got... intimacy. Okay, this could still be a good thing since we were out of unnamed survivors. We held our breath and rolled ... a lantern! Twins! No, wait. With hovel it triggered a different event. Birth of a Savior! Saviors are the super-humans of the Kingdom Death world, not invincible but definitely enhanced. We chose the red variant, which has better attack skills. The whole group was giddy about getting such a great edition to our settlement.

We looked at wrapping up the settlement phase and getting to the Butcher, but we still had one more endeavor to spend. We decided to auger again, and rolled an 8... intimacy again?! Alright! Stef threw a die for the intimacy table and... another lantern! We had another savior born! This time we chose the luck/range savior (green? can't remember...) and planned to equip with bow. That extra luck for scoring crits would be handy.

Now the mood was decidedly less grim than a normal KD:M session. (Don't get me wrong, we love the grim. It is a nightmare horror game, after all.) Two saviors in one lantern year. But now it was time to face the Butcher. We decided to leave the saviors out of the fight, since we only get a few battles with them before they disappear forever. Tonight the regular survivors would face the nemesis monster.

Like I said, we've really been trying to keep the game suprising for ourselves by not reading ahead, so we had no idea really what the Butcher was about other than his little background blurb in the showdown section of the book. When the first AI card we drew was a mood, a scream that he does every turn that does brain damage to all survivors, the color drained from Dave's face. His current character had zero insanity, and would therefore be in mortal danger from this scream. Everyone else had a fair bit of insanity to shield our brains from the mind-rending horrors of KD. The turn the mood card came out he filled his only damage box for brain. Next turn he would have to roll on the table.

Just in case anyone missed this, "roll on the table" is typically a bad thing in KD:M. There is almost always a "you're dead" on that table.

But as luck would have it, it was Dave's turn to be the monster controller, and he could give his character a point of insanity by having the Butcher target him for an attack, That would give him yet another turn to try and do something to avoid rolling on that table. We continued to pummel the Butcher, doing some damage but not nearly enough to avoid that table for Dave.

The moment of truth finally came... the maddening screams of the Butcher pushed Dave's character to roll on the brain trauma table. The result....? Impossible! How can this be? (I think that's the actual name of the entry.) Dave gained 7 points of insanity (brain armor in this nightmare world) and +2 luck for the rest of the encounter! We proceeded to wear the foe down until he finally exploded and left broken lanterns scattered around. We didn't get any of the good drops from him, but we survived without anyone being maimed. We decided to proceed with the settlement phase next session.

Executive summary for Lantern Year 5:
2 Saviors added to settlement
The Butcher defeated

This is as close to good times as it gets for KD survivors. For the players, definitely good times.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Why We Owe the iPhone to Peter Molyneux

Of all the James Burke-y connections in this world, here's one that I had completely overlooked until recently. We owe almost every interface action we do on our smart phone to the most disappointing game of 2001. 

Allow me to elucidate.

In those heady, pre-9/11 days we gamed. Oh, how we gamed. We played Warcraft before there was a World thereof. We Commanded and we Conquered. We Duned too. We fought any number of AI and human opponents on a screen that represented only a small portion of the world map. And how did we move our little window to the world around? We either used shortcut keys, we clicked a mini-map or we maxed the mouse cursor against a screen edge and the view would magically shift to reveal more in that direction. 

This was completely normal.

Okay, quick. How do you move everything to the left (revealing things hidden to the right) on a smart phone screen? Answer: you hold and swipe left. Sooooooo.... how did that ever become a thing? When did the world start sticking to your finger? Personally, I think it started in March of 2001.

Here, take a sec and watch this video, starting at 6'17". This scene comes from the beginning of Black & White, a god simulator from Peter Molyneux's studio Lionhead.

Did you catch that? Drag the landscape around with the mouse to move. Anyone who grew up using a modern handheld device is saying "I know, right? Big deal." (Actually, nobody who grew up using a modern handheld device is reading a blog so I can probably be as demeaning to that demographic as I want.) Dragging to move is ubiquitous now but back in 2001 it actually took some getting used to. It was new. 

Okay, who cares, right? Well, I do. I have maligned this game since I realized that I blew $50 on a box full of empty promises, but this may actually have been the single more important interface design change of the decade. The iPhone wasn't released until June of 2007. I honestly cannot think of a game that did click and drag to move before Black & White and the whole iPhone experience is predicated on that action.

Okay, so P.Moly did something great. It isn't like he hadn't before. His former studio Bullfrog released Populous, Powermonger, Syndicate, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper... he has been responsible for some amazing games. These are some of my favorites. 


In Black & White the execution just couldn't keep up with the vision.

You basically play a god in this game, but your primary presence on the earth is a giant monster that you train to be good or evil. They start out small and cute. 
You have to play quite a while before you even get to this
As you train them one way or another they start to take on the appearance of their training. Here, enjoy a picture of a good turtle.
I don't even remember how to get a turtle in the game
Likewise, an evil goat.
I don't remember how to get a goat either

The only problem is that the AI in this game was stooopid. I desperately wanted to think there was a complex system that I just couldn't understand, but in the end I gave that theory up with the realization that this was just a big disappointment.

Granted, it's easy to read intention into observations when you assume there is more depth than there actually is. It's like Eliza with violence.

Go read this:
I'm really hoping your reaction to that was, "Ummm. What?" because that's what a healthy adult should be thinking. That's because you realize that a video game tiger from 2001 does not have sacrificially altruistic motivation. It just has bad AI.

Now go back and read the rest of that entire site, Old Man Murray. The authors are the guys who wrote the script for Portal. I know you won't read it, but I had to try. 

There were other problems with the game.... infuriating design decisions like making you play through an excruciatingly long intro sequence if you want to restart the game with a different monster thingy. Oh, and it got boring fast once the novelty of watching the monster wore off or you chucked all the villagers with names from your Outlook address book into the ocean. (Yes, it read your Outlook address book and names villagers after your contacts. Funny, but a little creepy.)

In the years after abandoning actually playing the game, it has lived on. For years, my coworkers hid the B&W game CD / manual / box in each other's desks/cars/etc. I also have enjoyed torturing my children with the sailor song from B&W. Look it up.

Hyperbolic design claims are what got us the @PeterMolydeux twitter account, which is spot on satire.

On the plus side, B&W gave us the phrase "the fuzzy leash of compassion." I can't say I've ever said it in conversation.

You read the whole thing! Here's a bonus pic of Mr. Molyneux himself.
I can reduce all of human existence to three signed doubles and handful of bools.

And now here's a double bonus pic of John McCain watching a video of someone paying $50 at a Babbage's in the mall for a copy of Black & White in 2001. It might have been me.

Ouch. Right in the funds.