Them Apples

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What has been bizarre to me has been just how different the three years of Pax South have felt personally.  During year one I was completely overwhelmed and did my best to hit as many panels as I could while also making a bunch of media appointments.  During year two we had roughly sixteen people roaming around in groups of various sizes, so my focus was to spend as much time as possible with as many people as possible.  I was also overwhelmed but in a completely different way, with trying to juggle meeting up with folks while also hitting scheduled media appointments.  Year three I completely cut the whole parking debacle out of the loop which greatly relaxed the entire experience.  Additionally we went from having sixteen to roughly seven… with two pairs of those largely roaming together and leaving me with a semi regular group of three people.  This opened up so many doors because three is not an unreasonable amount of people to sit down and demo something together with, and as a result I played way more games during the course of the show.  So many that I never actually made it off the main floor or attended any panels.  In truth this felt like the best possible thing because it gave me lots of interesting experiences to come back and shamelessly milk for blog posts.  It also let me spend maximum time with my friends while attempting to extract the maximum enjoyment.  It did nothing for my longevity unfortunately with me making my way back to the hotel around 6 or 7 both nights to hang with my wife and decompress from the days event.

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Of the really awesome games that I played, I think the very first that I sat down to play as a group is a card game called Wicked Apples.  At first I watched a couple of my group play it together, and when they finished the first round got dealt in for round two.  The idea is simple and the card game itself extremely small… I have not counted but it seems like maybe the card deck as a whole is maybe around 35 cards.  What I like so much about the game however is just how quickly it can be played.  One of the big challenges with most modern tabletop games is that they take a fair bit of time to set up, play and break back down.  In most cases you need a dedicated hour or more to really feel like you have enjoyed the experience.  At work I have been kicking around the notion of doing some tabletop gaming at lunch, especially since I have a coworker that is way deeper into the weeds than I am in the board gaming community.  However the challenge that is what sorts of games can you realistically play in a 30-40 minute window and get enough hands in to make it feel like you actually accomplished something.  When I saw Wicked Apples I immediately thought that this game would be perfect for this scenario because each hand seemed to last around ten to fifteen minutes depending on how much stalling from the players.

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The game consists of barrel cards, wicked apple cards matching each barrel color, and an assortment of unique apple cards that each have specific effects on them.  The game starts by dealing out barrels to each of the players… or in our case simply choosing whatever color you wanted to play.  That player the is handed the wicked apple of a color matching their barrel, as well as three random apple cards dealt face down.  The goal is to take these four cards and arrange them in any order in front of you face down… but at the same time memorize the position of each card.  The goal of the game is not to eat a wicked apple, be it your own or another players.  After setup the turn order is determined by the number on the players bucket from lowest to highest, but later in the game this will be determined by the top apple in each players bucket.  Each player can take one of two actions:  Peak or Pass.  Peak essentially means that you can secretly check to verify what apple is sitting in a given slot in front of you, and Pass means that you can take any one of your apples and give it to any other player.  After all players have either chosen to Peak or Pass, everyone has to choose an apple that they are going to eat that round.  If you are doing this right then all players reveal their apple at exactly the same time…  however we were pretty awful at doing this and wound up being a slow staggered reveal.  The eating order is determined by the number in the top right corner of the card, and each player performs the actions on their card if possible taking turns in ascending order.  The “if possible” is in there because there are situations where for example you have no apples… and as a result cannot say pass an apple as directed by the card.

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The game carries on like this until one of two things happen… either only one player is left standing at the end of a round where in that case they are the winner.  There is also the possibility that ALL players are eliminated in the same round, and essentially everyone loses.  Whatever the case, once you know the rules of the game it goes extremely quickly and I could see playing a bunch of round rapid fire in a short period of time.  There is functionally a lot of strategy and bluffing involved in what is essentially a game of memory.  Do you pass a good apple to the player beside you and think that ultimately they are going to assume you gave them your wicked apple?  Are you going to pass your wicked apple and then follow up by lacing it with the Candy Apple that forces a player to eat that apple next?  I absolutely did that last move, while also passing the poison apple to another player that round functionally executing both of them.  It is absolutely a game where you know every other players is going to back stab you and do so constantly, so the ramifications of this realization become greatly blunted and just part of the fun.  The individual decks at Pax South were $15, and I went back and forth on Friday about picking one up.  However one of the first things I did Saturday morning was run back and purchase one, and I am super glad that I did.  It seems as though they sold their last deck sometime early Sunday morning, and apparently this was their entire current stock as there are zero available through the website either currently.  So yeah… I guess it is probably cruel to tell you about a game that you literally cannot get at this very moment, but I still enjoyed it enough that I wanted to talk about it.  Like I said before I personally plan on taking my deck with me to work and trying a few hands over lunch to see how well it works.  It is easy to pick up and fast paced enough that I can see this doing really well with a wide variety of players.  If you have the chance to check it out in any upcoming shows I highly suggest you do so.

 

Tale of Dice Games

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It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming.  More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones.  There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase.  Then there was Dragon Dice…  which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now.  The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator.  I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same.  So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible.  It was bad…  and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll…  it made it extremely hard to ever recover.  As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX.  We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne.  So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment.  However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop.  Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.

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c3tib3xumaajc_wI am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post.  The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels.  Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief…  with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter.  Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice.  What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities.  Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect.  In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from.  I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.

Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited.  I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally.  I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way.  I am way too introverted to ever make that work.  So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things.  Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players.  In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation.  The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases:  Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.

Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match.  Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand.  Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack…  all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable.  Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well.  Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them.  You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need.  There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice.  These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.

What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is.  All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence).  Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks.  For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent.  The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round.  Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage.  Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand.  There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games.  Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players.  I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal.  That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games.  From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.

The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game.  I was completely and thoroughly sold.  As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game.  Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k.  With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward.  There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area.  The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out.  I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished.  The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice.  However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing.  I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice.  The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters.  Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole.  I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.

Kickstarter Link