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.

wickedapples

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.

 

Old School New School

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Doomed

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Firstly if you didn’t check it out I highly suggest you read yesterday’s blog post if for no reason other than the amazing custom artwork by my friend @Ammosart.  As far as this weekend went, it was a bit of an odd one.  I once again played a lot of Destiny, but this morning that is not one of the shooter experiences I am going to be talking about.  I really hate it when game companies gang up on each other, because this weekend there were “special” beta tests going on for Overwatch, Battleborn and Doom.  While at first they might not seem all that related, they are each chasing a multiplayer experience that they would really love you to care about.  Battleborn is not even on the list of games I was interested in, thanks to a really bad alpha experience causing me to pitch it to the curb.  Doom however…  I really want to like and keep giving it ample attempts to sell me on its regressive notion of what first person shooter multiplayer should be.  Now please note…  I’ve had access to the alpha for quite awhile now thanks to a strange presell deal that they had for Wolfenstein The New Order.  I have not really talked about it before now however due to the NDA it has been wrapped in, but with this weekends big beta event… that has been dropped.

Doom Multiplayer is a game that really hopes that you remember Quake 3 Arena fondly, and have been craving that sort of gameplay with marginally better graphics.  The gameplay honestly gives flash backs to playing Rocket Arena… during a time when even then I thought the Quake Arena experience was far inferior to Unreal Tournament that I tended to play more often.  If you miss the days of being shot across the map from someone you can’t even see as you spawn in… then this is going to be the game you have been hankering for.  The big problem I had was in all of the matches that I have played… I never really found myself having fun.  I mean I did okayish, but it very much felt like wandering around the same claustrophobic hallways that we used to in Quake.  The worst sin however is the movement… it feels completely unrealistic and the same sort of stiff speedy running that those original Quake games had.  What it is trying to be is fast paced run and gun action, but in an era when we can do that without sacrificing animation and design aesthetics.  I’ve now played several different PC alpha tests, and installed it on the PS4 to give it a go there… and no matter what I keep coming up with the same impression.  This is not a fun multiplayer experience.

Molten Core!

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The general “unfun” nature of Doom was only drilled home thanks to also being in Overwatch this weekend.  It feels like both games are trying really hard to deliver something similar, at least in the department of a faced paced shooter department.  Also both games really want you to want to watch them as some sort of an e-sports extravaganza.  However Doom is a world that traded the drab green and brown nothingness of Quake for various shades of orange and blood red… whereas Overwatch is almost more game world than it actually needs to support the combat.  As you wander around the world there is a constant barrage of tiny details.  Posters on the wall, images up on computer screens… advertisements for murloc themed restaurants.  The world is vibrant and feels alive, and almost begs you to inhabit it, and what makes it even better is that every single character is just as vibrant and well designed.  Playing Torbjorn feels unique and completely different from playing Pharah or Reaper or Reinhardt.  The only negative here is that at times they almost feel too unique, in that the control scheme of one champion doesn’t begin to map up to playing another one.  It is fairly normal for “league” style champion design to differ wildly, but at least in League you are always going to be using QWE, but for Overwatch champions there is essentially an array of hotkeys that get used… and not all champions use all hotkeys.  The most confusing aspect of this is how some champions have a movement key and others don’t…  and even among the ones that do they don’t always sync up to exactly the same key.

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So what ended up having to happen is that I started to compartmentalize “this is how I play this champion” from “this is how I play overwatch”.  The only unfortunate thing about this game is that you can see how much effort they put into building the world, and personally I get a little nostalgic about “what might have been”.  Titan was supposed to be Overwatch the MMO, and I would have loved that.  Even if they had given me a game along the lines of Destiny or Division I would have eaten it up completely.  So as you are playing through the levels you see signs of what might have been.  As far as the game play itself it centers around running multiplayer matches, to rank up… to unlock loot crates… to get sweet skins and other cosmetic stuff…  that improve your game play experience for those champions that you really love.  At its core this game is a really tight multiplayer team based shooter, and if that is not the experience you have been looking for… this probably isn’t the game for you.  It plays like a modern version of Team Fortress 2 and feels tighter than that game ever did.  Every aspect of the experience seems like it has been painstakingly planned and the awesome thing about it is that for once Blizzard is probably being more forthcoming with information than any other multiplayer game has been.  For example they went into more detail about the netcode behind the game play than any company I have ever seen.  The only unfortunate thing is that I am going to have to likely wait until May 3rd to get to play the game again, given that is when the pre-launch open beta period begins.  The game lived up to all of my expectations, and I am amped to get to play it with friends.