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

 

Communing with Fae

Freemium Magic

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While I still have aspirations to cease the swiss army posts…  I guess in reality I live a fairly swiss army life.  This weekend was really no different, and the one hundred plus degree temperatures just caused us to spend more time than normal indoors.  When this happens I start to get a little wanderlust at least from the standpoint of what games I am playing.  As a result this weekend I played a mixture of Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars the Old Republic, Minecraft, and some Magic Duels.  You can blame the podcast we recorded Saturday for the later, because both Thalen and Kodra talked about playing it.  I have several assorted versions of the Duel of the Planeswalker magic game cluttering my steam account.  I end up picking them up when they go on sale and then only ever playing them a few times.  Ultimately part of the excitement of magic for me is playing with physical cards and opening physical packs.  We have joked about it before but “that new pack smell” is really a thing, and it can be intoxicating.  That little tingle of excitement as you rush through the “commons” to find out what rare you got in that pack is a thing I have repeated thousands of times over the years.  So is the sinking feeling when I see that rare is a blue or a white… the two colors that I most have a negative reaction towards.  The real life magic really really wants me to play White, because I have an insane number of rare angels…  but all I ever really want is the dark and sinister Black cards.

Right now I am still about halfway through the unlocking story of the White deck of Gideon Jura.  The game does a really cool job of telling you the story of how each of the planeswalkers found their spark, which according to Kodra is the central focus of the Origins story line.  The only negative that I have so far is that you have to wade through a lot of tutorials before the game just lets you play.  Normally I would say these could be skipped but the game rewards you in gold for watching them, and that is gold that you will need later for purchasing packs.  Where this gets really frustrating is when a new card mechanic is introduced and it stops whatever duel you are in the middle of to show you a tutorial on how that mechanic works.  I can absolutely see however how this would be beneficial to brand new players, and even for me there are card mechanics that are being called by names that I don’t recognize in spite of fully understanding the game play behind them.  The other big frustration with the Duels client is the fact that it crashed on me, numerous times…  so I am guessing they are still having some issues.  From what I can tell you stay connected to their servers even though you are essentially playing a single player match, and if that server connection wavers your game cannot seem to recover gracefully.  I figure this is going to be something I piddle with from time to time when I am not in the mood for other games.

Communing with Fae

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As I wrote yesterday Arcanist has always been the class that I struggled the most in playing.  For whatever reason I have caught the desire to play it, and I spent most of yesterday working my way through content doing a mix of low level roulette, Haukke Manor, and guildhests.  As a result early yesterday evening I managed to push across the line and ding 30 while in one of those Haukke Manor runs.  After that it was chasing down two different job quests and learning how to be both a Scholar and a Summoner.  The thing that I did not initially realize was the fact that the two Carby summons ultimately become the Faerie summons.  I guess this makes sense, as without them somehow overwriting those low level abilities there would be no way for the job to scale down and effectively heal low level content.  The other thing that I was not really expecting was how “un-healer-like” low level instances ultimately felt.  My first dungeon as a Scholar ended up being Halitali… where I have exactly one useful heal button.  So instead I just made sure I was standing next to the tank and dotted everything up.  I am not sure when the class feels more “healer-ly” but until then I am just pretending I am still playing an Arcanist.

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The other shocker for me was just how relatively easy the Summoner job quest ended up being.  As you can tell by the Summon III icon, I had to fight Ifrit and after fighting him in several different versions… I have to say it was way easier than I expected it to be.  I cast dots on all of the things, and then eventually he fell over…  which I am guessing is how summoners are supposed to play?  This play style is just so weird to me because it feels oddly passive.  Maybe a better way of putting it is it feels like I am playing a completely different game than the rest of the people in my group.  Much of the time leveling to 30 was spent tabbing through targets, applying dots, and then tabbing back to the first one to reapply dots after I had finished one circuit of the mobs.  This just doesn’t feel natural to me I guess because it feels like the sort of triage that I do as a healer…  but to damage all the mobs rather than heal all the players.  I guess the truth is that I have never really successfully played a damage over time class, and it almost makes me want to fire up and play my Warlock again to see if this new outlook makes that class more enjoyable.  In any case I now have a Scholar so I can begin leveling that through the instant duty finder queue.  I should try and catch up to Tzi and Rylacus and run up with them.

Wildstar Woes

Crack Dealer

So my reputation as a gaming crack dealer is intact, as I spent part of yesterday teaching another gamer to play Magic: The Gathering.  I guess it is fitting that we taught him at a Math Conference, considering it was invented by a mathematician.  In my defense this time, the attendee asked for someone to tutor him in the ways of planeswalking, and considering I was not actually attending sessions but instead just waiting around to be needed, I volunteered.  We met yesterday morning at 9:30 in the third floor commons area and I brought my patented “box o’ decks”.  @Jay2thaVee was a complete rookie to the concepts of magic and had not purchased any decks.  Thankfully I had left a few of the various $14 starters I have picked up in their original states, as those are pretty much the easiest way to learn.

Unfortunately I take “devotion to black” seriously, and every single deck in my box save for one had black somehow mixed into it.  He played a white/black nyx prebuilt, and I was playing a black/blue theros prebuilt.  Basically for the first game I played with my hand on the table, so he could see what exactly I was doing and when I was doing it.  Additionally every so often when he seemed to lack a play I would nudge him a little bit to explain how the cards in his hand might be useful.  By the time we got around to the second match he was up and running and ready to kick ass… and in fact he did just that.  The second match was excellent in that it showed just how quickly fate can change with the play of the right cards.  We both had cards in play that helped us soak back up some health in each upkeep so for a long time we were in a bit of a stalemate as I could only do as little more damage than he could heal up each round.

Thanks to an artifact that gave all of my creatures lifelink I was able to soak up quite a bit of health during this long drawn out stalemate.  At this point I was starting to get a creature advantage on him as well as a health advantage.  Then with a single play he rocked my world.  Granted I had to explain how good the card he held in his hand was, and why he should play it… but when he plunked down Banishing Light.  Now I must have been extremely tired or something, but I completely misread the card yesterday when we were playing.  It says banish “target” and for some reason I read that as “all” non-land permanents.  So I played it as though it was a complete board wipe, which made the game more interesting.  He began to make progress on chipping down my extremely high health pool which was like 32 or something similar at that point.

Then I get the big guns onto the board with my Abhorrent Overlord.  So I once again start whittling down his health at the same time as he chips away mine.  I do 6 health, he regens 2, and so on until we get to a point where he has 11 health and a serious creature advantage on me, and I have my single big guy as he eats everything else I can get on the board and 9 health.  He manages to do 10 damage to me in one turn and it is pretty much over.  However of all the ways to learn magic this is one of the better matches I have played.  It shows just how tentative a lead can be at any point in the game.  When we misplayed the banish card, it looked like the game was over… but had i not had several rounds of getting crap to play I could have maybe pushed back to get the victory.  In any case I think he is hooked and going to buy a couple of decks for he and his son to play together.  Sounds like awesome times.

Wildstar Woes

WildStar64 2014-07-26 08-21-14-508 Last night I got a rather frank question from a friend of mine regarding Wildstar.  Some time ago another friend had handed him one of the free trial codes that we got for preordering.  He just now got around to trying it a month and a half after launch.  While he enjoyed the game, it wasn’t like the most enjoyable thing he had ever played.  His question was how many of the Stalwart crew were still playing, and if he should pick it up.  He followed us into Elder Scrolls Online, and while he loves that game, he finds it extremely solemn to be playing by himself all the time.  The big thing is that he didn’t want to jump into Wildstar and it to be the same experience for him.  His question was, should he buy the game.  Now I could have put the hard sell on him and lead him down a path that would have ultimately lead to disappointment…  but I was honest with him.

For the most part in the circle of friends that he is part of… Wildstar has come and gone.  There are a few of us who log in periodically but this game had probably the briefest of “glory days” of any title we have played to date.  I only made it to 26 before slowing down and to the best of my knowledge none of us actually made it to the level cap.  I enjoyed aspects of the game, namely the dungeons…  but for whatever reason as much as I should love this game… the drive to play it was just missing.  I am still piddling around, this time on the Exiles side on Evindra but running into the same lack of drive to log in.  Everything about this game should be something that I really enjoy, and you could not ask for a better community team or company supporting it.  But when I ask myself what I want to play in a given night, this game never seems to come up on its own.  To be honest most of the time I was leveling my Chua Engineer it was the boom boxes that kept me logging in every night more than anything else.

So while I think there is a great game here, I had to be honest with him that he probably should give it a pass if he is only interested in playing with the Stalwart/Masks crew.  I think one of the things that really hurt this title was the fact that we simply rolled on the wrong faction for the wrong server.  Dominion side on Evindra is dead… like when I got to Whitevale I sat around for two hours waiting for someone else to wander by so I could take out one of the world mini-bosses and not so much as another adventurer came by at any point during that time.  To be truthful it feels like wandering around Illium you might see a dozen other players at any given point, whereas on the Exiles side you are constantly bumping into people.  The problem is with only 6 slots per server, it really negates the concept of playing both factions.  Within a few days all of the people who were primarily Exile, had deleted their Dominion alts to free up space for more Exiles.

So once again we are stuck at the problem of having all of my time devoted into what has essentially become a non-starter character.  So when confronted with the idea of re-rolling…  I just can’t be bothered to put much effort towards it.  Ultimately if my immediate circle of friends is not playing…  then what exactly am I rushing around to get leveled to be able to do?  I am sure I could roll with any number of the guilds on the exiles side, but I just am not sure if I have the social oomph left in me to start from scratch without being able to rely on the folks I hang out nightly with on voice chat.  I feel like Wildstar might have run its course through the internet as well.  I am seeing a lot of folks who claimed diehard loyalty to the game “taking a break”, which we all know is the beginning salvo in the “quitting the game” conversation.  I am not ready to cancel my subscription yet, but I am just struggling to find reason to log in.

Dragooning It Up

ffxiv 2014-07-26 08-06-32-335 Lately I have been back playing quite a bit of Final Fantasy XIV.  I feel like I parted with that game on really good terms and it has always been extremely charming.  When not working on hunts I have been working on leveling the dragoon.  If we can convince a repeat of the other night to happen, when we all logged in to run a dungeon, that place me playing a DPS character.  Ashgar unfortunately only has two tanks to 50, and I have a Warrior and a Bard.  That said I have never really felt deeply connected with the bard.  It does amazing damage and is super useful, and mostly was easy to level through Fates.  The class I would far rather play dps wise is the Dragoon, so lately I have been taking advantage of the Duty Roulette option and running some random dungeons.  I have to say the groups I am getting randomly are actually extremely friendly and communicative.  I feel like maybe this game has crossed the threshold of shedding all of the folks who were caustic and toxic… and now really has devoted fans left.

I guess the real challenge will be what this game feels like trying to tank it with random groups.  At some point I will work up the nerve and tank a random as my Gladiator seeing as I would really love to get to Paladin conversion levels.  There is still a lot to like in this game, and it is the only Asian inspired title that has managed to create a male character I actually enjoy playing.  There are proper beards here, and you have options other than “pretty boy” as far as facial features go.  We will see how long it take for me to get this game out of my system this time, but so far I am really enjoying myself.  I feel like at some point I need to dig up a list of what all new content is available, as there have been three rather large patches since I last played the game regularly.  FFXIV is pretty horrible about advertising what is new from the game interface itself, so I think there are probably some other ways to level that I am just missing.

#MagicTheGathering #FFXIV #Wildstar

Moon Raider

Edition Madness

2014-07-22 06_07_13-Save 81% on Two Worlds II_ Velvet Edition on Steam I feel like the colorful descriptors that companies tack onto iterative versions of games has hit an all time low.  Since the 80s we have been forced to play a progressively extreme number of versions of a game.  During the 90s the Street Fighter franchise for example proved to us all of the ways it could not actually count to 3.  We’ve suffered through Super, Hyper, Ultra, Zero, Alpha, Game of the Year, Ultimate, Legendary and innumerable other hardcore and extreme versions of the games we love.  This morning as I idly checked Steam I spotted something that made my eye stop dead over it.  We really have a game that is a “Velvet Edition”?  What is next suede or cordura?

I keep thinking maybe this is a translation error somehow, but “Samten” doesn’t really sound much better.  Maybe it is me, and I just have a negative connotation towards the word velvet, and maybe it is completely normal for someone to use that word in place of say “deluxe”.  This is just a first for me, and I think maybe this whole descriptor thing has gone a bit far if we have arrived at fabrics now.  I mean even though “game of the year” bundles are completely inappropriately named, considering very few of them have actually won a “game of the year” award…  at least for awhile they were something standardized.  I personally would rather they go with something like “complete edition” considering that is what we are talking about… the version that includes all the damned DLC in one place.  Though I guess game companies would probably frown on admitting they have been rationing game content to us for years.

Moon Raider

WolfNewOrder_x64 2014-07-21 21-02-13-441 We had a few errands to run last night, and by the time I got home I was not sure what exactly to play for the evening.  Since this weekends podcast, Kodra has been urging me to finish up Wolfenstein so he could have someone to talk about it with.  So I opted to work on that, and while I did not quite make it through the game I figure I am pretty close to the ending.  I suffered a series of technical difficulties where I would crash out and have to load back in restarting me at the previous save point.  When this happened the last time I figured I would call it a night, as it seemed like I was probably going to have to repeat a significant chunk of the previous level.  It seems to be related to when I go into a cutscene and then come back out of it.

WolfNewOrder_x64 2014-07-21 21-50-29-397 It is really hard to find screenshots that I can show off that don’t really give away anything major about the game.  Well other than the fact that you get to experience Nazi’s on the moon…  but that doesn’t really give much away plot wise.  I feel like that is the aspect of the game I enjoy the most is seeing how this alternate reality evolved without the influence of the United States.  So much of everything we experience today is because of the global export of American goods and American values.  As a culture we have had a death grip on the entertainment industry and the internet as well… and as a result everything that comes from other countries often feels like an odd remix of something we would see in the United States.  So to see this reality that evolved entirely in a different direction is interesting to me.  I applaud the level designers because all of the little details feel like they come from a completely different place.

WolfNewOrder_x64 2014-07-21 21-05-26-813 This game is definitely going to warrant a second play through, because there is a single decision that you make early on that causes the game to go in different enough directions that from that point on the chapters of the game branch depending on your choice made.  It seems that Kodra and I picked completely different routes, and I think it will be interesting to talk about the differences between them.  I don’t feel like this is probably a discussion we can really have on AggroChat because it would be impossible to do this in a way that is not spoilerific.  I really hope all of you took advantage of the QuakeCon pricing and picked up this awesome game when it was essentially half price.  I have a feeling that this game is going to experience quite a bit of third party modding, and I hope that sooner or later they bring out a multiplayer addon.  One of the more enjoyable game play and narrative experiences I have had in awhile.

Sparse Next Few Days

The next few days are going to be interesting for me.  Today is technically my last day at work this week, but just because I am off does not mean I won’t actually be working harder.  My wife is part of a crew putting on a mathematics conference here in town, and I have opted to take off from work to help her with it.  I know Wednesday for example I will be operating an impromptu shuttle service, and then the other days I will likely be filling in a tech support role and general “gopher”.  With all of these constraints it will be interesting to see what I end up blogging about, as I doubt I will be playing that many games.

Magic-2015-M15-Core-Set-Fat-Pack That said it sounds like at least one of the conference attendees is a Magic the Gathering fan, so I will be bringing up a box of decks just in case that happens.  Speaking of Magic…  I really have no clue what Wizards of the Coast was thinking when they came up with the 2015 product designs.  Once upon a time the off brand products that you can get in your grocery store that are branded as Always Save or Best Choice or even Sam’s Choice were simply called “Generic”.  They featured white labels with start sans-serif writing on them, similar to government commodities.  So I cannot look at this magic the gathering set without thinking “oh its generic magic”.  I feel like we arrived at this point out of some sort of hipster minimalist design ethic…  but yeah it is just not working for me.  I guess they have used every other color of the rainbow lately for the primary theme of a set…  so sooner or later they were going to get around to white.

It will be interesting to see how the next few days shake out.  Likely you will be getting some more personal posts.  Right now the plan is to take my laptop and work on editing my NaNoWriMo novel between times I am needed.  The only problem with this is that the guest wifi at the school is horrible.  My phone will allow me to tether to it, but not sure how much I can do that without AT&T getting pissy with me.  We are grandfathered in on one of the unlimited plans, and I don’t really want to do much to jeopardize that.  The positive is that the Galaxy S5 shipped with unlocked tethering software, and it is not like I had to do anything to get it up and running.  I just expect that all of the websites I would want to look at would be blocked without it.

#Wolfenstein #MagicTheGathering

Let There Be Rangers

Dabbling with Danger

ReaperCounter At work there are a bunch of us who have at one point or another played Magic: The Gathering.  I don’t play the game regularly, because I simply do not have the time to commit to going to a shop regularly to play.  However I still love playing the game, and it is wrapped up in so much nostalgia for me.  My first starter deck was from unlimited, and I dabbled a bit here and there through Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and started getting serious about the time revised came out.  I played super actively until the launch of Ice Age and then for one reason or another got out of it.  At that point I was really into the World of Darkness games, and was doing far more pen and paper than magic…  also I started college and seemed to have far less disposable money.

I flirted with the game again my Senior year, because there was this great culture at the local game shop.  I came in at the tail end of Mirage, played through Visions and was super involved with Weatherlight…  probably my favorite expansion to date.  When I left college I also left the community I liked hanging out with an playing magic regularly, so I stopped playing again.  Since then I have picked up the occasional pack of cards to see what was new, but never really got involved with the game again. That was until I found out that we had a bunch of former magic players at work, and I thought it would be awesome to foster a sort of lunchtime M:TG group.  Yesterday I got to break this awesome reaper miniature again, as I tutored my friend Rae through her first game of Magic.  This could end in madness, but my hopes is that we can just develop a casual magic culture to hang out and enjoy.

The Ancient Library

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 18-45-43-676 Last night while waiting on the pizza to arrive and Elder Scrolls Online to patch, I decided to attempt to play some more Final Fantasy 5.  I had a near mishap where I thought for a moment I had lost my saved game and had to revert back to a period of time when I was still in white mage hell.  However that was not the case, and I managed to restore back and get to where I should have been.  I kinda went crazy at one point and ground my way to 19… which means that in order to be safe for the Ancient Library I needed to be at least 21.  So most of the time waiting on the Pizza was spent grinding aimlessly trying to get the last two levels so I could start my quest proper.  You might ask why I need to be 21?

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 19-05-58-456 If you enter the Library of Ancients, there are various creatures that can cast the dreaded Level 5 Death spell.  This will target any character with a level that is a multiple of 5, aka ending in 5 or 0 and pretty much instant kill them.  This means in order to be safe you have to enter the library at something OTHER than that.  Now if you have a Blue Mage, you want to de-synchronize your party so that you have exactly one party member at a “5” level so you can learn it.  Both fortunately and unfortunately I do not have one so I just needed to be safe as I finished the library.  The above monster is Byblos the guardian of the library, and I found him pretty easy considering I had ground to a much higher level than you normally need for the encounter.  Most people natively get here around 15, so at 21 I was significantly higher.

Goodbye Ship, Hello Chocobo

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 20-25-15-748 Final Fantasy 5 is a story about destroying modes of transportation and then curiously finding a new one to replace them.  After the library you find new information that allows the fire-powered-ship to start moving again without the power of the fire crystal.  Unfortunately as you move to your next destination you encounter an earthquake and the fire-powered-ship gets sucked into a giant whirlpool.  Conveniently you just happen to be on an island that just happens to have a Black Chocobo Forest.  I know from lore that these are Black Chocobo, but I will be damned if this one is not pink…  so you pilot your Pink Chocobo around the world visiting all the destinations that you missed and picking up any gear or spells that you might need.

Let There Be Rangers

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 20-41-32-722 The big takeaway from the encounter with the Pink Chocobo, is that it had the last two fire crystal jobs stuck in its gullet.  One of which was the Ranger job that I had been waiting patiently for.  This means from this point out I must have a White Mage, Mystic Knight and Ranger in the party at all times.  I opted to shift Faris and Galuf to rangers in order to teach them the Rapid Fire ability as soon as I could.  Basically you enter a period where you can reach most of the world so it is a great time to finish up anything you left unfinished.  I headed up to Istory and went ahead and defeated Ramuh for example.  Since I do not have a summoner in my party, this was a completely optional step… but Ramuh is generally my favorite of the espers so I figured I would go ahead and fight him.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 21-04-59-953 Once finished messing around the room I proceeded with opening the way to the Tower of Ruin.  The desert area is one of my least favorite, mostly because the sandworm fight is a pain in the butt.  Considering my party composition, it was not really technically difficult, just annoying in that the Sandworm jumps between one of three holes on the screen.  You don’t target the worm itself, but instead the hole it came out of, this means that more often than not you can target a hole and it might have moved before the attack lands.  With the white mage, I was able to heal through anything the worm could throw at me, and it was simply a matter of wearing it down.  Mostly this just meant that my rangers could not benefit from their !Aim ability, as it took way too long for it to actually resolve the damage.

Airship Go!

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 21-25-01-826 Once you complete the Tower of Ruin you get rewarded with access to the airship, and find out that your fire-powered-ship didn’t get destroyed, but instead fell into a chamber underneath crescent isle.  Now you have this really awesome base that you can launch either the fire-powered-ship or airship out of.  You end up faffing about running several mini missions all in the effort of trying to teach your airship how to flight higher to reach the earth shrine that has been elevated up into the air by the power of yet another crystal draining… and ultimately crystal destroying machine.  We are nearing the sequence of events that I hate each time I play this game.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 21-56-13-507 The Earth Shrine is guarded by four missile launchers and the extremely frustrating boss Soul Cannon.  This is the point at which I stopped playing for the night.  I made an attempt at the missile launcher fights, and while I managed to get through one of them… I didn’t back out and save like I should have.  The big problem with the fights are the “rocket punch” attacks that cause your characters to go confused, and the Rocket Launcher that is an insanely nasty percentage based attack.  Thing is if I can get enough time to Spellblade, the Rocket Launchers drop fast but I seem to spend my entire time trying to heal up and un-confuse my party.  If I am struggling with the Rocket Launchers I have having trouble fathoming just how bad the Soul Cannon encounter will be.  I am thinking this might be time to grind again and get a level advantage.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-22 21-53-29-154 Being 22 has allowed me to just steamroll the encounters leading up to this one, but that level gap has closed on me.  So I am thinking I will spend some time over the weekend watching TV and grinding away to build back up a buffer.  Additionally I would really like it if most of my characters had Rapidfire as an option for the Soul Cannon encounter.  I think I got through it during last years Four Job Fiesta by double casting lightning attacks, so if I can get two Mystic Knights with Rapidfire I might be able to do the same kind of trickery.  Spellblade is a super powerful ability, but it sucks in that it takes one turn to cast in which you essentially do nothing.  The Soul Cannon sequence is one of the big hurdles that most players get hung up on, so I don’t feel too bad that I am having to rethink my strategy before moving forward.  I am sure with the Black Mage/Red Mage combo Kodra was able to just absolutely destroy it.  What I really need is a bunch of Ribbons, but I think at this point in the game I only have access to the one I have.

#FF5 #FinalFantasy #MagicTheGathering #MTG

Hearthstone

Battle of Cards

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I am getting around super late this morning to make a blog post.  On a whim I decided to take Friday off, since for my wife it was her fall break.  I figured the two of us could hang out around the house or do whatever.  Then over night I noticed a rather frantic message from my boss.  It seems like after 5 his boss had requested something by noon today… that would involve a lot of feedback and information from us worker bees.  So as a result I got up around 8 am, got dressed, went out and grabbed breakfast and have been remote into work for the last hour working on the list of information.  As a result… my normal early morning post is delayed.

Yesterday I was extremely pumped to get home, because over night I seemed to have received an email from Blizzard saying that my account had finally been flagged for the Hearthstone beta process.  Since everyone and their brother is live streaming this on Twitch… I am assuming there is no actual NDA going on… or at least not one currently enforced.  So as a result I snapped multiple pictures last night as I played and will be weaving them in here and there.  I have to admit I went into this a bit skeptical… not really sure if I would like it or not.  From the video I had seen, everything about the game feels rushed much like a LFG dungeon group.  Even though you rarely think more than one round ahead… there is still a lot of strategy going on.

The Education

 

Day[9] has a really good series of videos walking through his first experience with the game, and I highly suggest you watch it if you are curious about how you get into the game.  Basically Blizzard has done an amazing job of user education, in that to get started in the game you HAVE to play through a tutorial.  Fortunately it does a really good job of slowly introducing you into the various mechanics, and as a result you can pick up the strategy of the game extremely quickly.  You play through a series of NPC card fights…starting with Hogger and finishing with an Azerothian Super Villain that I won’t spoil for now.

Once you have finished with the tutorial it has taught you basically everything there is to know about the Mage deck.  Essentially the decks are all themed after one of the World of Warcraft classes.  I notice that Deathknight is conspicuously absent… so they must be intending to add that in as an expansion opportunity.   For those who are familiar with the Duel of the Planeswalkers series of MTG games for consoles and steam… you will be used to the way you progress from here.  Now you can take your mage deck and challenge the other classes, by defeating them you unlock the ability to play as that class.

The Sticky-ness

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The biggest surprise for me is just how sticky this game was.  I got home around 5 pm and started playing around 5:30.  I ended up playing this game without pause until around 9:30.. and only then because some guild members needed me to tank a FFXIV dungeon run.  I have to say that is fairly unheard of for me, when it comes to card games.  I have copies of all of the Duel of the Planeswalker games that have been released, but have maybe logged 50 hours total among ALL of them.  There was just something about the physical card game experience that never quite translated to the online version.

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Last night over the course of the evening, I managed to unlock all of the different class decks.  At various points through the evening I was rewarded with either gold or actual packs of cards.  The game uses a quest like system to give you little goals to work towards.  If you look above you can see that in the screenshot I have 2 of the 3 wins needed to earn 10 gold.  There was another quest I had to level one of the classes to 10, and in doing so I unlocked a pack of cards.  Essentially it seems like there are two kinds of cards you can get… Basic cards that are unlocked through completing quests and scenarios and leveling… and Expert cards that are unlocked through either purchasing or winning packs of cards.

The Money

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Since this game is free to play, you have to be asking yourself… where do they make money.  Well like always with any card game it is in the packs.  I took a screenshot of the current store interface.  You will notice that the packs that be bought with either in game gold currency that you earn by completing achievements or be purchased with real world currency.  You can purchase a single pack with 100 gold, 2 packs for $2.99 ($1.49 each), 7 packs for $9.99 ($1.42 each), 15 packs for $19.99 ($1.32 each) or 40 packs for $49.99 ($1.24 each).  So as you can see in buying in bulk like you would expect you keep getting more and more of a discount on the per pack price.

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Through the course of play last night I earned 5 packs of cards either through a combination of gold or actually winning the packs outright.  I have to say the sound design and animation are amazing… and really capture the same excitement of opening a real pack of cards.  You can double click the pack to open it… or for a more tactile experience drag it open.  Similarly all five cards in a pack come flying out onto the screen… but do so face down.  This allows you to flip them over one by one similar to sifting through a physical pack of cards.  They know their audience well and have put in a number of tactile hooks to increase the sense of suspense to see if you have something good or not.

Versus Players

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Currently you have the option of playing progressively harder NPC decks, or setting out and playing some physical players.  Quite honestly I have found playing players a bit easier than playing the expert decks.  There are two PVP modes of play… the first of which is simply building a custom deck and then taking it on the road to fight against other players.  The second of which is the Arena, which serves as this games “draft” mode, giving both a more random experience but also potentially a more balanced one.

I am not sure if this regenerates but you get at least one free Arena token, after that it appears to either cost 150 in game gold or $1.99 to unlock additional tokens.  In the Arena you choose a class and then are presented with a series of three cards.  The card you keep goes into your arena deck, and the other two are discarded.  This continues on until you have chosen 30 cards for your deck.  An Arena deck lasts until you have lost three times.  At the end of the match you are rewarded based on how well you did.  For me I got 2 sacks of gold 2 packs of cards and a rare paladin card for playing.  I won three times and lost three times.

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The interesting thing about the Arena is the fact that you don’t have to play it all in one sitting.  So long as you have not lost your three matches you can continue playing arena.  There is some bar of gems that fills up each time you win, but I am not 100% certain how that works.  You might get punted out of the Arena if you win too often as well.  Last night I played through a single arena match and then was off playing custom games with players.  My little hunter deck seems to be doing pretty well, so I will likely return to doing some of that today.  I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised in just how good of a game Hearthstone is.

Party Like it’s 1995

Flashbacks

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I have been fairly oblivious to the world for the last few days, and as a result I had fallen behind on my news reader.  The thing that I found most interesting was this article on Massively talking about a potential League of Legends Universe online TCG.  I feel like I would love any game set in the League universe that is not League.  The world they have built up around the MOBA has some pretty awesome lore, and in part that is why I continue to play the game in spite of my problems with the control scheme.  My friends and I have talked about how successful we thought a single player game would be set in that world, but I could see an online TCG working as well.

Party Like It’s 1995

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A friend and I were talking about this news, and he made the comment that it is 1995 all over again.  In a way that is exactly what it seems like to me as well.  For those who were not part of that scene during the TCG boom during the mid 90s… suffice to say every potentially marketable property got made into a card game.  I like a sucker probably played most of them out of sheer love and nostalgia for Magic the Gathering the one that started it all.  Some of them stuck around and gained a life of their own like Pokémon or Yugioh because they were driven by external motivators… and some were really amazing and died on the vine like Rage and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.

However during the 90s… you could find a card game for any property you wanted to play, and I think among my friends we at least bought a starter deck of most of them.  Magic the Gathering has had an online component for years, but for the most part it has never gained traction because it was arcane to get into, and Wizards of the Coast still very much favored the physical market.  In essence it was a cheap copy of a physical property and the company seemed fine with that.  What we are seeing now is a new crop of games conceived for online play, and that offer rule sets that would never really work in a physical card game.

The Next Boom

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Much like we have seen for MMOs and MOBA… we are going to see a lot of companies entering this marketplace, trying to TCG-ize their existing intellectual property.  Even though neither has released, it seems like the two leaders going into the marketplace are Hearthstone by Blizzard and Hex by their TCG business partner Cryptozoic.  While they will be competing in the same space, and have quite a bit of overlap… I feel like each of these games is going after a slightly different player.  Hearthstone is going after the “easy to learn, hard to master” demographic, with a deceptively simple mechanic that leads to extremely fast paced duels.

While I have not actually played it (hey Blizz flag my account already), I have watched more than a handful of youtube videos and live streams.  Essentially it seems like a really straight forward rage style duel mechanic.  The thing that I initially am not a huge fan of is the way that combat works.  It seems like there is no real defense mechanic, or at least not one in the way I have come to expect from Magic: The Gathering.  As a result the gameplay is extremely in your face and aggressive, but does not feel terribly nuanced.

Cryptic Gameplay

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On the other side of things you have Hex: Shards of Fate by Cryptozoic… which is a oddly fitting company name for their approach.  It feels like they are trying to be Magic: The Gathering 2.0 with an evolved rule set and extremely cryptic and nuanced gameplay.  This is the type of game you go into already at a massive debt of knowledge, but as you learn the rules and uncover strategies you are rewarded for your ability to assimilate the information.  It looks like it will support some extremely long running duels, much in the same way Magic did, with players coming back from the brink to snatch victory out of defeat.

Personally while I really want to play Hearthstone, Hex seems more my style.  It is less Pokémon and Yugioh and more Magic: The Gathering… the game that started the craze and still has a honored spot in my heart.  Currently I think there is more than enough market share for both of these games.  However all of the late comers that are creating online TCGs… are likely going to get left out in the cold the same way all the other boom economies have worked.  Mainly I don’t see anyone else bringing something truly unique to the table.  During the physical card game boom, we saw lots of different themed versions of M:TG, and to a lesser extent I figure we will see this again.

Been There Done That

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Currently both games are very fantasy oriented, so I expect the other genres to get on the act shortly.  Since DC is working on a MOBA… I fully expect to be seeing a DC themed online card game.  To be honest… the VS system that incorporated both DC and Marvel had a decent amount of success during the physical card game wars… so it might be a property worthy of resurrection in an online form.  Additionally I fully expect there to be a Star Wars themed product offering with the upcoming 7th movie entering production.  Then I am sure there will be other properties that jump on the bandwagon that we can’t even fathom being a card game…  just like last time.  The problem is… all of this has a feeling of “been there done that” for me.

I experienced this rush of excitement and crushing disappointment several times before during the 90s, as a property I cared about was turned into a truly un-inspired card game amalgam.  To some extent we are still living through this each time an MMO spins up only to sputter out a year or so later.  Another tidbit from my news feed yesterday was that Mummy Online was shutting down… I literally did not even know it existed in the first place.  So MMOs are currently coming and going without me even realizing it.  Basically I am bracing myself for a lot of shoddy card games to be released in a short period of time, trying to cash in on the “new” craze of digital collectible card games.  So as much as I look forward to Hearthstone and Hex… I am entering what I feel will be a new trend with quite a bit of trepidation.