Friday, March 13, 2015

Sid Meier's Starships - First Impressions

Spent some time with Sid Meier's Starships (once I got it working on my gaming desktop - it still crashes every few minutes on my laptop). I'm not refunding the game because I expect (as was the case with original Civ V and Beyond Earth) that it will get better, but not even the relatively-cheap price of $16 dollars makes this game worthwhile at this point. The fleet action grows quickly repetitive, because there simply aren't enough different options in combat or different components (there is Stealth, Sensors, Launch Fighters, Launch Torpedoes). Moreover, you could conceivably cram all of the different components into a big enough ship so there is little reason to build specialized ships. Heck, you can't even toggle between different weapon systems like lasers or plasma. There is a decent variety of different missions and maps but you can pretty much experience all of them in a single play through.
There is no attempt at a story or even a kind of grand narrative of Civ games and the victory conditions are a joke: it's either a tedious slog to conquer every planet on the map, or to just click end turn a few dozen times so you can buy every science advance or build the required number of cities. There is no diplomacy to speak of - there is either a state of peace or war, there are no defensive alliances, trade agreements, sneaky gang-ups, or espionage. There is no science progression either - you just buy the science advances you want, and you can just buy all of them. Furthermore, planetary improvements do not have any kind of maintenance cost so there is never any reason not to build each improvement on each planet.
Basically there is no feeling of depth or strategy to the game because you can build every improvement, research every science, construct every wonder in whatever order you want on a single playthrough (something that would be impossible in Beyond Earth and nearly impossible in Civ V). It makes me wonder why the game even provides an illusion of choice when the choice of what to build does not even matter.
Then there are the minor annoyances about the game: you cannot rename your starships or planet. When you purchase a new starship you have no control over what kind of ship you will get. The civilopedia is a joke - it is devoid of any kind of background about the setting (I was one of those rare players who enjoyed reading all the entries in Beyond Earth civilopedia), so there is no interest in the universe. The starships are never permanently destroyed (they just have to be repaired between missions) so there is never any sense of tension. Go on, the game says, if you don't feel like being tactically clever just repair your ships and try the mission again and again and again until the AI makes a mistake or you have enough resources to upgrade your ships. Much of the art and sounds are recycled from Beyond Earth. The only factions in the game are human factions - would it kill them to put in an interesting alien race to play against? And the biggest gripe is that the game could still be a fun diversion if it had multiplayer (especially local hot-seat multiplayer since it's made for tablets) but there is NO multiplayer whatsoever - online or local.
Despite all of these problems, there are some redeeming factors. The fleet battles are actually fun in small doses and feel like playing a board game. The art and graphics are very pretty, and it's fun to see how a starship grows and changes its looks throughout the game. The premise is neat and there is much potential in it. I hope Firaxis will make significant changes and/or drop the price.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

RPGs and Boardgames for sale and to give away

I'm moving and I have a bunch of RPGs and some boardgames that I no longer want to keep. Before I put them up on Ebay or on or similar websites, I'd like to get offers for these or if you'd like to keep it (good homes only!). I'm deliberately not putting prices on these, let me know what you are interested in and how much you're willing to pay and we'll talk. All of these are in mint condition unless otherwise indicated. My contact information is at the bottom of this post:

Traveller Core Rulebook (Mongoose Publishing edition, MGP 3800)
The Collected Book of Experimental Might
Iron Heroes (Malhavoc Publishing)
Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed
D20 Modern Roleplaying Game core rulebook
D20 Modern Urban Arcana Campaign Setting
D20 Modern Future source book
D20 Modern Dark Matter Campaign Setting
D20 Modern Cyberscape
D20 Modern Future Tech
D20 Modern Past source book
A Game of Thrones Boardgame (first edition)
A Game of Thrones Boardgame: A Clash of Kings expansion (first edition)
D&D 3.0 Oriental Adventures
AD&D 2nd Edition Al-Qadim campaign setting (very rare, mint condition, never touched)
D&D 3.0 Book of Exalted Deeds
D&D 3.0 Book of Vile Darkness
D&D 3.0 Manual of the Planes
D&D 3.0 Monster Manual
D&D 3.0 Dungeon Master's Guide
D&D 3.0 Player's Handbook
Privateer Press Iron Kingdoms Character Guide (this is the D20 original edition)
Privateer Press Iron Kingdoms Lier Mechanika
Privateer Press The Witchfire Trilogy Collected Edition
World of Warcraft: The Roleplaying Game (D20 version)
Shadowrun Third Edition core rulebook (used, cover is a bit scuffed)
Rifts Role-Playing Edition Core Rulebook
Weird Wars Blood on the Rhine source book (cover is scuffed)
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay  core rulebook (3rd edition)
Trigun D20 role-playing game
All Flesh Must Be Eaten core rulebook
Burning Wheel pack (the system book and the character guide book)
Plus a whole bunch of No Quarter magazines and older (pre-4th edition) Dragon and Dungeon magazines
Also various D&D miniatures, some were pre-painted, some are unpainted, some are painted by yours truly.

If interested, drop me a line:
skype: arseni.kritchever

Friday, August 23, 2013

Even more boardgames!

Another couple of weeks have gone by, so I have had a chance to try out a few more boardgames in the meantime. So in no particular order:

Sentinels of the Multiverse
A fairly complex non-collectible card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse is not at all like the extremely popular deck building games (Dominion, Ascension, etc.) In Sentinels of the Multiverse, each player takes on a role of a superhero, all of which are thinly veiled DC and Marvel heroes. So there is a Batman type, Iron Man type, The Flash, and a few more original ones. The hero is represented by a deck, each card might be an action, a power, a piece of gear. The heroes are working together to defeat the villain, also represented by its own deck which cycles automatically - so it's very much a cooperative game. To complicate matters further, there is also an environment deck that might hinder or help the heroes and the villain. On each turn, a player can play a card, use a power (activate a card that's already in play) and draw two cards. The goal is to destroy the villain, which usually (but not always I believe) involves getting rid of his/her/its hit points. I definitely liked the art of the game, and the way the art and gameplay and card text reinforce the theme of the game - I had a lot of fun just kind of imagining the situations and the plot. On the other hand, it's hard to plan a strategy in this game due to the randomness of card draws, and new players (such as myself) will be uncertain of what their hero is capable of. Furthermore, the unfortunate truth about Sentinels of the Multiverse is that most of the time a player will be either spamming the same power every turn, or will pull off a dizzying chain of actions (some decks have cards that grant extra actions) that takes a while to resolve. It is still a fun game at times, but I'm not convinced that it is a good one.

Smash Up
Another card game we tried is Smash Up. In this game, each player selects two decks and smashes them together. So I played Russian bear cavalry dinosaurs, another player played Ninja Wizards, another player smashes aliens and faeries together - you get the idea. After each player creates his deck, four locations are revealed and the players attack these locations to score victory points, in the process destroying, stunning, or moving around their opponents' cards. The art is hilarious, the premise is silly in a good way, and the game is fairly easy to learn and can be played quickly. Because the maximum hand size is 10 (I think), some planning ahead is possible. However, once again, new players will be at somewhat of a loss as to what their decks can be capable of, and will be unsure of what their opponents' cards do. There is also not a great diversity of cards within each deck, so expect to play the same cards over and over again (I have how many robot velociraptors?!). Finally, it seemed to me that some decks just had an unfair advantage or could consistently outplay other decks - maybe it was just the smashups we tried, I'd need to play it more to be sure.

I love love love this game. It's so incredibly well designed, fun to play, and beautiful, with a great deal of replay value. In a nutshell Archipelago is a bit like a blend of Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Game of Thrones. Phewph, that's a mouthful. What is actually is, is a game of exploration, worker and action placement, resource management and intrigue. Players explore an archipelago by placing huge hexagonal tiles which have resources and native huts on them. Native huts increase surplus population which makes buying workers cheaper, but also increases discontent. Players can use workers to harvest resources from the discovered tiles, or construct towns, ports, markets, and churches. The trick is that they can do so even on tiles that were explored by other players, and the other trick is that EVERYTHING can be traded in this game at any time. It may seem that other players are your competition, but then a crisis card gets drawn (yes, there are also cards) and suddenly everyone is scrambling to work together and trade resources to resolve a crisis, because if you don't then the number of rebels begin to grow. If the number of rebels is ever greater than the number of citizens constructed by the players, then EVERYONE LOSES. So you're working together after all? No! Because each player is given a secret card at the beginning of the game, each card has a condition for a game end and a secret winning objective. So you don't know what other players are trying to achieve, and to make things worse one of the players may secretly be a Sympathizer - if the rebels win, everyone loses EXCEPT the Sympathizer! He wins! The game creators call Archipelago a semi-cooperative game, and it very much is. There is no war, you can't construct armies, and yet the game is filled with tense intrigue, alliances and negotiations, and backstabbing. Plus, there are three different decks of objective cards - short game, medium game, long game. A short game can be completed in under an hour, a medium game can be completed in under two hours, and a long game can last as long as three to four hours. Because of these random secret objectives, no game is ever the same. And I'm just scratching the surface here, because there is so so so much more to this game: progress and character cards, market trend cards, domestic and international markets, wonders, and more! And did I mention how gorgeous the pieces are? Anyway, Archipelago is not a cheap game, but I think it's one of my most favourite board games now.

Galaxy Truckers
This is a game I really really want to like, and maybe I will eventually. A lot of other reviewers and players rave about how fun this game is. The premise is that each player builds a haphazard spaceship out of spare parts and then races around the galaxy trying to collect and deliver cargo while pieces of the ship are being blown off by pirates, asteroids and whatnot. The game has three rounds. In each round the players will build progressively bigger and more complicated ships, by quickly looking through a huge pile of face-down tiles that represent engines, crew quarters, weapons, shields, cargo holds, etc. The catch is that they have a limited time to do so, and they're competing with other players for tiles. After the ship is constructed, players criticize each other's ships, trying to find flaws and mistakes - so your ship might lose parts before you even launch it! After all players agree on each other's ships, they are launched. Events are drawn from a pile of cards, these events might give cargo, or slow down the ship, or simulate attacks on the ship. After there are no more events, the players score their cargo (and other victory point conditions), and then start anew, by building a bigger, better ship. I can see how it can be silly fun - it's very much a 'beer and pretzels' game - and the randomization of events adds to the replay value, but it is also strangely unforgiving. Build your ship wrong, draw a particularly nasty event, have an unlucky dice roll, and you're screwed for the rest of the game. Maybe you can make it back in the next round, but it's unlikely. Unlike Archipelago where you never feel like you're falling behind everyone else and where you are constantly doing something and having fun, Galaxy Truckers can quickly turn boring and frustrating if luck and rules go against you. A lot of people really like this game, but I would not recommend it.

Well, that's that. As I am returning to Toronto next week, I will be trying out new games at Snakes and Lattes instead, so hopefully I'll have time to do more mini-reviews soon!