Saturday, 28 May 2016

Statecraft - Pre-Kickstarter review

The nice folks at ITB Games recently got in touch about their upcoming game Statecraft and the pitch was interesting enough for me to cut out a couple of hundred cards and give it a play! A game of politics and politicians it didn't sound like anything else I had played recently and so I ventured to Tabletop Cafe to recruit a few volunteers to help me out.

I'll say straight off the bat that we did get some rules wrong, but that I have now clarified those with the designer and that the points we tripped up on will be much clearer in the final release. I also took some photos of play but they have gone the way of the ether! I've nab some setup photos from ITB's site to give you an idea as we go.

It looks something like this midgame.
Statecraft revolves around it's Scenarios, the introductory one being about a good old Democratic Election. Each scenario gives you a certain number of supporters you can try and rally to your cause, a number of politicians you get to look at when recruiting and the win condition as well, which is usually about the number of supporters you can recruit.

You start off with a tracker and a party leader. The trackers keep track, surprisingly enough, of your budget, the turn number and most importantly, what policies your party is currently favouring. You have 4 types of politics Socialism, Capitalism, Anarchism and Authoritarianism. Initially you will start out with 0 points in all of these, but soon you will start declaring policies and this is where the fun begins.

At the start of the game you draw 3 cards from the Policies and actions deck. Actions are your fairly typical muck around with the rules of the game stuff but the policies are where the meat of the game lies. On your turn you can announce or denounce a policy from your hand. To do this you simply slide it under the top (announce) or bottom (denounce) of the politician you choose to deal with that policy, the only caveat being that they have to have at least one symbol that matches the policy in question.

When a policy is announced you slide your trackers up the points indicated on the card for the 4 types and adjust your budget up or down depending on what the card says. When you denounce a policy you do the opposite. Each supporter has a bunch of demands on it saying they like at least x in Capitalism or will tolerate no more than y Anarchism. If at any point during your turn you match these demands you can add the supporter to your pool, stepping closer to victory.

Now you only start out with a leader so at some point you are also going to want to recruit some other politicians. In order to do this you discard a card from hand, your hand is fairly limited so this puts a nice control on what you can do in a turn, and draw 3 politicians. These can be anything from junior flunkies to President Obama. Yep you heard me right. Junior politicians can be added straight away to your cabinet but senior politicians can only be recruited by the empty seats of a junior politician. Out of the way junior, Obama is coming through!

Like this!

So these new politicians can announce and denounce their own policies allowing you to really ramp up your campaign. The tableau building you do here is really fun and I loved the little stories that emerged from, for instance, Obama announcing privatised healthcare whilst denouncing the NHS. The supporters in the pool really push you towards certain policies meaning you might end up with a hilariously horrible government that wins all the same. Really neat. Oh policy cards are also double ended so they have 2 opposing policies on each card allowing for even more variation.

Now one of the rules we got wrong was that we refreshed the supporter pool when one was taken, which we shouldn't have. I can see how that would change the game into more of a battle which I really like as the way we played it I kind of steamrollered everyone in the opening scenario.

Our second game introduced the Events and Emergencies deck. Oh boy that deck. You split this deck into 3 then shuffle 1,2 or 3 piles into the policies and actions deck depending on how chaotic you want things to go. If someone is forced to draw one of these cards that means that it resolves causing each player to make a choice from it, hitting the Incumbent, the player with the most supporters at the time, for something or maybe just plunging the world into a global pandemic. You know, small stuff. This can greatly shake up the game and provide a really interesting element you have to work around as you fulfil the goal on your scenario.

The other thing we got to play with in our second game was the Advanced rules set. This is the game as it is meant to be played and it certainly shakes things up. In the intro scenario we found that once a player had a supporter there was nothing you could really do to snatch them away. Now however as your policies shifted about if your supporters were no longer satisfied they could be snatched away to someone with a more appealing manifesto. We could also fire politicians who no longer served our purposes giving us their policy cards back to hand that could be used to power other actions. This opens up a whole new level of play and a really interesting one as you now have a lot more things to consider as you manipulate the electorate!

I really enjoyed Statecraft and it appeals to the part of me that loves games where stories emerge as you play. This has always been a love of mine and the interesting tableau building here definitely scratches that itch for me. The artwork is really neat and the overall graphic design suits the nature of the game down to a tee. True we ran into a few rules problems, but the designer has been very receptive to my questions and they were already working on an updated rulebook that answered a lot of my concerns.

If you are looking for a really engaging puzzle, where fun stories emerge as you play with a theme that is quite different to a lot of games out there, I urge you to back their Kickstarter later in the year, I know I will.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Netrunner Scottish Regional Tournament Report

This last Sunday saw me venturing through to the always excellent Settlers in Hamilton to take part in the Scottish Netrunner Regional. I have barely seen the competitive season this year but I've been enjoying the game a whole lot more so was looking forward to getting in some much needed practice.

I took a modified version of Pitchfork Hayley and the Pendragon Palana deck played in a recent tournament by my good friend Gary Bowerbank.

Round 1 vs. Graeme Plunkett

I hadn't played Graeme before and it turned out he was one of the small group of runners up in Dundee. He was corping first with a Sync deck and I was wary of getting tagged. An early Astroscript got him going but I built well until I left myself too poor for a clot like an idiot. A quick score later and that was game.

The return match saw me facing off against a Kit Stealth deck which I held my own against for a little while. He got ahead of me but I got a scoring server up with Caprice and started making inroads. A snare saw me knock out some of his econ and I started to feel in a stronger position, then disaster struck. I had him down to 1 credit and he ran on my scoring remote with an agenda and Caprice. For some unfathomable reason my brain temporarily forgot how Psi games worked and I didn't bid two to keep him out. Total idiot. 

Both games lost to misplays but enjoyable none the less

Score 0-2

Round 2 vs. Alice Rees

Alice was fresh off her Birmingham Regional victory and it was great to catch up with her since I hadn't seen her since last year's Scottish Regional. Alice was running first with Leela and I knew straight away it would be a tough game. I played it cautious, building servers up that weren't so easy to bounce but still not quite managing to keep her out of two single accesses on R&D for 4 points. The rest was easy for her as I couldn't quite build up to shooting some of her rig down. 

On the return R&D betrayed me again as I built up for a deep dig run on R&D and got Snare'd and Stimhacked in the brain. Drugs are bad!

Discussing it afterwards with Alice we agreed I had really made much in the way of misplays, just guess I'll have to Stimhack with 4 cards in hand from now on.

Score 0-4

Round 3 vs. Stefan

I'd played Stefan before in a couple of Store champs and I knew he would be bringing something interesting to the table. This was my first run against Palana in the tournament, though there did seem to be plenty about on the day. My early runs quickly established that he was up to some asset shenanigans with Team Sponsorship, Museum of History and Mumbad Temples. I managed to get Film Critic out early and stole 2 Future Perfects then hit up R&D for the last point.

Against my Palana Stefan was running Geist with the B&E suite of breakers. I built large taxing servers and managed to hit him with a Marcus Batty early to really slow him down. The appearance of Endless Hunger made things a little interesting but the porous but taxing nature of my ICE made it hard for him to get through and I scored out reasonably easily. 

Score 2-4

Round 4 vs. Jaydee

Another new opponent to me and this time I was up against Blue Sun. I was cautious against the kill and perhaps overly so as an early rezzed corporate town cost me a lot of pace. A follow up Underway Grid killed my Same Old Thing and Levy and it was a basic grind until I resigned, unable to penetrate through the barriers. I should have tried to get though to the corp town earlier and not worry so much about what 'might' be. 

I was up against a big rig Chaos Theory deck on the return matchup and I did ok taxing and hitting with the Grail Ice where I could. I think a missed Nisei token on my third last turn might have allowed me to sneak out a win and deny him an Agenda but it's hard to tell what might have happened. Our game went to a timed win in my favour. 

Score 3-5 (1 Timed win)

Round 5 vs. Alex Deas

I've known Alex for quite sometime but for some reason these days we only ever really see each other at Netrunner tournaments. 

Alex was running first with Jasminder and I knew he would probably be packing a siphon or two. Batty helped me secure the win, knocking bits of his stealth rig out as he tried to siphon me and hit R&D. A scoring server was established reasonably easily and I scored out safely with a Nisei token unfired, but not forgotten this time. 

Against his Spark deck I didn't have too much trouble but the game did drag on a little way. I had all my Fan Sites on the table before the first score which helped massively but I just couldn't quite squeeze out the final point I needed before we went to time. Another timed win for me saw me going precisely even for wins and losses 

Score 5-5 (2 Timed Wins)

I had a really fun day and didn't experience any of the tilt I had in the previous regionals. That should put me in a good place mentally for Birmingham and I'll be looking to just practice more with these two decks. 

Hayley: I'll proabably tweak this a bit and might look to run something like this at Birmingham

I am really enjoying the deck so will stick with it and I think I can do better with it than I did.

Palana: really liking the ID and playing a totally different faction. I think I will experiment with a more traditional ICE suite and maybe go a little more rushy with the type of deck but I'll have to play around and see. 

Thanks very much to everyone I played on the day and to all the folks at Settlers for looking after us all day.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

April Playtest Meetup

This Sunday last saw the latest meetup of the Edinburgh Playtest group at the always excellent Tabletop Cafe. We had missed out the last month due to both myself and my fellow host being rather busy so it was nice to get back into the swing of things and look over some designs in preperation.

I had made some fairly major changes to Conspiracy since the last session and was keen to get that back to the table to see if they would finally give me the game I was looking to create. In addition I wanted to try and get Upstart to the table, which is a new design about investing in ridiculously named tech start ups. I'll post up soon about all the stuff I'm working on along with some basic P&P files.

Anyway on the day itself we had just the 4 of us but that was enough to get through 3 designs over the course of the afternoon. Up first was Sarah back with her mining game called Oresome!

The beginning of a game of Oresome. Look at those lovely pieces!
It was great to see Sarah back again and still enthusiastic about her design. She had made some great changes to the game since I had last seen it making it feel a lot more dynamic with some more interesting choices in the movement and when to hand in your contracts. Colour coded tiles for each player were now more valuable giving you something to aim for as you moved around and the ability to hand in contracts from anywhere rather than just the central square led to a good pace of points acquisition.

Sarah balancing some ore carefully in her awesome 3D printed carts

There were some rules questions that came up for sure, and we made some 
suggestions towards rules clarifications on some of the cards, but the core dextrity part of the game I enjoyed so much last time remained and the changes made so far really helped the pace of the game. Thumbs up all round.

Next up was Conspiracy from myself and I was really hoping that the changes would lead to the puzzly game I wanted. Thankfully I was not disappointed. Since last time I had removed the control abilities, making the control position into something that could use the now single ability on each card at will. 

Not as pretty as Oresome but seems to work!
We found there were lots of nice little combos that emerged from the abilities on the cards and they led to a nice combination of 'look how awesome my move is' and 'look how awesome there move was' moments. We did grind to a slight halt once everyone had most of their agents on the board leading me to introduce a new rule to allow the extraction of already placed agents. This rounded things out nicely and this rule, along with one about taking over already controlled cards will be in the next version. Really happy with the way this game is coming together and I think it is almost baked.

As it was just myself and Sarah that had brought along designs I squeezed in a playtest of Upstart towards the end of the session. The core of the game revolves around the creation of silly named tech companies and then investing in those companies for more resources. The winner of the game is the person to float three companies first. 

Hopefully you can make out the wonderful company names being floated here.
The core of this proved suprisingly compelling first time out and people enjoyed the silly names and the secret bidding aspect. It's still got a long way to go, but it was nice to see that the fundamental idea holds promise. I'll be sitting down to write new version of the rules shortly and hope to take it to Expo with me alongside Conspiracy and Minions for further testing.

It was really nice to get testing again and I should be holding another session in a few weeks time before heading off to Expo to seek out more opportunuities. If you meet me and fancy trying a game out just let me know, especially for Conspiracy which might be at the blind testing stage.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Game Curation

I was having a conversation with my brother-in-law recently, when he said that he enjoyed the way that I curate my games collection, and it got me thinking about the way we collect and play games.

See I'm not flush with cash, I can't just buy every new hotness that comes my way and so it is that I keep my games collection small, selling what doesn't gel with my group, and trying not to overlap too much between games. I believe thoroughly that games should be bought to be played, not just collected so you can say you have the new hotness. As such I might have a game in my collection for years that fills a particular gap, only replacing it when I am sure that we have something new to fill the space it will leave. 
My modest collection, for now at least!

I am extremely lucky to have a group of friends I have played games with for years. Over that time I have come to know what they like in a game, what mechanics they will gel with, what they will reject, what will bring a smile to their face and what will leave them frustrated and bored. I curate my collection for these people, not because I let them dictate my choices but because I love playing games with them and the better I do this the more I will get them round a table: going on adventures down dungeons, fighting me for control of moon colonies or figuring out if I am about to betray them or not (hint: I probably am)

My group tends towards the thematic in games and as such there is little room in my collection for the more Euro style games. Saying that my wife prefers games that involve the building of things and not as much direct conflict as the group likes and so I also buy games that I hope I can get to the table with her.

My current collection can be judged over on Boardgamegeek here.

My point here is that games should never be considered in isolation from the environment they will be played in. is a game that sits on your shelf for years really part of your collection? If you rarely or never get a game to the table, why is it in your collection? Don't back that kickstarter just to sell it on, back it because you love the thought of getting that game round the table with friends. Maybe it won't gel, maybe it will but either way give it the respect of hitting your table at least once.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Games Hub Edinburgh Store Championship

After last week's crushing failure I ventured once more into a Store Championship with some tweaked decks in tow and a few lessons learnt. I had changed up my Corp deck a lot, focusing it more on the Glacier archetype, with a few Faust counters for good measure, and I had rolled back the changes to my Whizzard deck that hadn't gone so well the week before. You can find both decks below:

Let's see how I did

Round 1 vs. Rob

Rab and I had both bottomed out last week and were looking to redeem ourselves. I started off corping against his Whizzard and quickly realised that this was the Faust build, or near enough, that was front page of netrunnerdb this week. I didn't see a whole lot of ICE unfortunately, and what little I did see Rob made short work of. However with a bit of judicious play I managed to establish a small server and get agendas scored out before he could assault the core servers for points.

I ran against HB but just couldn't really establish much of a foothold. An early asset server behind a Turing caused me problems and an early NAPD score left me poor. I should maybe not have taken it but it's always a hard call to make that one. I managed to get up to 4 points before Rob scored out.

Points: 2

Round 2 vs. Stephen

I started out running against Stephen's Sync. I kept pressure up reasonably well, breaking in where I could and sniping agendas until I was in spitting distance of the win. Unfortunately I made an error when we were both close to winning, leaving a remote run till my second click. Turned out to be a Turing that I couldn't break and Steve psychographic'd out a GFI in the next turn. Lesson learnt!

The reverse matchup was against Noise and I had added CSV alongside the repositioning of the deck to Glacier. This  turned out to be an excellent choice and slowed down Steve's big digs at R&D. A reasonably taxing server allowed me to score out without too much bother.

Points: 4

Round 3 vs. Seamus

In shock news Seamus had abandoned his Argus deck for Haarp, and I figured pretty quickly that it was a kill deck. Careful picking around agendas and judicious use of Turntable allowed me to grab Agendas, and steal Astro tokens, from everywhere. A news team slowed me down a little, and I did miss the loss of Data Dealer, but I managed to stay ahead on credits to avoid any Sea Source nonsense and Seasmus just couldn't find his Breaking News.

Against my Sol Seamus broke out the newest shaper runner Jesminder. I knew she would have less trouble against some of my Ice and I sort of guessed that she would be running Vamp. That knowledge did not translate into better play. Despite seeing Targeted Marketing earlier on I did not select Vamp and ended up being hit for it twice before I shut it down. I managed to get up to 6 points after an early score of 4 from Seamus but he kept up the pace and pressure well and dove into R&D repeatedly for the win.

Points: 6

Round 4 vs. David

David is well known for considering all sorts of weird combos in his decks so I had no idea exactly what I was going up against. I ran first against his NEH and quickly got smacked in the face by some Grail ice. I was more cautious for the rest of the game and though I managed to get up to 6 I couldn't quite find the last point I needed to take the win, my barrier breaker alluding me. I'm seriously starting to consider an SMC over clone chip to speed the deck up more.

The reverse match saw my Sol up against David's Nasir. I knew quite a lot of my Ice would cause problems for Nasir but David played it well and kept the pressure up, leaving me looking for a window. I managed to score out a couple before he really got going but finding space to hit the last points was tricky. An artist colony in play and a fan site scored left me wondering about the clot so a GFI double advanced forced him into a run and revealed that he didn't have a clot. The Beale in my hand got scored out the following round with the astro token I had in play and that was it.

Points: 8

I did massively better than I had the week before and had some much closer games. The corp deck did well and I think I will keep testing it as is. Whizzard was a little more disappointing but felt a lot stronger and I think a bit more practice and a couple of minor tweaks will seem me doing better with it. I'll be back at Store Champs in a couple of weeks time so stay tuned for more Tales Of Amazing Failure!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Ember - Kickstarter Preview

In a first for me I have been sent a game for review that is currently on Kickstarter. Ember is the first game from District 31 and I was happy to help out a small studio with a review, having been there myself.

Ember is a game of magical students conjuring fantastical creatures. The core of the game is that as you use the cards in your hand to conjure creatures they leave the game forever, meaning that as the game progresses you have to manage your power effectively to get the most bang for your buck.

Picture of the creature cards and the deck you use to summon them. Please keep in mind that this design and art is not final.
The creatures you summon have victory points and powers on them and those abilities can be combined for powerful effects, helping you manipulate your hand to summon more powerful beasts, disabling your opponents and generally being a nuisance to your rivals. Once the draw deck is depleted the game is over and the player with the most victory points is the winner!

The cards you have in your hands are very similar to a standard playing card deck. Their are 4 elements in the game and each of those elements has 13 cards representing wizards in it. There are also 12 archmage cards in the deck that have a few uses, but we will come back to that.

Setting up the game doesn’t take very long and the instructions were nice and clear on what to do. The creatures are displayed so that everyone can see what they are worth and their abilities, of which there are many, providing lots of possibilities for you during the game.

On a player’s turn they draw up to 5 cards if they have less and can also discard 1, if at the max of 5, to get a draw. They can choose to conjure a creature, discarding cards from their hand in the variation combinations on the magical entities still on display. This will be familiar to most poker players the lowest combination being a single pair of cards of the same value the highest being a straight flush of 5 cards.

Abilities on creatures can be used against other players before or after they conjure on a turn allowing for a bit of Gotcha! style mechanics which are fun and can be combo'd up to produce some interesting effects. One of the interesting thing about creatures is that they are pretty much one use only unless you can manipulate them, so you very much have to choose your moment. The archmages I mentioned earlier can be used to defend against these attacks but are also useful to flip creatures back over and as wild cards. So do you keep them to defend or use them to attack and combo? Nice little choice.

That is basically it, a simple filler game of conjuring fantastical creature. I really like the art style and the designer has said he is looking to improve that over the course of the campaign, as some of the creatures use art from other places. We played with 3 players and two of us just went for the ‘buy the best thing you can in front of you’ strategy. This was somewhat defeated by the third player who built a little more and bought bigger creatures winning him the game, but only by a small margin. There are definitely a couple of different paths to victory here which is nice to see in such a simple game.

I've had quite a long chat with the designer about the game and he is very passionate about the project and bringing it to market at Uk Games Expo later in the year. His team seems to have a lot of experience in print publishing and design and he was very patient answering my questions and concerns about the game rules , it's development and their printing plans. Stuart left me feeling confident that any small niggles I had about rules clarity and graphical design would be addressed and I wish them every success with the game.

The game is quick, simple to pick up and has an interesting power spiral mechanic in that you have less and less cards as the game goes on. It gives a great feel of students throwing a mote of magic around, slowly depleting it as they summon creatures to one up each other, which is exactly what it promises. 

If you would like to back it, you can find the kickstarter here:

Ember Kickstarter

Friday, 12 February 2016

Black Lion Games Store Championship

Store Championship season is finally upon us in Netrunner land which means the competitive side of the game is starting to ramp up towards Nationals later in the year. Winner's of Store Championships get a first round bye at Regionals and the winners of those get a first round bye at Nationals so these are hotly contested competitions.
I was hoping to do ok running similar decks to those I had the week before, here they are:

I wanted to try out Cerebral Static as I had seen a lot of Noise at Stirling and thought it would be a decent counter to those decks.

I was playing around with adaptation of the Wooley deck using Wyldside and it had fairly well at the Stirling GNK.

Round 1: vs. Peter

Peter is our local rules guru, organiser and all round nice chap. It had been quite a while since we had played against each other but I knew that Peter was well up on the current meta.

I corped first and got a targeted marketing down to stop the siphon from Peter's leela. I failed to keep her out and after getting rid of an earlier flood couldn't find my way into a scoring window.

As runner I was up against HB. I was expecting foodcoats but instead came up against something running NEXT ICE and Batty. I played poorly getting my rig hit hard by a Batty and NEXT Gold I could sort of see coming. I should have hit it with Parasite and waited but my tendency to rush got the better of me. I lost soon after.

0 points

Round 2: vs. Simon

Simon was one of the players who had come through from Dundee and not someone I had met on the scene before. I ran first against his Argus. Having played against a fair amount of Argus in the local meta I started off cautious building my money pool and hitting servers were I could. I managed to pull out 4 points before making an absolutely ridiculous misplay. Simon had Jackson out and used him twice in the previous turn throwing a lot in the trash. I was behind on cash and ran archives to see if anything was there which he let me hit and then Sea Source, Scorch, Scorch in the next turn. I would have probably had this if I hadn't run and Simon played it cool.

Another Leela faces off against my Sol and again I just couldn't keep her out. I've played well against Leela previously but today I just had a blind spot. I could have had a better time if when I fired a Breaking News off I had the money to trash his Kati with about 12 creds on it. Another stupid, unforced misplay. Leela quickly made short work of me with all her money.

0 points

Round 3: vs. Rab

Rab is another one of the local players and had won the local GNK that Black Lion ran a few weeks earlier. However we had both had bad days and were languishing down in the darkness of the bottom half of the table. We were both hoping to redeem ourselves.

I ran first against his NEH and found myself unable to counter a Guard of all things that he just scored out behind. I figure I should have built with draw earlier on a bit more and given myself the card advantage to deal with whatever came.

My Sol hit the table against his Kate and this was one of the only games that Cerebral did some work for me. Kate was poorer because of it but Rab was running some sort of Gingerbread Panchantara build that I was very vulnerable too due to my tracer ICE. Despite this I built a decent scoring remote up and got the win in. A split kept us both in the dark of the bottom of the table.

2 points

Round 4: vs. Ronan

Another local player and someone I haven't played against in a good while. Ronan started off by running with Leela against my Sol and I was hoping my blind spot would not rear it's ugly head. Thankfully I played this one well, building up my servers to keep him out and getting the Astro train running to score out relatively quickly.

My Whizzard was tested against another Argus deck, but I just couldn't find a reliable way in to score points. Ronan scored out against me in quick succession and I ended up with a split and another 2 points.

4 points

I did not exactly cover myself in glory. I didn't tilt or anything just played badly but we all have our off days. My performance in the GNK the week before was good and I have started tweaking my decks to focus them better on what they are meant to be doing.

My Corp deck was a bit all over the place not really being focused on Fast Advance or Glacier and my meta choice of cerebral static proved to be a no go.

My runner didn't win a single game and I have rolled it back to the version I took to Stirling, with some tweaks for the local meta.

I've got my next store champ in two days time, so stay tuned to hear more reports of glorious failures!