Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The future is bright

The recent changes to our gaming group have also meant significant changes to game nights.  Back in the good old days (a few months ago!), game night involved a pre-arranged game, one game system (usually Malifaux) and generally a generous helping of alcohol.  They would generally involve 2 people and be mostly about playing the game.

Last weekend, my Soulstone Train co-host Shane’s wife went out so naturally, that meant it was game night!  The night turned out to be quite a bit different to the good old days and not in a bad way.  There ended up being 5 of us there (myself, Shane, Nathan, Chris and Barry, all of whom have made appearances on SST) with a wide variety of games to choose from.  The thing that I noticed most about the games on offer were that the majority of them were co-op games.

While I was giving Shane’s wife a lift to her drinking partner’s house, the guys selected the first game of the evening, D&D Castle Ravenloft.  It is one of the D&D Adventure System board games that is mentioned in SST episode 13 (which I am still editing) and is for 1-5 players.  At that point, Ravenloft was the only one of these games that we had not played and the others had only been played with 2 players.  The general gist of the game is you select an adventure (we randomly chose with a D20) and that tells you what you have to do.  In this case, we had to work our way through the dungeon and find the evil Baron’s bodyguard (a randomly selected monster from the pile of nasty options), this was part 1 of a 2 part adventure.

In order to keep the character selection fair (clearly I’d want the most smashy one!), we each rolled a D20 and picked in order from highest to lowers.  I ended up in the middle and selected a human rogue, not a much of a beatstick as I would normally use but not a bad selection.  The general idea of the game is that you start on a start tile and whenever a hero is touching an unexplored edge during their exploration phase, you place a new tile on that edge and place a monster on it.  Depending on the tile, you may also have to draw an encounter card which are rarely good (as we found out).  Almost straight away we got a bit eager with the exploring and found ourselves surrounded by monsters.  My rogue had multiple opportunities to thin the herd but seemed unable to roll anything above a 4 on a D20!  We finally managed to escape the monsters long enough to find 5 different traps and decimate our ranks.  If any hero dies, the game is lost but thankfully the group get 2 healing surge tokens that can bring you back from the brink of dead.  Somewhere in all that chaos, Shane’s frail little ranger managed to use both of those.  With little healing in the group and monsters everywhere, Barry’s mage was the one to fall (thankfully, my rogue would have almost certainly died later that same turn).

That was the first of the D&D board games that we’ve lost and the number of players definitely added to the difficulty.  It was definitely more fun with more players though and a game that I can really recommend.

Next up was The Last Night on Earth, a zombie board game.  Again this was a co-op game with Chris playing the zombies and the rest of us playing the towns people (I was the high school sweetheart, lucky me!).  The object of the game was to find petrol and keys and escape in the truck in the middle of the board, sounds simple right!  The difficulty came in finding the items, you had to get to a building (dotted around the board) and search it, you can either search or move in a turn, not both.  Barry found the petrol early on but the keys eluded us as the zombies were closing in.  After much fighting and a badass nurse whacking a load of zombies, Shane pulled a hero card that allowed him to take any card out of the hero deck, the keys were found!  The game came to an end as 2 heroes tried to gas up the truck surrounded by about 10 zombies.  The nurse thinned the herd to about 4 and 3 of the 4 heroes made it to the fuelled up truck.  The high school sweetheart just had to roll a 4 on a D6 for everyone to survive the game.  She rolled a 1 and the other heroes waved as she was left to her fate.

This was a really enjoyable game and I would really recommend this one too.

Last up was the Space Hulk card game (I can’t remember the proper name for it!).  The general idea of this is that you’re terminators and you’re working your way through an abandoned space ship clearing out all of the aliens.  There are different squads of terminators with different abilities and thankfully, I pulled the close combat specialists which was right up my alley.  As the game started, straight away my big hitter fell.  Bugger!  As the swarms of aliens grew, so did the game’s difficulty.  Chris managed to do a lot of damage with his flame thrower but ultimately, in the final room, the last of the terminators fell.

Although we lost badly, this was a fun little card game and, if it wasn’t a GW game, I would really recommend it.

All in all I’m a really big fan of the new format of our game nights, it’s the most fun I’ve had gaming in a long time.  We played 3 awesome games and still had classics like Munchkin and Fluxx in reserve that didn’t get played.  The future is definitely bright for our gaming group J

Friday, 26 July 2013

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that is what I'd like to see

Since deciding to walk away from m2e, I have said all along that there was no rage in my quit however, as of this morning, I can’t really say that.  I am a firm believer in people’s rights to have an opinion and voice that opinion, however there has to be a mutual respect for that to work.  Over the past couple of months I have seen that respect slowly eroding from both the Wyrd forum (which I no longer log onto for that reason) and on Twitter which for a long time has been home to a friendly, respectful group of gamers.

All too often at the moment, people seem too quick to categorise players as either a v2 crusader or a doomsayer like they are the only 2 options.  Sure, there are those people that do mindlessly approve of whatever is put out by Wyrd and aggressively put down anyone that has a negative opinion about any aspect of the game.  Equally, there are those that will quickly dismiss any development in the game as crap, possibly without even looking at it before making the judgement.  Both of those groups are dicks.

Stuck in the middle of that little sausagefest are a lot of gamers that are either on the fence or have chosen their side based on personal preference and rational decision making.  These people (for the most part) are not dicks and to them I say thank you.  Thank you for recognising the difference between having an opinion and telling people what to think.

And now to the point of my rage.  This morning I woke up to a message from someone telling me my concerns about the longevity of the game was ridiculous and that I should just shut up (the actual wording was significantly less pleasant!).  Firstly, I would like to point out that I didn’t force this individual to read my blog, not reading was an option.  Secondly, they weren’t in the closed testing so have been playing m2e for a maximum of about 7 weeks.  That’s right, somebody with 7 weeks of playing under their belt was emphatically telling someone with 6 months worth of playing experience that they are wrong about longevity.  For reference, a lot of my concerns didn’t present themselves until 3-4 months in.  This to me was a prime example of a crusader trying to force their opinion onto someone, this is bad!

Since walking away I have made a concerted effort to be respectful to people on both sides of this battlefield and I’d like to think that I’ve managed to do that.  It actually takes very little effort so there’s really no excuses for some of the behaviour that we’re seeing in the community at the moment (I must stress that this is from an annoying minority).

As a great comic book writer once said, every villain is the hero in their own mind.  In your mind you may be about to save me from missing out on something epic but the reality might be that you’re about to get your arse kicked by a dude in a Batman costume (or maybe Wonder Woman, depends on the day).

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Soulstone Train - A New Hope(fully decent format)

So, the latest episode of Soulstone Train (soulstonetrain.podbean.com) has been recorded and it was the first to use our new, multi-system format.  I have to admit that I was going into that recording with equal parts excitement and trepidation, doing something different is always a bit nervy.  I feel like, over the last 8 months, SST has evolved from two drunk idiots with a record button to a legit, occasionally semi-professional sounding gaming podcast.  I have genuine concerns that the new format may negate a lot of the good progress that we have made since starting.

I’m pleased to say that my worries came to nothing as we did not devolve into drunken idiots, in fact between the four of us, only two alcoholic beverages were drunk during the whole recording (although one of those was half a pint of cheap brandy!).  It was quite an odd experience because we were talking about different things but it still felt like an SST recording.  As we have made a habit of involving as many of our gaming club’s members as possible, even the addition of a new (hopefully at least semi-regular) host didn’t slow us down.

Due to the number of different systems that we’ve covered in this first new format episode, we actually had a running order, etc written down which is something new for us.  Normally we would just wing it and sort everything out in the edit but now I can see why people do preparation.  That recording also showed me that the time has come to invest in some decent recording equipment so this morning I parted with a fair sized wedge of cash and order a basic setup.  Hopefully this will mean amazing sound quality for our future episodes but we’ll have to wait and see.  Tentative plans at the moment are that we’ll record every other week, wonder how long it’ll be before that goes tits up?!

Monday, 22 July 2013

D&D characters need love too

I am about to take my first tentative steps into the world of Dungeons and Dragons, to help ease the transition I wanted my character to have a back story that would help guide him through the his adventures.  Here are the humble beginnings of Sir Cedric Roddington-Smithe III, the human paladin.

Part 1

As the second born son of the lord of Gobbledon, Cedric Roddington-Smithe the third was always destined to be a man of the cloth.  Despite his older brother being a half-wit with aspirations of being a successful bard, he would one day rule his father’s lands while the stronger, wiser brother, Cedric, wasted his talents in the service of the god Bahamut.

At the age of 5, clerics came for Cedric and took him away to begin his training.  Cedric was big for his age, much bigger than the other boys of comparable age at the monastery and carried chiselled facial features that gave away his noble background.  For the first few years, Cedric trained with the clerics, both human and dragonborn alike to learn how best to serve Bahamut.  He soon became a leader amongst the trainees and by the age of 12 he had become a strong and confident young man.

At that time, Cedric was taken under the wing of a kindly old cleric named Derek who offered to show him the deepest secrets of the order, what he gave however was very different.  Like many in the order, Derek was a fan of buggery and Cedric was his new favourite plaything.  Over the new few years, Cedric suffered silently at the hands of his so called protectors, being passed around the clerics like the mash potato at dinner.  As Cedric’s faith in Bahamut waned, his desire to leave the order grew.  At the age of 16, feeling that his god had forsaken him, a grim and determined Cedric ran away from the order in search of a better life.

Soon after leaving the monastery, Cedric discovered that the green is not always greener on the other side.  Surrounded by poverty and with no source of food or water, he was left joyless, hungry and on the verge of death.  With his last thought, Cedric realised that maybe the buggery wasn’t that bad after all.  With that thought, he slipped into a deep sleep that he did not expect to awaken from.

Cedric awoke in a golden room, much larger than any room that he had ever been in before.  Not only was he awake, Cedric felt stronger and more powerful than he ever had before.  Across the room, sat on a throne of bones, was the largest man that Cedric had ever seen.   Without the man speaking, Cedric knew who he was, it was the warrior god Kord.  Cedric started to walk across the room but then Kord stood and with one wave of his giant sword sent a shockwave across the room that knocked Cedric out.

Hours later Cedric awoke but he was not in that room anymore.  Looking around, he realised that he was back where he had initially passed out however he was no longer wearing the tattered rags that he had passed out in.  He was now wearing a glorious suit of armour and carried a great sword and shield bearing the mark of Kord.  Cedric knew instantly that he had been saved by the very god that he must now serve.

Before beginning his quest, Cedric decided to journey to the nearest town to have one last night of pleasure.  Due to his years of abuse at the hands of the clerics, Cedric has generally a joyless, grim individual that was unable to get any pleasure from other humans.  He journeyed to that town in search of the only thing that he had found that could bring joy into his life, halflings.

Time for a short break as Shane (my Soulstone Train co-host) started writing the start of his own character’s history.  He’s posted that on his blog, http://www.blogger.com/profile/05418819337905911000.  As we want to tie our characters together, I quickly put together part 2.

Part 2

It was early morning and Cedric was already regretting his decision to start his journey so soon. He could still feel the effects of last night's mead and he smelt of halfling, he was not presented in a way befitting a paladin of Kord.

In his impaired state, Cedric lacked his usual keen senses that would have provided a much earlier warning for what was to come that morning. He was not alone.

As Cedric slowly staggered down the road, clanging armour could be heard as his knees bashed together in a vain attempt to keep the valiant knight upright. In the shadows a figure lurked, was it friend or foe?

As Cedric reached a crossroads, a figure crept out of the darkness. Cedric attempted to quickly evaluate the situation to determine whether he was in immediate danger but he was struggling due to his impaired state. He suddenly realised that his eventual demise may be caused by a barrel of mead and a friendly halfling called Cybil.

Looking over the stranger, Cedric's eyes were immediately draw to the oversized sword that the man carried. Broad and straight with a ribbed leather handle, the man carried the sword in a way that Cedric had never seen before. The man seemed to love that blade, so much so that it made Cedric feel uncomfortable.

The second thing that Cedric noticed was the man's look, he couldn't quite decide what race he was. As Cedric reached for his sword, the stranger spoke but did so in a language that he did not recognise. Obviously sensing Cedric's confusion the stranger spoke again, this time in the common tongue. "Your sword will not be needed good sir, I mean you no harm" the stranger said. Although he didn't feel it, Cedric tried his hardest to appear and sound imposing. "I am Sir Cedric, knight of the order of Kord, state your name and purpose". "I am Sha-Karn" the stranger replied, "I am a sword Mage and currently have no purpose. I woke up in a strange place with little memory. I have been wandering since waking, you are the first person I have come across". Sir Cedric didn't entirely trust the stranger, he seemed to shuffle a little when he said that Cedric was the first person he'd met. Had there been another and if so, what had happened to them?

Cedric was ready to leave this man and continue on his journey but then he remembered his vows. "As you have no direction, who you like to travel with me for a while?" Cedric asked.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this character develops and how his emotionally crippling background affects him.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Gaming's great gift

As some of you may know, over the last few months I have been dealing with a significant health issue (sadly after a huge amount of radiotherapy, getting angry still does nothing). Like many parts of my life, my hobby has really been put on hold while this has been happening. I've barely been at my local club in months and I've had to cancel a number of gaming days at the last minute due to my ill health. In addition, my usually snail paced painting has all but ground to a halt.

The one thing that this issue has shown me is how far beyond gaming my gaming community stretches. Over the months I've had countless emails, tweets and texts from gamers seeing how I am and every one of them has shown me how friendly a bunch of socially awkward nerds can be. The messages I'm talking about didn't come from my local group but from people I've met through twitter and tournaments which in a way means more because they've had to make a special effort rather than just bumping into me.

As much as I have love and appreciation for the wider community, I couldn't ask for a better local gaming group (unless I could swap them for ninjas, that'd be awesome!). Sometimes when you're rushing through life you can miss what's right in front of you and that is exactly what I'd done. I'd been so busy organising games that I'd not noticed that the people I was playing with had become some of my closest friends.

When I was stuck in my bed I didn't find myself wondering about who was playing what game, I was thinking about the people playing them. Had Shane's youngest daughter learnt any new words, was Nathan still busy at work and had Jake finally got the clap off a fat granny?

When I decided that I wouldn't be playing the new edition of Malifaux, I seriously considered leaving gaming all together. It was then that I realised that, although they may be socially awkward and occasionally smell like bad meat or good cheese, I wouldn't swap gamers for anything (except ninjas). My plastic crack habit may cost me more than an actual crack habit would, but in my eyes, I'm more than getting my money's worth :)

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Too cool for Magic school

I like to think that for a nerd, I'm actually pretty cool. I'm not sure if that's actually the reality of the situation but in my head I'm like a bald, fat Fonz. In order to maintain my cool nerd status there have always been lines that I've refused to cross because they're just a bit too far down the nerd road for me. For the most part these lines have been Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft and Magic the Gathering.

Recently one of the 'cool kids' at my local club has taken up D&D. Although I'm still on the fence as to whether I'll enjoy playing, I'm willing to cross that line to find out (and am actually looking forward to it).

Magic has always been (in my mind) associate with a particular type of gamer. This is because when I go into my local comic/game store, Travelling Man in York, there's always a guy stood at the end of the counter flipping through a folder of rare cards. That guy (not always the same one) always smells a bit funny and seems the type of person that was made to create socially awkward silences.

Today I popped into the club to see how the 40k tournament was going and ended up chatting to some of the club regulars that happened to be building Magic decks. One thing led to another and the next thing I know, there's a deck in my hand (I suspect rohypnol fits into that equation somewhere!). I played a game and, to my horror, actually enjoyed it. Since getting home I've ordered some starter stuff and will be joining in at some point in the near future.

I may be getting further and further towards the end of that nerd road but dammit, I'm still too cool for WoW!

Friday, 19 July 2013

The future of the Alcohol Express known as Soulstone Train

One of the things that I’d not overly considered when I decided to step away from Malifaux was what would happen to Soulstone Train.  The major downside of doing a podcast that is based around a single game is that changes to that game directly affect the podcast.  As the two most regular hosts of SST, myself and Shane, were both feeling similar things about the new version of Malifaux, it was clear straight away that continuing without changes was not an option.  This left me with a lot of thinking to do and also discussions that needed to happen with the other hosts.

The first question that needed answering was do we continue at all, the answer was of course, yes (I had after all just got an SST shirt made).  To me, the point of our recording sessions isn’t to put out content that will get a lot of listeners, it’s to get together with my mates and have a laugh.  Does that mean that we don’t care how many people listen to it?  To a certain extent, yes.  We record because we enjoy it and on 2-3 occasions we’ve not even put out the recorded material.  At some point I’m going to put a video camera in the corner of the room when we’re recording and put it on YouTube so people can get a little peak behind the curtain.  It is nice when people do choose to listen and provide feedback however if our listener numbers drop we wouldn’t even know (I’ve not once bothered looking at the analytics that podbean provide).

Once the decision had been made to continue, the next thing to consider was the format.  This was a particularly difficult decision as not all of the guys were going in the same direction.  As I’m a big fan of the multisystem podcast Lost Boys Radio, their format seemed like a good starting point for the development of the new SST.  We are particularly lucky to have a really good gaming club (yorkgarrison.co.uk) and there are a few guys there that I’ve wanted to get on board for a while but it just hasn’t worked out due to it being Malifaux only.

Today is Friday, on Tuesday we record the first of the new format episodes and I have to admit, it is both daunting and exciting in equal measure.  With the old guard we had developed a sense of structure and borderline professionalism that made me comfortable that the editing would not been too bad (not like the good old days of the Baby Jake era).  New people and a new format bring with it a new set of challenges and a whole lot of unknown.  I’m confident that these changes will be a good thing and hopefully we can bring something to gaming podcasting that isn’t already being done (Dungeons and Drunkerds anyone?!).

This first episode will have one of the guys on it that I’ve wanted to get involved for a while, he’s a twitter regular so he may be familiar to some people but I don’t want to spoil the surprise of who it is just yet.  The one spoiler that I will give is that we’re about to start a D&D campaign and this individual is to be our dungeon master.  Both myself and Shane have been working away on our character’s back stories with very different results (we may even read a bit out on the coming episode).  As I’m a big fan of fluff and previously dabbled in comic book writing, I have really enjoyed this process and look forward to seeing how quickly my emotionally crippled paladin is killed off.  We will hopefully have some regular sections such as highlights of the D&D campaign, ongoing Malifaux activity, journeys into other games (so far we’ve got Infinity, Bushido, Arcworlde, Freebooters Fate and Dreadball on the list), various board game reviews and of course, hobby updates.

If you would like to recommend a game to us that you think we might enjoy, drop us an email at soulstonetrain@gmail.com and let us know.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Quitting Malifaux, the whys and what nexts

For those that don’t know me, my name is And and I’m a host on the gaming/hobby podcast Soulstone Train (soulstonetrain.podbean.com and on iTunes).  Since resigning as a Malifaux henchman I have been asked by numerous people why I’m “quitting” and what I’m going to do next so I thought I’d finally provide some answers.

Here’s a list of the bits that I don’t like about the new edition;

Soulstone system – for me the new system really diminishes the impact that soulstones have on the game and I see that as a negative thing.  Resource management was a big thing for me in m1e and making the difficult decisions of if/when to use a stone really added to the depth of the game.  I feel the new system has been introduced to make things more balanced but has removed a lot of the character that made me want to play the game.

Jokers – in m1e the jokers were the biggest thing that provided the emotional rollercoaster during games.  Everyone has a story about a joker coming out of the deck and it has been a defining part of the hobby.  For me that was a great thing and that added to the suspense of waiting for a card to be flipped.  Now that the impact of a joker has been severely limited, I found myself just not caring as much if one got flipped.  Again, it is another aspect of the resource management side of the game that has been dumbed down.

Pre-measuring – I know I’m in the vast minority on this one but I loved the fact that there was no pre-measuring in m1e.  There are certain stories that all Malifaux players will have, seeing a joker, getting screwed on the extra turn flip and being 1mm out of range (or in) at a game defining moment.  The unknown aspect of the range and the anticipation of trying to work it out added hugely to the emotional rollercoaster of the game.  Yes it makes the game harder to get into but I always just allowed pre-measuring in demos to ease the transition and never had it come up as a barrier to learning.

Character cards – in m1e I used Lady J for 2-3 years solid and even near the end I was finding things that I’d either not tried or hadn’t used in a long time.  In m2e, for me there’s just not enough on the cards to give depth to the characters and add variety to the game.  They also seem to be ignoring the fluff in some cases too (e.g. moving wade in from Santiago to Francisco, fluff wise that makes no sense at all).  During the playtesting I also found a lot of the time that, where someone wanted to know what an ability was, I could describe almost everything as “it’s the same as X spell/ability that your X model has”.  Although there were some variations on a theme in m1e (e.g. shatter an immolating demise), these seem much more widespread in m2e.  Also because of the limit on upgrades, in bigger games it often felt like I was controlling a crew made up of totems (m2e cheap minions have comparible card contents to m1e totems).

Longevity – this was really the final straw that pushed me out of the door.  In early playtesting things were quite interesting as I was using a lot of different crews.  As soon as I settled on one crew for a reasonable number of games (I think it was as early as 4-5 games in that I 1st noticed it), the lack of variety and synergy between models was very apparent to me.  At that point games started to become very repetitive for me.  Due to the dumbed down rules, simplified characters and general lack of engagement that the game provided, after 3-4 months of playing I was just bored of it.  I have heard a lot of people starting to get to that point only 1 month into the open playtest and think that will increase a lot before the general release.  I honestly don’t believe that there is enough in the game to keep people interested for long and, as soon as new shiny syndrome starts to wear off, there may be a mass exodus of people leaving the game.

Fun – the bottom line is in 4-5 months of playing m2e (discounting the first couple because of novelty value), I’ve just not enjoyed playing.  It’s not been emotionally engaging in the same way as m1e and, because my opponent has been in the same boat, it’s very much felt like going through the motions rather than being something to enjoy.  Even taking it away from m1e and treating it as  completely separate game didn’t make a difference, the character that distinguished it from other games just seems to be gone.

Overall I think they’ve put too much stock in the few loud people involved in the meltdown last summer and have concentrated so much on making it balanced for tournament play that they’ve just sucked the fun right out of it.  A good sign of this was in (I think) the first interview that the Malifools did with Mack and Justin where Mack said he already knew most of the changes that he wanted to make to the game before Wyrd even hired him.  For me, if you’re changing a customer focused product you should first look at demographics and poll your customer base.  I really do feel that they have made the game that Mack wanted to make rather than the game that the players want to play.  I think that they may also be spreading themselves a bit too thin with the amount of games that they are currently developing and Malifaux seems to be suffering because of it.

To me as a businessman, Wyrd’s current approach seems a little short sighted, concentrating on trying to get new players in without first ensuring the retention of a high proportion of the current players.  This may be a reasonable strategy in the short term but I do feel that m2e may lack the longevity to retain some gamers.

In my opinion the game did need some changes (e.g. stopping the endlessly repeating overpower and the stat cards) but the extent of the changes that have been made seems unnecessary.

I’d like to end this entry by just clarifying that these views are my own, a lot of people won’t agree with them and that’s fine.  Different people look for different things in a game, there is no right and wrong, just personal preference.  Please treat you personal preference like a penis, having one is fine but please don’t try and ram it down somebody’s throat (unless they ask of course).

I genuinely hope that things do work out ok for Wyrd, over the past 4 years they have been a pleasure to deal with and the people that work there seem really nice.  I’ll now be moving on to a bunch of other games such as Bushido, D&D and various different board games.  The first steps of that journey will be covered in the upcoming episode 13 of SST (we’re recording early next week).