April 27, 2015
Kerbal Space Program just released version 1.0.
UPDATE: Here's a video.
UPDATE: Here's another video.
UPDATE: I can't place Scott Manley's accent. Is he Australian?
April 19, 2015
Pandora's Box is a game that Microsoft published 15 years ago. Maybe 10 years ago I tried installing it on my computer which didn't have a 4:3 display, and it worked but was unplayable. It runs full-screen and it filled the screen, so the aspect ratio was wrong. Since a lot of the games involve unscrambling scrambled pictures, it was even harder, and anyway there was no joy in completing one since the image was awful.
Last night I tried installing it again, and glory be! It runs full-screen but it only uses the center part of the screen, so the aspect ratio is correct even on my 16:9 display.
One of the early images is a picture of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, complete with the World Trade Towers, which of course no longer exist. The game copyright is 2000, and that image probably dates from even earlier. It kind of led me to a moment of silence and contemplation.
March 27, 2015
When I'm playing Master of Magic, I have this strange mental image. End of the game comes and I cast the Spell of Mastery, and all my opponents pop like soap bubbles and are gone.
But then the game ends, and I imagine all my loyal people in my cities watching as the universe disintegrates around them. People are running through the streets screaming in fear; mothers grasp their children and hold them; the cathedrals are full of people praying for salvation; and then in an instant they're all gone.
It always makes me feel like a mass murderer.
March 06, 2015
Actually, Thursday's are when Wil Wheaton posts new episodes of "Tabletop". Used to be each week would be a new episode about a new game, but these days they're padding out their material by posting "gag" episodes which, well... aren't actually about games. I always skip those.
But he does post episodes that really are about games, maybe every third time, and that happened yesterday. I felt like venting about it, because the game in question just wasn't very good.
It's called "Epic Spell Wars" and the basic idea behind it is actually rather clever. Overall it's mainly an excuse for being silly, and as several of the participants themselves point out, it's aimed at the sensibility of 12 year old boys. The idea is that each turn, each player puts together a spell by using three cards from his hand. Then each player in turn executes his spell, causing various effects including usually doing damage to one or more opponent.
It's an interesting idea, and to carry it out each card has a title and graphic art so that they fit together and can be read right off. And most of the creativity involved in producing the game went into coming up with names and pictures for each card.
But as I was watching them play, I saw the same cards keep coming up, and I think that the game doesn't actually have all that many; I think they are duplicated in the deck. Also, once you ignore the fancy name and all the weird graphics, the actual cards in practical effect are mostly just about the same: do a "power roll" and look at a chart to see how much damage to do to the player on your left, or right, or the one with the highest score, or the one with the lowest score, etc.
There are a few other things that can happen (heal yourself, pick a treasure) but as the game went on I began to get bored, and I didn't finish watching it.
I found myself comparing it to "Munchkin". That's from Steve Jackson, so you know it's going to be creative and playable. The card art was done by Kovalic and it's excellent. None of the cards are duplicated in the deck, and all of them are strange and funny, with cool pictures and cool names. But what's most important is that in practical effect on the game play, the cards really vary all over the map. Plus the basic game mechanics encourage players to find unusual ways to use those cards, to their own benefit or to the detriment of other players.
You can get some really interesting encounters like that, and there was one really complicated case where Wheaton was doing his best to prevent Jackson (who was one of the guests) from getting a really big win. Jackson used bribery to get the other two players to help him, and even so Wheaton nearly prevailed.
Thing is, "Epic Spell Wars" in the end was just the same old thing, again and again: everybody puts together three cards, then they're revealed in turn and damage is dished out. "Munchkin" was far more varied and interesting. (And in Munchkin, damaging other players is a fine thing but the real goal of the game is to score 10 points for yourself. And there are several ways to score points.)
The players in the "Epic Spell Wars" episode did seem to be having fun, but mostly because they were hamming it up about the card names and the card art. The players doing Munchkin were having fun, too, but they were having fun playing the game. And that's a big difference.
"Epic Spell Wars" would probably be fun to play one time, unless you're a 12 year old boy. It's obvious that "Munchkin" would keep being fun over multiple sessions, for everyone! -- especially if you start tossing in expansion sets, of which there have been several.
UPDATE: By the way, Wheaton's introduction to the "Epic Spell Wars" episode makes clear that he had doubts about the game as well, and only did the episode because the series producer ordered him to. So it's not just me.
February 10, 2015
Apparently this really is a thing.
February 01, 2015
Which leaves me breathless, and nearly wordless.
December 11, 2014
I've become rather a fan of Wil Wheaton's Youtube channel "Tabletop" which consists of shows in which he invites (usually) three people to join him in playing some board game.
Until now they've always been adults, but in the latest episode all three of his guests are 9 years old. They're playing "Catan Junior", a version of "Settlers of Catan" which is cut down and changed to make it appropriate for kids.
It's well worth half an hour of your time. (If you can do so, play it full screen at 1080p.)
Wheaton is in full Dad mode for it, which is pretty cool. He married his wife in 1999 and she had two sons, so he's been a dad, and helped raise them. Apparently it was successful; both of them turned out to be pretty nice guys, and when one of them was 19 he asked Wil to legally adopt him, which Wil did.
Anyway, board gaming was one of the things the four of them did together back in the day. (An interesting factoid: he mentions in one of the episodes that his wife and both of the sons are color blind. That must have been interesting.)
His wife and both sons have, at various times, been guests on the show. Anne Wheaton is gorgeous, I'd just like to say.
Obviously Wheaton is on his best behavior on camera, but he comes across as a pretty nice guy. And it's obvious that he's left Wesley long behind. Wheaton now wears a full beard, and I'm sure that's deliberate. Anyway, he's 42 now and doesn't look like a little kid any longer.
He has no regrets about the role. He mentions it in this episode, leading one of the kids to say, "What's Star Trek"? ... it's a setup; I'm sure she was told to say that, but it's still funny.
October 06, 2014
I just had something interesting happen.
The Space Amoeba entered the board, and headed for an uninhabited star. I sent my fleet there, and it turned out to be Orion, so I defeated the Guardian.
Then the Amoeba showed up -- or did it? Instead of fighting the Amoeba, I had to fight the Guardian again. But when I won, I didn't get another cache of goodies.
June 28, 2014
XKCD sometimes posts a cartoon where he talks about how he plays some game a different way, or for a different goal. I have one of those, myself.
I play spider solitaire with the goal of reaching a point where the only way I can proceed is by "taking back" a move which removed a column of cards. That was even cooler in the Vista version of the game, because it wouldn't let you "take back" a column take, so the only thing you could do in this situation was to quit the game.
As a result of this, when I reach the point where I have one deal left and have taken six columns, I usually quit. It isn't possible any more for me to win (my way) and winning (their way) is easy. As a result my long-term win/loss record is really poor (according to them, counting wins their way) because I usually don't bother.
June 19, 2014
I got tired of endless games of Master of Magic so I switched back to Master of Orion. Odd how no modern game works for me as well as these two.
One of the frustrating things in MOO is when you get deep into your research tree and discover you are totally missing some critical technologies. I had one game where I reached the end with Robotics III as my best factory technology. Fortunately I had enough planets to compensate.
It's also frustrating when your best drive is Warp 2. It's frustrating when you don't get any of Atmospheric, Soil, or Advanced Soil. It's frustrating when you don't get any of the higher level beam weapons. And it's particularly bad when your best colony technology is Tundra, which just happened to me. I quit that game.
Which is why the Psilons are less frustrating than any other race, since they get more entries in their research tree. On the other hand, it means that most Psilon games are nearly the same. Variations in the research tree, as long as they aren't really debilitating, are part of the variety.
I'm finding that my favorite race is the Klackons. Their advantage is subtle: each worker produces twice as much as any other race. But it means that planets start fast before you have any factories, and that really makes a big difference.
It turns out that the exploration, research, and planetary development are what I enjoy most. So I've been cheating, a little. I play on a huge map, with only one opponent. And I save the game and use a hex editor to put my sun in the upper left corner and my opponent in the lower right corner, so I don't run into them for a long, long time. Usually it's because I've reached the point where I'm ready to take them on, and then I build a string of colonies down to their part of the board.
Changing the initial placement so that the enemy is as far from me as possible is the only cheating I'm doing, though.
In case you're interested: use a hex editor to find the entry for a planet, and its position is 2 16-bit numbers at offset 0x0c and 0x0e. Change them to 40 00 40 00 for the upper left corner and 40 01 20 01 for the lower right corner of the huge map. (If you use those numbers on one of the smaller maps, the enemy will be off the edge of the map. Which, oddly enough, does work; they just develop their own home world and you never run into them.)
It's really amazing to me just how good both MOO and MOM are. Steve Barcia hit it out of the park. But the era of turn-based 4X games is over, sadly. WOW made everyone switch to real-time, which I hate. (I guess the recent Civilization games are still turn-based, but they're ridiculously over-elaborate as far as I'm concerned.)
When I bought MOO from Good Old Games, the package included MOO2. I've never tried it and have no interest in doing so, even though the graphics are vastly superior. I think I'm too old and brain-addled to learn anything new which is that elaborate.
UPDATE: It's also amazing to me just how awesome the graphics for MOO and MOM are, considering they were designed for 320*200 displays. (Or 320*240? I'm not sure. It was a pitifully small number of pixels, regardless.)
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