September 19, 2011

All Black

"All Black" is the name of a soccer team from New Zealand. I'm not clear on whether the name comes from their uniforms or from the people on the team.

But "all black" is also the Master of Magic starting strategy I've gotten hooked on. If you go with 11 spell books, you get all the first level spells, two second level spells, and one third level spell, and a 40% discount on casting cost. With 11 black books, you take Black Prayer, Shadow Demons, and Wraiths. Shadow Demons and Wraiths are overwhelming in the early stages of the game. A single stack of Shadow Demons can take a blue node as long as there isn't anything besides Phantom Warriors, Phantom Beasts, or Nagas.

A stack of Shadow Demons and a stack of Wraiths can even handle up to three air elementals.

Two stacks of Shadow Demons and one stack of Wraiths can handle almost anything you'll find in any color node or any lair on Arcanus if you're playing at "Normal" difficulty. Really tough stuff is beyond them, but you don't really run into those on Arcanus. (Myrror is a different matter.)

Meanwhile, a single unit of Wraiths can take over almost any brown village it sees. Or any enemy village which is defended by infantry, even up to pikemen, or any kind of normal cavalry.

What's even better is that a large number of those killed by the Wraith will rise from the dead, and you get an instant garrison to protect the place -- and they don't consume mana, gold or food. Instant totally-free army.

When you play 11 black books, you get out fast and scout widely, because the sooner you find an enemy wizard, the less built up they are and the easier they are to take out. I usually end up with two wraiths out exploring the world -- and taking over anything they find.

And it's all the easier if you play High Elves as your race. They develop slowly, but they also produce more mana than anyone else, and especially in the early game, an extra five or ten mana per term is a huge difference.

I decided I was getting bored with black and tried switching to 11 red books instead. That's when I realized how spoiled I had become. There isn't any world-beater I can summon in the early going with red. I did some experimenting with a hell-hound horde, and it works pretty good. But they die rather easily, and even though they only cost 24 mana per stack a full army of nine stacks is still 216 mana to summon and 9 per turn to maintain. And it can take two attacks with such a stack just to clear out a blue node containing only Phantom warriors and maybe one Phantom Beast. Against most other nodes, they're useless. They can't even handle bears and sprites in a green node, which are dead meat for shadow demons and wraiths.

And once the hell-hound horde is gone it can take 30 turns or more to raise enough mana and do all the summon spells to create a new one.

I tried one game of 11 blue a while back and didn't even finish it. I felt utterly crippled. There really wasn't anything that would help me in early stages. And in fact that's how it feels with all the other colors: you have to bide your time and do your best until you make a breakthrough and get one of the top summons: hydra or great drake for red, behemoth or great wyrm or colossus for green, sky drake for blue, Torin for white.

"Incarnation" is level 3, so with 11 white books you can start with that one. But it would cost 300 mana to summon Torin (counting the 40% discount for having 11 books). That's actually what Wraiths cost, so it isn't really out of reach. The problem is that Torin doesn't begin all that powerful; he doesn't become a world-beater for a long time.

If I was really going to be serious in an 11-blue book game, I think I'd probably pick Invisibility, Flight, and Air Elemental. Use one guy who is invisible and flying to explore and scout out lairs, and summon Air Elementals to do the fighting. But that won't work in green or red nodes, and I'm not sure it would really do very well even in a blue node. And that's a very mana-expensive way to go -- and you just don't have very much in the early game.

With 11 red books, I picked Flame Blade, Chimera, and Chaos Rift. Doom Bolt and/or Warp Lightning are tempting, but even if you have them, you can't use them until your skill gets high enough so choosing them as starting spells is a waste.

With 11 white, I think I'd probably go with Unicorns, True Sight, and Incarnation, but I might go with Prayer instead of True Sight. And then summon Torin as early as I could, and let him spend 50 turns aging in my capital until he was strong enough to really make a difference.

For 11 green? I suspect I'd go with Pathfinding, Change Terrain, and Gorgons, but maybe Earth Elemental would be better than Gorgons. And I could be convinced to go with Nature's Cures instead of Change Terrain.

As good at Gorgons are, they're not world beaters either. And they'd cost 360 mana to summon and 15 mana per turn, so you aren't going to have very many of them.

Compared to starting with Shadow Demons and Wraiths, though, all of those are second rate.

UPDATE: I just tried that idea with all white, and found out that Torin requires 12 mana a turn. Which is out of the question in the early game.

And the all-blue strategy also doesn't work in the early game. Air Elementals cost 50 to summon, and it takes a long time to get your casting skill up that high. Also, Invisibility and Air Elemental are both third level spells, so you can't start with them both. You could do Invisibility, Flight, and Phantom Beast -- but even that is problematic. Invisibility costs 10 mana a turn, and it costs 35 to summon a Phantom Beast.

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September 15, 2011

Living with a node

So there I was, minding my own business and starting a new colony on Arcanus.


What's that beneath my town? Looks like a blue node, doesn't it?

So I summoned a magic spirit, and the "meld" button worked, and I suddenly had 9 more mana income without having to fight for it.


The neighboring brown Halfling town sent the welcome wagon to see me, but every time the raiders tried to enter, they got redirected to the node, and then bounced back. (Pity they didn't actually fight, though. I guess you can't have everything.)

I ended up being curious, and after I killed off the raiders (because I got tired of watching them), I tried moving one guy back into my town. And suddenly he, and all my other defenders who were already in the town, were in the node and preparing to fight. (Time to restore from a save game, folks!)

The node defenders were three Phantom Beasts and six Phantom Warriors, which was easy meat for a single stack of Shadow Demons. But in order to fight it without losing anyone else, I ended up having to vacate the town. With all the defenders out, the Shadow Demons could enter and fight alone.

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August 31, 2011

SimEarth easter egg

Remember the easter egg? (Spoilers below the fold)


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August 24, 2011

Cosplay Fetish Academy

I'm not sure how far I'm going to get in this.

The whole idea makes me feel a bit unclean. A guy and his two cousins get hit by lightning and slide into an alternate reality where all the women wear highly revealing clothing. That is their first sight of it.

But it does work fine in the XPmode emulator.

I didn't have to worry about the networked drive. Unlike the floppy, the built in DVD drive shows up natively in XPmode.

UPDATE: It may not just be fashion. It may be law. They were standing there being astounded at the lack of clothing on all the girls, and then a policeman rushed towards them. Yuuki was wearing a full miko costume, and it may be that she was violating some sort off law about non-exposure.

If so, it really does make me feel unclean.

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August 04, 2011

Spore -- worth getting?

I'm beginning to get played out on Master of Magic. Considering how much time I've put into it, it's a testimony to the rich game play that it hasn't happened long since.

So I'm thinking it's time to try something new. I got onto the Microsoft PC Games site, wondering if they might have an updated version of "Pandora's Box" which doesn't run full-screen at 800*600 resolution. (On my 16:9 display, the aspect ratio is so wrong that the game is almost unplayable.)

Please note that I'm not looking for suggestions for games I "might want to consider". Just don't go there, OK?

The one thing that looked interesting to me was Spore. The Microsoft games site lists the fact that games have DRM, and this one didn't mention it. But I just looked at the Wikipedia article about the game, and it said that when the game was first released back in 2008, there was a big controversy about the fact that it used SecuRom.

It also said that there was a non-DRM release of the game. The version on the MS Games site says its release date is June 14, 2011, which makes me think it's a special version created for the MS Games site, which I gather is DTO. (True?)

So does anyone know anything about it? Just how much did they include in it? The description mentions "Spore's unique Creator tools". Does that mean they bundled things like Spore Creature Creator into this version of it?

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July 26, 2011

Microsoft Casino

Getting bored with my other games, I dug out my copy of Microsoft Casino a couple of days ago. I usually play Blackjack and Pai Gow Poker, which is what I used to play when I went to Vegas, back when I was still able to travel.

But eventually those get boring, too. I did some experimenting with Video Poker in the game, and noticed something odd:


I can win this particular game consistently. I think the payoff matrix in it is wrong. The problem is that with four wild cards in the deck, it isn't all that hard to get 4 of a kind, and that's a huge payoff. You can adjust the price-per-point, and for a while I was playing it at pseudo-$10 per point, playing five points per hand. When I first dragged out the game, I began with about $3000 simulated. Now I'm up to $23,000, and that was with just a couple of hours of play.

I've gotten 4 Aces at least once, and I've gotten 4-of-a-lesser-kind several times. Each of them was a huge payoff. In fact, every single time I've played it I've ended up a big winner.

In theory this whole thing is a simulation of how gambling is actually done in Vegas including the payoffs, at the three specific casinos they simulate -- Treasure Island, Mirage, and Bellagio, which are all part of the same company. So how did they get the payoff matrix for this one game so badly wrong? If it's really like that in Vegas, I need to force myself to schedule a trip!!!

UPDATE: After I wrote this I started playing it again, and just got another 4-of-a-kind. In this game I've also gotten a straight flush. Right now my balance on the machine is about $4000, and my total is up to $27000.

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July 04, 2011

A bargain!

Today only, on Amazon, a real bargain on red summons!


I was rather surprised to see that. Here's what the bookshelf looked like:


The manual doesn't say what the casting discount is for 12 books. 8 books is 10% off, 9 is 20%, 10 is 30% off, and 11 is 40% off, so presumably 12 books is 50% off. Chaos Mastery is 15% off. Conjurer is 25% off.

It looks like they added all the discounts together rather than multiplying them. 50+25+15 == 90% off, and a Hydra, which ordinarily costs 650 mana, costs just 65. Definitely a bargain. (And maintenance cost was only 11 mana per turn.)

I had managed to locate a flight spell, so the rest of the game I ran a stack of four flying Hydras around and finished clearing the board. Flying Hydras are much better than Great Drakes because they're cheaper, and because they're tougher, and they're faster (3 move versus 2), and especially because they're regenerators. Great Drakes keep getting wounded and only time will heal them. Hydras don't have that problem.

And now I'm going to try an all-black game. It looks like the preferred campaign units are Shadow Demons, then later Wraiths, and ultimately Death Knights.

UPDATE: Of course, the obvious question is, what if it had been 13 spell books? Would that be another 10% discount, making the summon free? I had 13 books of one color in one game but I didn't note just how much the discount from that was.

UPDATE: Just finished the all-black game. At one point I did indeed have 13 black spell books, and the discount is indeed 60%. Then I found Conjurer, and Death Knights, ordinarily 600 MP to summon, were just 90. Add Channeler, and they only cost 3 MP per turn to maintain.

Death Knights are truly awesome. I had a single one take out a Sky Drake in one combat round. It had to hit the Drake twice, but it only took about one quarter damage. Experience with Great Drakes was similar.

Djinn and Colossuses were the things that caused me the most trouble, but not intolerably so. Air Elementals were simply opportunities to recharge.

And Zombies, Skeletons, Ghouls? The problem with them is that they're already dead, so you can't life-steal from them. Easy to destroy, but occasionally getting in a shot, leaving the Death Knights damaged. Nothing for it but to seek out a few caves and hope there are bears in them. (Yummy! Good for recharging!)

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July 02, 2011

Master of Magic, the strange way

I tend to get stuck in a rut, playing MOM with the same setup over and over. For a long time I played Myrran, with Draconians, and at least half my spell books being green.

But that started getting dull, and I decided I wanted to try something different. One idea was: 11 books of a single color. Since I love Green magic so much, that was the obvious one to start with.

With 11 books, you start the game with all ten first level spells, plus two second level and one third. I always went with Path Finding, Change Terrain, and Iron Skin.

Since it was 11 books, that meant no retorts, which meant starting on Arcanus. I played High Men, and soon came to know the virtues of the Paladin unit. You reach a certain point where you can deploy a stack of 8 Paladins, with Regeneration, Stone Skin, Endurance, Water Walking, and Path Finding, and you can readily clear the board. Nothing can stop them. (Chaos Spawn are the only enemies I even slightly feared.)

But that was beginning to turn into another rut, so I decided to try 11 white books, and chose True Sight, Prayer, and Incarnation. That was a lot more difficult, and it became clear that I had to use High Elves, because a pure-white strategy demands a lot of mana and in the early going that was the only way to get it.

The big problem for me was, no Wall of Stone spell. Before, even when I was playing a predominately white or predominately red game, I always included a couple of books of green just so that I could guarantee to have Wall of Stone.

If it was three green books, it would be Wall of Stone and Water Wallking. In the all-white game, not having Water Walking proved a huge impediment. Only reasonable way to get off my starting island was with ships, which I am not in the habit of building.

On the other hand, the Plane Shift spell can, if you are lucky, compensate for that a bit. Depends a lot on the relative layouts of the land masses on both sides, but sometimes you can cross a strait on one side by shifting to the other and walking across dry land.

The main point of an all-White game is to get Torin going as soon as you can. Which can still take a while, because Torin has an 11 mana per turn maintenance, and even with High Elves that can be difficult to come buy in the early game.

With 11 white books he only costs 300 to summon, however, so if you get him killed it isn't all that hard to get him back again. But I did end up converting gold to mana a lot earlier in that game than I usually do. Most of the time when I do that it's just because the gold is piling up; this time it was because I desperately needed the magic.

I reached a certain point where I began praying for specific treasure: a magic item I could give to Torin which had Water Walking or Flight, or something! It turned out to be a green spell book, which gave me Water Walking, Change Terrain, Web, and Natures Cures. I tell you, green magic sure is useful.

I think I'm going to try an all-red game next. That one may demand a lot of mana, too, because the only way to survive in lots of summons. So the spell choices? I think Lightning Bolt, Flame Blade, and Doom Bolt.

UPDATE: A pure red game turns out to be pretty easy in the early going. Where in a pure green game you can defend your cities with Wall of Stone and Web, in a pure red game you defend your cities with Fire Elemeentals, which is even cheaper. Where in the green game your goal is Behemoth or Colossus or Great Wyrm, and in the white game you aim for Torin, in the red game it's all about Great Drakes. Once you get that spell, you're really ready to kick ass.

I'm playing it with High Elves, but I don't think I'd have to. Given that with 11 red books, a fire elemental only costs 12 mana to summon in combat, you don't have quite the mana starvation problem that all-white has in the early game.

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June 13, 2011

We need a new pun

Duke Nukem Forever was legendary as a vaporware title, yielding joke names like "Duke Nukem Whenever" or "Duke Nukem Maybe Never". But now, at long last, it's out.

And Ars Technica says it's awful. They left out the fun, and loaded up on vulgarity.

So what shall we call it now?

UPDATE: The Escapist hated it. So did Eurogamer.

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May 25, 2011

The advantages of angels

So there I was, playing a white/green game with the Trolls, and getting up on my research and aced a few really nice spells.

I've never messed around with angels before. They have the ability to add one shield, one sword, and one cross to all units in the same stack, and I figured it couldn't hurt my elite war trolls. So I summoned an angel, and put Regeneration on it, and added it to the stack.

And got a surprise: any enemy range striker would shoot for the angel, leaving my trolls alone. And since the angel was a regenerator, I didn't care. I cared even less after I got the Invulnerability spell and put that on the Angel.

Where that was the biggest surprise, and the most help, was in taking a red node that had one Great Drake and eight Fire Giants. All the fire giants threw their rocks at the Angel, and since it was invulnerable, none of them did anything. Had they been throwing at my war trolls, I might have lost a couple of stacks just for that reason alone. But this way I was able to use all eight of them against the Great Drake, which resulted in a pretty easy win.

When you're trying to take out an enemy, cities full of shamans are a pain in the ass. But they did the same thing: all the shamans, not to mention catapaults and other similar annoyances, picked on the angel. So did the enemy wizard.

The trolls were the big danger, and with all the enemy artillery lifted, they were able to easily kick ass.

I've learned another thing: it is vitally important to get Eldritch Weapon or Holy Weapon on a war troll, because trolls can't build alchemist guilds.

Both is even better yet. But once you get at least one of those, things go a whole lot better against a lot of kinds of enemies.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Gaming at 09:05 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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