Monday, November 27, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Box That Dreams Of Being A Game

Dream On

Readers of earlier posts may recall that I started doing reviews on this blog in part for the space to shit on Shahrazad, the coaster set that wanted to be a game. Prep your pants: it's time to review another goddamned non-game.

Spoiler alert: I actually like Dream On!, but it's not going to sound like it for a while. Although the irritation with seeing something like this packaged and sold as a game is real, this isn't nearly as problematic as with Shahrazad. Shahrazad was designed for one or two people, which meant all the enjoyment needed to be derived from the package itself. Dream On!, by comparison, plays up to eight, and its quality as entertainment is much more derived from the group you're playing with.

It's about as simple as simple gets: there's a deck of picture cards, and everyone takes three. One person puts a card down, starts a story, and draws a new card. After that anybody can play a card to add to the story, drawing a new one each time they do. After the two-minute timer runs out, the pile is flipped face down and players take turns, in order, remembering each piece of the story. Getting it right is worth two points; getting it right with help is worth one; and getting it wrong loses you two. There's a point scale at the end to gauge your performance, much like in Shahrazad and Hanabi.

I bring those two games in because I want to make a comparison between Dream On! and each of them. All three have something in common: they're cooperative, they have a basis for scoring points, and they have a scale by which your points performance can be judged. Shahrazad is a garbage non-game. Hanabi is absolutely a game, and an excellent one at that. Dream On! doesn't fit either of those descriptions. So why are these so disparate when they have so much of their cores in common?

If you google 'game', the definition is this: "a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck." Not all games are competitive between the players themselves; co-op games like Pandemic are a serious competition between the players as a group and the game's systems. Hanabi fits this definition right away. Just like Pandemic has you compete against the game to save the world, Hanabi has you compete against the game to finish the fireworks display. True victory only comes when you have all twenty-five tiles laid out in order. The point scale exists so people can have an idea how well they did when they fall short of this, because Hanabi is fucking difficult without people who know exactly what to do and understand how each other's decisions are speaking because they can't.

Technically, Shahrazad fits this definition as well. The game sets forth a simple set of rules and pieces, and you need to use those to finish the stories in a way that scores maximum points. That would make it a very bad game rather than not a game at all. However, I still don't think of it as a game for the reason outlined in my review: it's solvable. I have one additional definition that I believe is required for something to be a game, and that's fluidity. Either it has to offer different challenges for you to overcome each time; or, if the game throws the same things at you in the same order (think Super Mario Bros., or most platforming video games, for that matter), you have to have different ways to overcome the same obstacles. Shahrazad doesn't have that; it's a twenty-two piece puzzle with a slightly more complex method of putting it together than an actual jigsaw puzzle has.

The reason Dream On! isn't a game, on the other hand, is that there is no goal—to hearken back to the base definition of a game, there's nothing to be decided. In both Hanabi and Shahrazad, there's a point of completion that you're striving to reach. In Dream On!, you just go until the timer runs out, and you get however many points you earn based on your memory. There's a reason that points are used as a way to compare how different people or teams have done, and they work fine when a point total can be set against a maximum score, but when there is no rational maximum (nobody is getting through the entire deck), they don't really do anything. Thus, there is no actual game here.

What this is, instead, is an activity, a team-building exercise. It feels like the designers got caught between the need to make this a game so they could sell it and what it really is, because the 'game' parts are the worst ones. Not only is the point scale meaningless, but the negative points for getting the next card in the dream wrong—and you're not allowed to skip any—are punishing. When our group played, all we did was say two or three words related to each card because it was far easier to remember that way, but that goes against the stated intent of the creators to turn every card into a real piece of a story. We also completely disregarded the scoring.

And we had a goddamned fantastic time.

Ignore the score for this game. In the interests of some sort of objectivity, I take into account what the game does and not what could be done with it by enterprising individuals when I dish those out. And even as an activity, this isn't very good if the directions are tightly followed. It's just a really complicated version of Memory, and if you try to come up with sentence-long story ideas for each card, you're going to bork a bunch of them when doing the recall. Or, maybe, you'll get them right with help, but then you still won't get max points.

Play with this, even get a copy if you run a class or other type of group (four groups of four or five can compete against each other, and then it's definitely a game), and do what's most fun. It really can be a good time. The designers just couldn't seem to figure out where that good time sits.

Score: Six shoddy memories out of eleven I wasn't playing much attention to.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dave Reviews: Classy Dig Dug


When participating in an archaeological dig, remember that all good ruins were built on a strong foundation of victory points.

Unearth is a dice worker placement game of placing... dice... workers... start over.

Unearth is a cross between games like Colony, where dice are rolled and then used strategically based on their rolls, set collecting games like Coloretto, and generic worker placement game #168. The difference between Unearth and those games is that one worker die is given a ruin to visit, then rolled, rather than the other way around. Then you collect sets of ruins, preferably of the same color, although different colors are ok if you get one of each color, and the stones build into wonders...

Unearth is an easy game to understand but a harder one to explain without having it in front of you.

The game is set up with a tableau of ruins and wonders. Each ruin has three aspects to it: points, color, and stones. When you place a die on a ruin, if you roll a 1, 2, or 3, you can take a colored stone off it; if there are none left, you instead take one randomly out of the bag. If, at any time, the total of the dice equals or exceeds the points on the ruin, the ruin goes to the person with the highest individual die (think Smash Up bases but with a different first place condition). All dice on the ruin are returned to the players, and anyone with dice on the ruin that doesn't win it gets one Delver card for each die they had there. Thus, where in Smash Up you might avoid putting points on a base that you have no chance of winning to force your opponent to invest more resources, sometimes you may want to put more dice on a ruin you won't get to either get more Delver cards (which are fairly strong) or just get back the dice you already have there (you can't re-use a die if it's on a ruin unless you have no dice left to roll).

Where collecting ruins rewards high rolls, stones relate to wonders and reward low rolls. Stones are placed in front of players in a hexagonal pattern. You don't need to create a hex with your first six stones, but after the first goes down, all stones played need to touch at least one already in front of you. All the wonder cards on the table have a certain color pattern that must be met in order to take that wonder and its associated power or points. These are chosen randomly, but there are also greater and lesser wonders available every game; greater wonders go to anyone who makes a hex of six same-colored stones, while lesser wonders are created by six stones that don't match each other or any pattern available. Lesser wonders are the least valuable, while greater wonders give the most points but may not be as good as wonders with certain abilities—this must be decided by the player's priorities.

Oh, and I didn't mention yet that the dice are different sizes. Every player uses five dice—a d4, three d6s, and a d8. Anyone familiar with those dice types will see the design here right away. You roll a d4 when you want to win a stone, and a d8 when you want to win a ruin, with the understanding that unless you play a Delver card that lets you manipulate the roll, there are no guarantees it will turn out the way you want. You also always have to consider the fact that when you roll those dice, especially the d4, it may take time to get them back, and plan around that if you have a particular strategy in mind. In general you don't want to give opponents sets of cards, but since everyone has the ruins they win face up (with a single face down ruin dealt out at the start of the game), you have a pretty good idea how much it will hurt you to give away a ruin as a trade for getting back dice and Delver cards.

There are several ways to score, all of them coming at the end of the game. Wonders are worth points, plus five bonus if you have at least three. Sets of the same color of ruin become worth substantially more points—if you can collect a set of five, you'll probably win—but if you're collecting a set everyone can see it face up, so that's harder to accomplish. Get a five color rainbow and that's five bonus points. Trying to get both bonuses is tricky but possible; trying to build wonders while winning a set is harder still.

This multiple-paths-to-victory type of game always carries the risk of making people prone to analysis paralysis. For the most part, Unearth doesn't suffer from that. If it happens, it's generally due to wanting to play Delver cards, especially if you're holding several. Early on you only have a couple, so it's not an issue, and late you're just going to dump them because it's obvious the game will end soon, so even when it happens it's usually in about the same third of the game (depending on the players, of course), which isn't too bad. It's also mostly contained to newer players, as veterans will have a better idea when they want to play their cards, especially if they have the odds figured out.

That ability to figure out the odds gives players a way to win through skill in a game that, using dice, is inherently set up to have some random outcomes. It's easy to understand, with enough play that it should take several games before any sense of sameness kicks in. If you reached into a bin of sub-one hour games and pulled this out, consider yourself very lucky.

Score: Thirteen super shiny rocks out of fifteen.

Dave Reviews: Hotel Chain Magnate


In the world of corporations, you eat and grow, or get eaten and die. And by die, we mean earn a bunch of payout money for the business you started that you can use to grow again, because that's what getting eaten means for people, which is what corporations are.

Acquire is ancient by board game standards, originally a 1964 release that's seen multiple reprints over the years. The concept of the game is simple: start companies, buy stocks in whatever ccompanies exist, and use those stocks to make more money than your opponents. The value of a company is based on how many tiles it takes up on the board. Thus, if you get stock in a business that's only two tiles big, and it expands, your stock immediately becomes more valuable. This is how we think about stocks working--you invest, the company grows, and your stock is worth more.

However, Acquire has a different twist on this. If you focus on the companies that are going to survive forever, you won't win, because your money will be locked up in stocks that won't earn you anything until the game's over. In the short term, you need to have stock in smaller companies that will merge and be taken over by the larger companies, because when the merger happens you earn a bonus based on how much stock you have in that company compared to everyone else. If you routinely are the largest stockholder in companies that get eaten, you will make bank. Furthermore, you can turn those stocks into stocks of the bigger company on a two-for-one trade basis, or you can keep them for later; companies that go down early can get started again later, and with a limited amount of stock in each company, having some already in your possession gives you a head start when they do.

It's one of those games with mechanics that work at odds with the theme. Look at the major corporations we're familiar with: Microsoft, Apple, Walmart, Target, Amazon. The heads of these companies, and especially the founders, are some of the richest people on the planet because their companies either pushed their rivals out of the market or just bought them outright. Getting on the team that wins early, before it's clear they'll be a winner, is key. Being a major shareholder in a company that gets absorbed by a larger one can be highly profitable, and plenty of people in that situation are doing just fine, but they never really get to the same level of wealth.

In Acquire, it's not that there's no upside to getting in on the ground floor of a company that becomes too big to be overtaken—the stocks will be some of the most valuable at the end of the game, and you'll probably be the primary stockholder, giving you the biggest bonus—but rather that the best way to succeed is to angle your way into being the biggest stockholder in companies that get bought out while also making sure you have stock in those bigger companies for the end of the game. Very little costs you money, the rewards for getting bought out are considerable, and those rewards are crucial to having the resources to be set up well for the end game. It's incongruous with how we understand that an economy works, which makes it very easy to for new players to get completely off-track by doing what feels logical, but isn't in relation to this game.

As a pure game (ie. mechanics, balance, etc), Acquire is pretty good. You constantly need to track how much stock is available, try to remember how much each person has of a given stock (fairly easy with three players, just about impossible with five or six), plan when and where you want to create mergers with the tiles you have in hand, and do your best to suss out whether or not someone will beat you to that merger. If there's a mechanical issue, it's that starting a company gives you a substantial boost (one free stock and the ability to buy three more immediately, which you can leverage into just about guaranteeing yourself primary ownership), but drawing a hand of six tiles for the 10x10 board makes it quite possible that someone in a large game will simply not get the opportunity to make a company early enough for it to matter. Even though it plays up to six people, you may want to max the game out at four if you wish to minimize the odds of this problem occurring.

However, whether or not this is recommended largely depends on your approach to games. If you're a person who cares about the story a game tells, the clash between Acquire's gameplay and what it represents might get in the way of your enjoyment. The game's not complicated, and after a play through you should understand how the strategy works, but that doesn't mean the strategy is going to feel right if you're trying to perceive yourself as a CEO doing her best to become a capitalist god. If you just want a way to test yourself against your friends and the paint on the board doesn't matter, go for it.

Score: Five failed companies out of the seven in the box.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Holy Fucking Shit

Thug Rose, round 1 KO.

Is this real life?

When I first saw Namajunas fight, I was really excited about the idea of her getting to the top, but damned if I ever expected it to happen now, against this champion. It seems like she's been around so long it's impossible she's only twenty-five, and that experience is why she's able to be a champion at what is quite a young age, but holy shit!

I'm super happy for her. I hope she can hang on to the title for a while, and I hope the UFC gives her a platform to be positive the way they give others a platform to talk shit. She's one of those people who refrains from negativity while also not being boring as shit. She can pull interest from fans who will love the fact she's a champion badass and high-level human being all at once, if they expose her to those fans.

She's going to have to keep the title and snag a couple defenses to really hit her popularity stride. I like Joanna, and I would have been happy to see her keep the belt, but now I hope she moves to 125 and Rose can hang on to this title for a while.

UFC 217

I want to do this quickly, but I wonder if that's even possible.

Joanna Champion vs. Thug Rose: I like Rose as a fighter, and the honesty she shows when she talks about pretty much anything. I think the fighting world would be better with her as a champion. But for that to really be true, she'd have to be a seriously dominant champion, the way Joanna is, and the way she's going to be after this fight. Joanna by decision.

Neck Tattoo Garbrandt vs. TJ Snakeinthegrass: The first time Cody hit the spotlight, I just shook my head, because what Dominick Cruz said in the lead-up to their fight was right on: he seems like kind of an idiot. Dude can't rub two thoughts together without setting them on fire and losing both. I don't expect every fighter to have McGregor levels of gab capability, but I can't envision ever being interested in what this guy says if there's no outside reason to be curious (e.g. the feud with Dillashaw).

But he seems like a decent guy--bringing the kid into the ring seemed odd, but I think it comes from a good place--and the more information that comes out, the more that TJ really does appear to be a serious clownfucker piece of shit. I think it's possible that TJ puts up more of a challenge than Cruz did, odd as it is to watch myself write that sentence, but I don't think it's likely, even disregarding the fact I definitely want to see him lose. Garbrandt by 4th round TKO.

Steroid-Free Mikey vs. The Elder God: I realize calling them by these names makes it sound like I'm completely in the bag for GSP. If this was pre-retirement, I would be, even if GSP hadn't taken the time to go up in weight and was effectively fighting a full weight class up. But now? I believe GSP has trained appropriately for this fight, and I'm not assuming he'll be way off what we're used to seeing, yet Bisping has ramped up his game so dramatically that alone changes how it looks like this fight will go.

Bisping's not a wrestler, although he can defend against grapplers reasonably well. GSP was always on another level in that respect, though. That said, I'm not sure GSP's ground game translates as well to middleweight, even if he's puffed up to the point where that's his new natural weight class. I think most of this fight revolves around whether or not I'm right. I think I am. Bisping by decision.

Friday, November 3, 2017

League Worlds Finals

Prediction: The team I don't pick in five.

How in the bloody hell fuck are you supposed to figure out who's going to win this match? Samsung is playing better than SKT, period. They're from Korea, so they have plenty of experience against SKT specifically and teams on that level in general. They lost twice to RNG in groups, but right now that looks like a completely different team from the one going to the finals. There is zero reason to think Samsung is at a disadvantage in terms of player quality, teamwork, or anything else that matters.

As great as Faker is, I hate the argument that SKT wins because they have Faker. They have a very solid team mindset that has been up against the wall in every conceivable fashion, and when it comes to Worlds Bo5 matches, they've found a way to win every time. They're, what, 9-0 in elimination games? 3-0 is impressive. 6-0 is crazy. 9-0 is obscene, on the verge of inhuman. For all the problems some of their players have had, they constantly pull it together when everything is on the line, including against Korean teams (2016 ROX and Samsung, for example). Even knowing that, however, it's hard to disregard the fact that Misfits, RNG, EDG, and ahq all had SKT beaten bloody and looked incapable of finishing the game. All of them had sufficient control to win the games where they had big leads, but they left openings that it's reasonable to think Samsung won't.

Yet... SKT has Faker. It's not even that they have Faker, but they have the Faker that's been playing in this tournament, who may ascend to a dimension above the ranks of normal humans if he carries this team to a championship. The LoL meme of playing 1v9 doesn't exactly apply, but it sure as hell feels like he's playing 1v5 sometimes, to the point that to pick SKT feels like you're picking one man and his team's history against the five ultra-badasses rolling up on him tonight.

And only an idiot would blame a person for doing exactly that. Objectively, taking a player and a team's history into account when predicting future results is... not silly, but very easy to let overwhelm one's thought process. But at some point a team does this so often that to pick against them feels like you're just asking to get burned when they do it again (says the guy who picked RNG to beat them). It's like, you know they shouldn't be a favorite, but they've done this for so long you can't actually imagine the world in which they lose.


SKT in 5.

Dave Reviews: Linguistic Hybrid Man-Beasts


Take Werewolf, One-Night variety, add a dash of Twenty Questions, forget how to stop counting at twenty, and voila:

Like normal Werewolf, there's a Seer, a Werewolf, and some villagers, and all the non-Werewolves are trying to find the Werewolf. Like One-Night, there's only one round of gameplay, and everything is over in five minutes.

The difference is in the challenge placed before the villagers. There's a magic word, chosen by the Mayor from a short list, which the Seer and the Werewolf also know. All players close their eyes, and the game's phone app directs the relevant characters to open their eyes in turn so they can see the magic word. Then all players ask the mayor questions, which she answers by handing out yes, no, maybe, or so close tokens. The players have four minutes or until the mayor runs out of tokens to guess the word. They can take as many guesses as they want, but each wrong guess eats a no token.

The Seer's goal is to guide the players towards the correct answer, while the Werewolf's job is to ask questions that guide them away from it. If the villagers guess the word, the Werewolf reveals himself and has one chance to guess who the Seer is; if successful, he wins. If the villagers don't guess the word, they have one chance to guess the Werewolf, and if successful they win. Thus most of the game hinges on the Seer and the Werewolf, as they need to affect the data being revealed without making their roles apparent.

(Note: The Mayor also receives a role, which means she can theoretically end up as the Werewolf. If this happens, she can lie about the answers. Being in control of the answers can make throwing the villagers off easier, but given that the Seer knows the word, it can also be an easy way to get busted if you send them too far off away from the actual word.)

Werewords is an ultra-fast party game, to use for either a few rounds as a warmup for bigger games or to play for many rounds if everyone's having a good time. It's important to remember how game size and the skill of the Seer/Werewolf are in determining outcomes. If the villagers keep getting Seers who are too obvious about what they know, it can look like the game is skewed heavily towards the Werewolf when the Werewolves keep pulling out wins. Likewise, inexperienced Werewolves might be prone to getting busted and feeling like it's impossible to win. The game itself, though, allows for a broad enough array of strategies (literally any question you can come up with is allowed, and you need to pick the ones that will help you win) that it's not weighted in either direction unless the good guy/bad guy ratio is skewed. (The instructions don't say at what number of players you should add the Beholder, Minion, or second Werewolf, so experience and a desire to experiment will have to be your guide.)

Much like in regular Werewolf, most of the responsibility falls on the people with the special roles. If you're a piddly little Villager, you have about as much impact on the game as in Werewolf: plenty if you're thinking and being active, very little if you're passive and let others lead the action. On the plus side, it doesn't suffer from the Werewolf problem where active players are assumed to be special roles, and often are accused of being Werewolves just because they're so vociferous. In Werewords, there's no potential downside to trying to get involved, and you may just lure the Werewolf's attention away from the real Seer.

Basically, it's Werewolf, it's word games, and it's cheap. If at least two of those three attract you, you'll probably like Werewords.

Score: Five dead villagers with their guts spread across the street in the shape of the alphabet out of six.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November 3rd, 2020

I read something, in response to the Mueller investigation against Paul Manafort, that betting odds on Trump surviving his first term are under fifty percent. When I went to look it up, I discovered something I've apparently whiffed on for the past several months—the odds have been under fifty percent for a while.

Granted, the main betting channel I see mentioned is Paddy Power, an Irish gambling site that is almost certainly taking advantage of the money people desperately want to throw at the idea of Donald Trump being unceremoniously dumped out of the presidency. I mentioned in regards to the Mayweather/McGregor fight how the desire of people to bet a certain way can skew gambling odds way out of whack as compared to the actual odds of a thing happening. Even now, as this presidency somehow continues to grow as a clusterfuck day after day, I don't think the odds of a resignation or impeachment leading to removal are over fifty percent, or realistically anywhere near it. There are too many people politically invested in not letting this presidency fail that badly for removal to happen, and Trump is stubborn enough to not quit.

But, goddamn, what a time to witness. The concern of people being too distracted by Trump to notice the ridiculous shit that's actually being done isn't as bad as I thought it could be, but it's still a thing and I hope we don't forget to keep paying attention.