Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

So Jeff Cooper has shut down AC St. Louis.  Just about everything this guy did in 2010 made MLS look really smart for rejecting his application for a team.  He folded St. Louis Athletica in the middle of the season and now folded AC St. Louis after only one season.  So, basically, the guy that wanted to build that new park in Illinois costing hundreds of millions of dollars can't even collect funding to keep a 2nd-tier pro team running?  The guy that organized the group that almost killed the top USL division can't even keep his own team going.  I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hero: Immortal King: The Lair of the Lich

I picked up the card game Hero: Immortal King: The Lair of the Lich during a sale at my local comic book store for $5, a significant discount from its $22 list price.  The basic concept will be familiar to anyone who has played any version of RPG:  there is a bad guy hiding in an underground dungeon, so you collect your band of heroes and proceed to kill everything in said underground dungeon between them and the bad guy.  There are three games in this series, but in this particular game the big bad guy is a lich, which is an undead magic user.  Not that it really matters, because all of that is just window dressing for what is primarily a resource management game.

There are two ways to play this game, either two-player or solitaire.  During a two player game, one player controls the heroes, while the other controls the bad guy and all of its minions.  During this version, the bad guy player primarily manages his Fear Tokens, little discs of black plastic that are accumulated as the heroes screw up and roll poorly.  These are spent to make bad things happen to the heroes.  I've never played the game with two players, because it sounds like it would be really boring to play the bad guy.  Instead I've played the game a few times solitaire.  It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I can now slam out a game in 15 minutes.

While playing solitaire, you play the heroes.  There are a small number of heroes that you can choose from at the start of the game.  To build your hero team you select a total of five cards, including characters and equipment cards.  All of the characters have a special ability they can activate, and the equipment cards provide certain bonuses to combat rolls or other events during the game.  Building a workable combination of characters and equipment is critical to success, and choosing a bad mix can lose the game before it even starts.

Once you are ready to venture into the enemy's lair, you build the dungeon by sorting the 48 dungeon cards into three different decks of 16 cards, face down (though one of the characters lets you build four decks of 12 cards each).  Each turn you choose which of these three 'paths' you want to venture down, and then you flip over the top card to see what you encountered.  Some encounters are relatively easy, while some are totally impossible to defeat without using special abilities.  According to the rulebook the other games in the series include traps as well as monsters, but this game only comes with monsters.  To fight a monster you roll a six-sided die and compare the number rolled to the monster's Strength.  If you equal or exceed that number, you win and take the card.  Otherwise it smacks your team around and they retreat, causing you to lose one of your Courage tokens.  If you ever run out of Courage tokens, the hero player loses the game.

So, the game consists of trying to find the path of least resistance to reach the lich while being as miserly as possible with your resources of courage tokens, mana tokens (used to activate some character abilities), collected monster cards (used to activate some equipment cards and some character abilities), your equipment, and the number of Fear tokens the bad guy is accumulating.  Proper management of these resources will lead you to victory, while squandering resources (or really bad die rolls) will lead to defeat.

Really, this is a pretty simple game, but one that is mildly entertaining if I'm in the mood to play a short game but don't want to think too much about it.  It was worth the $5 I paid for it, but if I had spent the $22 list price I would have felt cheated.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

All Things Zombie: The Boardgame

It's been quite a while, but it is time for another dip into my game collection.  This time up is All Things Zombie: The Boardgame.  Normally boardgames don't have to announce what they are right in their name, but this game does that because it is based on the miniatures game All Things Zombie.  The boardgame shares many of the rules, but instead of requiring you purchase and paint up a bunch of zombie and human survivor miniatures and then build a miniature town to fight in it provides you cardboard counters and playing maps to use instead.

The basic premise of the game is that a group of human survivors have fled Las Vegas, and are trying to survive in the surrounding areas.  The game comes with six different scenarios, which loosely link together to tell a story of a group of survivors.  Whether they die or not is up to you as the player.  Well, it should be, but sometimes the rules don't work in your favor.  This is a solitaire game, designed to played by one person, but you could play with multiple people as long as you are playing a scenario that provides enough survivors for each player to control one.  I've never played it with multiple people, so I can't speak to how well it plays that way, but I don't think it would all that fun.  See, many of the survivors, and all of the zombies, don't have full freedom of action.  Instead, whenever you want to do something that might be dangerous (or when danger is thrust upon them), they have to take what the game calls a "reaction test" to see what they do.  For example, if a zombie charges into a survivor's hex, the survivor throws two dice, compares the results to their "reputation" score (a number, higher being better, that says how good they are at everything they do), and determines how many successes they got.  Then you look at a chart to see what the reaction is.  In the example given, two successes allows the survivor to fire a weapon before entering melee, one success doesn't allow weapons fire before entering melee, and no successes sends them running off in a random direction while screaming their head off.  Certain survivors, known as "stars," don't usually have to roll and they can just do what they think is best.

One mechanic that is kind of nice is that zombies are attracted to loud noises.  Like the kind caused by firearms.  Thus, you can't just run around the map shooting everything that moves.  Or, I should say, you can, but you might not like the result.  With every shot you take there is a 50% chance that new zombies will show up on the map, attracted by the sound.  In addition, exploring buildings is usually a source of new zombies as well, as the first time a character enters a building on the map they will find from zero to six zombies, determined by drawing a card from the zombie deck.  The benefit of searching buildings is that once a building has been cleared of zombies it can be searched.  To accomplish this, you pull a card from the building deck to search deck.  Many of these show an empty building, but you could find new weapons, or medical kits, or other useful items to help you in killing zombies.

Each of the provided six scenarios has you playing with different survivor characters and having different things you need to accomplish in order to win the scenario.  For example, the first scenario involves two survivors looking for new weapons.  To win, both survivors must keep from getting killed, must each find a weapon while searching buildings (or must search every building to prove there aren't extra weapons to be found), and must safely exit the map board.  Many, many zombies will oppose you.  Other scenarios involve finding more survivors and other kinds of activities.

The problem I have with this game is that it is kind of boring.  The zombies all move automatically at full speed to the closest survivor (which makes logical sense), and while you control the survivors, you don't control their reactions to things.  When I play the game, I seem to be rolling dice all of the time: to fight zombies, to shoot at zombies, to see what characters do when they get charged by zombies, when characters want to charge zombies, to see if more zombies show up in response to weapons fire, it just goes on and on.  It just doesn't really feel like I am playing the game as much as I am a neutral observer sitting in a helicopter watching these automatons running around doing whatever the dice tell them to do.  It doesn't feel like I have a lot of interesting tactical or strategic decisions to weigh.  I haven't owned this game all that long, but it is going in the trade pile, as I don't see myself playing it much, if at all, in the future.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Audio-Visual Arrangements

Right before Christmas I purchased a Playstation 3.  Partly it was to play games, but the primary motivation for this purchase was two-fold:  it provided a Blu-ray disc player, and it came with a Netflix app that allowed me to stream shows and movies from Netflix right to my TV.  I am proud to say that the Netflix app works exactly as advertised and is a joy to use.  It is fast and looks great.  The Blu-ray function also works great, and the player seems to play DVDs just fine with no degredation in visual quality.

I have experienced a degredation in audio quality, however.  Admittedly, this isn't really due to the audio components within the Playstation 3 unit itself, but due to limitations on cable jacks.  My previous setup, which I had used since November 2004, included a DVD player that was connected to the TV through an S-video cable and to my stereo receiver with a digital coaxial audio cable.  Thus, the audio was fed directly to the receiver such that no sound was passed to the TV at all.  My PS3 is connected to the TV using one of those five-prong HD cables whose name I can't be bothered ot look up, and I then have a stereo audio cable running from the TV to the stereo receiver.  Thus, I don't have to use my receiver for sound in games or movies or TV shows watched through the PS3, though I can when I want to.  There is a noticeable difference, though, between the standard stereo cable and the digital coaxial cable.  Enough so that I am wondering if I should setup my DVD player again just so I can watch DVDs with improved sound quality.  If the PS3 had a dedicated audio out port that allowed the use of a digital coax cable that would solve my problem, but alas, it does not.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Epic Win

It should not come as a significant surprise to any of you that I like playing games.  This includes RPGs, those games where you start with a character who is a putz and then have adventures to develop skills and experience.  It also should not come as a surprise to people that doing various chores and house work is not my favorite thing in the world.  Sometimes, you just need some motivation, which the prospect of clean windows do not provide directly.  At times like these, I need a little more.

A couple weeks ago, while listening to an episode of All Games Considered, the hosts of the show mentioned an iPhone app called Epic Win.  This app is essentially a "to do" list, where you can input all of the stuff you need/want to do.  However, it is done up like it was a RPG.  You create a character (I have a little skeleton), and as you complete tasks your character gains experience, going up in levels, finding interesting items on his quest, and so on.  It is a lovely way to motivate me to do things like vacuum the house, because if I put vacuuming on the to do list, then my character gains experience whenever I do it.

Back in the Saddle

After thinking about it for a while and talking with a few folks, I have decided to keep this blog going.  Posting will be less frequent than before, as general "what is Aaron doing" updates will now be on facebook, and those kinds of updates aren't as important since when I start my new job in 9 days I won't be traveling as much, but there will be times that I will want a more "long-form" outlet for my thoughts.  So, look for new posts shortly.  Like, in five minutes.