Convention Report

Partner and I went to a small convention a couple weekends ago (MarsCon near Williamsburg, VA) and got to play five different games in one day. It was great.

Bridge Simulator

This one was a cooperative video game (still in development). Y'all play the bridge crew of a spaceship out on a mission or part of a campaign. There are five stations—Flight, Tactical, Science, Operations, and Engineering—plus the Captain's seat. I played Flight and didn't crash our ship into a planet! I kinda picked a station last and got asked to play Flight, an option I was really nervous doing because I don't multitask well or have great situational awareness. I thought Flight would need both those skills, although less so than Tactical (they shoot the guns! pew pew!) but it turned out I was okay on the Flight station. We didn't die, moved at a decent speed (space is big guys), and I kept the enemy fighters that showed up in range and view well enough for my friend L to shoot them all to itty-bitty bits. Partner played the Captain, who doesn't actually get a screen to play with, and kept communication between the stations working well. Plus made some good command decisions. As I said, my friend L was on Tactical, her partner W was on Engineering (keeps the power routed optimally for what we're doing), and two folks we'd never met before were on Science (scan objects around us) and Operations (communicate with other ships). The set-up we played had a big main screen projector and everyone had a pretty big touchscreen in front of us. But! It's playable off a central computer and connecting via a browser. So, the four of us (Partner, L, W, and myself) could hangout together on the game from our homes. Which would be really neat.

www.strangehorizons.com for anyone interested.

Century: Spice Road

A competitive card drafting board game. This one is all about building and playing a deck that gains and converts cubes (theoretically representing spices) into the right combinations to purchase victory point cards. There's four different actions you can do during your turn: take a card from the market, play a card from your hand, pick up all your played cards, or purchase a victory card. The game goes around players' turns remarkably fast, too.

I prefer the skinning of a different game with the same mechanics (from the same designer) we played later in the con, which I'll talk about later. I did not win this game, in fact out of five players, if I recall correctly, I came in dead last. But I like the mechanics, I think I can see what I need to do to have a winning strategy, and now it's just a matter of getting the practice to get better. I had fun playing with friends and am happy that L and W are considering buying the other skinned version.

Potion Explosion and Tiny Epic Galaxies

Partner and I introduced these games to some folks at the convention, both friends we already know and a new person we met this convention. My description of Potion Explosion still holds and it's still one of my favorite games. Bonus, now that W's played, he's decided that the game really needs a marble randomizer tower (like a dice tower) and is considering making one (he does quite a bit of woodwork) over the summer. Assuming he has time.

Tiny Epic Galaxies is an area influence/control game with what you can do determined by the dice gods, although there is a mechanic for re-rolling utterly awful crud. Everything fits into this small box and the lid turns into a tray for containing those dice you roll. And the artwork in the box is great. The goal is to accumulate points through controlling planets and upgrading your empire (which incidentally gets you more resources towards doing things and controlling planets). There's a couple different types of planets which need different resources to gain control of them and each planet gives you a different benefit or optional action when you do control them. It's a tightly designed, fun game that I'm glad we got to introduce to a few friends. 

Century: Golem Edition

This is the differently skinned version of Century: Spice Road I mentioned earlier. It's the exact same game mechanics wise, just with different art and theoretical premise. Those cubes you're gaining and converting in Spice Road are knobby rocks here which represent soul crystals. Turning in the soul crystals (i.e. buying a victory point card) represents making those crystals into golems (as drawn on the victory cards). It just makes more sense to me, from a narrative view point. Also, I think the art is a little funnier and a bit cuter. So, I rather own and/or play Golem Edition over Spice Road. 

It was a good convention, full of board gaming.

Duskers — A Review

I'm about fourteen hours into Duskers so far, so still in some very early stages of the game. Partially that's because I've reverted to a bad habit from my Nethack days and been restarting the game instead of resetting (like the game is designed for) when my ship and drones end up in an untenable situation. Yes, I do count every restart as having lost the game. I've lost a lot of games of Duskers so far. But I think I've got a handle on what I'm doing now. Sort of. Maybe?

The story so far is that you wake up in a ship and the entire outsider works is silent. No ship-to-ship communications, no distress signals, no nothing. Like the entire universe died, except for you in your slowly decaying ship. You've got a few drones you can user to explore other drifting ships in space, collect 'scrap'  and fuel to keep your shop functional and moving with, and deal with hostile things on the other ships. Your drones, at least so far, are not very good at dealing with hostile things. The effective strategy so far has been to use motion scanners to figure out which rooms are clear (assuming the scanner can read the rooms), explore those rooms, and then lure the hostiles into there and shut the doors behind them.

The conceit of the game is that you're doing everything over a command line interface. Oh you've got a video feed from your drones, when it doesn't cut out. But your only control is the arrow buttons and a command line.

The game is not clear whether you, the player character, are an organic person or an AI. Which raises interesting questions about the whole 'did AIs cause the singularity and an extinction level event for humans?' possibility raised in the game. Other possibilities I've encountered so far include 'grey goo' and 'pandemic scenarios'. I haven't been able to follow up on those possibilities very much so far, so I'm interested to see where the game goes with those. Every initial lead comes from messages pulled off the logs of derelict ships. Which is just creepy, given the text corruption scattered throughout. Also, the "ages" of these derelicts has typically been around the two hundred mark, with no indication if that's years or what. So how the heck long has the player character been in ... cryosleep?

I'm also unclear what 'reseting' is and there's some interesting philosophical questions involved in that. Every time I've reset, I've gotten new drones to pilot on ship with the same name and same apparent configuration. Where do the new drones come from? They have different upgrades. The map doesn't change, you still have access to all the messages and information you've already found. The community forums I've seen indicate that whatever hostiles have learned from you is carried across resets. So what is a reset? And how the heck does it work in-universe.

So, yeah, I'd recommend this game for anyone who finds rogue-like games more interesting than frustrating. The game play has been keeping me interested to see what happens next. The controls feed into the story, in addition to providing a challenge. And gosh darn it, I want to know what happened in the game universe. 

Where did all the people go?