Friday, 28 February 2014

Monthly Update: 02/14

Hey Guys!

Got a few things to talk about this month.

Shop Location:  How does Weston sound?  We're considering changing our plans slightly by setting up shop in Weston before moving to Bristol.  This is for several reasons: It's cheaper, it's less distance to commute, it's still easily accessible from Bristol, Weston's suprisingly busy in winter months, it'll attract people that need something to do on a rainy day.  Please let me know your thoughts!  Is this something that would put you off coming?  Would you want more monthly events to compensate?

New Computer:  Because I'm a terrible person I've been neglecting this blog in favour of playing with my new computer.  I'd bought several games over the past year or so only for them not to work, so now I can get things like Skyrim in ultra-high graphics that's eaten up a lot of my time.  I also haven't had an awful lot of inspiration for blog posts to write; nothing significant in the world of gaming, no interesting movies (apart from Frozen but not got an awful lot to say on that); it's a bit of a dead time at the moment.  I've also made a conscious decision to stop the Traveller's Guide to Faerun for now in favour of writing more of my book.

Online Trading:  Unfortunately, since moving the Prince's Trust has been less than helpful (as in I haven't heard a thing from them since we moved despite repeated attempts to contact them).  Still, after selling a couple of old high-value games on ebay, I have a little money left over which I'm going to use to start trading under the Rooksburg name on ebay or Amazon.  I'm currently looking for a selection of things that should provide an example of what the shop will be selling, and you will be able to find these for sale online soon- probably start of the fiscal year in April.  Naturally I'm looking at D&D books and specialist boardgames, minis that can be painted and sold, but also some video game things like Skylanders- I feel a lot of gamers are getting drawn into the collectible nature of the game, myself included, and I still believe multiplayer games will have a place in the shop.

Next month:  Expect news of monthly gaming meetups and more details about ebay.

Until then, sayonara.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Spotlight: Munchkin

Munchkin is a game with an interesting reputation amongst gamers; rarely does it have an evening devoted to playing it, however it's perfect for killing a couple of hours whilst your waiting for D&D players to show up or if you're popping into your local games shop on your way home. (Note that if you do want to make an evening of it, you may want to look out for Munchkin Quest- a Heroquest style board game based on the Munchkin card game).

So, What is it?
Munchkin is a humourous card game made by Steve Jackson, most famous for being the creator of GURPS (not to be confused with the other Steve Jackson, co-creator of Games workshop and the Fighting Fantasy books), and illustrated by John Kovalic.  The game is based on the concept of 'munchkins', the term referring to role-players who 'play to win'.  The game contains a multitude of references to D&D, Monty Python, and all the various stereotypes that have been built up by gamers over the years; all with copious amounts of puns.  You don't need to be a multi-genre geek to play, but it helps (especially with the expansions).

How do I Play?
The aim of the game is to reach level 10 (unless using 'epic' rules) before any other player.  This is accomplished by killing monsters, randomly drawn from a deck.  In order to kill higher level monsters you need to loot rooms of their treasure, perhaps pick up a randomly assigned race/class, and maybe even enlist the help of other players- though they will expect rewards.  Conversely, if the other players think you're pulling ahead too far then they can choose to use cards to give bonuses to the monster you're fighting.  One of the things that makes this game interesting is the fact that, in true munchkin style, cheating is encouraged.  If you're caught, it's up to the players to decide your punishment.

What do I need to play?
All you need are 3-6 players, the treasure/door cards included in the game, tokens to count how many levels each player has, and a die (The implication is that it's a 6-sided die, though cunning players could use their polyhedral dice instead- if the GM (i.e guy who owns the game) will let you get away with it).  There are many other decks available, most usable as standalone games themselves but all are possible to integrate into the base game- if you find yourself in possession of many decks you may want to look into using the epic rules (available from the official website) for a more balanced and longer game that will get you through earlier levels much quicker.

Example of Play:
It should be noted that I have all the expansions to the base game, which have all been mixed in together.  As such some cards I describe here may not be included in the base game.  For this example I'm going to assume there are 3 players (in practise you'd want closer to 6 though), and the game will be seen from the perspective of player 1.
Each player draws 2 Door cards and 2 Treasure cards.  Player 1 has 2 monster cards, a piece of armour, and a special card.
"Anything anyone wants to play now?"
Player 1 reveals his armour; a +1 Paper Plate Mail.  He also reveals his special card: A 'Go Up A Level' card with the description 'Promise the GM you'll stop telling him about your character.'
"Level 2 already", player 1 smirks.
"Can you do that?" asks player 2, "If you're technically the GM then you can't stop telling yourself about your own character!"
"Nice try," says player 1.  Arguments are encouraged by this game, and some card rules rely specifically on actions taken by players; In some games player 2's argument could be seen as perfectly valid, especially if player 1 had a significant lead.
Player 2 has nothing she can play now.  Player 3 reveals his 'Wizard' card; a class card.  Races and Classes are only obtainable from randomly drawn cards, and each have benefits and drawbacks.  In the case of the wizard, he gains 'Flight Spell' enabling him to discard cards to help him run away from battle, and 'Charm Spell' enabling him to discard all the cards in his hand to pacify a monster, allowing him to sneak off with its treasure.
"Time to start"
Everyone rolls a die, the player with the highest roll goes first; Player 3 rolls a 6, he goes first.
One card is drawn from the Doors and placed face-up; it's 'Monsters Are Busy' which has no immediate effect, so he can have it in his hand.  Because he has a card on the table- his Wizard card- his hand consists of the 3 other cards from the start of the game and the card he just drew.  Because a monster wasn't encountered, he may now fight a monster in his hand or draw another Door card as he 'loots the room'.  He draws a Door into his hand, giving him a total of 5 cards.
Player 1 draws a face-up Door: It's a monster!  A level 3 'Psycho Squirrel'.  The description reads 'Will not attack females'.
"Aha, I'm a girl!"
"No you're not!"- unless stated before the game starts, an adventurer is the same gender as their player.
Combat: The monster is level 3, meaning the adventurer's combined level and item bonuses must be 4 or more.  He is level 2, and has +1 armour giving him a total of 3; not enough to defeat the squirrel.
"Anyone want to help?"
"Nah, we're good"
"Then I'm going to have to run..."
Player 1 rolls the die; he needs 5 or more to escape.  He rolls 4.
"Oooh- too bad! What's the bad stuff?"  Each monster has 'bad stuff' associated with it, which takes effect if you can't escape.  In this case: "Lose 1 level.  Speak with a squeaky voice until your next turn."
"Stupid squirrel... sorry, 'stupid squirrel!'"
Because he failed to defeat the monster, he doesn't have the option of looting the room- his turn ends.
Player 2 reveals a Door: 'Half-Breed' which is only applicable if she has a race card.  As she doesn't, it goes into her hand and she chooses to draw another card.  She now has 6 cards in her hand so has to donate a card to the lowest level player.  As all players are tied for lowest level, a card is discarded- the 'Joy Buzzer' which was usable by Gnomes only.
Player 3 reveals a Door: A monster! "Level 5; Ghost in the Shell.  +2 vs Wizards! I've got no chance... but I can use my 'Monsters are Busy' card- 'Play during combat, the monsters are busy with their own game; they won't fight and will slam the door if attacked'."  That's considered running away, so no option to loot the room.
Player 1 can talk normally again, and reveals a Door: A Curse! "Clerical Error- the most recent monster in the discard pile is reanimated as Undead... Oh no! That means..."
"The Psycho Squirrel's back!"
"Aww man, please help someone?"
"Oh all right... What do you need?"
"I've got 2- one for level, one for armour."
"I can help, but I want its treasure"
"Ugh, fine..."
Player 2 reveals her 'Nasty Tasting Sports Drink: Use during combat, gives +2 to either side'.
"Then it's defeated! Unless you object?"
Player 3 shrugs.  The Psycho Squirrel is defeated.  It drops one treasure- drawn face-up because Player 1 received help.  It's '+2 Holy Rollers' which give further bonuses vs undead.  Player 1 gains 1 level for defeating a monster.

...And that's how this plays.  In the early game it will take a while to build up levels because every monster will be stronger than you, meaning you need to work as a party- but as encounters become easier and treasure is dropped more often, players will start storming ahead.  That's when the others will reveal the potions, curses, and wandering monsters that they've got stored in their hands, and you'll find you can drop from level 9 to 4 whilst someone else takes the chance to go from 1 to 8 in the space of a turn.

Munchkin is an extremely fun and addictive game; the only problem is finding the time and people to play it.  The rules seem simple, but when other expansions get added in then it can get needlessly complicated; especially if you have other base games mixed in.  It could lead to combinations like a half-orc half-werewolf investigator with a steed, 6 items, a hireling and a duck of many things- which could take a few minutes just to read every card to remind yourself what you're capable of.  Then you draw a Cultist card from a Cthulu deck that will rewrite half of those rules...
Ultimately the game is what you make it.  It's most fun if you incorporate some form of role play into it, but to get the truly bizarre characters you'll need a mixture of decks which means more complicated rules.  Just remember the number one rule is to have fun, even if that means ignoring half the other rules.

The next Spotlight will be looking at some of the expansions, and how they shape up in terms of humour, what they add to the game, and how game-breaking they are.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Day in the life of Dan

Sometimes my life feels like an adventure game.  Today was one of those days.

Primary Objective: Complete job interview.
Secondary Objective: Dress appropriately, Gather documents, Attend interview, Do well at interview (optional)

You awake in your room at 8am.  The interview is at 1:30pm.  You do the various things needed when you get up in the mornings (wash, breakfast, facebook etc), and at 9am it's time to prepare for the interview.
>Pick Up: Shirt
You pick up the smartest clean shirt you have.  It is heavily creased.
>Use: Iron With: Shirt
You do not have an ironing board.
>Put: Towel On: Table
The towel covers half of the table.  There is not much space, but you are confident it will be safe to use the iron.
>Use: Iron With: Shirt
Using the towel to protect the table underneath, you iron your shirt ready to wear.
>Put On: Shirt, Trousers, Waistcoat.
You feel smart and confident in your interview attire.
*Secondary Objective Complete: Dress Appropriately*
The time is now 9:15am.
>Talk To: Emily
You remind Emily to take her medicines.  She reminds you to take rubbish out.
*Secondary Objective added: Take out rubbish before bin-men arrive for a time bonus*
>Look At: Email: Interview
You check the email labelled 'interview'.  There are three attachments.
>Print: Attachments
Your printer is out of ink.  Your options are to use the library printer, or find somewhere that sells ink.
>Go To: Library
As you unlock the door, you notice that the bin-men have already been.
*Objective Failed: Take out rubbish before bin-men arrive*
The weather is cold, but dry.  There are no interruptions on your way to the library.  The time is now 10am.
>Look At: Computers
Out of the twelve computers available, one is still available but it looks like someone is heading towards it from the other end of the library.
>Use: Computer
You hurry over to the computer, getting there just before the other person.  He seems disappointed, but appears to believe you didn't notice him.
Your actions have shifted your alignment 1 point(s) toward Evil.  If you continue your current course, you will no longer be able to advance as a Druid.
>Look At: Email: Interview
You check the email labelled 'interview'.  There are three attachments.
>Print: Attachments
When you click on 'print' a message pops up, informing you that print jobs need to be released at the self-service pillar.
>Go To: Self-service pillar
You leave your computer unattended as you walk to the self-service pillar; luckily no-one takes advantage of this.  The self-service pillar informs you that you can only pay in cash, with the maximum usable denomination being a £5 note.
>Look At: Wallet
You have 6 Silver pieces and 10 Copper pieces.
>Use: Computer
You turn off the computer.
>Use: Cashpoint
The nearest cashpoint is at the local supermarket.  It dispenses a minimum of £10, which you withdraw.
One £10 Note Acquired.
>Go To: Supermarket
Needing small enough change to use on the library printer, you decide to buy a small item.
1 Gold piece lost.  Item Acquired: Healing Herb.
>Go To: Library
As you now have one £5 note available, you head back to the library.  There are two computers available.
>Use: Computer
The computer rejects your login details.  The man next to you says 'I tried that a minute ago- it's reserved'.
>Use: Other Computer
The computer rejects your login details.  You try again, and it rejects you again.  Meanwhile, the man who spoke to you has now left.
>Use: Third Computer
Using the man's now vacant computer, you manage to log on.
>Print: Attachments
Unknown term: Attachments
>Look At: Email: Interview
You check the email labelled 'interview'.  There are three attachments.
>Print: Attachments
You send the documents to the self-service pillar, printing them without any problems.  The time is now 10:30am.
2 Gold pieces lost.
>Use: Computer
You turn off the computer.
>Go To: Home
On your way home, you encounter Emily.  Emily asks if you will go with her to the doctors.
>Say: No
You decide you can't go with her as you don't have the time.  Emily appreciates your decision.
Influence Lost with Emily: 1.
Time Bonus!
When you get home, you realise there are still some documents missing.  You narrow down their locations to one of three bags.
>Check: Bag One
You do not find the documents you are looking for.  The time is now 11am.
>Check: Bag Two
You do not find the documents you are looking for.  The time is now 11:15am.
>Check: Bag Three
You find one of the documents you are looking for.  The time is now 11:30am.  Emily has returned home from the doctor, and has prepared your lunch.
>Use: Lunch
You decide food is more important than finding the last document, and are willing to face the consequences of not having this document at your interview.
*Secondary Objective Complete (Partial): Gather Documents*
The time is now 12:15pm.
>Go To: Interview
Using your Sat-Nav, the journey seems simple until the Sat-Nav says 'You have reached your destination'.  You are at a roundabout by the university campus.  There are three choices.  The first exit leads to 'Car Park 20'; the second leads to 'All other routes'; the third leads to 'Car Parks 1-15'.  The time is now 1pm.
>Go To: Third Exit
You decide car parks 1-15 will be closer, so head towards them.  Car Park 1 has a sign saying 'restricted use only'.  Car Park 2 has a sign saying 'restricted use only'.  It soon becomes clear that all of these car parks are restricted use, so you decide to head for Car Park 20.  You approach an unmarked fork in the road.  The time is now 1:15pm.
>Go To: Right
You turn right, and find yourself going round car parks 1-15 again.  You approach an unmarked fork in the road.  The time is now 1:20pm.  From here on, your interview performance will be penalised for every minute you are late.
>Go To: Left
You turn left, and find Car Park 20.  You park the car and head into the university campus.  You get lost quickly.  The time is now 1:25pm.
>Talk To: Information Desk
You ask the information desk for directions but they are less than helpful, telling you to follow the orange path.  You do so, following signs where available.  You approach an unmarked fork in the path.  The time is now 1:30pm.
>Go To: Left
You turn left.  You approach an unmarked fork in the path.  The time is now 1:35pm.
>Go To: Right
You turn right.  There is another road entrance; it is clear this is the entrance you should have used, but you are baffled as to how you are supposed to get here by car.  You approach an unmarked fork in the path.  The time is now 1:40pm.
>Go To: Left
You turn left.  It is clear you took the long way round, but can see your destination in the distance.  The time is now 1:45pm.  Being acutely aware of the time, you hurry as fast as you can but it is too late.  You are turned away at the door.
Your quest is over.
On returning to the car, you notice the extortionate parking charges.
5 Gold pieces lost.

...And this is why life needs to come with a strategy guide.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Rooksburg Reviews: Pokémon Conquest

Pokémon Conquest for the Nintendo DS ('Nobunaga's Ambition' in Japan) is arguably the most overlooked game in the Pokémon franchise, and that's quite understandable; it is the first attempt at a more mature game by the Pokémon company, has a completely different playing style from anything else in the franchise, and borrows heavily on Japanese references that will be lost on a Western audience.  That being said, I believe it's certainly worth a second look and this review should help explain why:

Obviously this is the most jarring aspect to new players.  This game is a Tactical Turn-Based RPG, meaning
it plays similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, and Advance Wars, though with a slight twist- namely the inclusion of pokémon.  On the world map you can manage your kingdoms in a simple manner- you can battle and attempt to recruit wild pokémon and warlords, you can mine for gold, spend gold in shops, or develop existing areas to increase power levels of wild pokémon or buy better items, etc.  Each kingdom can sustain six warlords, and each warlord has a set number of pokémon they can control, generally only extending to 3 or 4.  In combat each warlord uses a single pokémon, determined before battle starts and unable to be switched during battle.  Interestingly for this genre, each pokémon can use only one move determined by the pokémon's species- and generally the more powerful moves will have greater limitations to consider, such as recharge times and splash damage.  Overall this offers the same flexibility as other tactical games, but also makes the game feel more akin to a game of chess where each move must be carefully thought out.  Or it would, were it not for the horrific miss chances on attacks.
The dual screens are utilised well; top screen shows
unit information, bottom shows the battle itself.
User's speed determines accuracy, which is displayed each time you make an attack.  The majority of the time, this will be between 92-96%.  Despite this, I have fought many battles where I've missed 5 times in a row, and that's not taking into account abilities like 'instinct' that seemingly have a 50% chance miss-chance on top of the attack itself.  Prepare to rage a lot in this game, and I'm in awe of you if you manage an iron-man playthrough.

The Story:
The main story follows the hero/heroine, naturally played by you, as they attempt to unite the warlords of Ransei against the warmongering Nobunaga.  Legend says that whoever can successfully unite the land will be deemed worthy of gaining an audience and possibly befriending a powerful legendary pokémon.
Unfortunately the main storyline is possibly the reason why this game is so overlooked; there's very poor pacing, you can't evolve your starter until late in the game, and the characters look interesting but ultimately lack substance.  It may be ironic, then, that on completing the main quest everything is turned on its head as you find out every warlord you encountered (and then some) has their own story to tell- you can pick from 37 stories in total, each comprising a full game in themselves.  As they concentrate on specific characters and often contain a lot less kingdoms to worry about, there is now a lot more characterisation and better pacing; and because captured pokémon are carried over to these stories each could be considered a 'New Game +' feature.  It would be tempting to consider the possibility of if these stories were sidequests in the main story, or if they were simply available from the start, but unfortunately I think the way it's presented is the only way it could have worked.  Which is a pity, as few people will have the patience to complete the main quest so will never experience the mastery of the additional stories.

The Characters:
Interestingly, every single character in this game (excluding the hero/heroine) is based on a real life historical
figure.  The majority of characters you encounter will be generic carbon copies of about 6 templates, but each kingdom has warlords associated with it.  These warlords, whilst being considerably over-the-top, all have endearing features conveyed simply through facial expressions and the few lines of dialogue they have- though again I stress that little of this will come across in the main story.  Each character also has affinities with a certain type of pokémon, and within this type there will be one specific species that will be a 'perfect link'; this partner pokémon will appear next to the warlord in conversation, and only with a perfect link will a pokémon be able to reach its full potential.

The Art/Music:
I hesitate to call it 'graphics' as the only graphics to speak of are in battle; the rest is beautiful drawings.  Clearly a lot of effort went into this game's artwork, from the simple kingdom designs to the glorious cutscenes, but especially to the warlords who each wear elaborate clothing that perfectly matches their personalities whilst also dropping hints as to their perfect pokémon.  As for the in-battle graphics, little can be said about them; the models can be a little off at times, but move animations are smooth and the terrain is as accurate as you can expect from an isometric grid.
The music matches the artwork in terms of quality, and I could happily listen to it at any time.

When this game was first announced I could barely contain my excitement; a mature tactical pokémon game incorporating Japanese history sounded like a dream come true.  Then I played it, got halfway through the main quest, and ragequit from the miss-chances.  About a month ago, when I was without internet, I picked it up again and am now on my tenth post-game quest, truly amazed at how different it is after completing the main story.  I still get messed up by miss-chances but if I'm having a particularly bad time I'll just wait an in-game month and it generally sorts itself out- and the fact pokémon carry over between stories means it keeps getting easier.
I won't blame you if you don't get on with this game, but if you at least like the concept then I promise you it gets better after completing the main quest.

tl;dr review:
Gameplay: 7/10.  An interesting take on the genre, but those miss-chances really let it down.
Main Story: 4/10.  Generic domination story.
Post-Game Stories: 10/10.  Better pacing, better character development, and each is a different challenge.
Characters: 5/10.  The majority are carbon copies that share names with historical figures, and the important characters only develop in the post-game stories.
Graphics: 6/10.  Not amazing, but serve their purpose.
Art/Music: 9/10.  Excellent character art, if limited.  Likewise for music.

Overall: 7/10.  Flawed, but rewarding if you persevere.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Monthly Update: 01/14

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the lack of update last month, but it took a couple of weeks to convince BT to connect our internet in our new flat.  We now live in Weston-super-Mare and as such are looking for D&D players (or people willing to try Pokémon Tabletop, or anything interesting really) as it has been far too long since we played!

Regarding the shop, I have spoken with our Prince's Trust advisor; as it is unlikely we'll be in a financial position to open the shop any time soon, the current tentative plan is to set up an online shop with the Prince's Trust's help.  This will help build up stock, get a decent website, and get us on track to getting our brick and mortar premises.  An ETA for the online shop is some point before July, probably starting with ebay and painting commissions; in the meantime let's get a gaming group together- or if you're already part of a gaming group then let me know so I can get to know you all!

Regarding the blog, more coming soon but a little sporadic (as always) whilst we unpack boxes etc.  There are a couple of video game reviews I'd like to do, some more creative writing, and I'm sure I'll have a couple of rants- sorry, 'opinion pieces'- thrown in as well.

Until next time,


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Dungeon Keeper 2

To start with, a disclaimer; I did not play the original Dungeon Keeper aside from a quick playthrough of the first mission before playing this.  Unfortunately, if graphics don't have a timeless quality to them then I'm quickly put off so I skipped ahead to this game.  Therefore, I can't address any of the 'which is better' arguments.

Dungeon Keeper 2 (which I'm constantly reminding myself doesn't use 'II' instead of '2') is a strategy game developed by Bullfrog, and is quite unlike anything that came before it- apart from its predecessor, naturally.
Previous strategy titles were either Command and Conquer style, i.e build an army base and attack another army base, or they were Theme Park style, i.e micro-manage some sort of business venture peacefully.  This game could be considered a combination of the two.  In it, you play the role of an evil overlord who is trying to wrest control of the portal gems- magical items that when combined will allow passage to the overworld.  To do this a base of operations must be built, providing facilities to keep your creatures happy and train them up ready to take the fight to the lord of the land, all the while defending yourself from pesky heroic adventurers.  Where this differs from other real time strategy games is the fact you have no direct control over your minions; all you can do is guide them to what they should be doing.  The most control you have is picking up and dropping creatures near their task and hoping they do their jobs, or through the use of possession spells.

The UI shows everything you need to see without getting too cluttered.
The level design is extremely well done, unlocking something new with each land you conquer in the campaign.  In many games this would get rather repetitive, starting from scratch each time, but this game will always give you different challenges to face- one level will have you taking your time to build an overwhelming force to defeat a powerful foe, another will have you hurrying to intercept someone before they can escape, another will have you fighting against rival keepers and destroying their bases.  Along with the narration this makes the game constantly feel fresh, and with each level able to be completed in an hour then you won't get bored easily.

Each room you build will attract a new creature, and each time a new creature arrives it will be introduced by your mentor so you'll know exactly what to do with them.  It's well worth your while to attract as many different creatures as you can as they all perform different roles, and to add to the challenge there's no knowing if you'll get the creature you want even when you have the right room for it- a portal can only attract 15 creatures, so if you attract as many creatures as possible straight away to defend against invasion then you may not have room for new creatures to fill new rooms.  By the same token, you may decide a particular level won't need traps, so you won't build a workshop, meaning you won't attract trolls leaving room for other creatures.  And if you decide after all that then it's still not enough, you can capture enemy heroes after defeating them, converting them to your cause through use of the torture chamber.

No I'm not going to address feminism in this review.
Speaking of the torture chamber, it should be noted that this game has a 'Mature' rating.  In my opinion this is unfounded; in ESRB's opinion it's due to excessive gore and violence.  Here's my rundown of what this game contains, for anyone interested: On defeating a creature, they are knocked out.  If they are not transported to a prison, they will die and leave their corpse and a puddle of blood.  If they die in prison, they dissolve into the ground and become a skeleton.  When tortured, a creature will shout in pain though it's far from traumatising.  Mistresses will sometimes climb on torture equipment themselves, and moan in pleasure.  And of course there's the theme of the game which is having fun being evil.  I have not encountered any drug references, swearing, or nudity- if this game was released now I would rate it Teen, and based on the humourous cutscenes I'm guessing that's what the creators were hoping for.

On completing the game I would say there is a lot of replay value, again because of the variety of levels in campaign mode.  If you don't feel like going through the campaign though, there's 'My Pet Dungeon' which is like a sandbox- each dungeon has set conditions, like some will have less gold or spell limitations, but in all of them it's up to you when you unleash your enemies.  The true purpose of this mode is to help you remember the basics of the game, as each dungeon is a tutorial in itself, going into great detail about all the rooms and creatures if you haven't played a while; an excellent idea as there are so many games I've left for a couple of months and forgotten half the features for, requiring me to start all over again.  Then of course there is the (rather limited) skirmish mode, which is fun but does have a limited variety of maps available.  And the multiplayer mode which has the same limitations as skirmish, but does still have an active online community- and if you ever want more maps then there are packs available to download if you look for them.

So how well has this game aged?  It was released in 1999, and the game has quite clearly aged since then,
even compared to 2001's Startopia (a similar game created by some of the same production team).  However, it's easy to ignore the graphical limitations especially when there's such good gameplay.  It also has a lot of charm you don't often get in modern games with various quotes when you reach milestones ('an imp can do a good impression of you' on reaching 20 imps, 'neutral creatures regret they can't attend' if there are unmet neutral creatures somewhere, etc).  Incidentally for the best easter eggs, play this game between midnight and 3am.  Ultimately you should play this game now before the graphics become too unbearable, as HD patches can only do so much.

tl;dr review:
Graphics 7/10- a bit jarring at first but tolerable.  Make the most of it while it lasts.
Sound 9/10- very atmospheric, though you may have explaining to do when your gf or mum's in the room and you pass over the torture chamber.  Mistresses can be loud.
Gameplay 10/10- very addictive, and if you start to get bored it's generally a sign you're powerful enough to complete the current map.
Story 6/10- it's nice to have a story at all compared to some games in the genre, but there's no conclusion.  This game was clearly set-up for a sequel that never came.
Overall 8.5/10- As the tagline says, 'It's good to be bad'.  Rarely do building/RTS games keep me captivated to the end without feeling stale, but this one has- and with its style and sense of humour it's been enjoyable at every stage.  My only hope is that the graphics will stay bearable in years to come, or that a faithful sequel is made to conclude the story- it will be great to see Horny get some fresh air.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spotlight: PTA Homebrew

As I stated previously, Pokémon Tabletop Adventures is a game that has a lot of potential, but a few flaws.  As such, I've been working on some homebrew rules for it to make things more streamlined whilst also giving a bit more depth to the world.

A whole new world:
Before we got too far into the FireRed game, I decided to restart in a new region now that we had gotten a grasp of the rules.  We would play in a region I had been working on called Aerouanta (I can provide an in-depth analysis if requested), and the plot would remain basic: each year a competition is held to discover the region's champion.  Trainers gather from all over the world (allowing a couple of our players to keep their previous characters), but they would only be allowed to start with a single low-level pokémon.  Participants would also be divided into teams of 4-5, so they can take part in various events held throughout the year; things like tobogganing, bug-catching contests, and general other things inspired by the animé.  Obviously it would take a long time to get through a whole year, so I would throw in various sub-plots involving legendary pokémon and evil teams getting in the way- before we stopped playing I had an elaborate plot involving a bottled water company named 'Érus' that was experimenting on one of our players, inadvertently creating a psychic link to Deoxys due to a certain chemical they used to augment water's healing properties (I had to come up with some explanation as to how water could heal you in the games).  Ultimately, if the players ranked highly in the end of year tournament then they would have the option of becoming gym leaders or hunting down legendaries, or maybe the whole plot would be halted in favour of a civil war between the Poison-type metropolis and the Psychic-type city.

Rule revisions:
The most significant rule change I made was completely revamping trainer classes.  I decided that trainer classes as they were took away emphasis from pokémon, and there were just far too many feats to keep track of when you had to look after a team of 6 pokémon as well.  Instead I created my own classes (which I shall go into detail about in a separate post, if requested), each with 'base' abilities and 'advanced' abilities that steadily rose in power with each gym badge obtained.  We found immediate improvement in terms of gameplay, though slight disappointment at losing abilities from the previous game.
Another change I made was with pokémon contests, which are a bit of a disjointed mess in the source material.  My changes were a hybrid of the video-games and the animé; there is an 'appeal' stage and a 'battle' stage.  The appeal stage consists of a two-move combo to amaze the judges- Mr Contesta who likes unpredictable moves, like cute pokémon using tough moves; Mr Sukizo who likes moves that accentuate a pokémon's strength, so smart pokémon using smart moves; and Nurse Joy, who likes a balance of power and affection- if a pokémon can only use the move it learns at level 70 then it's extremely impressive, if it's a tm then she doesn't appreciate the pain caused by applying a tm.  The results of this round give a handicap to the battles, which are a standard fight until knockout though you also gain points according to the judge's criteria.  This eans that even if you won the match you may still lose on points.  The players all found contests to be an interesting change form regular battles with an added level of skill and creativity, even inspiring one player to focus most of the efforts on ribbons rather than badges, meaning I had to think of much greater prizes to compensate for reduced levels.
Smaller changes I made included making trainer HP= Con x10, giving trainers a higher chance of survival and making calculations easier; trainer movement= 5+/- Wis modifier, reflecting a trainer's ability to 'know' the battlefield; and most significantly the amount of moves a pokémon could learn equal its Intelligence capability +3, applying to both natural and TM moves (so an Int 3 pokémon could learn 6 natural moves and 6 TMs).  This gives a lot higher unpredictability in battles, and means you won't run out of moves quickly because you picked all 'Battle' frequency moves.  These were all met with great approval.

Rule additions:
The biggest addition I made involved skills, which I used Skyrim as inspiration for; basically the more you do something the better you become at it.  This included higher knowledge checks for scanning many pokémon, better capture rolls for capturing more pokémon, shorter hatching times for hatching eggs, etc.  Ultimately I feel these skills failed as we started gathering more cluttered character sheets which was the exact thing I was trying to avoid with trainer classes, but I still feel there is some potential for this method.
Another addition yet to be tried, is giving each species of pokémon a unique characteristic, the theory being that traditionally unplayable pokémon will now be playable, and traditionally overpowered pokémon may prove more difficult to control keeping a balanced playing field.  Examples I have so far include Butterfree attaching Poisonpowder to moves using its wings, and Jigglypuff having increased accuracy on Sing whilst using its 'inflate' capability.

And that's it for my homebrew bits for Pokémon Tabletop Adventures.  Feel free to use any of the above ideas for your own games, and if requested I can provide more in-depth files for pokémon characteristics or I can put up a post going into more detail about trainer classes or my region, Aerouanta- descriptions of gym leaders, rules for events, etc.

Finally, if you're interested in what you've read and fancy playing the game yourself, and you live in the Weston-Super-Mare/Bristol area, then let me know and perhaps you can join us for the new game I'll be setting up early next year.