Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

Game Pile: Planescape:Torment

Odds are good, unless you’ve known me for a while, you don’t really know or can’t chart the history of the Game Pile. Originally, the focus of Game Pile was a review series that’s designed to be entertainingly useful in promoting the sales of games I like and the discouragement of games I don’t, with the notion that seeing me do that would get the attention of gaming editors, and maybe get paid for this work. Then I moved on to trying out a new model of how reviews should be, with my view of a standardised release schedule and form, which sought to tell you reasons you might want to play a game, rather than whether or not a game was, itself, fundamentally good or bad.

Then, in the most recent iteration, Game Pile has taken on a shape I really appreciate, which is to use the game as an avenue to discuss what the game made me think about or care about. It is the treatment of games as art objects. Sure, I try to give you an idea of what the game is like, but I do that by trying to only focus on games I like, and the games I like I tend to like because they make me feel and think something. It’s a nice occlusion.

With that in mind, then, I don’t want to tell you you should buy Planescape Torment. It’s a good game, I like it. If you like slow, talky-ready RPGs, it’s really good. Telling you that is almost the definition of old news and you can probably find someone to wax more rhapsodic about it with a cursory glance around.

Instead, I want to tell you about four stories from this game, and what they mean to me.

Spoilers ahead for, y’know, Planescape: Torment. Continue reading

Beast Mastery Masterminds

So back in City of Heroes there was this type of character you could make called a Mastermind.

Masterminds were a pet class – you could get three tiers of pets, which were constant; you didn’t have to manage their upkeep, and you could buff them like they’re players. They also had some mechanics about directing damage around passively, so you didn’t play like an RTS, but you instead were a superhero villain ordering your goons to beat people up. It was a great archetype, and everyone I knew with one was proud of what they could do with it.

Right at the end of City’s life, we got a brand new power set for the Mastermind: The Beast Mastery Mastermind. Instead of soldiers or ninjas or robots, you got to command a horde of animals, like you were something people misunderstood about Kraven. Point is, you got to be cool and have a big pile of animals around you.

The thing with the engine in City of Heroes is that it was a little bit, kinda mediocre about some things. The only way to stop the existence of a game entity was to give it a kill order – so pets you summoned, little robot pets, would die when they timed out, and they’d explode. When the Mastermind was originally conceived, on City of Villains, if you ran into a door, your pets would run in the same door. But if you disappeared, they’d get a kill order. No big deal, that’s part of why the City of Villains, the big transport network which used the ‘disappear’ command instead of ‘go into a door, then disappear’ command, was a ferry, so you’d run into the ferry, and your crew would all collapse dead inside it and fall through boxes and stuff.

But when you went to Paragon (as you could by this stage) and ran around with a Mastermind, any time you used a train, your pets would get that kill command. You’d hop on a train and move on and all blissfully unaware, as you arrived, that the pets you had now were newly summoned for your new region of map. No big deal, right?

Thing is, if you weren’t the mastermind player, what do you see?

You can guess, right?

And making it worse, the release of a new set provoked a huge influx of new people trying out this new Mastermind set, and often whole teams of them. So you could walk into a train station and see dozens upon dozens of dead animals.

Cities And Towns

Let’s talk about a game idea, and what I want to be sure I’m saying with it.

This game idea is known tenatively as cities and towns. It actually started as a colour matching/multiplier game, a math game for my nephews but I liked the metaphor of it being about things rather than stuff, and so it slowly took its shape as a town builder.

The notional mechanic is that there’s a common pool of cards, the city, that determine the value of the cards in each player’s personal pool, their town. At the start of the game, you deal each player a starting card that’s not worth anything, but gives you a place to start from, and put three cards into the city, to give people a standard view of how things are valued. This means that putting cards into the city can represent an explosion of value for you, but it’s something other players can piggyback on – if you have two of type A, and there are two more A in the city, you get four points, but any player who builds an A gets two, too.

I like this mechanic for representing things like trade dependencies and culture growth. A university on its own isn’t worth as much as a university surrounded by other smaller towns with universities, and a market thrives when there are other, connected markets. Players are simultaneously building the scoring mechanism for the game as they are building their own little spaces in the game.

Then came the time to make the game pieces, and I hit an interesting conundrum. See, one thing I could do is go with a pastoral, adventure-game vibe, you know, the not-necessarily-fantasy, but-probably of kingdoms with farms and quarries and woodcutters, as you see in games like Settlers or whatever.

The next option, however, is to build assets using something like these Kenney assets, isometric city representation.

Now this choice opens up an interesting question. I think that a modern urban city and smaller town thing presents an interesting set of different mechanics – after all, you have faster communication, and maybe there are some buildings that can’t go anywhere but in the city, and some things that can’t go anywhere but the town, because of infrastructural needs. Is there a need for variety the same way in buildings when they look modern, when they could show similar buildings on different blocks with ‘zoning’ rules?

But then we hit an additional question: What about redlining? What about the history of deprivation? If these are buildings that look like cities, but outside of cities and minus the skyscrapers, am I just building suburbs? And if I am, do I really want to present a scenario to players where they want to build more schools in the city, because it makes their schools out in the suburbs more desireable?

Now, I’ve made my decision – the game’s underway. But these are decisions you gotta be prepared to consider and confront. When you make a game, you are responsible for the things you choose to put into it, and the assumptions you make about what the game should have in it.

MTG: Pet Cards IV, Ravnica Block

Ravnica is an incredible block because it’s full of casual deckbuilding staples, and it’s the time I was actively writing for Starcity Games. When I look back on Ravnica, there’s a ton of stuff I think of as ‘great cards,’ even though they’re niche enough to need the whole deck built around them.

With that in mind, I will say the Ravnica bouncelands and signets are all-purpose good cards that casual decks can run and should always bear in mind for building. Whatever colour combination you’re in, you can make use of those ten cards, or can at least consider why not to use them. There’s also a bunch of robust utility effects at common and uncommon, with cards like Mortify, Putrefy, Watchwolf, Faith’s Fetters, Pure//Simple – just a whole lot of handy things that you can slot into decks. Not the kind of ‘pet’ cards I find myself making excuses for. So like, that kind of stuff? They’re not going on the list.

This list was hard to cut down and that’s after I set aside this special clause.

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Game Pile: Baldur’s Gate 2 Mods

There is however, one truth to all these Baldur’s Gate 2 memories. The truth is, I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 2 as she is coded, for much more than one or two years. What kept me coming back, what kept me playing this game over and over again was the modding community – which saw the vast scale of the game, and still looked at places where it was incomplete, where the sheer scope of the project had failed, and looked into adding to the game what had been begun and not finished, what had been tried and not done, and what was needed but never realised.

Baldur’s Gate 2 is a pretty decent game. But to make it a great game took people who loved it. Continue reading

MTG: Canadian Highlander And Combo

First things first, I do not play Canadian Highlander. I do follow the North 100 podcast, and I do have a ‘team’ I root for in the 30-player strong metagame of the area: Allison, Queen Of The Rock. She’s playing green-black value control, every time, every event, and I will back that all the way.

Nonetheless, I am a Magic Player, and with that in mind, I want to talk about a thing that successful, well-established and well-known Magic Players could be doing better.

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MTG: Pet Cards III, Kamigawa Block

Here’s a set for your pet cards, dangit. Kamigawa was rich with flavour, but it was also spending a much smaller budget of power cards, which meant that even the cards that were powerful or good were doing it in ways orthogonal to one another – you either got overdosed on unnecessary virtue (like Snakes) or effects that never really had a home (like Dosan). It’s also cycle happy which means even the cards in it that are kinda Just Okay tend to be seen as part of a cycle, so they’re less forgotten, less pet.

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Game Pile: Baldur’s Gate 2

I love this game. As with Fallout 3 before it, even if I didn’t think of the game fondly in itself, I’d still have to admit anything I spent a hundred hours doing voluntarily couldn’t be something I hated. I can’t talk about Baldur’s Gate 2, a game I marinated in, a game that I played over and over for days at a time, without making it clear, from the outset, that I love this game. It’s just such a basic, absolute background radiation to the conversation about Baldur’s Gate 2 that it seems impossible to describe, seems meaningless to describe. I can’t tell you how air tastes. I can’t describe to you what left is.

What that means is that when I talk about the game, and I tell you oh that’s nonsense, or I complain about the wonky balance or the plot or the voice acting or the bits that drag it’s the complaints of someone who has played every single moment of a game over a dozen times, someone who has played the game in various challenge modes and mods and been part of the conversation about its future.

I need you to understand this because when I talk to you about Baldur’s Gate 2 it’s mostly a festival of complaints about the ways the game is hilariously, completely, incompetently busted.

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4ed Problems: Poison

I love me some 4th Edition D&D and it’s a well known fact I love complaining about things, so one might wonder why I didn’t do both at once. Well, for a start, I find that most complaints about 4ed D&D are pretty wrongheaded, usually building around nebulous ideas of ‘feel’ or ‘style’ and acting as if it was bad that a game did what the game was trying to do. That isn’t to say, though, that I think 4ed D&D is a flawless system by any means, and as if to prove it, let’s talk about a really stupid decision it has going on.

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