Game Pile: Transformers Devastation

In October 2015, a new Transformers Videogame hit the shelves and it read like the kind of thing a fan would have made up – a full-scale brawler game, modelled on the classic G1 aesthetic, rendered in tight cell-shaded styles and delivered to us courtesy of the minds behind such classics as Vanquish and Bayonetta: Platinum Games. It had a frightfully short hype cycle, too – it was announced in June 2015, and launched less than three full months later.

So what came of this? Did the game actually deliver on its incredibly strange, moment-in-time development? Was it a cheap cash-in on a license that was in the news? Was this just another attempt to mine our nostalgia?

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Notes: Secrets

  • Hidden identity small-box game
  • The materiality. Tokens can’t be mistaken for cards can’t be mistaken for the mat for the arrows.
  • Observing it seems too much of the game is invisible
  • Ways to keep people engaged in the off-turn
  • The draw-and-share cards mechanic is appealing based on games like Secret Hitler too, I like that
  • Can the game be handled with a low-material tool for agreeing/refusing?
  • Think about this in light of HMS Dolores
    • Oh they made Dolores
      • Well then
  • Aesthetic is super important, lots of cool, vibrant art, minimal background work
  • Giving people positive/negative score cards/trying to force busts/breaks
  • Alternate mechanism ideas?
  • I expect I’ll try doing something with this – the secret identities/common pool of cards thing is very desireable, but it needs to have some extra way to get some teeth

Setting Your Own Goals

I’m job searching right now, working on finding some work leading up to the new year. It sucks, trust me. Today – when I wrote this, not when this goes up – I did a bunch of things.

  • I did a preliminary rulebook for Sector 86
  • I contacted a number of businesses about job opportunities (five)
  • I cleaned up the house
  • I brought in the laundry
  • I wrote three articles for the blog (which is why this is so far ahead!)
  • I developd a schedule for posting MTG stuff to my blog
  • I had lunch
  • I walked the dog
  • I gave the dog his worming tablet
  • I made a slow-cooked dinner for Fox
  • I updated my blog’s opening presentation, which is like, a resume element
  • I set up a twitter for a new podcast that’s coming
  • Tried to do more work on my PhD submission

And despite all that, I’m sitting here, at six pm, fizzing quietly, and wondering to myself… have I done enough today?

I’m not feeling great these days. I’m riddled with anxiety and I’m stressed and I’m feeling unproductive. But when I sit down and write out a list of things I did today, it always is that I ‘waste’ a lot of time doing things.

It’s hard.

You have to get into the habit of determining what your goals are. You have to be able to set yourself limits and say today I’m done with this.

Designing A Puzzle

Some games are designed to be about setting up a play space, where you can sort of simulate a thing interacting with another thing. Games like Wobbegong-12 are about that very pure experience of a thing, in a place, doing stuff. Other games, though, are much more about a puzzle.

Recently I designed a game called You Can’t Win. The game got its start as originally, a conception of a bunch of villains siting around playing Russian Roulette, flipping cards from a small deck of 6 cards and shooting themselves. My efforts to refine this, to make the rest of the game engaging, required a more and more elaborate game, until finally, I realised, I had a puzzle that didn’t need the Russian Roulette mechanism.

What I was left with was a trick-taking game, and I found, my original idea to play it was breathtakingly hard to win. That sort of played into the idea of You Can’t Win and eventually gave the game its name.

The nature of You Can’t Win is one where, the first time you play it, nobody wins. Probably. It’s very, very easy to knock out all the playable numbers the first time you play. The tactical choices aren’t obvious – and in a game of say, four people, you only ever get to make four or five choices of what to play, which means your options are very limited.

Most players play a round or two of You Can’t Win and decide they think they know how hard it is, how difficult it is to play, then decide they’re not interested. That’s fine. It’s a cheap little game, it’s meant to be something niche. But, but.

For a particular type of player.

I’ve watched it happen. It’s that special character of that one person at church youth group, the teacher, the guy who remembers all the tiles in Carcassonne. It’s the mindset that you look at your card, you look at your hand, and you start trying to map the puzzle in advance. As the game gets played, more components of the puzzle play out. You know what’s in your hand. You know what’s not in your hand. You know you’re less likely to see a concentration of numbers, you’re more likely to see them spread out, but you might not. You know there are guns in the pool, too, making wild cards.

And for that kind of player, it is wonderful to sit there and chew on the puzzle. To grind it in their head. To try and properly solve the game… and watching as those players fight against one another and adjust the puzzle is fascinating fun.

It’s okay if what you’ve crafted is a nasty little knot of a game, basically.

New Shirts! Paragon City College Shirts!

Hey there friends! Do you remember City Of Heroes, and its many different university campuses, where you could go to craft inventions in a relatively peaceful environment, without fear of being shot at? Well, we have some cool t-shirts designs you can wear to signify your affiliation with one of those places!

Founders Falls University t-shirt

Founders Falls was the oldest suburb in Paragon, and apparently, one of the snootiest. It had canals and bridges and arches, and was proud in the esteemed age of the area. It also had snipers in suits on the rooftops, which was a thing.

Steel Canyon University t-shirt

Steel Canyon was your lowest-level University you could access, heroside. It was a region full of skyscrapers and powerful businesses, with a self-image about being forward-thinking and recovering after the Rikti War.

Croatoa OSA University t-shirt

Did you know that City of Heroes had a Creepy New England Town? And that town had a whole university in it? Check it out!

Cap Au Diable University shirt

Blueside didn’t have the only Universities in-setting. Also, redside, Cap Au Diable, the personal domain of an evil super-scientist named Doc Aeon, had a university too!

Kings Row Community College t-shirt

And finally, here’s a little special one for the Kings Row diehards. Sure, we didn’t have a university, but we had spirit, damnit!

These designs are available as shirts, mugs and stickers on my Redbubble store. Please, do go and check ’em out!

MTG: GW Delirium

This week, I’ve been playing a green-white brew, based on watching the coverage of the pro tour for Eldritch Moon. I saw the Owen Turtenwald deck that was using Delirium along with Grapple with the Past to fuel a really cool, spicy toolbox kind of deck.

Now, the rewards for delirium in that deck were Grim Flayer and Emrakul, The Promised End. Grim Flayers are out of my pay grade and Emrakul has been banned (and even then is still out of my pay grade), but I did find a few cute little synergies in a deck I have labelled, somewhat unimaginatively, ‘GW Delirium.’

GW Delirium

Threats (22)
Sunscourge Champion
Gnarlwood Dryad
Honored Hydra
Adorned Pouncer
Mouth/Feed
Pilgrim’s Eye
Mockery of Nature

Tools (14)
Grapple with the Past
Nature’s Way
Descend upon the Sinful
Cast Out
Forsake the Worldly

Land (24)
Scattered Groves
Desert of the True
Desert of the Indomitable
Plains
Forest

Threats

Let’s run down the threats real quick because oh my goodness we have some lovely stuff here:

Adorned Pouncer

Let’s start with the simplest creature. The Adorned Pouncer is just a 2-drop body that Eternalizes well. It’s not like this deck does anything to buff it or prepare it, but it does do a good job of bearing in the early game, scoring a few early beats or blocking an early problem. It dies easily, but you don’t mind if it dies! Late game, an Eternalized Adorned Pouncer – which you can get in the yard by a whole host of means – is a really scary threat.

Basically, it’s cool, but it’s also not amazing. It fills out the early slots and sometimes in an attrition fight, comes out of the bin and just wins the game on the base of being enormous and your opponent has simply run out of removal.

Mouth // Feed

From blatantly powerful to deceptively powerful, Mouth is a creature that dies to Fatal Push but otherwise does the job of most any other 3-power card. It gets in fights, it rumbles in, and it feeds, of course, Feed, letting me draw an extra card. Feed’s synergies are a little cute in this deck; it draws cards off Eternalised (with an s) creatures, it draws cards off Delirious Gnarlwood Dryads, and it draws cards off the Angel token you get from Descent Upon the Sinful.

If you can Feed for 2 creatures, that’s good. Remember, you’re casting it out of your graveyard and that means it’s -0 cards in hand for +2 cards in hand. Ancestral Recall is -1 card in hand, +3 cards in hand, for the same net value. If an opponent kills something in response costing them a card, that’s still -1 card from them for you. Still hurts, but don’t stress too much about it.

(I know it’s not as good as Ancestral Recall, don’t @ me).

Mockery Of Nature

This is a weird one. It’s not really the perfect Emerge creature – I think I’d probably rather almost any of the others except It Of the Horrid Swarm, because the mana curve goes more smoothly from 3-drop to 4-drop, eating my 3-drop. Adding blue to the deck would give me room for Wretched Griff or Lashweed Lurker, both of which are kinda spicey and solve different problems, but, Mockery originally got put in this deck as a removal card.

Note that Embalm tokens don’t have mana costs, so they don’t reduce the price on this. Which is super annoying!

Also, it has some very cute synergy with the next threat, where…

Honored Hydra

The hydra is good embalmed, and good played from hand. Played from hand, you can play it, attack with it, then Emerge a Mockery and embalm the Hydra on the same turn. The Hydra is also just, y’know, huge? Sometimes you just want a big trampler. Given the way this deck tends to work, with the late game about threats that are hard to permanently deal with, the Hydra is a perfect example of what you could be spending six mana doing.

Gnarlwood Dryad

This card puts in some work. I like how it works with Nature’s Way, but it also just servess as a super cheap little aggressor in the early game that’s fiddly to block and sometimes can inflate into a 3/3 when you need to put pressure on fast. Sometimes you need a thing to hold the ground against very scary threats and it’s hard to do better than something so cheap as this.

Sunscourge Champion

And boy howdy, here we get to a card I’m still startled is so very, very good. Discarding a Sunscourge Champion to eternalize another Sunscourge Champion feels gross, and then you’re basically turning a card in your hand into an uncounterable Loxodon Hierarch. This card also feeds into Emerge nicely – another build of the deck with Wretched Griffs and Vexing Scuttlers happily traded this card into the bin for an extra card. Oh the value.

Tools

The removal/card advantage package is designed to be a decent mix of things to enable delirium easily – you can cycle a cast out or sacrifice a Pilgrim’s Eye to get two of the rarer types of cards into the bin really quickly. Cycling lands do that too – and cycling lands mean that Grapple With The Past, even when it misses, doesn’t quite miss.

The big thing with this deck is just the room in it. You can cut a bunch of the cards because you may not like them as much as I do, but you need to be able to point to some things your deck can do that you do like. For example, I love Nature’s Way, which is just super sweet to use with a Gnarlwood Dryad or an Eternalized Adorned Pouncer. I like using Feed to draw cards. I like the mana base and I love that this deck can pack a Wrath effect as a way to make a threat. It’s great fun doing a bunch of trades, letting your first-round creatures hit the bin, swapping for removal, watch your opponent build out their board…

Then Descend, and add 4/4s alongside your 4/4.

Also, this deck folds to Turbo-Fog, which you will see in the casual room.

Price

MTG Goldfish price this deck at 5.17 online, $22 offline, and I think that’s a pretty reasonable rate for a deck that’s just, you know, fun? It’s hilarious to me that you generate a giant pile of rares and they’re all… rubbish rares?

Wrapup And Alterations

If you wanted to shift it into Bant colours, you could add the blue emergers, like Wretched Griff, ditch the desert cyclers and replace them with the UW cycle land – There’s something there. It’s interesting. It’s a maybe.

Anyway, this deck is fun. It’s a sluggish midrange deck that gains tons of life and occasionally blows people out with cards they forgot existed, and there’s lots of room for customisation. It’s resistant to countermagic thanks to mechanics like eternalize and embalm, and aftermath and Grapple let you treat your graveyard like a backup hand.

Roads Unbent

I grew up – okay, let me start that again.

I lived, from the age of four to the age of fourteen, in a suburb of New South Wales called Engadine. Engadine is where I learned how money works, how to read, what a library was, how to talk to a doctor, about family restaurants and VHS tapes and watched the Beta cases slowly disappear off the shelves. It’s the place I walked with my mother as she went to a business to pick up an actual physical paycheque and hand it into an actual physical bank. It’s the place I tried a paper route.

To say I ‘grew up’ there is a misnomer, though. Because in Engadine, I was in an environment that deliberately sought to stifle what I learned of the world, watching a small number of years left in the world tick down. But Engadine is still a big part of my life, and time to time, we pass through it on the way to Sydney, from where I live now.

Engadine has a KFC and a McDonalds on the highway, meaning that on a long con drive out of Sydney, it’s a place to refuel and restock, and also, crucially, a place where you’re not going to get caught up in a brutal Sydney snarl of traffic if you stop for a while and sit down.

Dad used to say Engadine had a lot of flat ground – it was just all vertical. The terrain of Engadine is all hills, homes perching on uneven backyards, with the biggest flat areas being the football pitch, the mall, and the public pools, which sat across from the school I went to. We would cross the road and do sport on the big field, or in the public facilities to play hockey.

I really do love the public works part of Engadine, in hindsight. There were so many things that were available to me that I didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate. There was a walkway to the Train Station that went under the road, so as a child, I could safely make my way to the station without having to go up a huge number of stairs or some other way cross six lanes of highway.

When we revisit Engadine, though, the thing that blows my mind is how little it changes. Storefronts have changed – different businesses have come and gone and I’m sure nobody there remembers me, nobody remembers what I did or who I was, some nondescript little church kid with a bowl haircut reading Pratchett novels in the foyer. But the shape of Engadine is the same.

I think a lot of this is because of the roads. Engadine’s roads are all… pretty much the same? The big Woolworths is probably a Coles now, the NeoLife offices aren’t there any more (because the bastard who ran them is dead), but the businesses and the people have to follow the shape of the roads, the roads that are laid out on the land as best they can be.

I remember when I lived there I was genuinely confused as to how there were any other places in the world. How would you get there? The first time dad drove us out onto the highway and I saw that that little road I thought went nowhere in fact went everywhere, it blew my tiny mind.

But Engadine is still Engadine. It is older and it is different and it is dressed differently, but it is still a place named for the people who we took it from, wearing on its roads the scars of a culture that should never forget what we did.


This blog post and subject was suggested, as above, by @Garlicbug on Twitter. If you’d like to suggest stuff you’d like to see me write about, please, do contact me!

Game Pile: World End Economica

Okay, let’s clear up something I didn’t know when I bought this game. It’s not a visual novel, that vague term we use to describe a particular style of game with some choices and narrative, a sort of light, eroge-heritage RPG storytelling game. World End Economica is a kinetic novel, a strictly linear progression of text and images.

This makes reviewing it slightly challenging, because the argument about whether or not it is a game is an interesting one academically and unhelpful indeed socially. As it is, World End Economica is such a singularly focused experience, telling you that it’s technically a game isn’t a super helpful recommendation. As it’s such a pure narrative with a primary form of reading, it seems to me best to talk about the game as a story with a particularly interesting delivery method.

With that in mind, it’s a tiny bit of a deviance here; while this is definitely a Game Pile post, it’s definitely going to be reviewing this as more of a book or a movie than if I was going to recommend it as a game. Will that make a huge difference? Well, probably not. Anyway! Continue reading

Nevermind the Dust

If you’ve not noticed, there’s been some changes around here. Minor stuff, just keeping on top of things like giving the blog compression, fixing up its themes. There’s more stuff in the pipeline, but here’s the quick stuff:

  • Blogging More Often – I’ve been trying to make sure I blog daily about something of some size or substance. There are some more whimsical mid-pieces, but mostly, I want this to be a consistant source of interest
  • Blogging More Prettily – Look at all those pictures! I’ve been trying to get in the habit of including visuals in my work more now.
  • Blogging On Suggestions – I want to write about things you want to hear about. This is in part because I like the challenge but also because I like the idea of you getting something to read that interests and intrigues you
  • Blogging Tools – There’s a bunch of stuff behind the scenes here that I’ve just never considered trying out, and it means that the blogs I’ve been doing in the past have been trying to solve problems in really ugly ways. Now we get things like decklist and card popups and good integration of video and whatnot.
  • Blogging About Academia – I did a degree in this stuff, and I’m looking to do a PhD in it – why exactly wouldn’t I want to share what I’ve learned? One of the problems Academia even has is we’re bad at explaining things to people who didn’t do the same courses. This seems a good practice.
  • Blogging Better – I don’t know if you knew this but the old category system I was using was kind of like not using a system at all. Now I’ve gone back, taken all the uncategorised posts and put them in appropriate categories; there’s more proper use of the meta category to be about posting on the blog itself, and the new space Media to talk a bit more about, well, media.

So that’s the basics. Hope you’ve been appreciating the #content so far!

Leverage: The Mastermind

The first character you’re introduced to, the first one who’s fleshed out to any extent in Leverage is Nate Ford. We learn in the opening few minutes of the scene with him that Nate is probably an alcoholic, very good at a particularly obscure kind of job that you may have heard of but also haven’t really got a good handle on, lost his kid to an insurance agency’s decisions and is also a bit of a dick.

This is part of how the series works, of course; it’s very good at dense characterisation, something it can mainly achieve by making characters very broad, tropey archetypes. Good people in Leverage are often glowingly good, bad people are often cartoonishly bad; it’s rarely handled in a way that makes things subtle after either an introduction or a twist. You’ll see a few seconds of a character in which the series very cleanly tells you whether or not you’re dealing with an asshole.

Nate is not an asshole, but Nate is a Troubled Sad Dad. I’ve grown a lot on this archetype in recent years, particularly because I realise how well this speaks to the people to whom it matters: Not the waxing, mawkish perspective of the people who fantasise about it, but the burden of struggling underneath that weight, of the general, permeating sadness – or worse, the fear of ever invoking that sadness. Nate is a guy who has been through a lot, and his work is not the refuge from it he wanted it to be.

I didn’t know Tim Hutton before Leverage, which is funny, really. I’m told he’s one of those enduring character actors, and that’s something you need to get used to when you’re talking about Leverage – it’s a series full of characters who are being played by people normally used to taking second or third string in a series, someone who gets wheeled on, play a stock part, and then exit. In Tim Hutton’s case, the main role he plays when he plays Nate is, in-series, a colossal asshole.

I’m not joking!

Nate, in-universe, is a con artist who needs to be in the middle of a con to keep track of all the parts that are moving. He needs information and access, he needs some form of control, befitting his position in the role of the Mastermind. This means he normally plays a character in the cons the crew run that translates best to… well, the person you want to backstab. The person who offers you opportunity but not affection. The person who, in some way or another, you want out of your life.

He plays a dick.

Look back on the history of Leverage sometime. Literally the only time Nate isn’t being a total asshole in a character is when he’s being oily and unctuous. And then he’s also kind of being an asshole!

The story of Leverage tends to follow a series of beats, where each season is defined by the character of Nate’s personal arc; first his refusal to get close to the team, then the recognition he has, accepting his self-destruction, repairing himself. This means the moments Nate really shines tend to be the episodes that pull some part of his past into focus, and those tend to be at the start and end of each season.

Despite that, my favourite Nate moment is in The Studio Job, episode 34. Nate is isolated from the group, left with two guards who are there to work him over – and when we come back to him, he’s sitting there, in his chair with two unconscious guards. The only explanation we’re left is from Nate –

“These two guys got in a fight.”